June 26, 2013
Taxi service caters to L.A.‘s orthodox Jews
It was 11:02 a.m. on a warm Friday morning, and Pico Boulevard was alive with the energy of last-minute Shabbat shopping. Two teens wearing white button-down shirts and black dress pants exited their yeshiva and walked up to a sleek, black 2012 Kia Sedona minivan that would take them downtown to Union Station.
Josh Goldman, 45, a jovial observant Jew with a strong Brooklyn accent, got out of the driver’s seat, shook their hands and placed their luggage in the trunk so that they could begin their trip home to San Diego for the weekend.
But this was no typical taxi service; this was Haimishe Express, a fully licensed and insured car company whose business specifically caters to Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community (although it happily accepts all paying customers).
“We are basically 24/6,” Goldman said during the drive to Union Station.
Wearing a suede black kippah and with tzitzit fringes poking out from under his shirt, Goldman said that Haimishe — Yiddish for “homey” — provides business cards with the Tefilat Haderech (traveler’s prayer) and that in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, he even blows the shofar for customers who request it.
The car service, which has several drivers and a fleet of four vehicles, will perform just about any requested errand. Court filings, grocery shopping, check deposits, even trips to Las Vegas and day tours of Southern California — all are fair game.
“There are visitors that come to town for business or for a wedding or a bar mitzvah, and we are able to show them around the town, help them find where to pray, where to eat,” Goldman said.
A computer salesman turned businessman and cab driver, Goldman — who moved with his wife to Los Angeles in 2001 and now lives with her and their three children in the Beverly-La Brea neighborhood — opened Haimishe Express in 2011 after deciding it was time for a career change.
“Competition in the computer industry was really ruthless,” he said, as the Sedona merged from the entrance ramp into the right lane of the 101 Freeway southbound. “Now I’m earning a living and really helping people.”
Instead of using a meter, all riders pay a flat fee. So, for example, a sedan ride from Pico-Robertson or Beverly-La Brea to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) costs $50. This way, Goldman said, there’s no need for clients to nervously watch the meter and no incentive for drivers to dilly-dally.
It’s important to note that Haimishe is about far more than transporting people. Case in point: The company once drove luggage — not people, just luggage — from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a family who was traveling for Passover but didn’t want to bring all of their bags on the airplane. Goldman transported the family’s possessions there overnight in one of Haimishe’s large vans, and after the holiday ended, one of Goldman’s drivers drove it all back to Los Angeles.
And on the same morning as Goldman’s drive with the yeshiva students to Union Station, one of Haimishe’s drivers delivered kosher food for Shabbat to a family in Riverside, 60 miles away. As a service for people who want food from a kosher restaurant that doesn’t deliver, Goldman said that Haimishe will deliver kosher food to anywhere in the entire state of California — even Death Valley.
Goldman said that Haimishe quotes long-distance trips, such as Las Vegas, based on distance. Local trips that include a stop for food are priced according to the extra time built in to order and pick up the meal.
You want something even homier? How about Haimishe’s daily round-trip carpool for a group of eight kids from Beverly-La Brea to their school in Pico-Robertson. Driving young children, Goldman said, requires the trust of members of the local Jewish community.
“They trust us. They feel comfortable driving along with another Jew.”
About half of Haimishe’s business comes from rides to and from local airports, primarily LAX, Goldman said. Sometimes, his company even plays the role of bubbe, picking up kosher meals from local restaurants for businessmen returning home after a long flight.
“Business travelers are often starving when they land,” Goldman said, chuckling as the Kia prepared to exit the freeway near Union Station.
“We are very flexible. If somebody’s hungry, let them eat. Sometimes it’s sushi, sometimes it’s dairy, sometimes it’s a burger, sometimes it’s a shawarma, and we have it in the car when we pick them up at LAX.”
One regular customer, Reuven Nathanson of Beverly-La Brea, wrote to the Journal in an e-mail exchange that Haimishe’s punctuality and integrity are what keep him coming back.
“I am comfortable recommending them to neighbors for local food deliveries and even last-minute carpool substitute pickups,” he wrote. “For airport runs, they monitor the inbound flight so if we arrive early, they are ready when we are.”
In this case, Goldman pulled up to the curb at Union Station at 11:30 a.m. on the dot. He opened the side doors and trunk, pulled out his passengers’ luggage and wished them a cheery “Good Shabbos!” as they walked away.
Only 28 minutes from Pico-Robertson to Union Station on a Friday. Not bad.
Haimishe Express can be reached at (323) 842-3666.