They are the unsung heroes of the Jewish community of Orange County: Sharokh, Julie and Clive.
Regardless of one’s Jewish denominational affiliation, a Jewish community can exist without a Jewish Community Center. It can exist without a Maccabiah. Both are great to have and certainly enrich Jewish life, but Jews throughout American history have planted seeds in towns before those arrived.
What did every Jewish community need first? Unless you are studied in American Jewish history, you might not guess this one. The first thing needed: a Jewish cemetery. That is, Jews could initially worship in someone’s house. Services could be conducted without a rabbi.
But Jews needed a place to bury our own in accordance with our traditions. Alongside a cemetery, Jews needed a mikvah. That is how the priorities ran when our first settlers arrived in 1654 in New Amsterdam and later were joined along the East Coast from Philadelphia and Newport, Rhode Island, to Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina. Soon after, the cemetery and mikvah would come a synagogue.
Here in Orange County, Harbor Lawn Cemetery in Costa Mesa and Pacific View Cemetery in Newport Beach have become the places where we inter our deceased. Synagogues and temples typically have acquired designated sections for their members and extended families to lay their loved ones to rest in accordance with the respective rituals each congregation sets.
We now also have erected many synagogues and temples. There is a beautiful mikvah in Yorba Linda and a gorgeous one in Irvine. We even have a magnificent Jewish Community Center, and this very publication helps bring our community together.
But a modern Jewish community needs more if it is to attract and hold Jews in its borders. It needs a proper Jewish day school where actual Torah is taught, and we now have more than one in Orange County. And, believe it or not, it needs a Judaica gift shop and a Jewish butcher and kosher market.
My wonderful wife, Denise, recalls how her grandparents in the 1950s had to schlep up to Los Angeles regularly from Anaheim to buy kosher meat. They had a huge freezer to store the goods in order to reduce the frequency of schleps. There simply was no kosher meat in the entire county, and the John Birch Society were not exactly giving rabbinic certifications. Nor any kosher baked goods in all The O.C. It was a time before the emergence of nationwide organized kashrut certification, so people did not find every other food in the local supermarket certified as kosher.
And as far as finding Judaica gifts here back then? Fuggediboudit.
As a segue, I think back to a time I visited a non-Jewish friend, Dave, who lived way up north in Santa Clarita Valley. We had practiced complex civil litigation together during my litigation years at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. He and I had become exceptionally good friends because, despite our different religious orientations—he a devout Christian and I an Orthodox rabbi—we had everything else in common.
By the time of my visit to his Valencia home, we both had retired from big-firm law. Dave now was in private practice, and I had divorced and remarried, freeing me to return to the rabbinate. He wanted so much to welcome me warmly that he went to extra effort to buy kosher food at his local Albertson’s so we could eat lunch together at his home. I arrived, and he proudly told me how he had gone to the “Kosher Aisle” at his supermarket and bought for me (i) a can of tinned Telma tehina (yukkk!), (ii) a jar of lekvar prune butter, and (iii) a jar of some bottled liquid green stuff euphemistically called “schav” but that looked like a scientific experiment that had gone terribly wrong. And of course a box of matzo because that is what Jews typically yearn for at weekday lunchtime in December.
I said to him, “Dave, would you mind if we just look at the foods in your pantry and fridge? I’ll bet we can find something kosher there that a Jew actually can eat.” So he agreed, and sure enough 99 percent of the food in his non-Jewish household was certified kosher from the Heinz ketchup to the Knudsen’s cottage cheese, from the Starbucks Frappuccinos to the Haagen-Dazs.
Sometimes a Jew in Orange County wants more than schav, tinned tehina and prune butter. He or she wants gefilte fish or kosher deli or chopped liver. A knish or a matzo ball. Frozen kosher food products or Israeli foodstuffs. There are a gazillion places in L.A. where those can be bought. But what of Orange County?
For that, we turn to Clive Wolder, my hero. His “O.C. Kosher” in Tustin is the real Jewish community center of Orange County. Located on El Camino Real, a shopper can find just about any kosher product imaginable: frozen, fresh, raw, prepared, American, Israeli. It actually doubles as a meeting place to catch up with other O.C. Jews.
My late wife, Ellen of blessed memory, would plan her week around three priorities: (i) her “day job” managing investigations of white collar fraud allegations at UCLA, (ii) our shul prayer services and her cooking for and hosting our dozen or so weekly Shabbat dinner guests at home, and (iii) her Wednesday visit to Clive. Since her passing and my own debilitating illness from which, by G-d’s grace, I have been rehabbing meaningfully, I have not been at O.C. Kosher for a few years. But I still cannot imagine Shabbat meals without Clive’s menu. He is my hero and even has opened the first and only truly kosher—honestly, not mendaciously, kosher—restaurant in all of Orange County history, “The Nosh House,” just a few doors down.
Last year, my friend Dave from Valencia and now Missouri, devoted one day to visiting Denise and me. He knew this time to skip the schav and prune butter. Instead, my dear devout Christian friend of 30 years went to The Nosh House and bought pastrami sandwiches, corned beef sandwiches, chopped liver, and potato salad and rugelach. This time he fed me like a Jew.
And one cannot stop on El Camino Real in Tustin for Clive without crossing the street to visit Sharokh and Julie at their wonderful Judaica store, The Golden Dreidle. I love that store. They have almost anything Judaic you could ask for. As a rav of 42 years, I thought I was completely stocked. But dear wonderful Denise spotted the one thing we were missing: the new Parker Brothers’ Jerusalem Monopoly game. And I bought my shul’s lulavs and etrogs from them. When Denise and I fell in love amid the pandemic, while I was dying from interstitial lung disease before, by G-d’s grace, a lung transplant saved my life, Sharokh actually drove to my Irvine home and erected a chupah for us. Wow! Try getting that kind of service in Los Angeles or New York!
Sharokh and Julie are absolute dolls. Their gift store is a treasure. So are they.
It is great to live in a Jewish community that has more than a cemetery.
Rabbi Dov Fischer is rav of Young Israel of Orange County, Vice President of Coalition for Jewish Values, and senior contributing editor at The American Spectator. To join any of his online classes, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org