on: 06-28-2010

Schwartzie (Director of The Chai Center) ventures where no rabbi has gone before. A onetime bongo-thumping Greenwich Village beatnik, he frequents rock concerts -- flowing beard, yarmulke, Mickey Mouse suspenders, leather thongs and all -- and will on occasion lace a wedding ceremony with lyrics from the Grateful Dead's repertoire.

One of his oddest venues is the Venice Beach boardwalk -- the haunt of rollerbladers, muscle builders, incense peddlers and tourists gaping at the weird Los Angeles scene. Every other Sunday, Schwartz sets up a folding table at his usual spot and affixes a prominent "Jewish Astrology!" placard. Then, surrounded by books and calendars, he practices his craft through a method of his own devising.

Schwartz doesn't claim to be a psychic and he doesn't predict the future. "I try to tell people who they are, their essence, and through that identify their potential and how they can realize it. "I started this astrology as a shtik, a hook, but I've been blown away by how often I hit the mark," he says.

The 60-year-old Schwartz was born in Atlantic City, N.J., the son of a "Conservadox" cantor, who had fled Vienna in 1939.  Schwartz found his natural calling at UCLA's Chabad House, the first of its kind at any American university.

He quickly became a highly visible campus figure, setting up his stand on the main student thoroughfare, next to the Moonies and Jews for Jesus. "I could identify nine out of 10 students as Jews just by their looks," he says. "The other one was either Armenian or Italian."

Schwartzie has the last word. "I've been called a Reform Chassid and God's court jester, but whatever the label, I do believe that to bring Jews back into the fold one must serve God with joy."

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