Author Archives: Ebony Brown


Breaking Barriers



With the recent Ferguson, Mo., shooting fresh in everyone’s minds, children from Baltimore’s Jewish and African-American communities have detailed their own struggles with race relations — back in 2010, a highly-publicized altercation took place between an African-American teenager and two Jewish men in northern Park Heights — as part of a traveling photo exhibition in City Hall.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young unveiled the exhibit on Sept. 3, inviting more than a dozen girls between the ages of 10 and 14 for an event honoring their Girl’s Photography Project.

“This project is a way to foster a better Baltimore community and introduce girls to their not-so-different neighbors,” said Young. “After the 2010 incident, we wanted to create a positive spin on a negative situation.”

Hosted by Damion Cooper, director of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Relations, the Wednesday event celebrated the girl’s efforts with keynote speakers, a kosher reception and a certificate presentation by Young. Speakers included Community Conversations co-chairs Phyllis Ajayi and Nathan Willner, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI) executive director Mitchell Posner, Wide Angle Youth Media executive director Susan Malone, and program participants Aiyanah Muhammed and Daniella Friedman.

“I am thrilled that City Hall hosted us for the event,” said Ajayi. “The Girl’s Photography Project physically shows diversity in the eyes of our kids. Both sides saw that what they ultimately wanted out of life was the same. The only difference is the color of their skin.”

As an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the CHAI program helps fund, staff and manage the Community Conversations series. By bringing youths together through art projects, Posner believes that positive integration is the best way to build a better Baltimore.

“There is no secret formula to building a stronger Baltimore community,” said Posner. “However, we are giving our kids the education they need by introducing them to each other at an early age. Starting with our youth, we are building the people of tomorrow.”

Through Wide Angle Youth Media, the girls began the program in late January and took a five-week long photography course. While many of the girls were skeptical at first, they ended up forming lasting bonds with their Park Heights neighbors.

Encouraged by her grandfather to enroll, African-American participant Muhammad nervously joined in the program. After the 2010 dispute, she feared she would not find common ground with her Jewish counterparts. Within the first session, her reservations melted away.

“Because of prior experiences in my neighborhood, I didn’t expect the Jewish girls to be as nice as they are,” said Muhammad. “I made a lot of Jewish friends, and I have a new view of my Jewish neighbors. Our friendships have continued even past the program.”

Due to the success of the Girls’ Photography Project, similar programs are currently being designed. The Community Conversations series is hoping to create a comparable project between African-American and Orthodox Jewish boys in the future. As more programming continues, Young believes that Baltimore will become a more unified community.

“America is a melting pot, and we are all one people. This project gave the girls a chance to see that,” said Young. “By building positive relations and forming bonds now, events like the Ferguson shooting hopefully won’t happen here. We are setting up Baltimore for success.”


Set For Super Sunday

Volunteers at The Associated’s Super Sunday aim to raise $1 million this weekend. (Provided)

Volunteers at The Associated’s Super Sunday aim to raise $1 million this weekend. (Provided)

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore kicks off its annual campaign this Sunday, Sept. 14, with its largest fundraiser of the year: Super Sunday.

The event, which  raised $1.3 million last year, will see more than 100 volunteers flock to the Weinberg Park Heights JCC this Sunday to work phone banks and ask the Jewish community to give what they can to support The Associated’s annual campaign.

“I think Super Sunday is probably the most important fundraiser of the year for the Jewish community,” said Clara Klein, who is chairing this year’s event with her husband Michael. “The survival of the Jewish community is impacted by what we raise on Super Sunday. Our goal is to raise $1 million.”

The Associated, established in 1920, is a philanthropic organization that tackles charitable, religious, education, humanitarian, health, cultural and social needs of the local, national and international Jewish community.

“It meets the needs not only for our community, but for the Jews abroad,” Klein said.

In the past year, Associated partnerships such as the Odessa Partnership and the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership have not only connected the Baltimore Jewish community to those in need of solidarity, but have devoted resources to supporting those overseas Jewish communities in times of crisis.

“In light of current world affairs, I think people have a clear sense of how dire the straits can be beyond the borders of the United States,” Michael Klein said.

This Sunday, volunteers will work the phones from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in shifts of three hours or less to call on the Jewish community to donate.

Ellen Gillette, who’s been a familiar face at Super Sunday since the early ’90s when she first moved to Baltimore, said Super Sunday exemplifies the power of Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“I was just so amazed at how incredible this community is and how it works together and what The Associated is able to accomplish,” Gillette said of her first coming to Baltimore. “Super Sunday is the day that everyone joins together and reaches out, and it’s a wonderful experience.”

She loves hearing stories of why people give, and has seen firsthand what The Associated’s programs have done for the community.

“I’ve seen individuals’ lives really be transformed,” she said, “people either in situations they were struggling with or sometimes the transformative effect of connecting with the Jewish people.”

Gillette chairs Baltimore’s Hillel council, which works with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Johns Hopkins University; Goucher College and the University of Maryland, College Park. Because of The Associated, which contributes to the Hillel council, some UMBC students were able to connect with the Jewish community of Odessa by going to Ukraine on an Associated trip.

Like Gillette, the Kleins are also involved in several activities outside of Super Sunday. Clara, who sits on The Associated’s board of directors, is also on the Baltimore Israel Coalition’s board and the executive committee of the women’s steering committee, and is the incoming chair of the women’s committee of Israel Bonds, among other positions. Michael has served on the boards of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, The Associated’s board of governors and is a member of the Solomon Society, a men’s discussion group.

While the Kleins are doing what they can to make sure Super Sunday brings in as much as it can, The Associated is also launching a 100-day challenge. In the challenge, all new gifts or increased gifts given through December 31 will be matched.

“Anything [people] can give, no matter how big or small, will make a difference in our community,” Clara Klein said.

Those interested in volunteering at Super Sunday can contact Elizabeth Goldberg at or 410-369-9428. Volunteers can also walk in on Sunday.


Bucking The Trend

The lawn and driveway were packed Sept. 4 for the UMd. Hillel’s welcome barbecue. (Photos by David Stuck)

The lawn and driveway were packed Sept. 4 for the UMd. Hillel’s welcome barbecue. (Photos by David Stuck)

When the American Studies Association decided last winter to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the rhetoric among many Israel advocacy organizations suggested that the Jewish state was at risk of becoming a target in the world of academia. But what was a just a possibility when students all across the country left for summer break has become a more immediate concern as students return for the fall semester.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza generated a slew of negative coverage over the summer and, observers note, groups aligned with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement are pursuing their campaign against Israel with renewed vigor.

“It’s difficult,” Aviva Slomich, international director of campus outreach for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), said of the experience of students who want to advocate on behalf of Israel. “Even on a campus that’s pretty peaceful, you’re talking about a serious subject.”

Last month, CAMERA held its annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference in Boston with 50 students from around the United States and Canada. Slomich said she hopes students walked away with even more confidence this year than in years past. In addition to the regular programs that the organization has had success with in the past, this year’s event featured some new additions, like tips on how to successfully debate and a program called My Zionism.

“It’s basically taking back the word ‘Zionism’ and being proud of the meaning of the word,” explained Slomich. “It’s something one would be proud to be recognized as, unlike what people are trying to smear it as, as a dirty word.”

Another project drew on the experiences of young people recently returned from trips to Israel and was called Witnesses of History. Students who attended the conference heard from others who had seen the Gaza conflict firsthand and could relay what it was like to be in Israel during the 50-day war.

“The goal is to get the voices out of the people who’ve experienced it,” Slomich said. “We have to make people understand that Israel is a very happy country.”

Prior to the convention, CAMERA received multiple letters from students who expressed nervousness about heading back to school. By the end of the conference though, Slomich said she felt the overall confidence of the students rise.

In Maryland, local college students have been following the news from other campuses, but say they feel lucky to attend school in an environment that is generally very supportive of Israel.

“We’re very fortunate,” said Michael Krasna, a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, from Boca Raton, Fla. At UMd., the student
population is nearly one-quarter Jewish, according to 2013 Hillel figures. “There’s not a lot [of student bodies] like this.”

Krasna, who worked at a table at the UMd. Hillel’s new student barbecue last week, described the College Park campus as “peaceful” and largely “a-political.” He said he was shocked to hear about some of the things that have been happening on other campuses around the country.

Late last month, Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reported that a Jewish student at Temple University who was a CAMERA campus fellow was
hit in the face by another student standing at a Students for Justice in Palestine table during a verbal altercation between the pair. The incident occurred at the school’s move-in day student activities fair. The student alleged that he was also the recipient of anti-Semitic slurs hurled at him by the assailant and SJP members, but Temple’s SJP denied the use of hate speech and instead insisted the student had been harassing the organization’s table.

Elsewhere, pro-Palestinian students have held rallies on campuses, dispensed mock “eviction notices” to students and staffed fake check points they say symbolize the experiences of Palestinians living under Israeli control.

Krasna said he is confident in UMd.’s pro-Israel lean — the president of the university attended last year’s Hillel welcome barbecue and gave an impassioned pro-Israel talk — but he isn’t ruling out the possibility that things could be different this year, given the most recent conflict.

Amna Farooqi, a junior, has noticed one difference this school year in the two weeks she’s been back on campus.

“If anything, more people are definitely interested,” she said.

Farooqi manned the J Street U table at Hillel’s barbeque. She said the group — which is affiliated with the national J Street organization that recently failed to gain membership to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations over charges that it was not sufficiently pro-Israel in its outlook — plans to hold some debriefing events in the upcoming weeks to provide students with a space where they can feel comfortable asking questions and learning about the conflict.

“A lot of people have questions,” she said. “We want to give people that space.”


Medal of Honor

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced he would recommend the late Jewish World War I veteran Sgt. William Shemin for the Medal of Honor. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced he would recommend the late Jewish World War I veteran Sgt. William Shemin for the Medal of Honor. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

Jewish veterans had a lot to celebrate at their recent convention in Charleston, S.C., not the least of which was an announcement by Baltimore resident Erwin A. Burtnick, a retired colonel and commander of the Jewish War Veteran’s Department of Maryland, that World War I veteran Sgt. William Shemin is being posthumously recommended for the Medal of Honor by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

“I have been fighting for years for Sgt. Shemin to receive the Medal of Honor,” said Burtnick, one of several locals among the approximately 150 people in attendance at the JWV’s 119th National Convention, which ran from Aug. 17 to 24. “We don’t have many Jewish Medal of Honor recipients. Many people think he was overlooked because of his religion. Four decades after his death, he is going to get one.”

Founded in 1896, JWV is the oldest active military veteran organization in the country. It was formed by Jewish Civil War veterans after a newspaper falsely reported that Jews had not served in the war. Supporting the rights of veterans, JWV focuses on national security, veterans’ affairs, support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism.

“The Jewish War Veterans is as important today as it was during the Civil War era,” said Burtnick. “Historically, the percentage of Jews who served in the military is larger than the percentage of Jews who lived in the U.S. Keeping the Jewish War Veterans alive is so critical, and I’m thrilled three of us made it down from Baltimore to this year’s convention.”

Receiving the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in 1918, Shemin ran into no-man’s land three times to carry wounded soldiers back to shelter. At 19-years-old, Shemin took over his platoon, leading his soldiers to safety and suffering a bullet wound to the head.

With the reading of Hagel’s letter line-by-line at the convention, it was indicated that once a waiver revision is made, Shemin simply needs Obama’s approval to receive the esteemed award.

In addition to Burtnick’s announcement, several other speakers gave presentations at the convention, including retired Gen. Baruch Levy of the Israel Defense Forces. In his speech, he shed light on the current military situation in Israel.

“The Jewish War Veterans is, of course, a huge supporter of the IDF,” said Burtnick. “Levy’s speech this year truly ties everything together.”

Many new officers were elected at this years’ convention, including new national commander Col. Maxwell Colon, National Museum of American Jewish Military History president Joseph Zoldan and National Ladies Auxiliary of Jewish War Veterans president Petra Kaatz. In addition, committee groups met throughout the convention to work on different aspects of the JWV organization.

A former computer programmer at the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Grounds, retired Sgt. Stephen Mintz was among attendees.

“It is important to spread the veterans’ stories of how our nation is protected,” said Mintz. “Through my committees, I help record and computerize Jewish veterans’ stories. [At] Jewish War Veterans … we feel a strong sense of patriotism. Everyone has a story in the war effort, and I want them to be heard.”

Next year’s convention is scheduled for Tampa, Fla.

“The Jewish War Veterans have served from the Civil War to today,” said Burtnick. “We have been in Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, World War I, World War II, Operation Desert Storm and more. If you look through history, we are, and always have been, defending our nation.”


Capital Classrooms

Students and staff celebrate the new Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County. (Allie Freedman)

Students and staff celebrate the new Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County. (Photos by Allie Freedman)

The rabbi blows the shofar, the musical director belts out “Shalom Aleichem” and a new Hebrew school in Annapolis is born.

On Sept. 7, 108-year-old Kneseth Israel held an opening ceremony to launch its inaugural year as the Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County (JEC). The Sunday morning event invited students, parents and staff to commemorate the historic synagogue’s new addition.

Holding classes for kindergarten through grade 7 and youth programs for grades 8 through 12, the new religious school will bring more Jewish programming to Maryland’s state capital. After constructing and approving an eruv around Annapolis earlier this year, Kneseth Israel’s Rabbi Moshe Weisblum looks forward to expanding the Annapolis Jewish community even further.

“This is a big historical moment for our synagogue,” said Weisblum. “It is another dream come true for me. My shirt reads, ‘Chai Achievers of the Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County.’ I wear it proud.”

Handpicked by Weisblum, JEC’s director of education, Ellyn Kaufman, has 38 years of Jewish education experience, 13 of which are in Anne Arundel County. When she joined the JEC team, she expected to run a small religious school. However, as word spread about the school, so did the number of enrolled students.

“We started with just seven students, but the number kept growing and growing,” said Kaufman. “Right now, we have 46 students, but it might increase even more.”

Working closely with the new director, kindergarten and first grade religious school teacher Mariel Evers credits Kaufman’s visions and ideas as part of the school’s rising success.

“Ellen grew the whole school,” said Evers. “She makes the whole place come alive.”

From parading the incoming students in matching t-shirts to meeting this year’s teachers for the first time, Sunday’s opening ceremony was a small slice of the 2014-2015 school year. The school’s core curriculum focuses on Jewish holidays, fundamental values, religious customs, Hebrew, Israel and Torah. While the students eat apples and honey during recess and create Shabbat boxes filled with Kiddush cups and candlesticks, JEC takes a hands-on approach to teaching.

It recruited baritone opera singer, actor and voice teacher Shouvik Mondle to lead its children’s choir. Born in Calcutta, India, Mondle has entertained in operas around the world, and most recently, trained children to star on Broadway.

“I used to work with, teach and train children who starred in Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins on Broadway,” said Mondle. “Music is my passion, and I cannot wait to work the students at Kneseth Israel.”

Supplementary Sunday activities help advance the student’s education. Other activities include Jewish baking lessons, arts and crafts and monthly Israeli dancing.

“This school has already gone above and beyond my expectations,” said Kaufman. “Although I was a little hesitant to start a Hebrew school at first, I am so blessed that Rabbi Weisblum chose me.”