No Surprises, But Some Disappointed in Dismissal of Remaining Freddie Gray Charges

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses dropping the remaining charges against officers at news conference on July 27. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Newscom)

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses dropping the remaining charges against officers at news conference on July 27. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Newscom)

The news that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the remaining cases against three officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray was expected by many. Some were relieved it was over and the city could move forward, while others were dissatisfied no police officers were convicted of criminal charges in a death that resulted from injuries Gray sustained while in police custody.

“We were not surprised nor were most other people in Baltimore because of the direction things were headed,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice. “I think it’s certainly disappointing.  Freddie Gray didn’t kill himself  and I think this is more a  reflection of the problems with our existing laws and the criminal justice system.”

The six officers who were charged remain on administrative leave and may return to patrolling if ongoing internal reviews determine they did not break department policy.

In a news conference announcing the dropping of the  remaining cases, Mosby criticized the judge, the investigators and police for how the cases were handled. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised Mosby’s decision, but defended the investigation. Former commissioner Anthony Batts, who was fired in July 2015 following the city’s unrest and soaring homicide rate, defended the officers and called Mosby “incompetent and vindictive.”

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D-District 5) said Mosby was “critical of everything but her office.”

Spector said she was relieved.

Whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.”  — Howard Libit, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director

 

“Hopefully this will put the whole situation to rest,” she said. “I’ll wait to see what the fallout is.”

She said that while she’s confident there will be better police practices as a result of the issues that came up during the trials, she’s worried police officers won’t be respected and that recruitment will become more difficult.

Warren Alperstein, a criminal defense, workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer who was a prosecutor in Baltimore City, said officers he represents are “deeply troubled” by the events.

“They are now afraid and reluctant to approach individuals who they suspect are  involved in criminal activity for fear that if the officers have physical contact with them,  albeit for good faith reasons, there is a real possibility, as they have witnessed, that they will be prosecuted,” he said. “And unfortunately this has resulted in a chilling affect on the officers performing their duties.”

“The citizens of Baltimore City are the ones that actually lose,” he said.

Alperstein said that he never thought any of the officers should have been charged in the first place.

Protestors took to the streets following Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015 and during the trials that followed. (March Shapiro)

Protestors took to the streets following Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015 and during the trials that followed. (March Shapiro)

“Accidents can happen, but that does not automatically mean that the individuals who encounter the victim are  culpable of a crime,” he said, “and the evidence in this case and like any other case in the United Stats has to support a  conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Wayne Cohen, a law professor at George Washington University for 25 years, agreed the cases were “thin at the outset.”

“I think [Mosby has] had a lot of pressure and will continue to have a lot of pressure regarding the cases, specifically whether they should have been brought in the first place,” he said, “and Freddie Gray’s death, while a terrible tragedy … may not have risen to the point of criminal charges.”

He said there have already been policy and procedural changes enacted and there will hopefully be more coming. “Even though there have not been convictions, we’ll still have a system that will function better.”

On a better functioning system, Amster said, “The most important thing beyond individual responsibility is our collective responsibility to implement the changes that we won in Annapolis in 2016.”

She is referring to a new law that allows civilian participation on police trial boards. The issue, as she sees it, is that even if the mayor and city council were to enact this change, the Fraternal Order of Police could block the composition of the trial board.

“We hope that the police and the mayor will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow for that change,” she said.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that there are broader issues at play other than the trials, such as the attention that has been brought to Baltimore’s underserved and underinvested communities.

“As a Jewish community, we’ve always had a lot of relationships with different communities, different faiths, across the city and region and we’ve always tried to work in partnership with them,” he said. “A lot of our agencies have tried to redouble our efforts and ask the question, ‘what more can we do to help?’”

He’s already seen more partnerships  between synagogues and churches, and other organizations in the community such as LifeBridge Health looking to  expand community outreach. But there is more work to do, he said.

“The broader systemic changes that are needed that have been spotlighted out of this,” he said, “whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

A Turbulent Election Season Baltimore voters conflicted, lukewarm on Trump, Clinton

Email scandals, accusations of anti-Semitism, a resigning chairwoman, anti-immigration rhetoric, plagiarism in speeches — the 2016 presidential election has been like no other in recent memory.

With a public that is probing both GOP nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on their experience, character, families and a bevy of other issues, voters young and old are questioning their support of their parties’ nominees and the potential direction of the country under their leadership.

“Honestly, I’m not a fan of either candidate,” said David Kashan, a 24-year-old Owings Mills native in his third year of medical school at A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Kirksville, Mo. “It’s unfortunate, because I feel as though I’m forced to pick between the lesser of two evils in this election, as opposed to choosing the candidate I think best represents my beliefs and values.”

The head-to-head battle between Trump, 70, and Clinton, 68, pits two of the most polarizing candidates in modern U.S. presidential history against one another. At the conventions, the nominees continued to show they greatly differ in their temperament and public styles, and voters feel that each has their share of shortcomings.

A Turbulent Election Season

Trump, for example, stuck to his hard-charging, aggressive rhetoric during his 75-minute acceptance speech on July 21, attacking Clinton’s record as U.S. secretary of state and remaining tough on his stance opposing illegal immigration. While that same approach helped him ascend to the standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the last year, some political experts believe it could hurt him in the general election.

“I think the rhetoric has been downright disgusting,” said Donald F. Norris, director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s School of Public Policy. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in all the years I’ve been observing politics, and that’s been a lot of years. Calling for the opposition party to be jailed, hung or shot is just unconscionable, period.”

Marcia Wagner, a 67-year-old Pikesville resident, pointed out flaws in both candidates, ranging from Trump’s brash personality to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as one of the country’s top diplomats. But Wagner said the experience Clinton, a former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, gained serving in various public roles over the years gives her a distinct advantage over Trump.

“Hillary is not perfect, but nobody is perfect,” Wagner said. “There are things I don’t like about her, but I think she is a competent government employee who has served the nation for many, many years. Anyone who serves the country makes mistakes.”

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president,” Wagner added. “I’ve said that to people who support him, and they say to me, ‘I don’t think Hillary is qualified.’ … I think much of what Trump has done is reprehensible.”

In the days leading up to the DNC, however, WikiLeaks released a series of emails that seemed to show Democratic officials trying to tip the scales in favor of Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the party’s nomination. As a result of the fallout from the leak, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation on July 24, effective after the conclusion of the convention.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was brought in to gavel at the DNC on Monday, taking over for Wasserman Schultz amid the scandal. Rawlings-Blake has served as the secretary of the DNC since January 2013.

Kevin Loeb, policy director in the office of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, doesn’t think the latest revelations will be enough to divide the Democrats’ support of Clinton. If anything, he expects the party to further rally behind her.

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap. What can we believe about her? Can we trust her?” — Paul Volosov

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap. What can we believe about her? Can we trust her?”
— Paul Volosov

“Obviously, the DNC should be impartial during the primary season, and if they did not, then that was a mistake,” Loeb said. “But inside party politics does nothing to diminish the positive energy here in Philadelphia. It is clear that Democrats are united and ready to elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States.”

Kamenetz, who was in attendance at the Philadelphia convention, could be seen Monday at a National Jewish Democratic Council event honoring Jewish women in Congress. Wasserman Schultz, who was supposed to headline the event, was not there.

Still, questions about Clinton’s integrity, honesty and trustworthiness continue to cast a cloud for voters. Paul Volosov, a 67-year-old resident of Fallstaff, wonders if Clinton has enough time to overcome such perceptions about her character.

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap,” Volosov said. “What can we believe about her? Can we trust her? Obviously, so many people are afraid she can’t be trusted.”

The Republicans, on the other hand, still appear somewhat split on fully embracing Trump as their nominee.

Prominent Republicans, such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have distanced themselves from Trump at every turn. Throughout the election cycle, in fact, Hogan has reiterated his refusal to endorse or vote for Trump, joining former presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, among others, in boycotting the RNC.

“What one would expect to happen is that the Democrats will have a very good turnout and the Republicans will not have a good turnout, because so many Republican leaders are staying home,” Norris said. “Trump has been able to get very high turnouts wherever he has gone in the primaries. But they … were the Tea Party folks, the angry white males, evangelicals, and they can’t win a national presidential election for anybody because their numbers are too small.”

For many in the Jewish community, policy on Israel is at the center of the race. With a strained relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton and Trump supporters are looking for someone to form a stronger pact.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, has noticed a committed approach from both parties so far to fortify their pro-Israel platforms in an effort to appeal to Jewish voters.

“For both the Democratic and Republican parties, we’ve seen strong statements of support for Israel, which is gratifying to see,” Libit said. “It’s important to see that the elected officials out of both parties understand the importance of the American and Israeli partnership and our support in continuing it.”

In his acceptance speech, Trump briefly mentioned his plan to work with Israel to defeat the so-called Islamic State, which is also known by the acronym ISIS. He promised to restore the safety citizens feel they have lost and specifically noted Clinton has left behind a legacy of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

“We must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terrorism and doing it now, doing it quickly,” Trump said. “We’re going to win. We’re going to win fast. This includes working with our greatest ally in the region, the State of Israel.”

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president.” — Marcia Wagner

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president.”
— Marcia Wagner

Clinton has been more reserved in her approach when it comes to the issues and threats facing Israel. She came under fire earlier this year from AIPAC and Netanyahu for her support of the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by the U.S. and five other world powers.

Shlomo Roshgadol, a 56-year-old Pikesville resident, thinks Trump will make good on his law-and-order approach to fight terrorism and crime and strengthen national security as a whole.

“[Trump] has made security one of his big initiatives here in the U.S., so I’m confident he’s going to be worried about the safety of Israel as well,” Roshgadol said. “I think he’s going to be tough on the terrorists, which is something I think is one of the biggest problems we have now in both the U.S. and Israel.”

Others are having a difficult time taking wrapping their head around the idea of taking Trump as a legitimate leader. Jodi Saunders, a 45-year-old Columbia resident, said Trump has focused too much of his attention on denouncing Clinton on public forums rather than offering solutions to his proposed policies.

“In the case of Donald Trump, he’s just an extraordinarily obnoxious human being,” Saunders said. “The way he has treated his opponents is not how a president acts, the way a normal human being acts. I’m not saying a presidential candidate needs to be a weak person, but on the contrary, strong people do not viciously attack their opponents. They attack the issues rather than the people, and that’s where I think Hillary has taken advantage so far.”

Trump and Clinton will square off in their first debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York, and at that point, the picture could start to become clearer for voters.

“I honestly have no idea how this is going to play out,” Norris said. “With the way this election has gone so far, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens at this point.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

A Fly (Donkey?) On the Wall: Behind the Scenes of the DNC

DNC 2016 (Photo by Rachel Kurland)

DNC 2016 (Photo by Rachel Kurland)

PHILADELPHIA — As the Democratic National Convention opened, Democrats were certainly feeling the Bern — also the actual burn because it felt like 500 degrees and humid. (The temperature officially maxed out at 97 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.)

Despite the heat, delegates and attendees were exuberated for a day of Democratic bliss.

And really, that’s how it started out.

Beginning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Monday, thousands of people were swarming in and out of 12th and Arch streets.

It resembled an airport: a lot of sweaty people running around, security guards searching bags and pretzels.

Everyone looked lost and confused, unsure of where they were going or supposed to be. Hundreds of people were sitting on the floor charging their laptops and phones, decked out in their navy blue lanyards of every shape and size, all just waiting for something to happen.

But turning the corner within the Convention Center, dozens of Democratic booths as far as the eye could see lined the walls advertising their different organizations. It was a liberal’s dream.

But not as dreamy as the main event over at the Wells Fargo Center, where rows and rows of credentialed folk filled the perimeter — kind of like the controlled chaos at Disney World during Christmas.

But worth noting, on the way from City Hall to Wells Fargo, there were few Hillary Clinton supporters or pro-Clinton protesters. Many were wearing Bernie Sanders accoutrements — pins, T-shirts, signs, outrageous hats — screeching their support from the sidelines and begging delegates on their way in to “do what’s right.”

Once the early speakers took the stage, it was clear the Democratic audience had a voice — a pro-Sanders voice.

With every mention of Clinton, the then-presumptive nominee, the boos overshadowed the cheers, so much so that speakers had to wait for the crowd to die down.

The boos morphed into Bernie chants — you could feel the echoes reverberate in your own chest — truly illustrating the divide within the Democratic Party. But as the night commenced and the excitement stirred, the echoes from the audience seemed to come to a faint consensus: The people want a Sanders presidency, but they’ll settle for Clinton.

Down on the blue shag carpeted convention floor, Adrian Schanker believed just that.

A delegate for Sanders from Allentown, Pa. and chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Schanker said Sanders inspired him to fight for a “strong, progressive, LGBT-inclusive party platform.”

“Bernie Sanders presented a vision for America that we can all get behind — by the way, it’s a very Jewish vision,” said Schanker, who is Reconstructionist. “It’s a vision that’s grounded in values that are very Jewish to begin with. It’s about economic opportunity, social equity, civil rights — those are things that overwhelmingly Jews agree with.”

But now, they’re getting ready to vote for Clinton.

“She’s going to be a president that helps carry out that vision,” he added.

Overall, Schanker reminded the Jewish community how crucial it is the vote in this election, adding to “look where Jewish values lie” in both party platforms.

“This is a really important election for Jews,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s lost on many of us that some of the things that Donald Trump has talked about are banning entry into a country based on religion — that’s something that Jews have some experience with.”

Other celebs and well-known advocates like singer Demi Lovato, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, comedian Sarah Silverman, musician Paul Simon, actress Eva Longoria, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren graced the stage.

As the roar of Sanders supporters intensified, Silverman shut it down with one line: “Can I just say, to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Dan Gilman, a city councilman from Pittsburgh and a delegate for Clinton, has been a Clinton supporter from the beginning.

“Her record speaks for herself as a senator, as secretary of state, as all the work she did as first lady,” he said. “Her work as secretary of state and listening to her, she’ll be the type of champion I want to see for Israel — someone who recognizes the importance of the alliance we have from a national security standpoint, from a foreign policy standpoint, recognizes the social justice that occurs, but also will hold Israel accountable as a partner in the region to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

But with talk of many Jews shifting over to the GOP side, he’s hoping this election will produce different results.

“I actually believe Donald Trump, that he’s a champion of the relationship with Israel,” Gilman said. “It’s his rhetoric and what he would do to provide unbalance not just in the Middle East but around the world — he would put us on the brink of wars that would endanger Israel as our ally.”

As for Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the DNC chair — due to hacked emails released illustrating her staff’s favoritism for the Clinton campaign over Sanders — Gilman believed it needed to happen, but it is a “distraction” from what’s really important this week.

“This has to be an election that takes the step in the other direction. The values that are Jewish values, the values we have learned as a Jewish people are violated every day by Donald Trump,” he said. “A vote for Donald Trump, to me, is a slap in the face to everything it means to me to be a Jewish American.”

First Lady Michelle Obama focused her speech on American children’s future, sending what many in the crowd called a stronger, more positive message than Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention last week.

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

For his part, Trump, who seemed to receive a bump in post-convention polling as the Democrats opened theirs — a now five percentage point lead over Clinton, according to CNN — on Twitter, lambasted Clinton and her party for the email leak and the Wasserman Schultz fiasco.

Nearing the end of the evening, the people got what they wanted: Bernie Sanders. His entrance received the loudest cheers of the night, lasting several minutes.

But for those still holding out for a Sanders presidency, he made the message loud and clear: “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he said. “The choice is not even close.”

Rachel Kurland is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

rkurland@midatlanticmedia.com

Morhaim: ‘I Followed All the Rules’

Del. Dan Morhaim said he followed the rules of disclosure and ethics in regards to his relationship with a medical cannabis business. (David Stuck)

Del. Dan Morhaim said he followed the rules of disclosure and ethics in regards to his relationship with a medical cannabis business. (David Stuck)

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) said he followed the rules of disclosure and legislative ethics after recent articles in prominent publications scrutinized his business relationship with a company that is vying to grow, process and sell medical cannabis in Maryland.

Morhaim, a physician and longtime proponent of medical cannabis who sponsored the bill that created the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and subsequent bills that have refined the program, has consulted with Doctor’s Orders, and could become clinical director at Doctor’s Orders if the company becomes licensed.

Articles that appeared earlier this month in The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun highlighted criticism of Morhaim for not publicly disclosing his relationship with the company, which began in July 2015.

“I followed all the rules. I have documentation of that,” Morhaim said. “I believe the most important thing is that the medical cannabis program go forward. … My conscience is clear and I will continue to do the best job I can for the district and for Maryland.”

Morhaim provided to the JT a letter from Deadra Daly, ethics counsel with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, that said he did not need to disclose his consulting role. He also provided an email from Daly that said he did not need to recuse himself from HB 104, a bill he got passed in the 2016 General Assembly session that allows dentists, podiatrists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to certify patients eligible for medical cannabis, because as a physician “the bill would not have a direct, financial impact” on Morhaim or on the entity for whom he consults.

The Baltimore County Democrat also noted the timeline of medical cannabis legislation — the legislation that created the medical cannabis program was adopted in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 sessions (which end in April), prior to his contact with Doctor’s Orders and other medical cannabis entities. Other entities contacted him in his capacity as a physician to help with clinical and medical issues, he said.

“I notified the [former] executive director of the Cannabis Commission, Hannah Byron, that I was considering consulting with a medical cannabis entity consistent with my profession as a physician serving in a citizen legislature,” Morhaim said via email. “When Doctor’s Orders submitted its license application to the commission, my name was fully and properly disclosed on the application form as a consulting physician. When submitted, this and all other license applications were open to the public. Subsequently, the commission determined to redact identifying information on all applications for the purpose of evaluation by the commission, but the un-redacted applications were and still are available to the public.”

As The Post reported, “To avoid cronyism or any appearance of bias, the team evaluating the applications does not see the names of individuals associated with each company. The Post’s study found that many applicant teams include people with political, business and law enforcement experience.”

Morhaim said he determined to work with Doctor’s Orders if the company were to get licensed because it has experience in other states.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Putting the Past in Perspective Collage project provides tangible tales of Holocaust survivors

Putting the Past in Perspective

Elie Wiesel once said, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Memory is an important faculty, particularly to those of Jewish faith. On Passover we remember, on Tisha B’Av we remember — as a community we remember. This remembrance is the foundation for a growing, international art project known as the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project.

The project started with Lori Shocket, an artist born and raised in Los Angeles who learned her father’s survival story late in life.

“Most of my life, I heard very little about his story until recent years,” she said. “I started painting with my dad, and he would drive to my studio every single week, and we would paint together. And while we’re painting one day, he started telling me a story. It was like someone flipped a switch, and I started to learn all of these incredible stories.”

These stories that her father, also an artist, shared inspired Shocket to create a periodic table of human elements in the form of collages that tell the stories of Holocaust survivors and their families.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland will be home to the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project’s third exhibition, which will be on display for Yom Ha’Shoah in 2017. To create the art project, area survivors and their families assembled collages in June workshops, more of which will be held in the coming months, including one on July 31. Baltimore’s exhibition follows a notable exhibition at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in 2015 and a forthcoming display at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

“We realized that the periodic table has all the elements but does not reflect in any way the human part, the emotional part, your feelings and experiences. We took it upon ourselves to put the human element into the periodic table,” Shocket said. “We wanted to take not only survivors, but families of survivors. Often it is second, third and even fourth generation that come together at one table to go through all these pictures and documents that were at one time sitting in a box on the shelf or in an envelope somewhere, and then they’re taken out, and they’re explored and looked at.”

The workshops in each city provide Shocket with enough collages to create a periodic table of human elements. Each element represents an individual Holocaust survivor, and the atomic symbol represents the initials of a survivor, i.e. the symbol for the artist herself would be “Ls.” Additionally, the atomic weight of elements is replaced by the age of the survivor or their family member at the time the collage was created. These “elements” are arranged around a dominating central feature labeled “Hu,” to represent the human element. So far, approximately 25 participants have contributed at least 50 collages to the future Baltimore exhibit.

Some stories have stuck with Deborah Cardin, deputy director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. She recalled that at one workshop, a woman had brought an interesting picture of her daughter standing next to a tunnel. When Cardin inquired about it, she was informed that it was a picture of the tunnel that the participants’ mother had passed through after having her star ripped off by her own mother. She was told that on the other side of the tunnel she would find a new family to care for her.

Sometimes, survivors are talking for the first time, and for the first time they’re telling their stories to their grandchildren or even their great-grandchildren.
— Lori Shocket, artist and project creator

At a June 26 workshop at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s offices, Herbert Friedman recounted how in Vienna at age 13, he and a friend were recognized as heroes for saving a 19-year-old woman who tried to commit suicide over a failed love affair by throwing herself into the river. He and his friend jumped into the freezing winter water and somehow managed to save a woman. Friedman shared a photocopy of an article that was written up in the local Austrian newspaper about his heroism just a few years before the Holocaust began.

“Austria was anti-Semitic before even Hitler came. Jews were always characterized as being cowards,” Friedman recalled. “There was a big disagreement going on between newspapers because it just so happened that the people who ran down the embankment and into the water were two Jews! And the one who ran to get the ambulance was Christian. I have articles at home which describe attacking the Christian newspapers for not recognizing the fact that the two boys who ran down were Jewish.”

Cardin explained that she first heard about the project when Shocket cold-called her. “I felt like she had come up with a project that really fit a need that we had, which was to record the stories of our local Holocaust survivors in a creative way that we could actually display in the museum,” Cardin shared. “Certainly, there are a lot of oral history projects, but something like creating collages is neat. You just can’t imagine what people experienced and how they survived.”

Shocket explained, “The idea between this whole thing that we do is that we find people to collaborate with, and through workshops and interactive exchange and hands-on development of a story, together we come up with an exhibition so that other people can be invited into the circle and to learn about whatever the topic is.”

The most important part of the workshops is the memorabilia the survivors bring, she said. They are the essential elements of the story participants tell through collages; proof that these events actually happened and these individuals actually existed. “It was such a turbulent time, many survivors do not have any artifacts with them from the Holocaust,” Shocket explained. She always brings bags of printed cutouts to workshops — yellow Jude stars, rail cars, images of the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the entrance to Auschwitz.

Personal effects of family members are scanned and printed out to be “meticulously put together to tell a story on this 10-by-10 canvas.” Shocket added, “In the case that there is no survivor, the children of survivors and then their children and so on create collages for their deceased family members.”

Some people will only create one collage, while others will create as many as four. Shocket recalled that one man created collages for himself, his younger brother and both of his parents, all of whom were survivors. In other instances, searching through photographs reveals less-known characters who are inseparably tied to a survivor, which may prompt the creation of another collage.

“When they finish,” Shocket said of families in attendance, “they’re all so happy, because I think they kind of get a kick out of seeing the stories put back together. The whole idea is that they’re reassembling a very fragmented story, which has been going on for however many years since the war ended in 1945. So now they’re putting all of the pieces together, and they’re making a little visual vignette of their life and their history.”

Shocket claims that the main purpose of the project is to inspire collaboration and communication among participants. “When Lori had talked about how the workshops take two-and-a-half to three hours, I couldn’t imagine why,” shared Cardin, “and really so much of it is the story sharing. People come and sit with their families and start looking through old photographs, and their memories are sparked. They start talking, and it is just such a beautiful process.”

“Sometimes, survivors are talking for the first time, and for the first time they’re telling their stories to their grandchildren or even great-grandchildren,” Shocket said. This sentiment was expressed by Mark Friedman, the son of Herbert Friedman, who said “how difficult it is to remember and, at the same time, impossible to forget.”

As the number of living Holocaust survivors shrinks, efforts such as the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project ensure that their legacies and the stories of their families live on.

For Shocket, the biggest take-away from the workshops is that “so many [survivors] ended their stories saying, ‘Well, I have six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren’ and so on. Now there are even more Jews, and they have families and they’re successful. Despite the tragedy of the Holocaust, as a people, we survived — triumphantly.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

AIPAC Shrinks Convention Presence

The National Museum of American Jewish History (Photo provided)

The National Museum of American Jewish History (Photo provided)

A pro-Israel event in Philadelphia next week to coincide with the Democratic National Convention was abruptly canceled by AIPAC, the organizers of what was to have been a luncheon at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

A museum spokeswoman confirmed that AIPAC recently canceled the event.

AIPAC’s credibility rests on its being seen as a bipartisan organization. It has sizable Democratic support despite its agenda aligning more closely with Republicans in recent years. Its cancellation raises questions about whether the lobby is scaling back its presence at this summer’s political conventions so it won’t have to snub the GOP and its nominee, Donald Trump, who is being boycotted by many prominent Republican Jews.

“We do not have a large, public event at either convention, but AIPAC representatives will be at both conventions and host a number of smaller meetings,” an AIPAC spokesperson said.

A Republican with knowledge of AIPAC’s situation believes that the lobby made good choice in reducing its presence at the conventions.

“[AIPAC] recognized that while the bipartisan consensus on Israel has broken down, in order for them to maintain the credibility of years and years of service, they need to dial it back and get back to advocating for Israel on both sides,” he said.

“I think a trend we have seen in recent years is both [parties] have been pushed more to the extreme, and part of AIPAC’s appeal is that they’re bipartisan and appeal to both sides of the aisle,” he added.

Just how big has the AIPAC presence been at past conventions? In 2000, JTA reported that 800 local and national members planned to attend the 2000 Republican National Convention, also in Philadelphia. And a 2004 letter from AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr stated that 1,500 members attended a community event in New York City surrounding that year’s Republican convention.

But former executive director Tom Dine, who led AIPAC through three convention seasons in the 1980s and ’90s, called the notion that AIPAC would send that many members to a convention from out of town is “B.S.”

“Nobody sends 800 people to such an event … there’s no hotel space,” he said. “Now, let’s say in Cleveland or Philadelphia, which has a significant Jewish population, you have plenty of AIPAC members already living there. Then it might be possible.”

Dine said during his tenure, AIPAC would schedule events around each convention many months ahead of time. Some of these were policy oriented, others were of the “ubiquitous watermelon, cantaloupe and cheese” social variety. He said four or five staff members and several lay leaders would meet with Congress members and candidates at each convention.

Dine said these meetings are important opportunities for members of the pro-Israel lobby to get to know their politicians.

“It’s about individuals and their future in politics, and their candidates for election and re-election would want to show their best sides to the pro-Israel leadership,” he said.

AIPAC used to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on political convention-related activities. But since the recession in 2008, the lobby has become more frugal, said a Jewish organizational leader who is familiar with AIPAC and wished to remain anonymous.

“They want to have smaller, more intimate gatherings rather than more elaborate gala events,” he said.

“The bottom line is, Jewish organizations have to do a cost-benefit analysis of the treacherous waters of being involved in presidential politics,” he continued. “It’s very easy to screw up in being seen as too close to whichever party you’re at the convention of — to the point of leaders on the other side of the aisle getting upset.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Fighting Colon Cancer with a Healthy Dose of Bluegrass

Rising star Sarah Jarosz will be one of the headliners at this summer’s Susie’s Cause Bluegrass-Folk festival at Oregon Ridge. (sarahjarosz.com)

Rising star Sarah Jarosz will be one of the headliners at this summer’s Susie’s Cause Bluegrass-Folk festival at Oregon Ridge. (sarahjarosz.com)

The names Susan Cohan and Charlotte Bohn may be known only to a select group in Baltimore, but a local nonprofit, the Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation, Inc. (Susie’s Cause), has been working tirelessly to raise both awareness and money for colorectal cancer, the disease that took the lives of these two amazing women.

David Rodman Cohan founded Susie’s Cause following the death of his daughter, Susan. In 2002, Susan visited a doctor about recurring stomach pain and was told in the emergency room that she had an advanced stage of colon cancer. Her prognosis stated that she could only expect to live a couple of months. In her memory, Susie’s Cause now raises awareness and supports research into colorectal cancer.

On July 30, the organization is raising money with the Susie’s Cause Bluegrass-Folk Festival at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. The lineup is headlined by the Del McCoury Band, a Grammy Award winner and member of the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame. Sarah Jarosz, a multi-instrumental artist who has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of acoustic music’s most promising young talents,” performs, along with the Seldom Scene, Mipso, the Stray Birds, Tim and Savannah Finch from the Eastman String Band and the Ken and Brad Kolodner Quartet.

In line with the cause, the festival will include booths providing information regarding colon cancer, in addition to free screenings. Additionally, the day will include open-pit barbecue, beer and a tasting tent from the Maryland Distillers Guild, which will be offering samples of Maryland distilled spirits.

Why bluegrass music? Charlotte Bohn was an amateur bluegrass singer. When she was diagnosed with cancer and became a board member of Susie’s Cause, David Cohan joked that board members had to sing, not knowing that Bohn had studied music at Towson. When he discovered that Bohn could sing so beautifully, Cohan personally paid for her to record a bluegrass album, which serves as a legacy to her children.

“The bluegrass community, out of any genre, is the most warm and inviting and family friendly,” said Brandon Andreadakis, marketing and internet director for Susie’s Cause. “I was invited by our headliner [Del McCoury] out to his four-day festival in Cumberland with over [10,000] people, and the man took me in like family. The heart that’s involved, it’s a genre of music that we’re proud to be behind. It’s a fun day out, it’s local. If money is raised from the event, it goes directly to our health outreach program. We have a lineup here that is second to none.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, in addition to being the second most deadly across both genders after lung cancer. Incidence of colon cancer among people under 50 has increased 10 percent in the last 10 years.

“It is not a glamorous cancer to push,” explained Andreadakis, “but colon cancer is preventable with early detection through a colonoscopy, and we’re trying to make it an affordable procedure. There are a lot of misconceptions. It is painless, you’re in twilight, it’s simple. If a polyp is found, its removed using a tool called a colonoscope. A light, a water jet and a snare are all it takes. Like a lasso, the snare pulls tight around the polyp, you apply an electrical current to it, and it burns the polyp off.”

Susie’s Cause puts on free health fairs across the country. Robert Glick, another board member of the organization, shared that the organization recently received word that someone who was screened at one of their tables had cancerous polyps discovered in his or her colon. Thanks to the screening, the polyps were quickly removed, and Susie’s Cause saved one more individual from colon cancer.

“It’s about getting the word out — have your parents get screened, get a colonoscopy,” said Andreadakis. “Our health fairs are a combination of entertainment to bring people to them, but also to provide information to both inner-city urban and underserved rural populations. People in underserved communities are worried about paying rent, putting food on the table for the night. Getting a colonoscopy is the furthest thing from their mind. So to get them out to an event, share stories and educate them in a fun way in their backyard has been tremendously successful, and there is no one else doing it.”

Glick encourages everybody to come to the concert July 30. “It’s not your traditional ‘West Virginia, back-country holler’ bluegrass,” he assured. “This is the best of the best. We were blown away last year. You’re coming out for amazing food, and it supports a good cause.”

For more information, visit susiesbluegrassfest.com.

 

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Gauging the Impact of BDS Is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel succeeding?

In 2005, Palestinian nongovernmental organizations initiated the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to encourage businesses, universities and other global entities to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, giving full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognizing the Palestinians’ right of return to land they had fled when Israel became a state.

In the United States, some college campuses have seen protests and student-backed resolutions calling for their schools to divest from companies that do business with Israel. An increasing number of state governments are combatting BDS and showing support for Israel through legislation.

So just how much support does BDS have and to what degree has it affected Israel?

Gauging the Impact of BDS

On Campus

On April 22, New York University’s graduate student union, a 600-member organization, voted to approve a measure urging the university to end its exchange program with Tel Aviv University and called on the United Auto Workers, its parent union, to divest from Israeli companies.

Four days later, NYU’s president, Andrew Hamilton, rejected the union’s proposal, stating that it would be “contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas.”

The same month, Vassar College students voted in a referendum to reject a resolution supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement after the student council had passed it.

These two recent incidents at NYU and Vassar help illustrate the dynamics of BDS on campus. Student-backed resolutions relating to at least one element of BDS have seen the light of day at 34 universities in the United States between 2013 and 2015, according to the ADL. Of these, 13 passed. Despite the activism at these universities, these numbers constitute just a fraction of the more than 4,500 institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Nevertheless, BDS on campus has caused alarm from the organized Jewish community. In spring 2015, Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Hillel International, the campus student organization, said the lives of American Jewish students and the integrity of the university were at stake.

“And so, some Hillel directors who might not have experienced it may find that they experience it in the future. And our job is to be proactive,” he said.

Fingerhut put in place a controversial set of guidelines about which positions on Israel are acceptable in the organization’s activities. Groups that advocate any form of BDS violate those guidelines.

Last summer, billionaire Sheldon Adelson raised $50 million to create an organization called Campus Maccabees to fight BDS. David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, was named to head the group. An associated Facebook Page called Maccabee Task Force has some 20,000 likes.

Economic Effects

Central to the BDS mission is to hit Israel economically and damage it so it will withdraw from the occupied territories. SodaStream, a do-it-yourself carbonated beverage company, was in the BDS spotlight for months after it opened a factory in the West Bank in 2014.

An interfaith coalition of organizations announced a boycott of SodaStream. The company eventually closed the plant and moved to a larger facility within Israel. More than 500 Palestinian jobs were lost in the process.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said the move had nothing to do with BDS or politics. But BDS advocates declared victory upon hearing the news.

“SodaStream’s announcement today shows that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism,” said Rafeef Ziadah, of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.

But the SodaStream boycott appears to have done no long-term economic damage.

“The impact of BDS is more psychological than real so far and has had no discernible impact on Israeli trade or the broader economy,” Kristin Lindow of Moody’s Investor’s Service told Forbes. “That said, the sanctions do run the risk of hurting the Palestinian economy, which is much smaller and poorer than that of Israel, as seen in the case of SodaStream.”

If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you.
— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

 

Foreign investments in Israel now total $285 billion, three times what they were 11 years ago when BDS was launched, Israel Bonds chairman Izzy Tapoohi wrote in the Jerusalem Post on July 6.

That has not daunted Palestinian activist Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Munayyer said BDS is working even if the economic results are not apparent.

“It’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s a matter of corporations that are profiteering off of a system of injustice,” he said. “When you have debates over whether or not to boycott or to divest in an institution or a church, that conversation is happening, and that conversation would not be happening if people were not using these [boycott] tactics.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan- yahu last year launched a $25 million effort to combat BDS by monitoring the activities of pro-BDS organizations. The plan was not implemented due to infighting in the Israeli cabinet.

Isolating and Delegitimizing Israel

Opponents of the occupation want to distinguish Israeli products made in the West Bank and Golan from those made within the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. BDS goes further. It wishes to stop the sale of Israeli goods from the territories and often from Israel itself.

In response, Israel supporters in this country have spearheaded anti-BDS legislation in U.S. states. Ten states passed laws in the last three years. Another 15, including Virginia, have them on their agendas.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently signed a bill into law that creates a blacklist of companies engaging in BDS tactics. “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you,” he declared.

The Baltimore Jewish Council planned to pursue an anti-BDS bill in Maryland’s 2016 General Assembly session that would have prevented pension divestment to ensure that state pensions weren’t invested in companies that divested from Israel and changed the state’s procurement contract process so that companies who divest could not earn state contracts, similar to laws enacted in regard to Iran. When BJC officials researched both issues, they found that no companies had divested and decided not to pursue an anti-BDS bill, but they continue to monitor the issue in Maryland.

At the federal level, the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 30 passed the Combatting BDS Act of 2016. It would authorize state and local governments to divest funds from companies that engage in BDS activity that targets Israel.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the conservative pro-Israel group StandWithUs, calls the legislation “victories against bigotry.”

BDS loses “as they play the game because they appear to be so extremist, and they’re losing because [U.S. governments] recognize that [BDS is] spreading bigotry,” she said.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has proposed a litmus test for whether words or actions critical of Israel cross the line from anti-Israel to anti-Semitic.

Central to the BDS mission is to hit Israel economically and damage it so it will withdraw from the occupied territories. The support for BDS among young people can partially be attributed to the effectiveness of Palestinians in making their appeal similar to that of anti-Apartheid activists, said political analyst Peter Beinart.

He calls it the “Three D’s test”: delegitimization, demonization and double standard.

“We have to fight to convince others of why [BDS] is absolutely wrong,” Sharansky said. “And in this BDS movement, the most important thing is not to convince our enemies that they are wrong. We have to tell the Jews that they have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Marketing to Millennials

BDS also marks a generational divide that is highlighted in a study released in May by the Pew Research Center. It examined American attitudes toward foreign policy, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pew found that 43 percent of millennials, people born after 1980, were likely to sympathize with Israel compared with more than 60 percent of people born before 1964.

Simply put, Israel is not the miracle for millennials that it is for their parents and grandparents. The BDS movement, with its argument on justice for the Palestinians, is tapping into the passions of the millennials.

“In my generation, Israel may have been the first driver of Jewish identity,” Jay Sanderson, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, told Ha’aretz. “But it’s not going to be anymore in the same way. Israel’s too complicated. So our approach has to be to connect these students to Jewish life and then find a meaningful way to engage them with Israel.”

The growing support for BDS among young people can partially be attributed to the effectiveness of Palestinians in making their appeal in a similar way black South Africans did during the anti-Apartheid movement, said political analyst Peter Beinart.

“It makes sense that this is going to be strongest in the places where there is such strong political activism,” he said, noting that pro-BDS sentiments have taken root in particularly left-leaning areas of the United States such as New England and California.

Beinart, who opposes BDS, said that because the Israeli government is “erasing the Green Line” [with its settlements policy] and because there has been little progress in the Middle East peace process over the last 20 years, BDS has become an alternative for the Palestinians in achieving their goal of a state.

Rabbi Alana Suskin, director of strategic communications for Americans for Peace Now, a pro-Israel group that opposes the occupation, said younger people are becoming attracted to the BDS movement because they are more engaged with social media and have not had to deal with the levels of anti-Semitism their parents faced.

“Younger people have much broader connections,” she said. “They’re reading tweets from people all over the world. When they’re having revolutions in the Middle East, people can see it on Twitter. You’re looking at all of these things and you’re thinking, what can I do?”

BDS supporters only constitute a small percentage of Israel critics, said political theorist Michael Walzer. But if the movement continues, it could have negative long-term effects.

“We have to acknowledge that this is a political movement of some importance,” he said. “This is not a movement that can do serious damage to the State of Israel, and its importance often is exaggerated for political purposes on the right. But it could turn the next generation of the American foreign policy elite against Israel.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Man In Standoff Charged with Attempted Murder

Last week’s standoff closed Reisterstown Road from Seven Mile Lane to Labyrinth Road and some surrounding streets. (Adam Barry)

Last week’s standoff closed Reisterstown Road from Seven Mile Lane to Labyrinth Road and some surrounding streets. (Adam Barry)

A Baltimore man who shot at police during an eight-hour standoff was charged with first- and second-degree attempted murder in connection with the July 6 incident.

Robert Blake, 46, of the 6900 block of Reisterstown Road is also charged with first- and second-degree assault, discharging a firearm within city limits and possession of body armor, according to Det. Niki Fennoy, a Baltimore Police spokeswoman.

Blake remains in custody with no bail.

Officers from the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office arrived at Blake’s residence around 8:30 a.m. July 6 to serve a warrant and other paperwork, at which point the suspect refused to come outside and implied he had a weapon, according to police spokesman T.J. Smith.

Police blocked off Reisterstown Road from Seven Mile Lane to Labyrinth Road around that time, and SWAT officers were called in. Some nearby homes were evacuated as well.

Within the hour before the suspect’s arrest, which happened around 5 p.m., shots were fired at officers. No officers were injured, and the suspect was not harmed during the ordeal, Smith said.

Support was provided by Howard County and Baltimore County police and the Baltimore City Fire Department, and the MTA provided a bus for first responders and those who were evacuated from their homes to use as a cooling station, Smith said.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

JCC Members Upset Over Pool Hours

jcc-pool

Owings Mills JCC members are upset that they can’t use the large outdoor pool until 3 p.m. on weekdays. (Photo provided)

Members of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC are peeved by the hours at the large family pool, which were adjusted to accommodate campers for the summer.

The pool is exclusively used by campers until 3 p.m., at which point it’s open to the public. JCC members, many of whom joined specifically to use the pool, say the new hours don’t work for them, and the other pools — an outdoor lap pool, an outdoor instructional pool, an outdoor kid pool and an indoor pool — don’t fit their needs and the needs of their families.

“I don’t think there was much thought put into how the whole community would be affected when the hours were revised,” said Dawn Barton, a mother of 10 and JCC member of two years. “Just like any change, all voices should be heard, especially when you are putting money into an organization.”

An online petition asking for a viable alternative has 198 signatures as of press time.

We’re fighting it because we like it here. — Ann Gorton, JCC member

The change in hours came in conjunction with the first summer of J Day Camp, the new camp on the Owings Mills JCC campus that started this summer with the termination of Camp Milldale as a separate entity. JCC members were informed of the change in hours in early May.

“Because it was a new program, we didn’t know until May what the final course of action would be with the pool hours,” said Barak Hermann, CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “We’re sincerely sorry for any inconvenience this change has caused our members. This is the first summer for our new J Day campers on our Owings Mills campus, and we’re constantly evaluating logistics.”

He said he’s aware that members are frustrated and disappointed and said he’s “sad that people are upset.” The pool being used exclusively by campers, as opposed to allowing campers and members both use the pool at the same time, was for safety reasons, Hermann said.

The family pool, the JCC’s large pool that has a splash pad, used to be open to the public at noon during the week. Its weekday hours are now 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays. There are three other outdoor pools — a lap pool, a baby pool and an instructional pool — and an indoor lap pool with varying hours that are not affected by the camps. Members argue that those pools are not ideal for families to spend a day at the J.

“The J is claiming you can still go up there at noon [and use] the little instructional pool,” said Ann Gorton, a mother of two boys. “[There would be] kids jumping on top of each other and too many kids in that little pool.”

Her sons go to Camp Airy for the second session, and since she’s a teacher, during the first part of the summer she likes to spend the day at the pool with the family. Like other families, Gorton used the JCC pool as a family activity during the weeks kids aren’t at camp.

“Some of us do not have the extra money for camp all summer,” Elizabeth Gibard wrote in the petition’s comments section.

Several commenters say they may look for other pools next summer if these hours continue.

“We’re trying to tell Barak we’re fighting it because we like it here,” Gorton said. “We want to stay.”

Hermann said, “Because of the growing numbers, we [have to] make difficult decisions. … We’re constantly doing the best we can to serve the community and evolve.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com