At Pearlstone, a Blossoming Future Story

 Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

In the 15 years of its existence on the unlikely outskirts of a major metropolis such as Baltimore, the 165-acre verdant rolling hills and seemingly endless vista of lush organic farmland known as the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center has had its fair share of eclectic visitors.

“Beyond the Jewish community, we’ve hosted Christian groups, Muslim groups, universities, government groups, birthday parties, corporate groups, as well as many others,” said 34-year-old Jakir Manela, who has been integral to Pearlstone’s development for the past decade and its executive director for nearly five years.

Originally from Montgomery County, Manela focused on  Hebrew, Jewish and global  environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2004.

Manela became a Jewish  environmental educator at the Isabella Freedman Jewish  Retreat Center in Connecticut, where he met future Pearlstone program director Casey Yurow and Yurow’s wife, who was a young Jewish farmer at the time.

“We were inspired by that experience, and Pearlstone saw what was going on up there, then reached out to us in 2005 or 2006 to start something similar here,” Manela said. “So we did.”

With Yurow following shortly after, Manela was on his way, arriving at the center that was “already well-established and running; what we brought was the Jewish educational farm experience, which has really blossomed over the last 10 years.”

Pearlstone has become a major part of Manela’s life; he lives “just down the road” from the center located in the hinterlands of Reisterstown with his three sons and wife, who is a child birth educator and student midwife.

“It’s a big, beautiful campus,” marveled Manela, “and we are excited to expand our cultural component, spending a lot  of time and energy on our ecosystem restoration work, as well as continued  improvements to our biodiversity and  environmental health.”

 Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Though Pearlstone marked its 15th  anniversary on Sept. 12, the facility held a large-scale community outreach event during the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 19, granting tours of its oceanic property and previewing plans for precipitous  expansion of the grounds, including the bolstering of its baseball field and the  development of a new amphitheater, vineyard and a “U-pick” or “pick-your-own” organic garden area.

Patrons will be able to stop into Pearlstone and gather their own blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins, with Pearlstone planning specialized festivals for the harvests to come.

“People will be able to pick all sorts of things, even flowers,” Manela said, adding that the unique farming enclave of the center should be ready for visitors around May/June 2018.

“It’ll all be available in one location,  one that is near and dear to the Jewish community,” Manela said.

An agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which is also the owner of the grounds, Pearlstone’s outreach event invited business and nonprofit leaders from across the spectrum, including BGE CEO Calvin Butler, who spoke toward the end of the proceedings, haloed by a spectacular, fiery sunset backdrop.

“Calvin Butler is a great human being,” Manela said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him on a number of occasions; he’s a good listener.”

Pearlstone has been the recipient of BGE grants for environmental projects on the campus.

Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids,  connect and feel  inspired by this  beautiful place.

— Jakir Manela, executive director  of Pearlstone Center

“I thought one of the lines that he said at our event which resonated for me very deeply was something about being very humbled and honored finding himself as the leader of a major, 200-year-old corporation and waking up every day thinking about how he can use that platform  for good.”

Manela was inspired by these words  of Butler’s spoken for the audience of apt listeners, stomachs filled with all manner of delicious farm-to-table food that was being offered — including the likes of golden spaghetti squash au gratin and crumbly apple cobbler, all served with apropos bamboo wooden utensils.

Those not blithely under the influence of the halcyon, temperate weather or splendid, natural atmosphere of the farmland glowing with a pink radiance from the magnificent sunset may have been  besotted by unique beverages served  including an emerald sangria and fruit smoothies that visitors could blend themselves via an odd biking mechanism powered by pedaling.

“We aspire to the same approach as Calvin Butler’s,” Manela said. “How do we use our platform for good, for the benefit of the entire community?”

Manela clarified that though the Baltimore Jewish community is Pearlstone’s core and foundation, “we really are trying to reach out to those who may not otherwise engage with Jewish organizations and Jewish life, those for whom religion in general and Jewish life specifically may not resonate, even if they connect with the cultural aspects.”

“Jewish food, ethics, spirituality, sustainability, environmental ethics really do resonate with a broad swathe of the American public, including Jews, intermarried Jews and non-Jews,” Manela said. “Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids, connect and feel  inspired by this beautiful place.”

The outreach event was something new for Pearlstone in scope and a larger attempt at “getting on the corporate radar and reaching out to the nonprofit community in a big way.”

Manela said this “new experiment for us” was therefore a terrific success, proclaiming, “I think we knocked their socks off.”

Park School Senior Points Lacrosse Stick at Ivy League

(Photo provided)

(Photo provided)

Sam Cordish has come a long way since he joined the Park School of Baltimore’s lacrosse team as an unassuming freshman more than three years ago.

The 6-foot, 160-pound senior goalie worked hard to get a chance to showcase his talent, cracking the Bruins’ starting lineup as the No. 1 goalie after playing sparingly his first two seasons.

“To see him kind of go through this journey, it’s been such an interesting time for him,” Park head coach Josh Davey said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work, and he’s really busted his butt to put himself in a great position to play  beyond high school.”

In mid-October, Cordish, who also plays for the Greene Turtle Lacrosse Club of Towson, announced his next step, making a commitment to play for the University of Pennsylvania next season.

A touted recruit, Cordish said he held one offer from perennial national title contender Johns Hopkins University. He also drew the attention of Division I powers University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond and Division III schools Dickinson College and Franklin & Marshall College, both in Pennsylvania.

Cordish had a good feeling about Penn from the start of the recruiting process with head coach Mike Murphy at the forefront of Cordish’s longing to play for the Quakers.

“Having met with the coaches a few times, I loved them, and [they] were definitely people I wanted to play for in college,” Cordish said. “The school itself has great academics, which is something I was looking for.”

Because Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholar  ships and Cordish has not  formally been admitted to Penn, NCAA rules prohibit coaches from speaking about commits.

Cordish, son of The Cordish Companies vice president Jonathan Cordish, comes from a bloodline with a longstanding tradition of dominance in the sport.

His grandfather, David Cordish, CEO and chairman of The Cordish Companies, was a three-year letter player at Johns Hopkins who helped lead the Blue Jays to the 1959 national title. The Cordish Lacrosse Center, home to the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs at Johns Hopkins, is named after David Cordish, who was the principal donor for the $10 million project.

He’s put in a lot of hard  work, and he’s really busted  his butt to put himself in  a position to play  beyond high school.

 — Josh Davey, head coach of Park

Sam Cordish’s uncle, who shares the same first name, lined up in between the pipes at Penn and was an All-Ivy League performer.

“I think having a relationship with someone who cares about him as much his family does has been big for Sam,” said Jonathan Cordish, who played two years on Penn’s  men’s tennis team. “To know what it’s like to be an athlete at a high level has been very instrumental in Sam’s nurturing on and off the field.”

Last season alone, Sam Cordish led Park to an 8-5 record, notching 116 saves to go with 13 grounds. With Cordish serving as the last line of defense, the Bruins’ defense was one of the best in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference, holding six of 13 opponents to five goals or fewer.

Davey said Cordish’s work ethic in the weight room and classroom — Cordish is a lacrosse team captain — have propelled the goaltender to provide leadership for Park’s younger players.

“I think on and off the field, Sam is going to go as far as Sam wants to go,” Davey said. “If he continues to work as hard as I’ve seen him work, there’s no limit to where he can go. The possibilities are endless for him, because he’s one of those kids that when he puts his mind on something, I would say there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Cordish has also actively combined his lacrosse acumen with his Jewish identity. A two-time Maccabi Games participant, Cordish led Team Baltimore to a gold medal in the Under-16 seven-on-seven tournament in 2013, the first year lacrosse was a part of the Games.

He has also volunteered with Charm City Youth Lacrosse, passing on his lacrosse knowledge to underserved kids in Baltimore City.

“He might not be the most vocal leader on the lacrosse field,” Dia Clark, the boys’  director of athletics at Park and an assistant coach for the lacrosse team, said. “But people take notice of what he does. He seems very mature for his age and is one of the nicest people anyone will ever meet. Sometimes, I think it gets lost that Sam is not a man of many words, but he is always there for his classmates and teammates.”

Pleased with his college  decision and having it behind him, Cordish is looking forward to putting together a banner senior season.

The Bruins expect to contend in the highly competitive MIAA B Conference and are hungry to capture their first league postseason championship since winning it all in 2005.

“I want us to do better this year, of course,” Cordish said, “and I think with another year of experience, we will be even better. For me, I just want to continue improving my game and leadership skills and be someone the younger guys on the team can look up to.”

Iran’s Finger Prints

An article in Al Arabiya last week dropped a small bombshell. It reported that Hassan Fariuzabadi, military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, boasted to the semiofficial Fars news agency that his country had “sent, in the past years, military advisers to the Gaza strip and trained the ‘Palestinian forces’” there. The fact that Al Arabiya is owned by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival, suggests that the report should be taken with a grain of salt. But there’s no doubt that Iran has been and remains active in the region by opposing, thwarting and threatening American interests and allies. That it could send advisers or cash to Hamas or one of its more radical competitors is certainly plausible.

Iran was also implicated in a missile attack last week on U.S. ships in the Red Sea. U.S. Central Command leader Army Gen. Joseph Votel said, “Iran is playing a role in some of this” after the ships were apparently targeted from rebel Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Iran has largely supported the Houthis, who are fighting to oust Yemen’s Western-backed government. Others, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), believe that the missiles were provided by Iran. In retaliation, U.S. missiles destroyed three radar sites in territory controlled by the Houthis.

Iran is already deeply involved in the conflicts in Syria, where the Assad regime is increasingly dependent on Iran’s military and financial support, and in Iraq. In Lebanon, it backs the Hezbollah militia that is pointing what Israel says is 120,000 missiles at the Jewish state. Iran has been implicated in the unsolved 1984 bombing at the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Iran has also ruled out negotiations with the United States on any issue beyond last year’s nuclear deal. But if Iran is responsible for firing on U.S. ships, it raises the question of what the U.S. response will be.

A year and a half ago we accepted the Obama administration’s argument that a nuclear-armed Iran was inherently more dangerous than one made $150 billion richer in exchange for forswearing nuclear weapons. But is the White House ready to live up to its part of the implied bargain? Or, is President Obama more concerned about the possible implications of action on what appears to be his increasing focus on his legacy?

Secretary of State John Kerry has made clear commitments that the United States would work to counter Iranian attempts to destabilize the region, endanger Israel and achieve Middle East hegemony. We believed him. Isn’t it time to live up to those promises for serious action and consequences?

UNESCO Cannot Change History

There was at least one piece of good news after votes by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, over the last two weeks that effectively denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: The body has made clear just how feckless U.N. diplomacy is.

More countries opposed or abstained on the resolution than voted for it in the UNESCO executive board’s preliminary balloting on Oct. 13. In that vote, France and Sweden, which had previously announced support, abstained. Those abstensions denied the Palestinian-backed resolution any European support. (On Oct. 18, the executive board formally approved the resolution.)

Voting “no” were the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Estonia. This is far from the unequivocal denunciation that Israel’s outraged friends would have liked to see. The resolution was brought by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. It ostensibly concerns the “safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine” and affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” But throughout the text of the resolution, Jews and Judaism are absent — the Temple Mount is referred to only by its Muslim name. The text refers to Buraq Plaza, placing its English translation, Western Wall Plaza, in quotes, and criticizes Israel for its decision to build an egalitarian prayer area there.

To their credit, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, distanced themselves from the resolution. Said Bokova, “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site.” Mexican ambassador Andres Roemer, who refused to support the resolution, even appears to have lost his job over the affair, although (after he was fired) his country changed its vote from one of approval to an abstention.

The resolution is part of the Palestinians’ nonviolent agitation against Israel. But by erasing the Jewish presence in and connection to Jerusalem, beginning with King David’s conquest in the Bible — holy scripture for three religions — and continuing to the present day, the supporters are playing a zero-sum game with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that will not encourage a solution.

One side effect of the resolution was a rare wall-to-wall denunciation by all American pro-Israel groups. On the left, Americans for Peace Now urged “United Nations agencies, when referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to avoid exclusionary and inflammatory language.” On the right, the Zionist Organization of America called the resolution “part of the Palestinian, Arab and, indeed, international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s existence.”

The resolution paints a picture that neither Israel nor her supporters recognize. The jump from criticizing Israeli behavior to erasing Jewish history is outrageous. But the resolution cannot change reality. The response of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin went right to the point: “We can understand criticism,” he said, “but you cannot change history.” Amen.

You Should Know … Jennifer Robinson

Jennifer Robinson (photo provided)

Jennifer Robinson (photo provided)

Jennifer Robinson would love to make your acquaintance.

Born and bred in Baltimore, today living in Mount Washington, the 28-year-old is a proud, third-generation producer at local insurance brokerage Mayer & Steinberg. Robinson has honed her top-notch skillset for schmoozing, whether it’s captivating an interested client or (a growing proclivity in her spare free time) manifesting a new networking hub for other up-and-comers in the region.

As the spiritual founder, so to speak, of the recently formed Young Professionals Committee — an ad hoc auxillary of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce — Robinson works to embolden “the workforce of tomorrow with seminars focused on leadership and professional growth,” as the chamber’s website reports.

When she’s not setting up and attending meetings for her work alongside her grandfather and father at Mayer & Steinberg, wrangling new prospects or “providing people with knowledge of the insurance industry and reassurance that they have proper coverage in place to protect their business and themselves personally,” Robinson spends time organizing meetups for her Young Professionals Committee, such as its successful inaugural event at the Mount Washington Tavern this past September.

How did you end up working in your current field?

I went to school at Penn State, where I received my bachelor’s in science with a focus in marketing in 2010. When I was in school, my original plan was to become a buyer for Bloomingdale’s or Saks. There was a career fair I went to before I graduated, and because the job market was pretty rough at the time, I took the first opportunity that came to me. After a little over a year of being a sales manager at JCPenney in White Marsh, I decided to take classes and trained to get my insurance license. Then I shadowed my father and grandfather at our company before I did some account management work for them and then grew into being a producer. I’ve been at the company for almost five years now. I really enjoy providing a service that gives people peace of mind and the knowledge that they’re protected against potential risks or catastrophes.

Do you find any similarities between your previous aspirations in fashion and your current profession?

In both, my outgoing and friendly personality was really helpful. For what I do now, it’s helped me with referral partnerships as well as creating a trust with clients who want to work with me because that’s who people want to do business with in my field. I feel like that’s my top priority when I meet with someone: To have them trust me and feel like I’m someone they want to work with. I feel happy building that relationship; if it’s someone with a small business and, say, they’re a one-person firm looking to become a 20-person firm some day, it’s nice to see their business growing as I grow.

I’m looking forward to continuing the legacy that my grandfather began in 1959. He’s 86 and he still works; that’s incredible. I enjoy working with my dad and grandfather every day, and it inspires me to carry on the traditions and wonderful reputation our agency has.

What then inspired you to help found the Young Professionals Committee?

I’m really good at connecting people; I really enjoy that. I think connecting people is awesome. So I met with chamber board members and said I wanted to create a committee for young, like-minded professionals in the area like me in order for us all to meet business owners, as well as to connect on a personal level, to make friends and support the community we’re all a part of. We started developing the committee in May [2016], had our first meetup in September and have our next one in January [TBD].

This is a way to give back to the community we’re all happy to build, work in and play in together. I think that’s important. I like helping other people make relationships with different people in the community, and it’s also enjoyable for me to see different people that I know — whether they are colleagues or not — form relationships with one another. We’re forming a group of people who can help each other immensely.

No Denying Deborah Lipstadt’s Voice

Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)

Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)

“I stand on my work and reputation and not on the honorifics which are applied to me,” said Deborah Lipstadt, when asked if she should be referred to as “doctor” or “professor” during her interview with the JT.

“Deborah” it is.

Lipstadt is the subject of a provocative and essential new film, released Oct. 21, called “Denial,” which chronicles the nearly decade-long battle the world-renown author and Jewish studies scholar underwent defending herself from claims of libel in the United Kingdom.

Directed by Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story,” “The Bodyguard,” “Temple Grandin”) from a screenplay by David Hare (“The Hours”) based on Lipstadt’s own 2005 memoir “History of Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving,” “Denial” is playing now at the Charles Theater and also stars Timothy Spall, Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson and Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.

‘Genocide’ is one of the  demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this  is all very  important.

— Deborah Lipstadt

In her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” Lipstadt referred acrimoniously to self-proclaimed WWII expert David Irving as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial,” among other pejoratives that Irving alleged caused irreparable harm to his continued career as writer and speaker.

The contentious British author brought a libel suit against Lipstadt, cannily choosing his home of the United Kingdom to do so, as in that court system, the burden of proof lies on the defendant, a reversal of our own “innocent until proven guilty” legal foundation. Lipstadt was essentially forced to either settle or fight Irving in court to defend what would ultimately be not only her own credibility but, in many ways, that of the Holocaust’s import in the global arena.

“I thought it would be a real amazing opportunity to bring Deborah Lipstadt to our community right around when the movie came out,” said Israeli-born Hana Bor about Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University’s invitation to Lipstadt to come speak at the campus on Thursday, Nov. 3.

The event will be free and open to the public, “an opportunity to come and hear history from a first-person account,” said Bor, who is Towson’s Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor, program director for Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service graduate programs and  responsible for the creation of the five-year B.A./M.A. degree program in family science and leadership.

“The history of all of this is happening right now.”

— Hana Bor of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute

“The movie dramatizes the real event, but the history of  all of this is happening right now,” Bor said.

Bor, who teaches courses on diversity and culture, said she believes the inexplicable existence of Holocaust denial is something too many people are unaware of, especially since the Holocaust itself is so rarely taught as part of required curriculum at both universities and high schools across the nation.

“It’s a good opportunity to raise the issue of anti-Semitism and to teach about people who deliberately distort the facts or choose to ignore  certain facts,” Bor said of the upcoming Lipstadt speaking engagement, particularly in reference to the likes of Irving who was indeed found by the court to be a distorter of facts in his works as noted by Lipstadt in her own.

Beyond the existence of Holocaust denial — as more than a mere fringe lunacy but rather a pernicious infiltration of academic and mainstream media circles — Lipstadt told the JT she plans on speaking at Towson about the biographical film, how Holocaust denial is a furtive form of anti-Semitism and frightening implications about why it should be of more concern today.

Lipstadt noted that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this,” in reference to how so much of her life — at least in the public eye — has become about Holocaust denial in general and her recent court case with Irving specifically.

Why focus on the Holocaust at all then?

Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in "Denial." (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)

Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in “Denial.” (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)

“I’m not a child of survivors,” she confessed, adding that though she had no immediate family in the Holocaust, she sees herself as a “20th-century historian [who] writes about the Jewish people. You name for me a more critical event for the Jewish people … and for the world. ‘Genocide’ is one of the demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this is all very important.”

Lipstadt ardently suggested that just as slavery is something white people should learn more about, as rape is something men need to learn more about, the Holocaust is something gentiles need to learn more about.

Hence her admiration of the filmmakers of “Denial” for the work they’ve done in bringing her work to a larger mainstream audience and why she feels public lectures such as the one coming to Towson next week is crucial to a better understanding of both history and important issues facing Jews and non-Jews alike.

As a main fulcrum of the film and her true story, Lipstadt refuses to debate anyone about the existence of the Holocaust.

“I wouldn’t expect someone who is an earth scientist to  debate someone who thinks the Earth is flat; I wouldn’t  expect someone who specializes in medicine to debate someone about vaccines causing autism when there’s no science to that; I wouldn’t expect a historian to debate someone who says slavery was only a kind of ‘indentured servitude.’”

If anything, Lipstadt said, the film coming out has made her feel stronger about her intractable position, “especially after seven years were stolen from my life [during the trial].”

“I think debate is important when there’s two sides,” said Jill Max, who has been the  director of the Baltimore  Hebrew Institute for the last five years and worked with Bor to bring Lipstadt to Towson.

“But there are not two sides to the Holocaust,” Max said. “It’s a historical fact, so I agree with Deborah 100 percent. You can’t debate somebody who is clearly there just to deny. To get down in the mud with a person like that … I  understand why she feels that way. It’s counterproductive, because you can’t win a situation like that. What you can do is bring facts to an audience, write books and defend against libel, and all of that has ultimately worked out for her.”

Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking at Towson University on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. This is a free event. For registration and more information, visit

Time to Unite

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

In its second year, coming soon after the national debate over the Iran nuclear deal drove wedges into the American and global Jewish communities, the Baltimore Shabbat Project brought thousands of women to the Maryland State Fairgrounds last October to bake challah. Organizers of the initiative, which is affiliated with the South Africa-based International Shabbos Project, hailed the turnout as indicative of a need for Jews in Baltimore, as elsewhere in the world, to unite — if only for a day — behind the banner of Judaism’s holy day.

“I think we’re at a stage of Jewish history when there are a lot of dividing lines between us, and they are very superficial,” Rabbi Nitzan Bergman, executive director of the Etz Chaim Center and co-chair of the 2015 BSP, said at the time. “All Jews value Shabbat. … That’s why it is such a brilliant idea because it builds unity around Shabbat.”

Although Bergman, a South African native, made those comments when the JT wrote about last year’s Great Challah Bake, he might as well have been saying them today. It’s no secret that while we may have put the wounds of the Iran debate behind us, when it comes to politics, religious observance or worldview, the Jewish community is far from unified. Wouldn’t it be nice to once again unite behind the joy and serenity of a shared Shabbat?

In a time of division, we as a people need to
find common ground with each other.

The BSP thinks so, which is why the organization is seeking to expand on last year’s challah bake attendance by welcoming some 4,000 women to the Baltimore Convention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 9. They’re even busing attendees in, with pickup locations outside Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Greenspring Shopping Center and the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. The event will follow by three days a Shabbat Through the Senses program for children of all ages at the Owings Mills JCC.

Each, of course, is meant as an introduction into actually celebrating the Shabbat that begins on Friday night, Nov. 11, but whether or not people actually do — it’s safe to say that most will — there is a lot to be said for masses of Jews doing Jewish things outside of the political or advocacy arena.

The project concludes with a community Havdalah concert at Rams Head Live featuring Matisyahu.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, there is much to be excited about this time around. And the JT, as an organization, is excited along with everybody else. In a time of division, we as a people need to find common ground with each other, and the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s events, which we are proud to support as a sponsor, are worthy places to start.

Cummings, Ruppersberger, Sarbanes for Congress

Elijah Cummings (File photo)

Elijah Cummings (File photo)

With U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-District 7), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-District 2) and John Sarbanes (D-District 3), the Baltimore area is represented in Congress by a trio of moderate, seasoned legislators. We heartily endorse them in the Nov. 8 election.

The three often act together, as in June, when they attended an event on the steps of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore to press Republicans, in the wake of mass shootings in schools and churches and against police, to permit Congress to vote on gun-control legislation. It was also Cummings and Sarbanes who were prominent at the 2015 funeral of Freddie Gray, whose death

Dutch Ruppersberger  (File photo)

Dutch Ruppersberger (File photo)

while in police custody sparked riots. Cummings told those gathered that he put his own nephew “in the grave four years ago … blasted away, still don’t know who did it.”

When it comes to the scourge of gun violence and ensuring accountability among police, these are the legislators who deserve our trust to lead the nation toward a solution.

The three men share similar voting records. All voted in favor of the Iran nuclear agreement and against the suspension of sanctions on Iran; the apparently discordant stances reflect our own view, that ensuring a nuclear-free Iran must be a top priority.

John Sarbanes  (File photo)

John Sarbanes (File photo)

Cummings has a special tie to the Jewish community. His Elijah Cummings Youth Program, a partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Council, has for 17 years sent African-American teens from his Baltimore district to Israel with the goal of building bonds between African-Americans and Jews.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Ruppersberger has been a trusted voice on support for Israel, the fight against terrorism and other issues the Jewish community holds dear.

And it is Sarbanes, running for a sixth term, who has been a leader on Capitol Hill in the fight for stronger corporate oversight. A Greek Orthodox lawyer, he was also among the founders of the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, a nonprofit organization in Towson that works to advance inter-religious dialogue and understanding. And he continues to have a sensitive and supportive voting record on issues of concern to our community, including support for the State of Israel.

Our region will be well served by Cummings, Ruppersberger and Sarbanes returning to Congress.

Mercaz Hosts Interfaith Program

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (file photo)

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (file photo)

Two longtime Baltimoreans, friends and colleagues, Dr. Christopher Leighton and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, will be leading a program entitled “Sibling Rivalries: Does God Play Favorites” at Beth Tfiloh’s Mercaz Dahan Center for Jewish Life & Learning.

The program is being done in partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies and “will explore questions of how Jews and Christians build their identities in relationship to one another and to God,”  according to the ICJS website. The program will takes place on the first three Wednesday evenings of November.

“We will be exploring the relationship of character  between Christians and Jews,” Leighton, the ICJS’s Protestant Scholar and former executive director, said. “Sometimes  Judaism is described as the parent and Christianity as the child, but recently the image which has come up is that of siblings.”

“Our dialogue is about the sibling rivalry between Jews and Christians in the Bible and contemporarily. There was a time when the relationship was adversarial, but in the past 50 years, that relationship has turned into brotherhood,” Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Wohlberg asserted.

Dr. Christopher Leighton (file photo)

Dr. Christopher Leighton (file photo)

“Unfortunately, I think the change was due to the Holocaust, which took place in the heart of Christian Europe. The church had to acknowledge that something had gone wrong, and beginning with the Second Vatican Council [1962-1965], they attempted to right the wrong. That can only be done by working together.”

In the course of the program, participants will be studying a number of biblical stories that Judaism and Christianity share, as well some that are not shared. The stories are those about siblings in sacred text, in both the Bible and the New Testament.

“We’re going to look at sibling rivalries and how to overcome a relationship where one brother is seen as supplanting the other as the ‘favored son’ who receives all of God’s blessings while the other is left empty-handed,” said Leighton. “Then we will look at how that definition is redefined today.”

First and foremost, the most notorious sibling rivalry will be studied, the dynamics  between Cain and Abel. The fratricidal relationship between the brothers will be used to look at how Jews and Christians should be related today.

Participants will then look at how the story of Esau and Jacob is paradigmatic of the relationship between these two religions. The conflict that resulted from Jacob’s deception of Isaac in order to receive his older brother’s birthright is analogous to the massive spread of Christianity following the destruction of the Second Temple.

“To Jews, traditionally Esau has been related to Edom, which related to Rome and thereby related to Church,” Leighton explained. “Christians have flipped it and see the Jews as the older brother, and they lay claim to being Jacob on whom the blessings rest.”

“What will be of interest is for people to see how Jews and Christians read the same text differently,” said Wohlberg. “I wonder how many Jews are aware that Christians see themselves as the descendants of Jacob, the younger child, rather than Esau, the elder child. The difference in understanding makes all the difference in the world.”

The third section will look at a more unfamiliar story to Jews, the story of the parable of the prodigal son. “It can be read to reinforce a dysfunctional rivalry, or it can be read in ways that are much more constructive and positive, so we want to explore how that might lead us to analyze the relationship between Christians and Jews in new terms,” said Leighton.

In the series, the two want to confront the sometimes  adversarial relationship between Christians and Jews and to foster a more positive and creative dynamic.

Madeline Suggs, director  of public affairs at the BJC,  explained that they are very  excited for the series because Jewish-Muslim discourse has been much more commonplace recently.

“Dialogue is one of our top duties,” she said. “It is such a joy for us at the BJC to have so many people doing interfaith work in the community. I am really excited for an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue as well. It’s a great opportunity with the timing and location to get people with a lot of different backgrounds and experience to get together in the same place.”

The series takes place at Beth Tfiloh’s Epstein Chapel, 3300 Old Court Road in Baltimore on Nov. 2, 9 and 16 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. For reservations or more information, call Noah Mitchel at 410-542-4850 or the Mercaz office at 410-413-2321.

Uniting Jewish Baltimore Shabbat Project aims to bring entire spectrum of community together

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

In 2013, South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein wanted to create an opportunity that would allow all Jews to celebrate one Shabbat together in more than just spirit.

The Shabbos Project resonated with Jewish communities around the globe: “The concept is simple: Jews from all walks of life, from across the spectrum — religious, secular and traditional, young and old, from all corners of the world — unite to experience one full Shabbat together, in full accordance with Jewish law,” the organization’s website says.

On the Shabbat during which the project was first launched, nearly 70 percent of the South Africa’s approximate 75,000 Jews celebrated Shabbat, many of whom had not done so before. In the aftermath of the event, communities wrote in from around the world, having seen the success of the project and wanting to bring the initiative to their own locale, giving birth to the international initiative.

Today, the project has grown immensely. Last year’s global initiative reached more than 913 cities and included participation by more than one million Jews worldwide. This year’s project looks to be even larger. In Baltimore, Jewish people from all backgrounds and traditions will come together once more to celebrate Shabbat with the local Shabbat Project’s motto in mind: “ONE Shabbat as ONE people with ONE heart.”

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Baltimore hopped on the train in 2014 and launched its own Shabbat Project initiative, which expanded to other areas last year such as Howard County, where the Jewish community also wanted to participate.

“The idea of Jewish people around the world keeping one Shabbat together blossomed into something miraculous and beautiful,” said Nisa Felps, project manager of the Baltimore Shabbat Project, as well as a member of the project’s steering committee. “There is an overwhelming sense of unity. It is a beautiful thing seeing these people from all walks of Judaism coming together.”

“This year, we really wanted to make Shabbat shine,” Felps continued. “It’s important that Shabbat is the nucleus of the Shabbat Project. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we can highlight Shabbat. Across Baltimore, there are all sorts of activities that will be happening: Shabbatons, Kiddushes, Onegs, family meals — at shuls and at people’s homes. We also launched the Shabbat Challenge. It is fully via social media, challenging people to engage Shabbat even more. There is a lot of momentum going into this year that we want to capitalize on. It is about unity and coming together for a love of Shabbat and of Judaism.”

Last year, the project touched 25,000 Jews in the Greater Baltimore area. This year, the goal is to engage at least 40,000. Events will be taking place across Baltimore between Sunday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 12.

The first, and one of the biggest, events will be the community-sponsored Shabbat Through the Senses, which is taking place at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

“Shabbat Through the Senses is an opportunity for all kinds of families to come together and experience Shabbat piece by piece by having kids create things that they can use at home on Shabbat,” said Gabrielle Burger, director of PJ library and chair of the Shabbat Through the Senses event. “There will be a mini-challah bake with premade dough for kids. There will be Havdalah spice making, making Shabbat candles with wax and making candlesticks with sand art. You will have the opportunity to create your own tie-dye challah cover and to grind wheat with people from Pearlstone.”

The event includes PJ Library story time and pre-Shabbat activities with puppets and stories, as well as a sing-along with Beth Israel Congregation Rabbi Rachel Blatt and Beth Tfiloh Congregation Hebrew School director Brian Singer.

“Absolutely everything that we are doing is 100 percent inclusive, regardless of abilities,” said Burger. “Each family gets to make a Shabbat box based off the PJ library story ‘The Shabbat Box’ and take home an entire Shabbat experience when they leave. There will also be a moon bounce, face painting and a magician. It really will be a fabulous experience for everybody.”

Matisyahu headlines the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Matisyahu headlines the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Shabbat Challenge is an ongoing social media initiative for the project this year. The message is that Shabbat belongs to all Jews. It is about putting elements of Shabbat into the Sabbath, even if those observing aren’t going to do everything — because Jews can benefit from each individual piece that Shabbat has to offer.

“I have really always felt a love for Shabbat,” said Miriam Gross, who is coordinating Shabbat events and aiding the online challenge. “I do feel that it gets a rep of belonging to the Orthodox and more observant communities, but I have always felt that the reward for keeping Shabbat is getting to have Shabbat. It is an amazing time to unplug and thing about what is meaningful in life. What I love about the Shabbat project is that it is nondenominational — you see people who are pumped about Shabbat that you wouldn’t expect to be. I think it is really putting Shabbat back into the hands of every Jew that wants it, making it accessible.”

A large part of the Shabbat Challenge is a series of hashtags on social media that are being used to unite participants. #Shabbat@OurPlace and #Shabbat@ YourPlace, for example, are being used to help people find a community member’s home in which to celebrate Shabbat. #ShabbatUnplugged calls for people to unplug from electronic devices and “plug into real life.”

Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

The most well-known and anticipated event of the Shabbat Project is the Great Challah Bake, an event for Jewish women to unite and prepare for Shabbat by learning to bake traditional challah loaves together.

This year, the event will take place at the Baltimore Convention Center on Wed-nesday, Nov. 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. There also will be a challah bake for seniors on Wednesday, Nov 9 at 6:45 p.m. at Peregrine’s Landing at Tudor Heights and one for women only through the Jewish Federation of Howard County at Beth Shalom Congregation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10.

According to Felps, the first year that Baltimore participated in the Shabbat Project, the challah bake was one of the signature events. “The first year, it took off,” she said. “We expected 500 people and 1,200 showed up. Last year’s challah bake had just under 4,000 people, and this year we expect even more.”

Saralee Greenberg, a co-chair of the event’s steering committee, said that she became involved with the Shabbat Project initiative through the challah bake last year. “You’re at a table with 10 women, all of different ages and affiliations,” she said. “You are sisters, and there is a bond that just fills the room and fills the heart. I left with a sense of awe and happiness and understanding. This year, I got a call to be involved as a co-chair and said yes immediately because it is worth every bit of time and energy to make others feel the same way. I have never seen such dedicated volunteers.”

The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

Hanni Werner, the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s marketing and communications associate, explained how last year the organization decided to have its first Shabbat Project challah bake. “We didn’t know how it would go, we were just starting out,” she said. “But the response was overwhelmingly positive, and everyone had a great time. We had such an incredible turnout that we reserved a larger space to accommodate nearly twice as many people this year. Last year, we had about 120 people, and this year, we’ll probably have about 220.”

“We especially felt it was significant at helping Jewish women unite,” Werner continued. “We’re a month out from the event this year, and we have already sold out. It’s one of those events that has really good, palpable energy. It is not just about making the challah, it’s about getting people together and connected. It has such a wide appeal that each year we seem to reach even more people, particularly multigenerational families who bring daughters, moms and grandmas.”

Jen Kaplan has been involved with the Shabbat Project since its inception in Baltimore. This year, she is once again co-chairing the Great Challah Bake. “We have made a lot changes this year,” she said. “We received a lot of positive and constructive feedback from last year. For example, there will only be Jewish music this year — some traditional, some pop, some Israeli style. There will also be a much higher level of spirituality this year, and an emcee, Yaffa Palti, will manage and direct the crowd as needed.”

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

Kaplan plans to talk about the power behind women uniting to make challah together and the good that it can bring about. She wants to inspire a sense of Jewish unity and spirituality in the audience.

“For example, we are going to create a moment of silence when it is time to say the one-line brachah prayer,” she said. “When you actually rip a piece of challah off, everyone can have a moment for silent reflection and send their prayers directly up to those who need healing and livelihood. I am very connected to unity, and I really believe in the flavor of the project in Baltimore. Even the larger Shabbat project is really about everybody keeping a Shabbat together.”

In the same vein of unity, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Suburban Orthodox Congregation will be joining together on Nov. 11 to have “a wonderful evening of song, d’var Torah, camaraderie and a delicious dinner,” on Nov. 11, according to the project’s website.

“The Shabbos Project offers us the opportunity to connect to our entire community,” said Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation. “While we may have our differences, some quite significant, there is so much that unites and bonds us to one another. We feel truly privileged to share a Shabbos dinner with our brothers and sisters from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. We truly hope the seeds of achdus and unity will continue to flourish in the months and years ahead.”

The diverse array of events taking place in the community this year will culminate at the final event of the Shabbat Project, a community-sponsored Havdalah concert featuring Matisyahu. The concert is taking place at Rams Head Live! on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“I have always felt that the reward for
keeping Shabbat is getting to have Shabbat.”

— Miriam Gross, a Shabbat events coordinator

Lisa Bodziner, director of educational engagement at the Center for Jewish Education, was on the Havdalah committee last year and has continued in that role for this year’s event. “I really believe that the Shabbat Project is a great chance to involve a younger generation and less-involved crowd in the Jewish community,” she said. “The goal with bringing in Matisyahu is to create an experience that would be more relevant and intriguing to that audience.”

“I am very passionate about Shabbat and people having their own unique experiences,” Bodziner added. “I think Havdalah is sometimes a ritual that gets lost. We really wanted to make a beautiful evening celebrating Shabbat with a Havdalah that will turn into a concert. The goal is to sell out Rams Head Live!, which has a capacity of 1,600. We are happy to have anyone of any background and of any age group to join us. We want young folks to come out and embrace the experience of Havdalah and have a meaningful night.”

The evening will be packed with activities. From 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be a DJ. For $100, attendees can join a meet-and-greet with Matisyahu. There will be an art project in which people will be able to add to a neon lights display about what “light” means to them as an essential part of Shabbat and Havdalah. Repair the World will be running a project at the event, decorating holiday cards for needy families in the Baltimore area. There will also be pizza, cocktails and glow-in-the-dark glasses for the first 500 people registered.

The concert starts with Havdalah at 9; Matisyahu will perform until 11. Afterward, the DJ will play music until 1 a.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $25 at the door.

“We all have the same passion to bring Shabbat to Baltimore,” said Greenberg. “My goal is to cast the love and beauty of Shabbat on to the rest of Baltimore. I want people to come away with experiences they enjoyed. Having them do the one thing that they haven’t done before will make it successful for me.”

Editor’s Note: The Jewish Times is the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s official media sponsor.
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