Author Archives: Ebony Brown


How His Garden Grows

When Dr. Len Muller is not at the Bridge Club in Pikesville or visiting his grandchildren in Ellicott City, he can probably be found tending the flowerbeds he designed and planted at Bluestone Park near his condominium at Quarry Lake at Greenspring.

Since moving from his native South Africa to Baltimore eight years ago, the 72-year-old retired family physician and award-winning gardener and landscaper has been hard at work making his neighborhood beautiful.

Muller retired from medicine at 58 so he could dedicate himself to horticulture and landscaping. Much of what he knows about gardening he learned during his medical training.

“In South Africa, you do botany as part of the science curriculum in medical school,” he said. Muller’s dedication paid off. His gardens won Cape Town province’s gardening competitions for eight years straight and he earned top prize in the large garden category of South Africa’s national competition in 2007.

Despite his love of gardening, when Muller and his wife, Charmian, relocated to Baltimore to be near their children and grandchildren, they purchased a condominium with no outdoor space. Fortunately for Muller’s neighbors, his passion served as impetus for him to use his talent for the greater good.

At first, explained Muller, who is chairman of the condominium’s landscaping committee, he began doing some gardening on the grounds
surrounding his building. Soon, he discovered Bluestone Park.

“Almost everything that was planted previously had died. There was only a lawn and trees,” he said.

So Muller approached the homeowners’ association asking for its permission and funding to landscape the park on his own.

Before he began the project, Muller researched native American plants.

“The climate in South Africa is more Mediterranean, so this was all foreign to me,” he said. “I studied what grows here and brought in bees, birds and butterflies. This gets no irrigation. Everything survives because of the summer rain.”

Now the English country-style garden includes yellow, red, pink and white roses, rudbeckia, coreopsis, spider, altura, berberis and pennisitum as well as Russian sage, catmint and lavender. Appreciative neighborhood residents run, walk their dogs, birdwatch and push baby strollers through the lakeside park.

Muller weeds and maintains the park, adding new plants and flowers throughout the seasons. He does his best to keep deer and beetles at bay. He has also designed some of the area’s median strips.

“It’s my passion. I come every day to check on it and make sure it thrives,” he said. “Now, in the evenings, the park is full of people. Maybe it will inspire others to do this in public spaces. It’s a God-given gift to enjoy.”


A Lifelong Connection


For Sara Rubinstein, Masa was a chance to build employment prospects. (Provided)

Starting in just a couple of days, nearly 250 young Jewish adults from Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., will leave their American homes and hop on a plane to the Holy Land.

Now in its 11th season, Masa Israel Journey sends more than 10,000 Diaspora Jews to live, work and study in Israel each year. As a joint project between the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, Masa provides more than 200 programs that run for five months to a year. Through Masa grants, young Jewish adults can afford to live in Israel for extensive periods, while heavily subsidized programs, such as Israel Teaching Fellows, pay for participants’ round-trip airfare, accommodations and Hebrew classes and provide food stipends.

According to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the 2014-15 Masa programs will include 117 participants from Baltimore and 128 participants from the Washington, D.C., area.

“Masa creates lifelong connections between Israel and young Jewish adults,” said Jill Max, chair of The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center. “The Associated in Baltimore funds Masa as one of our flagship programs because we see the impact it makes in our community every day. Many Baltimoreans leave on their Masa programs and return to work in the Jewish professional world. Others might make aliyah and stay permanently.”

Baltimore is sending 106 gap-year students and 11 study-abroad and post-college students this year; Washington is sending 79 gap-year students and 49 study-abroad and post-college students. As more programs start in the winter and spring months, the number of Baltimore and Washington participants most likely will increase in 2015.

Erica Bergstein is using the experience “to continue my self-exploration as a Jewish woman.” (Provided)

Erica Bergstein is using the experience “to continue my self-exploration as a Jewish woman.” (Provided)

David Miller, Masa Israel Journey’s North American director, characterized regional participation in the program as impressive.

“Masa Israel Journey’s partnerships with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and The Associated have grown into an amazing community of incredible young adults,” he said. “They are emerging leaders not only in their professional fields, but also in their local communities.”

Current gap-year participant Lindsey Rubin said that unsettling current events have failed to diminish her commitment to seeing Israel up close.

“I have been dreaming about going on my Israel gap-year program since I was an 8-year-old at Jewish sleep-away camp,” she said. “In terms of Operation Protective Edge, I’m not scared at all. I just can’t believe I am finally going to live in Israel for a whole year.”

Due to the lure of living in Israel, many Masa participants put everything on hold to embark on their journey. Erica Bergstein, 27, of Columbia quit her job as a clinical practice and education specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center to live in the Jewish state for 10 months.

“The ability to experience Israel through Masa will allow me to continue my self-exploration as a Jewish woman and community member,” said Bergstein, who will intern at Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “As an Israel government fellow, I will be immersed in Jewish history and culture. The experience will undeniably strengthen my bond to the State of Israel and to Judaism.”

After getting involved with Israel advocacy through her graduate school’s Jewish Student Association and The Associated, Bergstein traveled to Israel for the first time as part of the Birthright program last January. From that moment on, she wanted to find a way back. Next week, she will move into her Mount Scopus apartment in Jerusalem.

According to Max, Bergstein’s desire to live in Israel after Birthright is not unique. Many participants join Masa programs after realizing 10 days of a free tour is not enough.

“A large number of Masa participants from the Baltimore area participated on Birthright,” said Max. “They fall in love with the country and look for more long-term programs.”

With an eye on employment prospects, Gaithersburg resident Sara Rubinstein joined Masa to help construct her resume.

“Masa provided me with a whole team of career counselors and resume writers to help me create a unique resume for each job application,” said Rubinstein. “I feel like they are just as dedicated and committed to finding me a job as I am.”

Hannah Elovitz, who participated in a Masa Hillel Fellowship program, shared a similar story, noting that she landed a job as a communications associate at Hillel International within her first month of returning home.

“I happened to sit in on the Masa-Hillel Fellowship information session at the leadership summit in Israel; I hadn’t given serious thought to working for Hillel and wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit,” said Elovitz. “Jamie Schiffman (Hillel’s interim chief talent officer and director of professional development) encouraged me to apply, and I’m so happy I did. We had a lot of great professional development sessions that helped me gain a greater sense of what Hillel
is about.”

According to Elovitz, six out of this year’s 14 Masa Hillel fellows began working at Hillels across the country. Within their first three months back from Israel, all of them started new Hillel jobs.

D.C. alumni board member Lauren Rosenthal became active in the local Masa community to ease her transition back from Israel.

“I joined the board and got involved with the Masa alumni. I felt like not everyone understood what I had just done,” said Rosenthal. “I wanted to find others like me and give them a network to belong to.”

Allie Freedman is a local freelance writer.

JCC Swimmers, Coach Qualify for Select Camp

For the second year in a row the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore will send two swimmers to the Olympic Training Center as part of the Maryland Swimming Select Camp. For the first time, they will be joined by one of their coaches.

Head coach Brendan McElroy and swimmers Adam Todd and Olivia Plant will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., in late October for an extended weekend at the training facility, where they will live in the same dorms as Team USA athletes and will meet with nutritionists, speak with other athletes and train.

“There’s nothing normal about it,” said JCC aquatics director Bill Kirkner of the JCC sending two athletes — the maximum number allowed from each team — both of the years the camp has been offered.

The swimmers were selected through a process that evaluates each athlete’s performance across all events. Maryland Swimming, the group sending the trio to Colorado, comprises more than 40 teams from around the state. From those 40 teams, only 24 individual swimmers are selected for the camp. Coaches are selected based on their swimmers’ performances.

Kirkner said that the JCC’s swim program does not set out to send athletes to camps such as the Olympic Training Center, but the effect of having swimmers make the cut is felt throughout the swim classes. The energy and enthusiasm for swimming that the kids return with, he said, is contagious.

He added: “They get a sense that [competing at the Olympic level] is possible and how close they are to actually being able to do those things.”


Horseshoe Casino Is State’s Fifth

Noah Hirsch, Horseshoe’s vice president of marketing, is quick to point out that the new casino is “a complete entertainment package.” (David Stuck)

Noah Hirsch, Horseshoe’s vice president of marketing, is quick to point out that the new casino is “a complete entertainment package.” (David Stuck)

Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, which Tuesday night became the fifth gaming hall to open in Maryland in as many years, features 122,000 feet of gaming space. With a price tag of $442 million and only 12 miles from its direct competition, Maryland Live! Casino in Anne Arundel County, it is located just south of the harbor on Russell Street in the shadow of M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards.

The sparkly new entertainment facility is outfitted with dozens of enormous hand-strung glass chandeliers and Italian marble throughout the gaming area. Owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, it boasts 2,500 video lottery terminals, more than 100 table games and a high-stakes game room and private gambling room and will be a stop for the World Series of Poker.

If gambling isn’t your desire, said Noah Hirsch, Horseshoe Baltimore vice president of marketing, the casino is “a complete entertainment package,” featuring live entertainment every night and three premium restaurants. A highly promoted perk is the Caesars Loyalty Card Program, which earns members points for every dollar spent at any Caesars entertainment complex and enters them in drawings.

Hirsch called the program “a huge differentiator” for the casino. The first grand prize winner, he said, “right out of the gate could win an Aston Martin.” Hirsch added there are already about 800,000 rewards members in the area.

The attached seven-story 3,357-space parking garage is free to visitors except on M&T Bank Stadium event days. Free Charm City Circulator routes service the casino, and there are shuttles from the Hyatt and Sheraton hotels downtown.

Ariely Brings Israel Realities to Baltimore

Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership director Sigal Ariely spoke at Beth Tfiloh Congregation Monday night about what it’s like to live in Israel during the recent upheaval.

“You read about it, you see the pictures on the news, but it just doesn’t compare when you hear firsthand how one person, one community or one family is affected on a daily basis,” Ellen Ginsberg Simon, vice chair of the Baltimore Israel Coalition, said of the program.

Ariely spoke about her family, what life is like in the Ashkelon community and about the shelters. A slide show accompanying her presentation further illustrated life during wartime.

As a mother, Ginsberg Simon said the emotionally charged account hit home with her when Ariely spoke about her son, who is training for the military, and her scared daughter sleeping under the staircase.

“What do I worry about? I worry about if my daughter takes a nap or my son eats right,” Ginsberg Simon said. “I don’t worry about survival.”

The talk, the first in a series of four being put on by the coalition concerning the current conflict, was a way to educate the community on how the war affects people that Baltimore supports emotionally and financially, Ginsberg Simon said. “It is important to get these personal stories out there, and you can spread these anecdotes to people who aren’t attending these events and remind people that there are two sides.”