New toys at the Craft and Folk Art Museum


If children spun it, flung it, wound it, or sent it rolling along the floor with a flick of their thumbs, Dr. Donald Adler had to have it for his collection of international folk toys.

While vacationing all over the world for 40 years, in industrialized countries like Japan as well as more developing nations like Papua New Guinea, Adler sought the things of children’s play, eventually collecting, by his estimate, more than 2,000 examples.

Don Adler with Japanese Daruma Doll (Edmon J. Rodman)

But after becoming a widower, remarrying, and moving to a smaller house this year, Adler who is in his early 80s, felt it was time to scale back his collection. As a result, he has donated half of his holdings to the Craft & Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Boulevard, which with his approval is putting the collection on sale from July 18-20 to raise funds for the museum.

According to Adler, who will be at the opening of the sale, on Friday at 6:30 p.m., to give a talk on the toys and answer questions, “folk toys are made by hand, not mass produced, and reflect something cultural that can be passed down generation to generation.” His collection includes hand-held playthings like tops, marbles, balls and jacks, puppets, games and puzzles, as well as simple and primitive items such as pebbles, shells and sticks.

“Folk toys are meant to play with,” said Adler, who demonstrated how to put the correct spin on a top that he acquired in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, made from a large nut with a long wooden splinter inserted in its middle. (You spin the splinter between your hands, and let it go.)

From each of the 75 countries in his collection, Adler has been able to find some representation of the nation’s culture in its toys. From Israel, he collected dreidels, a grogger, and a Havdalah spice box in the form of a locomotive that has working wheels. From Japan his collection includes wind-up robots as well as paper koi on wheels of wood. And from Vietnam, water puppets — whose stage is a mechanism-concealing pool of water — that are thought to have originated in the region’s flooded rice fields where the farmers used them to entertain each other.

Dreidels and spice box, Some of the folk toys Adler is holding on to. (Edmon J. Rodman)

How does a doctor busy helping couples from all over the world to have babies—Adler had a ground-breaking career in reproductive medicine and surgery, opening the west coast’s first sperm bank —get interested in collecting playthings?

Before taking a trip to Japan in 1973, he saw a picture of a carved and brightly painted wooden Miharu horse — a toy that commemorates a legendary act of kindness during a battle in Heian period of Japan (794-1185) in the town of Miharu. When he got to Kyoto and saw a similar horse in a shop window, he “was smitten,” said Adler, whose collection has more examples from Japan than any other country.

Seeking a way to share his collection, Adler has taken examples from it to the Kadima Day School in West Hills, where he let the 7th and 8th graders try them out as he told the cultural stories behind them, and projected pictures of his travels.

“The teenagers loved it,” said Adler, who feels that the folk toys that he has collected and the stories related to them “promote playing together.”

Watching kids play together has given him a few stories of his own.

Sitting on a tour bus in China in1982, he saw a group of children, “five to seven-year olds hitting something with their elbows and feet, keeping it up in the air,” he recalled. Getting out of the bus for a closer look, he saw it was a “leather button” into which they pushed little chicken feathers on one side, and a rock for balance and weight on the other. “It would stay up in the air almost like a shuttlecock,” he said. Excited by his find, he was able to get the kids to trade it to him “for half a dozen ball point pens,” he said.

Alder, who lived in the St. Louis’ Easton Avenue area of delis, fish markets and Jewish stores until he was 13, moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1945. “I grew up poor, with not a lot of toys,” said Adler, who attended Fairfax High School and UCLA, eventually graduating from medical school at the University of California San Francisco. As a child he never had a bicycle — “we couldn’t afford it,” said Alder, who recalled attaching a two-by-four to some roller skates and then adding an orange crate to build a scooter.

Paper koi folk toy (Edmon J. Rodman)

Adler, who says the most important aspect of collecting is “seeking,” and that “showing is secondary,” nonetheless, has spent time seeking a place to show his collection. “I was hoping someday to have enough money to buy an old house and make it into a toy museum. You need a lot of financial banking to do that,” said Adler who hoped that CAFAM could take his collection.

Suzanne Isken, director of the Folk and Craft Art Museum said she receives many similar requests from accomplished collectors. “The museum is a small, private nonprofit and is not a collecting museum at this time,” she said. “Not everyone can take a collection,” she said “It’s a huge responsibility,” she added.

For Adler, giving up his collection, he says “is like parting with an arm.” He is keeping his toy soldiers and many key pieces, including a large Daruma doll from Japan, which has played a role in his life.

A traditional doll in Japan, the papier-maché, brightly painted, round-based and armless and legless doll, is weighted at the bottom in such a way that no matter how far you push it over, it always rights itself.

“It tells you that if you persist in doing what you desire, and if you are to have faith, you are able to comeback. You can recover from any diversity,” said Alder.

These dolls, when new, often have large white eyes with no pupils. “When you make a wish, you color in one eye, and if your wish comes true you color in the other,” explained Adler.

“When I asked my [second] wife to marry me, I colored in the first dot. And when she said ‘yes’ and after we were married, I did the ceremony of coloring in the other dot in front of my family,” Adler said. 

 “So they knew my wish came true.”

Whether a bed, or help figuring out what to do in one, some kosher options for Valentine’s Day


On Valentine’s Day, for a people tasked in the Bible with being fruitful and multiplying, what goods are good for the Jews?

Perhaps sex toys from an Orthodox-oriented website that are not supposed to make you blush? Or maybe your pleasure for these long winter nights is a new bed made in Israel that is as flexible and modern as you are?

Since the name of the Israeli manufacturer who makes the beds is Aminach, which in Hebrew means “my people rest,” we’ll take it easy and test their Sapapa line of contemporary beds first.

Its flagship store for the line, located in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Studio City, carries a variety of “extreme” day, trundle, adjustable and folding beds—designs that they promote as being “beyond the conventional.” As I walked up to the store, a sleek, cherry red convertible sofa in the storefront window caught me by surprise.

In the Bible, Jacob sleeps on the ground with a rock for a pillow. With that kind of design heritage, I expected these Israeli designs to be functional and utilitarian—but they were stylishly hot, too.

“It’s called Check-In,” said Hila, the store’s saleswoman, who demonstrated how with one hand the design went from couch to bed.

“Let’s try the mattress,” I suggested to my wife, Brenda, who had come along for just such a contingency.

We were both surprised at the firmness and comfort of the queen size mattress. “In Israel, everyone prefers hard mattresses,” said Hila, who had grown up on a kibbutz, adding that “Aminach is Israel’s third-largest employer.”

Sapapa is a pun—a play on the Hebrew word for couch, sapa, and an Arabic word, sababa, which roughly translates to “cool.” According to the brochure, the beds are cool, hot, exciting and extreme. All of that goes for $2,000, not including set-up and delivery, for the Check-In model.

Looking around the showroom, the Freedom design immediately raised my sleep number. Wrapped in red, and equipped with a hand-controlled mechanism that raised and lowered both the feet and the head, we couldn’t resist trying it out. On the $3,450 bed I played with the controller, eventually settling on raising both ends. If a good night’s sleep is the best aphrodisiac, then this design might be rated triple ZZZ. Given another moment, Brenda and I both would have fallen asleep.

Since some of the beds come equipped with blue lights and speakers in the headboard, I wondered about other add-ons. “Do they also come with vibrators?” I asked, for which Hila shot me a look of disdain. I had meant to say “massagers,” but perhaps the other nomenclature would be more appropriate for Kosher Sex Toys, the next stop on our journey to Feb. 14.

Before we examine this “kosher” collection of very personal gifts, let’s first consider the need for vibrators, stimulators, whips and shackles on a Jewish web site. The mission of Kosher Sex Toys is to “provide married adults with products that can help enhance their intimate moments without involving crude or indecent pictures or text.” The website promises that nothing on the site “will make you blush,” and product pictures do not feature models.

Get the picture? It’s everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to look at—but apparently not afraid to use. The business, located in Lakewood, N.J., a city with a large Orthodox population, would seem ideally situated to service this niche market in what Inc. magazine estimates is a $2 billion industry.

Many of the items available for sale—vibrators, lube and bondage gear are among the offerings – are sold as well on other sites.

“It’s our attitude and how it’s sold that makes it different,” said founder and CEO Gavriel (his wife made him promise not to use his last name).

“Handcuffs are on my best-seller list. I am surprised at how well the bondage stuff is doing,” he said. “Whatever makes people happy.”

At first blush, a sex toy web site operated by an Orthodox Jew might seem unusual, but Jews and sexual aids go way back. In the Bible, Rachel, the barren wife of Jacob, asked her sister Leah for some mandrakes, a root found in the Middle East that may have had aphrodisiacal qualities.

I was curious why a sex toy site was needed in the Orthodox community, so I contacted the certified sex therapist who takes questions on the site, Dr. David Ribner, chairman of the sex therapy training program at the School of Social Work at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“While Jewish law and tradition have long recognized the centrality of sexual satisfaction to a successful marriage, only recently have we been witness to more public efforts to promote this goal. Kosher Sex Toys is a step in this direction,” Ribner said.

Not being Orthodox, but wholeheartedly agreeing with Ribner about the centrality of “sexual satisfaction to a marriage,” I perused the site’s wares. After examining the people-free photos and clinical text, I still wasn’t quite sure how a product called a Panther worked. I got that it was a $116.50 “dual stimulation” providing a souped-up handheld vibrator (four batteries required). But what about those beads? Was a letter to Ribner in order?

It wasn’t until I visited another site and watched a video of the Panther powered up and operating (but not in use) that I understood the full function of the device. My wife, who also viewed the site and the video, felt the same way.

One of the site’s advantages—unrelated to your denominational orientation or sexual proclivity—is that various products on the site are designated phthalate free. The compounds, which have been banned in toys sold in the United States, are plasticizers still often used in the manufacture of sex toys to soften PVC vinyls.

According to a 2011 news story on the ScienceDaily website, a Columbia University study suggests “that prenatal exposure to these phthalates adversely affects child mental, motor and behavioral development during the preschool years.”

Gavriel says he researches each of his more than 300 items but does not personally test them, adding that “I only want to carry things that are safe.”

The Goods:

Koshersextoys.net.: Items from under $10 and up.

Sapapa, with locations in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Toronto. Call: (855) SAPAPA-5 for more information.

In the Pink


I’m almost fully pregnant. There’s not much for me to do. We’re about two weeks away from having a baby girl and I haven’t gained a pound. I feel fine. Never better. Thanks for asking.

We went to a picnic the other day. A woman with a 3-year-old girl told us “your life is going to change.” Stop the presses! This is my first child, but it is not my first encounter with children. The notion that my life was about to change had entered my mind over the past several months.

We were standing in line for the buffet and the little girl asked the woman for a plate. I said, “Amy and I have talked about that, and we decided that we’re not going to let the baby disrupt our lives any more than necessary — she’ll just have to get used to us and our schedule. We don’t want to have to turn down the music at the many parties we have, and we’re not comfortable telling our friends not to smoke in the house. We agreed that we’ll teach her some survival skills for a couple of years, but after that, she’s on her own. We think it will foster a healthy sense of independence and self-esteem.”

At this point in my rant the little girl drops the plate on the ground, breaking it into a hundred pieces. Naturally, she wasn’t wearing any shoes and had to be whisked away to safety — and someone went to find a broom.

“That will never happen with us!” I shouted over the ensuing chaos.

I walked past the window of a toy store the other day and it was like staring into a crystal ball into my future. I have seen the future, friends, and my future is pink.

I saw the Wiggles, Elmo, Clifford, Power Rangers and Pokemon, Powerpuff Girls and Hello! Kitty (anything, Lord, but not that cancerous talking eggplant called Barney).

I saw all of the new Bobby Shermans and Justins and Brads, whose images will adorn our walls, who we’ll come to know and love and hate.

I saw hundreds and hundreds of diapers. I saw drying off after thousands of baths, putting on clothes and shoes and taking them off again. I saw all the shoes and school supplies and medicine. I saw all the keys to all the hotel rooms we’ll stay in on vacations, and all the Do Not Disturb signs we’ll take home with us. I saw all the times I’ll have to punish her.

I saw all the dance recitals, Saturday soccer games, Sunday school classes, swimming lessons, tennis lessons, music lessons and parents’ nights.

I saw a place called LEGOLAND, Minnie Mouse, the CDs by whatever the next incarnation of the Spice Girls-Britney-Hilary turns out to be.

I saw all the nurses and nannies, the babysitters, doctors, teachers, camp counselors, coaches, tutors, professors and bosses. I saw all the friends she’ll make, good ones and not so good ones, and all the parents of those same kids that we’ll meet along the way who will become our friends. I saw all the cliques and teams and clubs.

All the toys and dolls and video games that are so critically important on the shelf that will be so neglected after the box is opened. All the card games we’ll have to endure until she gets up to speed in Gin Rummy; the board games and jigsaw puzzles with all their missing pieces.

I saw how many times I’d blow it as her dad.

I heard myself saying things like: Sit up. Sit down. Come here. Use your indoor voice. Pick that up. Put that down. Hurry up. Slow down. You don’t get dessert until you eat that. Don’t eat that. Three more bites. Say please. Say thank you. What do you say? Ask Mommy. Kiss your Grammy. Say bye-bye.

I heard myself saying those things a hundred times.

I saw her say, “You’re not the boss of me.”

What I couldn’t see was, of all the dolls in this store, which one will be The One. The one she drags around with her everywhere. Her blankey is out there somewhere, right now. So is the book I will read night after night, sometimes more than once in a sitting, playing all the parts in different voices.

I know it’s a long time to before she’s walking and talking, before the ABCs, kindergarten, the Tooth Fairy, summer camp, multiplication tables, a manicure, high heels, a boyfriend, a cell phone, middle school, the SATs.

I saw all the hairstyles, hair accessories, hairbrushes and hair care products. I saw her cry over a haircut. I saw so many tears you could fill a swimming pool. I saw so much love you could fill the sky.

We’ve got two weeks to go. Now I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. The future looks very pink indeed.

J.D. Smith is expecting the publication of his new book, “The Best Cellar” (Bonus Books) in January. Visit him at www.carteduvin.com.

Tzedakah With Toys


When 5-year-old Ariela Weintraub learned about the recent Southern California fires during a family dinner discussion, she was worried. The Santa Monica resident asked her mother, Susan Weintraub, "Mommy, do you think the children who lived in those burning houses lost their toys?"

Her mother told her yes, and the youngster ran to her room and returned with a big white teddy bear. To her parents’ surprise and delight, Ariela announced that she wanted to donate her cherished stuffed animal to a child who lost his or her own toys in the fires.

When Susan Weintraub told her daughter’s story to Rabbi Karmi Gross, the principal of Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, which is attended by Ariela and her older sister, the 5-year-old’s generosity inspired a school toy drive for local children affected by the fires.

"When we think communitywide, we usually think of the Jewish community," Gross said. "This seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a point to our students that we have to sometimes look past our family. The needs of the general community have to be a genuine concern to us."

On Nov. 12, the American Red Cross stopped by Maimonides and picked up the boxes of treasured stuffed animals, lunch boxes, art activities and board games. The toys will be distributed to local homeless shelters and specifically given to children who lost their possessions in the tragedy.

"I just thought they might’ve lost their favorite toys in the fire," Ariela said. "I think they’ll be happy when they get new ones."

To donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, visit www.redcross.org or call (800) 435-7669.

JAKKS Jumps for Children


In the movie "Little Nicky," Adam Sandler played the son of the devil, but for many Israeli children today Sandler is an angel.

When the Jewish actor-comedian wanted to do something to help brighten the lives of Israeli children wounded in suicide bombings, he contacted his friend Stephen Berman, president and COO of JAKKS Pacific toy company.

The collaborative effort resulted in a donation and shipment of more than 500 toys to hospitals in Tel Aviv, each with a personal note from Sandler included. However, while the celebrity’s name was probably the most recognizable to the children, it was the lesser-acclaimed Berman whose massive donation made the whole thing possible.

"I sincerely hope the toys helped to put smiles on the faces of children in Tel Aviv who have endured much heartache," Berman said.

Children in Tel Aviv are not the only ones who are smiling as a result of Berman’s efforts. Ever since Berman and CEO Jack Friedman co-founded JAKKS Pacific seven years ago, philanthropy has been one of the company’s main objectives. Now, as the third largest toy company in the nation, JAKKS’s mission to help children in need has only intensified.

Every holiday season, JAKKS donates truckloads of toys to needy children and families throughout Los Angeles and across the nation. The company is financially and actively involved in furthering the efforts of numerous children’s organizations, including Hollygrove Children and Family Services, Special Olympics, The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Toys for Tots, in addition to several Jewish organizations, such as the Museum of Tolerance and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Last holiday season, JAKKS donated toys and art supplies to children affected by the tragedy of Sept. 11.

In December of 2001, JAKKS Pacific received the City of Los Angeles proclamation from Mayor James Hahn, honoring its commitment to public service. "Giving toys and art supplies to children who need them most, in good times, and especially during challenging times, is the best way we know of to show but a fraction of our gratitude for our good fortune," Berman said. — RB