Not a Gnome or a Wizard, Just a Guy Who Likes to Wave

You can’t miss him.

David Alt stands with his signs on the spot where he waves to cars passing by on Park Heights Avenue. (Marc Shapiro)

David Alt stands with his signs on the spot where he waves to cars passing by on Park Heights Avenue. (Marc Shapiro)

From the PVC pipe and cinderblock contraption that displays bold-print messages such as “Shabbat Shalom,” “Happy Spring” or the occasional advertisement for Fox TV show “MasterChef Junior,” to the tangle of green mesh surrounding the area, to the array of string dolls and other homemade crafts that populate the lawn, and finally to the man himself, donning worn-out overalls, faded flannels, a beanie and a white beard resembling Gandalf’s (a comparison he himself drew) and standing front and center in his driveway on Park Heights Avenue waving to passers-by — needless to say, it is quite a spectacle.

The object of Pikesville urban legend, David Alt, 73, is affectionately known by the community as the Park Heights gnome or “that guy who waves to us on Park Heights Avenue” or the wizard of Park Heights, among other names. While most who encounter Alt would likely agree that seeing him in his driveway brightens their day or makes them smile, the entire community seems to shrug its shoulders with regard to who this guy is and why  he stands there. The growing curiosity with Alt’s back-story has inspired much folklore and speculation.

“I have heard that he suffered a loss and because of this, he likes to watch people drive by, specifically the school bus that stops by his house,” said Adee Jakob, 18, a graduate of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and a freshman at Emory University.

Audrey Monroe, a senior at Beth Tfiloh, said that she has heard that “he waves to all that pass because he looks very similar to a character from the popular show “Duck Dynasty’ and he wants to mess with people.”

“Word is that [he] … waves at everyone who drives by, especially the buses from Bais Yaakov School for Girls. Apparently, he customizes his greeting signs just for them,” Monroe added.

So now, the real story behind this local celebrity.

Alt, an only child and a former draftsman, has lived on his property since he was 7 years old. One afternoon three years ago, after the death of his mother, Alt stood in his driveway waiting for the mail. After a few minutes, Alt experienced the first of many interactions with the community.

“[A] big white van drove by, and there was this one girl sitting in it, and she waved. So I waved back, didn’t think anything of it,” Alt said. “From there, it escalated to five or six vehicles, to 10 or 20 vehicles.”

Since then, his popularity has skyrocketed. Alt said that when it all started, he didn’t bother counting. “But after a while I thought, how daggone many of these kids are waving?” Alt said with a chuckle. Now, he said he counts anywhere between 50 to 60 vehicles that wave to him daily.

In addition to smiles, honks and waves, Alt has received all manner of gifts, including cookies, lollipops, Slurpees and various other snacks. Some of the most interesting treats he has received, however, have come from the Jewish community, he said, though he is not Jewish.

“One time, around Chanukah, I got this little bag tossed out at me with little chocolate gold coins,” he said, referring to gelt. “I got a small loaf of bread one time, and the next time it had three apples and about five little jars of honey.”

He has even received an entire eight-pack of pull-apart challahs — “Love those things!” he said with a smile.

“I have no idea what I’m going to get from these characters. I enjoy it, but I’m not asking for it. I’m not trying to be out there peddling, but they just do it, and it boggles my mind,” Alt said.

Alt supposes that this strong connection with the Jewish community in particular stems from the good wishes he expresses on Jewish holidays via the large PVC pipe signage that he assembles in his yard. He has put out signs for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Chanukah and Shabbat.

Along with the many edible gifts he has enjoyed, Alt has also received numerous letters in his mailbox, many of which he dates and carries with him in a small portfolio he stores in the back pocket of his overalls. The cards have messages such as: “When you wave to us, it cheers us up, and when we wave to you, we hope it cheers you too,” or simply, “You’re funny, have a great weekend!”

A few of the cards are even signed “from your friends at Bais Yaakov.”

Some include inquiries such as one that reads “I love [what] you do, but why do you stand outside like that every day?” — the same question that many others are asking.

At this point, Alt knows the schedules of when the local schools get out and the prime time to stand outside and wave. You can find Alt outside Monday through Friday in the afternoon, “when the weather is decent.”

“I mean, what the heck, I don’t have anything else to be doing. I figure that if they enjoy it, then what the heck,” Alt said.

Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Frustration After 50: Trying to Find That Dream Date

Group meetings can help navigate the dating scene after age 50. (istockphoto.com/Juanmonino)

Group meetings can help navigate the dating scene after age 50. (istockphoto.com/Juanmonino)

On a recent weekday morning, life coach and psychotherapist Ava Barron-Shasho pointed to the sofa in her cozy Pikesville office.

“I’ve had so many people in my practice sit on that same spot on that same couch and say exactly the same words,” she said. “‘Why can’t I get a date? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?’ I knew that if I put  together a group of people who were all trying to navigate the dating scene, they could help one other and see that they weren’t alone.”

That’s how Dream Dating 50+, a bimonthly group for middle-aged men and women trying to navigate the dating scene, started.

Group member, Sherry H., 56, who asked not to use her last name, said one reason she joined Dream Dating was to get some clarity on dating etiquette. Sherry, who is divorced, said she was  uncertain about when it was reasonable to allow a man into her home, and more generally, whether to trust men she meets on the internet. “People aren’t who they say they are,” she said, and noted she tries to “check people out to the best of her ability.”

Sherry finds it comforting to know  she is not the only one dealing with the frustrations of dating over 50.

Steve S., 60, also choosing to remain anonymous, is another group member. He said he’s been dating regularly since his divorce five years ago. Though he has met many women, he hasn’t found anyone exactly right for him.

“Dating at our age is a double-edged sword,” Steve said. “It’s easier because you aren’t looking to have kids together or necessarily to share finances. You just want a companion to enjoy doing things together. On the other hand, at our age, people are set in their ways. Everyone has their own lives.”

Sherry and Steve are both Jewish, though the group is open to people of all faiths. Both say they are not religious, yet both prefer dating others who are Jewish.

“I dated a non-Jewish woman who was really sweet,” Steve said. “But something was missing. … When she started talking about Christmas, I just couldn’t relate.”

“Being Jewish is up there,” said Sherry,  referring to her list of attributes for a  future mate. “It’s not about religion, it’s about culture. Jews have a different sense of humor, you know? I was brought up with a little bit of Yiddish, and this guy I dated looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Sherry believes that the internet has made people unmotivated about leaving their homes to meet others.

“The internet is a blessing and a curse,” she said. “I think people go shopping [on the internet]. They make a date and if something better comes along they cancel. Whatever happened to people fixing you up? No one does that anymore.”

Barron-Shasho said she’s aware that the internet is the main source for dating nowadays. She addresses that in the group.

“One night, someone showed us his dating profile, and the other members gave feedback,” Barron-Shasho said.

“Everyone wants to meet someone on the internet, but I asked them to consider what else they are doing to meet new people. There are so many ways to meet people  if you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone. A couple of people said they were willing to try that but weren’t willing to do it alone. So two women in the group have gone out to a singles event together.”

That didn’t go so well.

“There was nobody there,” Sherry said. “Here’s the thing. Where do the single Jewish people go? I think the temples should offer singles events.”

During another session the group  discussed whether they were willing to make changes in order to be in a relationship, Barron-Shasho recalled.

The internet is a blessing and  a curse. I think people go  shopping on on the internet. They make a date and if  something better comes along they cancel. Whatever  happened to people fixing you up? No one does  that anymore.” — Sherry H., member,  Dream Dating 50+

 

“Most people said, ‘I’m at the age where I accept myself. I love myself. I don’t want to change.’ On the other hand, one person said, ‘If you tell me that I’m doing something that is off-putting [to potential dates], I might change that.’”

Barron-Shasho said people in the group run the gamut from those who date constantly but don’t meet anyone who’s right for them to people who don’t have dates because perhaps they’re more selective or are ruling people out too quickly.

“Sometimes people will see someone online and ask themselves, ‘Do I like his looks?’ That will determine whether they contact him,” Barron-Shasho said. “I suggest that people look at other qualities as well as looks, and I also recommend that they date a person more than once. Relationships aren’t like instant mashed  potatoes, I say. They’re not just ‘add water and mix.’”

Since Dream Dating is a coed group, men and women are able to share their perspectives with one another, helping each other to interpret the sometimes mysterious behaviors of the opposite sex.

“One woman in the group was talking about how she wanted a man to treat her when they were dating. She wanted daily texts,” Barron-Shasho said. “Well, a man in the group said, ‘No. If you’re expecting a text every day, that’s too much work for a man.’ It helped her to get a man’s perspective.”

“One time we talked about flirting, Barron-Shasho said. “I asked them, ‘What’s a good line?’ A man in the group said, ‘Compliment me on something I’m wearing. Nice tie, nice shirt. That’s all you have to do.’”

As group leader, Barron-Shasho, who has 20 years of experience, said she brings a positive and hopeful outlook to the sessions.

“Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it’s not going to,” she said. “And

for now, Steve and Sherry are both pleased that they are each being fixed up with a friend of the other. Let’s see how that goes.”

Dream Dating 50+ is accepting new members. For more information, visit avabarronshasho.com.

The Wonders of Timna and the trip of a Lifetime

Karen Blum (fourth from right) poses for a photo in Timna Park with (from left) her uncle, Bob Chudnow; her mother, Lois Infeld; her aunt, Teri Chudnow; her husband, Jeff Blum; her uncle, David Chudnow; her cousin, Elizabeth Chudnow; Mayor Udi Gat of the Eilot Region; and park manager Hagit Gal.

Karen Blum (fourth from right) poses for a photo in Timna Park with (from left) her uncle, Bob Chudnow; her mother, Lois Infeld; her aunt, Teri Chudnow; her husband, Jeff Blum; her uncle, David Chudnow; her cousin, Elizabeth Chudnow; Mayor Udi Gat of the Eilot Region; and park manager Hagit Gal.

In the early 1980s, my grandfather committed to helping make Israel’s Timna Park a first-class international tourist attraction to be enjoyed by generations of visitors. Some 30 years later, I was able to witness his legacy, as my family and I dedicated the park’s new visitors’ center in March.

There are several stories circulating that explain how my grandfather became involved with the park. The legend,  according to some Israelis, is that my grandfather was wandering the Negev when he came across Timna’s beautiful scenery and had a vision. The truth, while still impressive, is a little less romantic.

A Milwaukee-based attorney, construction company owner and philanthropist who was a stalwart supporter of Jewish National Fund and its Israeli land development projects, my grandfather, Avrum Chudnow (z’l), was in Israel in 1983 for a JNF assembly when he first became interested in Timna, according to my uncle, David. At the time, the 17,500-acre park, located about 17 miles north of Eilat, was still fairly primitive, with some stunning sandstone rock formations akin to those seen in the national parks of the American Southwest, but not much else. Despite its beauty and its historical significance — the park is home to the world’s oldest copper mines dating back to the fifth century B.C.E. — not many visitors went there, in part because of its location and climate. Temperatures are often 90 to 110 degrees.

The new center, located just inside the park entrance,  provides interactive overviews and explanations of the  historic copper mines  scattered throughout the park and also can be used as a  social hall for special events.

 

During that trip, my grandfather visited Moshe Rivlin, then the world chairman of JNF and its Israeli arm Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), in his Jerusalem office when Rivlin took a phone call. Not one to sit idly by, Grandpa poked around and pulled some rolled up, dusty blueprints off a bookshelf. Rivlin told him to ignore them; there had been an idea to build a manmade lake at Timna, but because the park sat in the middle of the desert, the plan was determined to be impossible.

Impossible? That got my grandfather curious. “If I get you the money, will you build it?” he reportedly asked. The reply was yes. They shook on the deal.

When Grandpa returned home he began fundraising, raising monies across the U.S. and donating substantial sums himself. With this financial backing, the Israelis succeeded in building a 4-acre, 6-foot-deep lake at the park, using water from the flooded, defunct copper mines. My grandparents attended a dedication ceremony for the lake in 1986. But Grandpa was inspired to do more. He had ideas for additional attractions and exhibits, and as he became first too ill and later too old to travel, my uncle, David, helped oversee these additional projects.

Over the past three decades Grandpa and other relatives, including my great-uncles and great-aunts, uncles and aunts, parents and cousins, supported the building of the lake and purchase of paddle boats; an auditorium with an IMAX-type movie that explains the history of the Timna mines; and assorted educational exhibits located throughout the park that  explain the rock formations, the history of copper mining and tools of the era and the ancient engravings discovered on some of the rocks.

Today the park, developed by JNF-KKL and the Eilot Regional Council, along with numerous  others, also features hiking and biking trails, campsites, a restaurant and gift shop and a replica of the tabernacle that G-d commanded the children of Israel to build. Some 9,000  ancient mining shafts can be seen throughout the park, along with the remains of copper smelting furnaces dating back to ancient Egypt. Timna boasts 150,000 visitors a year and is ranked the No. 1 area attraction on TripAdvisor.com.  Locals hope the building of a new airport in Eilat, scheduled to open in 2017, will bring even more tourists to the area and to Timna, creating additional revenue and jobs.

On March 20, my husband and I had the pleasure of joining my mother, two of my uncles, an aunt and a cousin to dedicate the visitors’ center — the last park project underwritten by my grandfather, who died in 2005. We spent a perfect sunny, 70-something degree day touring the park, escorted by Hagit Gal, the park manager, and Shahar  Hermelin, JNF’s director of tourism.

A minibus shuttled us to a number of locations throughout the park, including a natural sculpture called The Mushroom, for its mushroom-shape appearance caused by erosion of the sandstone. We heard from Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University who has conducted several digs within Timna, finding ancient textiles and other materials dating back 3,000 or more years. From there we viewed and hiked around other giant rock formations in the park including Solomon’s Pillars, a natural cliff wall named after King Solomon. Everywhere we took photos, marveling at the park’s splendor.

During a traditional Israeli lunch at the park’s restaurant we were joined by Udi Gat, mayor  of the Eilot Region, before visiting the gift shop and trying the paddle boats on the lake. After some time to rest, we headed to the visitors’ center.

About 100 people including representatives from JNF/KKL, the Eilot Regional Council, and local kibbutzim, as well as park employees, joined us for a beautiful opening ceremony. My mother and uncles unveiled a placard outside the building. An Orthodox rabbi blessed the center and hung a mezuzah. Uncle David cut the ribbon, and we were in.

The new center, located just inside the park entrance, provides interactive overviews and explanations of the historic copper mines scattered throughout the park and also can be used as a social hall for special events.

The park put on a beautiful event with food, drinks and live music. My uncle addressed the group, as did Hermelin, Gat, and Danny Atar, world chairman of KKL. Russell Robinson, JNF’s CEO, sent greetings via video. And  Ms. Gal presented us with digital photo frames containing a slide show of park pictures.

Dancing to “Hava Nagila,” I almost had to pinch myself: Was I really here in the park I had heard about for decades? When the evening with our new friends wound down, the minibus drove us back to Solomon’s Pillars, lit up at night, for more photo opportunities before we headed back to our hotel.

My mother said for her it was the trip of a lifetime. I had to concur.

Karen Blum is a local freelance writer.

Miriam’s Cup Runneth Over, Filled with Associated Women’s Spirit

women's-seder-1

Photo by David Stuck

The camaraderie and kinship among more than 300 celebrants was palpable at Temple Oheb Shalom, site of the Associated Women’s “The Freedom to Create Passover Experience” this month.

“Being in a room with 320 women is the most empowering feeling in the world,” said Susan Manekin, who co-chaired the event with Jill Max. “There’s just nothing better than that and celebrating before the holiday. It was for women and about women.”

Hors d’oeuvres and drinks preceded the Passover experience (the event was not a seder nor was there official breaking of matzoh, they explained, because it happened prior to Passover), and panel displays filled the lobby offering glimpses into the creative work of many Israeli women. Attendees learned about the accomplishments of scientist Ada Yonath, 27-year-old technology futurist Dr. Kira Radinsky, serial entrepreneur Orit Hashay, savvy businesswoman and sustainable packaging developer Daphna Nissenbaum among others.

“I’m hoping there’s something they have during the seder that I can bring back to our seder,” at home, said Sharon Caplan beforehand, who attended with her sister, Paula Freeman.

Caplan’s hopes were fulfilled, beginning with a beautiful take-home haggadah created especially for the event.

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Local artist Smadar Livne’s sumptuous, colorful imagery fills its pages, as do stories that highlight contemporary work from women who have the “Freedom to Create’”in Israel such as Ruth Dayan, who founded Maskit, a women’s clothing design company; the students of the Ma’aleh School of Television and Film and the Arts in Jerusalem; the designers at the Megemeria School of Jewelry; and the Technion, which recently held a conference inviting teen girls from all over Israel to participate.

But women’s stories were infused even deeper into the telling of Passover through original text in the haggadah, including four questions from four daughters — the wise, the rebellious, the simple and pure, and finally, the one who cannot ask. Participants also read powerful stories that correlated with the four cups of wine, each celebrating the lives of biblical women — those who made the Exodus possible, the matriarchs, the scholars, the religious leaders and even the activists — all whose stories, not surprisingly, echoed the accomplishments of many women who filled the auditorium that day.

“I have to say I’m so thrilled to be here with so many great interesting women,” said Amy Rotenberg, who attended with her friend, Orlee Kahn.

“It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom,” Rotenberg said.

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

“And focusing on some of the women in the story who are often overlooked, like Yocheved and Miriam,” Kahn added.

Many attended along with the women’s groups they’re affiliated with from the Associated, such as the Heart to Heart Israel Mission, the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, Dor Tikvah and Chapter Two.

“The best part of it is, even though it’s an Associated event there are women who have never been to an Associated event before,” co-chair Jill Max said, happy that the affair is a vehicle for such wide outreach. “There are girls who are 11 and women into their 80s and 90s,” she added.

Many mothers and daughters attended together, and there were some multigenerational celebrants as well, such as Amy Harlan, who was there with her mother, Linda Kaufman, and her daughter, Stevie Harlan.

“I’m so blessed to be able to include my mom and my daughter, and the fact that we’re all here together celebrating as women is really powerful,” Amy said. “I like the way that [the event’s readings have] been giving the female bent on how important women are in Jewish life. And even though in the Bible and hagaddah women’s roles have been played down, we really are the strength and the backbone.”

It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom.
— Amy Rotenberg

Accents Grill catered the meal; Mezu-menet, an all-female, Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland College Park, entertained with live singing; and more than 30 volunteers helped bring the whole occasion to fruition. Nina Rosenzwog, the 2016 Associated Women’s Campaign chair, publicly thanked The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s professionals: Bonnie Garonzik, Esha Janssens, Pamela Martin, Amanda Max, Melinda Michel, Alisa Rank and Elizabeth Schuman, who all helped in the planning too.

Manekin, who also serves on the board of Jewish Volunteer Connection, was especially proud of ‘Seder in a Bag,’ a project created by Associated Women and assembled the day of the Passover Experience. Each of the 36 bags included a painted seder plate and silk matzoh cover, the makings for matzo ball soup, a mason jar of dirt and parsley seeds to grow bitter herbs, fresh horseradish root, Shabbat candles and a hagaddah. The bags were donated to CHANA and to Jewish Community Services for special needs clients.

“I got an email from Ellen Fox, at CHANA,” Manekin said, “telling us that the women cried when they got the bags. [She said] they were touched that somebody actually thought of them” for the holiday.

The energetic highlight of the event was when, for about 20 minutes, the roomful of women rose from their chairs to sing and dance around the room, playing timbrels provided for each guest to invoke the spirit of Miriam.

Miriam’s energy could truly be felt that day among the Associated Women.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know … 3PM

From left: Brennan Stark, Brandon Millman and Scott Montgomery (Photo provided)

From left: Brennan Stark, Brandon Millman and Scott Montgomery (Photo provided)

Owings Mills natives Brennan Stark, 20, Scott Montgomery, 18, and Brandon Millman, 24, are doing big things on the music scene. Their band, 3PM, which they describe as “pop-punk … evolving into more of a pop rock sound,” started in 2012 playing small local shows, sometimes in front of no more than 20 people.

Since then, the band has released two studio albums, opened for the nationally touring Baltimore pop-punk band All Time Low and has performed at two Vans Warped Tours, which 3PM called every band’s dream on its blog.

Currently, 3PM is in Los Angeles recording its third studio album with multiplatinum producer Matt Squire, who has produced breakout albums for bands such as One Direction, Panic! At The Disco, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande and All Time Low, among others.

The JT caught up with the Baltimore-based band to discuss its music and its recent success.

How and when did the band start?
In the summer of 2012, our drummer, Brandon, decided he wanted to start a band. He reached out to the little brother of a mutual friend to ask him about playing guitar in the band, and Scott said yes. The two then looked to social media and found Brennan for a lead vocalist and bassist. We’ve been together almost four years now.

How did the opportunity to work with such a big name producer come up?
We were playing a show in New York City and an A&R [artists and repertoire] guy for Matt Squire caught our set and liked what he saw. He talked to us for a while and introduced us to Matt.

What has the recording experience been like in L.A.?
The experience has been nothing short of incredible. We lived in an apartment in the Hollywood Hills right next to Universal Studios. We immediately clicked with Matt and his engineer, Steve Tippeconnic, and we worked together to record what will be our third studio album. The creative process was incredible and fluid, and we’re excited to unveil it to everyone. Matt and Steve treated us like family, and at one point we had Shabbat dinner with Matt’s family.

Do you feel like your music has evolved during the recording process?
We’re absolutely evolving our music. As a band, we mature, and thus our music does as well. We can’t say too much about it right now, but we went into the recording studio with the intention to really perfect our own sound and find something that is approachable for people of all ages and tastes.

What long-term hopes do you have for the band?
We hope that our work ethic and determination allow us to live out our dreams of making music for a career. With this new album, we plan to make some major steps in the right direction toward our goals.

Any Baltimore shows coming up? Can you reveal an album release date?
We don’t have any shows [coming up] in Baltimore right now. We are currently very busy finishing the new album and ramping up for an eventual release, but we’ll be doing shows here and there throughout the summer. Our next show is at Launch Music Festival in Lancaster, Pa., on April 23.
For more information on 3PM, visit 3PM-music.com.

 

Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The Real Heart of the Pesach Seder

food1

Gefilte fish (Photo by David Stuck)

The story of Passover is at the heart of every Seder meal.  It overflows with the rituals and tradition that make this holiday so different from any other.

Passover reminds me of my late mother who stood in line to buy whitefish, pike and rockfish — the only mixture she would use — as she tipped the fish monger for removing the eyes, head and tails and grinding the fish.  I was the  taster of the raw mixture to make sure the amount of pepper was just right.  Little did I know, that was my first sushi tasting.

Recently, on the Food Network, I saw a top chef boiling the eyeballs in broth and eating them as a favorite delicacy.

It was only a few decades ago that the only gefilte fish choices we had were from a caterer or tediously made from scratch like everyone’s bubbie did — a real labor of love.  Today, selections of already-ground, seasoned frozen fish are awaiting your own personal touch to cook terrines, loaves, fish kabobs or traditional oval servings.  It may not be exactly your bubbie’s fish, but a multicolored gefilte fish terrine or kabob might become a family favorite.  And to your kids and grandkids, it will then become their bubbie’s fish.

In produce, try a big hunk of celeriac. Peel, dice and cook in your homemade soup. It gives a sweet, mild celery flavor.  Don’t resist cauliflower, the new healthy “rice.”  Use the accompanying recipe for a delicious, good-for-you side dish to any meal.

Remember the round egg yolk balls your bubbie used to serve in the chicken soup? Try my recipe to make tiny ones that resemble the old-fashioned ones.  One tiny one in a soup serving couldn’t hurt, right?

As you set your table, remember to squeeze in a person or couple who would otherwise be alone for Passover.  It will be your biggest mitzvah and will make your matzoh balls fluffy and your brisket sweet.

 

Easy, Healthy Cauliflower Rice (Pareve)

Sweet and Crunchy Quinoa (Pareve)

Old-Fashioned Egg Balls for Chicken Soup

A Delicious Sauce

 

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Navigating Your Own Map: Torah Study Firmly in Hands of Student

Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman (photo by Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi David Fohrman wants you “to be floored by the depth of the Bible” and to plumb those depths firsthand, but not solely through the interpretations of Talmudic scholars such as Rashi and the Ramban.

Fohrman presented his third book, “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over,” which employs his simple yet sophisticated approach to study, to an audience of about 200 people last week at his “hometown shul,” Congregation Shomrei Emunah.

Fohrman developed his methodology over years of learning and teaching in Baltimore, first as a student at Ner Israel Talumudical Academy and then as an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University and through his synagogue. One of the book’s benefactors is Silver Spring, Md., native Alan Broder, who has also donated about 1,000 of Fohrman’s books to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and the University of Maryland, College Park, among other institutions.

The tools are serious and sophisticated,
but they are also deceptively simple.

— Rabbi David Fohrman, author,
“The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”

There are two familiar ways to study the Bible, says Fohrman, who now resides in Woodmere, N.Y. One is through academics, which can lack spirituality and “tends to be silent as to questions of meaning.” The other is through sermonics, where an authority presents information that is somewhat predigested for the student.

“I’m trying to do something in between the two, to take serious literary tools and look [directly] at the text,” he says. “The tools are serious and sophisticated, but they are also deceptively simple.”

For example, Fohrman urges students to read a passage and ask, “Where have I heard these words before,” seeking out where the Bible repeats itself and thus linking different narratives by using words, phrases and ideas that resonate.

“It’s basically the Torah’s way of saying if you want to understand ‘A’ over here, you’ll see it over here in ‘B,’” he says.

Another technique is, ‘Which of these things is not like the others?’ where four things might be referenced in a Bible story, yet three of them seem connected, and one is clearly out in left field.

“So, the set is not what you think it is,” he asserts. “There’s a different headline for the set, and it includes this fourth [seemingly unassociated] thing too. As you get better with the techniques, it becomes “second nature and seems simple. You feel like you can come with your own mind to this. … You can use the method and engage it with your own brain.”

Fohrman says his newest book enlists these tools and “is structured like a mystery novel that leads you through the text. It’s not like a textbook. It’s intended to draw people into the story and immerse them, and like any good novel, they can walk around and touch the world [as if] they’re there.” But each person discovers their own personal takeaway.

The purpose of the book, Fohrman said, is to combat an all-too-familiar scenario: At a Passover Seder, suddenly it’s late, and everyone is rushing through details to get to the meal. Who actually gets to talk about the Exodus story itself?

“So this [book] was an attempt to create an analysis of the actual biblical story of the Exodus, where you could read it and take your time, then come to the Seder having done some study about what the Exodus means and what some of the elephants in the room are in the story … such as why do we even call it Passover? Why not call it Independence Day or call it Freedom Day? It’s the whole birth of our people as a nation. This book is like a travelogue of my personal journey through these questions and how I’ve grappled with them, and [it’s about] putting them out for another intelligent reader and saying, ‘Here’s what my travelogue looked like, and now make your travelogue.’”

Fohrman continues, “It’s easy to get lost because there are all these really smart people over the ages [such as] Rashi, the Ramban, [and one might ask] who is little old me? But with these tools you can arm yourself and your brain to really attack the text and confront it seriously.”

Uncovering layers of personal meaning in a text makes it more relevant in surprising ways, he says.

Ruth Shane, who attended the event, is a biologist at Johns Hopkins University and also teaches Torah at Shomrei Emunah. She has studied with Fohrman for years.

Making connections on your own “is part of the joy of learning Torah this way. You really accomplish something — you dig and you dig, and then there’s that Aha! moment when it all fits together,” she says. “And you just tingle inside because you can almost hear God whispering in your ear, ‘Yes, you found it.’ I can’t believe how much more I’ve learned by doing it this way.”

Shane attended Bais Yaakov, where she studied text with a formalized approach, and says, “Discovering it for myself has given me an enhanced appreciation of the commentaries. Because now I understand how they do what they do. And they’re not God, they’re human beings. And they’ve worked really hard to come up with what they’ve come up with, and they argue with each other. And now I feel like I can put in my two cents too.”

Rosemary Warschawski, senior vice president of exlnz (an organization devoted to high-level coaching), has known and studied with Fohrman for about 20 years and appreciates his “bringing together of so many different disciplines and making [them] relevant to Torah, so that Torah then becomes something that is ancient but all encompassing — but entirely up to date. And that’s exciting. [Studying with Fohrman is] always text based, but is never only text based.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Expands Israel Trip to Mothers

Ministry of Diaspora Affairs director general Dvir Kahana (fifth from left) and Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project founding director Lori Palatnik (fifth from right) attended a March 20 reception announcing the expansion of the Momentum trip program for Jewish mothers going to Israel. (Provided)

Ministry of Diaspora Affairs director general Dvir Kahana (fifth from left) and Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project founding director Lori Palatnik (fifth from right) attended a March 20 reception announcing the expansion of the Momentum trip program for Jewish mothers going to Israel. (Provided)

More than 5,600 Jewish mothers from 26 countries will now have a chance to visit Israel over the next two years as a result of a new initiative of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.

On March 20 during a  reception at the AIPAC Policy Conference, the two groups announced a $12.5 million  expansion of the organization’s Momentum program, a Birthright-like trip that sends Jewish mothers, who have a child under 18, to Israel for a nine-day excursion aimed at helping mothers become more in touch with their Jewish heritage. Other than the cost of the airfare, the trip is free.

Since 2014, the JWRP has partnered with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in supporting half of the cost of the trip, which founding director and Rockville resident Lori Palatnik said came after a series of meetings with the ministry and its declaration that “you’re what we’ve been looking for.”

“We both have the same goal, to strengthen Jews in the Diaspora, to strengthen Jewish communities,” Palatnik said. “And we both agree that the best way to strengthen the Jewish community is to inspire the Jewish mother. … You  inspire the Jewish mother, you inspire the whole family.”

Palatnik and director general of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs Dvir Kahana were on hand at the reception last week. Kahana said the hope  is for Momentum trips to continue growing and include women from a variety of  ethnicities.

 

You inspire the Jewish mother, you inspire the whole family.”
— Lori Palatnik

“The ministry considers Momentum to be a game-changing project, and so we’ve decided to partner with JWRP,” he said. “Not only do we provide equal funding, but we also work together as full partners — both in strategic planning and program execution.”

Kahana added that the ministry also supports Birthright and Masa Israel trips.

It was with the goal in mind of putting Jewish women more in touch with their heritage that Washington-based JWRP was founded in 2008 and began the Momentum project, sending more than 7,000 women to Israel in eight years.

JWRP founding director Lori Palatnik said the key to strengthening the heritage of Jews is through the Jewish mother. (Provided)

JWRP founding director Lori Palatnik said the key to strengthening the heritage of Jews is through the Jewish mother. (Provided)

The trip typically includes iconic sites such as Masada, the Western Wall and Safed, which were part of Baltimore resident Debra Weinberg’s trip last October. Weinberg, who sits on the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said there were 200 women on her trip that included North Americans as well as a group from St. Petersburg, Russia and secular Israelis.

Weinberg had been to Israel numerous times before but said this trip put her in touch with “Israel’s soul” through a number of seminars, such as “Keeping the spark alive,” “Our roles as Jewish mothers,” “Jewish values for kids” and “Shabbat: heaven on earth.”

“Deeply profound conversations with new friends were at the heart of this trip,” she said. “Where else are you told that you complete God’s world and are challenged to consider what each of us can contribute to this world?”

Weinberg said a low-cost trip is part of the incentive for women to go, but for those who experience Israel for the first time, it is an especially moving experience.

“One woman who is a convert and sent her children to day school was especially moved at the Kotel,” she said. “Her children had been able to travel to Israel as students, and she wished to explore Israel after hearing about their journeys.”

Weinberg said last week she received a letter that she had written to herself before the trip highlighting what she wanted to accomplish and said it is now clear that the Momentum project succeeded in “turning inspiration into action.”

“New friendships were  created, our love for Israel was deepened, and many of us took baby steps in trying a new mitzvah,” she said. “We pledged to accept greater  responsibility for our community and our organizations and committed to make Jewish learning a priority.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know … Elizabeth Unger

Elizabeth Unger (Photo provided)

Elizabeth Unger (Photo provided)

If only one word could be used to describe Elizabeth Unger, it would be “eclectic.”

The 26-year-old globetrotter has set foot on all seven continents, studied biology and is enrolled in a food studies master’s program at New York University all while pursuing a passion for documentary production.

She ties it all together with photography.

Between her trips to South America, Asia and Washington, D.C., the JT caught up with her in her hometown of Ellicott City to hear more about her endeavors, both past and future.

How did you get started in photography?

I started a few years ago and became more interested in storytelling. I traveled a lot but never really took photos. I just wasn’t that person, and I never thought I would be a photographer. But I realized photography was a really interesting medium that I could apply to a lot of different things. I enjoyed being able to tell stories and cultivate a narrative. I started assisting wedding photographers and bought my first camera. It really grew on me.

Elizabeth Unger (Photo provided)

Elizabeth Unger (Photo provided)

Where have you traveled?

I got a Young Explorers grant from National Geographic to do a project about culture and identity in Japan and Brazil. So I went to both of those countries last year to do a photo series and video project. I’ve also been going to Bolivia for the past year working on a documentary. Technically, I’ve been to all seven continents.

Even Antarctica?

When I was in undergrad, I  was studying biology. I worked in a lab with a [scientist doing research about penguins]. He offered to take to me to Antarctica on a grant through the university, and I stupidly said no at first. I thought about it and realized that was dumb. I tried to go back, but [it was too late], so I decided to find another way to get down there. The National Science Foundation has contractors that employ support staff for the scientists, and they live in Antarctica at the research stations. I applied to be a prep cook and I didn’t think I would get it, but I got a call in November 2012 and they said you can fly out in three days. So I stayed there for three-and-a-half months. It was one of the most insane experiences of my life.

Where was your latest trip?

I was in Bolivia shooting a documentary about illegal wildlife trafficking and the people fighting against it. I can’t say too much about it, but I’m going on a two-month shoot later this year, and we’re hoping to eventually raise money to create a feature film. It’s been a long process, but the people are passionate about [ending] illegal wildlife trafficking.

What does it take to be a professional photographer in a world with a camera on every cellphone and tablet?

I think you need a niche as a photographer. For me, I’m still trying to find that niche. I’m in a food studies master’s program so I do a lot of food and drink commercial photography for clients. It’s an amazing niche to have, but I also really like travel, wildlife and documentary photography. I think what a lot of professional photographers do is pick up commercial clients and do editorial and advertising work. Then they have a passion for something that doesn’t pay as much. I’m still figuring out who I am as a photographer; that’s the direction I’m going.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Less is More When Leading a Seder

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

If you are leading a Passover seder for the first time this year, the key may be to start small, according to many Washington, D.C.-area rabbis.

“One of my best pieces of advice for the seder is to have a number of people there that you feel you can actually have a conversation with,” said Rabbi Scott Perlo of 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

Perlo remembers leading one of his first seders at Camp Ramah in California while he was a rabbinic student and said the scene was “pure chaos.”

“It was 150 people who had come to Camp Ramah for the week to spend Passover there,” he said.

For beginners, Perlo says a better approach is to host a seder in your home and recommends becoming familiar with a haggadah that you are most comfortable with.

“Haggadot are the most user-friendly of all Jewish books,” he said. “They give you step-by-step instructions.”

Perlo emphasized it is not necessary to know every prayer traditionally said at the seder, adding that designing your own haggadah using haggadot.com is a good place to start. The site allows users to pick and choose from a variety of themes and traditions typically observed during the seder. There are even templates from which to choose, such as one designed by Becca Goldstein of American University Hillel for a social justice-themed seder that is focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you’re leading seder, I think your job is to make the Passover story come alive for people,” Perlo said. “That means first it has to come alive for you. Read the story and understand it in a way where the story of the Exodus speaks to you.”

Facilitating good conversation is the key to a fulfilling seder, said Rabbi Laura Rappaport of Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax, Va. Rappaport said the haggadah is more of a script that was written centuries ago as a guide for Jews who were not sure what to talk about on Passover.

“What they should be preparing is a really interesting night of conversation about the themes,” she said, “either their personal lives or what’s going on in society.”

This year, Rappaport will have no shortage of company, as she is leading six seders including her own family seder, a senior adult seder at the JCC of Northern Virginia and one at her congregation. She said the task of making a seder fulfilling for so many different groups is not difficult because the themes of freedom and personal journey are universal. In the past she has related the themes of Passover to politics, family life and personal growth.

“I might share a few quotes that strike me a particular year and how it reflects on them,” she said. “I feel like a seder leader is there to facilitate an experience that is relevant for the people there.”

For example, Rappaport said this year, “welcoming the stranger” is a particularly pertinent theme, as it relates to feelings about immigration and the refugee crisis. Most importantly though, she thinks about the meaning of having family together for a seder.

“Seder should not be a heavy experience,” she said. “It should connect with you spiritually and emotionally. So I think it’s a nice part of seder if you can connect with family or close friends with which you have seder every year.”

Perlo too said the Passover themes often spark lively discussion. He said he often asks questions such as, “Who would you be in the Passover story if it happened today?” and “Where do you see the Exodus story in everyday life?”

“The best conversations usually come up with disagreements about what the story means,” he said.

Perlo said this approach to a more intimate seder allows people to have conversations about “the biggest ideas in the world across a small dinner table.” This year, 6th and I is encouraging younger Jews to host seders in their homes as part of an initiative called “Seders Across DC.” The synagogue is collaborating with an organization called OneTable, which normally helps people host Shabbat in their home by partnering with on-demand grocery services such as Instacart that allow people to order premade food and accessories.

Because the first night of Passover falls on April 22, a Friday night, OneTable chose to engage with seder-leading efforts as well this year. In addition to OneTable, Motis Market will also provide food and supplies for $20 per person.

“We’d like to encourage as many people to have seders in their homes as possible,” Perlo said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com