Baltimore Jewish Film Festival Turns 29

“Rock in the Red Zone” (Dir. Laura Bialias; 2015, Israel) (Photo Provided)

“Rock in the Red Zone” (Dir. Laura Bialias; 2015, Israel) (Photo Provided)

The Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the JCC of Greater Baltimore will present the 29th annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival starting Sunday, March 19.

Running through Sunday, April 30, the festival — one of the oldest in the country — will screen nearly 20 short and feature films from around the world and will be bringing a number of special guests to take part in spirited question-and-answer sessions following certain showings.

“Baltimore is the cultural hub of the region,” said Alyson Bonavoglia, director of film festival & special projects at the Gordon, which is for the second time facilitating the BJFF.

“It’s a region that has one of the largest and most vibrant Jewish communities on the East, so it absolutely makes sense to have a Jewish film  festival in Baltimore.”

“Even though, technically, we’re not actually in Baltimore,” Bonavoglia laughed about  the Gordon’s being located in Owings Mills.

“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” (Dir. Daniel Raim; 2015, USA) (Photo Provided)

“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” (Dir. Daniel Raim; 2015, USA) (Photo Provided)

Seventy films were originally nominated (by word of mouth or direct submission) for the festival, and the selection committee made its decisions from July to November 2016.

“It was pretty obvious after all of the vetting which ones rose to the top,” Bonavoglia said.

One such film is director Laura Bialis’ documentary “Rock in the Red Zone,” which will have its Maryland premiere at the BJFF on Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m.

“I’ve done a lot of films about Jewish subjects,” said Bialis, 43, who grew up in and still lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will be coming out to the Gordon to speak at her screening. “They tend to be about human rights stuff.”

Bialis lived in Israel for 10 years to produce her film, which explores the unique music scene that has sprung up in the war-torn city of Sderot. Dangerously close to Gaza, Sderot has been pummeled by rocket fire for the past 15 years, and yet, what Bialis found there was “some of the most amazing music I had ever heard, coming from some of the most incredible bands.”

During the process of filming — which included learning Hebrew and becoming so ingrained in the community of Sderot that she began giving tours to other visiting Americans — Bialis also discovered a young singer-songwriter who became more than a large focus of her story.

Originally roommates who hadn’t known each other prior, Bialis and Avi Vaknin would become friends and then husband and wife over the span of the film’s chronicling of what eventually became a very personal journey for the director.

The two moved back to Bialis’ hometown so that she could tour around the country with her film (which premiered in the United States in November 2015) and husband Vaknin could play his music, often as a live-action part of the film screenings.

“Awake Zion” (Dir. Monica Haim; 2013, USA) (Photo Provided)

“Awake Zion” (Dir. Monica Haim; 2013, USA) (Photo Provided)

Scurrying away from rocket fire while running around with her camera was a challenge for Bialis that was only mitigated in part by the fantastic stories she heard and people she met, along with that singular music of those who had grown up ready to run at any moment from impending missile attacks.

“There were times that the rockets fell right across the street from our house,” Bialis said. “But since the most intimate stuff was just me and my camera and these people, I  felt like I needed to be there. I became friends with all of these people, and it changed the film, making it what it is today.”

The 29th annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival will take place at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts from Sunday, March 19 to Sunday, April 30; tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door and $5 for students (at the door only, as available); for more information, visit

You Should Know… "Ragin'" Randy Harris

"Ragin'" Randy Harris (Provided)

“Ragin'” Randy Harris (Provided)

“Ragin’” Randy Harris has always been passionate about music. And while his 9-to-5 days are spent in the banking industry, he has turned his love of music into a serious side hustle.

The 29-year-old Memphis, Tenn., native had a lot of plans before finding his niche. He was given the moniker — for which his entertainment business is named — while an undergraduate engineering student at the University of Wisconsin. However, he quickly decided that engineering was not his path and ended up earning a degree in music business and communications from the University of Memphis.

“My initial plan was to go to law school and become an entertainment attorney,” said Harris. “I wanted to help artists make sure they were getting fair contracts. I was accepted to the University of Memphis’ law school, but I had a full-time job working with my dad in finance. I ended up getting married instead.”

Harris cites the change of plans as “the best choice of my life,” and he has been happily married to wife Lydia for three years.

Since moving to Baltimore in June 2015, Harris has kept a full-time job in finance at an M&T Bank in Timonium. However, he also maintains his own business, Ragin’ Randy Entertainment, which recently partnered with Heady Entertainment. Together, they provide management, promotion, photography and journalism to the music scene of the mid-Atlantic region.

How did you become so involved with music?

I have been a music lover my whole life, my dad too — it runs in the family. I grew up in Memphis, which is a music town. When I was in seventh grade, I took band as a fine arts class. I picked percussion and played that until my junior year, then dropped it to play guitar in the jazz band. I bought my first guitar with bar mitzvah money, and I ended up being chosen as the first-chair guitarist in the All-West Tennessee Jazz Blues Band my senior year.

I majored in music business and communications because the University of Memphis didn’t have a broadcasting degree at the time. I was a DJ on the university’s all-jazz radio station, which is one of the only all-jazz stations in the country.

I decided to start sending concert music reviews to random publications that I followed to see if I could get them to pick me up. At this point, I was just writing reviews of shows that I was going to for fun. I wasn’t extremely hopeful. Then I got a response from Grateful Music. One of the main guys for the site lived in Memphis as well, so they picked me up. My first review was of a local band, Agori Tribe, that, funny enough, I now manage.

How did you transition to management?

I was absolutely mind-blown [by Agori Tribe] because they are all instrumental, which I love, and very progressive. I covered them a few more times, and we became friends. Eventually, they asked me to be their manager because they knew that I had a music business background. The big thing I learned is that gig swaps are a good way to play new cities while also giving a band from somewhere else an opportunity to play in your hometown. Basically, if we wanted to go play Nashville but hadn’t played there, I would reach out to a Nashville band who I think would fit the bill and say, “We want to come to Nashville, so let us play in front of your crowd with you headlining, and then you come to Memphis, and we will play and you open.”

How do you like the Baltimore music scene?

I love it. It has been absolutely incredible. It is a very community-oriented scene; it is very welcoming, especially with local venues like The 8×10. I felt I was welcomed into the family immediately. All of the musicians who I have met are extremely humble and extremely talented. I can go out on any night of the week and see great local music.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Beth Tfiloh

left to right: Shira Pomerantz as Silly Girl 3, Noah Broth as Gaston, Molly Azrael as Silly Girl 1, and Alana Gordon as Silly Girl 2 PC: Ashley Case

Beth Tfiloh cast members run through a scene. (Ashley Case)

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School invites theater and  musical lovers to “be our guest” for its upcoming performances of “Beauty and the Beast,” based on the beloved Disney animated film.

The show brings together an impressive number of cast members — 45, according to Diane Smith, the school’s theatrical director and instructor.

“This show is huge, cast-wise,” said Smith, who detailed that in addition to the show’s well-known main characters of the young girl Belle who  is being held captive by the  enchanted Beast, there will be a crowd of actors onstage portraying the talking/singing  objects in the Beast’s castle and the townspeople outside.

Smith noted the large cast satisfied two of her goals: making sure there were enough parts for “the many talented students Beth Tfiloh is blessed to have” as well as concocting a challenge of putting together such a complex show for herself and students alike.

To ensure this year’s production outdoes the school’s previous performance of “Beauty and the Beast” a little more than a decade ago, Smith is delighted by her students’ involvement in the technical aspects of the show — from onstage effects to sound design and set design — and how hard they are working to create something that should be a radiant experience for patrons of all ages.

Performances run Feb. 5, 7, 8 and 9.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Gone Viral? No Sweat, Just Sweaters

Sam Barsky sports a home-made sweater at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. (Provided)

Sam Barsky sports a homemade sweater at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. (Provided)

Sam Barsky is easily recognizable by his hand-knit sweaters that depict themes ranging from nature scenery to Jewish holidays to well-known landmarks and tourist destinations.

Earlier this month, Barsky, 42, reached new levels of fame that put him in the international spotlight. A post on the website Imgur, self-described as “the best place to share and enjoy the most awesome images on the Internet,” went viral the first weekend January.

“I looked at my Facebook page and had over 100 friend requests all at once,” said Barsky. “Some mystery person found out about my sweaters and posted about them on a site that I had never heard of before without talking to me, which is not the first time it has happened. It apparently become their most popular article of the day, made their front page and went viral.”

Author’s note: How viral is viral? We scrolled through the comments section of the Imgur post and still couldn’t reach the bottom after five minutes.

Since then, the mass media picked up on the story. Media outlets all over the world have published stories and are actively seeking out Barsky for interviews.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I have a few thousand unread messages on email and on Facebook requesting all these interviews and articles. It’s too much for me to handle all at once, so I’m getting to some every day and am writing apologies about why it’s taking so long to respond — that it’s because I’m flooded and it’s nothing personal.”

Barsky was interested in learning to knit for a long time before he finally took it up. It appealed to him because he could make his own clothes with designs of his choosing. However, he found encountered a lot of difficulty when he first attempted to learn while studying nursing at the Community College of Baltimore County.

“In the middle of the ’90s, I took a book out of the library, bought some yarn and tried to figure it out. I couldn’t, so I gave up for a time and concentrated on my studies,” said Barsky. “A couple of times throughout my years in college, I signed up for courses in various places like adult education centers to try to learn how to knit, but they were always canceled due to low enrollment.”

However, 1999 proved to be a difficult year for Barsky. He started to develop mobility issues that forced him to drop out of his nursing program halfway through, in the middle of a semester. He was left trying to figure out what to do next with his life.

At a flea market one Sunday morning, Barsky had a chance encounter with three women who were knitting that would be the catalyst for his learning to do so himself.

“I asked them, ‘how do I learn how to do that?’ They told me that they owned a yarn shop, and that if I would come in, they would teach me for free on the condition that I bought their yarn,” Barsky explained. “I made a point of wearing a commercial sweater with a multicolored paisley pattern the first time I went in, because I wanted to show them what my goals were.”

The yarn shop was Woolworks Inc. on Falls Road, which is now in a new location with new owners, according to Barsky. He was told in the beginning that making sweaters was for experienced knitters, so the women started him on a scarf instead, which he never finished. Several weeks later, a friend that he had met at the shop told him of another store called Woolstock Knit & Sew in Glyndon.

“The moment I walked in, the owner, Leslye Solomon, told me that I would walk out of the shop having started work on a sweater — I was very excited about it,” he said. “She started me on a solid color sweater. It took me about eight months to complete it, but I got it done just in the nick of time before the end of the millennium.”

After knitting two initial sweaters, each monochromatic, Barsky decided to challenge himself and create a sweater that depicted a map of the world in five months, followed by a nature scene “that had a picture on the back of a tall waterfall and a cloudy sky, and on the front it depicted a raging river with a covered bridge and waterwheel.”

The latter took him just two months to finish and he declared it a success — “People didn’t mistake for something else!” Since that time, Barsky has amassed an enormous collection of sweaters, and now averages about a month to make each sweater.

“At that point I realized I could put anything on a sweater,” he said. “I realized I could do buildings and iconic land marks, I did a castle. It’s really weird, but I did the Twin Towers before 9/11. I also did the Tower Bridge in London. Fast forward several months, I decided it would be nice if I had some Jewish-themed sweaters, so I made a Sukkot sweater, and shortly after that, a Chanukah sweater. Over the years that followed, I was making sweaters of many different landmarks all over the world, nature scenes, at least one for every Jewish holiday. By 2016, I was a celebrity within the worldwide knitting community.”

At first, Barsky would just come up with the idea for his next sweater off the top of his head. However, if he was going to visit a location that he had depicted in a sweater, he figured that he might as well wear that particular sweater — what better place to wear it? “I wouldn’t think of going somewhere with the point being to get a picture,” Barsky explained, however. “Whenever you’re at a tourist attraction, it’s normal to take pictures.” What stood out was his sweaters, rather than that he was taking a picture.

“Over time I realized I had a good collection of 10 to 15 pictures [wearing a sweater depicting my surroundings] — they weren’t the greatest, but at that point I realized I had to grow the collection and I would take pictures like that at every opportunity.”

Today, Barksy has a total of 104 sweaters, with matching pictures for 93 of them.

“For 105, I am doing a Groundhog Day sweater. I was planning to make an Martin Luther King Day sweater, it’s about halfway done, but because of this past week of publicity, I didn’t have the time to finish it,” said Barsky. “Since I only have two weeks, I’m focusing on getting the Groundhog Day one done. After that, I’ll find out what to do next based on what place we plan to travel to or what event comes up.”

D’oh Nuts! Local doughnut pop-up opens Hampden brick-and-mortar store

Josh Kowitz. (Mathew Klickstein)

Josh Kowitz (Mathew Klickstein)

Reisterstown native and resident Josh Kowitz, 34, calls out to one of his employees in the kitchen to use only a little bit of strawberry extract … “and a little bit of pink food coloring.”

It’s Thursday, Jan. 12, the first day of business for Kowitz and his Hampden-based doughnut shop, Center Cut Doughnuts.

“Add water liberally and then just thin it out a little bit,” he continues, giving instructions to his small staff in his quaint-sized store at 3528 Chestnut Ave., around the corner from his friends and pseudo-mentors at The Charmery.

Aside from being so close to Dave Alima and wife Laura who opened up and run ice cream store The Charmery — where Kowitz had installed an early pop-up incarnation of Center Cut multiple times over the two years he ran it as such a transient entity — 3528 Chestnut Ave. had another  obvious appeal for the new doughnut shop.

Kowitz lucked into finding a space that just happened to  already exist as a doughnut store.

Having closed their doors in November, the owners of B. Doughnut sold extant pieces of equipment to Kowitz, allowing him to more easily transition his pop-up, appearing regularly at the Hampden Farmers’ Market since May 2015, into his first brick and mortar.

His soft opening celebration of a sort took place on Tuesday, Jan. 10 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Regular hours are 7 a.m, to 2 p.m. now that Center Cut is officially open.)

“We overbaked,” Kowitz said with a hearty laugh. “We had a bunch of extra doughnuts left over.”

As such, Kowitz went out on the street with his staff giving out free doughnuts to passers-by. By this point, it was the “dessert hour,” as Kowitz phrased it, and he was able to hand out plenty of delectable doughy treats to Baltimoreans happening by.

For the time being, Kowitz is focusing on a basic line of specialty, gourmet doughnuts until he gets his footing, as he said.

“Just until I can start paying rent with some money in the register,” he said, again laughing. “I’m pretty close to that  already.”

A fan of the beloved animated television series “The Simpsons,” Kowitz has named his pink sprinkled doughnut the “Homer,” after the paterfamilias of America’s favorite highlighter-colored dysfunctional family.

There are a tidy handful of “Simpsons” action figures in the aqua-blue tinted doughnut display, and Homer’s face eating a pink doughnut not unlike those that can be purchased at Center Cut emblazons Kowitz’s chef’s apron.

“I mean, who doesn’t like  ‘The Simpsons’?” Kowitz said. “[The show’s] just synonymous [with doughnuts.]”

Kowitz went on to say that that his fandom of the show “doesn’t drive him,” though. “It’s not my life.”

Along with his signature brown butter doughnuts, old-fashioned glazed and lemon poppy challah doughnut (made from fried challah dough), it would seem these delicious sugary confections are his life.

Kowitz began trying his hand at making the perfect doughnut (or at least close enough) while still working his day job as a credit analyst for the past five years. His grandfather being a pastry chef and his family running the erstwhile local deli Bubb’s as well as a chain of local markets, Kowitz said food has been in his blood, be it making, serving or selling it.

For six to eight months, Kowitz said, he came home from work every night and went straight to his alchemical experimentations in determining the ideal yeast formulation.

“I’d try all these different kinds,” Kowitz said. “I’d go on the internet, I’d do this, I’d do that. And then I think by accident, I stumbled on this — a light, crispy, airy doughnut — and a light bulb went off for my ‘Aha! moment.’”

Center Cut Doughnuts. (Mathew Klickstein)

Center Cut Doughnuts (Mathew Klickstein)

After bringing his successes (and occasional failures) to the office, Kowitz began hearing from delighted co-workers that his concoctions were good enough for the open market.

Center Cut Doughnuts, so named for Kowitz’s love of baseball (center cut being a fast ball straight down the middle “and a doughnut has a hole in the center of it,” chuckled Kowitz), was born.

Doors are now open on Kowitz’s first full-fledged store after cutting his teeth at those farmers’ market appearances and pop-ups at The Charmery.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them,” Kowitz said of his longtime friends and husband-and-wife co-owners of The Charmery. “They helped me get my name out there, certainly.”

Having lacked the time and resources last minute before opening, Kowitz enlisted in the help of Dave Alima, who was more than happy to lend a hand … and a few blue plastic trays.

“Ice cream has given me my dream life,” said Alima. “And if I can help my friends achieve their dream life, I’m going to do whatever I can every time. This was something [Kowitz] had talked about for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have him here.

“The doughnuts are great, and it’s complementary to our ice cream. Who doesn’t want that in a neighborhood?”

Alima’s not alone in his declaration, with customers such as Jemal Cole trumpeting, “I’m a fan!”

Waiting in line on the first morning for his Center Cut fix, Cole has followed Kowitz’s creation since it was first  offered at the farmers’ market and also attended the store’s soft opening.

“I like that they’re local, I like that they’re new and different, that they’re not a chain,” Cole said.

Wendy Doak, another customer in line, hadn’t heard of Center Cut before reading about the shop’s opening in the newspaper but agrees that “I like to support local: I think it keeps the businesses and character alive of the city.”

Hampden’s “forward-thinking acceptance of new ideas,” as Kowitz sees it, is exactly what made the town a perfect place to kick-start Center Cut.

“If I were to tell someone who was visiting Baltimore where to go for food,” Kowitz said, “I’d tell them to go to Hampden. It’s the food mecca of Baltimore.”

“Doughnuts and ice cream,” Alima concurred. “This is the kind of stuff that makes Baltimore great!”

From Westminster to LA: a ‘Flock’ on the Move


Brian Levin (Provided)

It didn’t take long for Brian Levin to get his creative juices flowing through his passion for writing and producing and his penchant for entertaining audiences.

When Levin, now 36, was a kid, he would put on comedy sketches with his cousins and friends in his Westminster, Md., neighborhood.

For his family and friends, those performances were just a way to pass the time, but for Levin, it laid the foundation to follow his dreams into show business.

“Gradually, I kept coming back to creating programs in that form,” Levin said. “I was always interested in writing and how I could run with the creativity in anything I put together.”

Levin, now a Los Angeles resident, recently made the jump to the big screen. This past September, he made his feature film debut as a writer and producer with the worldwide theatrical release of “Flock of Dudes.”

The film, available on iTunes and Starz Digital, is a comedy about a 30-something party guy who decides to “break up” with his buddies so he can mature into adulthood. From the initial idea to the release of the film, Levin said, it was a strenuous but rewarding process that took more than nine years to complete.

“Being able to execute this film and have it come out the way I wanted was a very gratifying experience, because I delivered the movie I intended,” Levin said. “That’s not always the case for someone’s first feature film.”

Levin, who became a bar mitzvah at Beth El Congregation, has come a long way from when he attended Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County.

A Carroll County native, Levin attended Liberty High School in Eldersburg for ninth and 10th grades and graduated from McDonogh School in 1998 after transferring prior to his junior year. It was at Towson University where Levin said he honed his screenwriting skills, taking several classes on the subject and eventually graduating with a communications degree in 2002.

After earning his master’s degree in visual media from American University in 2004, Levin hit the ground running, writing and producing for household TV networks such as Comedy Central and Spike, among others. Along the way, he has built working relationships with fellow writers and producers.

When he moved to New York in 2005, Levin joined Bob Castrone, also a Towson University graduate, and Jason Zumwalt to start “The Post Show,” a series of online comedy videos and shorts. Little did they know at the time, Castrone said, that “The Post Show” would evolve into a collaboration on “Flock of Dudes.”

“We’ve all been really fortunate to be able to work together and develop such a strong rapport,” said Castrone, who made his feature film directorial debut with “Flock of Dudes.” “It’s been very rewarding to see how much we’ve grown from producing sketches to [producing] a feature in such a short time.”

Levin has also branched out beyond the glitz and glamour of New York and Los Angeles.

On a visit to Austin, Texas, right before “Flock of Dudes” went into production, Levin was personally tapped by Aaron Kaufman to add some comedic elements to “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.” Kaufman, who served as a producer for the film, meshed so well with Levin that he was eventually tapped to work on “Flock of Dudes.”

“He helped write about 1,000 jokes in two days,” said Kaufman, who also has produced high-budgeted movies such as “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” and “Machete Kills.” “Robert liked them so much that he gave [Levin] a cameo in the movie. … [Levin is] tenacious, and he’s really good at pulling a team together. A lot of writers come from out of town to Los Angeles hoping to make it big, and Brian has been able to do that in a really interesting way.”

Levin considers himself a throwback to an earlier time, citing iconic Baltimorean film directors John Waters and Barry Levinson as two of his biggest influences.

Eventually, Levin would like to return to Maryland to film a project centering on Baltimore in a similar mold to Levinson’s “Diner” or Waters’ “Cry Baby.” Though he did not provide any specifics regarding the plot, Levin did admit that the script was already completed.

While Levin says he makes the cross-country trek to visit family and friends as often as possible, he has also taken advantage of those trips to scout locations for his next venture.

At any given time, Levin said, he is working on anywhere from 15 to 20 projects to keep as many options open as possible.

“There are a couple of scripts that I have written and feel very excited about,” Levin said. “Right now, I’m just waiting on the strategy to see what the next move is for my next project.”

Jewish Film Series Turns 25


“Deli Man” (

The Columbia Jewish Congregation will be calling “Action!” on another season of four engaging and thought-provoking films starting Saturday, Jan. 14.

2017 marks the 25th Columbia Jewish Congregation’s Film Series.

Each film, handpicked by the CJC’s dedicated selection committee, deals explicitly with the Jewish experience. The screenings take place once a month, with the final showing on Saturday, April 22.

For the price of a single ticket ($10 at the door) or a sliding scale for cost-conscious ticket packages ($19 for two films, $27 for three films and $32 for four films), patrons can enjoy the evening’s screening as well as refreshments (cookies, a fruit plate, coffee and tea) and a “talkback” following the movie for those who wish to discuss the film.

“I started the film series based on my comment to the rabbi at Columbia Jewish Congregation at the time — Martin Siegel — that it would be fun,” said former CJC congregant Sylvia Bloch.

“He said, ‘Yeah, why don’t you start it?’”

Originally from New Jersey, current Columbia retiree Bloch has enjoyed a varied career ranging from teaching to working as the on-site editor for a physics laboratory.

Bloch had long been a member of CJC before moving on recently to another area synagogue. She still remains on the eight-person selection committee for films, however, and graciously passed along her initial duties as coordinator of the series in the 19th year of its run.

She also refers to herself as a “gadfly” in the area, qualifying herself as “not the only one” with a playful chuckle. As such, in addition to facilitating a great deal of the publicity for this year’s film series, Bloch helps to choose which films will be screened.

“We usually start deciding toward the end of May or  beginning of June,” Bloch said. “Each committee member suggests films, and we usually end up with about 16 to decide on.”

From there, Bloch went on to describe, one person on  the committee is tasked with researching integral aspects of screening the films nominated — exhibition cost, length, availability, etc. — before the group continues to discuss further by email.

The top picks are also chosen over a continued email correspondence before the group comes to decide upon the order in which the films will be shown.

In aid of trying to present an eclectic pool of entries for the series each year, genre is also an important determining  factor in the selection.

“It’s the first thing we look for,” said Bloch, adding the four genres they tend to screen are “humor, which is very difficult [to decide on], drama, documentary and something light, like a musical.”

Bloch said the committee may sometimes choose two films within the same genre if the films are different enough from one another.

The price of showing the film is also a significant consideration; in order to legally sell tickets to the films, the congregation must purchase the rights to do so. This expense can range anywhere from $125 (for older films) to $7,000 for more recent films in higher demand.

It’s for this reason that the film series will occasionally show older films whose rights might be less cost-prohibitive.

On Saturday, March 18, for example, the series will present the 2012 Israeli film “The Farewell Party.”

The 95-minute Hebrew language feature (subtitled in English) “is a unique, compassionate and funny story of a group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home who decide to help their terminally ill friend,” as detailed by the CJC flier for the series.

“When rumors of their assistance begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help and the friends are faced with a life-and-death dilemma,” the CJC concludes in its  description of the film.

Others include the 2015 film from the U.S., “Rosenwald”; the 2016 Israeli film “The Kind Words”; and the 2014 U.S. film “Deli Man.”

“I find it really pleasant that people come up to me asking when the flier will be sent out,” Bloch said about the series that typically brings in around 175 to 200 viewers. “It’s an anticipated event.”

Maccabeats, Naturally 7 Come Together for MLK Performance


Maccabeats (Photo provided)

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and for the third year running the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts is putting on a celebration.

This year, the much-loved Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group, will be performing with another well-known a cappella group, Naturally 7, for the first time. Last year, the two groups came together to record James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., releasing it for MLK Day 2016.

Among the nearly half million views of the video was Randi Benesch, managing director of arts and culture for the JCC of Greater Baltimore. She asked the two groups if they’d come and perform together — something they had yet to do — and both groups agreed.

“I love that video and was so inspired,” she said. “It’s probably the event I’m most looking forward to this season.”
Benesch said she believed the performance will be the biggest MLK Day event in Baltimore County. There are two shows on Sunday at 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Both are almost sold out, Benesch said, as of late last week.

The Maccabeats are known for singing about Jewish holidays and have been touring since 2011. Naturally 7, whose members are all African-American, formed in New York in 1999. Both groups are looking forward to performing with the other, especially since neither usually performs with other groups.

“I think it’s going to be exhilarating performing music that we love with people that we love for people that we love,” said Julian Horowitz, the music director for the Maccabeats.


Naturally 7 (Photo provided)

Roger Thomas, the leader of Naturally 7, agreed. He went on to say that, in this time, a coming together of disparate groups is a perfect celebration of what King stood for.

“With the many racial tensions in the nation, particularly right now, I think that this is super significant,” he said. “I’m very pleased that we’ve done [the video] and made that statement.”

That, said Benesch, gets to the heart of what she hopes the concert will inspire in those who attend.

“That’s the part I most look forward to,” she said. “This is a celebration, and art can really bring us together. Music, especially, can unite a community.”

Along with the concert, student choirs from Owings Mills High School and Milford Mill Academy will be performing beforehand in the lobby, which will be decorated with art from students of Krieger Schechter Day School.

The last time the Maccabeats came to Baltimore, for Chanukah in 2015, they sold out the performance.

With all the performances they do, Horowitz said, it can sometimes be hard to work up new excitement for the next one. Not so for the MLK performance.

“This one actually is really special, and I think it’s going to be a day to remember,” he said.

Benesch too thinks this event is going to be a big hit — for everyone.

“No matter what age you are, what religion you are, what race you are, you will love this event,” she said.

Each year since they started, the JCC’s MLK Day events continue to grow, and Benesch is pleased she can reach a wide, varied audience with this show.

“Our community is diverse, our membership is diverse,” she said. “I always look for
opportunities to bring our diverse community together through the arts.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit

The event is sponsored by JCC Association’s Making Music Happen Centennial Grant Initiative, which is funded by a grant from Marvin J. Pertzik and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.

Jewish Filmmakers Go for the Gold Praise for this year’s Golden Globe nominees … and some snubs


Natalie Portman in “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (Ran Mendelson)

2016 was a bountiful year when it came to cinematic output by those a part of or exploring themes integral to the Jewish community.

With the Golden Globe Award ceremony — which many still believe to be an early glimpse into Academy Award possibilities — taking place Sunday, it’s time to spotlight which films were nominated and which ones were left in the darkness.

Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, the Hebrew-language period piece “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” is an example of films noticeably left off of the heralded roster this year.

“Portman crafts a tale of loss, memory, life and death, juxtaposed with the astringent triumph of an oppressed people over the forces that would  destroy them,” Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair/professor in the film and moving image program at Stevenson University, wrote in his review for popular website “Hammer & Nail.” The local film critic is a regular speaker at cinema events through various area Jewish organizations such as the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival.

Although she and her film received no nominations for “Love and Darkness,” Jerusalem- born Portman was nominated in the category of best actress, drama for her role as Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s biopic of the former first lady, “Jackie.”

“It seems that every other critic liked it, and I would like to sing her praises, but I found the film — which was lovely to look at — unbearable to watch,” Reed said in an interview with the JT. “I love [Natalie Portman], and I’m a big fan. I loved her in ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness.’ But I found [‘Jackie’] really hard to sit through because it was all ‘performance.’

“Yes, I think [Larrain] was trying to make a statement about how these people in wealthy society have to put on a persona,” Reed went on to say. “But they’re also real people, and I don’t believe there was ever a time in the film when that was shown.”

An actress nominated by the Golden Globes that Reed said he can “sing the praises of from here to kingdom come” is French femme fatale Isabelle Huppert for her role in Paul Verhoeven’s taut erotic thriller “Elle.”

“She can do no wrong,” Reed said about the Jewish actress who has been a mainstay in films produced by some of Europe’s most masterful directors since her early teens.

“[‘Elle’] was exploitive like so many of [Verhoeven’s] films,” Reed said about the filmmaker, whose body of work includes such contentious “exploitation” films as “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls,” as well as modern sci-fi classics “RoboCop” (1987) and “Total Recall” (1990).

“But I will say that in ‘Elle,’ [Verhoeven] examines that  exploitation in a more complex way than he has in the past,” Reed said. “[Huppert] plays both prey and predator. I’m more of a fan of hers here than I am of the film, which I’m still making up my mind about. I wonder how much of what I liked [about ‘Elle’] was her performance.”

Though he had a few problems, as he put it, with the slightly “improbable” third act, Reed greatly enjoyed Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs,” featuring Jonah Hill who was nominated for best actor, comedy.

“I feel [Hill is] an actor who brings quality to everything he does,” Reed said about the Jewish actor/writer who emerged from the realm of Judd Apatow’s regular ensemble over the last few years.

Another film that was notably left off of the Golden Globe nom list this year is Nate Parker’s antebellum slave drama “The Birth of a Nation,” which Reed called “a worthy first feature,” despite the fact that “I didn’t like everything about it.”

In Reed’s opinion, the film, produced by Jewish Baltimore native and Jemicy graduate Jason Berman, suffers from two important factors working against it for Golden Globe nominations.

He believes that the massive amount of accolades that “Nation” received when it first premiered at Sundance this past year, winning both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards as well as selling for a record-breaking amount to distributor Fox Searchlight, made for a picture that was just waiting to be knocked down a peg or two by the critical consortium.

This turned out to be especially true when the film’s  director/co-writer and lead actor Parker was wrangled into a very different kind of spotlight as past allegations of sexual misconduct emerged later in 2016, casting a dark cloud of controversy over the film.

“When a movie is snubbed even from the ‘snub list,’ you have an idea where it’s at,” Berman, who was an artist-in-residence at Reed’s Stevenson University in 2015, said. “People don’t even want to have a conversation about it.”

It’s difficult for Berman to believe that a film so recognized during its first few months of screenings has so abruptly dropped off the critical radar for reasons aside from its extra-cinematic controversy.

“The entertainment media was not nice to our movie,” Berman said. “Our movie was definitely shied away from. We’ll see what happens with the Oscars.”

Reed offers Mel Gibson (excoriated for anti-Semitic remarks made during an inebriated police stop in 2006) and his return to the big screen as featured actor in 2016’s “Blood Father” as well  as Golden Globe nominated director of “Hacksaw Ridge” (nominated for best picture, drama) as proof that “with time, people are willing to forgive.”

Berman’s “Nation” has in fact received six nominations for the upcoming NAACP Image Awards, much to its producer’s gratitude.

“They were able to separate the film and the 400 people working on it versus the past history of its filmmaker,” Berman said. “Everyone involved in the film was very happy that happened. It was a positive thing.”

Oh, Brothers! Musicians hit the right chord with city music gear store

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

As a longtime musician residing in the Baltimore area, 35-year-old Ian Goldstein always had one rather critical problem: the shocking lack of stores that sell musical gear.

The obvious solution? Goldstein, along with his brother Brian, decided to establish a music store of his own.

Brothers Music officially opened June 13, 2015 at 2112 N. Charles St., just outside of Charles Village and the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus.

“I had the idea because I knew there was no other music store in Baltimore,” Goldstein claimed. The only other store he’s aware of in the general region is Ted’s Musicians Shop, which specializes in classical instruments and principally provides for students of the Peabody Institute.

“Apparently, they do have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein chuckled, “but it’s been sitting there for about 20-plus years.”

Although “there’s little repair shops here or there that might also have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein contends that his is the only store where patrons can fully satisfy their basic musical instrument needs, when it comes to guitars, basses and synthesizers.

Brothers also rents turntables for the DJ/electronic musician, and they provide both used and new instruments as well as an arsenal of needful accessories.

Originally from Columbia, Goldstein received his master’s degree in legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore in 2014. For the past six years, he’s worked as a government affairs specialist for the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Washington, D.C.

This vocational trajectory followed Goldstein’s nearly decade-long performing as lead singer and  guitarist of local rock band Evolve.

According to Goldstein, the group was fairly prominent in the Towson and Annapolis areas in the mid-2000s and enjoyed regular airplay on radio station 105.7, which has changed call signs and formats numerous times over the past two decades.

“I kind of retired from playing in bands,” Goldstein said. “But I’m OK with sitting behind a desk all day if I own a music store: I’m still cool, I’m still cool!”

While living in Washington from 2008 to 2011, the erstwhile rocker would come up to Baltimore every weekend “because it had the best parties, the best concerts and the best music scene” in his opinion.

“To go out to D.C. at night was costing me a fortune, too, so I was never going out there anyway, I wasn’t meeting people, and people weren’t that interesting because all the artists were in Baltimore,” Goldstein added.

He realized that if he moved to Baltimore, his rent and expenses would be far lower than what he was paying in Washington, and he has lived here ever since.

Goldstein took the volatile  nationwide reaction to the death of Freddie Gray that some have called the “Baltimore Uprising” of April 2015 as “a call to action” that inspired him to find a way to help the community he’d grown to love so passionately.

“It’s the only outlet I know as far as adding my own contribution,” Goldstein said about doing his part to bolster the struggling midtown economy.

Goldstein firmly believes that opening up independent businesses such as Brothers will continue to revitalize the city and turn Baltimore into more of a central destination spot.

As someone who makes his “bread and butter” through an unrelated full-time job (with brother Brian working full-time as a Baltimore City elementary school teacher), the store has been a way to invest in the community on an almost wholly  altruistic level.

The money Goldstein and his brother receive from sales predominantly goes to their one employee (with the brothers working mainly on weekends just to help out when they’re available).

In addition to the regular food and coat drives run through the store, Goldstein also sees Brothers as a productive “safe space” for community youths seeking reprieve from the often rough street life outside.

Goldstein will sometimes work with and mentor young Baltimoreans who come to spend time in the store. He promised one regular habitué that if the boy were to come in and practice electric guitar on a regular basis for four months straight, Goldstein would buy the guitar for him.

“He’s a quiet kid who doesn’t belong on the streets,” Goldstein said. “These are kids who live in public housing, who grow up in dangerous neighborhoods. I’m happy to take those kids in. If you want to learn how to play guitar and you don’t have access to one, I’ll find one for you.

“Other kids come in and are like, ‘Can I play the drums for five minutes?’ ‘Of course you can!’ It’s telling kids it’s OK to come in and shop or just hang out. I’m not going to kick you out.”

Goldstein admits that there are the occasional “punks” who come in and don’t stay long: “We’ve had a couple of those, but they know they’re not going to get away with anything while we’re there.”

There’s a direct connection for Goldstein’s philanthropic mindset with his Jewish  heritage, he revealed.

“I celebrate Judaism as a race and a culture more than as a religion,” Goldstein said. “I think that Jews have always had an interest in inner cities … and not just as landlords. I understand people are born into those difficult situations and can’t always get out of them.”

Goldstein went on to say that whether he’s teaching kids who come in to play instruments or occasionally taking them to baseball games and dinners, his primary mission is to prove to them that “if you play the game, follow the rules, put your head down and go to school and graduate, you can do exactly what I’m doing. I try to instill that in every kid I come across.

“I think this does have a correlation to Judaism as far as having empathy for others.”