Author Archives: Ebony Brown


Kansas Gunman Unfortunately Nothing New

runyan_josh_otAny doubts as to the danger of anti-Semitism in the United States were unfortunately put to rest this week when a gunman’s bullets — smack dab in the middle of middle America — claimed the lives of three people at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kan.

We now know that the 73-year-old man from Aurora, Mo., police suspect of driving to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City before opening fire on a man and his grandson — and two others who were not injured — and then at an elderly woman at the Village Shalom retirement community nearby is something of a throwback to another era. What is believed to be his website paints a portrait of a rabid racist and anti-Semite, while the Southern Poverty Law Center said that in the 1980s, Frazier Glenn Miller was the “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; he reportedly later founded the White Patriot Party.

What Miller and his ilk advocate is not racial purity, as if such a thing were ever possible or much less desirable. No. What the shooter in Kansas instead stands for is the violent affirmation of such debunked “theories” as eugenics and racial superiority. People like him claim order as their rallying cry, but wish instead that anarchy prevailed. They have no place in a civilized society, much less one founded upon the ideals of life, liberty and the innate power of the individual.

That the Frazier Glenn Millers of the world have supported and perpetrated vast genocides, including the Holocaust, is nothing new. And as you’ll read in this week’s JT, today’s generation grapples with how exactly to transmit the collective memories of those who suffered through and survived the Shoah so many years ago.

What is sobering is that the Frazier Glenn Millers of the world not only continue to exist, but that many of them stand armed and ready to advance a worldview with hatred as its creed and bloodshed as its method. That two of the victims in last Sunday’s attack happened to be Christian makes no difference, for in the twisted minds of those who would open fire at a JCC and retirement center, anyone who doesn’t think like them might as well be Jewish. It’s the same baseless hatred that turned southern cities into killing zones and claimed the lives of civil rights workers in the 50s and 60s, the same vile, repugnant thought process that justified the Holocaust.

The question left for us is what to do about it. Confronting hatred takes courage and determination; it also takes love. The more the racists and bigots of the world teach their children to hate, the more we should teach them to embrace the beauty of mankind. The more they blame others for their lot in life, the more we should reach out to improve the lot of those around us. The more they wall themselves apart, the more we should bring people in.

The Jewish community in Kansas will recover, but none of us should think that normalcy has been reached until hatred is eradicated from our midst.


Legislative Look-Back

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/

For many in Maryland’s Jewish communities, the recently-concluded 2014 legislative session was a success.

With a resolution to much of the state’s kosher wine problem, the passage of a bill expanding pre-kindergarten to more Maryland children and the inclusion of an amendment to the budget denouncing the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, in addition to inclusion of many Jewish-supported budget points, both the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Baltimore Jewish Council are pleased with what was accomplished in 2014.

“It was an incredibly successful session,” said Cailey Locklair, the BJC’s director of government relations and public policy.

In both Washington and Baltimore, Jewish social service agencies secured funding to continue their work.

The BJC’s budgetary priorities this year included funding for domestic violence medical training, health care for the uninsured and underinsured, an elder abuse center, the Hillel Center for Social Justice and the Maryland/Israel Development Center, among others. A $50,000 bond bill to help Jewish Community Services renovate housing for developmentally disabled adults was also introduced by Del. Dana Stein and passed. Among the BJC’s policy priorities that were approved were a minimum wage increase and increasing the selection of kosher wine available to Marylanders.

The BJC reached an agreement with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, Inc. and the Field Enforcement Division of the comptroller’s office to help increase the variety and accessibility of kosher wine, a longtime issue for both the BJC and the JCRC.

Under the agreement, the comptroller created a website that lists kosher wines obtainable in Maryland and the distributors that sell them; retailers will be educated on how to order the wines; the number of kosher wines available in Maryland will increase to 1,000 by 2015; and distributors will maintain lists of the kosher wines they sell.

“We are extremely pleased,” said Locklair.

JCRC executive director Ron Halber said that the settlement reached wasn’t perfect, but it has paved the way for further gains in the future.

Both groups spent time dealing with how to respond to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. A rift between the two Jewish community organizations on the issue became apparent in early March when they took opposite sides on proposed legislation that would have placed a financial penalty on state universities for funding faculty participation in ASA-sponsored events. The inclusion of language in the budget condemning academic boycotts satisfied both organizations, but committee hearings on March 5 and 6 made the divide public.

“It could have been handled better on all sides,” said Halber, noting that such a public disagreement between the two organizations threatens
legislators’ trust in both to present them with ideas supported by the Jewish community as a whole.

The boycott bill, he noted, was the one blemish on the Jewish community’s record. Each side, however, considered the final amendment a legislative win.

“It’s a huge victory for Maryland and for the Jewish community in Maryland that our state has taken such a strong stance on boycott, divestment and sanctions,” said Locklair. “The movement is only going to continue to grow and for our state to say, ‘We don’t support the BDS movement’ … we couldn’t be happier.”

One policy priority that didn’t survive the session was a bill that would have required a French rail company implicated in the transport of Jews
to concentration camps to pay reparations before it could bid on the suburban D.C. Purple Line commuter rail project.

The bill died in committee, but Locklair framed the fight as an opportunity to educate legislators about the Holocaust.

“It was a very good session,” surmised Halber. “Our priorities were passed, relations with legislators were strengthened.”

On pre-K expansion, which would allow Jewish day schools to receive state funding if they choose to participate in the state’s program, Halber said “it certainly has the potential to allow Jewish families of lower income to access a Jewish education.”

In February, members of the Orthodox Union joined with day school teachers and administrators to testify on behalf of the bill. Although the program could potentially result in day school pre-kindergarten’s functioning almost identically to public classrooms, those members of the Jewish community present said the potential good expanded access could do for local Jewish children would likely make any challenges well worth it.

The 2014 session, said Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11), saw a lot of compromise among legislators.

He pointed to the passage of bills dealing with marijuana and raising the minimum wage as evidence of a spirit of cooperation. Through changes and amendments, the General Assembly managed to come to enough agreement to pass them all.

“This was a less contentious year than other years,” said Stein.

Professor Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, called this legislative session one of the most boring in history.

“I don’t think there was a whole lot on the agenda, and I think that was probably intentional because this is an election year,” he said. “Delegates and senators don’t want their positions to come back and bite them when they run for office.”

Stein added that many hot -button issues had been dealt with in previous sessions.

Other than decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, passage of an effective medical marijuana bill and raising the minimum wage to $10.10, Norris argued that not much happened. And on the minimum wage, he wasn’t convinced the new rate is significant.

“The $10.10 minimum wage doesn’t kick in until 2018,” said Norris. “By then, four more years of purchasing power will have eroded through

With that in mind, he said Maryland legislators, generally known for being “deep blue liberal progressives,” didn’t do much for the poor. They
did a lot for the rich, he contended, including granting $15 million in tax breaks to movie producers.

With the session being Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last in office, Norris said he set himself up favorably if he decides to seek higher office.

“A number of these issues, such as minimum wage, marijuana, transgender discrimination and issues in prior years are all really good issues for Martin to use when he’s running for president, because those resonate with the democratic base,” he said.

House Minority Leader Del. Nicholaus Kipke (R-District 31) said his party was pleased with the passage of the medical marijuana bill and bills advancing election reform in the state, but he had hoped to see more work on taxes.

“We have a laser-like focus on tax reform in Maryland,” said Kipke. “Right now Maryland has a lot of assets, we have a good economy, but I think if we got our tax policy in a more competitive light, we would make our state so much more prosperous.”


Passover and Your Pooch



It is common knowledge that the eating of chametz is forbidden on Passover, but what do you do when your cat has been eating cans of chicken and gravy all year? What about your hamster that loves his oat-based treats?

Since Jewish law forbids even deriving benefit from chametz during Passover, your pet cannot consume it for the duration of the holiday, say many rabbinical authorities. In fact, it can’t even relieve itself on it.

Star-K asserts that one may not feed stray animals chametz, give zoo animals dispenser food (which may contain grains) or even allow pet litter to contain chametz during the holiday. If you choose to board your pet, you should be certain it will not be fed chametz, the Baltimore-based kashrut organization advises.

While the simplest solution may seem to be to sell your pet for Pesach, some Baltimoreans find it’s just too hard to part with Fido.

Karen Schwartzman has found a way to keep her pets happy and obey halacha. Years ago, she gave her dogs soft, prescription, chametz-free food for Passover, and they liked it so much she decided to switch them to it permanently. For hard food, she uses Taste of the Wild brand, a company that promotes a grain-free diet for dogs and cats.

“I wanted a high-quality food, and grain is not good for the dogs,” Schwartzman said in an email.

For the unsure pet owner, Star-K publishes a list of approved foods each year.

Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, who complies the list of foods for Star-K, said putting the register together is a lengthy process.

While the list is not all inclusive, the organization tries to include options for consumers at every income level. Those foods that are included are checked and double checked, first by an online ingredient search, then again in person when Goldberg visits local stores to read the ingredients listed on the packaging of the foods for sale.

“Many people want the list, and they want it early,” said Goldberg. “The pets have to be weaned off the regular food for a couple weeks and given the Passover food, so they want to know what’s available.”

Some stores, such as PetSmart, even keep a list on hand so employees can help customers determine which food is OK to purchase. The Owings Mills Petco, with the help of a rabbi, set up endcaps in their store that feature chametz-free foods for customers to purchase.

Other pet owners told the JT over Facebook that they feed their animals grain-free food all year, since many have trouble getting their pets to adjust to a new diet just for the holiday. If an owner prefers to switch only for Pesach, Star-K recommends weaning the pet off the regular food and onto the chametz-free variety slowly by mixing the two together. This gets the animal used to the flavor and texture of the food before it is the only kind available.

Introducing any changes to your animal must be done gradually, said dog behaviorist and obedience instructor Joy Freedman.

“If you’re going to change anything in a pet’s world, you always want to do half [old] and half [new],” she said.

Freedman feeds her own dogs a grain-free diet year-round because she says she doesn’t trust the quality of the grains used in pet food.

“If you ate McDonalds for a week and then you ate at Woodberry Kitchen, you’d have a similar effect,” remarked Freedman. “It takes a dog’s digestive track a long time — really like three days — to get used to any change in type of diet.”

She recommends basing your pet’s Passover diet on what he or she is already eating right now. If their food is chicken-based, center their holiday diet on chicken. If they usually eat beef, feed them beef with other foods, such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato, mixed in.

Many of the Jewish pet owners Freedman talks with keep their animals on a grain-free diet year-round.

“Switching the dog’s food can be more toxic to the dog’s system,” she said. “They will go through intestinal distress, and nobody wants to clean that during Passover to begin with.”


Confessions of a Chametz Buyer

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

The prohibition against eating leavened bread containing wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye at Passover is well known. Some Ashkenazic authorities also prohibit the consumption of rice, millet, corn and legumes during the holiday, and most Jews make a point of cleaning their homes and cars, removing any crumbs that may have accumulated prior to Pesach.

What they don’t get rid of, they sell to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. Rabbis typically serve as the go-betweens, and in Baltimore, Rabbi Jeremy Benyowitz is one of several in the area who facilitate the sale. For the past four or five years, the rabbi has relied upon the assistance of Michael Hilliard, a former major in the Baltimore Police Department and now community services director for the Harbel Community Organization, a nonprofit in Northeast Baltimore.

Benyowitz’s mother, Naomi Benyowitz, is executive director of Harbel. Close colleagues, Hilliard and Benya-witz “put together one of the largest citizen’s patrols on the East Coast. It was based on the Northwest Baltimore Citizens Patrol,” said Hilliard.

“One day, Jeremy approached his mother looking for a trustworthy gentile who could buy the chametz,” said Hilliard. “Naomi suggested me.”

Before meeting Benyowitz, Hilliard knew a little bit about Passover but nothing about this particular custom. Yet, he was happy to help.

“I have been a devout Christian all of my life,” said Hilliard. “This is an opportunity to help others of great faith celebrate one of the most important holidays of the year. I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I’m also interested in meeting people of other cultures. It gives me a chance to meet some special people.”

Hilliard described the annual transaction.

“I go to his apartment and he has stacks of documents. They are contracts that people have signed giving him the right to sell the chametz. “I don’t actually pay, but the whole idea is that it’s mine. I could go to someone’s house and take it if I wanted.”

The chametz that has been collected is not kept in Hilliard’s home. Instead it is stored in a locked cabinets in the homes of the sellers, but Hilliard holds the keys. After Passover, the rabbi comes back to Hilliard, who then offers to sell it back to him.

“I might say to him, ‘Oh, it has been a real burden, Rabbi,’” Hilliard said. “‘I haven’t been able to sell it. Could you buy it back?’”

In the past, Hilliard has “purchased” goats and sheep because they are fed fermented grain. He has even held the keys to a liquor store.

“I find it to be a unique and personally rewarding experience,” he said “If you’re a person of faith, you get it. If you’re not, you might not.”

High School Seniors Nominated for National Award

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School student Lani Roskes and Pikesville High School student Jesse Fidel will find out in just a few weeks whether either will be one of up to just 141 high school seniors nationwide invited to Washington, D.C., to receive one the nation’s most prestigious awards given to high school students.

Their selection as candidates for the Presidential Scholars Program ranks them among the top 3,000 high school seniors in the United States, but the wait to see whether or not she will walk away with the award is not nearly as nerve-racking as applying to college, shared Roskes.

In January, Roskes was notified of her candidacy. Last month, she submitted test scores, essays and a list of activities. Now, she waits to see if she is selected.

“It’s not as big a deal, but it’s very exciting,” she said, comparing it with the wait to hear back about her college application.

In the fall, Roskes will begin studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she was admitted by early decision. She is leaning toward a major in biochemistry.

Roskes transferred to BT as a sophomore after attending Yeshivat Rambam. She is captain of the varsity tennis and varsity softball teams at BT, in addition to being involved in the arts, including ceramics, which she teaches.

The 17-year-old also volunteers at BT as national co-director of America Eats for Israel, a program that asks restaurants to donate 10 percent of their profits one day a year.

Last year, the program raised more than $10,000 nationwide, all of which was donated to Meir Panim to help Israelis in need.

Roskes said she has no trouble balancing her busy schedule.

“I kind of like doing a little bit of everything,” she said.