Author Archives: Ebony Brown


Forget Syria in Fight Against Islamic Foe

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

The United States is considering authorizing airstrikes in Syria in an effort to combat the growing strength of the Islamic State. Those potential strikes raise the question whether that effort will lead to some degree of cooperation between the U.S. and the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We hope not. Even with the barbaric beheading of American journalist James Foley and the bloody capture of a Syrian airbase by Sunni extremists fresh in our minds, we don’t view the Syrian regime as the lesser of two evils. And we believe there is a viable alternative to an unholy alliance with al-Assad.

There have been 200,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war that began when al-Assad met peaceful protests with bullets. And it was only a year ago that the United States determined that al-Assad attacked his own citizens with chemical weapons. That conduct by the Syrian president warrants continued condemnation and a ticket to the International Court of Justice, not a political makeover to make him appear to be a palatable partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Often, in a choice between two extremes, it is possible to find more subtle options in the middle. One such option in this case is the Arab states themselves that helped foster the growth and influence of the Islamic State. While it is true that the growth of IS is a product of the collapse of authority in Syria and Iraq, that development wouldn’t likely have come to life in the first place without the support of the Sunni states that oppose Shiite control of Iran, Iraq and Syria, whose Alawite rulers are a Shiite offshoot.

So instead of worrying about the brutal al-Assad and figuring about ways to work with him while not supporting him, let’s turn to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others, which provided the ideology, funding, weapons and safe passage for the Islamic State fighters. They nurtured IS growth; they have relationships with IS leadership; and they must be part of the solution to the bloody disaster they helped create. Just as the United States is pushing for a political solution in Iraq that will defuse sectarian fighting there, it should put pressure on the Sunni countries that made IS possible to pull the plug and shut it down by any means necessary.

Building coalitions is a tricky business, but that process is not nearly as difficult as withdrawing from a war. In the case of Syria, the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy.


What We Need Is Healthy Communication

runyan_josh_otBack-to-school season is firmly upon us, and with the sales on school supplies just recently ended, the big yellow buses have returned local streets to quagmires of morning and afternoon traffic. Many children are overjoyed at meeting friends they haven’t seen all summer, while quite a few parents are ecstatic that the little ones are once again out of the house for the daytime hours.

But amid the celebrating, there’s also the stress: of new schools, of new friends, of new car-pool routes. For a growing group of new school parents, whose children have — according to Maryland law — 20 days to comply with inoculation requirements, there’s the stress of choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children.

For them, as you’ll read in this week’s cover story, to comply means to subject their children to untold harm. Whatever the questions surrounding the shaky science they rely on, in their minds the threat of autism is real and the danger of vaccinations, as promulgated in a growing body of websites and social media campaigns, darn near certain.

On the other side, parents who adhere to the recommendations of such bodies as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control are increasingly worried about the prospect of their own children, unvaccinated infants among them, being subjected to a plethora of diseases once thought eradicated. For them, the growing anti-vaccination movement is a clear and present danger.

To say that emotions are high in this environment would be an understatement. That 18 outbreaks and 593 confirmed cases of measles occurred in this country between Jan. 1 and Aug. 8 of this year is downright frightening. That whooping cough has experienced a record increase — 9,964 cases from Jan. 1 to June 16, a 24 percent increase over the same time period last year according to the CDC — is horrific.

The culprit identified by authorities for this degradation in public health is the failure of parents to vaccinate their children. Polio was once thought a disease of the past in the developed world, but there are parents here in Baltimore who regard the disease, which killed thousands in 1916, crippled no less than President Franklin D. Roosevelt and continued to kill and disable through the 1950s, as posing little more threat than the common cold in an otherwise healthy child.

That this is a viewpoint gaining a growing, albeit limited, acceptance is scary. But that parents fear reprisals from their friends and neighbors for doing what they legitimately feel is in their children’s best interests is just as worrisome.

Perhaps what is needed is more communication. Far too often, healthcare in this country has amounted to a top-down “do as I say” approach on the part of policymakers and doctors. But while such an approach might have worked in an age where information was scarce, today many people harbor a visceral distrust of “official” dogma. They turn to the Internet, where their views can be magnified, confirmed and spread.

At the very least, those on both sides of the vaccination debate speak for the children. As old-time diseases reappear and spread, it’s time they start talking to each other, rather than past each other.



Sailing Forward

Instructor Maggie Flanigan teaches campers the ropes during their first day on the Chesapeake Bay. (provided)

Instructor Maggie Flanigan teaches campers the ropes during their first day on the Chesapeake Bay. (provided)

The scene couldn’t be more picturesque: placid waters hugging a sandy shore and several small JY-15 sailboats bobbing along on a sea that expands far into the distance. A mere miles from Baltimore City, a secluded haven of sorts on the Chesapeake Bay proves to be the perfect place for young sailors at an Orthodox girls sailing camp to hone their skills.

At the Baltimore County Sailing Center at Rocky Ridge Point, these campers have the chance to learn how rig and de-rig a boat, steady the tiller (the part that steers the boat) and adjust the sails, all while avoiding getting hit by the boom, the pole along the foot of the sail. This group is one of many that BCSC hosts throughout the summer, but during the last week of August, the site exclusively accommodates the Orthodox camp.

There’s something about sailing that seems to inspire enthusiasm and confidence in even the most inexperienced novice, say organizers. You don’t have to be good at sports to gain competence at sailing or even be the most popular at school. Many of the young participants in this year’s program expressed a zeal for sailing their very first day on the water.

“It’s in the water and it’s fun — why not?” a couple of young campers pointed out.

But it’s more than just fun. In their own private world, these campers have the opportunity to master something uniquely their own. Sailing
promotes natural cooperation, mindful participation and a strong sense of personal responsibility. No one wants her boat to be the one that tips over.

“Based on my experience with teenagers, I would say that those who have a hobby or something they are good at are more likely to be satisfied and happy,” said Rabbi Aaron Tendler, a local educator who founded the sailing program three years ago. “It can be music, art, sailing or something like it, but they need to have these opportunities.”

At the camp, there is an unusual mixture of feelings: on the one hand, mounting excitement at the prospect of manning a boat; but on the other, an anchoring serenity born from the ebb and flow of the water. Especially for young sailors, sailing seems tied to atmosphere as much as it is to skill.

Campers from the 2013 Orthodox girls sailing camp pose at the Baltimore County Sailing Center. (provided)

Campers from the 2013 Orthodox girls sailing camp pose at the Baltimore County Sailing Center. (provided)

The camp has grown to offer a one-week program for both boys and girls. This year, the boys’ camp drew 14 while the girls’ camp, which ended Aug. 29, accommodated 11. The program’s success underscores the need for more programs like it, said Tendler.

While campers and their parents continue to give Tendler positive feedback, the BCSC staff is equally enthusiastic about the program. With this smaller and more attentive group, an instructor can get through the sailing curriculum at a quicker pace and offer more one-on-one attention. The program also gives the staff an opportunity to interact with members of the Orthodox community.

“My staff really looks forward to having this camp because of the chance to get insights into this community,” said Eileen Fahrmeier, the BCSC director. Her experience has already taught her a lot: “At the boys’ camp, we fish yarmulkes out of the water while in the girls division, they have to learn how to get on the boats in skirts.”

Fahrmeier, who once designed a T-shirt with the logo, “Sailing — the original video game,” understands its appeal.  On the water, sailors develop a natural spatial awareness and accountability for the direct outcome of their choices. Children who love sailing theory are often motivated to pursue an education in science or math.

And ultimately, it may just be the isolation of the site that allows kids to find themselves on the water, giving them room to experiment and learn. As long as thunderstorms or strong winds don’t interfere, sailing will continue to provide that opportunity to explore deeper waters.

“My job is to serve the people who want to know how to sail and to enable them to do so,” said Fahrmeier. “We can’t give these kids the keys to the car, but we can give them the tiller on the boat.”

Hanni R. Werner is a local freelance writer.


The Lie

082214_mishmash-bookBy Hesh Kestin
Scribner, 240 pages

“The Lie” may be fiction, but it definitely reads like reality, perhaps because the author, Hersh Kestin, spent two decades as a Middle East foreign correspondent. Kestin, an 18-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, quickly pulls the reader into a political, and emotional, story that could very well be happening now in Israel. The story follows Dahlia Barr, a tough-as-nails left-wing attorney who has dedicated her life to defending Arabs accused of terrorism. Her life takes a major turn when she is offered a unique position within Israel’s security unit. Dahlia begins settling in to her new role and is informed that Hezbollah has kidnapped her son. The story continues with her trials in dealing with such a difficult and painful situation while still maintaining her role in the government. I was captivated from the prologue to the book’s final sentence. I even reread the beginning just to make sure I had not missed any details. I highly recommend “The Lie.” It was an intriguing read that opened my eyes wider to the current situation in Israel.