Time to Celebrate
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Place for a bar/bat mitzvah party
The hard work of a bar or bat mitzvah just has to be recognized with party. And when it comes to partying, it’s all about location — which is why these fabulous local sites were chosen as favorites for celebrating your tween’s achievements.
The comfortable elegance of the Mill Valley Community Center makes it ideal for a bar or bat mitzvah party. The center has space for 285 people and a gorgeous view of Mount Tamalpais. “You can have your own caterer and put your mark on the party,” says Lisa Johnson, the center’s facility supervisor.
Having a b’nai mitzvah party at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco a great idea — not just because of the building’s lovely aesthetics, but also for its convenience. There is a large pavilion area that can be used for cocktails, and “the staff will help you with any of your party arrangements,” says Executive Director Nancy Drapin.
An East Bay favorite, the Sequoyah Country Club is nestled in the residential Oakland hills. Built in 1913, Sequoyah boasts an elegant Spanish style architecture. Megan Blanchard, a caterer at the country club, refers to it as “an unfound jewel.”
Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City has both a luxurious and friendly setting. “We have an outdoor facility on the lawn and a beautiful indoor dining room,” said Communications Director Kim Mark. The dining room’s high ceilings give it a very light natural feel and gardens make the outdoors a fantastic place to be.
In second place were the JCC of San Francisco, Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Stonetree Golf Club in Novato and Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills.
Congregation Sherith Israel
Sequoyah Country Club
Pacific Athletic Club
Mill Valley Community Center
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
Beth Jacob Congregation
Congregation Beth Am
Los Altos Hills
Stonetree Golf Club
Place for a casual indoor party
Casual parties can mean any number of things — but these winning venues don’t sweat it. They have exactly what you need to please everyone, from grandparents to young kids.
With space for nearly 300 and a view of gorgeous Mount Tamalpais, it is no wonder that the Mill Valley Community Center is a top Marin destination. The party room provides a natural, light-filled space for any kind of event: “It is a large room with hardwood flooring and full-length windows on both sides of the room,” explains Lisa Johnson, the facility supervisor.
Newman Hall at Sherith Israel in San Francisco has space for over 200 people, and the beautiful modern room is multi-purpose. “It can be used for all levels of events,” says Executive Director Nancy Drapin, “from birthday parties to weddings to bar mitzvah parties.”
East Bay readers couldn’t decide: there was a tie for first between City Beach and the Sequoia Lodge. “We are a dynamic venue with multiple things to offer for people of all ages,” says Michael Riter of City Beach in Fremont. From rock climbing to shuffleboard to on-site event planners, City Beach is fun for all.
The rustic ambiance and cozy stone fireplace of Sequoia Lodge, nestled in the Oakland hills, creates the perfect atmosphere for a casual party. A surrounding wooden deck, coupled with eucalyptus and redwood trees, gives the lodge a tranquil feel essential for laid-back events.
The comfortable and friendly environment of the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City makes it an top location on the Peninsula. “We can provide a dance floor and smaller rooms for smaller gatherings,” says Communications Director Kim Mark.
For even more chilled-out vibes, our second-place winners are ready to serve: the JCC of San Francisco, the San Geronimo Valley Community Center in San Geronimo and Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.
Congregation Sherith Israel
Pacific Athletic Club
Mill Valley Community Center
JCC of San Francisco
Congregation B’nai Shalom
San Geronimo Valley Community Center
Place for a casual outdoor party
The natural beauty of the Bay Area allows for various casual outdoor party locations, each with their own fabulous flavor.
The awesome outdoors of the East Bay make it difficult for i. readers to pick just one first place winner for best place to have a casual party outside. Both surrounded by trees in in Berkeley hills, the Brazilian Room and the U.C. Berkeley Faculty Club tied for first.
Built with Brazilian wood, The Brazilian Room offers a truly unique ambiance and has long been a favorite with j. readers. “It’s a beautiful facility and a beautiful setting,” said Heather Vane of the Brazilian Room.
In the midst of the Berkeley campus is a natural oasis: The Faculty Club features luscious grass clearings as well as trees native to the area. With the club building in the background, the Faculty Club is a gorgeous place for a casual event.
Golden Gate Park, a timeless San Francisco favorite, is also j. readers’ first choice in the City By the Bay. The park features museums, gardens and a myriad of activities that suit partiers of all ages.
According to Francis Mason of the park rental department, it is the “rustic feeling of the old-fashioned park” that sets apart Twin Pines Park in Belmont, which features historic buildings in a beautiful setting.
With a pool, barbecues, and picnic tables, the Marinwood Community Center in San Rafael is a Marin favorite. “It is a hidden gem,” said Shane Demarta, the community center’s recreation director. The huge picnic area, small forest and creek make it a great place for all nature lovers.
Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton came in second.
Golden Gate Park
The Faculty Club
The Brazilian Room
Twin Pines Park
Marinwood Community Center
Ruby Hill Golf Club
Place for an elegant outdoor party
The fabulous weather and beauty of Northern California are the most essential ingredients for an elegant outdoor party, but location matters too — which is why these gorgeous spots are j. readers’ favorites.
The Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross is an oasis in the center of Marin. From the gurgling fountains to the awesome views of Mount Tamalpais, the center is tranquil and elegant. “People are transformed when they arrive,” says Rob Franco, sales and marketing manager, of the center. “The beauty of the place sets us apart.”
With a view of Chinatown and the Transamerica building, the roof garden at the Fairmont San Francisco “offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Samara Diapoulos, the hotel’s director of public relations. Gracious service and beautiful flowers make the roof garden even more exceptional.
The Oakland Museum of California is j. readers’ first choice in the East Bay — and with the museum’s unique architecture as a backdrop and a large, beautiful groomed lawn, the museum is a luxurious and lovely location.
In Redwood City, the Pacific Athletic Club is a favorite for its large grassy areas, courtyards and gardens, which create a lavish setting for guests. “We have a beautiful facility that can be catered to your personal needs,” said Communications Director Kim Mark.
Second-place finishers were Stonetree Golf Club in Novato, Hakone Gardens in Saratoga and the Camron-Stanford House in Oakland.
The Fairmont San Francisco
Oakland Museum of California
Pacific Athletic Club
Marin Art & Garden Center
Stonetree Golf Club
In the world of catering, a caterer is only as good as his or her last meal — and when it comes to kosher catering, it isn’t always easy. To accommodate everything from Jewish dietary laws to food allergies, feeding the kosher masses often means getting creative.
“I have to really come up with interesting menus,” says Wendy Kleckner of Too Caterers in Menlo Park. Kleckner uses different ethnic influences and changes her menu twice a year in order to ensure that her food accommodates her clients and remains unique. But Kleckner welcomes the challenge of kosher catering: “It is a blessing to be able to wake up in the morning and love what I do,” she said.
It is no surprise that Berkeley’s Alan Finkelstein is the winner in the East Bay. “I’ve probably cooked for more people in the East Bay than anyone else I know,” he says, “and I have happy customers.” Specializing in b’nai mitzvahs and weddings, Finklestein prides himself in giving people great satisfaction with his food.
In second place were Oakland Kosher Foods in the East Bay and Tanya Nunes in the South Bay/Peninsula.
Alan Finkelstein Catering
Oakland Kosher Catering
Whether you’re Jewish or not, meetin’ and greetin’ usually means eatin’. But good catering takes a sixth sense to know exactly what people want — and j. readers’ favorite non-kosher caterers use that sixth sense as their secret ingredient.
Paul Alexander, president of San Francisco and South Bay favorite Continental Caterers, is honored that his love for food reaches others in such a positive way. The Menlo Park catering service’s attention to detail and ability to listen to their clients’ needs is what makes them so exceptional. “Being able to tailor our services sets us apart,” Alexander says.
“We’re known for our quality,” says Jan Goldberg, president and founder of Delicious! Inc. in San Rafael. Delicious! provides excellent food and outstanding service at a reasonable cost — and due to their understanding of traditional Jewish lifecycle events, Delicious! is sensitive to last-minute clients who request catering for a brit milah or memorial service.
For Carrie Dove in Emeryville, food is more than just nourishment: It’s “about the experience,” Dove says. And for nearly seven years, Carrie Dove Catering has been committed to providing its clients with not just great food, but also the service that allows for an outstanding event.
In second place were Italian Colors in Oakland, Tanya Nunes in San Francisco, Mangia/Nosh Catering Company in San Rafael and Park Avenue Catering in Cotati.
San Francisco and South Bay/Peninsula
Carrie Dove Catering
Mangia/Nosh Catering Company
Park Avenue Catering
“It is actually as fun as it looks,” says Ken Maaf, founder of DJK Productions, of his job as a DJ. For the fourth year in a row, Daryl Grace of DJK has won first place for favorite DJ in the Bay Area.
Grace began as an assistant to Maaf in 1996, and as DJK grew it was natural for Grace to take on the DJ responsibilities at his own parties. Most of the parties DJK does are youth oriented: b’nai mitzvahs on Saturdays and school dances on Fridays. “Daryl is incredibly personable,” says Maaf. “He gets along with kids really well.”
Spinning and scratching into second place was DJ Max of NorthBaydj.
Invitations set the tone for an event, and for a perfect start to any party, j. readers know just where to go to make the best first impression.
Since 1987, Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles in San Francisco has grown from a small stationery and gift store to a local favorite. Just for Fun specializes in personalized invitations, but traditional invitations are also available for order. “Everything is totally customized to your likes,” says David Eiland, one of the store’s owners.
With between 50 and 60 different invitations on hand and the option to create a custom invitation, Papyrus’ San Francisco stores can help you find exactly what you need. “We are hands-on, and can find something that is going to suit every customer,” says Yvonne McLaughlin, a store manager. After 50 years, the family-owned business continues to thrive and provide beautiful invitations to its customers.
For two years in a row, the outstanding selection of invitations and the impressive customer service at Folio 949 in Larkspur have dazzled j. readers. Alex Deritzhof, the owner of Folio, says she is “Jewish by proxy” because of all the b’nai mitzvah and Jewish weddings for which she has helped find and produce invitations.
For a truly personalized experience, Susan Gildea in Berkeley is a reader favorite. With relationships with over 100 manufacturers, Gildea gives her clients quite the invitation smorgasbord. “It’s incredible how much the bar and bat mitzvah child wants to be involved,” Gildea says. “I help them work through the process that sets the tone for the event.”
In just three short years, Miriam’s Well in Foster City has become a top choice for South Bay readers. Owner Michelle Booth is committed to her clients’ needs: “I am here to help people find exactly what they want and keep it within their budget constraints,” she says.
For more pre-party printing, peruse the panoply of paper at our second-place finishers: Petite Paperie in Mill Valley, Paper Pizzazz in Palo Alto, Papyrus stores in the East Bay and Paper Source in San Francisco.
Just For Fun & Scribbledoodles
Bling is a big deal, but choosing the right piece — or the right amount — of jewelry is not easy. Luckily, these winning jewelers have all the knowledge you need to show up with a bit of sparkle.
In a world filled with Gap T-shirts and Levi’s jeans, being truly unique is a novelty — which is where Hand in Hand comes in. From New Zealand rocks to bike gears, designer Marc Stiglitz derives his inspiration for his creations from his clients, ultimately creating a piece that is totally unique to its owners. “Marc is so creative, it is frightening,” says his wife and PR director, Kim Stiglitz. “He is the heart behind it all.”
Diamonds of Palo Alto is known for its quality service and competitive prices, and owner Israel Zehavi truly loves his job: “I put my heart into my business,” he says. “We deal with people who get engaged, are having an anniversary, or just a nice day. We are very lucky.”
Michael Endlich, owner of Pavé Fine Jewelry Design (with stores in Oakland and Berkeley), credits his outstanding staff for Pavé‘s win. Known for their excellent customer service as well as beautiful customized designs, it is no surprise that Pavé is a reader favorite. “We involve the customer through each step of the custom design and creation process,” Endlich says. “The piece is unique to the client.”
The customized jewelry at Crystal Reflections in San Anselmo makes Marin readers smile. Michael Randall, owner of Crystal Reflections, is just as excited about his customers as they are about his unique merchandise. “Making wedding rings for people is such an honor,” Randall says. “And it is such a wonderful and intimate thing to be involved in.”
Making wrists, fingers and necks happy in second place were Shreve & Co. in San Francisco, Davidson & Licht in Walnut Creek, Vardy’s Jewelers in Cupertino and Gold Rush Jewelers in San Rafael.
Hand in Hand
Pavé Fine Jewelry Design
Diamonds of Palo Alto
Shreve & Co.
Davidson & Licht
Gold Rush Jewelers
Long before prenup agreements became a tradition in Hollywood, the Jews had a premarital tradition of their own — but ketubahs talk more about love than the equal splitting of a yacht collection!
Thanks to technology, San Francisco ketubah maker Robin Hall of ABC Calligraphy has had the opportunity to work with couples from all across the country. With high demand for many different styles of ketubah text, Hall rises to the challenge.“The variety in the choices fits the needs of many couples,” Hall says.
Naomi Teplow of Oakland and Rabbi Gordon Freeman tied in the East Bay. Hard work and commitment highlight Naomi Teplow’s ketubah-making process: “My kibbutznik work ethic has to do with my ability to stand out,” she says. Teplow’s ketubahs also stand out artistically — she chooses to make the ketubah a painting with the words incorporated into the art.
For Freeman, it is passion that sets him apart. While in rabbinical school in the 1960s, Rabbi Freeman was drawn to the art of ketubah-making through his search for the meaning of Jewish art. “The Hebrew letter is the basis of Jewish art,” he says. “God used letters to create the world.”
“I try to create unique quality pieces that people will be able to enjoy,” said Lisa Rauchwerger, the winner in the South Bay/Peninsula. The process that Rauchwerger goes through with her clients ensures that the Ketubah is custom to the couple’s life together. She specializes in paper cutting, a beautiful and ancient Jewish folk art.
In second place was ketubah artist Melissa Dinwiddie of Ketubahworks in the South Bay/Peninsula.
Rabbi Gordon Freeman
For over a thousand years, violins, cymbals, cellos and trumpets have come together to make klezmer music, and the traditional Jewish music continues to thrive in the Bay Area with these favorite klezmer bands.
The sounds of klezmer have resonated with Joel Nelson, founder of Joel Nelson Productions in San Jose, since his days at Jewish summer camp. “The variety of our bands sets us apart,” says Nelson. With a large variety of musical genres to choose from, Nelson keeps all partygoers on their feet.
From Ellis Island to the East Bay, Mikel Estrin’s klezmer music has been responsible for nearly 20 years of b’nai mitzvahs, weddings and anniversary parties. Estrin’s enthusiasm for music and traditional klezmer sound makes his band, Mikel Estrin Haimish Music, a reader favorite. “We play from neshama, from the soul,” Estrin says.
The klezmer sounds of the Red Hot Chachkas have made them a reader favorite for years, and it’s no surprise that they won over fans in San Francisco and North Bay. The band has been together for 11 years, and its longevity truly makes the Chachkas special. Says Julie Egger of the Red Hot Chachkas: “Whenever we play together we have a really good time.”
Getting their klezmer groove on in second place were the Shtetlblasters in the East Bay, California Klezmer in San Francisco and the Klezmakers in the South Bay/Peninsula.
San Francisco and North Bay
Red Hot Chachkas
Mikel Estrin Haimish Music
Joel Nelson Productions
Whether a bar mitzvah or wedding, anniversary or birthday, planning a party is stressful. Luckily, Bay Area hosts and partiers are blessed with a bevy of talented planners that will do the dirty work for you.
For Barbara Kweller in Oakland, it’s all in the details. Kweller builds relationships with her clients that make them feel comfortable and sets the stage for a fabulous party. “We talk about what they want, the big picture, what the feeling is going to be,” she says. And when a theme is chosen, it becomes Kweller’s mission to find everything to fit it — from decorations to table linens.
Joannie Liss’ party planning has taken her from Sweden to Palm Springs, but j. readers chose her for her work at home in San Francisco. “What sets me apart are my personal touches,” Liss says. “I don’t have a huge, gigantic company, so my hand is in everything.”
“My family has learned to live with glitter and sparkle,” said South Bay favorite Marcia Barkoff. As a calm and detail-oriented planner, Barkoff gives her clients the opportunity to have fun at their own parties — and it shows, with her multiple wins in j.‘s annual poll.
After 18 years in the corporate world, Jayne Greenberg transferred her managerial and organizational skills into the world of party planning, founding Just Jayne, a Marin favorite. Challenging party locations inspire Greenberg: “I enjoy taking locations and sites that are bland and creating something phenomenal,” she says.
In second place were Always RSVP in the South Bay/Peninsula and Carol Rothman of Glorious Weddings in the North Bay.
A perfect picture captures a memory with a click of a button — and when looking for someone to capture that special event, j. readers know who clicks the button just right.
In 2004 David Lee and Joanna Kaplan Lee started Allegro Photography, and four years later they are j. reader’s favorite photographers in the East Bay. “Our photography itself stands out,” Lee says. “We are creative and we make clients comfortable.”
San Rafael’s Eliot Holtzman has been interested in photography since he received a camera for his bar mitzvah. After a few gallery shows and working with Ansel Adams, Holtzman realized that he preferred working with people and families. “My concentration is the spirit of the photograph,” Holtzman says.
“I always say that 80 percent is personality and 20 percent technical,” said Larry Rosenberg of San Francisco. Rosenberg builds relationships with his customers from three generations: “Its nice when you feel like you’re part of the party,” he said.
Richard Mayer of Burlingame truly understands the importance of capturing a moment in a photo — not to mention a multitude of ages. “With bar mitzvahs, they are really a family event,” said Mayer. “Many generations of the family can be there.”
In second place were Jeri Taylor in San Francisco, Nadine Samuels in the East Bay, Steve Maller in Burlingame and Planet Margot Photography in San Rafael.
Larry Rosenberg Photography
Richard Mayer Photography
Eliot Holtzman Photography
Jeri Taylor Photography
Nadine Samuels Photography
Steve Maller Photography
Planet Margot Photography
Thanks to technology, the past becomes alive through video. For events they want to remember forever, j. readers know the very best videographers to capture their special moments.
Steve Johnson in San Bruno sees video as a powerful tool to connect generations. “When you have a video,” Johnson says, “all spectrums of emotions come out.” Johnson has done video work primarily for Jewish events for the last 24 years, and says he truly loves his job.
Stu Sweetow, of Audio Visual Consultants in Oakland, began his career in videography with an award at his university’s film festival. For the past 25 years Sweetow has been devoted to creating both corporate and family videos. “We view videography not as taking pictures with camera, but as documenting family events and creating family history that can be used for years,” he says.
Audio Visual Consultants
Steve Johnson’s Video Productions
Readers Choice Awards 2008