Why Jews unite more than Christians


Imagine that you are a Jew, and that you are president of the United States. Your security adviser has just whispered in your ear that 200 Jewish girls in Africa have been kidnapped and are being threatened with rape.

Or imagine that you are the most prominent rabbi in the world and you’ve just heard that a Jewish village in Iraq has been massacred by terrorists.

What would you do?

I ask those questions because of two parallel items. One, the frightening persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa over the past few years, and two, the frightening silence of the world’s two most prominent Christians: The President of the United States and the Pope. 

How could they stay so quiet when people of their own religion are being massacred?

Call me politically incorrect, but for Jews, this is a natural question. We can’t imagine keeping quiet when “one of our own” gets hurt. When a Jew gets attacked in Paris, Tel Aviv or Buenos Aires, Jews in Los Angeles and Montreal go nuts. That’s just who we are.

But why? 

The question came up last Friday night at my friend Jonathan Medved’s home in Jerusalem, where I was invited for Shabbat.

Medved’s answer was so simple and yet so resonant, that it lingered with me for several days. It’s hardly the first time I’ve heard it– we’ve all heard it. But maybe it was the wine, or the war, or something– this time the answer hit home a little stronger.

Unlike Christians, he said, we’re more than a religion, we’re a people.

It felt right to hear that answer at a Shabbat table, the Jewish ritual that, perhaps more than any other, has kept the Jewish people together for millennia.

When one of the great scholars of our time, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, had to describe the Jewish people, he had plenty of options to choose from. After all, we are the people of the book; the wandering Jews; God’s chosen people; the people of Jewish law; the citizens of Zion; we are so many things, in so many expressions, in so many places and times.

Steinsaltz found a way to wrap all these complexities of identity in one neat, elegant package. He went even further than peoplehood. 

Jews are a family, he wrote. 

However schmaltzy or idealistic that may appear to the cynic who sees Jews fighting all the time, there is an intuitive plausibility to that idea.

For one thing, since when does a family never fight or argue? A family that tells you it never fights is either a family that lies, or a family that never sees each other. 

But more importantly, the idea of “family” speaks to the marriage of diversity and identity. In Judaism, regardless of what you do or believe, you're still part of the Jewish people.

You may be an atheist, your brother may be ultra-Orthodox, your sister may be a poet who plays in a punk band, and your younger brother may be dabbling in Buddhism, but still, you are all family.

When your ultra-Orthodox brother invites you to the marriage of one of his ten kids, chances are, you will show up, even if you don't believe in God. And if your hippie sister doesn’t show? So what. She’s still his sister, and he’s still her brother, and that still counts for more than something.

Simply put, Jews and Judaism are too diverse, and the Jewish story too complex, to wrap up in one identity or ideology. This has been both a source of confusion and alienation (who are we?) and a source of strength (we are all).

It makes sense, then, that in times of danger, the cerebral confusion of identity would dissipate and the primal clarity of family would rise to the surface. Even if you can’t stand the ideology or crazy lifestyle of your sister, when you get a phone call that she's in danger, how can you not go nuts?

In the multicultural zeitgeist of America, where we worship the secular religion of inclusion, it’s often uncomfortable to express this tribal impulse. It’s more acceptable to express the sentiment of caring for all humans, which many Jews see as the ultimate Jewish value, since it honors the Jewish teaching that every human is created in the image of God.

But just as there’s a difference between friends and family, there’s a difference between sentiment and impulse. In times of safety, I have the luxury of expressing sentiments of love for all my neighbors. But in times of danger, I am moved by an impulse to protect my people; the same impulse, perhaps, that would make me instinctively protect my daughter.

Does this explain why our Christian president and our Pope have been so lethargic in their response to the persecution of Christians? I don’t know. It may explain the unique bond between Jews, but ultimately, at the level of global leadership, none of that should matter.

If I were president, every human being would be a Jew.

Chanukah: The musical


There are many ways to tell the story of Chanukah. Tap dancing is not usually one of them.

“I don’t know of any other congregation on the planet where both rabbis and their cantor are doing a tap number together,” said Cantor David Shukiar of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

The cast of temple clergy and congregants will strut their stuff on the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza stage Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. in the original production “Benjamin and Judah: A Chanukah Musical,” the only Chanukah event at the venue for the entire holiday season.

The musical, set in modern times, tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Benjamin who is bullied at school because he is Jewish. After deciding he doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore, Benjamin has a dream in which he is Judah Maccabee and relives the story of Chanukah. The experience revives his confidence and pride in his religion.

The show promises to be an epic one, and not just because of the subject matter. Between cast members and a choir, there will be almost 100 people involved, ranging in age from 3 to older than 70. Add in the congregants from the 700-family Reform synagogue who are designing the set, making the costumes and providing props, and the number of participants nearly doubles.

“It’s a very big production,” said Shukiar, who wrote the musical and is co-directing it with his wife. He also stars as Benjamin. Shukiar is a composer of Jewish music and musical theater. He has twice been honored by the Guild of Temple Musicians as best young composer.

The lead characters have been practicing since June, and the rest of the cast has been working on their parts since September. Shukiar is pleased with the progress.

“When people are really passionate about something, you can come up with some pretty remarkable results,” he said.

Stylistically, the cantor describes “Benjamin and Judah” as a mix of up-tempo, high-energy tunes and dramatic, soft ballads. There’s liturgical music, traditional Israeli folk dance, a march in the tradition of “Les Miserables” and even a “STOMP”-style number in which cast members use their bodies to create rhythms.

And don’t forget the tap dancing.

“Certainly tap dancing is beyond my comfort zone,” said Senior Rabbi Ted Riter, who will be tapping his way across the Thousand Oaks stage. “It’s fun to learn something new, and I’m very lucky that I get to be on stage with people who really know what they’re doing, and I get to fake it along the way.”

Just as important as the dance steps, however, is the symbolic value of the production, said the rabbi, who appears as Benjamin’s friend and Judah’s brother.

“It’s just exciting to know that there is a Chanukah show,” Riter said. “It’s a wonderful idea that there’s someplace in December that Jews can say: Hey, this is our story.”

That is what prompted Shukiar to create the piece years ago.

“With the influx of holiday programming focused on Christmas and all the wonderful music and feelings that are out there, I always felt very isolated,” he said. “‘Benjamin and Judah’ is my answer to that.”

Shukiar found the process of writing the musical about the Maccabean rebellion enlightening.

“When I first started researching this back in 1996, the first thing I found was how little I knew about the story of Chanukah,” he said. “This was really a struggle for religious freedom — not just Jewish freedom but religious freedom.”

The show highlights a historic struggle that is often overlooked by many who may be familiar with the miracle of the oil lasting eight days but who do not understand the surrounding circumstances, Shukiar said.

The temple’s goal in staging the production at the 400-seat Scherr Forum Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is to bring the story to the entire community. “Benjamin and Judah” will be surrounded on the schedule by Christmas classics such as “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Tom Mitze, the cultural affairs director for the City of Thousand Oaks, said he’s excited to have the show.

“I think it will get a very good response. I’m happy to see it here,” he said. “Hopefully this will be a big hit and it will become an annual event.”

This is not the first time “Benjamin and Judah” has been performed. Some of its previous incarnations have taken place in New York, San Diego and, three years ago, at Temple Adat Elohim, where it was performed in the sanctuary.

Congregant Mitch Schwartz can’t wait to reprise his role as Antiochus.

“I very much enjoy being on the stage. It’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

As someone with experience juggling, doing magic tricks and performing as a clown, Schwartz is no stranger to the limelight. There’s something different about this show that touches his heart, though.

“One of the beauties of this production is the fact that we have so many segments of our temple community that come together,” he said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful warm feeling to be involved.”

And, Schwartz said, there’s a universal — and modern — message that makes this telling of the story more relevant than ever.

“There’s a contemporary component to the show, and there is somewhat of an anti-bullying message and to stand up for your beliefs and your rights,” he said. “It’s the Chanukah story told in a way that I think adults and children alike will embrace.”

The pawn king


A day in the life of pawnshop owner Yossi Dina looks something like this: A customer strolls in looking for a collar for his beloved dog, who is celebrating his fourth birthday. He finds a Gucci diamond-studded choker, pays $45,000 for it and leaves the store delighted at the great bargain he scored.

Another customer, Chinese actress Bai Ling (who played in “Red Corner” and “The Crow,” and recently bared her soul on the VH1 reality show “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew”) wants to sell a vintage Chanel necklace. She ends up selling it to Dina for $300,000 ­— less than half of what she initially demanded, but Dina promises to give her more should it sell for a better price.

Dina’s establishment, the Dina Collection, is not your run-of-the-mill pawnshop. It’s where the rich and famous dash for cash when times get tough or when they are in need of a large bundle of bills for a project. The Dina Collection, located on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, boasts assorted treasures such as vintage and designer Cartier, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches; jewelry such as diamond cuff links and precious stone necklaces; a garage full of rare classic automobiles (a Ferrari Spider, circa1948, worth more than $2 million, is one of Dina’s prized possessions); and art offerings including Warhols, Cézannes and Picassos.

Many of Dina’s uber-wealthy clients pawn their expensive belongings temporarily; they come back later to redeem them, at a higher price.

“If I told you who my clients are, you’d be shocked,” said the tall, smooth-headed Israeli bachelor who owns two adjacent Beverly Hills pawnshops. “I’m talking about very famous people in town. It’s not that they don’t have money, it’s just that they don’t have cash flow at the moment and they need to complete a certain project or a film, and this is an easy and quick way for them to get a loan.”

Dina, who has a beautiful beachside home in Malibu, was born and raised in Israel. He arrived in the United States in 1979 with the typical immigrant fantasy of striking it rich and started out as a door-to-door salesman, selling $20 jewelry items. One day, he knocked on the door of an impressive Hollywood Hills home, and there stood the glamorous Lana Turner.

“I didn’t know who she was,” Dina admits. “She invited me in, and I sold her $500 worth of jewelry. She told me about the movies she starred in, such as ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ and only then, it clicked in my head and I realized who this beautiful woman was. I didn’t want to deposit the check she gave me, I wanted to keep it as a souvenir, so in the end, Lana gave me cash. I kept the check, and we became good friends. When Lana traveled to Egypt, I went with her. When she passed away, I ended up purchasing her estate.”

Dina later moved on to selling more expensive jewelry. He used to carry his “store” with him in a briefcase, but after he was attacked more than once carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry, he understood that it was time to open a store. 

“The first time I was attacked, I had a gun pointed to my head,” recalls Dina, a former commando in the Israeli army. “I was not insured, and I was in serious debt. The second time it happened, I decided I’m not going to give up my briefcase without a fight, so I fought the attackers. One of the attackers escaped, and the other one, I was able to hold down until the police came and arrested him. However, while we struggled, he hit my head with the gun barrel and opened my skull. I found out later on that the two robbers had robbed before, about a dozen times, and killed seven people. I was really lucky to be alive.”

After that incident, Dina opened his first pawn store on Wilshire Boulevard, 28 years ago. A few years later, he opened the one on Beverly Drive. Right from the start, the store attracted high-end clients who needed to secure cash with discretion.

Not all of Dina’s clients, however, come to pawn their expensive belongings; some come looking for unique gifts or valuable art to add to their collections. Dina says one of his regular customers is a wealthy Jewish doctor to the stars. He purchases a variety of different items ranging from jewelry to paintings to cars every month.

Another loyal customer is George Hamilton, who recently adorned his “Dancing With the Stars” partner with bling from Dina’s store. Judge Judy Sheindlin purchased a timepiece for her husband at the Dina Collection. And Madonna borrowed jewelry for a Max Factor commercial she shot, Dina says.

Dina not only does business with the rich and famous, he also lives and socializes among them. His multimillion-dollar Malibu home used to belong to iconic singer and comedian Al Jolson, and his neighbors have included Ryan O’Neal, Charlize Theron, Aaron and Candy Spelling,  and “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips.

In this era of reality television, it was really only a matter of time until some studio executive took notice of Dina’s charmed life and quirky business and made him a celebrity in his own right. “E! Entertainment Special: Pawn 90210,” the pilot for an ongoing reality series featuring the Dina Collection, aired Sept. 7, and Dina hopes it will be picked up for a full season.

“They aired the pilot several times, and we were told we received 1.4 million viewers,”  Dina says.

The instense yet charming Dina is well suited for reality television. His line of work has inherent drama associated with it, and Dina is full of fascinating tales of desperate starlets, mysterious treasures and astounding deals.

“There was once a painting I purchased for $4,000, and I got an offer for it for $75,000. I decided that if they offered me so much money for this painting, without me even asking for it, it’s a sign that its worth is much greater. I decided to sell it at an auction and got for it $780,000.”

As a result of the past few years’ poor economy, business at Dina’s pawnshop has been booming. The new 5,000-square-foot showroom, adjacent to his original location, which he still operates, features luxurious leather couches, polished stone floors, rich wallpaper and designer furniture. The sleek storefront also offers a private VIP lounge and a discrete back-door entrance for paparazzi-dodging celebrities.

Dina decided several years ago to start observing Shabbat, and he no longer works on Saturdays or on Jewish holidays. Now, every Saturday, he visits Chabad of Malibu and spends the day at his Malibu beach home, with a good book or his surf board. For this master dealmaker, life couldn’t have handed him a better deal.

In the land of dreamers


In early 1945 in Hungary, as the Nazis were being routed out of Budapest by the Soviet army, 8-year-old Nicholas Frank came out of the Red Cross shelter where he, his mother and his older sister had been hiding. He looked at the destroyed city around him and realized that this devastation was not an act of nature. National leaders and influential decision-makers had caused it to happen. Even at 8, he sensed there must be a better way for human beings to live together.

That 8-year-old — now 74 — has devoted much of his life to finding that better way. Frank’s decades-long search has included intensive study of economic and environmental sustainability, alternative energy, urban design, new technologies, innovative engineering, land use, climate change and many other related topics. He’s also devoted a lot of serious thought to how we can live more harmoniously, with less stress.

His travels have included a period of 18 months in Europe, as well as visits to other lands, where he has closely observed how people live and work. Along the way, he has written and self-published two volumes on synergy — how interacting elements in nature connect with one another. The first was about how synergetic concepts apply to the individual, the second about how synergetic thinking functions in society — all precursors to the work he is doing now.

Frank’s lifetime obsession to find a better way for human beings to live has culminated in an urgent call to action, which he and his daughter, Elisa, call the Holigent Plan. On their Web site, holigent.org, as well as in a book that the father-and-daughter team recently completed, the Franks argue that our society is in a “race against time.”

On their Web site, the Franks make their case that our current way of life is “nearly bankrupt [and] unsustainable … threatened by depleting resources, coupled with our ever-expanding need for energy and materials.” If we don’t take bold steps to change this trajectory, they argue, we face a “probable socioeconomic and environmental collapse.” 

“We need to reorganize society while we still have options,” Elisa Frank, 28, said in an interview. She completed her master’s degree in geography and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2009 and has worked with her father for the last two years on developing the nonprofit Holigent. She said the Holigent Plan promotes the notion that our future is “not just about being green, or about water conservation. Those are important, but what we also need is a comprehensive economic solution that proposes a way for people and businesses to survive and thrive.”

Beneath the Franks’ dense social-science jargon — “Holigent,” a word they invented, is an amalgam of holistic/emergent; and they use phrases such as “sustainable hybrid socioeconomic operating system” — is a potentially revolutionary plan to “redesign” the way we “live, work, commute, consume and govern ourselves.”

The Franks’ Holigent Solution is complex, but boiled down to its essence, it envisions a future where society is restructured, at least partly, into small, manageable villages — urban or rural — where residents work, live and spend their leisure time in a cohesive, largely self-sustaining and self-sufficient mixed-use community that is mostly car-free and scaled comfortably to fit a lifestyle low in environmental impact and energy use. These villages would be run by an on-site nonprofit organization, which would rent out spaces to businesses and living quarters to those businesses’ employees and their families. 

A Holigent Village, the Franks write in their book, is a “walkable community that consists of low-, mid- and high-rise mixed-use residential and commercial structures. The village will provide office, light industrial and commercial spaces, a shopping promenade and parks with recreational facilities.” The Franks’ plan would limit sprawl so that each Holigent community retains its human-scale, accessible nature.

Further into the future, the Holigent program envisions several urban villages that could be clustered together or “strung out to include a range of socioeconomic groups … as well as industrial areas.” This group of villages would then form a Holigent Town, which would include a downtown area, all of which would be connected by “high-speed train or monorail.”

At the heart of the Holigent Plan is a trifecta of complementary entities that together sustain each village: a nonprofit that manages the village, the businesses that locate there, and the employee/residents who live and work in the village. The Franks call it the Holigent Delta Plan.

The first step on the agenda to realize the plan would be to build a demonstration village that would put into practice the Franks’ theories and serve as a model for other such communities. “Such a development,” the Franks have written on their Web site, “will facilitate and demonstrate the transition from suburban sprawl and car-dependency” to a life that is “safe, affordable and sustainable.”

Nicholas and Elisa Frank met with this reporter in the sunroom at the Franks’ modest, comfortable house in West Los Angeles. Nicholas — with scarce salt-and-pepper hair, rimless glasses, a thick mustache, a quick smile and a sophisticated, self-deprecating sense of humor — is full of cheerful energy and looks younger than his 74 years. He has a soft, accented voice, a gentle Old World manner, and he pauses thoughtfully before choosing the precise word or phrase. There’s a light in his eyes, which could be a sign of eccentricity, or the mark of a visionary genius focused on what mankind needs to do to create a sustainable future.

Nicholas’ father, a Budapest attorney who also delved into social analysis, died of natural causes in 1942. Nicholas spent the war years in Hungary, with his mother and older sister, in a ghetto where he wore a yellow star, and later managed to dodge death by hiding in cellars and attics, obtaining false papers and finally finding refuge at a Red Cross shelter. After surviving World War II, the family remained in Hungary under rigid Soviet rule.

In 1956, Nicholas, then 19, escaped to neighboring Austria, crossing a muddy field under cover of darkness. Eventually he made his way to Canada.

In Hungary, Nicholas had learned the craft of instrumentation, assuring that measuring devices function as they should. He worked in the same field in Canada, then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in aircraft instrumentation for Continental Airlines. Earning a decent and steady salary, Nicholas and his wife were able to buy income property, which allowed him to retire from his airline job while still in his 40s.
With much more time on his hands, Nicholas devoted himself entirely to considering mankind’s existential problems and possible solutions.

He has had no formal education in city planning, the environment, social sciences or anthropology. He is self-taught,  his research self-directed. He jokes that his lack of formal training gives him an advantage. “It’s easy for me to think outside the box,” he said, “since I never entered the box in the first place.”

Elisa, who serves as managing director of Holigent, acknowledges that her father — because of his nonacademic path — may meet with resistance when he presents his ideas to potential investors, developers and politicians.

“I understand the comfort some people feel knowing that someone has this piece of paper saying that this degree was awarded by an institution,” she said. “People look for credentials, what degrees you have, your previous accomplishments. So it’s a little harder for my dad,” she said, adding, “maybe it’s helpful that I went through the process and have those degrees.”

Elisa said she and her father have been influenced by many engineering books and articles devoted to energy use, carbon footprint, community development and so on. But, for her father, the most formative source of inspiration has been nature itself.

“The Holigent Village is built on human scale,” Elisa said. “This village uses well-established science in order to achieve a self-organizing sustainability that, like nature, would evolve and adapt to future situations. … Nature always tries to do the most with the least. And the Holigent Plan takes that as a guideline.”

Tikkun Olam: Food Forward


Food Forward is a Valley-based nonprofit that brings volunteers to private homes and public spaces in Southern California to harvest tree fruit for the purpose of distributing the abundance of fruit to food pantries and hunger relief organizations.

For more on Food Forward, click here.

TRIBE 2.012


The first issue of TRIBE, with a great cover story about Latino converts to Judaism, hit newsstands in December 2009. The magazine’s goal, as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman wrote in this column, was to bring our readers the world through Jewish eyes. Another important aim was to bring the tribe closer together.

As we head into 2012, our third year of publication, we are re-examining our purpose and place in the community. We have asked ourselves, what role do we play in our readers’ lives? Our rich and diverse content has spanned many critical topics — from tikkun olam to parenting and from fashion to friendship. But the thread that runs through it all is Jewish values.

In our constant effort to understand and serve the community, we are aiming for an even more defined focus, while still maintaining Judaism as our foundation.

We want to empower and inspire you to upgrade your life. And, by extension, the lives of those around you — your family, your community, the world. After all, a life well lived is one that succeeds in touching the lives of others.

We will fill the pages of this gorgeous, glossy magazine with innovative ideas on how to improve your emotional, physical and spiritual well-being — tips on managing your health, finances and relationships; suggestions on places to go for a lively night out or a family-friendly Shabbat service; trends in fashion, beauty and technology; and inspirational profiles of people making an impact on your world.

We love to showcase great photography and elegant design, so you can be sure all this content will be presented alongside hunger-inducing photos of recipes, artful shots of featured personalities, and pop-off-the-page graphics and illustrations.

And that’s just a glimpse of what you can expect in print.

In the next year, TRIBE also will be creating an exciting and much-enhanced online presence. In January, we will unveil a beautiful, completely redesigned Web site, tribejournal.com, with exclusive content and expanded multimedia components. Tribejournal.com will be part of ” title=”Facebook fan page”>Facebook fan page and ” title=”Like”>Like and editor@tribemediacorp.com), or send us an old-fashioned letter. We’re also always looking to add sharp talent and new visions to the TRIBE team, so if you are a writer, photographer, blogger or sales executive, please contact me.

Our new mission statement will be included at the front of the magazine in every issue. It’s there to remind us all of our dedication and our purpose. It’s there so we can remain focused on why we exist: to improve your life, your community and your world.

TRIBE. Upgrade Your Life.

Rack ‘em up


A mural of shadowy black silhouettes covers the wall with just one splash of color: a solitary red man. As the jazz-era-style mural stretches along the length of the restaurant, it follows the red man as he meets a lone red woman, and they end up sharing a table … and a drink. The painted walls illustrate the overall theme of The Rack, an eclectic Woodland Hills eatery designed with the kind of intimate atmosphere that makes it an ideal meeting place.

The Rack opened on Topanga Boulevard in late 2005 as a family-run business. Originally from Ramat Gan, Israel, owner Yossi Kviatkovsky began formulating the idea for a high-end pool hall while making pool tables in Gardena. Admiring the craftsmanship of the hand-made tables, but disliking what he calls the “Sopranos”-type roughness of most pool halls, Kviatkovsky wanted to create a more sophisticated space in which to enjoy the pastime.

“Notice there are no Budweiser signs,” Kviatkovsky said of the low-lit area that houses 14 carved-wood pool tables, which cost $16 per hour to play.

Between the red-felt-topped tables, communal dining table and the bar, guests are given an easy opportunity to meet one another, while the couple on a first date has ample excuses to get close as they assist each other’s game. The Rack’s menu of fun, flavorful cocktails — with sometimes scandalous names (see sidebar) — tasty entrees and satisfying bar snacks also makes it an ideal nightspot for a get-together with friends. And during football season, the place is transformed into a roaring sports bar. Normally hidden from view, 15 projector screens — six of them 112 inches — descend to display the action. The pool tables get covered up and surrounded with chairs as the space’s typically classy atmosphere is put on hold to make room for about 300 cheering fans.

The Chosen Drink

Four bartenders pooled their expertise and their imaginations to create The Rack’s inventive cocktail menu, which features wild drinks such as Sex With an Alligator, The Heretic and Blue Balls. Nick the bartender decided to stray briefly from his go-to recommendation, the Lemon Drop Martini (made from real muddled lemon rather than sweet-and-sour mix), to concoct something special just for TRIBE. Nick adapted a fresh mint — nana in Hebrew — mojito to include a fruit that holds much meaning in Jewish circles, the pomegranate, and a very Tribe-friendly alcohol: vodka.

One warning: Beware how many you knock down — as with all fruity drinks, this one will sneak up on you!

THE TRIBE

2 ounces Mojito Libre mojito mix
1 1/2 ounces pomegranate juice
1 1/4 ounces Grey Goose L’Orange vodka
1/2 ounce Agavero orange liqueur
5 to 6 fresh mint leaves, muddled
1 fresh-squeezed orange wedge
Soda water
Splash of cranberry juice

In a tall glass, combine all ingredients except cranberry juice. Mix well, then add cranberry juice and a few ice cubes.

Order this exclusive drink at The Rack, or make The TRIBE at your next holiday party!

The triple threat of the venue — good entertainment, good drinks and good food — is carried out by the collaboration of CFO Kviatkovsky; his wife, Robin; and sons Rami and Elon, who serve as general manager and executive chef, respectively.

Aside from writing witty drink descriptions for the cocktail menu, Rami, who is in charge of the bar, regularly alternates four craft beers of his choice while maintaining a great selection of 10 more draft beers, including the Sam Adams brew of the season. In addition, there is a full bar stocked with Rami’s own collection of scotches. The wide-ranging drink choices are paired with an extensive menu of freshly prepared items.

“Everything is made in-house,” Kviatkovsky said. “Nothing is canned or bottled,” including salad dressings, pasta sauces and pizza toppings.

Patrons can enjoy all the kitchen has to offer right up until the lounge closes, which is as late as midnight on weekends. The menu features everything from an artful caprese salad to jumbo chicken wings, and it got an extra boost in September — a long list of pizzas was added to the menu when The Rack merged with nearby restaurant/rock museum Rock & Roll Pizza. Now the enclosed front patio houses a treasure trove of rocker memorabilia as well as live shows throughout the week.

In a space plastered with posters of bands like The Beatles and The Clash, accented by electric guitars and lit by snare drums artfully repurposed into lamps, Kviatkovksy works with former Rock & Roll Pizza owner Dave Vieira to create authentic NewYork-style thin-crust pizza. The dough is shipped in twice a week from New York, and the cheese is purchased from Wisconsin.

The Rack expands its repertoire even further during the holidays. Every year, 150 pounds of potatoes are ordered for making in-house latkes from scratch.

“No latke’s good without a couple of knuckles in it,” Yossi joked.

For New Year’s Eve 2012, the stage that is regularly brought out four nights a week will feature live performances from different bands. A dinner special that evening will be followed by a free champagne toast at midnight.

Whether it’s a special event, a special someone or a special love of stripes and solids that brings you out this holiday season in the 818, The Rack is a sure bet to meet those you know, and those you’ll soon get to know.

The Rack, featuring Rock & Roll Pizza, 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., No. 215, Woodland Hills (in the Westfield Promenade Mall, next to the AMC movie theaters). (818) 716-0123. therack.us.

Tribe Calendar: December 2011


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4

WALK OF AGES XII
Join or cheer on the annual 5K walk/run, which raises funds that directly benefit residents of the Jewish Home. The family-oriented event includes food, music, clowns and magicians. 7-8 a.m. (registration), 8:30-10 a.m. (5K), 9:30-10:30 a.m. (awards ceremony). Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3344. ” title=”shomreitorahsynagogue.org”>shomreitorahsynagogue.org.


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11

“FROM DNA TO GENETIC GENEALOGY”
Jewish Genealogical Society of Conejo Valley and Ventura County hosts its annual Chanukah party and features guest speaker Stephen Morse, creator of the One-Step Webpages, which allows users to search large genealogical databases. 1:30-3:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. ” title=”wcce.ajula.edu”>wcce.ajula.edu.


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18

“NAZI HUNTER SIMON WIESENTHAL”
Tom Dugan stars in this one-man show as Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who relentlessly pursued 1,100 war criminals. A Q-and-A session with Dugan follows the show. 4 p.m. $30. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246. ” title=”templebethtorah.com”>templebethtorah.com.

Tribe Calendar: Chanukah happenings


Tuesday, December 6

Chanukah at CLU
Cal Lutheran celebrates the Festival of Lights with a candlelighting in the Roth Nelson Room, on Mountclef Boulevard near Memorial Parkway. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. Cal Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 493-3489. ” title=”toaks.org/cap”>toaks.org/cap.


Sunday, December 11

Chanukah Family Festival
Families of all backgrounds can celebrate the holiday in a variety of ways today: Hearing holiday stories, watching puppet shows, singing Hanukkah songs, dancing at the “Hanukkah Hop,” creating a menorah, eating sufganiyot, taking a Lights of Hanukkah Family Tour and more.11 a.m.-4 p.m. $10 (general), $7 (seniors and full-time students), $5 (children, 2-12), free (members and toddlers). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” title=”northridgefashioncenter.com”>northridgefashioncenter.com.


Saturday, December 17

Vodka Latke
The Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara’s Young Adult Division (YAD) invites you to its fifth annual Chanukah party. Enjoy a gourmet latke bar, light appetizers, open vodka bar, DJ and dancing, photo booth, raffle and silent auction. Cocktail attire. Overnight accommodations available nearby. Sponsored by YAD, Scott Topper Productions and RND Vodka. 8 p.m.-midnight. $20. Casa Las Palmas, 323 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara. (805) 957-1115, ext. 107. ” title=”westfield.com/topanga”>westfield.com/topanga.

Fourth Annual Chanukah Celebration at Constitution Park
Watch the giant menorah lighting, enjoy live music, juggling, latkes, prizes for children and a raffle for the first night of Chanukah. 5-7 p.m. Free. Sponsored by Chabad of Camarillo. 1287 Paseo Camarillo (exit Carmen Drive), Camarillo. (805) 383-7882. ” title=”shoptheoaksmall.com”>shoptheoaksmall.com.


Tuesday, December 27

Calabasas Commons
Join the Calabasas Shul for a menorah lighting, live music, doughnuts and latkes. 6:30 p.m. Free. Calabasas Commons, 4799 Commons Way, Calabasas. (818) 724-7485.

Splurge-tastic Chanukah gifts


The great gifting season is upon us, so why not treat our loved ones (and ourselves) to something outrageous, something splurge-tastic that will be treasured, and remembered, for years to come. Whether you’re a natural big spender or someone who is looking to make a statement with an unexpectedly lavish gift, we have the luxe Chanukah gift guide to fill your holiday dreams.

1. Whether you’re heading out to a decadent New Year’s Eve soiree or your best friend’s annual Chanukah latke fest, carry all your essentials in timeless style with the Donna Karan Spazzolato Evening Dowel Frame Clutch ($995). The petite purse, made in Italy, is an elegant moonstone color and is ideal for carrying your smartphone, lipstick and car keys. donnakaran.com

2. Sometimes, the best gift you can give is the gift of relaxation and escape from this hectic world. The Mrs. Godfrey Chair ($1,495) by Jonathan Adler is just what your mother or bubbe needs to curl up with a good book and let the stress melt away. jonathanadler.com

3. Don’t forget to wrap the hand-loomed alpaca Sybil Throw ($595) around her shoulders while she delves into that novel. This plush blue blanket is best used in conjunction with a warm mug of cocoa. jonathanadler.com

4. The weather outside may be dreary, but your honey can stay warm and toasty in the stylish Mangus Sweater ($120) by Civil Society. No one will be able to tell that this handsome herringbone sweater, with three front pockets and a tiny sleeve pocket, didn’t come with a handsome price tag to match. civilsocietyclothing.com

5. Just imagine the glow on your beloved’s face when you present her with the exquisite Graduated Aquamarine Necklace ($750). This unique, handmade necklace features natural gemstones and sterling silver beads, and has a delicate hue that will complement any woman’s skin tone. etsy.com

6. For a modern take on the holiday kippah, go for something sleek, silver and sophisticated with the Gunmetal Yarmulke Crown ($1,285) from haute couture jewelry line young&ng. It’s a dazzling gift for anyone celebrating a major milestone in their life.  youngandng.com

Old game, new spins


When it comes to Chanukah, playing the dreidel game is as ubiquitous as lighting the candles on a chanukiyah and eating latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts).

The dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, can be made of almost any material, including wood, plastic, paper, clay, silver or porcelain. And Judaica artists work in a variety of media — sterling silver, ceramic, glass, enamel — to create collectible dreidels that are meant to be displayed, rather than played.

"The hottest trends now are in the ultra-modern segment of dreidels," said David Cooperman, owner of Shalom House in Woodland Hills, referring to dreidels made from materials like laser-cut aluminum.

The word dreidel is Yiddish, and comes from the German word drehen (turn). Every dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side: nun, gimmel, hay and shin. These letters represent the phrase nes gadol hayah sham, which means "a great miracle happened there." In Israel, dreidels (called sevivon in Hebrew) have a pey in place of the shin. The pey stands for po, or "here," as in: "a great miracle happened here." Both phrases refer to the miracle of Chanukah — when a small quantity of oil found by the Maccabees lasted for eight days, long enough to rededicate the ransacked temple.

There are many stories that attempt to explain the origins of the dreidel and its connection to Chanukah. The most accepted story dates back more than 2,300 years ago, from the time of the Maccabees, when King Antiochus had forbidden Jewish customs and religious practices. According to legend, Jews would gather in small, clandestine groups to study Torah, but they would also bring along wooden spinning tops — a popular form of gambling at the time. When the Jews saw soldiers approaching, they would hide their texts and pretend to gamble with their dreidels.

If you are like most Jewish adults, you have dreidels lying about the house, but you often forget the rules of the game when Chanukah rolls around.

The dreidel game, in its most basic form, is a simple betting game. Each player gets an equal amount of "money," which can be anything from buttons to nuts to pennies to chocolate gelt, and contributes to the pot at the beginning of a round. The players each get a turn to spin the dreidel once during the round.

Based on how the dreidel lands, the player whose turn it is will:
nun: do nothing; gimmel: get the entire pot; hey: take half the pot; shin: put in one piece.

If the pot is emptied during a round, each player should contribute one piece. Once a player runs out of money, he is out of the game. The game ends when one player has all the money.

In recent years, people have come up with new spins on the dreidel game.

Two strategy games by Long Beach-based game designer Dan Siskin are "Maccabees" and "Operation: Maccabees" (flasterventure.com). Instead of dice, the games use dreidels.

In "Maccabees," players use action cards and colored dreidels to acquire enough oil — while avoiding remnants of the Seleucid army — to light the chanukiyah. In "Operation: Maccabee," players spin the dreidel to lead an elite squad of commandos from four Allied countries — the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and France — to defeat the Nazis and liberate the Jews in 1944.

"No Limit Texas Dreidel" takes the best of dreidel and combines the game with Texas Hold’em poker. Jennie Rivlin Roberts of ModernTribe.com created the game with her husband because they were bored playing the traditional dreidel game at their annual Chanukah party.

"We were coming back from visiting my husband’s grandfather, and we were in the car for a long ride. We just started talking about it and we came up with this game," Roberts said.

The objective of the game is for each player to create the best dreidel "hand" by combining spins. You combine dreidel "spins" in your shaker, which only you can see, with other Community Spins, which can be seen by all players. Players bet in rounds using poker rules.

"Staccabees" (staccabees.com), by Dan Singer and Bruce Kothmann, is a game of strategy and chance. Instead of money, two to six players get colored cubes. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and, based on the results, place colored cubes on a "stac." If a player knocks over a "stac" with the dreidel, they must take the cubes that fell. The first player to either complete a "stac" or end up with no cubes wins.

In "Major League Dreidel" (majorleaguedreidel.com), a game by Eric Pavony of Brooklyn, N.Y., players compete for the longest spin in a stadium called a "Spinagogue." And each year, around Chanukah, Pavony holds "Major League Dreidel" tournaments in clubs around New York City with the tag line, "No Gelt, No Glory."

A season of change


Lunch in the small, red-tiled Paprika Grill in Tarzana, with its short, kosher Mediterranean menu, seems like a simple proposition. But everything looks and smells so good: shwarma, shakshouka, sabich, pargiot and three kinds of crispy schnitzel. Although owner-chef Tommy Marudi was previously a chef at Aroma Bakery and Café — which has one of the biggest, most overwhelming menus in town — he is doing something different here at Paprika, making big changes in his cooking and in his life, and they begin with the small, well-edited menu choices.

Marudi knows that these Mediterranean favorites can be done well if they are freshly made, carefully spiced and artfully presented, and the selected items are what he is going to stick to for the moment. On Fridays, there is a selection of prepared foods on display to take out. On Saturdays, he is closed all day, at least until the sun sets a little earlier.

One clue to what makes Paprika Grill different from other local restaurants serving Israeli food is that the ubiquitous television is tuned to the food channel instead of soccer. Marudi, 28, is the cook, greeter, manager and owner, and he is always there. Slim and intense with wide blue eyes and dark hair, he could easily be a guitar player in a local band, another L.A. hopeful in a dark T-shirt and camouflage pants, but, in fact, the young man already has seven years of serious cooking experience behind him.

Marudi has big American dreams, but they’re grounded in the reality of his experience in the kitchen. He is rightly proud that Paprika Grill already has been recognized by Los Angeles Magazine as serving the best Israeli breakfast in town. Astute food chronicler Linda Burum writes, “The brightly spiced mix of fresh tomatoes, onions, and chiles known as shakshouka is cooked down to a bold stew in which eggs gently simmer. At Paprika Grill a primo house-baked baguette sops up the yolk-enriched sauce.”

For lunch, Marudi recommends the pargiot, spicy bite-sized pieces of dark meat chicken, chopped and grilled Jerusalem style, with caramelized onions, lemon, garlic and parsley. It is presented with two kinds of cabbage salad — one bright purple and creamy, one green and sharp; crisp Israeli salad; creamy, house-made hummus; and a soft, pillowy,  hot pita. It took Marudi a while to find the right pita, one that resembled the pitas he ate in Israel. The source he finally found here is also an Israeli transplant, also just starting out, and he makes the pitas on machines he brought directly from Israel.

Marudi was born in California, but grew up in Tel Aviv. As a teenager, he worked as a dishwasher in his uncle’s Tel Aviv restaurant, learning to cook from the man who Marudi says is still the best chef he knows. Returning to Los Angeles at 21, he got a job as a cook at Aroma, the locus of Israeli activity in the Valley, and helped develop the big, photo-heavy menu. He discovered as he worked that he had a gift for invention and presentation, which he now puts to use on catering jobs, finding ways to reinvent skewers and make sabich sandwiches into smaller, more sophisticated bites. 

Working at Aroma was an invaluable learning experience, but the demanding work schedule took its toll on him. Marudi missed the rhythms and practices of his religious family back home. This past summer, he left Aroma to open his own kosher place. Now, in addition to managing the kitchen, he is also learning “front of the room” (eight tables, six seats at the counter) customer relations and financial management. This winter, he will be marrying a fellow Aroma alum, and in the late summer he will become a father.

On the verge of starting his own home and family, the ambitious young restaurateur seems to be changing everything in his life at once, but he is doing so carefully and thoughtfully, the way he arranges food on a plate. Being closed Friday night and all day Saturday is tough for business, not to mention the rabbi’s prohibition on having the place redecorated during the holidays, but Marudi trusts that in addition to his hard work and innovation, somebody is watching over his venture and it will lead to a good way of life for himself, his new family and his delighted customers.

As with many good things, Paprika Grill can be a little hard to find. The restaurant’s name was not yet on the mini-mall marquee when I visited, and the banner hanging at the entrance had been flipped up by the wind. But drive slowly as you approach the corner of Corbin Avenue and Ventura Boulevard and follow the delicious aroma to the door. 

Paprika Grill
19657 1/2
Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
(818) 344-1687
paprikagrill.net

Shop for you, shop for the world


Consumerism is often dubbed the antithesis of all that is good, but that doesn’t have to be so. More and more, businesses are adopting ethical labor practices, Earth-friendly materials and altruistic causes. We found a few ways for you to flex your consumer power — with a conscience.

Photos by Courtney Raney

1. Want to shop at a fabulous New York boutique from the comfort of your Valley home? Jewish-owned retailer Lonnys recently launched lonnys.com, where you can give back while browsing designer brands. Supporting charities is a large part of the company’s mission, and all proceeds from the Lonnys Denim Peace Bag ($20) are donated to Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. lonnys.com

2. The local and Jewish-owned boutique, Green Denim Initiative, features products created with both fashion and the environment in mind. Tags, buttons and zippers are recycled, cold-water washing saves energy, natural fibers and vegetable dyes reduce chemical use, and the store partners with like-minded designers such as Alkemie Jewelry, which donates a portion of its online sales to a different charity each month. Handmade in Los Angeles and created with 100 percent reclaimed metal, Green Denim Initiatives’ newest featured item is this stylish Alkemie Six Shark Tooth Necklace ($209). greendeniminitiative.com

3. Who knew that building a miniature bonsai forest in your home could also help green Israel? At ababyatree.com, you can get this bonsai tree kit ($78), or any other gift, and the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in Israel in honor of someone you love. The kit includes everything you need to maintain a healthy bonsai tree, and even the box and ribbon it’s wrapped in are made of recycled U.S. steel and plastic bottles. ababyatree.com

4. Jewish ceramicist Robert Siegel drew inspiration from his berry bowl-collecting bubbe when he created this limited-edition pink-and-white Baba’s Berry Bowl ($75) for breast cancer awareness. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this bowl will go to The Pink Agenda (thepinkagenda.org), a nonprofit breast cancer research and awareness organization. Available through December 2011, the bowl is hand crafted and made with lead-free porcelain. rshandmade.com

5. “How can we add a little ‘ooh-lah-lah’ to our cars?” asks Jewish entrepreneur and physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, who runs carlahlah.com, a sustainable family business creating car magnets with messages of peace and love. Using only local manufacturers, each magnet purchased ($8.99) will offset 20 miles of carbon emissions from your car. carlahlah.com

6. Famously founded by a German-Jewish immigrant in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently pioneered a way to produce the same fabulous jeans while conserving water. With Water

levi.com/waterless

On fire


The old stereotype of Mizrahi music — an Israeli genre created by immigrant Jews from North African and Arab countries — was of teary, sorrowful love ballads: tales of lost loves, broken hearts and dashed hopes. You could say Mizrahi music was Israel’s version of country music.

Moshe Peretz, one of the headliners for the I.L.Care community concert on Nov. 20, is the poster boy for the genre’s modern image — which is, by contrast, vivacious, upbeat and full of life. Hits like “Esh” (“Fire”), “Me Hashamayim” (“From the Sky”) and “Eshmor Alayich” (“I Will Keep You Safe”) are more likely to make you want to dance than to cry. Dark-featured and handsome, Peretz has been one of the top-selling artists in Israel since 2007, and the November concert, expected to draw an audience of 6,000, will be his Los Angeles debut.

“I’m so excited to be part of this project,” Peretz said in a phone interview from Israel. He said he has had other opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, but none of them panned out, and it doesn’t seem to intimidate him that his first stateside show will be at one of the largest U.S. venues to host an Israeli artist in recent times.

“The purpose of this concert is to build community, and I’m inspired by that,” he said. “I think it’s everyone’s right to live wherever they want, wherever it’s good for them, but it’s important to maintain a connection to Israel … and to safe keep our religion. In the end, we are Jewish wherever we live.”

Born in 1983 in Tiberias to parents of Moroccan and Iraqi descent, Peretz started out as a hairdresser, but it didn’t take long for him to turn a lifelong passion for music into a career, both writing and composing his own songs. He released his first album at 22, in 2005, which turned out to be a commercial failure. But that slap of reality didn’t shake him, and his next album in 2007 contained the megahit “Esh,” which rocketed Peretz to stardom.

“Besides his great voice, the fact that Moshe Peretz is a young and multitalented artist — a singer, composer and writer — helped him a lot,” said Eliran Refael, a popular Los Angeles DJ who caters to the Israeli-American crowd. Indeed, a television segment on one of Israel’s top channels described Peretz as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated artists in his genre for his writing and composing skills.

One of the markers of success in Israel is the price a singer commands for a private performance at a wedding — weddings in Israel are often lavish, 700-guest affairs — and Peretz is among the most requested and best-paid entertainers of them all. According to the TV report, he earns approximately $53,000 per week during the busiest wedding season, a total of $800,000 in one summer.

But contrary to many young celebrities who fall victim to the vices of fame and fortune, Peretz, who is currently working on his fifth album, has maintained a reputation of humility and a clean image, too: no tattoos, no drugs, no controversy. That reputation is part of the reason the Israeli Leadership Council chose Peretz as its headliner for the family-friendly community concert, along with Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu.

“He has a good, positive attitude,” said Eli Tene, co-chair of the ILC. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s enormously popular here, too, particularly with the younger generation — his blend of Mizrahi, rock and pop music is lively and infectious.

“It’s going to be such an electric show,” Tene said. “Anyone who’s not going to be there will feel that they really missed out.” 

The I.L.Care community concert will take place Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk. $18 with a volunteer commitment, $90 without. To purchase tickets, visit

JewCLA?


I have a Jewish daughter in 12th grade, which means one thing: college applications. The fact that she is applying is a given; my husband and I have followed the long-standing Jewish tradition of brainwashing our children into believing that college is nothing more than grades 13 though 16. But what is a little shocking is that hours of searching Web sites like Collegeprowler.com, reading the tome Fiske Guide to Colleges and meeting with college counselors has arrived when it seems like just yesterday I was picking stale Cheerios out of her car seat.

Something else is surprising as well. At no time during our many discussions about many different schools has the question arisen of whether any given college on her wish list is particularly, well, Jewish.

I think this would be strange regardless of where she attended high school, but it is particularly odd because she is happily attending New Community Jewish High School. Her college counselor asked her during her junior year whether attending a college with a large Jewish student body was important to her, and she replied, “Not really.”

Now that the ticking of the biological clock has been replaced by the ticking of the Daughter Leaving for College Clock, the question of whether the college she ultimately chooses has a decent-size Jewish population and/or some center for Jewish involvement on campus has become more significant, at least to me.

I believe, rightly or wrongly, that sending a Jewish kid to a school with a bunch of other Jewish kids will make the awkward new-friend-making process easier. I picture my daughter employing her highly honed Jewdar,  approaching another Jewish girl and saying sweetly, “Hi, I’m from Los Angeles, and I don’t know a soul at this school.” To which the other girl (who will ultimately be her backpack-through-Europe companion, her study partner and her maid of honor at her wedding) will respond, “I’m a Jewish girl from Westchester County, N.Y. Let me introduce you to a bunch of other menschie Jewish kids from my dorm and we can hang out, and then we can all call our mothers.”

I’m far from the first parent to think that sending her kid to a college with a decent-size Jewish population might be a good idea. Last week, I received my quarterly Reform Judaism magazine and it had a section called “Insider’s Guide to College Life.” Inside was a carefully tabulated list of 60 private and public universities ranked in order of their overall Jewish student populations in terms of absolute numbers and student body percentages.

In addition to the statistical breakdown of Jewish student bodies, the magazine contained several general articles about choosing a college. An article titled “Getting In: What the Experts Say” had a Q-and-A with admissions experts. One of the questions, which I suspect was “written” by a fictionalized student reader of Reform Judaism magazine, was: What is the secret to finding the right school for me? And how can I determine if the student body and faculty will be welcoming to me as a Jew, in general?

Wendy Kahn, of Wendy Kahn College Consulting, responded: “To find out if a school has a strong Jewish community, visit the Hillel or another Jewish student organization and talk with student leaders and professional staff. Ask about what matters to you. Here are a few suggestions: How many Jewish undergrads are there? Some Jewish community professionals say that a 10 percent Jewish campus population is about the beginning point of viability for a Jewish student to find ‘community.’ How many students are active at Hillel? What programs does Hillel have? Are there Jewish fraternities and/or sororities?”

I decided to discuss my theory that a Jewish kid would have an easier time acclimating to college if there was a significant Jewish presence on campus with someone who has experience in the matter: Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.

Every year, Rabbi Vogel takes a college tour to connect with students whose families are temple members. “Some kids will naturally direct themselves toward Jewish involvement,” he said, “but the ones who won’t are the ones you need to worry about. Jewish organizations become important just in case those kids decide at some point that they want to get involved.” College, he noted, is “a natural time for exploration.”

Rabbi Vogel raised another good point. He explained that many of the kids who grew up in the heavily Jewish West Valley don’t understand the importance yet of their Jewish friendships. Yet, he has observed that once Jewish kids arrive on large college campuses, many of them gravitate toward Jewish fraternities and sororities that have a “Jewish soul” and create a Jewish friendship circle.

This confirms what my friends who have already sent their children off to college have observed. One noted, “My daughter has only been in school (University of Wisconsin, Jewish student population 13 percent) for a month, but she already has been to two Shabbat dinners through Hillel. Ironically, she would never go to a Shabbat service or attend a synagogue Shabbat dinner when she lived at home. I think it has been her way to make connections.”

Another friend noted that her daughter, a Calabasas High alum and now a junior at the University of Michigan (Jewish student population 18 percent) joined a Jewish sorority and now rents a house with a bunch of other Jewish girls.

“Coming out of a predominantly Jewish area, these kids are very at ease with being Jewish,” my friend said, “and being Jewish has been made very easy — public schools are closed on the High Holy Days, and all of their friends went to religious school.

“So when they go to college, one of the hardest things, and the thing that causes the most stress, is wondering, ‘Where am I going to fit in?’ When there is a Jewish community at the college, you know there will be a place that you are going to fit it. It is an immediate niche for you.”

After gathering this much evidence to support my argument that my daughter should take note of whether a particular school has a few other Jewish students before applying, I revisited the issue with her. We were driving home from dinner and I asked her and her Calabasas High friend if they would be interested in going to a college where there were hardly any other Jewish students.

Her friend responded that she would definitely want to go to a college where there were lots of Jewish kids because she thought that would make her feel more comfortable.

My daughter?

“I think that if I had a group of 15 friends and two or three were Jewish, that would be great,” she said.

Hmmm … three out of 15? That’s 20 percent. More than viable.

The price for success: Bad PR


“Never mind the collapse in confidence in Europe, the Palestinian proposal for United Nations recognition and heightened tensions with neighboring Egypt and longtime ally Turkey. The Israeli economy just keeps growing faster than the rest of the developed world.”

Those were the opening lines of a Sept. 26 report in Business Week titled “Israel Punches Above Weight as GDP Beats Developed World,” which detailed Israel’s economic accomplishments and included facts such as these:

“Israel’s gross domestic product will expand 4.8 percent this year, according to the Washington-based lender [the International Monetary Fund]. That’s up from an April forecast of 3.8 percent and triple the pace for the average of the 34 advanced economies.”

Triple the pace for the average of the 34 advanced economies! You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, the picture in Israel is not all rosy. The tent revolution over the summer revealed many social ills, such as a growing disparity between rich and poor and a sharp rise in the cost of living and housing that is shrinking the middle class. But in the spirit of free societies, the wheels of change have been put in motion. Even at its worst, Israel has a built-in “corrective mechanism” that shows a robust democracy in action.

So, how do we explain this little democratic miracle in the Middle East? Here is a tiny nation under siege, surrounded by hostile neighbors, under assault by a boycott-happy world, condemned beyond all reasonable measure by the United Nations — and still, it finds a way to grow faster than most countries, make more than its fair share of contributions to the world, create an open, civil society and rank among the highest nations on the “happiness scale.”

How does Israel do it? I have a theory, but you might not like it.

Here’s what I think: Israel’s success is directly related to its failure at public relations.

Yes, all these complaints you’ve been hearing for years about Israel’s “terrible hasbarah” are directly related to its phenomenal success. Here’s why: PR is the creation of emptiness, the emptiness of promises. A PR mentality creates a society that cares more about its image than about delivering real things to its people. PR is like showing a menu and never serving the food.

Israel was built not by people who knew how to promise, but by people who knew how to deliver.

Israel wasn’t worried about PR as it built the strongest economy in the Middle East; it wasn’t worried about image-building as it built the strongest army; and it certainly didn’t create an open society — where brutal criticism of the state is the natural order of things — because it thought that would help its image.

In fact, Israel’s determination not to be a victim has been a key contributor to its bad PR. Let’s face it: Victims and underdogs get good PR. This is a major reason why the Palestinians have been winning the PR war — they have nurtured their image of victimhood. Weak people attract sympathy. Strong people don’t.

Of course, none of this means you can’t aim to have a strong, successful country and good PR. Israel has made moves in that direction over the years: the offers of peace under Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert were helpful. So have the country’s efforts to help disaster areas throughout the world, particularly after the Haiti earthquake, as well as Israel’s cultural exports and technological innovations, especially medical advances.

Sadly, though, Israel’s greatest PR boost in the last decade came when suicide bombers were murdering Israelis during the Second Intifada, and when rockets were falling on Sderot after the disengagement from Gaza. In other words, Israel got the most sympathy when it was a clear victim.

Is Israel doomed, then, to have to choose between success and good PR? Can it ever hope to have both?

Achieving both goals would surely be the biggest miracle yet for this little country of miracles. Can you imagine if Israel were celebrated around the world for its numerous and valuable contributions to humanity? Can you imagine if Israel became a democratic model for other countries in the Middle East?

But here is the impossible question: If peace is not in the cards with the Palestinians (and I don’t believe it is), can Israel still find a way to improve its image? The odds are not good. The world’s obsession with creating a Palestinian state — against all evidence that it is feasible at this point — is just too strong. As long as the Palestinians are seen as the victims, Israel will be fighting an uphill PR battle.

Perhaps if Israel were to make a dramatic move, like a specific peace proposal, that might help. More likely, only a dreaded renewal of terrorist attacks against Israel would generate sympathy — and even that sympathy would dissipate once Israel retaliates.

To have any chance at good PR, Israel must find a way to reclaim the emotional high ground — not by being victims of terror but by reclaiming the emotional idea of “justice.” The Palestinians should not “own” justice. Israel can make a strong case that its cause is just and that the treatment it gets at the United Nations is a gross injustice. Framing its narrative around justice is a lot more powerful than framing it around physical security.

But let’s not fool ourselves: As long as Israel is seen as the strong one, facing societies who revel in victimhood and have been taught to hate the Jews, Israel will not win the PR war. It might win a few battles, but not the war. That will only come when Arabs of the Middle East realize that their problems have nothing to do with Israel — and that Israel is really the cure, rather than the curse, of the Middle East.

In the meantime, Israel can live with the consolation, and it’s not a small one, that it has created the strongest and most successful country in the Middle East. And that, in itself, is a miracle.

Getting that giving is getting


When Eli Tene, co-chair of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), first called to tell me about a new initiative they had cooked up, I knew it was something big. I could hear it in his voice.

And as I sat down with Donna Kreisler, whom the ILC had plucked from a successful career in Israel as a business consultant to bring her here to head this massive project, I could see I.L.Care’s unique vision: to create a tight-knit community of Israeli and American-Jewish volunteers, changing lives — the lives of people in need, as well as their own. Getting involved by giving, Tene told me with conviction, had changed his own life.

Throughout my interviews with the leaders of I.L.Care, they explained the challenge they faced within the Israeli community and, therefore, the enormous potential impact of the project: Put simply, most Israelis aren’t volunteers or philanthropists. And the ILC wants to change that.

I am only beginning to realize just how monumental the ILC’s challenge is.

I bought my ticket to the concert, and I wanted all my friends and family to come. I sent an e-mail to my sister and my two sisters-in-law: “Tickets are only $18, but the catch is you have to promise to volunteer four hours in the next year, which I think is amazing, but you’ll have to get your guys to volunteer, too.”

For some reason, I knew the women (none of whom are 100 percent Israeli) would be on board, but I had a feeling the men (all Israelis, including my sister’s boyfriend) would take some convincing. But, Moshe Peretz for $18?! It couldn’t be that hard a sell, could it?

“He wasn’t into the whole volunteering thing,” one of my sisters-in-law wrote back.

Not into the volunteering thing? Who says that?

An Israeli, that’s who.

And herein lies the challenge. It’s not that Israelis aren’t wonderful, giving and generous people. In fact, my brother-in-law is one of the kindest, most unselfish individuals I know. He is always the first to lend a hand to a friend in need. Which is why I was quite shocked at his response. So I asked him about it.

He shrugged and said he doesn’t have time to volunteer. When that excuse didn’t get me off his case, he went with the “it’s just not for me” defense. By the end of the night, after relentlessly chipping away at him, I managed to elicit a not-so-promising, “I’ll think about it.”

The truth is, most Israelis are not into the whole volunteering thing. They weren’t raised to be. Volunteerism, it turns out, is a learned cultural value, and as I wrote in this month’s cover story, there are clear explanations as to why Israeli culture has not yet adopted the tikkun olam (healing the world) mentality.

My other sister-in-law, who is Russian but moved to Israel when she was a teen and always had a difficult time adjusting to the Israeli mentality, put it well: “In Israel, you learn that you never do something for nothing.” There’s a word for that in Hebrew: frier. It’s a mentality that doesn’t leave much room for giving for the sake of giving.

Changing this pattern of behavior in an entire community is precisely what I.L.Care is attempting. This is not just about convincing a bunch of people to volunteer — there’s nothing new or remarkable about that — it’s about re-educating a population and introducing a new value: Giving is the greatest gift you can give to yourself.

The late Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Israelis don’t know they want to give, but the ILC is going to show them.

Israeli summer: Hoping for change, calling for violence [WEB EXCLUSIVE]


“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” John F. Kennedy wisely put forth in a 1962 speech. As I write this, the Occupy Wall Street movement is in full swing, and I can’t help but be reminded of my summer covering the social and economic protests in Israel.

I arrived in the southern Israeli town of Sderot at the beginning of August to begin working on a documentary following the “Israeli Summer” social movement. I was blown away by the hundreds of thousands of people actively rallying against the economic and political status quo. It seemed as though every town I traveled through had a tent city—the ubiquitous emblem of the cause. These weren’t just Ashkenazim from the wealthy, developed center, but an ethnic, religious, and political chop suey of people from all sorts of backgrounds.

Story continues after the jump.

When I arrived in Israel, I was naively idealistic. It took me less than one week to realize that despite the fervent but peaceful way in which Israeli citizens protested the economic status quo and lack of social equality, the only overarching consensus was that no major social reforms could come to fruition until Israeli citizens died. Not just a few, but enough to shake the government out of its coma, was the expressed sentiment.

I was horrified to repeatedly hear this morbid maxim uttered by Hawks, Doves, and Anarchists alike. Solidarity meant nothing other than the illusion of a unified Israel, when in the minds of many Israelis, they were just as divided as ever—the only unifying theme among the protestors was the belief that violence was the only true avenue for change.

The first time I heard this expressed was as my friend and I were walking down the semi-deserted streets in Be’er Sheva after the August 13th rally—a rally that drew approximately 25,000 people, and ended at midnight with a heartfelt crowd-wide rendition of “Hatikvah.”

I innocently asked my friend if he thought the protests would change anything, and without missing a beat, he said, “Honestly? Nothing will change until someone dies, or a lot of people die. It takes death for the government to act. That’s how it has always been, and I think that this is no different.”

Wait. What?

Weren’t these rallies so peaceful because they were supposed to stand out in stark contrast to the violent Arab Spring erupting all around Israel? Was all of this talk of solidarity and community a farce?

No, it wasn’t. But the movement wasn’t coming strictly from a place of unbridled hope and altruism either.

The undercurrent of negativity also became clear when I interviewed young adults at the Sderot tent city, who turned out to be working journalists and media and marketing students.

I was led to a folding chair, and was instantly made the makeshift moderator of a debate between approximately a dozen protestors. It was an unusual first interview, but it allowed me to hear the discussion at large, rather than from one person at a time, and it gave me a greater understanding of the movement.

I was impressed by the restraint everyone showed when they disagreed with each other, and the real surprise was just how much they disagreed about important things. Like what the protest was about. To this day, there is no consensus on exactly what people were rallying together for other than the amorphous “economic and social problem.”

Sounds familiar to Americans now, doesn’t it?

Although hope was ever-apparent in the protest activities in Israel this summer, that sentiment was frequently tinged with the fatalistic notion that peaceful protests could never make enough of an impact to actually change society.

There is a scene in the musical, “Les Miserables,” the morning after a student uprising is extinguished. The women who are left behind sadly sing:

“Nothing changes, nothing ever will…”

I hope that something good does comes out of this movement—the only other alternative, one that resembles the Arab Spring—is much too sinister to imagine.

TRIBE Life: The mourning after


Each culture has rituals and customs surrounding death, and Judaism is no exception. Jewish tradition and the Jewish community provide mourners with structure and direction during the grieving process.

When a family member dies, those left behind often find themselves in a state of confusion when planning the memorial service, burial, reception and shivah. Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, says he tries to help families with planning and spiritual guidance.

“The fact that we are taken aback by a death means we are not prepared,” Feinstein said. “It’s my job to come in and facilitate a process, such as gathering the community to support the family.”

Jews have two obligations to a loved one who has died, Feinstein says. “We have an obligation to protect the dignity of their body and the dignity of their soul. The way we protect the body is by carefully guarding it and preparing it for burial. We bury the body in the earth with love and care,” he said.

A congregation might have a chevrah kadisha (burial society), a small group of volunteers responsible for the physical and spiritual preparation of the deceased according to Jewish law. In addition to washing, purifying and dressing the deceased, a shomer (guardian) will sit with a body until burial.

Jewish funerals take place soon after death, preferably within 24 hours. Funerals cannot take place on Shabbat or other holy days, and a funeral can be delayed for legal reasons, to transport the deceased or to allow close relatives to travel.

Funeral services can be held in a synagogue, a funeral home or at the gravesite. The service is usually brief and simple, including psalms, prayers and a eulogy. Unlike other religious traditions, Jewish funerals always feature a closed casket to protect the dignity of the deceased.

“We keep the casket closed because it is undignified to have people looking at you when you cannot look back,” Feinstein said.

The body should be buried in the ground in a plain, unadorned casket made of wood. Jewish law forbids cremation. “The body does not belong to us. It is a loan from God, and we need to bring it back with dignity,” Feinstein said.

Either before or after the funeral, close family will observe keriah — tearing clothing or a black ribbon. Parents should make a tear or cut on the left side, over the heart, while all other relatives tear on the right side.

The rites of mourning, Feinstein said, are like a toolbox that one uses to get through the grief. Some people, because of level of observance, use all of these tools, while others find a few of them to be comforting.

Shivah, for example, is the seven-day mourning period observed by immediate family. Mourners remain home from school or work, receive condolence calls and condolence meals, and refrain from entertainment. Observances include reciting Kaddish three times daily at home with a minyan, lighting a seven-day memorial candle, wearing the keriah (except during Shabbat) and covering the mirrors in the shivah house.

Once shivah ends, a mourner returns to work or school but refrains from entertainment and social activities during the first 30 days following the burial — a period known as shloshim. Kaddish is recited daily in synagogue.

A mourner who has lost a parent recites Kaddish daily for 11 months (Shanna) and refrains from public celebration for 12 months. These mourners also begin reciting Yizkor during Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Each year on the anniversary of the death (yahrzeit), Kaddish is recited and it is customary to light a 24-hour yahrzeit candle, study and donate tzedakah.

When he counsels families after the death of a loved one, Feinstein said he likes to impart the notion that Jewish life and tradition is always about life — that it is life affirming.

“We need to remember that death is a part of life. We need to be reminded that every moment is precious and that we should not waste time,” he said.

TRIBE Life: Game on


While urban hubs Cape Town and Johannesburg are home to thriving Jewish communities, with members whose personal convictions helped shape post-apartheid South Africa, the allure for many who make the long journey from the United States is the rare opportunity to experience wildlife in its most authentic setting. In other words, the original “eco-tourism” experience, which goes beyond anything that may be trendy in nature-focused vacations, is a major draw for travelers.

Safari lodge resorts like Kapama Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit (on the outskirts of South Africa’s Kruger National Park) represent today’s South Africa at its best without trying too hard, thanks to ethnically diverse staffers and guides, superb cuisine and a relaxed, comfortable approach to luxury safaris.

At the Kapama’s sprawling complex, nature’s bounty, combined with uplifting examples of philanthropy and an eco-friendly lifestyle, are celebrated both on a grand scale and on a personalized, intimate level. The reserve is composed of several resorts of different sizes and settings, enabling guests to customize their safari experience to their own needs — families, honeymooning couples, corporate groups, guys’ or girls’ getaways, or hard-core adventuring travelers.

The compact but regal Kapama Lodge (kapama.co.za) is quintessential safari South Africa. Its cottages are appropriately comfortable and elegant, yet free of the trappings of jungle kitsch or over-the-top five-star hotel décor. Dinners are served open air in a lapa (courtyard) with an array of seasonal, simple sides and made-to-order grilled meats. Daytime dining, meanwhile, benefits from the presence of local produce and a gorgeous terrace overlooking the nearby river.

While the resort has decent Internet access, e-mail loses its urgency when you’re surrounded by the serenity of the area’s lush greenery and sprawling river. Though camping here is hardly “roughing it,” Kapama’s approach puts you back in touch with nature, from a greeting committee of giraffes to nayala antelopes and monkeys strolling nonchalantly past your cottage, to elephants adding extra ambience to your spa experience, to the lodge’s astute and youthfully energetic staff.

Kapama Lodge’s guests enjoy braAi (pronounced “bry”), a traditional South African barbecue.

Though you could visit Kruger National Park on your own, guided tours are ideal for short stays and eco-tourism virgins. Game drives conducted by Kapama’s guides in tricked-out Land Rovers deliver on their promise of genuine thrills and “wow” moments, ample photo ops and plenty of witty commentary from guides as they make earnest efforts to ensure you see at least four of the “big five” (lions, elephants, water buffalo, rhinoceroses and the elusive leopards) as well as other equally interesting specimens of wildlife. However, this is the jungle, so expect surprises. Our group, for example, delighted in stumbling upon a family of normally elusive cheetahs en route to an outing outside the Kapama compound.

Firms like Distell (parent company of Amarula Liqueur and several internationally distributed wines, including Durbanville Hills) contribute significantly to the well-being of communities neighboring Kapama and Kruger National Park. Convening with nature on safari may be the focus of your journey, but a visit to the Amarula Lapa (visitor center) near the village of Phalaborwa brings an added dimension of human interest and cultural enrichment to a safari vacation, even if you are not an avid cocktail fan.

Marula fruit (a relative of the mango that in its fresh-picked state tastes like an eccentric hybrid of citrus, passion fruit and plum) has provided nourishment to elephants and humans living in this region for centuries. Prior to the arrival of Distell, locals used marula to manufacture local beer, fruit juice and beauty products. However, the economic value of this fruit grew when, nearly 20 years ago, Distell’s experiments to develop a marula spirit with international appeal, in a manner of speaking, bore fruit.

From that seed emerged the Amarula Trust (amarulatrust.com), and if you travel to the Amarula Lapa during harvest season, you can witness firsthand the trust’s conservation efforts and community philanthropy in action. During the months the villages’ men are stationed at their jobs, the trust provides wives supplemental household income, as well as a medical facility and day-care center. The trust also oversees a scholarship program enabling young adults to further their education and train for field-guide careers.

Johannesburg-based Rabbi Baruch Goldstuck, meanwhile, has developed a uniquely Jewish way for his brethren from other countries to experience Africa’s majestic bush and wildlife, using his own memories of childhood vacations as a starting point. By converging the Jewish traditions that shaped him with the untamed wonders of nature, Goldstuck built a unique tour company offering tailor-made and strictly kosher safaris in Southern Africa a little over a decade ago. Today, The Kosher Wildlife Experience not only offers fully catered, glatt kosher safaris, but also has retained its quaint, personal approach, arranging a unique, custom-prepared vacation for each group.

For more information on South Africa, visit southafrica.net, and for information on flights into South Africa, visit flysaa.com. Companies such as Momentum Tours (momentumtours.com), The Kosher Wildlife Experience (kosherwildlife.com) and Travel With Jacob (travelwithjacob.com) also offer Jewish-focused tours of South Africa, which include safaris in their itineraries.

Tribe Calendar November 2011


Saturday, November 5

YAD Havdalah Hike
End Shabbat on a natural note with a Havdalah ceremony and schmooze at the summit of Mission Canyon’s Inspiration Point after a moderate four-mile hike. Bring water, a flashlight or headlamp, and dress for hiking. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation Young Adult Division. 4:30-7 p.m. 4 p.m. carpool from Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center, 524 Chapala St., Santa Barbara. Free. RSVP to (805) 957-1115, ext. 107. ” title=”artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu”>artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.

Sunday, November 6

Mitzvah Day
Jews across the Valley join together for a common goal — to give back to the community. Mitzvah Day represents an opportunity for the entire family to help others through serving meals, gathering toys, donating blood, learning CPR, knitting blankets for babies, reading to children and more. Sponsored by The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance in partnership with local Jewish institutions. Contact your local synagogue or any Jewish social service agency to learn what community service projects are happening near you. For more information, call (818) 464-3203, visit ” title=”jewishto.org”>jewishto.org.

Monday, November 7

“How to Begin Your Genealogy”
Cover the basics of family documents, time lines, tracking records and family photos, interviewing techniques, newspaper research and more in honor of International Jewish Genealogy Month. Seasoned genealogists will share tips and tricks of the trade. 7-9 p.m. Free. Sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Conejo Valley and Ventura County. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. ” title=”conejoplayers.org”>conejoplayers.org.

Saturday, November 12

“Jews Gone Wild”
See which one of tonight’s stand-up comedians might follow in the hilarious footsteps of Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld or Rita Rudner during “Jews Gone Wild,” part of “Ventura Comedy Festival 2011 — Laughter by the Sea.” 7 p.m. $15 (21 and older; two-drink minimum). The Greek at the Harbor, 1583 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 101, Ventura. (805) 644-1500. ” title=”jewishsantabarbara.org”>jewishsantabarbara.org.

Tuesday, November 15

“Norway and the Holocaust”
Irene Levin Berman, who escaped from Norway to Sweden with her family during the Holocaust, speaks about her memoir, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes,” and discusses how the Holocaust affected Norway and its Jewish families. Sponsored by the Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation and the CLU History Department. 7 p.m. Free. California Lutheran University, Overton Hall (Regent Avenue and Memorial Parkway), Thousand Oaks. (805) 241-1051. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Marc Cohn
Go “Walking in Memphis” with the soulful sounds of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Marc Cohn. We dare you not to sing along with Cohn’s signature song about a spiritual awakening in the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. 6 p.m. (doors open), 9 p.m. (show). $38 (younger than 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult). The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 879-5016.
” title=”congregationbnaiemet.org”>congregationbnaiemet.org.

Monday, November 21

Haverim B’nai B’rith of the Conejo Valley
Enjoy an evening of Broadway tunes, folk songs and more with musician and singer Michael Cladis. Open to new members, couples and singles, especially baby boomers. 7:30 p.m. (general meeting), 8 p.m. (program), 9 p.m. (refreshments and schmoozing). Free. Sponsored by Haverim B’nai B’rith of the Conejo Valley. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. RSVP to (805) 529-9297.

Weddings: Focus on fitness


From reality TV shows to ads for bridal boot camps, it’s no secret that many women want to slim down for their wedding.

But the average bride-to-be endures months of parties, tastings and never-ending to-do lists leading up to her big day – and it can be a daunting feat to try to drop pounds and keep them off.

But with enough time and the right attitude, says Leslie Maltz, owner of the Topham Street Gym in Reseda, most women can achieve their goals of looking their best when they walk down the aisle.

“Brides want to drop dress sizes,” she said, adding that her average bridal client hopes to lose between 20 and 25 pounds before the big day. “And if they are really focused, it’s doable.”

The first thing that women should keep in mind, said Maltz, who also runs a boot camp in the Valley, is not to wait until the last minute to start eating right and exercising.

“I’ve had people contact me 10 days from the wedding,” she said. “They wanted me to give them a magic pill that makes their body transform.”

Instead, she advises the affianced to begin any weight-loss program at least 12 weeks in advance.

“Twelve weeks out from the wedding is perfect, because it gets you really excited, and it gets you on a plan that is doable,” she said. “It also gives you more motivation, and you know that after 12 weeks, there is an end.”

Once a time frame for getting in shape has been established, personal trainer Doug Rice, who developed the program Bridalicious Boot Camp in Beverly Hills and now runs it out of Dallas, Texas, suggests enlisting the help of a friend for support and encouragement.

Rice, who also has a top-selling bridal workout DVD on leading wedding Web site TheKnot.com, came up with the idea of having a loved one or member of the wedding party bear witness to the bride’s weight-loss goals.

“I have them sign a Fitubah,” said Rice, who is Jewish. “It’s a contract that the bride makes with herself and her bridal body buddy, who holds her accountable.”

The contract begins: “I, _____, of sound mind but currently not a sound enough body, enter into this fitness contract with myself.”

If a Fitubah isn’t part of your workout plan, though, Maltz still suggests involving someone else in your get-fit plan — like the person to whom you’re about to commit the rest of your life.

“Grooms also want to look good, although it’s generally just for their honeymoon night,” she said. “They want to lose their gut, build up their chest and tone up their arms.”

Working out together, she says, can increase both partners’ motivation, and each can keep the other on track during the busy months leading up to the wedding.

When it comes to specific exercises for those about to don a bridal gown, many women want to target the areas that will show most prominently in photos and that will be visible in strapless gowns: the back, the arms and the shoulders.

To accomplish this, Maltz and Rice agree that the best bet is interval training, which alternates between short bursts of high-intensity cardio and rests, or slower intervals of movement, and resistance training using dumbbells or even the body’s own weight.

Maltz tasks her brides with working out at least three days a week, for an hour at a time, at maximum output.

And while the upper body might be the main focus of a bride’s critical eye, the rest of her figure shouldn’t go unattended to, adds Rice.

“Most brides are going to go to a beach for the honeymoon, and don’t forget about the wedding night,” he said. “You want everything to be toned and looking awesome.”

But even the most disciplined bride-to-be can’t escape the months before the wedding without the inevitable parties, alcohol and food sampling.

To get through the social obligations without undoing all her efforts at the gym, Rice suggests keeping drinking to a minimum — but not eliminating it altogether.

“When you are a bride, there is a lot of social drinking,” he said. “Just limit yourself to a couple of drinks.”

And, he adds, for brides who have the overwhelming urge to let loose, pick one party a month at which to do so. Other than that, he says, “You have to keep your mind focused on your goals.”

When faced with tasting sample menus, cakes and appetizers for the big day, Maltz reminds those who might be prone to overdoing it, there’s a reason it’s called a tasting.

“The truth of the matter is, if you’re just tasting one or two bites, it’s not a problem,” she said. “But it’s when you eat something and you like it and eat the whole thing” that the damage is done.

“Keep the tasting to a taste,” she said.

By the time most brides’ weddings roll around, Maltz notes, if all went according to plan, there’s no reason they can’t lose anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds within three or four months. 

And, for Rice, it’s satisfying to know that he was able to help worried brides feel beautiful on such an important day.

“As I like to say, I take them from kvetching to fetching.”

Tal Sheyn


Tal Sheyn likes to say she built her fashion career “from Z to A.”

“I didn’t start out with a business plan or any kind of marketing strategy,” Sheyn said. “Instead, I got all these clients, and I had to very quickly figure the rest out.”

Clearly, she succeeded — the Israeli-born designer has forged a high-profile reputation creating sumptuous apparel for an impressive celebrity clientele. A three-time exhibitor at L.A. Fashion Week, Sheyn has presented styles ranging from high-end casual to red carpet couture. Her signature lies in each garment’s luxurious details.

Fabric is her inspiration, the raven-haired designer admits — especially lace. She has a penchant for festooning her couture mesh gowns with delicate, meticulously placed lace appliqués.

Sheyn walked away from a 12-year career as a makeup artist in Israel and Europe and relocated to Los Angeles in 2002 with a blank fashion résumé. 

“My heart told me to come here and try something new and make my dream come true,” she said. “I love fashion and beauty. It’s who I am. I love to make people feel good about themselves.”

After a several-year stint designing costumes for dancers, Sheyn’s big break came when she was asked to produce the 2008 Israel Independence Day Festival at Woodley Park for Israel’s 60th birthday. She hand-sewed more than 40 extravagant outfits for the entertainers, and, within days, custom orders began pouring in.

Sheyn outgrew her living room headquarters and moved into her Hollywood studio in 2009. Since then, her clothes have appeared on “The Young and the Restless,” “90210” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” In fact, Sheyn launched an upscale consumer line last year with “Real Housewives” star Alexis Bellino featuring the trendy tunics and dresses Bellino favors on the show.

“I’m so full of creativity, full of passion, full of love,” said Sheyn, whose work is available by custom order, and in boutiques in Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, Las Vegas and Israel. “In clothes, there’s no limit to what you can create.” 

It’s hard for me to say I’m sorry…


Jews tend to be a forgiving people. We also tend to be an apologetic people. There is good reason for this: We are commanded to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. We also are encouraged (strongly) to accept apologies from others when they are sincere.

Forgiveness is such an integral part of Jewish culture that we actually have liturgy dedicated to the act. If you’ve ever participated in a High Holy Days service, you might have seen people beat their chest during Ashamnu (which translates as “we have trespassed”).

But when we pray during services, we are asking forgiveness from God. Asking forgiveness from others actually can be more difficult. And, since the High Holy Days are the Super Bowl of forgiveness-seeking, you might want to get started on your list of apologies before you even think about the food for your break-the-fast party. With so many potential transgressions for which to apologize — betrayal, obstinacy, provocation, slander, etc. — it can be tough to know exactly how, and from whom, to ask for forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is the most essential element in allowing human beings to change and grow,” said Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. “Asking for forgiveness requires the courage to go back and revisit the regretted action,” Vogel said. “The first question we must ask [ourselves] is, ‘Would I do the act again?’ We don’t want to repeat negative actions in our lives.”

True apologies and forgiveness thus require a good bit of introspection, and, Vogel says, “It is only through this process that we can grow. It is only by first going backward that we can go forward.”

In addition, it’s not meaningful simply to apologize for something if you don’t truly believe you were at fault. Kind of like the child who hits his brother, then says, “I’m sorry.” Is he really sorry? Maybe. He’s probably sorry he was caught, but chances are he’s not sorry for the action.

Of course, this ideal requires us to admit we’ve done something wrong — not a simple task for most people. With adults, there are likely times when an apology is appropriate, but the inner feeling simply is not there. But that’s the key: The feeling and the action must be genuine.

So, if you’re ready to seek forgiveness from someone you have wronged, there are a couple of ways to do it. You can approach the person directly and ask them for forgiveness, though that’s not always the best method.

“While the preferred method of forgiveness is verbal, there are some situations in which a letter might be preferable,” Vogel said. “The problem with speaking directly to people is that they often stop listening early on in the discussion. Either they hear something they disagree with or respond before the entire apology has been uttered.”

Sometimes it’s better to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

“A well-crafted letter can give a larger context of the situation and allow the recipient to digest the entire apology,” Vogel said. “A written letter of apology should always end with an invitation to speak directly.”

While it’s always a good idea to make things right with those we have wronged, the High Holy Days tend to put these sorts of things into focus for many Jews.

“The High Holy Days are when we realize our mortality,” Vogel said. “When we celebrate creation on Rosh Hashanah and culminate with Yom Kippur at the end of the Ten Days of Repentance, we are symbolically acknowledging that time is finite. Yom Kippur ends with a ritual that is reminiscent of the Jewish prayer Vidui that is recited on our deathbed.”

The immediacy of the High Holy Days tends to encourage people to act.

So, as we reflect on our sins against God, we should reflect on our sins against each other, too. The shofar blasts call us to attention and to action: “Do we deserve this gift of time? Will we make good use of that time? It is the acceptance of our mortality that should inspire us to act with immediacy,” Vogel said.

Something special


Stephen Michaels’ fondest memories of his Aunt Lisa are of watching movies with her.

“I remember being next to her, just being with her,” he said. “It was fun.”

One of her favorites was “Forrest Gump.” She could relate.

At age 12, Stephen is the same age that his aunt was when she entered residential care in 1979. Lisa Kaplan, who was born with three holes in her heart and Down syndrome, required round-the-clock care.

“Stephen was very young, but he understood her suffering,” said Marlene Michaels, Stephen’s mom and Lisa’s sister. “He would just hold her hand and watch movies. He would look into her eyes and sense what her needs were. He made my sister very happy.”

Lisa died from heart complications in 2002 at age 35, but Stephen is keeping her memory alive through his bar mitzvah project: he is working to make the residents of Valley Village — a Winnetka-based facility for the developmentally disabled where Lisa spent some of her happiest years —  happy as well.

“She gave me the motivation for all the stuff I’ve done for people with special needs,” Stephen said.

After a planned Purim carnival visit in mid-March was rained out, Stephen arranged for almost 100 Valley Village residents to attend a Sheldon Low concert at his synagogue, Shomrei Torah, a week later.

“Our clients had an amazing time,” said Anush Sumian, Valley Village’s development coordinator. “It was really special. They love to socialize and get out and be with society.”

Seeing the Valley Village residents singing along and enjoying themselves was also rewarding for Stephen, a seventh-grader at Colina Middle School in Thousand Oaks.

“It makes me happy that these people, who may not be able to experience something like this often, are having fun,” he said.

Sumian said opportunities like the concert are rare for Valley Village, since the nonprofit can’t afford the cost.

But Stephen raised $2,000 to give the residents of Valley Village the chance, and he plans to keep giving back to the organization that made his aunt’s life so much easier.

Lisa lived at Valley Village from 1990 to 1995 with her caretaker, Sujata Rawate.

“She was in so many different homes, but finally Mom found Valley Village, and it changed my family’s world, especially my sister’s,” Marlene Michaels said. “They were able to give her not only a safe place to live but also a place where she had activities, stimulation and warm, caring people to take care of her.”

Several months ago, Stephen and his family visited the home where Lisa lived, and spent time with Rawate and the residents, some of whom were around when Lisa lived there.

“It was fun interacting with them and seeing how they live, getting a taste of what it’s like for them every day,” he said.

Stephen realizes the importance of enriching the lives of special-needs individuals of all ages, and he has enjoyed the opportunity to participate in programs with the Tikvah campers at Camp Ramah for two summers running.

“I’ve been a Ramah camper for a while, so it felt cool giving back to Ramah,” he said. The highlights, he said, were filming skits and learning Israeli dancing and Krav Maga with the Tikvah campers.

“It was great to see him want to take that interest,” said his father, Randy Michaels, who serves as Ramah’s director of finance and administration, and helps ensure that programs like Tikvah have a place in the Camp Ramah community. “As a Ramah-nik myself at Ramah Wisconsin, I was buddied up with the Tikvah kids when I was a camper his age, so that, to me, is exciting.”

Although the Tikvah program has been in existence for several years, it wasn’t around when Lisa was young.

“When my sister was younger, there weren’t any organizations, including the synagogue, there to help her. It was mostly Catholic charities,” Marlene Michaels explained. “Now everything has changed. Especially within the Conservative movement, they are just completely there for helping kids with special needs.”

The Michaelses share their passion for people with special needs with Shomrei Torah Assistant Rabbi Erez Sherman, who is overseeing Stephen’s bar mitzvah training. Rabbi Sherman’s older brother, Eyal, is a paraplegic.

“We connected immediately,” Rabbi Sherman recalled of his initial meeting with the Michaels family in preparation for Stephen’s bar mitzvah this November. “He’s trying to open doors to the special-needs community. He doesn’t do this because he wants to get his name in the paper, he does this because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a legacy to his aunt.”

Rabbi Sherman hopes the association continues.

“I hope to hold annual events to connect the residents to us and us to them,” he said.

Stephen serves as a positive example to his 9-year-old brother, Alex, too.

“It makes me happy that he’s doing stuff to help kids, and he’s doing a great job,” Alex said.

Stephen plans to continue his efforts after his bar mitzvah in November. He still wants to see his original idea through, bringing the Valley Village residents to next year’s Purim carnival.

“If we can get that idea going, I feel like it would be fun for them. I want to keep on doing this and do more,” he said.

Tribe Calendar: October 2011


PICK OF THE MONTH: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15

CALABASAS PUMPKIN FESTIVAL
Celebrate the season’s favorite gourd with rides and games; pie-eating and seed-spitting contests; pumpkin carving; food; entertainment and more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $5 (includes rides and games). Also on Sunday, Oct. 16. Parking and shuttles available. Juan Bautista de Anza Park, 3701 Lost Hills Road, Calabasas. ” title=”mountsinaiparks.org”>mountsinaiparks.org.


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4

SUZE ORMAN
Learn the ins and outs of personal finance from a renowned expert as Suze Orman takes the stage tonight. The best-selling author and CNBC host kicks off the 2011-2012 Distinguished Speakers Series. 8 p.m. $364-$406 (tickets sold as a part of the series). Fred Kavli Theatre, Bank of America Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2775. ” title=”tasteofencino.com”>tasteofencino.com.


MONDAY, OCTOBER 10

FINDING YOUR JEWISH ANCESTORS ON ANCESTRY.COM
Crista Cowan, community alliance manager for Ancestry.com’s World Archives Project, will explain how the site can assist in tracking down information. Co-sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County and Temple Adat Elohim. 7-9 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. ” title=”jewishcountyfair.com”>jewishcountyfair.com.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20

FAMILY SIMCHAT TORAH EVENT
Festivity abounds with dance, song and the celebration of another cycle of Torah. Wave your flags and dance around with the Torah scrolls as the congregations reads both the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis. The night includes a Torah Unwrapping, where the entire Torah will be unwrapped around the sanctuary. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545. ” title=”vcjff.org”>vcjff.org.


MONDAY, OCTOBER 24

HAND IN HAND: CENTER FOR JEWISH-ARAB EDUCATION
Congregation Or Ami invites the community to learn about its newest Israel social action project with Hand in Hand co-founder Lee Gordon and program participants. The center has three schools in Israel where Jewish and Muslim children are taught side-by-side, learning both Arabic and Hebrew. 6:30 p.m. Free. 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880. ” title=”toaks.org/cap”>toaks.org/cap.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30

SUPER SUNDAY
Volunteers are needed to join The Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Money raised goes to those in need locally, nationally and internationally. This year includes Share the Shekels Campaign, where Jewish organizations can raise money for both Federation and its respective organizations. 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Bronfman Family JCC, 524 Chapala St., Santa Barbara. (805) 957-1115, ext. 106.

The skin game


Most of us have one body part that we’d like to change, be it our double chin, our tuchis or our belly. And as a quick fix, plastic surgery has become pervasive – according to the American Academy for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 1.6 million surgical cosmetic procedures were done in 2010; a 9 percent increase from the year before.

But it’s not a solution that appeals to everyone; the cost can be prohibitive, and the possibility of going under anesthesia and being sliced open in the name of vanity may seem extreme.

For those looking to take off a few years without breaking the bank or risking their health, though, there are alternatives, including yoga, massage and noninvasive skin procedures that don’t even require a needle.

Of course, no amount of downward dogging can make your breasts two cup sizes larger or help you drop 100 pounds overnight, but to treat saggy or splotchy skin, wrinkles and other signs of a life well lived, here are some suggestions.

FACIAL YOGA

When we think of yoga, we may imagine deep, cleansing breaths and stretching tired muscles. But a growing number of yoga instructors believe that the practice can have cosmetic results that go beyond a firm behind; that with the right exercises, yoga can be used to tone the muscles in the face.

“Facial yoga combines five simple facial exercises with a simple yoga workout,” said Michael Glen, who owns the company Facial Yoga Online, based in San Diego.

When muscles get weak, Glen said, they sag, causing the skin above them to do the same. The exercises he teaches work the 57 facial muscles to keep them in shape. “The result is that you tone up the muscles, which helps remove the wrinkles,” he said.

The facial workout, which takes about five minutes altogether, targets three areas: the neck and chin; the face; the forehead and the area around the eyes. He encourages clients to tack on some traditional yoga moves as well, which adds about six or seven minutes but has the benefit of reducing stress. That can, in turn, reduce lines generated by worry.

The workouts should be done a minimum of once a day, and twice if possible. 

“Look at the things you do that you can be doing facial exercises at the same time,” he said. “When you’re driving, watching TV… you can do a dramatic job of lifting the areas.”

MASSAGE

Getting a massage doesn’t sound quite as invasive as going under the knife, right? In addition to being relaxing, massage can have results that are similar — if less dramatic — to those of a facelift.

The primary goal of massage isn’t to look younger, said Brian Reder, the owner of The Massage Place, which has locations in Encino, Sherman Oaks, the Westside and South Pasadena. But, by its very nature, massage boosts circulation and improves muscle tone, thereby reducing wrinkles and cellulite.

“Massage can keep your muscles from becoming stiff,” he said, “[and] it improves skin’s pliability, making it less likely to wrinkle.”

Kneading the skin — not just on the face but throughout the body — helps to improve blood flow and circulation, which can bring about a glow, and in some instances reduce cellulite. Massage therapists often tell their clients to come back once a month for the best results, Reder said — not too tough a prescription to follow.

THERMAGE

One of the primary causes of sagging skin is the breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young, and of elastic fibers in the skin, said Dr. Debra Luftman, a dermatologist with practices in Beverly Hills and Calabasas and co-author of the book “The Beauty Prescription.”

To help reverse the look of aging, she said, a new procedure called Thermage is gaining popularity.

“I truly believe that the future of plastic surgery is something like Thermage,” Luftman said. “I don’t think that in 10 years we will be cutting people’s faces.”

Through radio frequency, heat is applied to the lower layers of the skin to stimulate collagen, while the outer layers are cooled at the same time. The procedure is completely noninvasive and takes about an hour, depending upon how much of the body and face is being done.

According to Luftman, Thermage is nearly painless, with no topical or oral pain medication needed. The treatment can lift skin, making a once-sagging jawline, for instance, become more taut. The results can last up to three years.

LASERS

Using the same premise as Thermage, lasers target small areas of the skin, causing it to tighten around the area that the laser hits, says Luftman.

In her practice, Luftman uses two kinds of lasers: Fraxel, which can be used to treat wrinkles, sun damage and scars, and intense pulsed light, also called a photofacial. Intense pulsed light can be used to treat a wider range of skin issues, including age spots and protruding veins.

Both are long-lasting, so after an initial series of two to five treatments, patients can go up to a year before having another touch-up.

Whatever alternative to plastic surgery you may opt for, you should do the research to be sure that you’re in good hands, Luftman said.

“It’s important to go to a practitioner who is very experienced,” she said, advice that applies not just to dermatological procedures but to all health-related therapies.

The skin under skinny jeans


Those once-coveted outfits in your closet now elicit sighs of “I have nothing to wear” as last year’s trends take their inevitable plunge. While you’re hunting for the hottest fall fashions this month, remember also to invest in what will never go out of style: soft skin, silky hair, well-groomed nails and a radiant face. These products highlight the most gorgeous accessory you’ll ever own: you!

1. If you don’t get your fill of apples and honey during the New Year, add a little to your bath with SpaMitzvah’s Applebaum Bath Drizzle ($48). Soak in the skin-softening honey while the scent of apples and cinnamon lifts you away from the stress of your day. spamitzvah.com

2. Those perfect, non-crunchy curls you envy on models in fashion mags only seemed possible via Photoshop, until the Mixed Chicks strutted onto the scene. The Canoga Park-based line offers a No Frizz Trio of Shampoo, Conditioner and a Leave-In ($39.33) that beautifully defines curls on girls of every cultural background. mixedchicks.net

3. Bring some of fall’s bright hues to your fingertips with OPI nail lacquer in Hot and Spicy (from $2). The pumpkin hue gives a shout-out to the season and is much more fun than your routine clear coat. opi.com and local salons

4. Relaxing skin treatments are all the more soothing when you can feel good about how they’re made. Containing only natural, environmentally friendly ingredients made in Israel and never tested on animals, AVANI’s Mineral Body Scrub ($39.99) exfoliates and moisturizes with Dead Sea minerals, jojoba oil and vitamin E. avani-deadsea.com

5. Want poutier lips without the needles? Micabeauty Cosmetics’ Lip Plumper in bronze ($29.95) uses the organic compound niacin (a B vitamin) to plump your kissers while other all-natural ingredients moisturize and shine. micabeauty.com

6. Everyone from salon pros to frizzy-haired seventh-graders has been buzzing about Moroccanoil hair products — and for good reason! Moroccanoil’s original Oil Treatment ($40) leaves your locks so visibly glossy and touchably soft that you don’t have to explain why you can’t stop running your fingers through your hair. moroccanoilproducts.com

Dining out: On a roll


Matana sounds Japanese, but it is actually the Hebrew word for “gift.” Matana Sushi & Grill, the Agoura Hills deli-grill-sushi bar that is gradually absorbing and adapting tastes from around the world, began its life as the much more prosaically named Agoura Kosher Deli, a spare dining establishment in a pleasant mini-mall off Reyes Adobe Road.

Owner Isaac Eylesh thought of the deli as “traditional,” which meant it offered the food of Eastern Europe and of Israel — pastrami sandwiches, pargiot (grilled, spiced chicken skewers), roast beef and falafel plates. Chef Yocheved Tessler worked on homemade soups and fresh salads and catered local Chabad events. Beer, wine, cold sodas, sweet teas and juices were available from the cooler case on the wall. Desserts were a selection of pastries and parve soy ice creams. It was a popular neighborhood eatery.

But customers asked for more. They wanted a variety of simple, “fast” foods made with good, kosher ingredients. Eylesh responded by upgrading the deli into a deli and grill. He added juicy burgers, kosher hot dogs and schnitzel to the menu. The food was popular with locals and travelers passing by on the freeway, alerted to the deli by smart-phone apps like Kosher Kritic.

Agoura Hills is a relatively new city, with a short food history. The area was developed after the construction of the Ventura Freeway changed the Conejo Valley from hills that were home to Basque sheepherders and valleys occupied by a few ranchers into a reasonable place for the diverse peoples of Southern California to find more space and quiet. The San Fernando Valley was already long suburbanized. Those who had fled the city for its open spaces were almost urban themselves. Agoura was the next frontier.

Eylesh himself came from Encino, where his immediate previous restaurant experience was at Super Sal market. The first sushi rolls on Matana’s menu came from Super Sal and were only available for families to pick up before the restaurant closed on Friday afternoons for Shabbat. Customers loved them.

And so, last April, Eylesh closed the deli completely to build a real sushi bar adjacent to the dining room. He hired Dennis Kim, a sushi chef, to create the menu. Subsequently, Kim hired sushi chef Giho You to greet customers from behind the traditional counter as he diced, chopped, folded and rolled. A blue and white cloth banner displaying a fish was hung between the sushi bar and the kitchen, and Matana Sushi & Grill was born.

Matana’s fish comes exclusively from a kosher supplier. Besides the obvious requirements of fins and scales, kashrut’s concern with fish is mostly about contact with nonkosher food or implements. Any whole permitted fish can be used for sushi as long as it is cut in a kosher setting.

So far, Matana’s customers mostly stick to rolls made with the familiar salmon, spicy tuna, whitefish and albacore, but if given the chance, Chef You can create unusual and delicious concoctions from just about any fish. The rolls are fresh and the salty taste of the crisp nori and salmon contrast nicely with the spicy flavors of the tuna, the spicy mayo and the dark sweet sauce.

The restaurant is still a work in progress. The new sign over the entrance promises Chinese food as well as sushi, but the Chinese food and bento boxes are still in the planning stages. Eylesh and his staff monitor what customers enjoy and look for ways to expand the offerings and attract the adventurous.

They’ve taken on a lot already, and there are the typical new-venture kinks to work out: Waitresses don’t show up, some menu items are unexpectedly popular while others are left unordered. On a recent Monday morning, Eylesh was working the cash register, delivering orders to the tables, welcoming guests and ordering supplies on the phone. The sushi chef helped out, finding desserts in the kitchen, bringing a waiting child his brownie. Customers seemed pleasantly patient and eager to see the place succeed.

There is a spirit of community here. Two young girls at the sushi bar, just 14 and 10, are familiar with several sophisticated sushi restaurants in L.A. but were perfectly happy with the more American-style spicy mayo and sweet sauce on their sushi rolls.

They were excited to talk about Matana’s summertime experiment in which the restaurant opened after the end of Shabbat with a limited menu and music. One Saturday night, there was karaoke, another night there was a popular local band. Sushi chef You says there have been lines out the door for the sushi bar on Saturday nights.

Who knows what will develop next at Matana? Sushi doesn’t show up in traditional Jewish cookbooks. Traditions change. The abundance of possibility — and the possibility of abundance — is a gift, one that is celebrated right off the freeway, in this still beautiful, open, mostly quiet place.

Matana Sushi & Grill, Reyes Adobe Plaza, 30313 Canwood St., Agoura Hills. (818) 706-1255.

The billboard revolution


If you’ve driven down La Cienega Boulevard recently, you may have noticed a large billboard that says, “Free Gilad Shalit.”

What you may not have seen was the small print at the bottom of the billboard that says, “35 people crowd-funded this billboard using EpicStep.com.” 

Created by two business-minded 28-year-olds from the San Fernando Valley, the new crowd-funding Web site allows anybody to pitch an idea for a billboard and collect pledges online to get the billboard funded and up in their city. 

“Almost anybody can get a billboard up, but most people don’t know that,” said Lev Reys, a Valley Village resident and co-founder of

EpicStep.com, along with partner Gene Veksler. “Most people don’t have the funds or the passion to take $5,000 or $10,000 out of their accounts to fund one. We figured, ‘Why not break up the costs?’ ”

As soon as someone launches a campaign on EpicStep.com, Reys and Veksler contact companies that own billboard space and inquire about availability and cost to get the proposed billboard up.

Once they are given a price — which they say is a discounted figure from what billboards usually cost, given the relationships they have built with companies like Clear Channel and CBS — a target fundraising figure is listed on the Web page for the campaign. The organizer has 30 days to meet that target. If a campaign hasn’t reached its fundraising goal by the deadline, the campaign is canceled and everyone who pledged gets his/her money back.

Those who pledge funds can also pitch designs for the billboard and vote for their favorite one. Billboards funded through EpicStep.com remain up for approximately one month.

Since EpicStep launched in March, two billboards have been successfully funded calling for the release of Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas — one in Los Angeles and one in New York — as well as a pro-WikiLeaks billboard and a billboard that advocates for SWAAY.org, a sex-worker education Web site.

A proposed pro-Charlie Sheen billboard that read, “Newsflash, I’m Special” and a Lakers billboard, which was set to go up in New Orleans when the Lakers were playing the Hornets in the playoffs last year, were among the campaigns that didn’t make it to fruition.

Reys and Veksler, who are both from Jewish Russian immigrant families, met in their sophomore year of high school. Veksler attended Valley Alternative Magnet in Lake Balboa and Reys was a student at Grant High School in Van Nuys.

Recently, over drinks in the lobby at the Marriot hotel in Sherman Oaks, Reys discussed why founding a company with a friend beats working in a traditional office.

“We’ve been working together for three, four years now, and I consider him my best friend,” Reys said. “I’ve had other partners in the past, but we kind of just fill in each other’s gaps. I can call him whenever the hell I feel like it. I can wake him up.”

Reys — who previously ran a coffee shop in North Hollywood and had a mobile billboard business — has idealistic reasons for starting EpicStep, which offers people unprecedented access to mass advertising to further a cause.

“This could revolutionize the world,” he said.

The two friends came up with the idea during a drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix, when all they saw were billboards advertising product after product.

“Every billboard we saw was something being sold,” Reys said. “We were kind of shocked that there weren’t more causes on billboards.”

They ran the idea by friends and found that it struck a chord of inspiration.

“Very few people we spoke to said, ‘I would never give money to a billboard,’ ” said Veksler, who recently left a job with Capital Group Cos. to focus all his attention on EpicStep. “For the most part, people said it’s a great idea.”

Running the site is a full-time job for Reys and Veksler, who invested approximately $50,000 into developing the Web site — working with Veksler’s older brother, Eugene, and another friend, Igor Rashnitsov — and their compensation is 10 percent of the total amount raised for each successful billboard campaign. They hope to make EpicStep available worldwide, but, as of now, it’s only for cities in the United States.

The Web site is still in its infancy, the young founders said, and they agree that what EpicStep needs is more users.

“We need more people to know that we exist,” Veksler said, “that this is even a possibility.”

Perhaps they could put up a billboard.