Author Archives: Lindsey Bridwell

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‘Welcome The Stranger’

In the past nine months, more than 50,000 children have entered the United States illegally, many of them fleeing violence and gangs in Central American countries. While Congress and the White House have argued over how to deal with the flood of undocumented immigrants, many in the Jewish community have taken action.

In Tucson, Ariz., Anne Lowe makes regular trips into the desert to fill tanks of water for those traveling through the desert to use.

“I realize it’s an illegal thing to cross the border without proper documentation,” said Lowe. “On the other hand, should they have a death sentence for this?”

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A group from Southern Arizona learns about efforts by Humane Borders to provide water to those traveling through the desert.
(Provided)

Once a week, groups of two to four volunteers from Humane Borders, a faith-based humanitarian organization, travel into the desert at the break of dawn in trucks carrying dozens of gallons of water. They follow a designated route, filling the tanks at the stations located close to known trails migrants follow through the desert and checking for vandalism (in the past, there have been incidents of tanks being riddled with bullet holes and contaminated with chemicals) in addition to measuring water levels — proof, Lowe said, that what they’re doing is really helping.

“I firmly believe what the Torah teaches us, what the Talmud teaches us: that to save one life is to save the world,” said Lowe. “I’m hoping that somewhere along the line the things we’re doing are making a difference and helping to save somebody’s life.”

Lowe describes her involvement with the organization — and the organization itself — as “purely humanitarian.” Regardless of a person’s stance on immigration law or the need for reform, she said, no one wants these people to perish in the Southern Arizona desert heat.

Like many Jewish activists along the border — Humane Borders has about four or five Jewish volunteers in all — Lowe said she was inspired to get involved through her own Jewish heritage.

“No one helped the Jews during the Holocaust; very, very few nations helped the Jews. Our own America didn’t,” she said. “I don’t think, as Jews, we can turn our backs on people who are looking for a better life or trying to escape violence in their home countries.”

“We have to remember history,” she added.

As director of Northwest Outreach at the Tucson Jewish Federation, Lowe has also volunteered with other federation staff to assist people at the bus stations, once even volunteering alongside a Native American man from a nearby reservation to help women and children purchase bus tickets. Water deliveries, though, have become her calling in the current immigration crisis.

“There has been a beautiful community response,” said Bryan Davis, JCRC director and Holocaust education coordinator at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. Davis and the JCRC in Tucson have joined forces with the local Catholic service organization to offer assistance to the women and children who were released to family members in the U.S. after meeting with Border Patrol.

While the Tucson Jewish community is split on how to proceed with the sudden influx of immigrants from Central America, the JCRC sees its mission clearly, said Davis.

072514_coverstory2After hearing about unaccompanied minors and women traveling with children being left at bus stations near Tucson at a June interfaith meeting organized by the local Catholic diocese, Davis and other faith leaders determined that they had to do something and were in a good position to respond to the needs of the newcomers.

In the 1980s, churches, synagogues and other houses of worship were central in the immigration crisis plaguing the border at that time. Then, the people crossing the border were fleeing their Central American home countries to escape civil war and political turmoil. The immigrants at the heart of today’s debates originate from many of the same Central American countries, but instead of warfare, they are fleeing high crime rates and gang problems. In the 1980s, Congress eventually passed legislation allowing certain groups temporary protected status, but today the crisis is far murkier.

A 2008 law signed by then-President George W. Bush forbids the immediate deportation ofunaccompanied minors arriving from Central American countries, instead allowing them to stay in the U.S. legally until they are given a court hearing to determine whether they are permitted to stay or are deported.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied minors entering the country illegally from January through mid-May came from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Those coming from Guatemala, DHS research shows, hail largely from rural areas, leading experts to believe many of the Guatemalan children are coming to the U.S. in pursuit of economic opportunity. Conversely, research shows many of the children arriving from El Salvador and Honduras come from regions plagued by violence, such as San Pedro Sula, the Honduran city deemed the murder capital of the world, where an average of four murders — many gang-related — take place every day.

While Maryland is some 1,700 miles north of the nearest U.S.-Mexico border crossing, the problem has ripple effects in almost every state. Most recently, news has spread of a rift between Gov. Martin O’Malley and the administration of longtime ally President Barack Obama over where to house some of the children while they await their hearing.

O’Malley has spoken out against mass deportations, describing such actions as sending the children “back to certain death,” but opposed a rumored plan to house some of the unaccompanied minors at a site in Carroll County, where anti-immigration graffiti appeared earlier in July.

Arthur Abramson, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, sympathizes with O’Malley about the danger in sending the children back to their home countries.

“In my view these children are victims,” said Abramson. He pointed to immigration laws passed in the U.S. before and during World War II that made it difficult for Jews in Europe to seek safety in America as effectively sentencing them to death in concentration camps and insisted officials look at the current situation in the context of history.

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Ground Incursion Hits Home

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Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke
inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.
(Provided)

The human cost of Israel’s ground incursion in the Gaza Strip hit close to home in the United States this week, with a Beth Tfiloh graduate hospitalized and Jewish communities in Los Angeles and South Texas losing members in the fighting.

Among the wounded was Baltimore native Jordan Low, a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his company escape from a burning building.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 25 soldiers have been killed since July 17 as of publication. On Monday morning, five IDF soldiers were in serious or critical condition, 15 were in stable condition, and 40 were seeking treatment for injuries, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Palestinian death toll had reached 565 by press time Monday since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, according to Gaza health officials.

In Baltimore, the Beth Tfiloh community has rallied behind Low with phone calls, prayers and volunteers to visit him, according to Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s director of education.

“He was quite the hero according to his dad,” Schorr said. “Until everyone escaped from this burning building that was hit by Hamas, he held the ladder until every single guy got out safely, which is why he was so affected by the fumes.”

Jeffrey Low, Jordan’s father, was flying out to see Jordan with his younger son, Josh, 15, on Monday evening. Low spoke to his son’s doctor Monday morning, who said his blood pressure and other health indicators were good.

Jordan Low’s company, Golani Brigade’s Unit 51, was searching for arms on the second story of a Hamas building in Northern Gaza when Hamas fired two rockets at the building and it burst into flames, Low said. All 15 soldiers, four of whom received serious injuries, were airlifted to a Tel Aviv hospital, he said.

“Jordan going into the IDF … I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Low said. “He’s in Israel and doesn’t have to be there. Being a chayal boded [lone soldier] is highly coveted, and I think those things show the kind of young man Jordan is.”

Two American soldiers and members of the Golani Brigade, Max Steinberg, 24, of Beersheba and Los Angeles, and Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana and South Padre Island, Texas, were killed Sunday. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood.

Israel’s stated objectives in the ground invasion are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a July 17 statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that announced the invasion, “restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza — its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to transport arms and personnel. The invasion started after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire.

President Obama told Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

On Monday, Israeli troops killed 10 terrorists who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza.

The terrorists emerged from the tunnel Monday morning into Southern Israel between two kibbutzes near the border with Gaza, the IDF reported. The IDF said its radar captured the infiltration.

One cell of infiltrators was struck by Israeli airstrikes, the IDF said, and a second cell was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops.

Residents of the two kibbutzes, Erez and Nir Am, and some surrounding southern Israeli towns were ordered to remain in their homes with the doors locked for several hours on Monday morning as the IDF searched for more possible infiltrators.

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Mussar Yoga

072514_mishmash-bookBy Edith Brotman, Ph.D.
Jewish Lights Publishing, 191 pages

Though the earliest references to the Jewish spiritual practice of mussar date to ancient times, the focus on ethics re-emerged in the 19th century when revered scholar Rabbi Israel Salanter of Lithuania and his disciples formalized its study, creating a Mussar Movement in Germany and Russia. Amid religious persecution of the Jews in the early 20th century, the movement languished, but in recent years, mussar has enjoyed a revival in some Jewish circles.

In her 2014 book, “Mussar Yoga,” local author Edith Brotman posits that when practiced together, mussar and yoga, a spiritual tradition originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, “open a new pathway to developing greater wholeness.” Brotman writes that both traditions encourage self-study, self-improvement, ethical living and, ultimately, a closer relationship to the divine.

In “Mussar Yoga,” Brotman articulates the histories and philosophical underpinnings of each discipline, illustrating how much the two practices share in common and how well they complement each other.

Brotman writes in a clear, concise and conversational style, making “Mussar Yoga” a pleasure to read and easy to understand. The book includes real-life examples, photos that demonstrate yoga poses, journaling and discussion topics and guided meditations. Those who seek greater peace, meaning and fulfillment would do well to give “Mussar Yoga” a read.

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And, the Price is Right

Meat lovers rejoice, because there’s a new kosher game in town that rivals in both price and quality the wood-paneled, white-tableclothed varieties that have for years plied their trade in offering decidedly treif hunks of juicy steak.

The brainchild of Accents Grill and Cocoaccinos owners Lara and Larry Franks, Serengeti aims to do for Baltimore kosher cuisine what such establishments as Ruth’s Chris and Capital Grille have done for everybody else; its mission is to be no less than the final authority when it comes to competitively priced, high-quality dining that, while offering gourmet flavors, focuses on, as Lara Franks said in her South African lilt, “giving diners a healthy portion of protein at a good value.”

With a décor heavy on earth tones and angular designs and metal antelope heads hung on the walls, Serengeti evokes the spirit of an African hunting lodge or a rustic cabin. On a recent Wednesday evening, the place was packed, and a hurried Franks, who serves as hostess, revealed that the indoor location — the OU-supervised restaurant sits behind Accents in the Atrium mall at the Greenspring Shopping Center off of Smith Avenue — has had steady dinner and lunch crowds ever since a soft opening in late June. Reservations, she said, are highly recommended.

That the restaurant gets by essentially on word of mouth — Serengeti is just now beginning an advertising campaign — is a testament to the niche its owners identified several years ago, said Phil Rosenfeld, who manages the front of the house. “The idea is a classy steakhouse, something that was missing from the Baltimore kosher scene.”

Appetizers run from $7.50 for the soup of the day — it happened to be beef brisket split pea this particular night — to $17 for what Rosenfeld said is the restaurant’s most popular dish, a plate of sweet and spicy bourbon-braised short ribs served over creamy grits and topped with crispy onions. The meat, offering a substantial dose of smokiness with a hint of spice against a background of peppercorn, falls off the bone, while a tuna ceviche tower ($12) presents alternating layers of diced raw fish on “crackers” of tortilla chips and dollops of avocado cream.

For the main course, the Franks, along with Chef Daniel Neuman — a returnee to Baltimore after stints in New York kosher catering outfits — are taking an all-encompassing approach. Their menu leans heavy on steaks to be sure — grilled rib eyes can be ordered on the bone or boneless in both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cuts, spice rubbed or accompanied by one of three house sauces — but diners can also choose from braised lamb shank with red wine reduction ($27), a fish dish, two chicken entrées ($18), a vegan lentil shepherd’s pie ($18) or four entrée-sized salads ($15-$25). The chili-rubbed seared steak tournedos with peppercorn sauce ($42 for 16 ounces/$32 for 12 ounces) comes as thick as any chophouse filet and just as tender, while the grilled honey chipotle marinated rib eye steak ($32 for 16 ounces/$25 for 12 ounces) evokes images of Texas ranch hands enjoying a meal of well-deserved barbecued sustenance after a hard day’s work.

Eight different sides can be ordered al a carte and sandwiches include lamb burgers, hamburgers, grilled chicken and veggie varieties. Desserts run between $6 and $9.

A prix fixe option, at $50 per person, includes an appetizer, salad or soup, entrée with a side and desert.

For his part, Neuman relishes the chance to interact with his diners one on one, although he admitted that the cooking arrangement has taken some getting used to as both Accents and Serengeti share the kitchen.

“I’ve got two lines here going on simultaneously!” he shouted as assistants and wait staff scurried to and fro. When he was reminded that hotels and cruise ships frequently have multiple restaurants using central cooking facilities, he laughed: “Cruise ships! They have bigger kitchens!”

Franks, who got her start in the restaurant industry by running corporate lunch counters and catering kitchens in Southern California, said her foray into kosher dining and move to Baltimore a decade ago has been interesting. She and her husband preside over an ever-expanding empire of restaurants and, judging from the mix of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, patronizing their newest establishment, they seem to be answering a need. Less than a month since opening, some patrons have already become regulars and order without the help of the menu.

“When we designed this, we made sure that we were comparable and competitive to the non-kosher steakhouses in the area,” said Franks. “We know what the standard is on the open market and we’re going to deliver that same quality.”

Serengeti is located at 2839m Smith Ave. in Baltimore. For reservations, call 410-413-6080.


Created with flickr slideshow.
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Baltimore Foundation Announces Largest-Ever Grant

072514_mishmash-philThe Goldseker Foundation announced the largest-ever grant in the local organization’s 39-year history: $1.5 million to the Baltimore Community Foundation.

The grant will also benefit BCF’s affiliated entities — Healthy Neighborhoods, Inc. and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

“The Goldseker Foundation is very proud of its long-term support of BCF,” Sheldon Goldseker, chairman of the foundation’s board, said in a statement. “Through its civic leadership, advocacy and grant making, BCF has come to play an increasingly vital role in Baltimore’s philanthropic community.”

Since 1979, the Goldseker Foundation has provided more than $4 million in grants to the organization. Since 2000, it has provided approximately $3 million in additional support to Healthy Neighborhoods and the CMTA.

“The sustained grant support of the Goldseker Foundation has been instrumental to the growth and development of BCF,” said that organization’s chairman, Raymond Bank. “We are grateful for the decades of fruitful partnership between BCF and the Goldseker Foundation and look forward to future collaborations to benefit Baltimore and the region.”