Outpouring of Love in the Face of Hatred, Violence

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Reeling from the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in its history, many cities around the country and the world came together in vigil, song and prayer this week to work through waves of grief felt from the tragedy and to stand in solidarity with the families and loved ones of the 49 lives lost and also with the LGBTQ community, at which the heinous attack carried out by Omar Mateen was targeted.

Mateen, 29, an American-born citizen living in Fort Pierce, Fla., whose parents are from Afghanistan, entered the Pulse nightclub some 120 miles away in Orlando, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, just after 2 a.m. on Sunday. The popular gay dance club had about 300 patrons inside at the time of the attack according to Orlando police chief John Mina.

The shooter killed 49 people and injured more than 50, held some hostage in a club bathroom and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State via a 911 call shortly after the start of the attack. He later was killed in a gun battle with police.

The outpourings of support and solidarity began almost immediately.

Marty Katz, co-director of JQ Baltimore, an organization that supports the Jewish LGBTQ community, attended the local vigil on Monday night, sponsored by the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland and the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care. Hundreds of people showed up at the Ynot lot, an open area in the Station North District, and filled the blocked off intersection of North and Charles avenues. Katz said he’s heard from many young people, and their parents, who have expressed concern over attending Gay Pride events this month and next.

“When terror takes place, the [terrorist’s] idea is to scare people and change people’s lifestyles and how they behave,” he said. “I encourage them to be smart, go in groups and be aware but have a good time. We don’t close the synagogues because there has been an attack on a synagogue [somewhere]. They may hire additional security but don’t close. So I don’t think we should close gay bars or Gay Pride events, but we should be smart.”

I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.

— Rabbi Jessy Gross, Charm City Tribe

He was much more concerned, however, with the language and actions of some extremist organizations “that stigmatize the LGBTQ community, [creating an atmosphere and mentality] that a person might latch on to, to justify harmful behaviors.”

Mindy Dickler, a co-founder of JQ Baltimore, agreed with the sentiment and added, “My son is participating in Pride activities, and I certainly won’t tell him to stop — just like in Israel, when there are attacks, people go on with their lives because that’s how you show love wins.”

Many politicians, community leaders and organizations released statements in light of the attack, such as Eshel, a national organization that creates community and acceptance for LGBT Jews and their families in Orthodox communities:

“Our hearts are broken over the senseless violence, the lives cut short, the families torn apart. … We pray for the day when we will know no more homophobia and or violence against LGBTQ people. … As Jews, we know all too well that hatred does not arise in a vacuum. It persists in our communities and our society at large. In face of this horror and bigotry, we must stand together as one and redouble our efforts to heal a broken world. … We call on religious leaders, particularly those in more traditional religious communities, and especially those in our own Orthodox Jewish community, to commit themselves and their congregations to not stand idly by the spilling of blood, to share responsibility for violence that is all too often inflamed by fundamentalism and to work hard to ensure that all our communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming to all.”

And after the conclusion of Shavuot, typically a joy-filled holiday, the Baltimore Jewish Council statement said, “Yet, this Shavuot was filled with sadness, as we mourned thelives lost in the senseless violence of the Orlando shooting. At a time meant for reflection on the joy and holiness brought by our faith, it is important that we do not demonize the faith of others. The culprit of this violent act is one man who has twisted his concept of faith to meet his own ends; it is not a representation of the entire Muslim community. … We must all ask ourselves, how many of these statements will we write in 2017, how many more senseless killings will our country endure? Something must be done to fight this epidemic and we look towards our interfaith and community partners to undertake this battle together.”

Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice, echoed that charge with, “We must work to end the hatred and intolerance and remove the weapons from our society that enable a single person to perpetrate such a heinous act. Though Maryland has instituted important common-sense gun violence reforms in recent years, there legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse.”

Evan Serpick, director of strategic communications at Open Society Institute of Baltimore, also attended the vigil and observed that “people were looking for a way to process what they were going through — the frustration, anger, sadness — it seemed very helpful and cathartic.”

He said a host of area politicians spoke, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, State Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Mary Washington. Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend but issued this statement:

“The First Lady and I are shocked and saddened by the senseless violence this morning at a nightclub in Orlando. We offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the innocent victims of this act of terror and our deepest gratitude to the first responders and law enforcement who responded to this tragedy with bravery and courage.

“I have reached out to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to express our support during this time. The State of Maryland is ready and willing to provide any assistance needed. Gov. Scott has called for a moment of silence and prayer at 6 p.m. [Sunday] for the victims and their loved ones. I urge everyone in Maryland to join in Gov. Scott’s call for unity and prayer.”

Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe has a different take on calls for prayer:

“I feel like if I hear one more politician say that what we need to do is pray, as a person who has a prayer life, I’m offended because prayer is not going to get us anywhere at this point,” she said. “Of course, we need prayer and healing when we have circumstances with victims and heartbreak, so there is a distinction to be made, but at this point the culpability is on us as a society.

“I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.”

Marc Shapiro and JTA contributed to this article.


JCC’s Shabbat Decision Causes Concern

File photo

File photo

The Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center’s recent decision to open earlier on Saturdays has caused some concern for community members over respect for Shabbat.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the facility’s outdoor pools have been open on Saturdays, and since 2009, the JCC has opened at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but the board voted May 24 to keep the facility open for a full day on Shabbat, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The holy day begins Friday evening before sundown and ends after nightfall a day later.

Representatives from the JCC said that the decision to extend the building’s Saturday hours, which began on June 4, was the culmination of 15 months of discussion.

“We did not make this decision lightly. We conducted many, many meetings with community leaders over the past year and a half. This was not something that happened overnight,” said Annette Saxon, board chair of the JCC of Greater Baltimore.

Barak Hermann, president of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said, “Even though we opened our building on Saturday afternoons in June of 2009, there continued to be a demand of current and prospective members to be open Saturday morning.” Hermann said reactions to the decision have been mixed, as he has heard from Jewish members who are pleased with the decision, while he described others as “concerned and disappointed.”

In his JT column, “Shabbos at the JCC: Crossing the Line” (see page 10), Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion referred to a “clear red line” he felt was established during the 2009 decision that limited the building’s Saturday hours and came with “a pledge that the Shabbos experience at the JCC would be enriched with meaningful and substantive elements that would make that day at the J different than any other.”

Seven years later, Hauer feels that neither of these promises have been fulfilled. “The JCC is an entry point, a point of connection to the Jewish community, so it has to have a structure of its own. Every organization has to stand for something beyond customer service when it’s a communal organization,” he told the JT.

Other rabbis from the area’s Orthodox community have been hearing from congregants and community members as well. “People have approached me and said, ‘Rabbi, I thought the JCC as a Jewish organization would stand up in principle and not cave in to pressure to open on Shabbat mornings,’” said Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, director of Chabad of Owings Mills.

Katsenelenbogen expressed concern that this decision signals a shift in the JCC’s attitudes toward maintaining Jewish traditions and identity.

However, Saxon cited the “tough balance” between the desires and attitudes of JCC members, both Jewish members — observant and non-observant — and non-Jewish members. “It’s a fine line we walk here, and that’s why we didn’t take this lightly, and that’s why we put much so much effort in the process to get this point,” Saxon said.

Alex Schwartz of Owings Mills, a former JCC member of almost 20 years, said he feels that as the JCC’s non-Jewish and non-observant membership grows, he understands a shift in policy. “At the end of the day, you have such a different combination of people using the JCC. … If you’re going to be open on Saturdays, why not extend the hours?”

Adam Hariri of Pikesville attends the Park Heights JCC because of its proximity to his house, and while he keeps Shabbat, he felt mostly indifferent to the announcement that the Owings Mills location had extended their Saturday hours. “I understand it’s a Jewish facility and a Jewish organization, but I understand they don’t have one specific affiliation. Orthodoxy keeps the Sabbath, but it’s fine to me if the building doesn’t,” he said.

The Park Heights JCC facility remains closed on Saturdays and offers gender-sensitive pool use, fitness and children’s programming.

“We’re grateful that there’s a facility in Park Heights that many members of the community take advantage of, and that’s appreciated,” Hauer said. “We have a larger mission, and that’s the mission of Jewish continuity and that’s where the concerns lie.”

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said that the organization was kept informed about the discussions leading up the incident and that the decision hinged on keeping the JCC open as a place for non-observant Jews to spend Shabbat in a Jewish setting.

While he understood the concern of Rabbi Hauer and others, Terrill also hoped the decision would help the JCC reach more of the community.

“As an operating principle, The Associated system looks to engage all members of the Jewish community,” he said. In a follow-up statement he added: “This sometimes comes with diversity of opinion and absence of consensus.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

Adam Barry is an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

A Million-Dollar Legacy JWGF hits milestone, grants longer-term funding

­For 13 years, a group of dedicated, impassioned Jewish women in Baltimore have been quietly making a meaningful philanthropic impact on the lives of women and girls in communities locally and abroad. And this year, they upped the ante even more.

The Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation is a unique agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. The members, who now number more than 100, participate in the entire grant-making process. They contribute funds and then review letters of intent from potential grantees, pore over detailed proposals and budgets, attend site visits for finalist organizations and participate in multiple voting sessions to determine where each dollar is allocated. Members also monitor periodic check-ins and evaluation reports from grantees.

A Million-Dollar Legacy

This year denotes a maturing of the organization — not only in commemoration of its bat mitzvah year, but also because it surpassed the $1 million mark in grant giving. The organization also initiated, after about a year of intense research, a multiyear funding program as part of its grant cycle, which provides grantees a significant pipeline of support.

The process by which JWGF determined the extended grant recipient distinguishes it from its peers nationwide, said chair Elise Rubenstein after attending the national Jewish Women’s Foundation Force for Change Conference last month in Washington, D.C., where she and JWGF program director Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman presented their recent rigorous research.

Instead of choosing an organization already applying for funding or deciding on its own the greatest needs of the community — an approach used by several other women’s giving groups to allocate multiyear funding — JWGF conducted research to pinpoint community needs and funding gaps. The organization invited a panel of speakers that included women from the Abell Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, the Baltimore County Commission for Women, the Baltimore City Youth Commission and Jewish Community Services.

“We went to our committee and asked pointed questions,” Rubenstein said. “We asked, ‘Where’s the gap, who’s doing what, who’s doing it well?’”

The research results revealed a desperate lack of programming and funding for middle school girls. JWGF learned that 80 percent of a child’s life is spent outside of school time, and the activity gap of kids without resources during that time is enormous. “Out of school” time is usually when a child is stimulated to discover what he or she is passionate about, has the opportunity to experience team work and can improve upon life skills. Many underprivileged children don’t have access to after-school programming because it’s expensive.

“We identified that gap we could fill, and then we looked for a partner that could do that,” Millman said.

After meeting with more than 25 organizations and winnowing down possibilities, JWGF awarded Higher Achievement, which “closes the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years” by providing role models and a year-round after-school learning environment, all in a culture of high expectations that result in “college-bound scholars with the character, confidence and skills to succeed.” Higher Achievement will receive $20,000 per year for three years (with multiple check-in points during that time to ensure programming is on track) to address the gap in after-school programming specifically for young girls. The organization has a 30-year success record, and JWGF funding allows it to implement gender-specific programming for a total of 60 girls per year across three Baltimore City schools.

“The program will combine STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and girls empowerment and self-esteem building,” said Laury Scharff, vice chair of the foundation and co-chair of the New Initiative Committee with Elinor Spokes. “They’ve slowly evolved and have honed a precise program that works, and they’ve been dying to do a program that is gender based.”

Dare to be Queen, the name wildly popular with the middle school age it targets, also incorporates curriculum from the Maryland Science Olympiad. It will occupy the girls until about 7:30 p.m. four nights per week, and there is a six-week summer participation requirement as well. Homework time and physical activities are included as are snacks and dinner because 90 percent of the kids at those schools benefit from Title I initiatives, which means they are living at or below poverty level. In total, that’s about 650 extra contact hours of academic and emotional support, Scharff added, and data shows that participation in after-school programming directly correlates with higher rates for high school and college attendance by its participants.

We’ve learned as grant-makers about best practices. There are no one-year problems, and there are no one-year solutions.
— Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman, program director, Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation

After the unrest and upheaval in areas across the city surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, the young African-American man from Sandtown-Winchester who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake added $4.8 million to the city’s budget for after-school programming. She removed it from the budget the following year.

“So that makes us feel even better for our decision,” Millman said. “We’ve learned as grant-makers about best practices. There are no one-year problems, and there are no one-year solutions. We want to give [Higher Achievement] the ability to use money as they see best, [so the organization can] focus on their programming and not just on their fundraising.”

JWGF awarded a total of $139,000 in grants this year. In addition to Higher Achievement, it granted $4,800 to Adelante Latina, $20,000 to Advocates for Children and Youth, $9,200 to CHANA, $10,000 to Itineris, $20,000 to the Alma Pre-Army Academy (Israel), $20,000 to Jewish Community Center senior programming, $20,000 to Natal (Israel) and $15,000 to the Parks & People Foundation.

Spokes praised The Associated for its blessing and support that allows JWGF to function in such a unique manner.

“To give us the staffing and let us create a process … and giving us our own space to pursue such a progressive step in women’s philanthropy, I’m enormously grateful,” she said. “I learned so much about grant-making and about what the city needs.”

She said the decision was difficult with so many deserving organizations that could benefit from multiyear funding. Both Jewish and secular organizations made the final list.

“But a rising tide lifts all boats. What’s good for Baltimore City is good for the Baltimore Jewish community,” Spokes said. “Just because we’re funding outside the Jewish community, it’s still a Jewish thing to do. It’s all part of tikkun olam.”


Man Stabbed During Home Invasion in Cheswolde

2800 CheswoldeA 36-year-old Cheswolde man was stabbed in the abdomen during a home invasion in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 7.

The man, who was awake and working on his laptop, was stabbed with a sharp unknown object after he discovered an intruder in his home in the 2800 block of Cheswolde Road at 3:36 a.m., according Det. Nicole Monroe, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City police.

He was taken to an area hospital in serious but stable condition, she said.

The Cheswolde resident heard a noise in the house, and discovered the intruder when he went to investigate. He was stabbed during a confrontation, and the intruder fled. The man’s wife called 911, Monroe said.

There was no report of property taken. As of press time, there were no leads on the suspect but the crime labs are processing the evidence.

“Here’s a pattern we’ve seen over the years,” said Nathan Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association and spokesperson for Shomrim. “The level of crime has increased from petty theft, to car break-ins to more serious property crimes like breaking into homes.” He asserts this is due to criminals perceiving a decreased police presence in the northwest area.

“We’re going into a three-day holiday of Shavuos, when a lot of residents are walking to shul, attending [late night] classes, staying up all night [as is tradition], so we’re hoping there is an increase in police presence,” Willner said.

Willner added that the neighborhood association and Shomrim met just this week with the police captain of the Northwest district to make them aware of the anticipated patterns of movement over the three-day holiday, which includes Shabbat. He added that the crime “literally” happened in newly elected Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer’s backyard.

“People in the community have been advised for many years to make sure doors are locked, windows are closed, but despite those efforts these things happen,” Willner said. “It definitely shakes your sense of safety and security.”


Rice, Mayors Highlight AJC Global Forum

National Security Advisor Susan Rice (Photo by Daniel Schere)

National Security Advisor Susan Rice (Photo by Daniel Schere)

More than 2,700 Jews from 70 countries packed the Washington Hilton earlier this week for the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum, which brings together leaders from around the world to discuss major issues of concern for the Jewish community.

Highlighting the three-day conference was a “world leader’s plenary” session on Monday night that featured an address from National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The bulk of Rice’s 30-minute speech focused on the United States-Israel relationship, which she called an “ironclad bond.” Rice received cordial applause throughout the speech while repeating the refrain “Israel is not alone” in describing attacks from Hamas and other groups toward Israel’s existence. While most of Rice’s speech was aimed at Jews, she also included a line aimed at reaching out to another party.

“When Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting death to Arabs, and Palestinian homes or mosques are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone,” she said.

Rice used her remarks to tout the efforts of President Barack Obama’s administration in securing the “largest military assistance package with any country in American history,” which is estimated to provide Israel with about $40 billion in aid over 10 years.

“Israel’s security isn’t a Democratic interest or a Republican interest, it’s an American interest,” she said.
Rice also addressed last year’s controversial Iran nuclear deal, which she praised by saying that the country’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon is now one year; it was just a few months prior to the agreement.

“Whether or not you supported this deal, the results are undeniable,” she said. “Iran has disassembled two-thirds of its centrifuges. They’ve shipped out 98 percent of their enriched Uranium stockpile.”

Rice also mentioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Paris for a Middle East Peace summit — one that neither the Israelis nor Palestinians attended. She said the basic message of the conference was an affirmation of the two-state solution as the only path toward a peaceful future in the region but that it cannot be “imposed on the parties.” Rice did not shy away from condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, just as Vice President Joe Biden did at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.

Photo by David Stuck

Photo by David Stuck

“Settlement activity corrodes the prospects for two states,” she said. “It moves us toward a one-state reality. Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state is at stake.”

Rice’s views on the West Bank were echoed earlier that day by Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog who said that the Israel’s lack of progress in separating from the Palestinians presents a “serious demographic threat to its future.”

“In the meanwhile, violence continues to flourish, the delegitimization of Israel gathers steam, and the international community grows increasingly irritated by the reality in the West Bank,” he said.

Absent from the conference’s sessions was any sense of political division. Despite Rice’s high-ranking position in the administration, she has stayed largely out of commenting on the current presidential race. She told The Forward in an interview that it would be “inappropriate and likely illegal” for her to do so in response to a question about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. She closed her speech on a unifying note by condemning anti-Semitism that has popped up around the globe.

“When Iran holds an abhorrent Holocaust cartoon contest, when violence and violent words lead Jews to take down mezuzahs in Europe. When more than half of college students say they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus, we must call out and confront that ancient hatred for what it is: an absolute outrage.”

The speakers at this year’s conference were a departure from past years, which have included big names such as Kerry and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom has spoken at the conference multiple times. But it did include the presence of three mayors out of more than 300 from across the country who have signed a pledge that states they are committed to fighting anti-Semitism on a global level.

One of those presents was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said suggestion of her involvement came from a constituent in Northwest Baltimore who is an AJC member. He called Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who in turn convinced Rawlings-Blake to sign on. It also inspired the mayor to reach out to other mayors in Maryland and around the country.

“From that one constituent making that one phone call to his city councilwoman, this initiative now counts over 300 mayors signing on collectively over 80 million people in this country. You see, he thought globally by acting locally,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake said activism like the fight against anti-Semitism comes from the bottom up as opposed to the top down, and initiatives such as this one are most likely to happen within a city as opposed to at the national level.

“My job at its core is to make sure my community is safer, that it’s better and stronger,” she said. “And if I can do that and my colleagues can do that, then what a difference we can make.”


Art Abramson Says Goodbye BJC set to honor executive director’s legacy

Art Abramson (Photo by David Stuck)

Art Abramson (Photo by David Stuck)

When Arthur “Art” Abramson came to Baltimore in 1990, he was given three years to turn the Baltimore Jewish Council around.

“When I came here, the board was 189 people. I will never forget that, it’s crazy,” he said. “How do you provide accountability to the community, to the lay leadership, to everybody else if you have 189 people telling you what to do? You can’t; it’s impossible. The structure just did not work.”

Abramson’s directive was to revamp the council and “bring it back,” he said, to its effective glory days, when it played significant roles in issues such as the civil rights movement.

Under his leadership, the council rewrote its bylaws, shrinking and streamlining the board; established a strong government relations operation that not only advocated policy, but also brought millions in funding to the community; created and cemented relationships with Baltimore’s other ethnic and religious communities; established the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel; and worked closely with the Holocaust survivor community on a number of initiatives. The list goes on.

“I was brought in as someone who has taken difficult situations, problematic situations and made them better. I had developed a wonderful relationship with Darrell Friedman [former president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore]. … We had three years to change things around,” Abramson, 67, recalled. “I think we did. After five to 10 years we made it the best in the country for its size, far and away.”

After almost 26 years as executive director, he stepped down from the position on May 13. But he’s not about to enter retirement; a new job that he has yet to reveal is on the horizon.

Abramson will be honored at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s annual meeting on Wednesday, June 8 at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion.

Art Abramson with Cardinal William Keeler, the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore, and Chizuk Amuno Congregation Rabbi Emeritus Joel Zaiman, circa 1990s. (Photo by David Stuck)

Art Abramson with Cardinal William Keeler, the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore, and Chizuk Amuno Congregation Rabbi Emeritus Joel Zaiman, circa 1990s. (Photo courtesy of the BJC)

From East to West, and Back East

Art Abramson grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his family lived until he was 9.

“[It] was great because everybody was together there. There were African-Americans and Italians and Irish,” he said. “Everybody got along, and we all learned about each other, which I think was the best setting I could have had for a job like this one. You learn to live together, accept each other.”

His family moved to Queens when he was 9. He would later attend Queens College and major in political science. He spent his junior year in Israel, living with Arabs in East Jerusalem outside the Damascus Gate. That’s where he fell in love with Israel and Middle Eastern culture, and it pushed his academic interests in that direction.

He went to UCLA for his master’s and Ph.D., where a mentor got him interested in foreign policy and decision-making. He wrote his dissertation on the administration of foreign policy toward the Middle East during the Truman administration. He also taught at several universities in the Los Angeles area.

Abramson with Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Jewish Council president Lainy LeBow-Sachs at Advocacy Day, a community lobbying event in Annapolis, in 2015. (Photo by David Stuck)

Abramson with Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Jewish Council president Lainy LeBow-Sachs at Advocacy Day, a community lobbying event in Annapolis, in 2015. (Photo courtesy of the BJC)

While in L.A., he also started working at the American Jewish Committee. After earning his Ph.D., he went to Seattle to work as the Washington state director of the American Jewish Committee. The AJC chapter there was in danger of closing, but under Abramson it thrived.

From there, it was off to Houston, where he and his wife, Debra, had their daughter, Jill, and met some of their best friends. Abramson worked as the community relations director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, where he stabilized and expanded the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim Internship Foundation. The program, which was named after the late congressman who started the program after an inspirational trip to Israel, has sent high school juniors to live on a kibbutz for a month since 1980. It would later serve as the model for the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel.

After seven years in Houston, Abramson came to Baltimore to take the helm of the BJC.

Game Changer

Abramson arrived in Baltimore with a reputation.

He was known nationally and impressed the BJC search committee with his knowledge of community issues and his ability to build consensus, said Sandy Teplitzky, a member of the search committee who served as president from 1992 to 1994.

“He essentially got people to vote themselves off the board,” Teplitzky said, referring to the changing of the bylaws that shrunk the then-189-member board. The board is now around 60 people. Over time, the BJC would add a young leadership program and establish a committee structure to allow more members of the Jewish community to be involved with the council.

From left: Martha Weiman, chair of interfaith dialogue at the BJC, Del. Jay Jalisi and a Muslim Imam with Abramson. (Photo by David Stuck)

From left: Martha Weiman, chair of interfaith dialogue at the BJC, Del. Jay Jalisi and a Muslim Imam with Abramson. (Photo courtesy of the BJC)

Abramson’s consensus-building skills helped him and the BJC immensely.

“Art had to walk the lines between the various agendas in the Jewish community, and I think he was able to do that fairly well,” Teplitzky said.

To keep things moving in the right direction, Abramson brought in a new director of government relations, Shelly Hettleman. Now a state delegate, Hettleman had been working at U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s office. With Hettleman on the team, the BJC sharpened its focus in its legislative work in Annapolis.

“If you develop these relationships with decision-makers, with legislators and you really develop those relationships and you were working on policy issues, why can’t you also increase the level of funding that was coming into the community?” Abramson asked. “Darrell [Friedman] provided staff and dollars that allowed us to do that, and we did.”

Abramson and the BJC developed relationships with local and federal legislators, worked with each governor and always met with the governor, speaker of the house and Senate president before each General Assembly session to lay out the BJC’s priorities.

Former associated director of the BJC Lynn Katzen said Abramson is the “king” of building relationships. “Whatever it was, he built all those connections in the community,” she said.

Art Abramson (Photo by David Stuck)

Art Abramson (Photo by David Stuck)

Cailey Locklair Tolle, former deputy executive director at the council, said “there’s nobody like him.”

“Everyone who meets him instantly knows he’s special and that’s what I think made him so good,” she said. “It wasn’t just his intelligence and the amount of information he knew about the Middle East and Israel and the Jewish community. It was how he presented and told that story.”

The key to these legislative relationships, Abramson said, was to never be partisan.

In recent years, the BJC has secured funding for community health care initiatives, domestic violence and elder abuse programs, the Maryland/Israel Development Center and Holocaust survivors. A large majority of buildings in The Associated system received funding, Abramson said.

“We were, as the recognized political arm of the community, able to do magnificent things for the community,” he said. “I think this all came to a head when 9/11 happened, and in the years after in terms of protecting the community, we did it. I had always been, in Houston for seven years, the guy who was responsible for bringing resources together through the law enforcement community to make sure we were all safe.”

Through the relationships Abramson and the BJC cultivated, Jewish institutions in Baltimore City had a security presence within 30 to 40 minutes after 9/11 and within an hour to an hour and 15 minutes in Baltimore County, Abramson said.

Through working with Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who was close with the Department of Homeland Security’s first director, Tom Ridge, the BJC was able to secure homeland security funding for Baltimore’s Jewish community.

From left: Rep. John Sarbanes, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Abramson, Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Merna Cardin and Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at The Associated and BJC’s 9/11 Remembrance program on Sept. 11, 2011. (Photo by David Stuck)

From left: Rep. John Sarbanes, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Abramson, Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Myrna Cardin and Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at The Associated and BJC’s 9/11 Remembrance program on Sept. 11, 2011. (Photo courtesy of the BJC)

“There is not an institution in this community … that has not received those homeland security dollars,” Abramson said. “And this is one thing the council produced.”

And it wasn’t just the Jewish community, Abramson also helped other parts of the community, like when he helped secure $20,000 in homeland security funds so the Islamic Society of Baltimore could build a fence.

While the council had already been engaging in this type of work, interfaith and interethnic relations flourished under Abramson. The council developed a good relationship with the Palestinian Authority, which allowed the council to take then-Gov. Martin O’Malley to Jordan and Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leadership the last time the BJC took him to Israel.

“It works because they better understand us and we better understand them, and this is in order to reduce the fear,” Abramson said. “Because when you’ve got fear, you don’t have anything productive going on.”


Courtesy of the BJC

The BJC also held and continues to hold programs and dialogue events with the Baltimore Muslim community.

“Muslims and Jews, it was groundbreaking stuff and it was really taking place [with] interfaith dialogues,” said Imam Earl El-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. “Baltimore was really on the cutting edge. Nowhere in the country was this happening at that level.”

El-Amin said Abramson brought a rational perspective to the table, and efforts have resulted in long-term institutional and interpersonal relationships between the two communities.

“The Muslim community and Jewish community are very similar in that you have folks who still want to stay in the confines of the Muslim community and want to stay in the confines of the Jewish community and I think Art was able to bring a lot of those folks together,” he said. “Art has been able to present a picture of Islam, not a fractured picture, but a positive picture, to the Jewish community of Muslims.”

Another effort particularly close to Abramson’s heart is the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, a two-year leadership fellowship for Baltimore high school students that was modeled off the Mickey Leland program in Houston.

Abramson said the program, the fellows from which have been mostly African-American, now has a CNN anchor, members of the military and a multimillionaire among its graduates.


Courtesy of the BJC

“It’s an incredible program,” Abramson said. “It’s one that I will consistently watch over because I have a responsibility to Mickey’s legacy and to the program.”

Rep. Cummings is also well aware of the program’s — and Abramson’s — power.

“My admiration of Art Abramson has grown every year that I have known him because of his continued commitment to social justice and his desire to make our city, and our world, a better place,” Cummings said in a written statement. “As the leader of the Baltimore Jewish Council for nearly [26] years, Art has been a bridge builder between people of different backgrounds in Baltimore. I will never be able to thank him enough for his help in building the Elijah Cummings Youth Program into an elite organization that truly changes the lives of young people. His commitment to building understanding between different communities has had a tremendous impact on Baltimore, and I know that his legacy will impact generations yet unborn.”

Abramson is the first to say he couldn’t have done it all if he didn’t surround himself with the right people.

“He realizes potential immediately in people. It doesn’t matter age or gender or what kind of religion you come from, he sees through all that; I think that’s why the council was so successful for so long,” said Tolle. “He pushed me to do things I didn’t know I was capable of doing. He supports staff and the people around him like nobody else I’ve met.”

Katzen echoed Tolle’s sentiments.

“He didn’t look [at], did you have a Ph.D., did you have this, did you have that. It was, ‘Can I teach this person something? Can they learn, and will they be an asset to the community?’” Katzen said. “He had a knack for recognizing that.”

Abramson’s successor, Howard Libit, said Abramson has set the bar very high.

“He has repeatedly delivered critical resources back to the community,” Libit said. “I’m very lucky to be in a position to look to continue to build on his successes and legacy of accomplishments.” JT

To RSVP or for more information on the Baltimore Jewish Council’s annual meeting honoring Arthur Abramson, contact Phyllis Gwynn at 410-542-4850 or pgwynn@baltjc.org.



New Playground Fosters Common Ground for Community

About a year ago, it was determined that the playground structures that serve Chizuk Amuno Congregation and its surrounding schools were rotting and beyond repair, and it was time for an overhaul. The obvious next step was to purchase new equipment and have it installed — as was­ declared during a Chizuk Amuno executive board meeting, which member Stephen Pomerantz attended.

“Almost involuntarily I said, ‘We can’t do that, we have to do it ourselves,’” Pomerantz recalled, laughing.

New Playground Fosters Common Ground for Community

He swiftly convinced leadership at the synagogue and its associated educational facilities — the Rosenbloom Religious School, the Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center and the Krieger Schechter Day School — that a “community build” was the way to proceed.

“Then they said, ‘Guess what? You’re in charge.’” More laughing.

But Pomerantz had participated in a similar build of the biblical playground at the JCC, and he also helped build a playground in Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon, Israel, so he understood the power generated by such a communal effort.

“It’s a shared experience,” he said. “[Participants] feel ownership. They look at that piece of bridge and think, ‘I attached that. I’m connected to it forever.’”

This was, however, the first time Pomerantz would be in charge. And a project of this size — 30 physical structures across 12,000 square feet, a 4,000-square-foot amphitheater and fundraising for more than $520,000 — involves myriad moving parts, such as the design elements, supplies procurement, coordination of deliveries by 18-wheel trucks and the storage associated with that, not to mention a small army of volunteers to help carry out every stage of the project from concept to completion.

This was not a “get a kit from IKEA and put it together” kind of deal, Pomerantz said. “So the first thing I needed was Liz [Minkin-Friedman]. I needed somebody on the inside to be dedicated to this project, and the only way it will be successful is it needs to be Liz. She’s at the center of all of this.”

“Two hundred fifty people in rainy, cold weather showed up. They never complained; they were so committed. It felt like a magical Woodstock moment — you know, ‘where were you when …?’ We were up to our hips in mud, and I was so inspired by the community action.”

— Liz Minkin-Friedman, director of community outreach and engagement, Krieger Schechter Day School

If you’ve ever been in the presence of Minkin-Friedman, director of community outreach and engagement at Krieger Schechter Day School, you know what Pomerantz means. She’s like a small, effervescent tornado, and anything in her path will get enthusiastically assessed, addressed and completed, all with a sense of humor and a smile.

“It fell under my wheelhouse, this is meant to be a community-wide project,” said Minkin-Friedman. “It’s been a herculean project, but it’s paying off in dividends even before it’s finished. We can feel the excitement and the magic and the ownership [from the community]. It’s been a labor of love.”

And labor she has, being the central touchpoint for 10 captains and as many teams that include public relations, materials and tools acquisition, fund-raising and events, volunteer recruitment, design, building days coordination and even a team that created a “camp” where parents could drop off their kids on construction days while they worked and the children would stay entertained and safe. Children and adults gave input on the designs, and more than 400 people showed up for the big reveal of the final plans last fall.

Then earlier this month, after almost a year of planning and prep, a week of heavy precipitation preceded a driving, daylong rain that further deluged the grounds during the first big community build weekend. There was concern about a possible shortage of volunteers needed to get the job done and stay on schedule. But the organizers, including co-chair Adam Baumwald, were completely blown away by the turnout.

“Sure enough, people came out and they came in droves” even though “it was a total mud fest.” he said, and included all ages. “There was a 75-year-old retired physician working [alongside] an 18-year-old kid trying to go to college, working in the mud and the rain and doing it with a smile. You heard laughing and talking. It’s a real testament to the community when they come out in this weather.”

Minkin-Friedman said, for those who participated, it was an experience they’ll never forget.

“Two-hundred fifty people in rainy, cold weather showed up. They never complained; they were so committed. It felt like a magical Woodstock moment — you know, ‘where were you when …?’” she said, laughing. “We were up to our hips in mud, and I was so inspired by the community action.”

The playground construction company that specializes in supervising community builds, Leathers and Associates, facilitated their efforts, and “there was a concern we’d be fake building,” Minkin-Friedman said. But, in fact, it was “true building, and they gave us meaningful tasks. We are building it with our own hands.”

Pomerantz said he was in awe of the talent and creativity that came out of the woodwork. Community members who are professionals or serious hobbyists in landscaping, construction, design and more showed up. There were grandparents using power tools, parents and children navigating wheelbarrows, digging, drilling, hammering — it ran the gamut.

Building continued during the week, and the big push was Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend with expectations to break the 1,000 mark of volunteers, who, of course, must be fed during their labors, which required yet another staff of volunteers to carry out.

All of the structures are made of safe recycled materials, Pomerantz said, and the signage and details reflect Jewish values. There is the Derech Eretz express train and fire engine number 613, and more than 20 quotes that reflect Jewish values are placed throughout so teachers can use them as instructional tools. The Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Amphitheater can be used as an outdoor classroom, prayer space and for performances and even weddings. There is also a musical instrument station in each play area, one for babies and children to age 5 and the other for ages 5 to 99, he said.

The ribbon cutting and opening happens Sunday, June 5 to coincide with the 5th Annual Schechter on the Move 5K Race and 1-Mile Fun Run, which, according to Schechter’s director of development, Alison Wielechowski, raised more than $50,000 for scholarships from upward of 100 sponsors, surpassing all previous years. Though also a community effort, she praised this year’s race chairs, Stacey Getz and Jamie Cohen, for their leadership.

The race begins at 8 a.m. and the ribbon cutting is at 10 a.m. to allow for racers to have breakfast, listen to provided DJ music and receive medals.

“It’s such a wonderful way for the entire community to get together for the annual event and the brand new community project as well,” Wielechowski said.

Major funders for the playground are Leon and Phyllis Wagner Brill, the Goldsmith Family and Ben and Esther Rosenbloom. Hundreds of individual donations made up the bulk of the funds, however, and Baumwald cited The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s powerhouse development duo, Allison Baumwald and Leslie Pomerantz, spouses of the co-chairs, as “paramount for advice on fundraising and ‘silently’ helping out with great ideas.”

Pomerantz also chalks up the success as a testament to the fact that it has been a community effort through and through.

“We challenged our community to do something that would be out of the normal experience and to do something together. This huge diverse community — between schools and shul — people stepped up from all over. They brought their energy, resources, creativity and ideas. I don’t think people knew that was out there, and it all poured forth.”


Leap of Faith A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a bar … and talk it out

From left: Reverend Jim Hamilton, Rabbi Jessy Gross and Imam Tariq Najee-ullah speak at the BJC’s May 24 Interfaith Trialogue. (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

From left: Reverend Jim Hamilton, Rabbi Jessy Gross and Imam Tariq Najee-ullah speak at the BJC’s May 24 Interfaith Trialogue. (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

The May 24 interfaith meetup might sound like a tired joke premise — a priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a bar — but the topics of conversation are no laughing matter.

The event, called an interfaith trialogue, is a relaunching, of sorts, for interfaith discussions hosted by the Baltimore Jewish Council during lunchtime on the occasional weekday.

“We decided to reorganize and relaunch it because we were getting the same conversations again and again,” said Madeline Suggs, the director of public affairs for the council and one of the main organizers of the trialogue.

Suggs wasn’t alone in her effort. She recruited three young faith leaders interested in interfaith work —Rabbi Jessy Gross, 36; Reverend Jim Hamilton, 38; and Imam Tariq Najee-ullah, 37. This relaunch comes after nearly a year of planning and monthly lunches.

The group for those original discussions tended to skew older and they wanted to attract the coveted millennial, young professional crowd — those who can carry the torch in the future. Moving the event to Nancy by Station North Arts Café at 5:30 p.m. was just the start. The true change would come in not only the topics of discussion, but the approach.

“We’re trying to engage on an ongoing basis, instead of a one-off,” Gross said.

They realized during the planning stages that young people of faith do want to be involved in the religious community, but that involvement looks different than previous generations. For many millennials, their faith is interwoven with their views on social issues and giving back to the community, Suggs said, especially in a time of divisive politics and often extreme rhetoric.

The faith leaders touched on this idea in their brief introductions at the start of the trialogue.

“I believe that we share a belief that our faith should be relevant to the world around us,” Najee-ullah said.

The group of about 30 people was nearly half younger people, and included noticeable diversity. There were also several older attendees, who were pretty pleased by the youth turnout.

“I’m kind of bringing up the average age and I love it,” said Martha Weiman, the chair of interfaith dialogue at BJC. “This is what Baltimore is all about — falafel on North Avenue.”

After introductions, the larger group broke up into three small groups that Gross, Hamilton and Najee-ullah each joined. The leaders urged people to separate from those they came with and spread out, which most did. In one group, for example, three members identified as Christian, two as Jewish and two as Muslim, including Najee-ullah.

Gross stressed this meeting as preliminary, a way for the group to gauge what this can be in the future. She suggested three questions for conversation: If you could fix one problem facing society, what would it be? What topics should groups like this be talking about? And what kind of opportunities do you think should come from interfaith groups?

Once coming back together as a large group, there was no true consensus, but several themes did arise. Two of the groups had spent time talking representation and imagery, both in worship and in the media — a topic likely to become a future, more in-depth discussion. Most groups also wanted these discussions to be a safe space, a place to ask questions and learn more about each other’s religions.

Eventually, or perhaps even separately from the discussions, one goal brought up a few times was to build a community — one that undertakes projects such as serving the less fortunate or takes educational field trips to local places of worship.

“I think it was interesting,” said Omar Mohammad, 34, who identified as a Muslim. “There were a lot of important discussion topics that came up. It was a very positive experience.”

The sentiment from most attendees was equally optimistic.

“I thought it was great. I loved the energy,” said Doris Cawl, a 71-year-old Jewish woman.

Abigail Malis, 27, also Jewish, felt the discussions benefited from the impressive age range. Young people don’t always have a space to talk about their faith, she said, so it was nice to be a part of something where everyone started from a basis of faith in some form.

“I thought that it was great how open everyone was,” she said.

The faith leaders themselves were also happy with how the event turned out.

“I think it went great,” Hamilton said. “I was actually expecting it to be a bit smaller.”

Since he, Gross and Najee-ullah have been meeting for almost a year, they have great respect for each other, Hamilton said, and respect is a key part of any interfaith discussions.

“I think it was a great turnout for a first run,” Gross said. “These are people I would love to see show up regularly.”


BT Students Place First, Second in National Bible Contest

Caleb Gitlitz came in first place in the English division. (Photos provided)

Caleb Gitlitz came in first place in the English division. (Photos provided)

Two seventh-graders from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School took top honors at Chidon Ha-Tanach, the U.S. National Bible Contest for Jewish Youth.

Caleb Gitlitz and Ryan Joseph came in first and second place, respectively, in the English division at the contest. Gitlitz will compete in the international competition in Israel next year.

The contest, in which students are tested on the details of stories in several biblical books, is sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel for American Jewish youth in grades six to 11. The Jewish Agency sends preliminary exams to schools from  December to March, and high scorers are invited to the  national contest in New York. Four winners in the national contest will represent the United States in next year’s international contest in Jerusalem, which will televised in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. This past year, students from 36 countries competed in Israel.

The first-place winner from the Hebrew middle school  division, the first- and second-place winners from the Hebrew high school division and the first-place winner from the English division will compete in Israel next year. The Hebrew winners are generally students from Orthodox day schools, and the English  winners are generally from nondenominational schools.

Beth Tfiloh Dahan  Community School sent more than 20 students to Chidon  Ha-Tanach. (provided)

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School sent more than 20 students to Chidon Ha-Tanach. (provided)

Gitlitz recalled the moment the winners were announced, starting from third place.

“I started getting really  excited,” he said. “They called my name, and I just went up there, I was so happy.”

He plans on studying hard to represent the U.S. in Israel next year.

“I’ve had a great love for Tanach and mishnah gemara since I was younger,” he said.

Ryan Joseph, who came in second place, feels similarly.

“It’s our history, it’s our tradition,” he said. “It’s information passed down for generations. It’s years and years and ages and ages of knowledge.”

He’s also a good friend of Caleb’s.

“I’m really happy that Caleb won, he really lives and breathes Tanach,” Joseph said.

Beth Tfiloh sent more than 20 students to the national contest, one of the largest delegations from any one school.

“They’ve incorporated this contest basically into the  curriculum in the school,  and they love it,” said Dovi Nadel, coordinator of Chidon  Ha-Tanach.

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg said BT was extremely proud to have such a large representation at the contest.

“That’s why we have schools like Beth Tfiloh, to try to instill a love of Tanach,” he said.

He also couldn’t be happier for the winner, Caleb, a regular shul-goer who he knows well.

“The nice thing about him winning an award in the Tanach is he not only knows the Tanach, he lives it. This is a true Jew,” Wohlberg said. “He’s as good as they come in his personal behavior, in his decency, in his menschlichkeit and in his Judaism. He stands out.”


Zika Virus Sparks Conversation About Pre- and Neo-Natal Health

Mollie Churchill and Zeke (Heartlove Photography)

Mollie Churchill and Zeke (Heartlove Photography)

Earlier this year, the international media erupted with reports of a worldwide outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. First found primarily in South America, the virus has since been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization, with confirmed cases in more than 35 countries, with 17 in Maryland as of press time.

Zika’s growing prevalence has sparked conversation about disease prevention, particularly among women. While Zika disease is minor for most, causing only fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis, the virus can have devastating effects on pregnant women. Infection may cause birth defects such as hearing loss, impaired growth and most significantly microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s brain does not develop correctly, causing his or her head to be smaller than normal.

“What the Centers for Disease Control is predicting is that as people start traveling more in the summertime, the virus might become more prevalent in the United States,” said Dr. Alison Falck of the University of Maryland Medical System. “The main recommendation at this point is to avoid travel if you are considering becoming pregnant.”

It should also be noted that Zika can also be sexually transmitted, but it is as yet indeterminate whether the virus can be passed from contact, such as the common cold.

For some local moms, fear of infection has been an unexpected consideration.

Dr. Carla Weisman (LifeBridge Health)

Dr. Carla Weisman (LifeBridge Health)

“I’m not worried about my son [contracting the virus],” said Mollie Churchill, whose child, Zeke, is a year and a half. “But how it could play out in any subsequent pregnancies is certainly a question for me. I’m not pregnant right now, but I do have concerns. If I was planning to become pregnant, for example, I’d probably be more conscious of using insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants, as well as be more careful where I’m sitting outside.”

For others, the Zika scare brings back memories of other concerns during pregnancy.

Some of the diseases that had been abolished are coming back because people aren’t being vaccinated. We ask that people really understand the risks before making the decision not to vaccinate their children.” —Dr. Alison Falck,  University of Maryland Medical System


“I wasn’t worried about Zika because it hadn’t been an issue then, but I was really nervous about chicken pox,” said Mandee Heinl, mother of two toddlers. “Because it’s a disease that a baby can contract in-utero, they test you while you’re pregnant to see if you’re immune — and I wasn’t. I was really nuts about it.”

In fact, there are all sorts of infections a fetus can contract during pregnancy. According  to Dr. Falck, infections like  cytomegalovirus (CMV) are virtually everywhere in our environment — though there’s no need to panic.

“The best way to look out for these infections is to make sure you have great prenatal care and surveillance,” said Dr. Falck. “CMV, for example, can be detected if the baby isn’t growing very well.”

Dr. Carla Weisman of LifeBridge Health concurred, adding that prenatal testing is incredibly important, particularly for members of the Jewish community. Though actual prevention is often impossible, as with genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs and the ‘Jewish Panel,’ evaluation and testing even before pregnancy can be very effective.

Dr. Alison Falck (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

Dr. Alison Falck (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

“Screening for genetic diseases can avoid unnecessary risk,” she said. “If you are a carrier, your partner can be tested, and we can refer you to a genetic specialist if need be. Regular visits to make sure weight, alcohol intake, blood pressure and other factors are in control before conception can also make a considerable difference.”

Of course, mothers-to-be take their own precautions during pregnancy, too. Both Churchill and Heinl were sure to take prenatal vitamins, stay active and be aware of the  effects of certain foods — though Heinl admitted to loosening her strict regime during her second pregnancy.

What the Centers for Disease Control is predicting is that as people start traveling more in the summertime, the virus might  become more prevalent in the United States.”  — Dr. Alison Falck, University of Maryland Medical System


“With my first, I didn’t eat lunch meat because I heard there could be bacteria, but with the second pregnancy I had no problem with it. I wasn’t going to go get a turkey sandwich from a gas station, but I definitely relaxed.”

For Mandee Heinl, her family lives “as healthily and cleanly as we can.” (Sarah Schwartz, Evie Claire Photography)

For Mandee Heinl, her family lives “as healthily and cleanly as we can.” (Sarah Schwartz, Evie Claire Photography)

As for keeping kids safe post-pregnancy, the doctors  assured that it was largely common sense — washing hands and surfaces frequently, keeping children away from those with evident illness or infection and avoiding crowds for the first few weeks while the infant’s immune system is weak.

Dr. Falck stressed, too, the importance of following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for vaccinations.

“Some of the diseases that had been abolished are coming back because people aren’t being vaccinated,” she said. “We ask that people really understand the risks before making the decision not to vaccinate their children.”

Otherwise, the health of both parents and their children is a matter of simply doing one’s best.

As Heinl said, “sometimes illness is unavoidable, but we try to live as healthily and cleanly as we can.”