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Up Front

The Story of an OrthodoxMan

April 2, 1998 | 7:00 pm

It all started because of the theft of myautomobile. One sunny morning, while waiting for my car pool, Inoticed something in a storefront window across the street, justbehind some citizens standing at a bus stop. It was a monkey. In a diaper.

To my knowledge, I have never had a history ofalcohol or drugs, so I crossed the boulevard to get a better look atthis baby simian picking paint chips off the window sill. And there Iwas, separated only by glass, staring at this ape with the sad eyesand rabbinical beard, mesmerized (in stark contrast to the jadedpedestrians waiting for the bus).

Left, Brian Staples with his friends, Zach the macaw andBeijing the Asian Macaque, also pictured above.

So it's only fitting that, two months later, myinterview with Brian Staples -- the monkey's owner -- takes placehere at the Magic Castle, perched on the hills over-lookingHollywood. For Staples has led -- quite literally -- a magical life.A veteran magician, Staples is at home at the exclusive club where heis a member -- he knows every staffer here, every twist and turn ofthe ornate, secret passage-laden mansion.

Ne' Eitan Staples-Yosher 26 years ago, Staplestechnically grew up in Spokane, Washington, but, in truth, has beentraveling the world since he was six. Raised by -- his words -- "veryeccentric parents", Staples followed their professional lead,performing with, and raising all manner of exotic animals. In fact,his uncle gave him a cougar as a bar mitzvah gift.

Billed as the world's youngest magician, Staplesspent his teens touring Europe, Asia and South and Central America.He has met the king of Spain; the prince and princess ofLiechtenstein; and the chief rabbi of Israel. And through it all, hehas never lost a sense of his Orthodox Jewish identity, something heattributes to the lifelong influence of Rabbi Benzaquen ofSeattle.

At age 21, while dating a New York actressappearing in "Miss Saigon," Staples was noticed by a casting agent.Money and a clause honoring Shabbat obligations lured Staples into alucrative side career as a ring-master. Some complications forcedStaples not to renew his contract and, after starting his own magicentertainment company -- Landmark Productions -- he wound up in LosAngeles, where he intends to finally settle down and establishroots.

Recently, Staples fashioned yet another career forhimself leasing his exotic animals to Hollywood, including hisdiapered monkey, an Asian Macaque named Beijing. The Staplesmenagerie in Washington state presently consists of tigers, lions,leopards, flocks of cockatoos and McCaws, and a brood of Macaqueslike Beijing. Staples is part of a privileged international communityof animal handlers with licenses to own exotic animals and travelfreely with them.

Staples' primo primate employee is no ordinarydiapered monkey. Beijing has appeared in several major motionpictures and television programs, most recently featured on "MightyMorphin' Power Rangers", E! Channel's "The Pet Shop", and ESPN's "TheJohn Force Show". She has spent Passover seder with Keanu Reeves,picked bugs out of Kenny Rogers' beard, and wiled away afternoonswith Staples' buddy, Dustin Diamond ("Saved By The Bell"'s Screech).Some other facts you should know about Beijing: She loves dogs, has apet rabbit named Harry, and is shomershabbat. Yes, Beijing keeps kosher, eatingalmost anything Staples eats (an aversion to pizza crustsaside).

Ahead for Beijing is more movie and commercialwork, including an upcoming Miramax production. And as for therestless and easily bored Staples, he is tackling a new challenge --acting -- all while maintaining his businesses. In fact, he plans tofollow in the footsteps of inspirations like Robert De Niro andDustin Hoffman.

"I'm anxious to put my skills to work."Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

For more information on Staples' magicentertainment and exotic animal services, contact Brian at (213)804-5609.

100 Rabbis Online to Help Converts toJudaism

The Conversion to Judaism Home Page(www.convert.org) now has direct e-mail links to more than 100 Rabbisfrom all movements in Judaism. The rabbis are available to answerquestions and help people interested in conversion to Judaism. TheHome Page provides extensive information and advice for those who areexploring the option of joining the Jewish people.

The website was created by Lawrence J. Epstein, anauthor of four books on conversion. The site is part of theConversion to Judaism Resource Center. Those without access to thesite can get a free copy of the Center's brochures "Should I Convertto Judaism?" and "How to Discuss Conversion to Judaism" by writingto: Resource Center, 74 Hauppauge Road, Room 53, Commack, NY 11725 orcalling (516) 462-5826.

Wishing...

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld, left, actually metMake-A-Wish Foundation recipient Ayal Beer at a taping of one of thefinal episodes of "Seinfeld."

 

When 13-year old Ayal Beer spent almost all oflast year at an Israeli hospital for treatment of acute leukemia, theordeal was brightened by regularly watching the Jerry Seinfeldshow.

So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation, whichspecializes in fulfilling the requests of children withlife-threatening illnesses, asked Ayal for his biggest wish, theanswer was easy: to meet Seinfeld and watch him tape a show.

Last week, Ayal's dream came true. Accompanied byhis parents and a sister, he watched in fascination for more thanthree hours as the cast taped one of its last shows on the tightlyguarded set at the CBS-TV studio.

The climax came when Seinfeld himself walked overto the Beer family for a brief chat.

"It was great, I actually got to meet Jerry," Ayalsaid later. "I told him how much people in Israel liked his show andgave him a T- shirt which said 'I Met Ayal Beer' in front and 'Jerry'on the back."

Seinfeld, in turn, marveled that Israelis spokesuch accentless English, explained by the fact that the Beer parents,Leo and Nettie, are both native New Yorkers who moved to Israel in1975.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation in Israel, which scoreda coup last summer when it arranged a meeting between young YoniDotan and President Clinton, almost despaired at the even tougherassignment of lining up Seinfeld.

However, with the help of Michael Forman, a LosAngeles entertainment executive, Lori Schaefer Bacher, theorganization's Israel coordinator, got the green light two daysbefore the taping.

She notified the Beer family, then visitingrelatives in New Jersey, and the following day the Beers were ontheir way to Los Angeles.

They were picked up at the airport by a limousine,were housed in a luxury hotel, and even managed to visit Disneyland,said Leo Beer, a dentist practicing in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv.

Make-A-Wish is an international volunteerorganization, active in 14 countries. The Israel branch, known asMishalat Lev and founded one year ago, has fulfilled the requests of43 children during that period, said Bacher. -- Tom Tugend, ContributingEditor

 

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