Brigit Grant and family went to La La Land for the definitive Jewish experience and found more than they bargained for.
Though I’m loath to admit it, I definitely feel more comfortable being Jewish in America.
Living in the UK is perfectly fine, but there is something very attractive about the seamless way Judaic culture blends into the landscape in certain US cities.
While I might not feel that way searching for pickled herring in Tennessee, landing at LAX Airport back in December to be greeted by a huge Christmas tree standing tall beside an equally large menorah made me feel good.
Better than good in fact, and this feeling remained during our stay in California, which was peppered with experiences and encounters bursting with Jewish flavour.
Granted, I sought them out, largely to prove to my husband our eligibility as residents. But where else but LA could you turn a corner and see a colourfully painted food truck with the words El Nosh Latin Delicatessen plastered across the side? I’m not sure Latin-Jewish fusion food will be available in Gants Hill any time soon, but in Los Angeles, yucca latkes with a mango crema and brisket burrito made with carrot tzimmis are all the rage since chef Eric Greenspan and restaurant owner Robert Trevino opened up.
LA has become somewhat of a home from home the past couple of years as it lives up to its winter sun promise and a hotel family room can genuinely accommodate a family.
If you are kosher, the Wilshire Crest boutique hotel on Orange Street off Wilshire Boulevard is a good place to start, but we are strictly culturally observant and like to be by the ocean, so we booked in at the newly-renovated Hotel MdR – a Hilton property in Marina del Rey, close to Venice and Santa Monica. At around $179 per night, the hotel is a real find as the rooms (and the beds) are big and the outdoor pool is heated.
This is a real plus in December if you are with kids who like to swim.
Breakfast al fresco at the hotel’s Barbianca Local Kitchen is the way to start an LA day and if you return exhausted at the end of it, resident chef Larry Monaco has created a northern Italian/Napa Valley twist menu worth exploring and I can’t recall eating a finer seared salmon.
Amazingly, in a city where walking is practically prohibited, you can also stroll to at least six other good restaurants in the Villa Marina Market Place Mall. Just don’t tell the waiter you walked there.
The HQs for Google, You Tube and Sony Pictures are all nearby in the stretch known as ‘Silicon Beach,’ and as we passed we saw Sony’s billboard for the TV show The Goldbergs, which may air one day in the UK.
We already have Fox TV’s Modern Family , and my family were lucky enough to be invited on set by the show’s creator Steve Levitan to mingle with the cast and crew, only to find the hairdresser had family in Ilford.
We have family in Westchester (hello Mel and Adam Newman), which has a sizeable Jewish community and a much-loved gay rabbi at the local temple. But for a more obviously Jewish presence head for Fairfax which is where you will find Canter’s Deli, a 24-hour operation for those who desire matzo ball soup at 3am.
Weirdly, the city that is home to Spielberg and Ari Gold has seen a lot of Jewish delis close over the past few years, possibly because of health concerns about excessive schmaltz, but Greenblatt’s on West Sunset Boulevard is still there and if you go to Nate ‘n Al in Beverley Hills you may bump into Schwarzenegger, who will be back.
Venice Beach is our favourite place (don’t miss brunch at the Sidewalk Café), and Israelis seem to like it a lot too as they own or run many of the T-shirt stores along Ocean Front Walk.
Look carefully and you’ll spot the mezzuzahs on the door frames, though you’re more likely to spot the Israelis first as they whizz about on Segway scooters past the tattoo parlours and medical marijuana dispensaries.
For a more refined shopping experience head to the Grove (off Beverley Boulevard), which is a heady mix of designer stores, high street names (Top Shop, Zara) and the legendary Farmers’ Market for yet more knishes and stacked corn beef on rye.
For us, the Grove is all about the American Girl doll store (americangirl.com) which as far as I’m aware is the only toyshop in the world to sell a genuine Jewish doll.
Born in 1914, Rebecca Rubin, 18in tall, is the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, though she now lives with us and thanks to the delightful personal shopper at the store has a considerable turn-of-the-century wardrobe, not to mention a set of ShabbatD candles. “She’s Jewish,” screamed my daughter when she set eyes on Rebecca in the BeForever section, where just a week earlier our personal shopper was helping out Harper Beckham.
You can have lunch or tea at the American Girl store café and we did, with lots of other excited little girls and their dolls who were provided with custom-made chairs.
It’s yet another “Jewish” experience in a city that is full of them, whether you are looking at Kirk Douglas’ handprints outside Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or buying Yiddish with Dick and Jane in the extensive Jewish humour section of Barnes & Noble on Third Street, Santa Monica.