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Seasons Kosher Market Pursuing Baltimore Property

The Fields of Pikesville building won’t be getting a kosher market anytime soon, the realtor redeveloping the building said.

Seasons, a New York-based kosher market, is instead planning to open at 401 Reisterstown Road, which was once home to Danielle’s Bluecrest Caterers.

“We feel it’s a good growth neighborhood,” said Mayer Gold, Seasons’ owner. “It’s a nice, vibrant kosher community.”

He said his company, which has been looking for a Baltimore location for about a year and a half, is under contract to purchase the Reisterstown Road building.

Baltimore County held a public parking variance hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 11. The building’s parking lot is not properly zoned, Gold said. If all goes as planned, he hopes to open in Baltimore in one year.

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, LLC, said Seasons needed almost 5,000 more square feet than the Fields building could offer.

“Logistically, we couldn’t get the space to fit,” said Verstandig, whose company is redeveloping the Fields building.

Advanced Auto parts will be opening in its stead, Verstandig said.

Seasons, a gourmet kosher market, offers takeout food, deli meats, fish, produce, a butcher, a bakery and floral arrangements, according to its website. It has four locations in New York: Lawrence, Scarsdale, Queens and Manhattan. The company will also be opening a store in Lakewood, N.J., in about 18 months, Gold said.

He likened Seasons to a kosher Whole Foods, a family-friendly, clean and upscale store with fresh food, but not “upscale prices,” he said.

Although Verstandig couldn’t work things out with Seasons, he is optimistic about the future, having recently acquired the Wells Fargo building on the corner of Reisterstown and Old Court roads for $1.45 million.

At the Wells Fargo building, he hopes to have the 14,000 vacant square feet leased to a law firm and a real estate company within the next few weeks.

At the Fields building, he expects Advanced Auto Parts to open in March and self-defense and fitness studio Masada Tactical to open the month prior, in February.

When his company’s pending deals are wrapped up, it will own 227 centers in 31 states. With the recent Pikesville acquisition, his company now owns 10 buildings within three blocks of each other in Pikesville, he said.

“That’s gives us quite a bit of confidence in Pikesville,” Verstandig said.

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, hand out latkes and sufganiyot at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Latkes With A Side Of The Lord

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, hand out latkes and sufganiyot at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, hand out latkes and sufganiyot at the University of Maryland, College Park.

University of Maryland, College Park students received unexpected Chanukah presents this year in the form of free latkes and sufganyot outside of the student union. But these treats came with a side order of Jesus.

The table, erected last week, was being run by Chosen People Ministries, a group of messianic Jews and gentiles that aim to spread the word of Jesus to the Jewish people.

“My Judaism, I don’t think is very different from most, except for the Jesus [part],” said Ryan Karp, the group’s director of campus ministries.

Karp was an unwelcome presence for many Jewish students, as well as Maryland Hillel, who were alerted the group was coming to campus by Jews for Judaism.

“My belief is that these anti-Jewish missionaries are preying on vulnerable Jews, Jews who are disconnected,” said Rabbi Ari Israel, director of Maryland Hillel.

Hillel got the word out to students by contacting leaders of student groups and is working with its network of interfaith clergy and university administrators to unite in opposition to the group.

Ruth Guggenheim, director of Jews for Judaism, said groups like Chosen People Ministries look for impressionable young people to whom they can promote their ideas, even though they know they’re being deceptive. She said Chosen People is gearing up for a much larger campaign.

“We call them spiritual predators,” Guggenheim said.

Israel said students were disturbed and upset by the group’s presence.

“They claim that they’re Jewish, but they don’t know what Judaism is, or their type of Judaism is not the type of Judaism we practice,” said junior Debi Goldschlag. “It’s kind of false advertising.”

Goldschlag, who grew up in Silver Spring and attended the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, thought she’d never see Messianic Jews on her college campus.

Talya Janus, a freshman, was also surprised to see the group, and worried that fellow students who are less secure in their spirituality may gravitate in its direction.

She and a friend ate the latkes and walked away, then bumped into Rabbi Israel, who was taking a photo of the setup.

Janus said, “Right after we ate the food, he said, ‘The problem isn’t that you just ate a non-kosher latke from a missionary. You’re not the ones I’m worried about, it’s those on the cusp of Judaism.’”

Karp defends his methods and his beliefs, and said he is promoting Jewish ideas, simply presenting information and asking questions.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., the son of a Jewish father and Christian mother, Karp celebrated major holidays on both sides in cultural, not religious, ways. His father started studying the Bible when Karp was 10 years old, soon adopting the belief that Jesus is his messiah. Karp followed suit when he was 11.

After falling into depression during college, Karp decided to start over by taking a trip, and traveled to Israel on a Taglit trip with students from Maryland and Virginia colleges. What happened on that trip is what inspired him to do what he does now.

Karp spoke briefly about Jesus, who he calls Yeshua, on Shabbat. Later in the trip, someone wound up screaming and cursing at him after asking why he thought Jesus was the messiah. After meeting with the trip leaders that night, he was sent home, brokenhearted for his people, he said.

“The most famous Jew who ever lived was somehow a very clear issue that somehow separated me from my people,” Karp said. “I also knew what he did in my life. … I wanted people to know about him. They could have the freedom I have, they could have the joy I have.”

He started working for Chosen People Ministries in New York, where he met his wife Jessica. They recently relocated to the D.C.-area to work on college campuses. He plans to be on the College Park campus multiple times a week, and hopes to work on other area college campuses as well.

“We’re presenting evidence that people can think about if they want,” Karp said. “I would never want to force anything. Everybody can make their own choices.”

There are 6,500 Jewish students at Maryland, according to Hillel’s website.

Israel pointed out an email he received that was from one campus chaplain to another that summed up the issue well. The chaplain writing said that their Jewish brethren were experiencing misrepresentation of their faith, and if efforts like this grow, it could lead to discrimination and intolerance.

In addition to working with other Jewish campus groups and interfaith clergy, Israel said it’s important to engage Jewish students proactively.

“My bottom line is we’ve got to keep our eye on the prize,” he said. “We, as the Jewish people, need to continue to give individuals reasons and relevancy — that Judaism speaks to us in the 21st century.”

Historic Handshake?

Can a simple handshake in South Africa someday lead to freedom for a Maryland man who’s been rotting in a Cuban jail for the last four years?

On Tuesday morning, President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro while both leaders were attending the funeral of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. The gesture, which the White House says was unplanned, sparked a firestorm of protest in Miami among anti-Castro exiles — as well as hope in Havana that 50 years of bitterness on both sides of the Florida Straits may be coming to an end.

“It is nauseating,” said Cuban-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a supporter of Israel and Jewish causes who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. “He shook the hand of a murderer, a thug, and those are bloody hands.”

Cuba’s state-run TV network broadcast the brief encounter without commentary as part of its coverage of Castro’s attendance at the Johannesburg event.

Rabbi Elhanan “Sunny” Schnitzer, president of the Bethesda-based Cuba-America Jewish Mission, says he sees nothing more than symbolism in Obama’s expression of respect to Castro, 82, who flashed a broad smile in response.

“I think it’s two people being polite,” Schnitzer told WJW, cautioning those hoping for an improvement in bilateral relations not to read too much into it. “With things the way they are in Congress, unless there are changes in the stated positions of a couple of key Cuban-American [lawmakers], I don’t see any real possibility for change. They would oppose any attempt to link the Cuban Four to Alan Gross, and those people wield tremendous power in districts that Democrats need in the next election.”

Maurico Claver-Carone, a Washington lawyer who runs Cuba Democracy Advocates and supports U.S. sanctions against the communist regime, told Reuters the greeting was “unfortunate, but unavoidable and inconsequential.”

Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba documentation project, gave the widely filmed handshake — the first of its kind since Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 — more importance, calling it a “historical, game-changing” moment.

“The handshake is a timely symbol which only accelerates on both sides the hope for some type of agreement and reconciliation — not only for Alan Gross but other issues that push U.S.-Cuban relations forward,” he said. “Nelson Mandela’s legacy hangs over the imagery of those two leaders pressing the flesh. It would have been inconceivable for them to pass up such an opportunity.”

Added Julia Sweig, director for Latin America studies at the New York-based Council on Relations, in an interview with Reuters: “Perhaps the American and Cuban presidents grasp, with this handshake, that the work they have to do together is far easier than South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.”

The greeting follows by exactly a week a declaration by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that links — in unprecedented detail — the release of Gross, 64, with the case of five Cuban nationals arrested in 1998 and charged with spying against the United States. Three years later, they were sentenced to long terms at federal prisons in Arizona, California, Kentucky and Florida. One of the five, Rene Gonzalez, was released in October 2011 and allowed to return to Cuba this past April.

Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the ministry’s director-general for North American affairs, said “the Cuban government reiterates its willingness to establish an immediate dialogue with the U.S. government in order to find a solution to the case of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis, which respects the humanitarian concerns of Cuba related to the case of the four Cuban anti-terrorist heroes” who remain incarcerated in U.S. prisons.

“Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez are serving long and unjust terms for crimes they never committed and which were never proven,” she said. “Their imprisonment has a high human cost to them and their families. They haven’t seen their children grow up, they have health problems and they have been separated from their families and their country for more than 15 years.”

Vidal’s statement drew a distinction between the four Cuban spies and Gross, who was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, right before departing Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. A subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Potomac resident claimed he was merely trying to help connect Cuba’s tiny Jewish community to the Internet.

But that’s not how Cuba sees it.

“Mr. Gross was detained, processed and punished for violating Cuban laws, for implementing a program financed by the U.S. government whose objective was to destabilize Cuba’s constitutional order through the establishment of illegal and hidden communications systems using noncommercial technologies,” Vidal said. “These actions constitute grave crimes which are severely punished in most countries, including the United States.”

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed that the White House is conducting behind-the-scenes talks to win Gross’ release.

“We’ve had any number of initiatives and outreaches over the last several years and engagement with a number of different individuals who have traveled to Cuba,” Kerry said during a Dec. 5 press conference at NATO headquarters in Belgium. “And we are currently engaged in some discussions regarding that, which I’m not at liberty to go into any kind of detail.”

With Security Plan Pitched, U.S. Optimism On Peace Talks Not Shared By Israelis And Palestinians

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his Middle East trip last week with an optimistic message, following his latest attempt to foster progress in Israel-Palestinian peace talks and the presentation of a security proposal to both sides, Israelis and Palestinians aren’t sharing his positive outlook.

From Dec. 4 to 6, Kerry accompanied in Jerusalem and Ramallah by retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Allen presented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with what Kerry and the State Department have carefully described as only “some thoughts” on the resolution of security issues that have been obstructing progress in negotiations.

“President Obama and I are absolutely committed to reaching a final status agreement that recognizes two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security,” Kerry said Dec. 7 in his keynote address to the Tenth Annual Saban Forum, sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Joining the secretary of state at the forum were major players such as President Barack Obama and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, while Netanyahu spoke via webcast.

“Peace is possible today because we have courageous leaders who have already taken significant political risks for peace—and the time is approaching when they will have to take even more,” Kerry said.

The exact contents of Gen. Allen’s proposal—compiled after months of conversations at the helm of a core group of security advisers and security officials on both sides—remain confidential. From the start, Kerry made certain that a strict gag order was placed on the negotiations, declaring that he will act as the sole source of information on the talks. The State Department insists that this level of secrecy is necessary to facilitate frank discussion and is one of the hard-learned lessons from past failures on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

But Elliott Abrams, former top National Security Council official and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Baltimore Jewish Times, “I don’t know any Israelis or Palestinians who share Secretary Kerry’s optimism or can understand its basis.”

“The most recent Israeli polls show that very few Israelis think he will succeed in getting a final status agreement, and I don’t think so either,” Abrams said, referring to a recent poll compiled by New Wave Research for Israel Hayom. The poll showed 87.5 percent of Israeli Jews saying that they did not believe the new talks would lead to peace.

Israeli and Palestinian officials are also sounding pessimistic notes on negotiations. Top Palestinian Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP that Kerry’s security proposals “will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure.” Netanyahu said at a Likud party meeting on Monday, “We are not standing before a permanent accord. We have a set of specific terms that have yet to be met in the negotiations. … We are still not there, not even walking down that hall.”

“The two sides are too far apart,” Abrams told JT.

Though Abrams commended Kerry for striving to achieve peace, he questioned the resources the secretary of state is putting into the process.

“Is he really spending his own precious time well, pursuing an agreement that no one thinks he’ll get—and he won’t get—when so many world crises exist?” Abrams said.

Kerry and the State Department insist this round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is different from past U.S. efforts, even though most of the negotiators—led by former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk—have unsuccessfully negotiated in the region before.

“Both sides have shown a recent willingness to make some very difficult decisions in the face of domestic political opposition,” a State Department official said, “with Prime Minister Netanyahu agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners and President Abbas agreeing not to try to upgrade Palestinian status at international organizations for the duration of the talks.”

Amid the State Department’s optimism, The Times of Israel reports that Palestinian officials are saying Kerry used his trip as an ultimatum to force them to agree to his security demands, threatening to have Israel delay further phases of the release of Palestinian terrorist prisoners until the Palestinian Authority agrees to framework agreements.

Though not without some reservations on the current negotiations’ chances for success, Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center, told JT that the political situation in the Middle East has changed to where there may be more incentive for Israeli and Palestinian officials to come to an agreement.

“We’ve seen the Arab awakening—changes in Egypt, tragic changes in Syria that have turned into a terrible civil war, and fear that there may be instability elsewhere as well,” Sachs said.

“This of course is a cause for concern for the Israelis considering the advance of jihadi groups near Israel, in the Sinai Peninsula and in Syria, particularly if they win,” he said.

Sachs said that changes in Israeli politics might also help the talks. He explained that unlike previous pushes for a peace deal, when centrist Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak oversaw negotiations but could not convince Israel’s right-wing parties to support their efforts, the current Netanyahu government’s more hawkish stance could spell real solutions without appearing to compromise the security of the Israeli people.

Although not privy to Allen’s proposal, Sachs believes the contents are intended to appease Israel’s security concerns in a way that would not infringe on demands for the sovereignty of the proposed future Palestinian state.

A major sticking point for negotiations has been security in the Jordan River Valley and a series of Jordan River border crossings. The Jordan River Valley runs from Israel’s northern border with Syria, south into the Dead Sea. A large part of it makes up the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Negotiators hope to find a security solution to appease Israel’s need to deploy troops along the valley in what is known as the “Eastern Front,” to prevent potential military threats from neighbors to the east. The Jordan River crossings, currently controlled by the Israel Defense Forces, are major points of entry into the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israeli security officials fear that these crossings could become routes for weapons and terrorists into the region, if Israel relinquished control. But Palestinians insist on securing the ability to have sole control over their borders in a future state, including control over who comes in and out of their territory. According to Sachs, both sides have presented what he terms as “non-starter” demands for a final-status agreement.

Kerry’s proposal outlines for the Jordan River crossings to be jointly administered by the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, while maintaining the IDF’s right to deploy troops in case of a potential threat, The Times of Israel reports. PA officials reportedly rejected that proposal, refusing to allow for any IDF presence along the border.

Other demands from the Palestinians include that negotiations be based on 1967 borders, with land swaps of equal size and value; right of return for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian refugees; and a division of Jerusalem to include East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

“The main sticking point remains the exact contours of the agreement in Jerusalem, and those the parties have never actually agreed upon. They’ve come closer in the past, but they’ve never agreed,” Sachs said.

At the Saban Forum, Kerry reaffirmed his support for Israel and its security needs. But Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told JT that Kerry’s latest Mideast visit was a “charm offensive” to repair what Pollak sees as strained U.S.-Israel relations stemming from the interim nuclear deal that was recently reached between Iran and world powers. Netanyahu told the Saban Forum Dec. 8 that the U.S. should not back down from imposing new sanctions on Iran, despite ongoing negotiations.

On Israeli-Palestinian talks, Kerry maintains they are expected to reach a resolution by April 2014, the nine-month deadline established when negotiations began last July. The secretary of state is revisiting Jerusalem and Ramallah from Dec. 11-18, his ninth trip to the region since assuming office.

Dmitriy Shapiro is an area freelance writer.

simultaneous translator - 12.10.2013

Breaking the Language Barrier

Imagine being a new immigrant in Israel and needing to go through a major surgery at the local hospital. You might need to rely on a family member to translate for you, or hope that you somehow can get the message across. But now, at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, the barriers to living in Israel as an immigrant just got diminished.

simultaneous translator - 12.10.2013

A patient and physician test out the new translation device at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa. (Ofer Golan)

Thanks to a newly activated simultaneous translation device, patients at Rambam can request to use a phone-like tool that translates conversations with medical staff in real time. The tool connects to a trained medical interpreting staff working around the clock at the Ministry of Health.

The patient speaks to an operator, who translates what the patient is saying to the doctor, and translates back to the physician – as if the translator was in the patient room and conversing normally with the patient and medical staff. All conversations are recorded and saved as part of the patient’s medical records.

This translation services are available 24 hours each day, except on Shabbat. Arabic, Russian and Amharic speakers can use the program at no cost. In the first week that the system was operational, there were 84 Russian calls, 22 in Amharic and 3 in Arabic, according to the Health Ministry. Most of the calls were made by elderly patients.

Because Israel is a melting pot of cultures, physicians at Rambam are skilled at addressing health care issues across diverse populations. Language fluency is a particular challenge, especially with the large number of immigrants in Israel from various countries. According to government statistics, about 15% of Israel’s population speaks and understand Hebrew at an intermediate level and less than 7.2% of the population has a weak or minimal grasp of the language. Thus, lack of language proficiency can cause many immigrants to forgo medical care.

“It is important that the communication between the patient and the medical practitioner will take place continuously and that the language be understood by both parties, in order that the patient gets the best and right treatment,” said Kobi Shir Moskowitz, the project’s coordinator, “With this service, we come today to a population that was previously only reached through casual interpreters, which were not always available immediately. Now, when you can talk to the patient in his own language and they can express themselves freely, we see the differences and the meaning for all parties.”