Even up close, Minkin’s illusions are magical

If you closed your eyes, it sounded like soft rain falling in the dimly lit wine cellar. The sound gradually grew in intensity as two-dozen hands rubbing against one another switched to rapid snapping, then to clapping, creating the auditory illusion of a rainstorm.

David Minkin then turned the illusion into reality — he conjured water out of thin air, standing a few feet away from his awestruck audience.

It took Minkin, an accomplished close-up magician, four years to develop this signature piece. The rain trick was inspired by a Temple Ahavat Shalom weekend retreat, where the 12-year-old Minkin sat among other Jewish adolescents and learned to mimic the sound of water falling from the sky with his hands.

“The sound was magical,” said Minkin. “And it always stayed with me.”

The rain trick, more complex and wondrous than can be adequately described in words, is the grand finale of Minkin’s mesmerizing magic performance, “Evening of Enchantment,” which he will reprise at Malibu’s Beau Rivage restaurant on Aug. 24. The evening combines wine tasting and magic in an intimate setting where seating is limited to 28 guests per show, an ideal venue for the magician to perform his highly personal and nuanced repertoire of close-up magic tricks.

The soft-spoken, self-assured Minkin plunged into the world of magic relatively late in life but has already succeeded in levitating to the top of the field, winning first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Gold Cups Competition in 2007 and a gold medal in the Magic Castle’s Strolling Olympics in 2002. He was in the midst of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy at Cal State Northridge in 1997 when a classmate and part-time magician awed him with a Chop Cup routine and inspired him to hit the books — well, the magic books.

Minkin learned the craft the old-fashioned way, from titles such as “The Mark Wilson Course in Magic” and “The Royal Road to Card Magic,” and fine-tuned his inherent knack for creating illusions by practicing them anywhere he was permitted, and not permitted. He once strolled into a Chili’s restaurant unannounced and rehearsed a new coin trick on table after table until he finally had it perfected.

“Twelve years of college education down the drain,” joked Gary Minkin, the magician’s doting father and an avid fan, at a recent Sunday evening performance at Beau Rivage. In addition to physical therapy, Minkin also studied music and business and took up real estate for several years before turning his growing passion for magic into a full-time career.

“I’m unusual, and lucky,” said Minkin, dressed in an elegant black suit and sipping a mojito. “I had to develop social skills before I learned magic.” Many magicians and amateur hobbyists get into magic as young boys, he explained, perhaps even using their hobby as an outlet for their social awkwardness. Hence the stereotype of magic enthusiasts being shy, reclusive and even nerdy.

Minkin, however, is hardly a geek. Nicknamed the “rock star of magic” by fellow illusionists at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Minkin is in his late 30s, handsome and exudes a subtle confidence in and out of the spotlight. He injects his performances with an easy-going charisma. His sleight-of-hand coin and card tricks are interspersed with witty banter, personal anecdotes and playful interaction with audience members.

“Until an audience likes you, they’re not going anywhere with you,” he said. Minkin takes audiences time traveling, using a marble that he turns into an hourglass filled with sugar; into a world of lucid dreams, where driver’s licenses become butterflies flitting through the air, or through summer rainstorms in the middle of a cozy wine cellar.

Minkin’s theory is that there is a hierarchy to magic — a puzzle is at the very bottom, then a trick, a mystery, and finally transcendence. A magic routine that reaches transcendence reflects the human experience, touching upon concepts such as the passing of time, immortality and dreams.

“I want to make people think and feel a range of emotions — wonder, surprise, nostalgia, delight,” said Minkin, who strives to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each audience by improvising, playing off their unique energy and using their differing reactions to change the flow of the show.

Minkin prefers the face-to-face contact of close-up magic and cozy settings such as Beau Rivage’s cramped wine cellar or the Magic Castle’s intimate close-up theater. He says he doesn’t aspire to perform in the cavernous theaters of Las Vegas or marketing himself to achieve superstar status.

“I really just want to focus on performing,” said Minkin, who has been invited to appear in upcoming conventions in Italy, Sweden, England and Israel. His audience has included Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Rob Reiner, politicians, Fortune 500 executives and even one Saudi Arabian prince.

Minkin got a taste for working in television in 2007 as a writer and performer on the MTV horror-prank show, “Room 401.” In the first episode, Minkin brought an unwitting crime-scene cleaner to tears as he rose, ghostlike, from a murder victim’s body. Minkin is hoping to pitch a series of television specials featuring original magic done on location with real people and everyday objects.

Whatever the medium, Minkin strives to elevate his magic to an art form that is both entertaining and enlightening. He is constantly reworking his act, developing new material and putting his theories about magic on paper, which he hopes to develop into a book. For Minkin, magic is an ancient and noble craft that is in danger of losing its luster in an age where people don’t believe in much of anything anymore.

“Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in reality,” he said, “the effect on people is magical.”

The next “Evening of Enchantment” is Aug. 24 at Beau Rivage, 26025 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

Messianic truth in advertising

The growth of the Jews for Jesus and messianic movements in Israel, especially during Israel’s 60th anniversary, is unprecedented and an outcome of unrestrained relationships with fundamentalist Christians.

There are more than 15,000 messianic Jews residing in Israel and more than 275,000 in the Diaspora. Jews for Jesus now has an office in Tel Aviv, with a staff of 10 that includes several Israeli-born messianic Jewish couples, and they have launched a five-year crusade to proselytize Israelis. Last month they spent over $500,000 for full-page ads in four Israeli papers and ads on buses and billboards. They have already handed out more than 75,000 missionary tracts and received contact information from 850 Israelis.

Furthermore, some Israeli politicians and prominent rabbis are associating with messianic Jews, inadvertently lending them credibility. Others rabbis were outraged about a messianic Jew in the International Bible Quiz for Jewish youth and called for a boycott. Of grave concern are the actions of messianic lawyer Calev Myers, who has been fighting in the Israeli Supreme Court for messianic rights, including initiating changes in the law of return that recently enabled a dozen messianic missionaries to become Israeli citizens.

Myers and the messianic movement are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Israeli public. It is misleading for them to claim that the only difference between messianic Jews and other Jews is their belief that Jesus is the Messiah. This was highlighted by Myers’ recent quote in the Jerusalem Post comparing messianic Jews to messianic Chabadniks. In fact, messianic Jews intentionally avoid mentioning a fundamental difference. In addition to believing Jesus is the Messiah, they believe he is God in the flesh and part of a Trinity. All denominations of Judaism considered these beliefs to be idolatrous for Jews.

As early as 1980, Jews for Jesus founder Moshe Rosen in his book, “Sharing the New Life With a Jew,” advised messianic missionaries to avoid mentioning their belief in the deity of Jesus because it makes witnessing to Jews extremely difficult. Additionally, attempts by the messianic movement to prove their theology from biblical and rabbinic sources are based on misquotations and mistranslations.

Even before Christianity, Jews rejected these anti-Jewish nonmonotheistic beliefs. We also realize they were introduced into Christianity due to the influence of pagan cult gods like Osiris and Dionysus.

Obviously, there are other differences. Messianic Jews accept the Greek New Testament as divinely inspired scripture and they believe that all Jews who don’t believe in Jesus face eternal damnation in hell. However, historically it is their idolatrous beliefs that have ultimately placed “Jews who believe in Jesus” outside the pale of Judaism.

Christian friendship is appreciated; however, we must be cautious and call for truth in advertising by the messianic movement. We should also call on messianic Jews to reject these foreign beliefs and return to the pure monotheistic unity of God that defines our identity and personal relationship with God.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founding director of Jews for Judaism International, which has offices in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Toronto, Jerusalem, Sydney and Johannesburg. He can be reached at RabbiKravitz@JewsForJudaism.org