Wishing Upon a Star

Laura Stern (Provided

Laura Stern (Provided

Many little girls dream of being a Disney princess, but for Laura Stern, the dream has become a reality. For the past three years, the 24-year-old figure skater and actor has been performing with “Disney On Ice.” This year’s show, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s legacy, is at the Baltimore Arena Feb. 5-9.

The daughter of a competitive ice skater, Stern, who grew up in Granada Hills, Calif., began skating at the age of 6.

“My mother always took me to the rink while she skated, and I wanted to try it,” she said. “One day she said ‘yes,’ and I really took to it.” Stern hasn’t left the ice since.

From the beginning, Stern was passionate about performing. She skated competitively throughout high school, winning many awards and relocating to Colorado without her family to train. She was just 16.

“I was a competitive pairs skater, and it’s always so difficult to find a partner,” said Stern. “One partnership ended so I went to a tryout in Colorado, and one of the partners [I skated with] there worked out. So I went there and lived with another family for almost a year.”

While in Colorado, Stern underwent rigorous training, but toward the end of her first year, she suffered an injury and was forced to return home.

“It was bittersweet,” she said. “I got to go to college and study theater, so I think it happened for a reason.”

Although her injuries brought an end to competitive skating, they wouldn’t put an end to her skating career.

Stern graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from California State University at Long Beach in 2011. In her last year there, she and a friend auditioned for “Disney On Ice” and were hired. It was a perfect opportunity to combine her passions for theater and ice skating. Disney also gave Stern an opportunity to see the world. Since joining the production, she has visited the Middle East, South America and Puerto Rico.

Stern was raised in a Reform family with strong ties to a synagogue and a tight-knit Jewish community.

“I had a bat mitzvah, went to Hebrew school and was in youth group all throughout high school,” she said. “It’s been a challenge being on tour and not being able to go to temple. But my parents raised me with good values, and whenever I go home, I go [to temple]. I celebrate all the Jewish holidays with my family even if it’s over Skype. Being Jewish is a huge part of my life.”

In this year’s “Disney On Ice” program, Stern’s roles include a bride in “Mulan” and a can-can girl in “Pinocchio.”

“I’m in the ensemble so I play many different parts. We have fun costumes, and the show offers a little bit of everything for both boys and girls,” she said. “This show has Aladdin and the princesses, classics like Pinocchio and newer characters from ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Finding Nemo.’”

Stern says that like many Disney fans, she grew up loving the company’s movies and princesses such as Ariel and Belle.

“After the shows, we get to go into the audience and shake hands with the kids,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to see how much it means to them. It’s a great job.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit baltimorearena.com/events/disney-on-ice/.


Jewish Geography Tackles Super Bowl

From left, Rabbi Josh Snyder and his family — Shalva, Ayelet, wife Neely and Nava — cheer for the Seahawks.

From left, Rabbi Josh Snyder and his family — Shalva, Ayelet, wife Neely and Nava — cheer for the Seahawks. (David Stuck)

If you’re a Ravens fan — and few Baltimoreans aren’t — Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII showdown between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is shaping up to be a bit of a bummer. But take heart. At least you’re not a Baltimore native and diehard Ravens fan who happens to live in Denver, like Philip Hyatt.

Although Hyatt, 45, and his wife, Nicci, 41, maintain an apartment that is within walking distance of M&T Stadium and are still Ravens season-ticket holders, they’ve spent most of their time in Denver for the past six years.

After relocating to the Mile High City, they had trouble finding places that televised Ravens games and missed watching games with other Baltimore fans. So Nicci Hyatt decided to start a meet-up group for other likeminded souls living in Denver.

“In the beginning, Nicci found a handful of people, and we’d get together in a tiny corner of a bar to watch the games,” said Philip Hyatt. “Now, we have almost 400 people in the group.”

“A local bar here, Choppers, has given us their back room every week for our games,” the Pikesville native continued. “We usually have over 50 people each week, and big games draw over 150. Everyone is from Baltimore, and someone’s always coming back with crab chips and Bergers cookies. Invariably, you end up knowing somebody. It’s Smalltimore, you know.”

Last year, the Ravens pulled off a stunning AFC playoff game upset in Denver on their way to winning the Super Bowl. The Hyatts and their meet-up group were in full glory after that unlikely 38-35 double overtime victory over the Broncos.

“Last year was the pinnacle,” Philip Hyatt said. “[Nicci and I] were on the front page of [The Baltimore Sun] and on TV. All the networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — everyone was calling my wife. This year, with the Broncos doing well, it’s kind of fueled the fire and turned our indifference [toward the Broncos and their fans] to hatred.”

Since Ravens games are usually televised earlier in the day (Mountain Time), those backing Denver and Baltimore can typically avoid being in the same place at the same time.

But “there are a lot more Broncos fans than Ravens fans in Denver, [and] things can get a little testy,” said Hyatt. “Sometimes they will spill over into the back room where we are, and we’ll usually boo them.”

Unlike the Hyatts, Goucher Hillel executive director Rabbi Josh Snyder, a Philadelphia native, finds himself living in Baltimore but obsessed with the Seahawks. He first embraced the Seattle team while in middle school.

“I wasn’t really into sports, but then my friends started getting into football,” said Snyder. “I never really liked the [Philadelphia] Eagles, and I saw the Seahawks and started liking them as an underdog team.”

Snyder recalled watching the Seahawks beat the Broncos in November 1992; he’s looking forward to seeing them do the same Sunday.

“There’s a feeling among Seahawks fans that this is it,” said the rabbi. “I’m really hopeful that I will be able to get a ticket. But either way, it’s exciting. Especially after being in Baltimore last year, you get a sense of what this means to a city. I was happy for Ravens fans last year, and this year a lot of friends are excited for me. They’ve been calling and texting.”

As for the Hyatts, they aren’t planning anything special.

“I’ll probably just sit home and cry,” said Philip Hyatt jokingly. But he will still be watching. “It’s the Super Bowl after all. What are you going to do?”

The financial planner isn’t sure who he’ll root for.

“I’ll be happy for the friends I have here who are Broncos fans,” he said, “but I won’t be too unhappy if they lose.”

Patti And Me

011714_PATTI-ISSUESHe was just a boy when 37-year-old theatrical director, producer, actor and playwright Ben Rimalower first heard musical theater giant Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argen-tina” in her Tony Award-winning performance as Eva Peron in “Evita.” But what he heard and how it thrilled him would set the stage for many of his future artistic endeavors, including a one-man show, “Patti Issues,” coming to the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Jan. 25.

According to CA program director Megan Hamilton, “Patti Issues”is an example of the type of programming that the arts and cultural organization is committed to presenting to Baltimore’s LGBT community, as well as its Jewish community.

“We are super excited to have Ben,” said Hamilton, who noted that “Patti Issues” is one of several Jewish-themed performances and/or performers the Alliance has presented in the past several months.

“We recently had Andy Statman,” said Hamilton. “Wow! Beyond amazing. His virtuosic exploration of both the clarinet and the mandolin was truly unique and in its unabashed eccentricity, very Baltimore. We just had Charm City Klezmer with dance leader Stephen Lee Weintraub for their annual klezmer bash, and that was so fun. So Ben, besides being madly talented and bringing such a solid piece, helps us program to two of our favorite audiences.”

When he first became obsessed with LuPone and “Evita,” Rimalower was dealing with a real-life family drama, and he connected strongly with LuPone’s character in the play.

“She was a bitch with something to prove, and I felt thrilled by it, empowered,” he recalled. “I was also obsessed with Joan Collins from ‘Dynasty’ and the wicked witch from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ A mild-mannered protagonist couldn’t hold my attention.”

When Rimalower was 8, his father, a successful obstetrician in Los Angeles, revealed that he was gay. Subsequently, his parents’ marriage ended, and Rimalower and his younger sister were eventually adopted by his mother’s second husband.

“My dad was very messy about this,” said Rimalower. “There were drugs, anger issues; for a couple of years, we were really dumped on by my father.”

Rimalower’s father attempted suicide, and a traumatized Rimalower spoke up and let his mother know that he and his sister were afraid of their father and no longer wished to have contact with him.

“It was a big deal then, having a gay father,” he said. “It was such a different time.”

Gradually, Rimalower realized that he too was gay.

“I knew I was different, and I hated boys,” he said. “All my friends were girls. So I thought I was a ladies’ man and was different from my father. But it was hard to maintain [that self-image]. I was struggling.”

In retrospect, Rimalower believes that his father’s coming out made it easier for him to come to grips with his own sexual identity: “My father knocked down that barrier in my family,” he said. “My mother’s brother came out shortly after. I couldn’t keep thinking I was a ladies’ man. It forced me to come out.”

After high school, Rimalower went to the University of California at Berkley, where he studied theater and started the university’s first theater company.

After graduation, he landed an internship at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, an experience he called “humbling and inspiring.”

When the internship ended, Rima-lower moved to New York City, where he took a position as an assistant on the television show “Spin City.”

“But I missed the theater,” he said. “After all, that was why I had come to New York.”

Rimalower became theatrical director Lonnie Price’s assistant for several years, helping to direct hit shows such as the New York Philharmonic’s 2000 gala presentation of “Sweeney Todd,” which starred LuPone. That was when Rimalower finally got the opportunity to meet his idol.

He was not disappointed.

“She really lived up to her persona in my mind,” he said. “She was exactly the diva I had dreamed of for all of these years. I’m kind of Patti’s type in that I’m obsessed with her.”

He added with a smile that sometimes when LuPone “needs a gay guy to go to a musical with her,” he is happy to oblige.

Rimalower and LuPone have since worked together on several projects, and LuPone was the inspiration for a 2006 show called “Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches,” in which Broadway actress/singer Kritzer impersonated LuPone performing her legendary nightclub act from the 1970s. For the first time, Rimalower, who had always left script writing to others, was both directing and writing his own show.

“I was so intoxicated by creating that show without another writer,” said Rimalower.

Buoyed by the success of “Leslie Kritzer,” Rimalower started blogging.

“I found that personal essay-style writing worked for me,” he said. “And it [the blogging] became about me and Patti and my father.”

“Patti Issues,” which opened at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in August 2012, garnered terrific reviews. Since September 2013, the role of Rimalower has been played in New York City by Tony Award-winning actor Robin De Jesus; Rimalower plays himself in the traveling show.

“I’m so excited to be in Baltimore,” said Rimalower. “I get so much out of sharing [the show] with an audience. People should expect to laugh a lot. And it’s not only for the Patti-obsessed.”

“Patti Issues” will show at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit creativealliance.org or benrimalower.com.

Diaspora Yeshiva Band Reunites After Almost Two Decades

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band took the stage for the first time since 1996 with a sold-out show at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Jan. 11 (Marc Shapiro).

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band took the stage for the first time since 1996 with a sold-out show at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Jan. 11 (Marc Shapiro).

Avraham Rosenblum grew up during the Woodstock generation; he even attended the legendary music festival in 1969.

But when he left behind his hippie rags for spiritual riches, he helped found a band that would pioneer Jewish rock music.

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band formed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in 1975, creating a unique sound with lyrics based on the Torah.

“We ended up creating a very eclectic blend of country, rock, blues, jazz and klezmer,” said Rosenblum, 63, an ordained rabbi who is the band’s lead singer and lead guitarist.

For those attending the yeshiva alongside the band’s founding members, the music provided a much-needed outlet for students who gave up secular music.

“It’s a throwback for me to 35 years ago when I lived in the Old City,” Aryeh Goetz, a friend of drummer Gedalia Goldstein, said after a reunion concert this past weekend. “Their music filled a void for someone exploring Torah Judaism.”

All told, about 560 members of the Jewish community turned out for the first of three reunion concerts at Congregation Shomrei Emunah the night of Jan. 11. The sold-out concert, the first Diaspora Yeshiva Band performance since 1996, featured two sets of the band’s spiritual, yet eclectic blend of music. The six-piece band brought together almost all original members, who traveled from Israel, Chicago and New Jersey to play.

“We’ve been shooting emails back and forth for the last three years wondering when we were going do this again,” said Rosenblum.

With a concert booked last Sunday for New York’s Lincoln Center, the stars aligned for a series of reunion shows.

Shomrei Emunah was an obvious choice for a Baltimore concert, since the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” as Rosenblum is known, is a member of the congregation.

“I grew up with this music. For me, it’s reliving my childhood,” said Kenny Friedman, one of the concert’s co-chairs.

For Friedman and other members of the community, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band is their “classic rock.”

“I’ve been a fan of them for years. They were playing before I was born,” said Binyomin Ansbacher, a concert attendee. “To hear them all together is fantastic.”

Although the recent run only included three shows, in the 1970s and 1980s the band toured all over the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa.

“We got to play in Jewish communities across two-thirds of the world,” and even the secular music world connected with the band, stated Rosenblum.

A couple songs into the Shomrei Emunah concert, it was easy to discern why Diaspora Yeshiva reached such a wide audience. From klezmer beats to rock songs fit for arenas to upbeat bluegrass tunes, the band’s genre-defying music was coupled with guitar harmonies, saxophone interplay and virtuosic violin playing from Ruby Harris, who switched to mandolin for several songs.

“It’s nice to be able to see Baltimore from this angle again,” a nostalgic Rosenblum told the crowd.

Having spent the previous days rehearsing for the show, the band sounded tight and polished with no indication that it had been 17 years since its last concert.

“The point of our music was always that we wanted to be able to communicate something we believe very strongly in, and that is our commitment to Torah-based Judaism and Jewish spirituality,” said Rosenblum. “Our music allowed us to really bring that message across in a very unpretentious way.”


Jewish Food: What’s The Next Big Thing?

Ethnic foods are enjoyed by Americans, Europeans, Asians and other well-traveled societies. Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines have joined the ranks of French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Greek Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Hungarian culinary delights and haute cuisine. As experienced worldwide travelers visit exotic places and taste a wide variety of authentic culinary cuisines, they seek out these delicious foods once they return home.

Worldwide delicacies can now be purchased in major supermarkets and restaurants, and they represent all major food groups, even those that have gotten a challenging rap in recent years.

The Start of a ‘Jewish Food’ Industry
Even with carbohydrates being attacked by those who warn of high gluten and others who think the calories will affect their hip size, crusty French breads, baguettes, Italian breads, British scones, Jewish rye bread, grissini, bagels and even matzo fill American breadbaskets.

There was a time Americans would eat only plain, soft white bread. In the South, they often cut away the crust. Then came the bagel. Bagels began rolling out of New York in the 1930s to other parts of America when Lender’s bagels made the ethnic Jewish item an American supermarket mainstay.

Thousands of bagel shops have now opened up all over the country, most serving 15 or more varieties of the crusty treat — even in areas not populated by Jews. Even Dunkin’ Donuts now places a hefty marketing budget into promoting its bagels and croissants.

(Justin Tsucalas)

(Justin Tsucalas)

In Baltimore, Goldberg’s Bagels is highly rated and has won many taste tests. An average bagel (not just at Goldberg’s, but any bagel) is about 300 calories; scooped, it is about 260.

Over the years, there have been many other examples of kosher or Jewish foods taking on a significant role in secular American life.

One of the strongest examples is when Levy’s New York rye bread and Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs underwent a Madison Avenue public relations remake, which drove home the point that kosher all-beef hot dogs and Jewish rye bread were not just for Jewish people anymore. Today, some industry sources estimate that the majority of Hebrew National hot dogs are purchased by non-Jewish Americans.

New York delis that serve oversized hot pastrami-stuffed sandwiches with mustard and a pickle became part of the culinary culture of American taste, no longer just for New Yorkers.

The sandwiches and hot dogs were joined by the kosher pickle that soon sat not only on top of deli counters but also in jars on the shelves of
grocery stores. Knishes, filled now with all sorts of flavors and not just potatoes, have become a hit too.

Chicken noodle soup and matzo ball soup are proven alternatives to medicinal remedies for the common cold. Pigs in a blanket, those tasty mini hot dogs wrapped in crusty dough, are a smashing hors d’ oeuvre.

Rugelach is now popular even at non-kosher Italian stores. For example, Zabar’s, one of America’s premier gourmet shops located in Manhattan, sells chocolate babka under its own Zabar private label. It’s one of the biggest sellers in its bakery department … but it is manufactured by a Chassidic bakery in Brooklyn. Who makes the babka is a trade secret, but its name is a color (and it’s not red, yellow, silver, purple, orange or gold). It’s green. And that same babka is sold at both Seven Mile Market and Shopper’s in Baltimore.

Similarly, Middle Eastern cuisine — both Arabic and Israeli — has grown in popularity. Sabra hummus attracted the corporate eye of PepsiCo, Inc. that now manufactures and sells tubs of the creamy chick pea paste to supermarkets throughout America. A new local company, The Wild Pea, has six flavored varieties of hummus, many of which can be found at Seven Mile Market, Wegmans and Whole Foods.

What’s the next Jewish culinary dish or treat to follow the success of the bagel, hummus and kosher hot dog?


This Jewish dish is still a culinary secret, a dish enjoyed by mostly
Orthodox Jews who do not cook on the Sabbath.

But what is cholent?

It is similar to chili, a one-pot meal that slow-cooks for 24 hours. This is helpful for observant Jews, as cooking raw foods and igniting a flame are among Shabbat prohibitions. Being that cholent is pre-cooked and ready before the Sabbath begins on Friday evening, keeping it hot over the Sabbath is not cooking and is therefore permissible.

Where did we get it?

According to “The Book of Jew-ish Food” by Claudia Roden, “In medieval times in France, the French made cassoulet, a dish of meats, including goose and sausage, with beans slowly cooked in plenty of goose fat. There were Jews living in Languedoc, where cassoulet originated. Many lived off the land; Toulouse, Narbonne, Nimes, Lunel, Beziers and especially Montpellier were centers of Talmudic study.”

When Jews fled France and went to Germany, cholent was enhanced as a one-pot Sabbath meal so additives such as kishke and potato kugel were often added to the pot.

How the name cholent was given to this tasty dish is debatable. The derivation of the world cholent may come from the medieval French words chault, which means hot, and lent, which means slow.

Another idea: In Europe, on Fridays before the Sabbath, families sent their sealed cholent pots to Jewish bakeries and to communal kitchens and would fetch the hot steaming pots after synagogue on Sabbath morning. There is a theory that since the Yiddish word for synagogue is shul, it is possible cholent came from a combination of the words shul and end, which referred to a dish that was picked up at the end of a synagogue service.

Meir Panim Holds All-Female Competition

Shira Pomerantz (left) and Rosie Braunstein are finalists in Meir Panim’s  “Voices” competition. The organization is raising money for needy Israeli  families and children. (Provided)

Shira Pomerantz (left) and Rosie Braunstein are finalists in Meir Panim’s
“Voices” competition. The organization is raising money for needy Israeli
families and children.
(photos provided)

When Meir Panim held its “American Idol”-style “Voices” contests last year, organizers unintentionally excluded part of the Jewish community.

“We realized that observant girls were not a part of the event, and it wasn’t really an oversight as much as a lack of understanding as to the laws,” said Leslie Goldberg, Maryland regional director for American Friends of Meir Panim. “So this year, we said we definitely want to do something for all the females in the observing community, because we know there’s so much talent, and we want to expose that talent.”

Meir Panim, a nonprofit that feeds hungry Israelis in dignified ways and is working to break the poverty cycle in Israel, holds the finals in its “Voices” competition Sunday, Dec. 22 (7 p.m.) at Goucher College. Auditions were held earlier in the month, and the top 10 singers (five from middle school and five from high school) will compete to win three voice lessons from renowned singer Elena Tal, who is also one of the judges.

This year’s auditions, as well as the finals, featured all-female staff, judges and stagehands. Orthodox girls can’t sing in public for men once they reach bat mitzvah age, which is why Orthodox girls did not take part in last year’s coed competition.

The event, spearheaded by Leslie Goldberg from American Friends of Meir Panim, aims to raise money and awareness for Meir Panim and the 1.8 million Israelis, 860,000 of whom are children, living below the poverty line.

Meir Panim, which helps Jews and non-Jews in Israel, is building a multimillion-dollar 100,000-square-foot nutrition center that will be capable of preparing 30,000 meals a day for Meir Panim’s free restaurant, Meals on Wheels and after-school programs. It will be Israel’s largest food production facility and will employ 200 people.

Meir Panim also distributes food cards to clients that function like regular debit cards for groceries.

To try to break the cycle of poverty, the organization holds vocational training and after-school programs that include tutoring, computer classes and other enrichment activities. Parents are invited to some of the kids’ activities and are also given their own classes on home budgeting, parenting skills and language skills, if necessary.

In November, the organization held its “Vocaltrition” concert, which featured area cantors singing Jewish music. And much like the cantors who sang that night, those involved in making “Voices” happen were happy to help Meir Panim.

“We all have different talents, and our job in this world is to look for what our talents are, what can we do? How can we both serve God, service the Jewish people, and serve the world with our talents?” said Lisa Friedman, a judge. “This gives the girls who can sing an opportunity to explore that.”

Friedman, who plays piano and sings in the band Ayelet HaShachar, said she and her two female bandmates — all Orthodox — had to find their own religious musical path to express their talents.

Ayelet HaShachar will also be performing a few of its songs and accompanying all the finalists in a sing-along of one of their songs.

Elena Tal, another judge in the competition and a voice teacher and an internationally traveled singer, said “Voices” is a great opportunity for the girls to maintain their religious observance but still have an outlet for their talent.

“I don’t think there are a lot of competitions of this sort that they’ve heard of before,” she said. “So this is a new opportunity for them.”

Even the finalists, young as they may be, know that their talent is part of a larger purpose in this case.

“This competition is for such a good cause, to feed the hungry in Israel,” said Rosie Braunstein, 11, who hopes to be a professional singer. She auditioned with a song by Shaindel Antelis called “The Light.”

“I picked the song because I really like the message, spreading the light,” she said.

Shira Pomerantz, 12, also hopes to be a professional singer. She sings in the Krieger Schechter’s middle school choir and also sings on the bimah during the High Holidays at her synagogue, Chizuk Amuno.

“I’ve been singing since before I can even remember,” she said. “I think I started when I was about 2 years old, but ever since then I’ve been singing every day of my life.”

She sang “Shema Yisrael Elohai” because she thought the song related to what Meir Panim is all about.

“The first line means, ‘When I’m alone and sad, my heart cries out to God,’ which really has to do with the charity,” she said. “People are there to help.”

Tickets for Sunday’s event can be purchased at voicecompetition.com.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Taking Aim At Gun Violence

Halacha (Jewish law), just like the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, states the right for citizens to own weapons for use in self-protection and to maintain public safety.

In the case of Jewish law, however, it also mandates safe and responsible use with regard to ownership for the public good.

“Safe and responsible” are weighty factors. So much so that halacha instructs that anything owned that is considered dangerous should be properly locked, confined or guarded so the use of, or exposure to, doesn’t hurt (or even frighten) anyone not intended for harm in self-defense. Jewish law also dictates a person should not sell weapons to, or make weaponry for, those who have exhibited criminal intentions or are unstable. (In current terms, this could translate to background checks.) In fact, the lauded Torah and Bible commentator Nachmanides’ (1194-1270) interpretation of a story in Genesis (4:20-24) went so far as to state, “It is not the sword that kills, but the bad choice by a man.”

What makes it possible — or probable — for a person to make a “bad choice” with respect to gun violence? Is it the easy access to guns? Is it desperation for the basic needs of day-to-day living? Or is it simply not being equipped with the emotional and mental tools needed to select a better choice?

Politicians, professors and public health professionals have been working tirelessly to answer that question in order to combat gun violence on national and local levels.

One attempt at limiting access to guns is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that was signed 20 years ago last month, on Nov. 30, 1993. Enacted on Feb. 28, 1994, the federal mandate “requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer — unless an exception applies.”

121313_taking-aim3A glut of statistics could be referenced to prove that 20 years later, the Brady Bill has not been nearly as effective as hoped. Some of that is due to legal loopholes and powerful lobbying, and some is due to lack of accountability and greed.

More recently and on a state level, Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced one of the nation’s strictest gun laws, the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which was enacted this past Oct. 1. It requires all handgun purchasers to complete four hours of safety training and pass a fingerprint-based background check before getting a license to buy a gun. Maryland joins five other states: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey that also require fingerprint-based background checks.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Policy and Research produced data corroborating the belief that a fingerprinting method is a successful deterrent to illegal gun sales because it will decrease and prevent “straw purchases.” A straw purchase is when a person with a clean background purchases a gun for someone whose criminal background prevents him or her from legally purchasing or owning a gun.

“So if we can intervene in those sales,” said Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor and researcher at the center, “and if the laws are going to make it more difficult to buy a gun, then the cost of doing gun crimes is going to go up, and fewer people are going to be able to afford that cost.”

Frattaroli continued, “We’re realizing, though, that once a law is passed, the work isn’t done. In a lot of ways, the work really just starts. We need to make sure the systems are in place, to make sure the laws are being implemented properly and to make sure the agencies responsible are adequately trained and supported to do that work.”

According to Maryland law, an authorized gun dealer must wait seven days while conducting a background check before turning over a firearm to a potential buyer. Statewide, more than 85,000 gun-purchase license requests were submitted this year prior to the Oct. 1 enactment of the stringent Firearms Act. Gov. O’Malley pledged in September to provide enforcement agencies the resources needed to deal with the backlog in paperwork created by the thousands of requests.

The backlog has converted the required seven-day wait into months, which has led to frustration for both firearm dealers and their customers. As a result, some dealers have been releasing weapons over to people after the seven days but before the background checks are completed. As of Nov. 28, 2013 the backlog was still at 42,600, and applications being processed are from as far back as Aug. 13, 2013.

Sgt. Marc Black, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said, “All of the resources available to address the backlog and get the applications processed are being used.”

Sgt. Black also thought most dealers are cooperating and holding onto the firearms until clearance has been confirmed. Currently, there are 40 state law enforcement officers devoted to the task of completing the background checks (data entry is done by classified employees). Gun purchasers could exercise the option to cross state lines and avoid these checks altogether, or they can purchase a gun from a private seller and get around the law as well.

In Maryland, as in much of the United States, gun-sale laws and regulations are necessary and proven as effective evidence-based approaches to gun violence prevention.

But Dr. Carnell Cooper and the staff of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore take aim at eliminating gun violence at its point of impact — in the everyday lives of gun violence offenders and victims. They address gun-related and other violent crime by asking: What are the root causes that are putting people on this path, and how can they be redirected from what they’re doing?

Cooper started VIP in 1998 after noticing a high number of violence-related trauma victims being treated once and then returning, sometimes with more serious injuries. The VIP staff connects with individuals at the “social, emotional, psychological and spiritual” point of personal crisis when they’re admitted into trauma care. There, they receive an assessment, counseling and social support by a multidisciplinary team to help them begin to make critical changes in their lives. Participation is voluntary and requires completion of a lengthy intake questionnaire by the participant.

The VIP approach is to reach victims immediately following a life-threatening or life-changing event. The interdisciplinary team that ultimately works with VIP participants comes from the medical, social work, epidemiology, parole/probation and social services fields and others, too, if deemed necessary.

The VIP is designed from evidence-based research, and other hospitals in the Baltimore area have been informally recruited to refer potential clients to the program. Data from a three-year study conducted in 2000 (published in “Journal of Trauma” Vol. 61, No. 3) shows evidence from two groups that were followed: one participating in the VIP program and one not participating. The participants in VIP demonstrated an 83 percent decrease in repeat hospitalization due to violent injury (a 36 percent savings as compared to those not getting the intervention), a 75 percent reduction in violent criminal activity and an 82 percent rate of employment at the time of follow-up (compared with 20 percent employment for those who did not get intervention).

New Orleans Jazz Lives On

Ben Jaffe (right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Ben Jaffe (right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Ben Jaffe practically learned how to crawl and walk at Preservation Hall.

The legendary New Orleans venue, located in the city’s French Quarter, was transformed into an integrated jazz club in 1961 by Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe. The couple was instrumental in putting the first form of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the road using musicians who frequented the venue.

“Some of my earliest memories were being on the road with the Preservation Hall Band,” Ben Jaffe, 42, said. He was raised blocks away from the venue and has very early childhood memories of being in Alaska, Hawaii and Japan with the band.

“You grow up and literally everybody you know and everything you do revolves around music,” he said.

Jaffe, now the band’s creative director and double-bass and sousaphone player, brings the Preservation Hall Band and its historic New Orleans jazz sounds to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for three shows, Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

“The music we’re playing today is directly connected by blood and DNA to the original pioneers of jazz,” he said.

Baltimore attendees can expect a mix of New Orleans jazz staples but may also hear some songs they don’t recognize as standards. That’s because in July, the band, which has been in existence for 50 years, released its first album of completely original material.

“That’s It!” was co-produced by Jaffe and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Jaffe said when he first met James in 2009, when the singer and guitarist contributed vocals to another Preservation Hall Jazz Band record, the two of them immediately had an unspoken connection.

“Jim, over time, became the fifth Beatle or whatever you call it,” Jaffe said. “He became a part of the band, and he took us out on the road with My Morning Jacket.”

One night backstage, the two were talking about James working on an album with the band, and he asked Jaffe if the band had any original compositions. When Jaffe shrugged his shoulders, James just said, “Hmm,” and walked away. The band would later accept that challenge.

“To him, as a writer of music, it’s so obvious, but as a member of a community that is based on repertoire songs that have been handed down to us, it’s not so obvious that we would even consider that,” Jaffe said. “I just felt like in that one moment, in that 10 seconds it took him to say that, it changed our lives.”

Jaffe described the writing process as daunting and intimidating but rewarding and exhilarating, and said with the help of James’ inspiration and production, the record captured the band’s essence. He saw the original music as part of the band’s responsibility.

Hurricane Katrina, which forced Preservation Hall to close for a few months for repairs in 2005, got Jaffe thinking about his band’s catalog and its responsibilities as a cultural institution.

“That’s part of our mission, not only to protect our traditions, but to honor them and to create new traditions,” he said.

Jaffe, who came on as creative director immediately after graduating from Oberlin College in 1993, takes that job and responsibility seriously and personally. As creative director, a separate position from band leader, it is Jaffe’s job to push the band’s creative boundaries and turn its musical wishes into realities.

To ensure the music would continue to resonate throughout the generations, he brought the band to new audiences, playing music festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella and collaborating with artists such as Tom Waits, Dr. John and the Del McCoury Band.

He also created the Preservation Hall Outreach Program, something his father, who passed away in 1987, wanted to do but never got around to. The program allows the band to directly pass its traditions on through a junior jazz band, bringing younger audiences to the hall, going into schools while on tour and giving lessons and master classes.

But jazz isn’t the only tradition Jaffe hopes to pass on to the next generation. He and his brother were both raised in synagogue, had bar mitzvahs and grew up celebrating the Jewish holidays.

“They have Jewish jazz services in New Orleans around Jazz Fest,” Jaffe said. “There are a lot of Jewish musicians in New Orleans, and [jazz] definitely finds its way into the community.”

He notes that Jews, in New Orleans and beyond, have always been involved with music as writers, performers, producers and venue operators among other capacities.

The Jewish sense of community extends beyond religious brethren, Jaffe said.

“We spent a lot of our time at churches playing for different functions,” he said. “I think in New Orleans, it was just a natural extension of [my parents’] Jewishness [by them] becoming involved in the African-American community.”

While Jaffe is not a strict religious Jew, he said he’s been thinking about religion a lot more now that he and wife Sarah have a 1 1/2-year-old daughter. The time he spent at synagogue, the Jewish Community Center and at Jewish summer camp during his childhood helped him become the person he is today.

“Those are experiences I want to be able to give my daughter,” he said. “I want to give her a sense of identity and purpose, and I think Judaism gave me that.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Review: Well Done


All artwork from “The Well of Being”

It merits a place of honor in the waiting room of every therapist’s office, in yoga studios, at meditation centers and on bookshelves in homes everywhere. And in every place where those of us who are no longer children seek comfort, insight, faith and meaning.

Jean-Pierre Weill’s new illustrated book, “The Well of Being: A Children’s Book for Adults,” and the exhibition based on it, will be on display at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts from Dec. 3 to Dec. 15. It is for anyone who is human.

Like many works created by artists on their own psychic journeys, Weill’s book did not start out as “The Well of Being.”

“When I started, I thought I was illustrating [T.S. Eliot’s] ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’” said Weill. But that endeavor quickly gave way to the project’s “true purpose,” an exploration into the personal and universal search for well-being.

Weill, 59, who was raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., moved to Baltimore with his wife of 30 years, sculptor Rachel Rotenberg, to raise their five (now grown) children in an affordable but strong Jewish community. Weill trademarked the vitreograph, a unique process of drawing and painting on multiple levels of glass in 1991.

112913-well-done2His work has been sold in galleries and museum outlets throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, and he has also designed original and limited-edition vitreographs for Disney Art Editions, Warner Bros. and Coca-Cola. While the artist is pleased by his vitreographs’ recognition and commercial success, he recently closed Jean Pierre Weill Studios (where that art was created) in order to pursue “The Well of Being” and related projects.

The 186-page coffee-table volume, designed like a child’s picture book with simple text and colorful watercolor illustrations, tells the story of a man who, Weill said, represents himself and “Everyman” who pursues peace and happiness.

The book traces Everyman’s journey from birth — “when we were infants in the garden, with no thought to be anything other than ourselves … when whatever we made is a masterpiece” — to the moment when we first experience self-doubt.

The book continues: “He discovered he could do something wrong. That he, or the world, could be wrong. And that he was alone. … From then on, he practiced ways to rearrange himself, to make himself acceptable, so that he could return home.”

Weill’s delicately beautiful, evocative and sometimes humorous illustrations and his poignant and deceptively simple prose will resonate deeply with those who have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, whose self-images are dependent on external events and positive regard from others, and who have tried to quiet the negative voices that replay obsessively in their mind.

Intended to be read multiple times, “The Well of Being” provides new insight and new levels of inspiration with each reading.

In a vast sea of self-help books, “The Well of Being” finds a fresh and profound way to discuss mindfulness and the art of being here now. Appropriately, Ram Dass, the legendary spiritual leader who wrote “Be Here Now” in 1971, is one of several highly regarded authors and thinkers (including Cynthia Ozick and Daniel Goleman) who gave “The Well of Being” rave reviews.

The exhibition will contain all of the text and images from the book as well as several paintings created separately from the book that Weill said fit seamlessly into the exhibition.

The book’s take-home message? “Our well-being is generated, not from the outside but from the inside,” said Weill.

“The Well of Being” will be on exhibition from Dec. 3 to Dec. 15 at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts (3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills). A book party and exhibition opening will be held on Dec. 3 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Learn more about Weill and “The Well of Being” at thewellofbeing.co.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — sellin@jewishtimes.com

Music, Puppets Connect With Seniors

Yenta, Gita, Yunkle and Antiochus all walk into a senior assisted-living community. Does it sound like quite the story?

In this case, they were all puppets, but the human connection was very real for the residents of Emeritus Senior Living in Pikesville, thanks to the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers.

The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers perform their Chanukah show at Emeritus Senior Living, where Dena Schrier, life  enrichment director, says residents are treated to special events three times a week. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers perform their Chanukah show at Emeritus Senior Living, where Dena Schrier, life enrichment director, says residents are treated to special events three times a week.
(Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Anita Knisbacher has combined her background in instructional technology, a Ph.D. in education and the emotional experience of her mother’s debilitating stroke to create a unique outreach event for seniors. It started in Florida, where Knisbacher was living at the time, and she witnessed how lonely the people in her mother’s nursing home seemed and how much they longed for company. She knew immediately that she wanted to do something for the senior community, but she wasn’t sure what.

A series of events occurred leading her to join the National Council for Jewish Women puppet group, in which she learned about creating short scenarios dealing with sensitive subjects that were presented in area Florida schools with great success.

Knisbacher’s friend, Sonia Maltinsky, soon became involved, and together they saw the value of how puppetry might be used in Baltimore, where they now live, particularly within the senior community.

Emeritus Senior Living resident Lucille Becker enjoys the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers’ Chanukah show.

Emeritus Senior Living resident Lucille Becker enjoys the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers’ Chanukah show.

The idea grew, and they made contact with Beth Tfiloh. Getting involved immediately at BT were Chesed committee member Roselyn Kalb, social action committee member Lindsay Gaister, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and executive director Eve Kresin Steinberg. The whole project gained momentum, and the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers group was born.

Knisbacher and Maltinsky perform with other puppeteers including Eva Engles, Rosalie Klotzman, Jeff Knisbacher, Arnold Maltinsky and Judy Werner. Rita Waltz, Knisbacher’s sister, provides backstage support. They even have a groupie who has followed their performances to multiple locations, and Klotzman has started learning Yiddish because many residents they visit seem to respond well to that language.

All of the group’s members enjoy both the experience and the challenge of performing together as well as bringing something special into the lives of the seniors they visit.

“When I hear people in the audience laugh while we’re performing, it really makes it all worthwhile,” said Judy Werner, who plays puppet Shayna in the current production. “And when I go into the audience after the show and speak to people and see them smile, it just makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. … I think I’m receiving more than I’m giving.”

The stage was donated by Knisbacher and Waltz in memory of their mother, Regina Marshall.

What’s next? The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers are planning a Purim show.

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — mgerr@jewishtimes.com