nJUST AS many restaurant proprietors discovered during the last intifada that the majority of Jewish visitors to Israel were religiously observant people who did not allow fear to sway their decisions to come for family celebrations and other reasons, so fashion designers are discovering that even during a period of economic crisis, religious women are buying more clothes than their secular sisters. In the observant community, families tend to be large and there are therefore many more bar mitzvas, weddings and other celebrations to attend.
The upshot with the restaurants was that many non-kosher establishments - not only in Jerusalem but also in Tel Aviv - became kosher. In the same vein, many fashion designers are catering to the needs of the religiously observant woman with more modest necklines, longer sleeves and lower hemlines. On December 15, 16 and 17 a large number of fashion designers and representatives of fashion houses from the Coastal Plain will hold a fashion fair in the banquet hall of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, with creations geared to the religiously observant woman. The garments will range from evening wear and suits to casual outfits to maternity wear.
The fair will operate on the first day from 4 p.m. until midnight and on the other days from 11 a.m. to midnight. The fair is for women only, and the entry fee is NIS 15. Because the fair is taking place on the eve of the annual winter sales period, there will be discounts of up to 70 percent. Organizers have arranged for children's activities at Heichal Shlomo next door to the Great Synagogue so that mothers can shop unhampered. Among the designers coming to Jerusalem are Ronit Taki, who generally designs for a secular clientele and who enjoyed the challenge of designing for a niche clientele. Nurit Cohen, who initiated the fashion fair, says there's no reason not to create fashion with the religiously observant woman in mind.
n AMONG THE participants at the 100 years of Yiddish conference at the Hebrew University this week was Ella Gaffen, the daughter of Dora Wasserman, who was the doyenne of Yiddish theater in Montreal and in whose memory an international Yiddish theater festival and symposium were held in June. Gaffen is the director of product development and media for Refi Shelef Tourism, which specializes in international travel and congresses. In that capacity, she has to come up with innovative ideas that will attract more people to Israel. One of the things she's planning is a Yiddish happening on a far grander scale than the one she launched more than a decade ago when she worked at the Neveh Ilan Hotel. That first venture attracted performers from Europe, the US and Israel and audiences from all over Israel, as well as tourists who were in the country. The Yiddish happening that she has in mind for December 2010 will be multifaceted, blending serious and fun aspects of Yiddish into a nostalgic smorgasbord. Another conference participant whose name is synonymous with Yiddish culture and entertainment is Mendy Cahan, who founded Yung Yidish in a Jerusalem basement in 1993 and a couple of years back expanded to include the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, where it has larger premises and an ever-increasing following. Yung Yidish was created out of Cahan's desire to preserve Yiddish books and periodicals. He now has more than 40,000 Yiddish books, some of which, together with Yiddish newspapers from around the world, were displayed at the conference. He also collects Yiddish records and sheet music. Yung Yidish conducts classes and workshops, gives free concerts to the underprivileged elderly, conducts study programs in Vilna, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and hosts bi-weekly concerts, cabarets, theatrical performances, literary events and lectures. Cahan, who appeared at Gaffen's first and second Yiddish happenings, is an accomplished cabaret performer and raconteur.
n WHILE ON the subject of Yiddish, Jerusalem-based giftware designer Barbara Shaw, whose tote bags, aprons, T-shirts and other items include Yiddish expressions such as "a groise metziya" and "vilde haye" has discovered that these are becoming increasingly popular. Last Friday, a family from Ra'anana came by her store. The family included two angelic-looking boys who were perhaps not quite as angelic as they looked because their mother, with a broad smile on her face, bought them vilde haye ("wild animal") T-shirts. Shaw was pleasantly surprised to get requests for her aprons from people in Tel Aviv. She supplies a certain Tel Aviv store that has some kind of relationship with the television program Ha'ach Hagadol to which it gave two aprons, which were worn on one of the shows. Shaw didn't know about this till afterwards when calls started coming in for orders. Just another example of the fact that it pays to advertise.
n HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS and people who grew up under oppressive and repressive regimes are often politically right wing. Not so Hedy Epstein. The German-born Epstein, who remembers Kristallnacht, the anti-Semitism at school, the revocation of German citizenship and the burning of synagogues, will lead a 1,000-member international delegation on a Gaza Freedom March to the Israeli border on December 31. Epstein was fortunate that in 1939, at age 14, she was still able to get out of Germany. Her parents put her on a kindertransport to England. She never saw them again. They were murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. After the war, she returned to Germany and worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg trials of doctors who performed experiments on concentration camp inmates. She has recorded those events and others in a book Remembering Is Not Enough - the Autobiography of Hedy Epstein. After moving to the United States, Epstein became active in causes for peace, reconciliation and social justice. One of those causes is the Palestinian people. She has traveled to the West Bank to research the Palestinian situation there, and now she hopes to enter Gaza. Another prominent Jewish delegate is South African anti-apartheid leader Ronnie Kasrils, who was deputy minister of defense in South Africa's first democratic government (1994-99) and later minister for intelligence services (2004-2008).
Epstein and the 1,000 international activists hope to enter Gaza via Egypt and to join Palestinians in a non-violent march from northern Gaza to the Erez crossing on the Israeli border. On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli peace activists will also call on the Israeli government to open the border.
Other Freedom March participants include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker; leading Syrian comedian Duraid Lahham; French Senator Alima Boumediene-Thiery; author and Philippine parliament member Walden Bello; former European parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini from Italy; president of the US Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Michael Ratner; Japanese former ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki; and French hip-hop artists Ministere des Affaires Populaires. Also participating are three-generation families, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, students, an interfaith group that includes rabbis, priests and imams, a women's delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans group and Palestinians born overseas who have relatives in Gaza whom they have never seen.
ON SATURDAY night December 12, many roads in Israel will lead to Hatzer Hamalka at Kanot Junction where MK and deputy minister Gila Gamliel and her husband, Hovev Damari, will celebrate the birth of their daughter Tahal. Guests will include Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, as well as other leading rabbinical figures, members of Knesset, prominent business people, entertainers, et al. Some 700 people have been invited, including Gamliel's close friend fashion designer Galit Levi. Cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum, who is likewise a close friend of Levi's and a former (albeit short-lived) MK, is also on the list of invitees.