Author Archives: Ebony Brown

U.S. Must Acknowledge Truth about Gross’ Mission

Thank you for your concern about Alan Gross (“A Call for Help,” Aug. 15). However the editorial is 100 percent wrong:

Publicly, the government is saying the right things. For example, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last week that “we use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.”

Pressure has been the disingenuous line from Washington from the beginning. It avoids the U.S. government taking responsibility for sending Gross to undertake an illegal project to bring about regime change. Thus, the White House refuses to use the one diplomatic channel that will achieve his freedom.

The U.S. government must acknowledge the truth about Gross’ mission on behalf of a dead-end policy and sit down with the Cuban government for serious bilateral discussions.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
New York City

Cherishing One’s Family History

Thank you for an excellent and very interesting article (“Digging Up My Roots,” Aug. 15). I have been interested in my family history for 40 years, since I was 14 years old. I was fortunate enough to know my paternal grandmother, who passed away at age 83 when I was almost 17 years old; my maternal grandfather who passed away eight years ago at age 96; and both of his parents, my great-grandparents, who both passed away at age 86 within a month of each other after my bar mitzvah. After my great-grandfather passed away, my great-grandmother could not live without him; they had married for 66 years.

A lot of influence for me becoming an observant Jew came from my great-grandfather who I remember, when I was 7 and visiting the Bronx from Baltimore. I would watch him pray with immense interest, and I still have a yarmulke that my great-grandmother gave me when I was 7. I remember her giving it to me as if it were today.

Thanks to a cousin on my mother’s side, I have a whole history book with photographs and documents which he wrote, published and distributed to family members. He was successful in researching back to the late 1700s to my great-great-great-grandparents. On my father’s side, I have some information but very minimal. There is nobody living today who can help me with the information. I just remember what I was told as a youngster and have found bits of information on the Internet.

It is very difficult to find information on my paternal side; Freedman is a very popular name. On my grandmother’s side (my father’s mother’s side), the name Simmons is also very popular, and it may not even be the original name.

Researching one’s family history is a wonderful thing, and it is something that should be cherished for generations.

Simcha Mendel Freedman


Limmud Means Learning

2013_Lipsitz_GailFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been hooked on learning, especially Jewish learning. My first stumbling steps toward reading Hebrew led to a fascination with our people’s living ancient/modern language. Fortunately, my parents supported my desire to go to Camp Ramah, which in the 1950s immersed youth in eight weeks of Hebrew as the language of everyday conversation, prayer, and song.

Our rabbi, Harry Z. Zwelling, z”l, encouraged me to become a bat mitzvah and made no distinction between what girls and boys could do, which was unusual at that time so soon after the first b’not mitzvah in the Conservative movement. Rabbi Zwelling also invited me to join a small group to study the commentaries of Rashi each Shabbat after services. I credit this teacher with planting and nurturing in me the love of learning biblical text. From classes on the weekly Torah portion to challenging study at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, this kind of learning has been a lifelong joy.

In my small New England college with a few like-minded Jewish students, we sought out a professor of Bible, Ernest Lacheman. He was an ordained minister and archaeologist who could read Hebrew and Greek. But most wondrous, he read the cuneiform on the pottery tablets and fragments littering his dusty basement office and told us about the ancient Meso- potamian Nuzi civilization. For four years we looked forward to our weekly sessions with him. No course credit, no cost, just the excitement of studying.

Since moving to Baltimore in the 1970s, I’ve become an “equal opportunity” learner. I’ve taken classes at Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, taught by rabbis and educators from all of these denominations, and I participate every fall in Baltimore’s Adult Institute of Jewish Learning as well as the Institute of Christian and Jewish Studies. Baltimore offers an amazing number of learning opportunities open to all, many at no or minimal cost.

LimmudFEST, a celebration of Jewish study, culture and identity, invites us all to be learners and teachers for a day, to appreciate the diversity of our community and to connect with fellow Jews. Welcoming participants of all backgrounds, levels of knowledge, lifestyles and ages, Limmud’s motto is: “Wherever you are on your Jewish journey, Limmud will take you one step further.”

This is my third year as a Limmud volunteer planner and student. Limmud is like a smorgasbord of appealing dishes to sample, whetting your appetite to learn more. Presentations from Jewish poetry to Jewish composers of classical music have attracted me. This year, I’ll be presenting “Bat Mitzvah: More Than a Day in Our Lives.” Women of all ages are invited to share their stories and reflect on how becoming a bat mitzvah has influenced their Jewish identity (men are also welcome).

Treat yourself to a day of presentations, performances, food and fun at LimmudFEST on Sunday, Sept. 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Goucher College Athenaeum. For more information, visit

Gail Josephson Lipsitz teaches Jewish literature to adults and previously taught high school and college English. She recently retired as coordinator of public relations at Jewish Community Services in Baltimore.


Fueling Our Future or Our Destruction?

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaDespite outlining my topics for this column months ago, the events this summer in Israel have lead me to change course and address a critical issue that, although related to environmental sustainability and our use (or misuse) of natural resources, more closely aligns with our sustainability as a people.

For weeks I’ve been sifting through posts, articles and comments about the nightmare our Israeli brothers and sisters are living through as well as the critique of America’s duplicitous stance with regard to Israel’s need for self-defense and castigation over “disproportionate response” due to civilian deaths. I’ve watched and read in horror of the accounts of anti-Israel and anti-Jew rallies both in the U.S. and abroad, accompanied by varying degrees of hostilities and violence. And with growing trepidation, I have been reading about the growing threat of the Islamic State, as it pillages its way through the Middle East.

Which got me thinking: How do these violent, murderous factions wield so much power and demand so much attention? Why does the U.S. continue to bend in any direction to appease them, send them money and demand one-sided concessions?

It cannot be ignored that a primary reason for the continued involvement in the Middle East and tolerance toward tyrannical leadership is oil.  Our dependence on oil hinders our ability to maintain foreign policies that adhere to our country’s values, creates double standards and compromises our ability to offer unwavering support to the only democracy in the Middle East. Instead, we capitulate to the true violators of peaceful coexistence, allowing fanatical militants to remain in control, amassing resources for themselves and thus keeping their populations in abject poverty.

With our modern technology and industrial ingenuity, there is absolutely no need for our dependence on foreign oil. Yet, we continue to purchase barrels of crude oil pumped out of the ground in war-torn countries led by people who call for our destruction. We then pay to have that oil shipped half way around the world, expend even more (dirty) energy to refine it for use, then dispense to the public using — basically — the same technology that was invented over 125 years ago.

After so much war and bloodshed with this “overseas investment,” how is there not a plan in place to stop our energy dependence from these sources?  Is the “cheap” price of oil worth the real cost of keeping terrorists in power and preventing the more expeditious implementation of alternative energy sources? Our vehicles, factories and businesses should be utilizing energy that can be extracted and distributed domestically, contributing to a home-grown economic boom and jobs.

Communities of faith and conscience have begun weaning themselves off conventional fuel sources and are seeking alternative choices, but Jewish participation is noticeably absent. Foreign oil dependence threatens our security as a nation and as a people; the Jewish community should be the leading advocates for this change. Rather than pushing for economical severance from the source of the problem, our complacency is quite literally supporting our enemies.

It’s time to demand that our organizations lead by example and take a strong stance against our financial investment and dependence on foreign oil, which will diminish the power that these countries wield and, in turn, diminish the violence.

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

An Easy Choice in Gaza

Hamas may have been trying to make an example last week through the firing-squad execution of at least 25 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. But the public killings in the same week as the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State made Hamas look not so much as the flag bearer of Palestinian resistance as the terrorist group that the United States and Israel accuse it of being.

The summary executions in Gaza, which followed the Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and the killing of his wife and two children, were condemned by human rights organizations and even within official Palestinian circles. For example, the Palestinian Authority criticized Hamas for the executions because of its lack of judicial oversight and transparency. Similarly, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights called for an end to the “extra-judicial executions.” And Amnesty International said, “Hamas must immediately and totally cease its use of the death penalty.”

For his part, Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk explained the public shootings as an attempt to satisfy the people. “Because of the pressure put on us by the residents of Gaza, because of the cries of despair and so that there would not be further chaos,” he said, “we decided to create deterrence so that people would not try to be clever.” This strange comment from the Hamas leader appears to reflect the organization’s reported concern that it is losing the support of the masses and is turning to public executions as a means of quashing challenges to its rule.

The public outrage over the executions is a welcome rebuke of Hamas, which regularly uses citizens as human shields and turns humanitarian centers into weapons storage facilities. It gives some balance to the odious but popular narrative that Israel is the sole cause of misery in the Middle East.

In the face of a weakened Hamas, Gazans have a choice: They can either seek to end the fighting and strengthen the Palestinian Authority or they can continue to support Hamas as it hunkers down, al-Assad-style, to pursue a grim war of attrition. Hasn’t there been enough misery and death in Gaza to make that an easy choice?