You Should Know … Matt Galler

Matt Galler (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

Even if you don’t (yet) know Matt Galler, you’ve probably heard him. The 29-year-old Reisterstown native is the voice of WTMD’s “Afternoon Drive” and “The Saturday Alternative.”

Growing up, Galler spent most of his school career at the Franklin schools, and started in band in fifth grade with the baritone. That didn’t last, and Galler found himself drawn instead to the drums. His true passion for music was unlocked when his parents gifted him a drum set in the basement in middle school.

From then on, Galler formed different bands (including Gatsby Gets the Green Light and Brighter Shades) and toured throughout high school and college. He still plays, but his passion took him instead to WTMD, that voice in the car with good taste in music.

How did you get into radio DJing?
I knew I wanted to do something music-related, so I had been spending a lot of time in my bandmate’s recording studio for years. I decided to become an EMF major — electronic media and film — at Towson University.

Even then, I wasn’t thinking radio broadcasting, but then, I needed an internship. And I was in a class with someone who worked part time at TMD and suggested I apply for an internship here and I did.

It obviously changed my life. I interned for two semesters and was offered a Sunday afternoon shift, then started picking up more shifts. I really got into it and freaking loved it. What is more exciting, as a music lover, than when you hear something you like and go share with your friends? And I get to do that every single day to a bunch of people.

What’s the strangest call-in request you’ve ever gotten?
It seems some people call in just to see how far out you will go. We have a format as a radio station — it’s a very wide format and includes a lot music, but we have to stay within the lines. I’m not going to play death metal or a super ambient experimental thing. But I do have a lot of freedom to go out there and get a little weird at times. That’s what I really appreciate about this radio station.

What’s one especially memorable experience on-air?
When we just moved into this new facility [about three years ago] and we did the 24-hour Rock-n-Roll-athon. It was 24 hours of hour-long live performances from 24 different bands, most of them local. We were going all through the day and all through the night, and we were all here at really weird hours. It was a way of christening the station. It was really cool after the fact, and during too. Like, “I can’t believe we’re able to do something like this!”

Have you ever had something really embarrassing happen to you on-air?
Well, you know, when you mess up at a normal job or you flub or make a little mistake, the only person who knows is you and maybe the other person there. Well, here, when you mess up on-air, you feel like everyone knows and everyone’s listening. That was something that really took me a little while to get over. I mess up less than I used to, but it’s one of those things that was more difficult for me — I’d lose sleep over it, worrying that everyone in Baltimore heard me mess up.

You’re a musician too. What do you most enjoy playing?
I love rock ‘n’ roll. If it has a groove and it rocks hard, I’m usually pretty into it.

I like things that are challenging in some way — things that aren’t too formulaic, things that take risks. I especially like music that is more difficult to categorize. It keeps things really fresh.

Who are a few people you think everyone should be listening to right now?
[Pauses] Give me a second to think because this is a really important question. Anderson .Paak is one of my favorite musicians right now. Angel Olsen is pretty badass — really great songwriter who rocks out. Father John Misty, Ron Gallo, Sinkane — all recommended listening.

What does WTMD have coming up?
The lineup for First Thursdays should be coming out relatively soon. Our kids’ series, “Saturday Morning Tunes,” has been a super success. They’re all selling out. There’s a couple coming up [March 18, April 1 and May 20] for that. We realized it was difficult for people with kids to come out to TMD shows, so we wanted to create a family-friendly environment.

We’ve also got the Rock and Roll Chili Bowl [March 25] coming up, and that’s a chili contest with a rock band playing. We did it last year and it was awesome.

You Should Know… Ann Hirsch

Ann Hirsch (Photo by Joe Schmelzer)

Ann Hirsch, 31, might be a Los Angeles convert these days, but she is a born and bred Baltimorean, attending Krieger Schechter Day School and The Park School. And she’s never gone for too long since her parents, Alan Hirsch (owner of Donna’s Restaurant) and Dina Sokal (a child psychologist), still call the area home.

Hirsch is a performance artist, using digital mediums to expose society’s assumptions around women and sexuality. Hirsch saw early success with a YouTube channel (as “Caroline,” aka “Scandalishious”) in 2008 and as an intentionally kicked-off reality television contestant (“Annie” on VH1’s “Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair”) in 2010.

More recently, she’s made a name for herself (in places like The Guardian and New York Magazine) with an installation at The New Museum in New York called “horny lil feminist,” an exploration of female agency and politics in internet pornography.

How did you get involved in art? What inspired you to make that your career?
Well, I started taking lessons when I was 12. There’s this art teacher — I’m not sure what he’s doing now — his name was Mr. J [Victor Janishefski] and he had this after-school drawing class on York Road. I just loved it. He was such a great teacher. I did that from seventh grade until I graduated high school.

I just really loved art and so for college, I knew I wanted to go to a school that had art. I thought at the time I just wanted it to be a hobby or extracurricular. But when I got in [to the Washington University Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts] and got to art school and tried it, I just loved it. I knew it was something I wanted to continue.

How did the internet and video become your go-to medium?
I think a lot of it was due to the fact that I was in Syracuse [for graduate school], which is a middle-of-nowhere, nothing-there, really miserable place. I wanted to have a bigger audience than just my peers, so I think that inspired my first YouTube project, which ended up getting two million views and going viral. This was in 2008 before people really understood what those things meant.

What was your hope for how the internet and these spaces would turn out versus what actually happened?
When I first started with the YouTube project, I had this idea that YouTube was this new mode of media for women and minorities where in traditional media it’s a small group of people determining how to represent everyone, but in YouTube everyone can represent themselves the way they want to be represented. And that’s how I started with my project — trying to be a person I didn’t normally see in media, a young woman who was weird and funny and also displaying her sexuality.

And I think to a certain extent a lot of that did end up happening. I mean, there’s so much more visibility for the LGBTQ community [and] so many more representations of minorities and women. But, I think a lot of times what ends up happening is that because of “like” culture and “fave” culture, these same certain people who would have been idealized in older forms of media again rise to the top. So, we’re kind of still recycling some of the same tropes and stereotypes.

You’ve had all these different personas in your pieces. Do you prefer to create personas for your art?
I don’t know if I even see them as personas. I just see them all as parts of myself. Everyone acts differently in different scenarios. So, “Caroline” is how I act when I’m on YouTube. “Annie” is how I act when I’m on this VH1 show. They’re all just different sides of myself.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a series of very large nude portraits. I’m also working on writing a musical about academia. It’s about all different aspects of academia and how they interact — the administration, the professors, the dean, the students and how power functions between different systems. I’ve been thinking a lot about how universities almost function as a microcosm of our current culture.

Is there any digital medium that you haven’t tried yet?
I would love to do virtual reality on day. Artists are just starting to work with it. When VR is done well, it’s just really great. It’s so immersive. It feels similar to when I was first experiencing the internet, where you’re in this total imaginary, fantasy land. I just love that feeling.

You Should Know… Jenny Katz


Jenny Katz (Provided)

Jenny Katz, 29, is a Charm City transplant. She spent the first decade of her life in Gezer, a kibbutz in Israel, before her family moved just outside Princeton, N.J.

After a brief stint at Skidmore College and year off (including a semester at Hebrew University, where she interned with the giraffes at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem), Katz finished up at Rutgers University, majoring in animal science with a focus on dairy goats.

Her career as a dairy goat farmer in New Jersey was, however, short-lived. Deciding one night that the dairy goat life was no longer for her, Katz’s boss put all of her 40 pregnant goats up on Craigslist. A South Jersey farmer arrived with a trailer within the hour, and Katz was out of a job.

But all’s well that ends well. She moved to Baltimore at the urging of her then-boyfriend and now works as the head of the community lot team and volunteer coordinator at Baltimore nonprofit Civic Works.

Not many young people go into animal science. What about that interested you? Why dairy goats?
I think at the time I kind of looked down on any office jobs and just thought working with my hands was the only way. The reason for dairy goats was because in school — Rutgers was a research school — we had this herd of 40 wethers. Do you know what that is?

No …
Wethers are castrated male goats. And, apparently, when you castrate a goat young, they get really sweet, very large and very soft. So you walk into this pen with 40 wethers and they just swarm you for cuddles.

And I just loved making cheese, and I loved farms and the community. I just felt like I was fulfilling something without realizing it. Life on the kibbutz, we had all these animals, and it was a very agrarian lifestyle. And I think I was missing that in New Jersey.

And so when this job [at Civic Works] came along, it just felt like when the world hands you something like, “Hey, you should do this.” And you’re like, “Oh, I don’t know,” but really you do know. It was like that. It just brings me a lot of joy.

You’ve also done fellowships with Jews United for Justice and the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies. It seems like there’s this through-line in your life of both the world as a whole, in justice-related goals, and world as literal earth, dirt.
Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that. There’s some saying of a tree, with the roots in the ground, the branches in the heavens and trunk in the here and now. Like, be in all three places at once, as much as you can. And that’s always resonated with me.

I think that the Jewish groups I have been involved with are not just Jewish. They have a Jewish lens, but their focus is to help others. A pivotal part of my Jewish identity is how can we be allies and supporters and collaborators to other groups that are suffering too.

How has growing up in Israel informed your life here?
Obviously it’s informed me in a literal way in wanting to connect to the land. I mean, I didn’t wear shoes for like the first 10 years of my life, and there’s always part of me that craves that connection and strong sense of community.

But also, I think, coming to the states as a little Israeli kid with a weak grasp of English and being thrust into Hebrew school — there’s a culture in American Jewry and I never quite felt like I belonged in it. And I think that helps me to find compassion for people who are not like-minded.

Do you have any big projects coming up at Civic Works?
We’re doing a big project at 21st 1/2 Street in Barclay. This site in particular is a pretty rough space. A few of the residents there adopted it with help from Civic Works and Strong City Baltimore and in partnership with The Park School.

It’s been just a great practice in collaboration and that’s like my favorite part of my job. So, on April 4, we’re having Park School out there, and we’re getting shovels in the ground.

What do you like to do when you’re not civic working?
I’m a member of two boards: Friends of Stony Run and the City Forestry Board. I live right on Stony Run. I bought a house in the spring, and it backs up to the stream, which, to me, is one of the city’s greatest assets. I’d say that’s one of my biggest hobbies. I like to make beautiful spaces. The city is just ripe for beautification and greening. And I love it.

You Should Know… Randy Harris



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

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

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

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

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

How did you become so involved with music?

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

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

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

How did you transition to management?

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

How do you like the Baltimore music scene?

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

You Should Know … Hannah Himmelrich

YSK_Hannah Himmelrich

Hannah Himmelrich (Justin Silberman)

Hannah Himmelrich, 22, has maintained an active role in her family’s business, Stone Mill Bakery, for as long as she can remember.

A Pikesville native, Himmelrich started working under the tutelage of her father, co-owner Alfie, at the age of 14. Himmelrich would commute from Park School to the company’s Green Spring Station eatery in Lutherville every day after school to learn the tricks of the restaurant trade.

After graduating from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, this past fall, Himmelrich returned home to join Stone Mill, known for its handmade European-style bread, on a full-time basis. She serves as a shift manager at Green Spring Station while also making regular visits to the company’s second location in Stevenson Village and its wholesale distribution center at Meadow Mill in Woodbury.

Though Himmelrich has contemplated moving back to Europe and pursing graduate school at some point, she said she is focused on bringing new and innovative ideas to Stone Mill.

When did you first know you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps and take up the family business?

Growing up, my dad told me the one thing he didn’t want me or my brother [Sam] to do was go into the restaurant business because it was so much hard work. But I knew I didn’t want to go straight into another job after I graduated from college, so having this option to come back to and work for my dad was perfect. Even when I was in high school, and every time I came home from college, I was always really involved in the business. After growing up around this business, I don’t know if I could go and sit in an office for eight hours.

As a shift manager, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?

While I am one of the shift managers, I basically do whatever is needed. I usually run expo — making sure the food is prepared on time and delivered to customers — and I’m also behind the register a lot. Running the register is definitely my favorite thing to do because I like interacting with the customers. The only thing I really don’t do is make the food. I also have a few other projects I’m doing on the side, like a menu redesign and coming up with new food projects for our menu. The most important thing I have learned is to treat the people who work for you, the customers and everyone in the business equally, with kindness and respect. I think that reflects in the attitude and vibe of Stone Mill, which I consider an extension of my family.

What are some of Stone Mill’s defining characteristics?

The thing I think Stone Mill is known for is being a meeting place and promoting a real sense of community. I know most customers’ orders when they walk in the door, and we’ll have it ready for them as they’re leaving. I think people really appreciate that. One of our other managers [Chris Janoff] is the best. He’s the star, and we wouldn’t be Stone Mill without Chris. I think that’s due in large part to the way my father has handled the business and the way his attitude is toward accommodating whatever the customer wants.

Food-wise, my favorite thing is the brisket panini. It’s often not on the menu, because it sells out so quickly. We only make about five or six of them a day. Mostly, our sandwiches and our soups are hugely popular. I’m obviously biased, but I can’t think of anything on our menu that I don’t like or wouldn’t recommend to customers.

Is there any aspect of the business you would like to become more involved with?

At some point, I’d like to learn more about the bakery side and the bread we make. For a while, I was thinking about going to culinary school, because I love to cook and am very passionate about it. I’m still considering doing some kind of cooking course to learn more. I feel like if I’m going to be working in front of house, I should learn how to cook to have a better understanding of what’s going on in the back. If there’s something wrong with the food, for instance, I could better identify the problem.

You Should Know… Michael Hantgan

Michael Hantgan. (HoCo Photo)

Michael Hantgan. (HoCo Photo)

Michael Hantgan, 29, has always felt a pull toward helping his community wherever and however he can.

Originally from Owings Mills and currently a resident of Mount Washington, Hantgan has operated for the last year as the YL Chapter president (Young Leadership division for ages 21 to 40) for the Baltimore region of the FIDF (Friends of the Israel Defesne Forces).

Hantgan also has been on the board for the Baltimore region’s branch of JNFuture for the past four years. Both JNFuture and FIDF are advocacy and fundraising organizations focused on issues revolving around Israel.

While not busy with such altruistic endeavors, Hantgan is intensely engaged in the realm of computer technology, laboring during the day as an IT systems administrator for a new, small startup company in White Marsh.

Though he’s been a professional in the field for the better part of the last decade, Hantgan said computers have been a large part of his life ever since he can remember.

When did you first know you were going into your current professional field?

Like every young boy who was into video games, I wanted to go into game design and things like that. As I got older, I got better at understanding the different between software and hardware infrastructure. I was 6 when I performed my first hardware install, and that was before the “plug and play” components made it so easy. I distinctly remember installing my first CD drive; it was really cool, and I knew this was the field I wanted to be in. A lot of this [what I do now] didn’t exist when I was growing up: the cloud and so much happening with cybersecurity. So the concept of IT has changed a lot over the last 20 or 30 years. It’s a growth industry.

How did you become so  involved in groups such  as FIDF and JNFuture?

To a lesser extent, I was always involved [in the issues advocated by these groups]. I also happen to sit on the national board for both of those organizations in terms of young leadership. It wasn’t until I had become a board member for both that I really understood what [FIDF and JNFuture] were really about. I didn’t want to just keep donating, not just give money and say that’s enough. I wanted to do more. My parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents were very involved in the Jewish community, the land of Israel and this country. I suppose you could say it was a genetic predisposition to want to be so involved. In 2015, I lost three of my grandparents. The last surviving grandparent, my grandma, would have had her 100th birthday this March. After that, I felt an absolute push to make sure to get more involved. I feel it’s definitely something my grandma would have been proud of.

What are your thoughts on the rather divisive opinions on Israel right now?

It’s terrible. It’s important,  especially as Americans, that we’re able to talk about these things properly. Whether you’re Jewish or not, everyone should have a valid voice on the issue. But don’t buy into only what one side says, either. We need to have that dialogue and open communication. People aren’t communicating in the right way; they’re saying something, and it’s taken the wrong way. It just breeds more hate, and we have to find a  better way to communicate with one another.

Do you see any connection between your work in  IT and community  involvement?

The concepts of IT are very logical: building a network of communication that has the ability to grow. Being able to take that logic and reasoning and apply it to young leadership can be tough at times, but it helps give that structure and grounds in realism. There are people who have great ideas, but we need just as many people who can make them happen.

You Should Know… Rabbi Dena Shaffer

Rabbi Dena Shaffer (Provided)

Rabbi Dena Shaffer (Provided)

Rabbi Dena Shaffer might tell you she was the poster child for the Reform movement. The 33-year-old native of Rochester, N.Y., grew up in the movement, attending Jewish summer camp and participating in the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) through her synagogue.

Becoming a rabbi was in the cards for Shaffer from a young age.

“It solidified in my mind when I was a young teenager, right after my bat mitzvah,” she said. “I was having a conversation with someone completely unrelated to the Jewish world, my martial arts instructor, and he was asking me to teach a class. I really didn’t want to teach the class, and he gave me this cheesy one-liner about how we are obligated to pass on to others what has been shared with us — it really struck me.”

Shaffer graduated from Brandeis University with degrees in East Asian history and Near Eastern and Judaic studies; she also minored in Hebrew.

She found her rabbinical niche in the teen community while a student at Hebrew Union College. One of her student pulpits was at a military high school in Indiana. “I had these 30 Jewish kids out of 800 students who were really looking for a way to connect to their heritage in an environment on the opposite side of the spectrum,” she said.

Following her ordination in 2010, Shaffer participated in a yearlong fellowship with the Cornell University chapter of Hillel that aimed to do one-on-one engagement and to build up reform Jewish life from scratch. She then served on the pulpit for five years at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Conn.

As executive director since August for the Center of Teen Engagement at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, Shaffer is looking to engage post-b’nai mitzvah teens and help them find the next meaningful step in their Jewish lives.

What has working in the CTE entailed?

Rounding out the team has been the real focus for the past couple months. We have an incredible group of people who are passionate, caring, love this demographic and want to really see this population connect to Judaism in the way that’s right for them.

The model for a long time was, “What could we adults do to teens to help them be more Jewish?” And now we realize that our job isn’t to get them to be more Jewish, but to help them understand Judaism as a lens through which to understand their lives. They are dealing with very existential questions. This is the time in a person’s life when they are trying to find out, “Who am I, how do I make an impact on the world, what am I passionate about?” We are here to show that there is a uniquely Jewish and extremely interesting way to do that.

How are you making that happen? What lies ahead?

We want to be a clearinghouse for teens to find their Jewish way. There is great programming in this community, and we want to be seen as the collaborator. We realize that the more heads, the better the results. [People] just need a force to bring them together.

Under this concept of partnership and collaboration — leading up to and beyond MLK Day — we have teamed up with an organization called Believe in Music that runs an after-school program in downtown Baltimore. It’s bringing a handful of its students, we are bringing a handful of our students, and we’re going to use music as a platform for our teens to share their stories and to create dialogue around the issues of race, privilege and other social issues that weigh heavily on their minds.

We are also doing a festival, iEngage, that targets the post-bar and bat mitzvah crowd — parents and kids who are wondering what is next Jewishly. I think a real struggle for families in this community is that they have had this wonderful experience in the formal Jewish sphere, but they are looking for the next step that challenges their teens appropriately. We are going to do this big festival at the Owings Mills JCC. It will be an opportunity to learn about the 80-plus teen programs in the Baltimore Jewish community and at the same time have mini-TED talks on a range of topics [presented by] some cool social innovators who are doing fascinating work to better our community and Jewish educators who will talk about the importance of post-bar and bat mitzvah engagement.

You Should Know… Josh Sherman


(Hannah Monicken)

Josh Sherman, 25, is a native son here in Charm City. He grew up with his Conservative Jewish family in the Guildford/Oakenshaw area of Baltimore, where they were part of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. He attended Krieger Schechter Day School through eighth grade, followed by Baltimore City College for high school. Though he left town for college (Kenyon College in Ohio), he found himself back in his hometown after graduation.

Once he had finished at Krieger Schechter, Sherman found that he felt more disconnected from the Jewish community, since most of his Jewish friends were from Baltimore County. Now, with his work through Repair the World, a Jewish service organization targeted at millennials, Sherman hopes not only to increase Jewish service in younger generations, but also to bridge that divide between county and city. Since the organization reorganized and relaunched in the tail end of 2016, it has been slowly attracting more and more dedicated volunteers.

How did you get involved with Repair the World?
I was applying to all different kinds of jobs with Jewish service organizations or interfaith-related ones and this job for Repair the World came across my desk. I didn’t think that I necessarily wanted to stay in Baltimore, but it became more and more appealing to me. I very much love Baltimore. I care a lot about the city, and I thought it was a good opportunity to work within the Jewish community in Baltimore City, to bridge those gaps not only for other folks who live in the city, but also for myself. Growing up, I didn’t feel a strong connection between the Jewish community in the county and the Jewish community in the city. I thought that through doing engagement work and through working with young adults, it was a great opportunity to reinvigorate their Judaism. Bring the Judaism to the places where they already are.

For people who are not familiar with Repair the World, how would you describe it?
Repair the World is a service-based organization. What we really strive to do is engage Jewish millennials in doing more service and, specifically, hands-on service work, and to make service an integral part of everyday Jewish life.

How is basing your organization around millennials different from other demographics?
It helps that I am a millennial, so it can be more peer to peer, trying not to create this odd power dynamic. And also, [it’s] really just showing up where you know people will be — hosting happy hours at bars in Fells Point or Federal Hill, hosting Shabbat dinner at our workshop in Highlandtown; obviously a lot of our outreach is done through Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media. We’re trying to make people feel like it’s an open and welcome space for all people.

What are the main projects you have going on now?
We’re partnered with the Jewish Volunteer Connection, which is great for us because JVC is very reputable here in the city; it’s a program of The Associated, so having that backing is really nice. We work on a lot of projects JVC works on. So, we have the four annual Days of Service, and Mitzvah Day (Dec. 25) just ended. And now we are gearing up for MLK Day, which is on Jan. 16. We have a couple programs going on for MLK Day — we have a service project that we are doing in conjunction with The 6th Branch and Civic Works, where we will be doing some beautification, park cleanup, neighborhood cleanup. On the evening of the 16th, we are doing a project with the Baltimore Jewish Council, where we’ll be going to a local Muslim center on West North Avenue and having a conversation.

We have all kinds of programs going on through JVC and Repair the World. [The group] nationally focuses
on food justice and education equity, and we try to focus a lot of our attention on those issues here in Baltimore.

I see Repair the World as filling the niche for young adults for Jewish Volunteer Connection. We’re the ones on the ground in Baltimore City, re-engaging a demographic that has, for many years, slipped through the cracks. There have been many different ways the Jewish community has attempted to engage with millennials, and I’m hoping that Repair the World can be a piece to that puzzle.

You Should Know… Eric Kessler


Photo by Daniel Nozick

Eric Kessler, who turned 36 on Dec. 26, began creating art four years ago.

That may come as a surprise to many who now seek out the Owings Mills and Pikesville native for custom paintings. A former addict, he was in the midst of a depression and needed something to break from it, so he decided to pick up paints and a canvas from Michael’s and give it a try.

“I’ve never had any formal training,” he said. “I never went to school for art or had a teacher, so I just started putting paint on the canvas, and it came out pretty good. You could see that I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t even know the difference between gloss paint and flat paint, so I was wondering why some parts of the painting were shiny and some parts were not.”

Since then, Kessler has had time to hone his craft. At first, he thought he would be an abstract artist, but he has since found that impressionism is more his niche.

His first commissioned work came when he was hired to do two paintings by a friend — one of Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” and one of the famous photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. Both were well received, and he has since been getting regular requests from people to do custom paintings.

Is painting something that has always appealed to you?

I have always liked art. Some of my influences are Leroy Neiman and Monet. In fifth grade I wrote a poem about Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” My grandmother would take me from museum to museum trying to find the painting — knowing it was in the Louvre, knowing that we would never find it — just as a way to take me around to every museum possible. It was just something we did together. She has been a big inspiration of mine.

By the time I was 30, I had probably lost about 30 friends [because of my addiction] to drugs and alcohol. Painting was never something I would do under the influence. A lot of times in early recovery, you don’t know what to do with yourself, you’re scattered all over the place. So for me, it was a way to focus my attention on something positive rather than on the negatives. It helped me quite a bit in getting through that. It is a very creative, positive outlet.

What have you been working on recently?

One day, I decided to try a big Ray Lewis. About three days after I had finished it, I got maybe six or seven offers. I have a Terrell Suggs painting that I recently finished too. I have been asked to paint some family members and pets of coworkers also. I don’t go around telling people that I paint; sometimes it comes up in conversation and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t market for myself though.

What is your life like outside of art?

I have been in the mortgage business for over 15 years. Right now, I am working strictly with reverse mortgages [as a specialist with Reverse Mortgage Corporation in Reisterstown], which means I only deal with homeowners over 62 years old who [may be] in financial trouble and don’t have money to pay their bills or mortgage payments. I have a grandmother in Florida, two great aunts that I’m very close with, and being that I am from a Jewish family — they say be a mensch — I’ve learned to respect the older generation. I feel really good about what I do. I smile at work every day when people call me saying, “You gave me money for medical bills that I never would have been able to pay” or, “You saved our lives.” It feels really good.

You Should Know … Rachel Kassman

(Photo by Hannah Monicken)

(Photo by Hannah Monicken)

Rachel Kassman, 33, grew up in a small town in Connecticut, right next door to the house in which her father grew up, which itself is next to the house originally built by her great-grandfather.

But Kassman bucked family trend and is now coming up on a decade in Charm City. She made her way to the mid-Atlantic for school, first in Delaware and then for graduate school in library and information science at the University of Maryland, College Park.

By day, Kassman is the director of development and marketing for the Jewish Museum of Maryland. By night (and also some days), she is an active part of Fluid Movement, the performance art group that is probably most well known for its fun summer water ballets. To round out her busy life, she is also involved with Jews United for Justice, hosts a weekly taco night that generally attracts anywhere from 10 to 20 people and is helping her housemates baby proof their 100-year-old home before their newest arrival in March.

How did you get involved with Fluid Movement? Which came first: Fluid movement or involvement in synchronized swimming and choreography?

[Laughs.] So, I will admit to a childhood stint in synchronized swimming at the YMCA in Connecticut, but that has not been a big constant in my life. So, Fluid Movement kind of came first in this part of my life, and I actually got involved in it through the museum. One of the three original founders of Fluid Movement was Melissa Martens, who, many years ago, was the curator here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Then, my original boss here had gotten really involved in it, and one of the first things she told me when I got here was, “You seem like the kind of person who would really enjoy this.” And they were 100 percent correct.

I started [at the museum] in August 2007, and the next summer I was [at Fluid Movement] as a swimmer. Since then, I’ve been a swimmer, I’ve directed a scene, and this will be my second time producing the whole shebang.

For people who aren’t familiar with Fluid Movement, how would you describe it? I don’t believe it involves just swimming, although that seems to be a large component.

The summer water ballet is the largest project we do every year, currently. But we do a few others.

So, Fluid Movement is a community performance arts group. It’s open to anyone and everyone, all levels of skill, which is one of the things I really love about it. It’s not just a group for people who feel really confident in their ability to be onstage. We’ve got swimmers from 7 years old all the way up to 70 years old — all different body shapes, all different experiences and backgrounds. That’s one of the things I love about it is all the different kinds of people I get to meet.

It sounds like you’re more involved on the water ballet side. What about that has attracted you? I feel like people have a very specific idea when they think of synchronized swimming.

[Laughs.] This is very different. Let me highly emphasize: This is amateur. It’s amateur work — our watchword is “glitter.” We kind of joke about it, that it’s like adult summer camp. It’s an experience you’re just not going to get anywhere else.

One of the highlights for me has been meeting a lot of really fantastic, strong women who I otherwise probably wouldn’t come into contact with. There’s something about committing yourself to stand on a stage in a unitard in front of thousands of people over the course of the show that instills in you a confidence that you often don’t see otherwise. And then to be surrounded by 50 to 60 other people who are experiencing that same thing, it’s really kind of transformative. And bringing that experience to other people really resonates with me.

So, since you’re going to be co-producing the next show, do you have a sneak peek into what it’s going to be like?

I will give you the very, very bare bones synopsis that we are setting our scene in a sort of Shakespeare tent at the Renaissance Festival that is being held at a water park. And there will, in fact, be a Sharke-speare as our sort of main narrative character. We’ll also be meeting Francis Bacon.

As in, literal bacon?

He will be a pig of some sort! I’m actually pushing for a “she” — Sir Francine Bacon. But beyond that, details are still under wraps.