Taxi service caters to L.A.’s orthodox Jews

It was 11:02 a.m. on a warm Friday morning, and Pico Boulevard was alive with the energy of last-minute Shabbat shopping. Two teens wearing white button-down shirts and black dress pants exited their yeshiva and walked up to a sleek, black 2012 Kia Sedona minivan that would take them downtown to Union Station.

Josh Goldman, 45, a jovial observant Jew with a strong Brooklyn accent, got out of the driver’s seat, shook their hands and placed their luggage in the trunk so that they could begin their trip home to San Diego for the weekend. 

But this was no typical taxi service; this was Haimishe Express, a fully licensed and insured car company whose business specifically caters to Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community (although it happily accepts all paying customers).

“We are basically 24/6,” Goldman said during the drive to Union Station.

Wearing a suede black kippah and with tzitzit fringes poking out from under his shirt, Goldman said that Haimishe — Yiddish for “homey” — provides business cards with the Tefilat Haderech (traveler’s prayer) and that in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, he even blows the shofar for customers who request it. 

The car service, which has several drivers and a fleet of four vehicles, will perform just about any requested errand. Court filings, grocery shopping, check deposits, even trips to Las Vegas and day tours of Southern California — all are fair game. 

“There are visitors that come to town for business or for a wedding or a bar mitzvah, and we are able to show them around the town, help them find where to pray, where to eat,” Goldman said.

A computer salesman turned businessman and cab driver, Goldman — who moved with his wife to Los Angeles in 2001 and now lives with her and their three children in the Beverly-La Brea neighborhood — opened Haimishe Express in 2011 after deciding it was time for a career change. 

“Competition in the computer industry was really ruthless,” he said, as the Sedona merged from the entrance ramp into the right lane of the 101 Freeway southbound. “Now I’m earning a living and really helping people.”

Instead of using a meter, all riders pay a flat fee. So, for example, a sedan ride from Pico-Robertson or Beverly-La Brea to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) costs $50. This way, Goldman said, there’s no need for clients to nervously watch the meter and no incentive for drivers to dilly-dally.

It’s important to note that Haimishe is about far more than transporting people. Case in point: The company once drove luggage — not people, just luggage — from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a family who was traveling for Passover but didn’t want to bring all of their bags on the airplane. Goldman transported the family’s possessions there overnight in one of Haimishe’s large vans, and after the holiday ended, one of Goldman’s drivers drove it all back to Los Angeles. 

And on the same morning as Goldman’s drive with the yeshiva students to Union Station, one of Haimishe’s drivers delivered kosher food for Shabbat to a family in Riverside, 60 miles away. As a service for people who want food from a kosher restaurant that doesn’t deliver, Goldman said that Haimishe will deliver kosher food to anywhere in the entire state of California — even Death Valley.

Goldman said that Haimishe quotes long-distance trips, such as Las Vegas, based on distance. Local trips that include a stop for food are priced according to the extra time built in to order and pick up the meal.

You want something even homier? How about Haimishe’s daily round-trip carpool for a group of eight kids from Beverly-La Brea to their school in Pico-Robertson. Driving young children, Goldman said, requires the trust of members of the local Jewish community. 

 “They trust us. They feel comfortable driving along with another Jew.”

About half of Haimishe’s business comes from rides to and from local airports, primarily LAX, Goldman said. Sometimes, his company even plays the role of bubbe, picking up kosher meals from local restaurants for businessmen returning home after a long flight.

“Business travelers are often starving when they land,” Goldman said, chuckling as the Kia prepared to exit the freeway near Union Station. 

“We are very flexible. If somebody’s hungry, let them eat. Sometimes it’s sushi, sometimes it’s dairy, sometimes it’s a burger, sometimes it’s a shawarma, and we have it in the car when we pick them up at LAX.”

One regular customer, Reuven Nathanson of Beverly-La Brea, wrote to the Journal in an e-mail exchange that Haimishe’s punctuality and integrity are what keep him coming back. 

“I am comfortable recommending them to neighbors for local food deliveries and even last-minute carpool substitute pickups,” he wrote. “For airport runs, they monitor the inbound flight so if we arrive early, they are ready when we are.”

In this case, Goldman pulled up to the curb at Union Station at 11:30 a.m. on the dot. He opened the side doors and trunk, pulled out his passengers’ luggage and wished them a cheery “Good Shabbos!” as they walked away.

Only 28 minutes from Pico-Robertson to Union Station on a Friday. Not bad.

Haimishe Express can be reached at (323) 842-3666.

Israeli tourist suffers ‘anti-Semitic abuse’ in Polish taxi

An Israeli tourist visiting Poland reportedly filed a complaint with police against a taxi driver for making anti-Semitic remarks.

The tourist, Clila Bau, visited Poland last week with her sister, Hadas, according to the online edition of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

The two came to Krakow to attend an exhibition of the works of their father, Joseph Bau, a Jewish artist who survived the Holocaust in Poland thanks to Oskar Schindler.

After the Oct. 16 event at Krakow’s Schindler Museum was concluded, Cila Bau boarded a taxi cab belonging to the company Mega Taxi.

When the driver learned she was from Israel “the journey turned into hell,” Clila Bau is quoted as saying.

She said the driver “yelled” that in Israel, Jews stole land from Arabs, and the Jews should be thankful to Poles for “taking them in when everybody else threw them out.”

When they reached the destination, the driver threw her suitcase out of the car and told her to “get out and never come back,” according to her account in Gazeta Wyborcza.

The online edition of Gazeta Krakow quoted the driver as denying that he hurled anti-Semitic insults at Bau. “We had a discussion on ideology,” the paper quoted him as saying.

Boaz Pash, the chief Orthodox rabbi of Krakow, said that anti-Semitic incidents in Krakow are “unusual and less common than in other European countries.”

Pash said that in six years of living in Poland, he has received very few negative reactions. “This incident sounds very unpleasant, but you can find hooligans anywhere,” he said.

Palestinian arrested in stabbing of Israeli taxi driver

A Palestinian man was arrested in connection with the stabbing of an Israeli taxi driver.

The driver, 30, was in stable condition at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba after being stabbed after midnight Tuesday. He had picked up the passenger in Tel Aviv and taken him to Kfar Saba, as requested. The passenger, who had pre-paid his fare, then stabbed the driver in the stomach and fled the scene, according to Ynet.

The Palestinian arrested in the attack was being questioned by the Shin Bet security service, Ynet reported. He is suspected of being a Palestinian working in Israel illegally. Police believe the attack was nationalistically motivated and that the attacker acted alone.

A gag order has been placed on other details about the case.

‘Kill Jews’ notes author charged with hate crime

A former Brooklyn car service driver accused of leaving notes reading ‘Kill Jews’ around New York’s Long Island was arraigned on a hate crimes charge.

Demetrios Apolonide, the driver for XYZ Car Service who was arraigned Wednesday for aggravated harassment, allegedly dropped the notes, written on torn pieces of the company’s vouchers, in the communities where he dropped off his fares, according to reports. He dropped the notes at least nine different times between September 2009 and March 2010.

Apolonide, 37, was arrested last summer in New York City on similar charges.

He told authorities he scattered the notes in order for “the Jews to find them to think it was the Muslims,” police officials said Wednesday according to Newsday.

Transit Torment

It all began a minute past midnight on Sat., Sept. 16, with a negotiations breakdown between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and bus and rail operator unions. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. commuters, many of whom depend on city buses for their livelihood, were forced to find alternative methods of transportation. Among the nearly 450,000 bus passengers affected by the strike are members of the Jewish community, particularly some senior citizens for whom everyday life has been disrupted.

On Fairfax Avenue, a cursory poll of how seniors were coping with this strike revealed many who were either directly or indirectly inconvenienced.

“Absolutely,” says an older gentleman coming out of Fairfax Stationery, walking with the aid of a cane. “I have to walk around everywhere. I can’t get any place.”

Trembling with emotion, the man, who preferred not to be identified, says that he is dependent on the MTA system, particularly the Fairfax 217 and Melrose 10 lines, to do his weekly errands. While the limited DASH system has come in handy for many seeking transportation, in his case it is not as convenient as the city bus, since the DASH bus turns off at Third Street.

At agencies assisting lower-income Jews, viewpoints vary on the strike’s impact. Some organizations report a decline in activity.

“We have a meal site where they can come in for lunch five days a week,” reports Sandra Solomon, director of the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center in the Fairfax district. “We’re getting less people than usual. The attendance there is down.”

Rosalie Fromberg, director of the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, confirms a similar situation.

“We have people who come on a regular basis for lunch and can’t get here,” says Fromberg. “They come down for lunch and activities as well.”

Solomon has been offering taxi vouchers for some seniors, but this is a temporary and finite solution for the center and its limited resources. “We’re helping with transportation as best we can,” she says.

At Israel Levin, many coming from the L.A. area depend on buses. Some are carpooling, but Fromberg says that “it’s hard when people don’t live in the same area. This center does not provide transportation, so it’s really difficult. People at the center are concerned that it’s really affecting the community. Our seniors don’t have to worry about going to work, but their contact with our center is very important to them.”

Margaret Dacey, director of the Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, says, “We’ve had a lot of people not being able to get where they’re going. A woman called a taxi that takes coupons, and when the driver came, he wouldn’t take the coupon and would only take her a quarter of the way home, as long as her cash would take her. She got a ride the rest of the way home from a good Samaritan.”

Dacey adds that long waits for cabs have complicated matters.

“With our staff it’s affected us in that quite a few people have been car pooling or getting rides from family,” said Shelly Ryan, chief of human resources for Jewish Home for the Aging. Out of the 650 people employed by the Home’s two sites, only one employee, who lives in the outskirts of Glendale, has been forced to stay home.

“Out of 650 people, to only have one employee be affected is a very good thing,” said Ryan, who also adds that the staff has been very diligent about finding transit solutions to the strike.

“It shows their dedication to coming in and being here,” she said.

Staff at other institutions say that the MTA strike has had little effect on their daily operations. According to Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake Los Feliz JCC, the strike has not been an issue, nor has it caused stress for those utilizing Jewish Family Service of Santa Monica.

“I know that a lot of our clients do rely on buses to get to their appointments,” said Paul Castro, director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I haven’t specifically heard any feedback from our facilities. I know that it’s got to be an issue, particularly for our senior clients.”

Si Frumkin, chairman of Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, says that he is not aware of people within L.A.’s Russian community whose lives have been disrupted by the strike. He speculates that most Russian seniors reside in close-knit circles where everything is in walking distance.

“Those who live in West Hollywood, their cultural life is Plummer Park and stores on Santa Monica Boulevard,” says Frumkin.

However, Alla Feldman, project coordinator of the Immigrant Department at The Jewish Federation, found that some Russian immigrants have experienced difficulty this holiday season.

“I had people who would come to pick up High Holiday tickets,” said Feldman. “I had to drop them back.”Feldman said that recent immigrants and senior citizens are the two groups within her Russian constituents that have been most directly sidelined by the strike. She even knows of one family that “refused to go to High Holiday services because bus line No. 4 doesn’t go there.”

Elliott Cavalier, the recently appointed director of Sephardic Educational Center, said that elderly members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s sisterhood have often been grounded by the strike.

Meanwhile, back on Fairfax Ave., in the hours leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah, Diamond Bakery was packed with a kind of ebullient chaos. Yet amid the high spirits and high-strung kvetching for apple turnovers and raisin challah, there were those who looked especially weary of preholiday shopping.A 69-year-old lady – no. 44 in line to be served – said the strike since the strike began, she has had no choice but to drive across town to pick up her housekeeper herself.

“I really think it’s criminal,” the woman said as she exited the bakery.