Thursday, August 19, 2010 | return to: supplement, readers' choice awards


Time to Celebrate 2

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Klezmer band

The hills are alive with the sound of … klezmer? Yes, indeed. The following musicians have captured the attention of the Bay Area Jewish community with their energetic performances and authentic sounds.

Haimish Music, based in the East Bay, has been marching to a specific beat for more than 20 years. “We play the beautiful, traditional Jewish music that people love, on the traditional musical instruments, for all joyous occasions,” says leader and musician Mikel “Moish” Estrin. The eight-member group plays a blend of Jewish, Greek and, of course, klezmer music. It’s also given to whipping out exotic instruments adopted by the original klezmorim, such as the balalaika and oud.

Joel Abramson has the best of both worlds: performing with his orchestra in Israel and the Bay Area. The third-generation entertainer is a musical chameleon, able not only to pound out klezmer beats but also R&B, disco, pop and Israeli songs. After 15 years of doing local events, Abramson’s reputation followed him overseas. In Israel, his orchestra is a hit with “people who want to come celebrate and need help [and] someone they can trust,” Abramson says.

The Red Hot Chachkas’ joyful and frenzied tunes have struck a chord with j. readers, earning the group a No. 1 spot. “You can’t listen to klezmer music and not want to dance,” says manager and violinist Julie Egger. The group performs at parties and lifecycle events, as well as at concerts near and far.

Strumming their way into second place were the Shtetlblasters and Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble.


 1st Place

East Bay

Haimish Music

Castro Valley

(510) 276-6880

South Bay/Peninsula

Joel Abramson Orchestras

Bay Area, Israel

(408) 265-7279 • (510) 891-9980

North Bay

Red Hot Chachkas

(415) 488-9125


 2nd Place

East Bay


(510) 287-2540

North Bay

Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Dance band

Music has the ability to set a mood and make us feel connected with a shared heritage — and whether it’s dancing at a wedding to the riotous tunes of a klezmer band or popping in a CD of a globe-trotting musician whose sounds speak to your soul, these favorite dance bands hit the right notes.

Hailed as the “queen of classic jazz and blues,” singer Lavay Smith belts out velvety-voiced lyrics accompanied by her seven-person band, the Red Hot Skillet Lickers. A throwback to the sultry jazz queens of the 1940s and ’50s, Smith employs their provocative lyrics and glamour, but with humorous, feminist twists.

Israel native Achi Ben Shalom wanted his band to have a down-to-earth sound — and made sure to go all the way by naming it Adama (meaning “earth” or “dirt” in Hebrew). The five-member group, which has been together since 1989, performs klezmer as well as the diaspora-influenced Israeli music of the 1950s and ’60s. Above all, Ben Shalom wants the audience to feel the music: “We get people up on their feet to dance, to sing, to clap.”

RebbeSoul isn’t local, but the locals sure don’t mind, and they’ll be happy to hear the

multitalented musician has a new album coming out. In 1992, his acoustic instrumental version of “Avinu Malkenu” played nonstop on San Francisco’s KKSF. The Rebbe, aka Bruce Burger, grew up in New York listening to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but it took much experimentation to develop the intricate fusion of folk, jazz, pop woven with African beats and Judaic heritage that’s undeniably his own.

The soulful tunes of the North Bay’s Red Hot Chachkas have been known to inspire feet to tap and bodies to sway. “When we play, people are having a good time and they’re joyous,” says manager and violinist Julie Egger. In 13 years, the six-person group has entertained crowds with klezmer tunes infused with jazz, rock and Latin flavors, recorded three CDs and managed to snag a Readers’ Choice award six years in a row. Whew!

In second place were Benny B. Music, the Ferris Wheels, Joel Nelson and the Joel Abramson Orchestra.


 1st Place

San Francisco

Lavay Smith and Her

Red Hot Skillet Lickers

(510) 843-4902

East Bay


(510) 528-8872

South Bay/Peninsula


North Bay

Red Hot Chachkas

(415) 488-9125


 2nd Place

San Francisco

Benny B. Music

(415) 239-4670

East Bay

The Ferris Wheels


(510) 540-5824

South Bay/Peninsula

Joel Nelson

San Jose

(800) 578-5780

Joel Abramson Orchestra

(408) 265-7279

(510) 891-9980


Without guests, it’s not really a party, is it?  But first you have to entice them to attend. That’s where the invitation comes in — but not just any invitation. Style and originality are key.

Located in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, Just for Fun and Scribbledoodles is known for helping customers craft the perfect invitation. “Our real forte is our custom invitation business, where we sit down with clients and help them design something one-of-a-kind, and totally off the map from what already exists,” says co-owner David Eiland. Eiland especially enjoys working on invites for b’nai mitzvah, trying to blend ideas from the parents and the child.

Susan Gildea Personalized Printing in Berkeley is first-place winner in the East Bay. Gildea attributes her success to her intent focus on clients. “People like working with me because they have my undivided attention,” says the store owner. An advantage to working with Gildea – she reads Hebrew!

Frosty Gross’ Paper Pizzazz! is homegrown. Gross operates out of her home in Palo Alto, allowing her to make appointments that accommodate her clients’ schedules. Gross offers custom greeting cards in addition to printed invitations.

Customizing can happen in all shapes and sizes at Larkspur’s Folio. “Type, style, ink color, paper, envelope lining, the insertion of Hebrew — there are a lot of ways that you can make it your own,” says owner Alex Beirtzhoff. Folio carries boxed, ready-to-print invitations and a large selection of customizable cards.

In second place were Paper Source in San Francisco, Twig & Fig in Berkeley and Miriam’s Well in Foster City.


 1st Place

San Francisco

Just for Fun and Scribbledoodles

(415) 285-4068

East Bay

Susan Gildea

Personalized Printing

Berkeley • (510) 883-0890

South Bay/Peninsula

Paper Pizzazz!

Palo Alto • (650) 858-0771

North Bay


Larkspur • (415) 461-0120


 2nd Place

San Francisco

Paper Source

(415) 409-7710

East Bay

Twig & Fig


(510) 848-5599

South Bay/Peninsula

Miriam’s Well

Foster City

(650) 341-4400

Party planner

Whether you want to create a beautiful wedding, outrageously fun b’nai mitzvah party or memorable birthday celebration, party planners have the expertise and experience to make it happen. They take care of all the elements — preparation, coordination and organization — and make it look easy. Party planners do their magic thing all over the Bay Area, no matter where they are based.

San Francisco’s Joannie Liss offers her clients “everything from A to Z.” Want Liss to help you conceptualize a theme? You’ve got it. Need transportation to and from the event? She’s on it! Liss also organizes shindigs in Los Angeles and puts together destination weddings from the Bay Area to the Bahamas.

Barbara Kweller of Oakland has put together all types of parties: “I’ve done everything from a cooking theme to Alice in Wonderland,” says the party planner of 10 years. She also keeps the big picture in mind, making sure each event stands out, especially when she is planning b’nai mitzvahs for classmates. “I try to really listen to my clients’ wants, so I can create a party that is unique to each of them.”

Marcia Barkoff recently found herself on both sides of the event planning table. “I planned my daughter’s wedding,” says the owner of Time to Party. “I was keeping my daughter calm, keeping myself calm, and getting the party going.” Calm and creativity make Barkoff’s work a hit in the South Bay and Peninsula.

Tied for first in the region is Always RSVP, a Menlo Park–based operation run by Suzy Somers and Kim Oliff. These two playful party planners work together and give every event their personal touch. “Our job is to take the stress off of whoever is putting on the event, and make it a fun and easy process,” Kim says. The duo also creates custom graphics to accentuate the event theme.

 Just Jayne opened for business in Marin in 2005, and has been going strong ever since. Jayne Greenberg’s enthusiasm and organizational skills produce knockout parties year-round. She sees herself as a team leader who makes sure to execute her clients’ vision.

In second place were Lisa Feldman in San Francisco and Vickie Eiges in San Ramon.


 1st Place

San Francisco

Joannie Liss

(415) 775-2020

East Bay

Barbara Kweller


(510) 531-5004

South Bay/Peninsula

Marcia Barkoff

Time to Party

(650) 867-6505

Always RSVP

Menlo Park

(650) 854-6399

North Bay

Jayne Greenberg

Just Jayne

(415) 640-0259

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Lisa Feldman

Lisa Feldman Event Planning & Design

(415) 987-9392

East Bay

Vickie Eiges

RSVP Custom Invitations and Event Planning

San Ramon

(925) 743-1154

Ketubah maker

A marriage contract, a religious document, a work of art — the ketubah is all of these and, in this modern age, a tradition that connects Jews of all denominations to a shared past brimming with rich culture. Or, at the very least, it can match the new furniture! These ketubah artisans bring an amazing sense of color, style, design and Yiddishkeit to their craft.

Robin Hall has devoted almost her whole life to art. The Juilliard-trained dancer started lettering at 16, Hebrew calligraphy at 20. She created her first ketubah in 1977. Inspired by ancient manuscripts and Matisse, Hall’s creations also feature personalized hand-lettered text for all occasions: weddings, anniversaries and same-sex marriages. Hall describes creating these pieces as “unbelievable.” “It’s a high, working on a ketubah,” she says. “You’re writing something that’s sacred and holy.”

As an Israeli immigrant in 1983, Naomi Teplow had no experience with art, not to mention ketubahs, but after her first one she was hooked. “I love this work,” Teplow says. “I don’t think I’ll ever retire.” Citing her main influences as Persian and European miniatures, Teplow’s ketubahs are intricate blends of Israeli landscapes, animals and flowers, as well as vibrant geometric designs.

Fifteen years ago, Melissa Dinwiddie had no idea she’d be creating custom ketubahs and teaching calligraphy classes around the country for a living. After pursuing art as a hobby, attention from the media led Dinwiddie to make her first ketubah in 1996. Since then, she has enjoyed helping cutsomers realize their visions. “There is something very special about creating a piece of art to a couple that is in love and wants to make a commitment together,” she says. “It may be the only time couples commission a piece of art.”

In second place were Jessica Kraft and Susie Lubell.


 1st Place

San Francisco

Robin Hall

ABC Calligraphy

(415) 771-1902

East Bay

Naomi Teplow

Ketubot by Naomi


(510) 530-2210

South Bay/Peninsula

Melissa Dinwiddie

Mountain View

(866) 538-8268

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Jessica Kraft

Ketubah Kraft

(877) 778-5654

South Bay/Peninsula

Susie Lubell

Mishmish Studio

(510) 390-6251


Does a picture really say a thousand words? Perhaps the Readers’ Choice winners could answer the question. More likely, they would agree that photographers help to tell a story, capturing cherished moments and preserving memories for generations to come. All of the photographers work throughout the Bay Area.

San Francisco’s Larry Rosenberg has been a Bay Area photographer since 1977 and also has a background in art. He works in black-and-white and color, aiming to “capture the joy of the moment” above all else. “I manage to record the event, not create the event,” he says.

As a child, Nadine Samuels loved taking pictures. As an adult, she worked for 12 years at a Paris newspaper selecting photographs and hiring photographers. She’d often advise aspiring shooters to try b’nai mitzvah and wedding photography, never guessing that one day she would be doing just that — and loving every minute of it. “I like photos with emotions, movement,” she says.

Richard Mayer knew in high school that  his career would be in photography. He shoots weddings and b’nai mitzvah, and recently has added corporate events and  family portraits to his portfolio. “My clients have been very loyal,” says the California native. “I did the wedding, and now, 13 years later, I am doing the kids’ bar mitzvahs.”

Eliot Holtzman was an entrepreneur before most kids his age could spell the word. Armed with a camera he received as a bar mitzvah gift, he fashioned a studio in his father’s store and took portraits. “I was drawn to people and relationships, not so much the technical aspects of photography,” he recalls.  “It’s sort of a desire to understand people on a deep level.” These days, the father of three is busy doing portraits and the occasional weddings and b’nai mitzvah.

In second place were Joshua Ets-Hokin in San Francisco and Scott Lasky in San Jose.


 1st Place

San Francisco

Larry Rosenberg

(415) 920-1907

East Bay

Nadine Samuels


(510) 841-3656

South Bay/Peninsula

Richard Mayer


(650) 340-9904

North Bay

Eliot Holtzman

San Rafael

(415) 457-3980


 2nd Place

San Francisco

Joshua Ets-Hokin

(415) 695-0600

East Bay

Barrie Rokeach


(510) 928-0809

South Bay/Peninsula

Scott Lasky

San Jose

(408) 363-0654


Ever wanted to star in your own feature film? Get ready for your closeup: Videographers capture special occasions and give all the celebrants their moment in the spotlight. No matter where they are based, these winning videographers will travel to any Bay Area location.

“I really get excited about each event,” says Robert Lang of Lang Video Art in Piedmont. After 25 years of filming b’nai mitzvahs, weddings and other special events, he still loves his job. Lang enjoys building relationships with his clients, especially when he works with the same family on multiple occasions. “We will do a client’s wedding, and then later their kid’s bar or bat mitzvah. We appreciate that more than I can describe,” he says.

Steve Johnson’s Video Production filmed its first bat mitzvah in 1983. Now, 28 years later, the San Bruno husband-and-wife team (Steve and Barbara) are still recording events. “Videos span generations,” Steve says. “To be able to pass down history to the next generation is a special thing.”

Thomas Hughes Films’ videographers take an unobtrusive approach when recording an event. “We want to be a second pair of eyes to capture everything and deliver it beautifully,” says Zachary Schwartz, director of client services. With 15 videographers on staff, the company, with four California locations, is available for many events at the same time, sometimes working on 20 events a week during the busy summer season.

In second place were Stu Sweetow of Oakland and Andy Hirsch of Campbell.


 1st Place

East Bay

Lang Video Art


(510) 834-7550

South Bay/Peninsula

Steve Johnson’s Video Productions

San Bruno

(650) 589-9729

North Bay

Thomas Hughes Films


(415) 257-2600


 2nd Place

East Bay

Stu Sweetow

Audio Visual Consultants


(510) 839-2020

South Bay/Peninsula

Andy Hirsch

Blue Moon Productions


(408) 206-6505


Tigges Jewelers opened its doors in San Francisco in 1932. For 78 years this gem consistently has provided superior customer service. “Mr. Tigges always bent over backward to do the best he could for his clients, and we carry the same philosophy on today,” says store owner Vince Cardinale. That isn’t the only thing that has stayed the same: “We still keep a record of all the watches we repair in a book.” The shop sells and repairs jewelry and has a wide selection of vintage pieces.

With locations in Berkeley and Rockridge, Pavé Fine Jewelry Designs specializes in creating custom pieces. “We have our own workshop, and we employ five jewelers on the premises,” says Sonia Stickel, sales manager at the College Avenue store.

After emigrating from Estonia to the Bay Area in 1981, Vardy Shtein opened a jewelry repair shop in Cupertino. His craftsmanship and talent provided him with the support he needed to expand his business into a retail store. This master goldsmith continues to produce and sell his pieces, working side-by-side with his grown children in the family shop.

All of the jewelry at Alix & Company in Mill Valley is made by local designers. Local as in, right inside the store. Owner Janet Alix and the staff all craft jewelry in their own workspaces. “I think there is an overall feeling of specialness associated with the store, because all of the pieces were made by someone who cared about what they were creating,” Alix says.

Dazzling their way into second place were A Jeweler’s Place in San Francisco, Oaks Jewelers in Berkeley, Geoffrey’s Diamonds in San Carlos and Julianna’s Fine Jewelry in Corte Madera.

 1st Place

San Francisco

Tigges Jewelers

(415) 221-0804

East Bay

Pavé Fine Jewelry Designs


(510) 547-7000

South Bay/Peninsula

Vardy’s Jewelers


(408) 446-2900

North Bay

Alix & Company

Mill Valley

(415) 380-0880


 2nd Place

San Francisco

A Jeweler’s Place

(415) 668-6662

East Bay

Oaks Jewelers


(510) 526-7563

South Bay/Peninsula

Geoffrey’s Diamonds

San Carlos

(650) 591-0301

North Bay

Julianna’s Fine Jewelry

Corte Madera

(415) 924-9711


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