Just add water

While some local families opt for bar or bat mitzvah celebrations in synagogues or hotel ballrooms, others are drawn to a more intimate destination with a stunning backdrop: the Pacific Ocean. 

There’s a certain romance tied to beachfront weddings, and that appeal extends to b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, according to Ruth Hurwitz of kosher caterer Tarte Catering. She cautioned, however, that the reality of what’s required for beach events may pose a challenge to the fantasy. 

“We cater events at places like Zuma free beach … One caveat is you cannot serve alcohol on the beach, and another more important one is that you need to get a permit from the county and city to stage something on a free beach with sand on your toes,” she said. 

Securing the permits can be complicated, but information is available at marinadelrey.lacounty.gov. Other challenges to consider, Hurwitz said, include the parking situation, restroom availability, furnishing a site with party rental furniture that will be stable in the sand, and creating a beachfront menu that will mitigate the chance of bugs and sand getting in the food. 

Hurwitz recommends a barbecue format, where food is fresh and grilled-to-order, adding that the familiar banquet style doesn’t mix well with the beach. 

“We work with several South-African Jewish families who have us create a traditional braai [barbecue] experience,” Hurwitz said. “Persian and Israeli families have us create a menu involving cooked kabobs on skewers, and our equipment includes 2-foot swords to roast meats and vegetables. As we’re based in Malibu, we do a lot of work with local farmers and bring in a lot of that “farm-to-table” produce experience, giving the party freshness and color.” 

Dana Bresin, a professional event planner and owner of DB Creativity, has extensive experience with beachfront event planning. She said those smitten with the idea of having the ceremony outside underscored many possible difficulties, including taking the Torah out on the sand, where it is vulnerable to wind, and the possibility of people being less comfortable outside, as it can be a long ceremony. 

She encouraged people to use a planner to help facilitate the permits and the necessary preparations. A planner, Bresin said, will organize the information required for the permits, approach the county’s parks and recreation bureau, recommend and procure the right rental furniture and help pinpoint the best location.  

Rooms with a View

The venue doesn’t have to be right on the sand to have the beach-like feel. Several waterfront hotels and restaurants in Los Angeles County not only offer the valuable commodity of location, but also high-end hotel amenities and services along with the ability to stage a bar mitzvah on the waterfront — or at least facing it. 

Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes has much-touted waterfront space and myriad other features. Event spaces include the Catalina Room — complete with an outdoor terrace — the Marineland Ballroom and Palos Verdes Terrace. The Palos Verdes Grand Ballroom, Terranea’s largest space available, can accommodate up to 900 people. 

Leslie McCammon, senior catering sales manager at Terranea Resort, said Terranea works exclusively with Pat’s Kosher Catering in West L.A., and a satellite kitchen can be built for those events. 

Terranea also boasts a cadre of other activities for adults, teens and kids to enjoy before or after the party, including golf, spa, Pointe Discovery activities (falconry, horseback), as well as the Tide Pool Kids Club. 

For those who want an oceanfront/maritime ambiance but are not fond of sand, The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey offers custom bar and bat mitzvah packages. 

“For smaller bar or bat mitzvahs, The Ballroom Terrace welcomes up to 70 guests (50 with a dance floor), breathtaking views of the marina, and is a wonderful space for candle lighting and other elements of the ceremony,” Hernan Berlese, the catering sales manager, said. “For larger parties, our Marina Vista room on the lobby level delivers ambiance without worries of sand or rain, along with a private verandah with panoramic marina views and luxurious crystal chandeliers.” 

Although the hotel does not have a kosher kitchen, Berlese said it refers to a list of recommended kosher caterers and the Rabbinical Council of California, which gives the hotel the ability to kosherize its kitchen. 

“We can also do kosher-style for less religious families, using kosher meats and ingredients, without the Mehadrin kosherization in the kitchen and dining room required for glatt kosher,” he said.  

Style in Santa Monica 

The waterfront flanking Santa Monica offers families a banquet of other choices. According to Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel’s senior catering manager Li-Ling Li, the airy, contemporary property includes the Venice Room and the Ocean & Vine Restaurant, which are connected and feature ocean views and an outdoor patio — perfect for families planning to separate adults and kids during the reception. Loews also has many different dietary needs covered. 

“We offer kosher-style and glatt kosher catering since we have a kosher kitchen,” Li said. “We also allow outside catering as long it is through a professional caterer. We offer nontraditional and traditional bar mitzvah set-ups all within one beachfront property.

“Loews is a kid-friendly hotel, and we always have plenty of activities to offer.  We are also located on the beach and within walking distance to the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and the Third Street Promenade,” Li said. 

While neighboring Shutters on the Beach and Hotel Casa Del Mar have long been fashionable destinations for both local and out-of-town visitors, they also offer their own unique takes on the Santa Monica bar or bat mitzvah experience. 

Shutters on the Beach has a simple but luxurious beach-house vibe. Neighboring Hotel Casa Del Mar has history going for it — the 1920s structure has been beautifully restored to its Renaissance Revival architectural perfection. 

What both hotels have in common, in addition to a view of the festive Santa Monica Pier, is a catering/events team headed by Stephen Friddle. According to Friddle, Shutters on the Beach’s Pacific Terrace rolls out to beach and ocean views, making it a perfect pre-dinner reception space. The Grand Salon, Shutters’ main ballroom, seats up to 220 guests with a dance floor and features a working fireplace. The Promenade Room and Terrace, adjacent to the Grand Salon, is often used as a separate kids space for activities, games and food stations, he said.

Hotel Casa Del Mar’s Colonnade Ballroom, distinguished with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the ocean, seats up to 270 guests. The ballroom configuration is ideal for lounge-type seating and vignette play spaces. The outdoor terrace, meanwhile, is a fun area for food stations, a s’mores bar, or, in the daytime, beach activities. 

Both properies offer a la carte menus and bar or bat mitzvah packages, and Hotel Casa Del Mar is equipped for hotel-approved kosher caterers. 

New Setting Could Bring New Faces

There is an old Jewish saying that if you change your place, you change your luck. The organizers of the 21st annual Israel Film Festival are putting it to the test.

Which means that this year, if you head out to Laemmle’s on Fairfax hoping to see a new crop of Israeli films, as in years past, you might be disappointed. The majority this year will screen at Sunset Five, another Laemmle cinema, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard. Other films are scheduled for the Laemmle Fallbrook in West Hills.

Festival organizers want the films to reach a wider audience, including the more avant-garde types who troll Sunset Boulevard.

“Sunset Five has a different, more open audience, that we hope we can bring,” said Meir Fenigstein, the festival director. “And the Valley has a very strong audience for the festival, since there are a lot of Israelis there. But I am not looking for Israelis. I know it is hard, it is difficult, to bring Americans [as an audience] but that is the challenge.”

Other new ideas pertain to the filmmakers. The festival’s winning film will earn for the director and producer the use, for one month, of a $50,000-$80,000 package that includes a 35-millimeter Panavision camera.

The festival is also sponsoring travel for 40 Israeli directors to attend, the largest contingent ever.

The program itself will include a number of films that deal with issues of Jewish identity, such as “A Green Chariot” (directed by Gilad Goldschmidt), “Wasserman — The Rain Man” (directed by Idit Shechori) and “Catching the Sky” (directed by Roni Ninio and Yankal Goldwasser). The films will be followed by a program called “Jewish Identity in Israeli Films.” In previous years, panel discussions have focused on the state of Israeli cinema, so this sort of subject matter is new ground.

“The idea is to bring together different kinds of teenagers, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, and watch a film that has a strong Jewish identity,” Fenigstein said.

Fenigstein and festival program director Paul Fagen generally pick films that have made their mark in Israel, either by winning awards there or in festivals elsewhere. The opening night film “What a Wonderful Place” (directed by Eyal Halfon), won the best film award at the Israel Film Academy, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars, and will be Israel’s entry to the foreign film category at the 2006 Academy Awards.

“The Israeli film industry has a kind of foothold in America right now, and I believe that the festival had a hand in that,” Fenigstein said.

The film, “Ushpizin,” is currently playing in cities all over America. Last year, the Israeli film, “Walk on Water,” made about $3 million at the box office. And, slowly but surely more people are going to see foreign films. Last year at the Miami sector of the Israel Film Festiva,l there was a 100 percent increase in ticket sales.

“The films are getting a little bit better, and the distributors are starting to become more savvy and they see the niche market for these films,” Fagen said.

This year, about 20 film distributors are expected to attend the festival. About two to four films are likely to be picked up. For most of the films, however, the festival will be their only showing in the United States.

“It is very difficult for non-American films to get recognized in the States,” said Dan Fainaru, an Israeli film critic. “American audiences are not that interested in them. Compare an Israeli film that has done very well in the States — like “Walk on Water” — the income [generated] is maybe enough to cover the limousine budget in a big American production.

Nevertheless, organizers see their festival as an important tool for Israeli cinema.

“It gives an opportunity for the films to be seen by American audiences. It helps them to find distributors. It gives the Hollywood community a chance to connect with the Israeli community, and it gives the filmmakers an opportunity to come and meet the audience,” Fenigstein said.


Dancing the Chai Life

When Sarah Sommer started the Chai Folk Ensemble with eight other young girls in 1964, she had modest expectations. The young women practiced Israeli folk dancing in Sommer’s basement in Winnipeg, Canada, stepping in time to recorded music. When they started performing for live audiences in 1967, the recorded music was replaced with a live musician — the mainstay of all folk performances — an accordion player.

Now, 40 years later, The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble (Sommer died in 1969) is no longer dancing in basements or clicking their heels to accordion music. The nonprofit troupe is run by a board of directors and has a full artistic staff, including costume designers, choreographers from Israel and Argentina, and a technical team that ensures that Sommer’s Israeli folk-dancing vision stays alive. The troupe itself now numbers 47 — including eight vocalists, nine musicians and 20 dancers. They perform in large venues all over the world.

“I don’t think that Sommer ever imagined that it would be as large or survive as long as it had,” said Reeva Nepon, the ensemble’s administrative director. “It really is unique to North America because there are no other [folk] groups this large that have live accompaniment — you won’t find our dancers dancing to recorded music.”

The group’s repertoire has also expanded. They use the dances to tell the story of Jewish communities all over the world, incorporating, Chasidic, klezmer, Israeli and Yiddish influences to give a terpsichorean voice to far-flung communities such as Yemen or Morocco.

At their upcoming Los Angeles performance, for example, the show will close with the dance “Chasida” — the Hebrew word for stork. The dance depicts “Operation Exodus” — the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the late 1980s. In the dance, the performers, wearing sackcloth coats, make their way to the Promised Land. There they shake off their coats and hold them high above their heads, revealing the pristine white dresses worn underneath, and a moment of heart-soaring joy.

“The whole stage lights up and it is so explosive, and so powerful,” said Tracy Kasner-Greaves, Chai’s artistic director. “The performers beam and glow from the stage.”

The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble will start its first tour of Southern California on Feb. 10 at the Fred Kavli Theatre for Performing Arts, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($18-$54) call (805) 449-2787.

Is Indoor Play Good for Your Kids?

Debbie Friedman was visiting with two other moms at Serrania Park in Woodland Hills on a spring day in 2002 when she noticed their children were talking to a man walking his dog on the other side of the park fence. She went over to see what was happening.

“He said, ‘How old are you kids?’ They replied 4 and 5. He said, ‘Well, I’m 6. What are your names?’ It was a really creepy conversation,” she said.

Friedman said she thanked the man for showing the kids his dog and then sent the kids away.

“A lot of parents have fears of predators in the park watching them. It’s hard to keep an eye on two little ones…. You’re afraid they’re going to run off and someone’s going to snatch them,” she said.

Parents cite a variety of reasons for shying away from taking their children to local parks, from safety to excessively hot, cold or inclement weather to unsanitary conditions on playgrounds and in bathrooms.

When many Jewish parents do take their kids to play outdoors, the locales they pick are often the tonier parks frequented by other Jewish parents, sometimes requiring them to drive 10 or 20 miles. Favored parks include Beeman Park in Studio City, Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills and Serrania Park.

Galit Almog is a working mom from North Hollywood who makes time to take her child to Beeman Park or Balboa Park in Van Nuys, but she said it’s difficult to coordinate play dates with other parents because they also have busy schedules. As a result she said she’s been gravitating toward Gymboree Play & Music, an indoor “edutainment” center.

Structured indoor learn-and-play venues have become increasingly popular as children lead more regimented lives. Academic expectations and after-school activities chew up free time for outdoor exploring, which was once the mainstay of childhood. Experts agree that the amount of play time available to the average child has been dramatically reduced to an hour or less each day. Factor in that many households require both parents to work and it’s easy to understand why indoor play areas are gaining in popularity among young families.

“It’s more structured, you have a teacher, you have music, things to play with and a routine kids get used to,” Almog said.

Brentwood mom Natalie Bernstein is equally enamored with Gymboree after encountering unsanitary conditions at a neighborhood park.

“It’s cleaner, safer and there’s a greater choice of toys,” she said.

Indoor play can also address the needs of parents, said Adrian Becker, the owner of Gymboree Play & Music franchises in Sherman Oaks, Northridge and Calabasas for the last 23 years. Becker said parents — mostly women — come to Gymboree to play with their children, learn songs and develop new parenting skills they can use at home, but most of all they’re looking to make friends.

“I think parents are looking for community, and this is their way of connecting with like-minded people,” she said. “The neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to make friends in your neighborhood now.”

Suzy Epstein, preschool director of Conservative synagogue B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, said that parents want their children academically prepared, especially since many schools now teach kindergarten as if it were first grade.

“Kids already need to have so many skills that [parents] want children in a structured program, because they’re afraid they won’t be ready for kindergarten,” Epstein said. “It’s our job to prepare them, because that is what they have to face.”

But some experts in children’s recreation say that structuring play and confining it to temperature-controlled environments for safety and comfort reasons isn’t good for children’s development. They call for a balanced approach that includes unstructured outdoor play and caution that too much time spent indoors can have negative physical, social and psychological impacts.

“What’s happened is what [UC Davis play expert] Mark Francis calls ‘the childhood of imprisonment,'” said Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, a firm that designs children’s play and learning centers.

“It’s because of a total fear of public spaces and child abduction. Parents today are horrified. Some parents won’t even let their children play in their own backyard unsupervised. The ‘secured, sanitized spaces’ are what kids are restricted to today,” he said.

White believes this is stifling children.

“Most of these activities are very structured, and young children need play — spontaneous free play, not directed play,” he said.

One indoor venue offering an unstructured approach is Playsource, a playground set up in a Woodland Hills shopping center storefront on Ventura Boulevard. Children stow their shoes in cubbyholes, run across a carpeted floor and choose from jumping in an inflatable castle bounce, scaling a rock wall, climbing inside a spaceship or playing house in a scale model, among other activities. The only time limits placed on kids are the operating hours and their own stamina. Parents take a seat at picnic tables next to the play area and visit with each other, read or eat while the kids play.

Friedman started the playground six months ago as a way to work and spend more time with her own children.

“Parks aren’t relaxing; you’ve got to chase your kids,” Friedman said. “Here, you come in, pay your eight bucks, you pass the gate and sit down.”

Jessica Gottlieb said she drives her two kids to Playsource at least once a week from Sherman Oaks.

“My kids beg for it,” she said. “They aren’t going to get hit, they’re not going to get sand thrown in their eyes. They like that they can be more independent.”

Gottlieb said she tries to split time evenly between outdoor parks and venues like Playsource, but if it gets too hot “we do indoor exclusively.”

Parents who spoke with The Journal said lack of shade at parks adds to their reluctance to visit. Trees in parks have been purposefully cut back from playgrounds out of fear that a parent might sue the city if a falling branch were to strike a child, said Kevin Reagan, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department’s western regional superintendent.

Reagan said that L.A. Parks and Recreation offers some indoor programs, like gymnastics and dance, as well as some indoor play areas in child-care centers, but there are no plans to cover playgrounds or move them indoors.

“There’s really nothing negative with parents choosing to take their kids to those other facilities,” he said. “We have a lot of people living here and there is no way that the city can provide enough recreational opportunities for every person that needs them.”

However, researchers are finding that spending too much time focused on indoor activities can have detrimental impacts on children’s physical and emotional health. They advise parents to take their children outside more and let them play in ways that they determine for themselves.

“There’s an enormous amount of research finally being done, which is documenting the importance of these types of experiences to children’s development,” White said.

Parents are doing their children a disservice by shielding them from hot or cold days, said Robert Bixler, associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Bixler warns that children will become accustomed to a narrow range of temperatures if they spend too much time in controlled environments. “Air conditioning and heating is wonderfully comfortable, but it ends up limiting the experiences we have,” he said.

Another physical impact on children being traced to an indoor lifestyle is the growing problem of myopia, or nearsightedness. According to research conducted in Japan and Singapore by the Australian National University in Canberra, as kids spend more time indoors, focusing on close objects such as books, TVs and GameBoys, their vision is affected. Another study found that myopia rates in Israel among observant 14- to 18-year-old boys, who focus tremendous amounts of time studying religious texts, is 80 percent; only 30 percent of students in Israel’s secular state schools exhibit such problems.

In addition to physical problems, emotional and social issues also come into play. Can guided play impact a child’s sense of independence? You bet, said Jan Tolan, a CSUN leisure studies and recreation professor who specializes in play and recreation therapy.

“Depriving children of the freedom to explore or learn on their own is hurtful and damaging in many ways,” she said.

Experts acknowledge that directed indoor play can positively impact on a child’s development. But they also believe that when parents de-emphasize the importance of spending time outdoors it reduces a child’s desire to explore the world and can potentially prejudice them against participating in future outdoor activities. “There’s a whole range of experiences people shut themselves off from due to comfort,” Bixler said.

Self-direction, decision making and problem solving can be learned outside of a park, but Tolan believes that these natural spaces encourage greater personal exploration, especially when done in a way that is entirely independent.

“Don’t neglect that free time when the child can interact with the environment in any way they want to,” Tolan said.

She said parents still need to supervise their children for safety reasons when they take them to a park, but from a distance.

“Step in only when it’s absolutely necessary, or when invited by the child,” she said.

Ultimately, recreation experts say parents should provide their children with a much-needed break in the structure of their busy days that will allow for the opportunity to independently explore the world and have fun.

“Balance is a guiding principal in anything. Yes, Gymboree has some things to offer that will help your child develop, but don’t deprive your child of the park experience as well,” Tolan said. “The park is a learning environment, too.”

Turning a New Page

When is a city’s Jewish book festival not actually located in that city? When it’s based in Los Angeles. For the first time in five years, Los Angeles’ Jewish Book Festival will not take place in L.A. proper, even as Jewish book fairs in smaller communities nationwide attract thousands of readers each year. So why can’t Los Angeles stage such a festival?

It’s not from a lack of trying. Every November, Los Angeles has hosted some semblance of a festival to commemorate Jewish Book Month — until now. This year’s most comprehensive will be the Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys’ fourth annual Jewish book festival, where authors Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything is Illuminated”), Nicole Krauss (“Man Walks Into a Room”) and Joseph Telushkin (“Golden Land”) will appear in communities such as Pasadena, Ontario, Arcadia, Montclair and Upland. In other words, not the City of Los Angeles.

Until last year, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) held its annual Jewish Book Festival with lackluster results. The 2000 event featured only 10 authors. In 2001, following Sept. 11 and an organizational restructuring of JCCGLA, which has yet to be resolved, the festival amounted to three visiting authors.

Conversely, the festival hosted annually northeast of Los Angeles by San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys’ federation — no relation to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, but under the same United Jewish Communities umbrella — has been growing. This month, it will host a 19-event Jewish Book Month celebration that organizers estimate will attract 35-200 people for each lecture, signing and family/children event.

Marilyn Weintraub, who oversees the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys’ book festival, said her organization uses its communities’ assets. In addition to placing ads in area synagogues, libraries and outlets, such as Vroman’s Bookstore, their book festival capitalizes on Pasadena’s wealth of historic homes as backdrops for signings.

“These are unique personal settings that are different than typical venues the authors go to,” said Larry Harris, director of the Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.

Unlike in Los Angeles, JCC-sponsored book fairs are thriving nationwide. JCC of Louisville, Ky., will welcome Iddo Netanyahu (“Yoni’s Last Battle”) and Foer. The David Posnack JCC in Davie, Fla., will feature Leonard Nimoy (“Shekhina”) and Anne Roiphe (“Marriage: A Fine Predicament”). The Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio will receive Washington Post sportswriter Jane Leavy (“Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy”).

In 2000, about 650 Angelenos attended JCCGLA’s festival. Compare this with the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit-sponsored, 10-day Jewish Book Festival, which attracts 15,000-20,000 readers annually.

So why can’t Los Angeles draw such numbers? West Valley JCC program director Seville Porush, who in 1997 created what evolved into JCCGLA’s Jewish Book Fair, blamed “a difference in communities,” citing geographical and social distance.

It is unlike Detroit, where Detroit Jewish News Editor Robert Sklar considers the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s annual Jewish Book Fair “an integral part of Detroit’s Jewish community.”

“We have a very cohesive Jewish community on a lot of levels,” Sklar said. “The book fair, unlike other affairs in town, is the major event where Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform [Jews] come together and feel very comfortable in a cultural Jewish setting rather than a religious setting. It has been the most successful and sustained example of that.”

Jewish Book Council Director Carolyn Starman Hessel, who works with 70 Jewish book fairs nationwide, stressed that America’s three largest Jewish populations all lack a formidable Jewish book fair.

“People in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago don’t need a Jewish fair,” she said.

Jonathan Fass, last year’s JCCGLA book fair coordinator, told The Journal that “Los Angeles is on the media tour for every major author. They have offices here.”

Hessel said that in Detroit, “people wait a whole year until the Jewish book fair comes to Detroit. So it’s a cultural experience.”

While Harris admitted that the San Gabriel Valley region “is not as an attractive area for authors to travel to as Los Angeles would be,” his festival fills a void and serves as “a public service announcement for the federation.”

The November timing of Jewish Book Month became a logistical liability for JCCGLA.

“The books would come out here a little later than they did back East,” Porush said. “Nobody had heard of them or their books yet.”

Another factor contributing to Los Angeles’ underfed book fair tradition is limited resources. In 2000, JCCGLA amassed a $10,000 book fair budget, culled from community grants, which shrank to less than $3,000 in 2001. Compare that to San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, which averages $15,000 for its festival.

Professionalism, Hessel emphasized, is also crucial — cities such as St. Louis, Houston, Miami and San Diego draw big numbers “because they have the best coordinators and festival committees. That will make or break a book fair.”

In Detroit, Sklar credits the guiding hand of Irwin Shaw, founder of Detroit’s Jewish Book Fair and former executive director of JCC of Metro Detroit, for its success. The nonagenarian just suffered a stroke. However, he has attended all 51 Jewish book fairs.

“He’s an unassuming kind of guy who has had his finger on the pulse of this community all 51 years,” Sklar said, “and he’s the reason it’s been able to overcome all the dips over the years.”

So what would it take to mount a large-scale Jewish book fair here? About $70,000-$100,000, according to Abigail Yasgur, the director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles-based Jewish Community Library.

With the JCCGLA Jewish Book Fair dissolved, West Valley JCC has gone back to holding individual signings. Hessel believes thinking small is not a bad idea.

“I really don’t think there’s a lack of interest [in Los Angeles],” Hessel said. “Smaller venues might be the answer. In New York, we did them for a few years. They are very labor-intensive, difficult to run. It has to be a cooperative, community effort, not just a JCC effort.”

Such an effort is easier when a community is geographically and demographically tightly knit.

“Detroit is the 11th largest Jewish community nationwide,” Sklar said. “Yet from per-capita spending to Jewish education to Jewish culture, we rank a lot higher. That’s directly correlated with the fact that the community goes back 100 years and there hasn’t been a vast amount of turnover, nor a vast influx of new members. We’ve remained steady. It’s helped maintain a sense of community.”

So even as San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys grow their own festival, is there hope that Los Angeles can cultivate a festival tradition deserving of its 600,000 Jews?

“I’m always looking for funds to operate a Jewish book fair,” Yasgur said.

Gady Levy, dean at the University of Judaism’s (UJ) Department of Continuing Education, also champions the idea. The UJ is currently in the early stages of exploring a book festival. “The challenge is a good thing,” said Levy, who led the wildly successful 2002 Public Lecture Series where speakers included President Bill Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak. This year, Levy is undeterred by Los Angeles’ checkered Jewish literature fair history. “There is a need in the community, and as long as it’s done well with reasonable expectations and good marketing, I think there’s a great potential. We have a very large community to sustain it.”

“It would be nice if it could ever get going,” a skeptical Porush said. “I don’t know that it would. But I think that it’s important that nobody abandon books.”

For now, a cohesive Los Angeles Jewish book festival remains a chapter yet to be written.