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Valley of Dreams

Build a Jewish community in the Conejo Valley and they will come

by Charlotte Hildebrand

April 20, 2000 | 8:00 pm

On this Friday morning, Norm Katz, Bunny Schwartz and a guy named Joel are squeezed together like early hour commuters in a crowded subway. They're discussing the role of men and women in traditional Judaism, between the cash register and the reduced baked goods rack -- a space of about three feet -- inside the Kosher Connection of Agoura Hills, the only kosher meat market from Reseda to Santa Barbara. Busy shoppers elbow past, but the trio remains steadfast.

"Do you know anything about electricity?" Norm, a Newberry Park resident, asks. "If you don't have something that's drawing it, it doesn't flow-- that's why an Orthodox shul works and the Reform and Conservative shuls don't. In order to make the current flow you have to have the drawer, the light of HaShem, and you have to have the lighter, the men, and that's what it is -- men connect God to women. What they want, we give them."

Bunny, a longtime Conejo Valley resident, once Conservative, now devoted to Chabad, takes a different tack. "I love the mechitza now," she gushes. "I tell my husband, I look forward to going there. The women are great. I can finally concentrate!"

"But Islamic women are also separated," a dissenter chimes in."But they're considered lower, we elevate our women," Norm explains. "Men need bosses--they need God and they need a wife."

Joel agrees. "They're less violent, more grounded, even women's insurance is less."

"You know women's lib took off from Chabad women," Bunny says, "Not the other way around."

Behind the large glass case, displaying A.A. Rubashkin and Sons kosher meat, Avi Ben Harouch, who listens to the conversation with one ear, continues cutting up his chicken with a little smile. Harouch, 49, and his wife, Janet, started the Kosher Connection in Agoura Hills in 1998, before they even knew if there were enough people in the area who kept kosher. One year earlier, the Jewish Federation sponsored L.A. Jewish Population Survey stated that out of a sampling of 16,770 households in the Simi/Conejo Valley, there were no identifiable Orthodox families to be found.

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