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Readers’ Choice 2015:

Synagogue Life

Community

Culture

Seniors

Have a Nosh

Time to Celebrate

Health, Beauty & Fitness

Business & Professional

House & Home

Judaica

Need a gift, a prayerbook or a menorah? Look no further than these Readers’ Choice favorites.

Dayenu, conveniently located inside the JCC of San Francisco, has been in business for 12 years. The store focuses on all aspects of Jewish life, offering ritual objects for Shabbat and holidays; items for lifecycle events, including chuppahs for rent; gifts made by Israeli and American artists; and freshly baked Irving’s Challah on Fridays. “We also aspire to be a bridge to Israel by bringing in their products and renting cellphones for a trip to Israel,” says owner Hiroko Rosen.

Berkeley’s Afikomen Judaica, which readers also chose as favorites in the Books and Jewelry categories, is “a hybrid resource for the Jewish community,” as well as “a gateway to Jewish life in the Bay Area,” says Nell Mahgel-Friedman, co-owner with husband Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman. The store features Fair Trade Judaica products, a tallit boutique with over 100 tallits to try on, a ketubah gallery and chuppah rentals.

In Los Gatos, Alef Bet Judaica has been serving Silicon Valley’s Judaica needs since 1993. Representing more than 45 artists, owner Nurit Sabadosh describes Alef Bet Judaica as a gallery. Up to 95 percent of the merchandise is handcrafted by Israeli, American and local artists, and hand-picked by Sabadosh. Selections include tallits, kippahs, ketubahs, mezuzah cases, home decor, books and cards for all occasions.

The gift shop run by Women of Rodef Sholom, located in the lobby of the Osher Marin JCC, supports synagogue and Jewish community projects, as well as social action projects in Israel and around the globe. Run by volunteers and open six days a week, the shop is committed to increasing its purchases of made-in-Israel merchandise and Fair Trade Judaica. The website says it also continues a commitment to “provide affordable Judaica to meet the needs of our Jewish community in Marin.”

San Francisco

Dayenu Gifts and Books

JCC of San Francisco

(415) 563-6563

www.dayenu.com

 

East Bay

Afikomen Judaica

Berkeley

(510) 655-1977

www.afikomen.com

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Alef Bet Judaica

Los Gatos

(408) 370-1818 • www.alefbetjudaica.com

 

North Bay

Congregation Rodef Sholom Gift Shop

Osher Marin JCC

San Rafael

(415) 444-8098

www.tinyurl.com/rodefsholomgifts

 

Books

Jews are the people of the book(s), who know where to find the finest literature, nonfiction and Judaica selections.

Calling itself “the West’s oldest independent bookseller,” Books Inc. is a San Francisco favorite, with four stores in the city plus more in the East Bay, the Peninsula/South Bay and at San Francisco International Airport. In addition to its wide range of books — including classics and new releases, children’s selections, cookbooks and Jewish titles — Books Inc. regularly hosts readings and signings with local writers and celebrity authors on tour.

Green Apple Books, located in a funky pre-1906 building in San Francisco’s Richmond District, sells new and used books, LPs, DVDs and CDs, as well as cards and stationery, says co-owner Kevin Ryan. Founded in 1967, it was named Publishers Weekly 2014 Bookstore of the Year.

It also was cited for its community involvement, which includes advising Litquake and supporting the San Francisco Public Library’s One City One Book program.

At Berkeley’s Afikomen, “we carry the most diverse selection of Jewish books to be found, perhaps anywhere,” says Nell Mahgel-Friedman, co-owner with her husband. Plus, “we perform many of the duties of a rabbinic couple: hearing people’s stories of loss and connection, instructing on ritual observance and directing people to the right books for their Jewish journey.”

The 60-year-old Kepler’s, an independent bookseller in Menlo Park, “has been the intellectual and cultural hub for the San Francisco Peninsula,” known for literary events, knowledgeable staff, a broad selection of books and magazines, and “its deep ties to the community,” says CEO Praveen Madan. A “hybrid business,” Kepler’s comprises two entities: a for-profit bookstore and a nonprofit organization featuring cultural and educational programming, including literary programs in area schools.

Book Passage, the Marin favorite with another store in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, is “not only a bookstore, but also a community center where people gather to talk to one another and meet authors,” with more than 800 author events a year, says president Elaine Petrocelli, who discusses her favorite books on the website. The store offers classes in writing, language and art appreciation; a “path to publishing” program, “where we help people get their books published properly,” says Petrocelli; an annual mystery writers conference; plus other events for travel writers, photographers and young adult writers.

San Francisco

Books Inc.

Various locations

www.booksinc.net

 

Green Apple Books

(415) 387-2272

www.greenapplebooks.com

 

East Bay

Afikomen Judaica

Berkeley

(510) 655-1977

www.afikomen.com

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Kepler’s Books

Menlo Park

(650) 324-4321

www.keplers.com

 

North Bay

Book Passage

Corte Madera

(415) 927-0960

www.bookpassage.com

 

Jewelry

From custom designs to vintage finds, these jewelers provide sparkling selections.

Ben Shemano Jewelry, a San Francisco favorite, buys and sells fine estate jewelry and also specializes in “making custom pieces and repurposing jewelry and gems,” says manager Kira Shemano. In a private, secure, second-floor showroom off Union Square, clients meet with founder Ben Shemano, who guides their selections and can help “evaluate, sell or reinvent inherited jewelry.”

66Mint, family-owned and operated since 1951 and located next to San Francisco’s historic U.S. Mint building, specializes in estate jewelry and also designs custom pieces. “We sell estate jewelry to the public at near-wholesale prices,” says partner Marcus Chait. 66Mint also purchases jewelry from the public at its San Francisco boutique and at its new purchasing suite, Silicon Valley Diamond, in Menlo Park.

 Afikomen, this year’s “triple crown” Readers’ Choice favorite, “expanded its jewelry department to include local and Israeli artists who are designing fine jewelry [that is] not limited to a Judaica motif,” says co-owner Nell Mahgel-Friedman. “One of our best lines is from emerging Israeli artist Yoolie’s, as well as favorites from Ayala Bar, Angie Olami, Seeka,” plus local artist Aimee Golant and Design the Flora of Berkeley.

South African–born Philippa Roberts, who has run a wholesale jewelry business for 19 years, opened a retail jewelry and gift shop nine years ago on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue, featuring jewelry from other designers as well as her own creations. “It is my goal to make jewelry that is beautiful, simple, wearable and, most importantly, timeless,” says Roberts, who works in si ver, vermeil (gold plate) and semiprecious stones, shipping to galleries and specialty shops worldwide.

In Cupertino, Vardy’s is a boutique jeweler, specializing in made-to-order designs “featuring colored diamonds, traditional diamonds, colored gems and pearls, and the infinite possibilities for custom settings wrought from precious metals,” says certified gemologist and co-owner Fanya Hull. The store was founded by Vardy Shtein, an Estonian-born and European-trained goldsmith, and also includes specialists in diamonds, colored stones and pearls.

San Francisco

Ben Shemano Jewelry

(415) 362-7777 • www.benshemano.com

 

66Mint

(415) 982-4402 • www.66mint.com

 

East Bay

Afikomen Judaica

Berkeley

(510) 655-1977 • www.afikomen.com

 

Philippa Roberts Jewelry

Oakland

(510) 655-0656 • www.philipparoberts.com

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Vardy’s Jewelers

Cupertino

(408) 446-2900 • www.vardys.com

 

Shoe Store

Our readers seek comfort, fit, style and beauty in their shoes, and here is where they go to get the best.

San Francisco’s Crosswalk Shoes, on Fillmore Street since 2002, “is a European shoe boutique carrying shoes from all over the world, including Israel, with a focus on comfort and fashion combined,” says owner Fred Keyhan. “We carry basic comfort shoes like Dansko, Naot (made in Israel), Birkenstock and Wolky as well as more fashion-forward brands like Pas de Rouge and Aquatalia,” plus some selections for men.

At Shoes on Solano in Berkeley, “our philosophy has always been that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for style or vice versa,” says CEO-owner Carol Fabretti, with the “largest selection of fashion-comfort footwear in the East Bay.” The store sells shoes for women and children, including its own brand, SoleTerra Shoes, manufactured in Portugal, and also sells online.

Berkeley’s Walk Shop has been an institution since 1978, offering a wide selection of European- and American-made shoes for women and children, with an emphasis on comfort and fit. “Every customer gets fitted properly by a well-trained expert,” says owner Julian Kershaw, and “sales staff can work with all types of foot problems, whether it’s accommodating orthotics or working around bunions and hammertoes.”

With eight locations in the Peninsula/South Bay and an online operation, Footwear etc. is a family-run business with the motto, “If it’s uncomfortable, we simply don’t sell it.” Styles range from outdoor shoes to slippers and sandals, with selections for men, women and children.

With 15 stores in Northern California, including two in Marin and one in Santa Rosa, the 25-year-old Sole Desire specializes in “comfortably fashionable footwear and accessories for women,” including in-demand and hard-to-find brands from around the world, plus handbags, wallets, socks and supportive insoles, says Michele Astobiza, marketing and communications director. The family-owned store emphasizes personal service: “We also carry cute and comfortable shoes, and we all know how much ladies love that combo!”

San Francisco

Crosswalk Shoes

(415) 921-0292

www.solematessfshoes.com

 

East Bay

Shoes on Solano

Berkeley

(510) 525-3832

www.shoesonsolano.com

 

The Walk Shop

Berkeley

(510) 849-3628

www.walkshop.com

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Footwear etc.

Various locations

 (800) 720-0572

www.footwearetc.com

 

North Bay

Sole Desire

Various locations

www.soledesire.com

 

Toy Store

When it’s playtime, these toy stores focus on quality, customer service and fun.

Ambassador Toys, which opened on San Francisco’s West Portal Avenue in 1997, also has stores in the city’s Embarcadero Center, as well as Palo Alto and Truckee. All emphasize quality, safety and customer service and offer toys for every age group, along with arts and crafts materials. “We are a specialty toy store” with “books, music and toys reflecting cultures across the globe, as well as traditional toys and games,” says president Linda Kapnick.

Berkeley’s Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books & Toys is an independent specialty shop featuring “toys that are free from commercial tie-ins and that foster creativity and open-ended play,” says co-owner Devin McDonald. “Our biggest concern is getting the right toy into the hands of the right people, and we work hard to accomplish that,” he noted, adding that Mr. Mopps’ recently opened a book annex a few doors down from the toy shop, with books for all ages.

The 16-year-old Cheeky Monkey in Menlo Park, locally owned and operated, sells “a joyful collection of high-quality, interactive toys to awaken the untamed mind of your child” or “anyone young at heart,” says owner Dexter Chow. Recent staff favorites on the website included the Bananagrams word game, the “Book of Paper Airplanes” and a kit for growing crystal jewelry.

Toy World in Greenbrae, serving the community since 1993, is owned by Kaaron Rosenberg, a retired therapist and educator. “We specialize in educational toys designed to aid in child development,” says the website, “without the electronic gizmos and mind-sucking gadgets,” preferring such merchandise as craft kits, building sets, musical toys, books, dress-up kits, cuddly dolls and puzzles.

San Francisco

Ambassador Toys

West Portal • (415) 759-8697

Embarcadero Center • (415) 345-8697

www.ambassadortoys.com

 

East Bay

Mr. Mopps’

Berkeley

(510) 525-9633 • www.mrmopps.net

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Cheeky Monkey Toys

Menlo Park

(650) 328-7975 • www.cheekymonkeytoys.com

 

North Bay

Toy World

Greenbrae

(415) 461-4642 • www.toyworldmarin.com

 

Clothing Store

For most women, shopping means buying clothes and accessories. Our readers picked these top-of-the-line shops as their favorites.

Ambiance, which opened in the Haight-Ashbury in 1983 and now has four San Francisco stores, is known for personal service, including wardrobe appointments, along with its dresses, separates and accessories priced from $5 to $450, according to the website. Owner Donna O’Leary calls Ambiance, which has won multiple awards, “a famously romantic store with a modern edge,” featuring such labels as Diane von Furstenberg, AG denim and Tulle.

Nordstrom, the East Bay and perennial winner with stores throughout the region and North America, has focused on customer service since its 1901 founding as a Seattle shoe store. Today the stores offer high-quality formal to casual clothing and accessories for women, men and children, selling designer labels as well as more moderately priced items.

There really is a Ruti. Israeli-born Ruti Zisser couldn’t find the styles she liked in U.S. stores, so in 2009 she opened a women’s clothing shop in Palo Alto, followed by more Ruti stores in San Francisco, Berkeley and Southern California. Zisser, a native of Tel Aviv, designs or hand-picks every item in the stores, according to the website, offering some limited-edition pieces “especially created with my customer in mind — a strong woman who appreciates unique fashion and fine tailoring, in short, a woman with effortless panache.”

 At Novato’s Alice Becker, run by Becker and daughter Helen Saenz Maksutovi, “stylists dress our customers for the Oscars, Grammys, all types of occasions,” says Becker, who is the president. At the 29-year-old high-fashion boutique, “we have extensive mother-of-the-bride and -groom dresses and dresses for all occasions,” she adds, as well as “casual clothing from all over the world.”

San Francisco

Ambiance

Various locations

www.ambiancesf.com

 

East Bay

Nordstrom

Various locations

(888) 262-6060 • http://shop.nordstrom.com

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Ruti

Palo Alto

(650) 391-9719 • www.ruti.com

 

North Bay

Alice Becker

Novato

(415) 898-3600