Concierges get the inside scoop on all Bay Area Jewish hot spots

Judy Musante gives out information for a living, that's what she does. As community liaison of the Jewish Community Information & Referral, Musante's job is not only to field questions on a variety of topics, such as where to find kosher food or a Conservative synagogue in Marin. She also goes out into the community to provide such information directly.

Usually, it's Jews who are looking to know such things. But recently she met with others whose job description entails dispensing information, the Northern California Concierge Association.

About 50 concierges from San Francisco's better hotels attended a meeting at the Sony Metreon to hear how to tour PacBell Park, how to get last-minute symphony tickets, and thanks to Musante, where to find Shabbat services or kosher Chinese food.

Founded in 1986 with a grant from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, JCIR is a sort of Jewish hotline to the Bay Area. It's the phone equivalent of Resource, the Jewish guide put out by the JCF and the Jewish Bulletin. But it fields questions about Jewish life abroad as well; JCIR will point travelers to Prague, for example, on where to find information about the Jewish quarter there.

Three years ago, JCIR received a grant to create a position that would help synagogues provide similar outreach. That role has expanded to going out into the community to talk about the free informational service.

For Musante, it was the first time she gave such a presentation to a non-Jewish group.

She fit right in with those in the hospitality business, mingling with them as they drank wine and noshed on smoked salmon and cheese. Then, she got down to business.

"It's so special to meet kindred spirits," she told them, "as our job is to put on a welcoming face."

Musante tested the concierge's knowledge by offering examples of things Jewish hotel guests might ask.

"Where is the closest Jewish museum?" she asked. While a new one is scheduled to open in a few years, she told them, concierges can now direct visitors to the galleries at the JCF building and at Congregation Emanu-El, both in San Francisco. But it's worth making the trip out to the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, she said.

She told them where kosher restaurants can be found, and explained the difference between kosher and kosher style. ("Do not send people who want a kosher restaurant to a kosher-style one," she warned). If they wanted to really impress their guests, she said, they could throw in details about the kosher winery, Gan Eden, which offers tours.

Musante handed out copies of Resource to all the concierges and told them to call or e-mail anytime: (415) 777-4545 or [email protected]

Later, she said, they thanked her and told her she had a great service.

"That's the goal of it," she said. "The more calls we get, the happier we are. People might think they are asking a stupid question, but we don't view it that way."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."