You Should Know … Mandee Heinl

Mandee Heinl (Photo by Justin Silberman)

Mandee Heinl (Photo by Justin Silberman)

Mandee Heinl was always  interested in politics. As a senior at Pikesville High School in 2007, she interned for Del. Jon Cardin after hearing him speak to her Hebrew school class at Temple Oheb Shalom.

Eventually, the 26-year-old would go on to graduate from the University of Baltimore with a master’s degree in public administration and hold government jobs in Annapolis and at the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Last year, Heinl left her post under Del. Shelly Hettleman at the State House in part to be closer to her two children, 3-year-old son Samuel and 1-year-old daughter Olivia. When her husband, Steve, departed Baltimore County District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s staff to take a job with Annapolis-based law firm Hyatt & Weber, Heinl was tapped as his replacement.

Among her responsibilities, Heinl helps write policy, perform constituent services and research and set up appointments for  Almond to visit community organizations such as schools and senior centers.

How did you develop your passion for working in  government?

I’ve been working a long time, and so when I found something that I loved, thankfully I had enough sense to say, “I love it, and I’m going to put my heart and soul into it.” I have some amazing role models in my life who I look up to now. My whole life, I’ve been around women who work really hard and have shown me that if I work hard, I’ll be rewarded and that working hard is the way to success.

Also, I have a very supportive husband. He has no problem doing bedtime with our kids when I have to work late or putting up with me when I’m grumpy because a vote didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. Not all women have that, and it’s hard to balance being a wife and a mom and having a career that is more than full-time hours.

What does your position entail on a daily basis?

You deal with a lot of day-to-day life issues here and quality- of-life issues. If I drive over a pothole, for example, and pop a tire, that’s pretty irritating, so you have to have someone on the other side of the phone who is friendly and helps you. Before I took this job, I thought that there was not much policy in county government, but I quickly learned that there is quite a bit of policy.

Now, I feel like I can affect as much change behind the scenes if I really understand the issues. I got my drive, figured out what I can do in county government and how I can impact positive change. It’s neat to look back on what I’ve done so far and to see what’s on the radar moving forward.

Do you see yourself running for office one day?

I don’t really know. It’s not really in my plans right now. My gut reaction is that I don’t want to run for office, but you never know. It’s not good to say never. I like being behind the scenes. Politicians are always out, meeting people, talking to people, hearing the public’s concerns, and they have to have someone who has time to read the issues and know every line of policy. That’s what I do, and I love that part of my job. Politicians have to support their initiatives and lead the charge, but they can’t possibly know every line, every period and every comma in legislation.

What is it like to work for Vicki Almond?

I always say that she can walk into a meeting where everyone hates her and is mad or angry about something, then she leaves, and they are inviting her back and giving her a hug goodbye. I don’t necessarily have that trait, but I admire that she does. She’s very different than most elected officials. Many politicians are all about policy and politics, but she is not. She is all about the community, and that’s something that is rare to find. It makes her an incredible person to work under.

She also is a mom and a grandma, so when one of my kids is sick or if I want to go to an event at one of my kids’ schools or if it’s someone’s birthday, there’s never a concern. She knows I’m putting my hours in, and she knows I’m working my butt off.

Gordon Center Season Features Collaborations, Programs for All

Cris Jacobs (provided)

Cris Jacobs (provided)

A world-class venue calls for a world-class lineup, and the 2016-17 season at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts does not disappoint.

This season’s mix of dance, music, spoken word, film and family programming from local, regional, national and  international performers means there’s something for everyone at the Owings Mills venue.

“We’re continuing to listen to our audience to hear what they want to see, [and we’re] bringing back some of our  favorites,” said Randi Benesch, senior managing director of arts and culture at the JCC. “As a true community center, we’re trying to find something for all ages and all interests.”

In live music offerings, the Gordon hosts the second year of chamber music series chamber encounters, with two shows in the Gordon Center with  audience members sitting on stage with the artists and two shows in the intimate Performa. The first concert is on Sept. 20.

Opera singer Carolyn Black-Sotir returns to the Gordon on Oct. 30 to perform “Richard Rodgers and His Sounds  of Music” with American Music Theater Artists, Concert Artists of Baltimore and the Greenspring Valley Orchestra.

Baltimore native guitarist and singer Cris Jacobs holds a CD release party for his forthcoming album, “Dust to Gold,” on Nov. 5. The Cris Jacobs Band will perform along with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers.

“I love the room, and I’ve  always wanted to play there. I just wanted it to be the right show, and I’m very excited,”  Jacobs said. “The acoustics are great in the room. I’m excited to change it up for a night and not play in a loud, rowdy bar. People can really take in the songs and digest [them]. For this particular show, I want something with a little more intimate feeling.”

He also expects there to be some sit-ins with Helm, as the two struck up a friendship on the Jam Cruise Festival, and the artists will be performing in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., the previous two nights.

The Gordon’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 15 features the first collaborative performance between the Maccabeats and Naturally 7, whose music video of James Taylor’s “Shed A Little Light” went viral. Each group will perform a set and then perform the Taylor song together for the first time.

“It will be a really powerful, spiritual, cross-cultural celebration of freedom,” Benesch said.

This season also features the first “Steppin’ at the Junction,” a new collaboration between old-time band Charm City Junction and the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.

In the family-friendly realm of music, The Mama Doni Band performs a “Chanukah Fever” concert on Dec. 25, the first day of Chanukah.

“We’ll get everybody up and dancing, it’ll be a lot of fun,” Doni Zasloff aka Mama Doni said. “For me, [Chanukah] is just about miracles really. … Life is filled with miracles, and sometimes the smallest moments in life can really be the big miracles. Miracles really come in all shapes and sizes.”

Zasloff, who grew up in Rockville, Md., and Eric Lindberg, her husband and musical partner, perform the night before with their Jewish bluegrass band Nefesh Mountain.

“We sort of accidentally started writing Jewish prayers and songs in a bluegrass style,” Zasloff said on the formation of that project.

Other family events include magician The Amazing Max and children’s music superstar Mister G.

For moms, the Gordon Center partnered with The Ivy Bookshop for Mom’s Night Out with author Nicole Feliciano, who will be premiering her new book “Mom Boss: Balancing Entrepreneurship, Kids & Success.” Feliciano will be joined by four other moms who are authors, bloggers and entrepreneurs.

Another new event for the venue is Israel Story LIVE! on Nov. 7. The evening, which Ira Glass calls “the Israeli ‘This American Life,’” uses a blend of live storytelling and mixed media to tell stories of Israelis from all over the country.

February, dance month, features Philadanco, a Philadelphia-based company that blends African-American, ballet, jazz and modern dance.  In  addition to the group’s performance on Feb. 25, performers will be part of a weeklong residency in which they’ll teach more than 500 students in  activities at Towson University and in Baltimore County Public Schools.

The month also features the Baltimore Dance Invitational, in which 10 area companies are selected to perform one original piece.

The season also marks the 29th annual Jewish Film Festival. In addition to the 10 film screenings at the Gordon Center,  Benesch said the organization is working with other regional venues to expand the festival’s reach beyond the Owings Mills venue.

“We’re excited to get it out in the community and expose people to Jewish and Israeli films throughout the city,” she said.

Off stage, the Gordon Center and the JCC offer a wide range of visual arts and performing arts education. A new children’s choir is forming as well.

Nina Rosenzwog, co-chair of the JCC Arts and Culture Council, said she thinks the Gordon Center has the right combination of professionals and lay leaders as well as community input, which has allowed them to put together such a noteworthy season.

“We feel we’ve gotten the word out to new and different people in the community, and we’re going to continue along that path,” she said. “It’s important to me to have people in the community feel that they can make a difference and be involved, and there’s room at the table for everybody. We’re there.”

Children’s Author Expands Beyond Jewish Focus

Bracha Goetz’s newest book, “I Want To Be Famous,” is a young boy’s story of self-discovery. (Daniel Nozick)

Bracha Goetz’s newest book, “I Want To Be Famous,” is a young boy’s story of self-discovery. (Daniel Nozick)

Bracha Goetz, a local author of more than 30 children’s books, many Jewish-themed, is best known for her ability to simplify profound ideas in order to help children achieve better understanding.

Originally, Goetz wrote her books without explicitly Jewish themes but added them when Judaica Press decided to publish her work. This month will see the publication of Goetz’s first children’s book that is not explicitly Jewish.

Entitled “I Want To Be  Famous,” the book tells the story of a boy who becomes famous overnight. When his fame dies just as quickly as it began, he realizes that he does not need to be famous to feel good about himself, because being himself is more important. According to Goetz, her inspiration for the book comes from a quote by the motivational speaker Wayne Dyer: “Success is an inside job. The goal is not to be famous, but to fulfill one’s God-given potential.”

The book was also influenced by another quote: “It is so hard to break a habit that when we do, it’s the loudest sound in the universe.” When this child breaks his habit of wanting so badly to be famous, it influences him and his life dramatically. The idea behind the quote is that habits are very difficult to break and that  working hard to change oneself is a profound experience.

In addition to publishing “I Want To Be Famous,” the publishing house is also reprinting seven of Goetz’s older books in their original form, addressing a more general audience as opposed to being directed at the Jewish community. One such reprint will be of “Hashem’s Candy Shop,” retitled “God’s Candy Shop.” The book  addresses the importance of eating healthy.

Another of her books that will be reprinted is “The Happiness Box,” one of her first “classic” books. It is about a grouchy child whose father, rather than putting him in a timeout, decided to put his child in a cardboard box in which “all you can do is think happy thoughts.” As a result of the child’s reflections inside of the box, he becomes a happier person for being thankful for things and eventually realizes that he does not need the box itself to find happiness.

“I love ‘The Happiness Box’ because it reminds me of making a refrigerator box into a playhouse as a kid,” shared Jeanie Loiacono, Goetz’s literary agent. “It is about letting kids get away from electronics and use things they can recycle and be creative.”

Goetz has been writing since she was very young, when she started writing rhymes and poetry. However, her true entrance to the world of writing came when she won a junior writing contest with her submission to McCall’s magazine at 12 years old.

author2Surprisingly, Goetz was not always on the career path that she is today. In spite of having been involved in writing throughout her life, having worked for her high school newspaper as well, Goetz earned her degrees from Harvard University in psychology and social relations. She even  attended medical school for a year but did not return, as she spent a summer interning in Israel and wound up staying for 11 years. In this time, she got married, had children  and even helped to found a settlement in the Judean Hills.

It was in the Judean Hills that Goetz first found her  inspiration to write children’s books. She would sit outside on a bench and write while her young children played on the playground. “I was astounded when I received a letter from a publisher telling me that my book was accepted,” Goetz  recalled. “The diary of Anne Frank influenced me a lot as a kid. But Dr. Seuss was my biggest influence. My favorite books are children’s books.” She has never been keen on reading big novels, preferring to both read and write “deep and profound ideas with as  simple and few words as possible.”

Judaica Press has published a majority of Goetz’s children’s books that have Jewish themes. Nachum Shapiro, the organization’s managing editor, said “something just clicked. She is very easy to work with,  flexible, creative, and she has a fun sense of working with kids, just good insight into children’s minds.”

Goetz’s first published children’s book was entitled, “The Itchy Shabbos.” She was inspired after being beset by mosquitoes — according to Jewish law, even killing mosquitoes on Shabbat is considered work and is forbidden as a result. The book uses the analogy of resisting the urge to kill mosquitoes on Shabbat to teach children about willpower and having the strength necessary to restrain oneself.

She is also heavily involved in writing breakthrough books about difficult topics — she gets commissioned to write them because that is how people know her best. For example, she wrote two children’s books about safety and sexual-abuse prevention. Another book  addresses what a child can do when someone close has passed away and about how to maintain that relationship with the deceased.

“Books about getting kids to interact with parents and do creative things are important,” said Loiacono. “Kids learn by example. Bracha has a wonderful attitude toward learning, teaching and getting kids’ hands dirty; it is fantastic.”

It’s the Big Hello, Goodbye for Summer Eats

Late summer is truly the best time for produce. Those heirloom tomatoes are plentiful, corn is the sweetest, and all other fruits and vegetables give us their best, as they say goodbye until next year. As Elvis once sang, “It’s Now or Never” — to enjoy the best of Baltimore’s local crops. Unfortunately, all of our best locals are late this year. Blame the weather: a long warm spring; too much rain; not enough rain … whatever. I now have a new respect for farmers who must rely on the weather to keep their crops pristine. But better late than never!

This summer, I learned a lot about roasted chilies and peppers. Fresh chilies and bell peppers can be roasted over a gas flame or on a baking tray under the broiler. The secret is to keep turning them until they are evenly and completely charred. Then place the hot cooked peppers in a plastic bag and close tightly for 15 to 20 minutes. Peel them, scraping off the black char, cutting stems, seeds and veins. The veins are the spiciest part of the peppers. Never rinse them under running water. I wipe with a wet paper towel.

I also bought a cast-iron skillet and use it more and more, in and out of the oven. Although heavy to handle, cast iron makes browning meat, chicken and fish taste crusty and delicious.

My friend, Elaine Lowen, is famous for her delicious lemon squares. The recipe I’ve included is from the book “Cook, Pray, Eat Kosher,” which is exactly how Elaine lives her life.

This may just be the right time for a  delicious pot-luck picnic, as many students are also saying goodbye to summer and hello to school. Here are some suggestions for a successful farewell to summer.

Lemon Squares (©

Lemon Squares (©

Luscious Lemon Squares

¼ cup unsalted margarine
⅓ cup powdered sugar
1½ cups flour
3 eggs
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup lemon juice
lemon zest

> Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
Cream margarine, powdered sugar and flour in mixer and press into glass dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Filling: Beat eggs until fluffy. Slowly add sugar flour and lemon juice. Pour onto crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate to congeal. Before slicing to serve, sprinkle top with sifted powdered sugar and garnish with lemon zest. Freezes very well. 15 to 20 squares.

Grilled Corn and Poblano Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette

3 ears of corn, roasted or cooked on a grill to brown kernels
1 fresh poblano chili pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fresh limes, juiced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped*
½ teaspoon salt
1 ripe, firm avocado, pitted and cut into chunks
½ cup fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
½ cup red onion, thin half slices

> Cut kernels from corn and place in a large bowl. Cook poblano pepper until the skin blackens all around. Place in a plastic bag to steam. Peel and seed the poblano, cutting into half-inch pieces. I rinse the poblano and pat dry after removing skin and seeds, or not if you like a lot of spice. Add to the corn. In a smaller bowl, whisk the olive oil, lime juice, chipotle pepper and salt together, and pour over the corn mixture. Add avocado, parsley and red onion, and toss gently to coat. 4 servings.

Roasted Chicken (©

Roasted Chicken (©

Roasted Chicken Thighs with  Late-Summer Veggies and Pan Sauce

6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2½ to 3 pounds)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ pound green bean, stems removed (I like the French ones) (2 cups)
10 ounces grape tomatoes (I use assorted colors)
½ large red or sweet onion, cut into half-inch thick slices
½ cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon pareve margarine, optional
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, sliced into half-inch strips

> Generously season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Position 2 racks near the center of the oven and heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a heavy (cast-iron) oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on stove. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the hot skillet and swirl to coat. Arrange the chicken skin side down in the pan and cook until skin is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Turn chicken over. If a lot of fat has accumulated, spoon it off and discard. While chicken browns, toss the beans, tomatoes, onion, olives and garlic in a large bowl with the  remaining oil. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the skillet and chicken and the vegetable pan in the oven, with chicken on the higher rack. Roast the chicken until a thermometer in the center of a thigh registers 170 degrees, about 18 to 20 minutes. Continue to roast vegetables until very soft and beginning to brown, maybe another 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, discarding as much juice as possible. Place chicken back into skillet. Set over high heat, add the wine, and boil until reduced to about a quarter-cup sauce, 4 to 6 minutes. Swirl in the margarine, if using (I do). It should be syrupy.  Remove the vegetables from the oven and toss with the basil. Place vegetables on a serving plate or individual plates, and arrange the chicken thighs on the vegetables. Drizzle with the pan sauce. Serve immediately. 4 servings.

Tips & Tricks
• Make edible salad bowls! Take shredded parmesan cheese and spread all over one hot small to medium nonstick pan. When light brown, turn over on a bowl and shape it for a salad bowl. Pack separately for a picnic or travel. Be careful. They are fragile.
• When a recipe calls for “grilled corn” kernels, I often use Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn. Defrost, pat dry, and it works great.
• For a great sandwich (or challah) spread, finely mash two ripe avocados. Mix in a little lemon or lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. For more spice, add some powdered ranch dressing mix.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.


You Should Know … Joseph Levin-Manning

Joseph Levin-Manning (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Joseph Levin-Manning (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Joseph Levin-Manning, 26, is not your average Jewish boy. Adopted into a non-Jewish family at a young age, he did not even know that he had Jewish roots until he  decided to investigate.

As a “gay Jewish man of color,” Levin-Manning got into community engagement and service because he was in a unique position to be involved in these different communities.

“The more I was involved in the Jewish community,” he said, “the more I found myself saying, ‘Yes, but what about this community or this community?’”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in political science with a minor in music, Levin-Manning soon came to Baltimore to work for Hillel at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Now studying as a graduate student, he serves as the graduate director of LGBQT programming at UMBC and is a community connector at Charm City Tribe.

How did your upbringing influence you?

I was adopted by a non-Jewish family when I was about 8. I went to church until I was 14. I didn’t find out about Judaism and my Jewish roots until I started talking to my maternal grandfather. In college, I went to Hillel and had an engaging conversation about what it means to be Jewish. I began to participate in services more often and even worked up to co-leading services. Eventually I went on Birthright.

One influential event was an alternative spring break trip in which I went on to Nicaragua with the American Jewish World Service. It was an amazing experience because I learned about the Jewish philosophy on human dignity and how much value is placed on that, and that really resonated with me. I decided on that trip that I wanted to learn to chant Torah and have a bar mitzvah, and I thought that would make me feel connected to the community.

I also attended a summer program called the Brandeis Camp Institute. It was a cool, interesting experience. You go away for 26 days and experience Judaism in a new way, through service projects, Torah studies and Jewish exploration through the arts. I did my bar mitzvah at BCI, I actually learned my Torah portion in two weeks because it was meaningful to me to do it there. I also took Hebrew name.

How has discovering Judaism later in life affected you?

In a lot of ways, I do feel that in some capacity I have to be more religious than I actually would want to be, just because I don’t have the history of practice. It takes a little more effort for me to remember these things or to know the right thing to do at the right time because we’re all about ritual — if it doesn’t come second nature, it’s something that you have to think about.

I never commit to something unless I believe in it fully, and I would say that the same thing is true with Jewish law. I subscribe to the things that I believe in and that I think make sense, and for those that don’t, I struggle with it just like every other Jewish person does. I try to  rationalize it in a way that makes sense in my life, whether or not I choose to observe it.

Can you tell me a bit more about your work?

I am essentially a one-stop shop to support and bolster the community on campus. I work with the administrators, faculty and staff on the different policies that we have and how we can make them more  inclusive and friendly to the LGBQT community. We have lots of Jews of color, lots of LGBQT students of color, LGBQT students who happen to be religious or of a specific faith — they all have a very different experience. I help to support them and make them feel that they can still be their authentic selves on campus. I did the same thing when I was working for Hillel. I made it a point to make sure that everyone felt welcomed and affirmed, and as a result, we saw lots of other people in the Jewish community come out and become comfortable with themselves. One of the things that I’ve  always loved about Judaism and a reason why it really resonated with me was the community  aspect. You’re Jewish first; people don’t care about rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight.

Gene Wilder ‘One of the Truly Great Talents of Our Time’

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder, whose likeness became synonymous with the energetic and mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka, died on Monday in his Stamford, Conn., home of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a widely reported statement from Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman. He was 83.

Beyond the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Wilder captured audiences with his leading roles in “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” all of which he collaborated with fellow legendary Jewish actor and director Mel Brooks.

Brooks tweeted Monday afternoon saying: “Gene Wilder [was] one of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic, and he blessed me with his friendship.”

Alyson Bonavoglia, director of the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival and special projects at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, said Wilder had a unprecedented knack for conveying sadness through comedy. His role as the title character in the classic film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Bonavoglia said, was perhaps one of Wilder’s most defining character studies.

“He had a real talent for playing a childlike role while being an adult because he came through in a way that children and adults alike could relate to his work,” Bonavoglia said. “He made neurotic acting funny,  absurdly funny for that matter, because of how he conveyed himself.”

Ilya Tovbis, director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival, said Wilder’s work with Brooks “grandly changed the complexion of American comedy and cinema.” With his corky look, subtle humor in everyday situations and wide range of roles, Wilder’s accomplishments are comparable to few others in his field.

“From a Jewish perspective, they integrated Jewish humor, values and cultures into mainstream American culture in a way that is only on par with someone like Woody Allen,” he added.

I’m going to tell you what religion is. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito. — Gene Wilder

“Young Frankenstein,” which won the pair an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, moved past the two-dimensional physical comedy that was prevalent at the time to something more complex and multilayered, Tovbis said.

“Wilder always had an outsider’s perspective,” he said, referencing the actor’s time at Black Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood, where, by Wilder’s account, he was the only Jewish boy and was  bullied incessantly. “A lot of his comedy  [incorporates] that lack of ability to fit in.”

Asked about his personal favorite Wilder movie, Tovbis didn’t hesitate.

“’Young Frankenstein,’” he said. “What he did with that movie holds up today. Something like ‘Blazing Saddles,’ which I found laugh-out-loud funny at the time, hasn’t aged as well. I’ve seen ‘Young Frankenstein’ 10 or 15 times and continue get find great laughs from it.”

Gene Wilder starred with Cleavon Little in the 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles." (Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images)

Gene Wilder starred with Cleavon Little in the 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.” (Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images)

Jerome Silberman, who took up the stage name Gene Wilder, was born on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, Wis., and was the son of Jeanne Baer and William J. Silberman, a Russian Jewish immigrant. He is survived by his fourth wife Karen Webb and his nephew.

Wilder was married four times, including to Jewish comedian Gilda Radner in 1984. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Following her death, Wilder became active in promoting cancer awareness and research, co-founding “Gilda’s Club,” a nonprofit organization providing support to those affected by cancer.

In 1991, he married Karen Webb, a speech therapist who survives him.

Wilder’s family kept his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s out of the public eye for much of his later life, but the statement from Walker-Pearlman revealed Wilder’s deeply personal reasoning behind the  decision, following his passing.

“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children who would smile or call out to him ‘There’s Willy Wonka’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight  to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Walker-Pearlman said, as reported by Variety.

Abigail Pogrebin, who authored a book about prominent Jews discussing their Jewish heritage, interviewed Wilder about his religious views.

“I’m going to tell you what my religion is. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito,” Pogrebin wrote of the interview in Tablet magazine. “I have no other religion. I feel very Jewish and I feel very grateful  to be Jewish. But I don’t believe in God or anything to do with the Jewish religion.”

Justin Silberman contributed to the report.

You Should Know … Jennifer Naiman

Jennifer Naiman (photo by Daniel Nozick)

Jennifer Naiman (photo by Daniel Nozick)

A well-known member of the local Jewish community,  Jennifer Naiman, 26, is using her role as an educator to eradicate common assumptions about dyslexia and alternative methods of teaching.

Though she was not raised particularly observant, Naiman was inspired to join the modern Orthodox movement by her tenure as a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Following undergraduate studies in psychology at Towson University, Naiman earned her master’s degree in counseling from McDaniel College while teaching at St. Elizabeth School, a nonpublic special education school in Baltimore City.

Most recently, Naiman worked as a counselor at the Legacy School, a Carroll County institution for students with dyslexia. This summer saw her in a new role as the program director at Camp Shoresh, and she will soon begin work as the first full-time school counselor at Ohr Chadash Academy, in addition to working as a kindergarten teacher and providing academic support for students.

Why did you choose to work with dyslexic students?

The ability to read with ease is a gift that many of us take for granted. As a child who had a lot of trouble learning how to read, I have a lot of empathy for kids who are falling behind and can’t keep up with the rest of their class. I worked specifically with an 8-year-old with Down’s syndrome at St. Elizabeth, and it ended up this child, who everyone thought would never be able to learn, started reading because of me, and it was the most amazing feeling.

How does teaching students with dyslexia differ?

This summer, I traveled to  Atlanta to be trained in the Orton-Gillingham (OG) methods, essentially teaching kids with dyslexia how to read with sounds as opposed to letter names. It involves a lot of kinesthetic learning such as hand symbols; we often us the pointer-fingertip as the main sensory input. Most of your learning is tactile, we have students trace letters with their fingertip rather than a pencil, because the sensory input will make it more memorable. It is direct and basic.

A week later, I was trained in phonographics, a similar teaching method, but through active discovery. With OG, there is a sequence in which you teach reading, nothing is in alphabetical order. In phonographics, things are taught based on what is presented to the child; they have to discover the word before you teach it. The whole thing is that when a child has context for what they are learning, they’re going to remember it much better. I plan to use mostly phonographics at Ohr Chadash. It is much quicker paced, made for students with high intelligence but a different style of learning.

What are your goals?

I would love to make a school for Jewish kids with dyslexia, which runs in Jewish families very highly. It is very common, but often misdiagnosed as ADHD. Everyone thinks dyslexia is that you read your Bs and Ds backwards or upside down, but no. Kids with dyslexia see the words the same way that you or I would see the words, they just can’t process them the same way. We see the word “bed” and read it as such, but they can’t necessarily put those three letters together.

The problem is, when a student like this gets so used to the common core system of teaching, they will often become what is known as a global reader. They will see the word “this” and know the word is “this” because they’ve seen it and been corrected so many times — they’ve memorized the word. But then if they see the word “thistle,” they will associate it with the word “this,” which is obviously incorrect. This results in a dyslexic student memorizing certain words without learning the basis for reading, which sets them back so much further when you get to more complicated reading. That’s why often dyslexia isn’t diagnosed until a student starts developing more complex reading skills.

At Ohr Chadash, I would like to help get the school on board with reading methods that work for each individual child, rather than teaching one set way to learn how to read. I want to help the staff assess each child as an individual, then teach each individual child how to read in a way that works for them.

You Should Know … Jason Gershowitz

Jason Gershowitz (right) with brother and business partner  Eric Gershowitz (Photo provided)

Jason Gershowitz (right) with brother and business partner Eric Gershowitz (Photo provided)

Baltimorean Jason Gershowitz started a business based on the idea that cold-brewing coffee makes the depth of flavor far more accessible.

Coffee Counselor treats coffee almost like wine — there are different origins, different beans and different blends. By using the same process to cold-brew beans of different origins, a broad range of flavors is created. The logic is that the natural  flavor should highlight the differences in coffee based on their origin as opposed to flavoring being a result of the brewing process.

The 29-year-old is a hometown boy, having attended  Owings Mills High School and growing up a member of Beth El Congregation.

How did you get into coffee?

About 10 years ago, I was trying to explore my palate and eat healthier. I did a few home batches of cold brew and realized how much more flavorful it was. Three years ago, I decided to open a pop-up coffee shop with my brother, Eric, and some close friends. We ran it out of the science club in Washington, D.C. for two months, operating out of a four-story building, which had recently closed its basement bar. I recently found out that in those two months, we served the world’s largest variety of single origin cold-brews on tap, with 30 origins that we rotated through.

How did you figure out that brewing process?

I learned at home. I just started experimenting with different types of brew methods in my basement. The research that we did, we tried between eight and 48 hours of steeping; 18 to 20 hours was ideal or it got too bitter. The theory was that we’d find one way to brew cold brew and use that across all the origins as opposed to brewing each bean differently to give them different flavors.

How did you get to where you are today from there?

We’ve been growing incrementally. We came out of the pop-up having been profitable after two months, which was incredible. We learned that we could make money, that there is a community of people that really like our cold-brew and that there were three origins of the 30 that sold the best. We were at risk for a lot of waste, so we gave a lot of free coffees to charity. I hate waste and want to run an efficient business. Right now, we are looking into a second part of the business, where coffee grounds are turned into fertilizer. Last winter, we started bottling these cold-brews for ourselves so we could take them to-go. They were received wildly by friends and family, so this summer we legitimized production, moved into a catering facility and are producing three origin “summer classics” as our core business.

Have you thought about putting together a flavor chart?

At the pop-up we used an existing coffee flavor wheel. This helped the community to  explore our coffee. We also did tasting flights out of test tubes because we were at the science club. We want people to discover what they don’t like  as much as what they do like.

So what’s the plan now?

Some are concerned that cold-brew is a fad, but I do not believe that. Coffee is the number two trade by weight in the world after oil. I see us expanding the reach of our products to have a national presence. I’d like to have a ready-to-drink product that provides enough flavor options that individuals can explore a bit as opposed to what is available now: a black coffee, a creamy coffee and something with an additive like pumpkin spice. We wouldn’t do that; we would find a bean that has a natural taste as opposed to adding chemicals. We work with local roasters, and the beans that we source either have organic certifications or meet those standards.

­­­­­The other thing that we’re doing now is a lot of co-packing, where we’re producing for other coffee companies, for country clubs that want to white label a product. We are experimenting with formats for bottling. We have our 12-ounce beer bottle format, and I’ve got a 750-milliliter wine bottle that I am working on. What gets me going is to offer a coffee that has something juicy to it, a new flavor that someone won’t have tasted in coffee before.

You Should Know … Justin Levy

Justin Levy (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Justin Levy (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Justin Levy, 31, is a well-known name in the music scene around Towson. From high school through his post-graduate career, he has been teaching percussion and piano throughout the local community.

He was playing drums by age 10, and by age 14, he had picked up the piano and was performing with live bands. By the time he got to college, piano took over percussion as his primary focus, and he began his classical training.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, Levy earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and planned to go to medical school. He worked at the National Institutes of Health for two years but continued to give music lessons on weekends. As much as he loves music, he has always been more passionate about teaching, having taught music since high school.

As a result, when he hit 25 students, Levy decided to stop working in the medical field entirely. In 2015, Levy decided to open his own studio in the Towson area, a goal which was realized with the opening of The Music Space this past  February.

Why did you decide to open your own studio?

I have worked and studied in a bunch of places over the years. Just knowing what kind of place I would have wanted to come for lessons as a kid, I built this place with that in mind. For me, writing music is the most important thing. My goal is to encourage my students to write their own things, and they can record it here in the studio. I want to pair up kids  in bands. I want to get my students involved in other projects and just build a network in the community.

I understand that you hire teachers yourself?

I’m really looking for teachers who perform. There are many musicians who can sit down and read and be incredible, but I want people who are actually out there creating music.

How much work went into opening The Music Space?

I’m a really good woodworker, I have great attention to detail, so I did everything myself. I put literally everything I had into it, all of my savings, and I got a business loan. My original band, Eureka Birds, recorded three albums and got a licensing deal with a bank in Germany, so I got money from that which went straight to buying the piano. It was a grind — every day from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., I’d be here doing the manual labor, then I would go to my students’ homes in Towson to teach them. For four years before I opened, I was going to door-to-door, teaching kids who were pretty much in the same network — friends and then friends of friends.

So how is The Music Space doing now?

I have around 60 students. I have added 30 extra students since February. Before, I had to teach one student and then teach someone nearby, so if one of the families wanted to recommend me to a friend, if they lived far away, it was hard to make it work. When I had to go to houses, it had to work out perfectly. With this central location, everyone can come here. It is drawing really well.

What do lessons typically entail?

All the teachers are a little different, but I think we all agree that inspiring students to want to play is the most important thing. It all comes down to the student interest. The game for me is to figure out what they want to do and what they are able to do and find what is  important enough to the student to make them want to practice.

Why should kids want to come to The Music Studio?

I built this studio just knowing what kind of place I would have wanted to come for lessons as a kid. I think recording is such a crucial part. I had a 5-year-old student here the other day for her third lesson, and she played “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” so I said let’s record it right now. She got  really excited. Looking back in a couple of years when she’s an advanced student, that recording will be something that is priceless. I like the idea of tracking progress along the way because you practice. But it’s so much easier to see your progress if you can listen  to the differences week to week.

You Should Know …
Erik ‘Egg’ Berlin


Erik ‘Egg’ Berlin

Chef Erik “Egg” Berlin has been making his mark on the world of cooking, eschewing a restaurant-oriented career in favor of teaching the culinary fundamentals. After graduating from culinary school at Anne Arundel Community College and receiving a degree in hospitality and business management from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Chef Egg served various roles as both chef and instructor. These roles prepared him for the future by providing him with an understanding of how he wanted to educate people in a way that brought him both spiritual and financial success.

He grew up appreciating Jewish food as “comfort food,” but the simplicity of some of the cuisine pushed him to try the flavors of other cultures.

“Whether we go to synagogue or not, the food is our culture,” he said. “It’s important to me that my kids know what matzah ball soup is.”

Chef Egg now serves the community by working with both children and adults. Recently, he traveled overseas to do courses with soldiers, and he regularly volunteers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This year, he is starting a new curriculum in schools called “Cooking with STEAM Power,” teaching kids about the science, technology, engineering, arts and math behind cooking.

How did you come up with Chef Egg?

It’s a childhood nickname that just stuck. Everyone loves it. I noticed in culinary school that people didn’t know how to cook. The basic cooking fundamentals were seriously lacking. In today’s world, it is an issue compounded by the fact that everyone is a culinary know-it-all and thinks they can judge food with very little understanding of how it’s prepared, and the art or science behind it. We have issues like childhood obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol, and all of these can be conquered by learning basic culinary skills. I do this in a way that is very different. Where somebody might make a quick video for social media, I add what is lacking — “I’d love to make that, but do I need a knife and a cutting board?” Truly bringing it back to the basic skills.

What do you mean by basic culinary skills?

Making your own meal at home will solve many problems. To boil pasta and put some sauce on it, that’s a healthy, nutritious meal to make. But to understand how to make a homemade tomato sauce, and to learn how to cook pasta properly is going to be of rare value to you. With the same amount of time and a little extra work on your part, you can have such a fantastic product. You go to a restaurant in the city and get pasta for $15. A box of pasta is $1.

Is your programming different for children and adults?

I start out everything with, “I am not a doctor or a lawyer or anything other than a cook.” That’s what people want, I come from a place of honesty. It’s just like a band, the energy between the performer and the audience creates the show. How do I differentiate? I don’t. Nobody knows how to set the table properly, or sauté veggies or make a marinara sauce. If they all learn together, that’s the best. It is really important for kids to know that everybody has a job at the table. It is the same lesson, just a little more technical for the adults, a little more color, texture and taste for the kids. With elderly people, I like to talk about how taste brings back memories. Every audience can get something different out of it. From my years at Whole Foods, I have about 200 lessons already planned.

Do you have any specific memories of impacting people with your program?

I work with the Wounded Warrior project at Walter Reed. I have stayed in contact with a lot of the families I have worked with. I get people who I’ll work with for two years. They’ll be fresh out of the operating room with traumatic injuries. At first they won’t want to come to my class, but it grows on them and they don’t want to leave after two years. That’s an indicator that I’m doing a job well done.