Author Archives: Ebony Brown


A Communal Responsibility

runyan_josh_otThree decades ago, faith communities across the Southwestern United States, seeing as their moral duty to protect the downtrodden and vulnerable from what they saw as an almost certain death sentence, decided to break the law and harbor illegal immigrants who had arrived from Central America.

Moved by a sense of humanity and an anti-establishment rebellious streak that flows through the blood of many whose cause is social justice, these brave souls, in some cases, forced social change by demanding that the United States take responsibility for the less fortunate drawn to its borders. Today, amid headlines proclaiming ever-increasing intolerance — including here in Maryland — toward children whose only crime is listening to the false promises of smugglers and cheating death in the hope of a better future, Jewish groups in Arizona and New Mexico are heeding the call and doing their part to help the unaccompanied minors who are once again flocking across the southern border.

Some of these good Samaritans are mindful of the failure of the United States to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, such as the turning back of the MS St. Louis and its 937 German Jewish refugees. And, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, groups such as the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona — like the churches and synagogues of 30 years ago — once again see it as their moral duty to help those suffering during a humanitarian crisis. As one organizer tells reporter Heather Norris in this week’s cover story, given their history of being “strangers in a strange land,” Jews should be at the forefront of the immigrant cause.

He has a point, and regardless of where you stand in the specific case of 57,000 Central Americans now awaiting their fate and what to do with them from an immigration policy point of view — 60 percent of those who took part in the JT’s online poll two weeks ago advocated deporting them quickly — you can’t help but feel that we all bear some responsibility to protect these children’s lives.

This sense of societal and communal responsibility is what is motivating Israeli citizens to send food and clothes to the tens of thousands of soldiers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect civilians on both sides from the actions of terrorists. It is the same sense of responsibility that likely motivated the Israeli army to open a field hospital for Gaza residents caught in the crossfire. And it is the same responsibility whose absence is manifested in the hateful demonstrations that recently set streets in Paris aflame.

Whether migrant child, Arab farmer or Israeli father, each and every human being deserves a life free from fear. That is ultimately the reason why Hamas must be vanquished and the hateful ideology it espouses will end in failure. Make no mistake, just like those who place water bottles in the Arizona desert, Israel now finds itself in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is characterizing as an existential war because of the children.


A Welcome Tribute

Thank you for recognizing the passing of a great explorer and innovative leader of the modern Jewish world — Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (“Crossing Boundaries,” July 11). In the early 1980s I attended a Shabbaton he conducted at the Sufi Center in Boston. I had read a book or two he had written and felt moved to meet him.

Within moments he bridged my fascination with Eastern spirituality to the intrinsic and deep spirituality of Judaism. Through that bridge
he set forth a path for many Jewish seekers to re-examine and experience Judaism for spiritual nourishment.

This was his greatest gift for me, and he kept evolving and kept exploring and creating, and mostly he kept giving of his depth of knowledge,
wisdom and wonder.

The Jewish Renewal movement may be small, yet its ripples have made their way into more traditional Judaism and other faiths.

While some sneer or smirk at Reb Zalman’s unique ways and his legacy, I know the Jewish world is far, far better for his time with us.

Harvey W. Cohen
Owings Mills

What It Means to be No. 1

For many Jews who are concerned about rising anti-Semitism in Europe and attacks on Israel by Hamas rockets, a recently released survey from the Pew Research and Public Life Project may be confusing. Add the fact that the survey’s conclusions appear to conflict with our own perceptions about how others view Jews, and you understand the mixed reactions that have been expressed to the finding that Jews are America’s favorite religious group.

The new Pew survey is titled: “How Americans Feel About Religious Groups.” And in it, Jews came out on top.

Asked to rate groups on a “warmth feeling” scale of zero to 100, with 50 being where cool feelings turn to warm, survey takers gave Jews a mean rating of 63, just ahead of Catholics (62) and Evangelicals (61). Even when you subtract the high scores that Jews give themselves, the rating is virtually the same.

The report is particularly interesting, however, since it adds a dimension to the much-discussed 2013 Pew Report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which focuses in part on how Jews view themselves. That 2013 report found that 94 percent of U.S. Jews (including 97 percent of what Pew called “Jews by religion” and 83 percent of “Jews of no religion”) are proud to be Jewish, suggesting that even those without strong religious and community ties are comfortable with their Jewish selves in America. And now it appears that we are not just comfortable with ourselves, but that others are very comfortable with us, as well.

Many 2014 respondents (54 percent) also reported that they do not think there is a lot of discrimination against U.S. Jews. According to those respondents, there are large numbers of other minorities — particularly gays, lesbians, Muslims and African-Americans — who face more discrimination than Jews.

So what are we to make of these good feelings? Frankly, we’re not sure.

The new report raises a lot of questions. For example, what does it really mean to be America’s most popular religious group? Is popularity a fad, and are Jews just the flavor of the month? Or has America truly gotten comfortable with Jews? And how that does all this warmth fit with the Jewish self-conception of being an oppressed and harried people?

More important, what brought about the change? Fifty years ago, Jews were much less visible and vocal in American society, yet anti-Semitism was prevalent and institutionalized. How did things change so dramatically in so short a time? One theory, expressed by an online commentator, is that although Jews were not accepted, they have been able to blend into society much easier than other minorities.

We are not so sure. But whatever the reason for the somewhat surprising survey results, it is fair to say that being the most favored religion is something new for the Chosen People.

The Power of Reputation

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaA few months ago I wrote that the moral imperative of sustainability is not to blindly follow a cause, but to engender relevant solutions that address holistic needs and yield collective benefits. And yet, while this is necessary for the long-term, there are critical issues that need our immediate attention that affect our daily lives. One such concern is particularly relevant this summer.

Our energy consumption broke records across the country and around world last year. Aging utility infrastructure buckled under the strain, creating large-scale power disruptions and blackouts. The cost to get systems back up and running and the resources needed to assist affected communities takes huge amounts of resources from other much-needed services.

Many sustainability commentators posit that blackouts could be prevented entirely with more widespread use of technology that’s been around for years. So if there’s already a solution, why do we have a problem?

Although there are some who are concerned with security or health risks associated with technology, with responsible and safe installation practices, this is not a significant obstacle. Rather, efforts to utilize this technology are mostly hindered by individual apathy and lack of understanding of how participating could prevent often calamitous situations.

This is what’s known as the public-good quandary: Everyone benefits when others participate, but no one wants to bother signing up. There are many efforts that fall prey to this dilemma. People aren’t interested in averting disaster in the distance, and have difficulty seeing past their own property line: My lights are working, what’s the problem?

In the past, utilities have used mailers outlining the benefits of these programs and monetary incentives to encourage enrollment, all with little success. Then, rather than relying on customers to register in the privacy of their own homes, they used public sign-ups. The result: more than a threefold increase in participation in energy-reduction programs.

People tend to respect those who do good and dislike those who take advantage of benefits without personal contribution. Numerous studies show that our reputations are the driving mechanism behind pushing change for the public good. When your reputation is on the line, suddenly people start to care.

Would you turn off your AC when you’re not home or down during peak times if you knew that your neighbors were saving more than 50 percent on their utility bills by doing so? What if your neighbors knew that you were the energy hog on the block, endangering everyone else’s access to free flowing electrons?

It’s not only big utilities that use this model. Similar peer-pressure moves are often used by fundraising campaigns, such as at your synagogue or school, using displays to post the names of those who contributed. The purpose? To tap into your reputational concern over not being associated with the people and cause that benefit your community.

A study released by the U.K. on household electricity use showed that those who believed that climate change was a real concern actually used more electricity than those who didn’t. Agreeing that there’s a problem isn’t equivalent to acting on the solution.

Public reporting can push that envelope and be used as a tool to launch more successful outreach efforts to mitigate a whole host of important public good causes. After all, your reputation’s on the line.

Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant.

State Highway Administration Repairing Beltway Bridge

Motorists traveling on Park Heights Avenue should prepare for temporary and long-term lane closures until fall 2015, as the Maryland State Highway Administration makes repairs to the bridge that carries the street over I-695.

The $5.6 million repair includes removing and replacing the riding surface and concrete sidewalks, replacing a steel beam that was damaged by trucks, replacing the overhead bridge lighting with light poles, rehabilitating the concrete supports and abutments at each end of the bridge, cleaning and painting the steel and reconstructing the pavement on the approaches to the bridge, according to an SHA news release.

The project should be completed by fall 2015, weather permitting.

The bridge will remain open to vehicles and pedestrians throughout the project, which began last week. Crews began single-lane closures on the bridge last week between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, with closures ending the following morning. Single-lane closures on I-695 under the bridge will occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday.

Nighttime single- and double-lane closures on I-695 will occur between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, with closures ending the following morning.

Beginning this fall, one lane in each direction will be closed 24 hours a day until the project is finished.

“SHA encourages drivers to plan ahead for extra commuting time on Park Heights Avenue and drive with caution in the I-695 interchange work zone,” SHA district engineer David Peake said in a statement. “Pedestrians should also look ahead for changing traffic patterns in the work zone and stay within the designated crossing area on the bridge.”

For questions about the project, contact SHA’s District 4 Office, Construction Division at 410-229-2420, 866-998-0367 or