Modern-Day Moses Dr. Bessie Moses opened Baltimore’s first birth control clinic and shaped a movement

Dr. Bessie Moses opened the first birth control clinic in Baltimore almost 90 years ago, which later became Planned Parenthood of Maryland. (Planned Parenthood Collection, University of Baltimore Langsdale Library Special Collections)

Dr. Bessie Moses opened the first birth control clinic in Baltimore almost 90 years ago, which later became Planned Parenthood of Maryland. (Planned Parenthood Collection, University of Baltimore Langsdale Library Special Collections)

In 1926, 46 years before the right to contraception would be federally recognized for all (both married and unmarried) and 90 years before Maryland would pass the most comprehensive contraception coverage expansion in the country, Dr. Bessie Moses — the Baltimore Jewish doctor who would become a birth control pioneer — was quietly incorporating Baltimore’s first birth control clinic, which would open its doors the following year.

Margaret Sanger, who in New York started the first birth control clinic in 1916, may have been the face of the birth control movement, but she was also known for being brash and more than a bit of a media hog, according to Rowan University history professor (and Goucher College grad) Melissa Klapper, who wrote a book about American Jewish women and  activism called “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace.” So, perhaps it is no surprise that the contributions of Moses, both in Baltimore and to the birth control movement at large, are not more well-known.

With the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood’s national organization taking place this year, the 90th for Planned  Parenthood of Maryland right around the corner and this month’s sweeping contraception legislation that passed in the state, Moses’ story and legacy run parallel to the conversations still current today about reproductive rights.

Jewish women doctors were discriminated against on two fronts. It’s one of the  reasons so many of  them went into the  birth control movement.”— Melissa Klapper, author and Rowan University history professor

 

“That’s why Dr. Moses’ work was so incredible — and forward thinking,” said Joanna Diamond, vice president of external relations for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. “We’re still having those conversations and still having that fight. There is still a need to expand  access to birth control.”

A Baltimore native born in 1893, Moses attended Western High School and Goucher College and did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University in biology. Despite an interest in medicine, she was convinced by her parents to become a teacher instead. She lasted two years teaching at women’s colleges before finally convincing her parents of the value of a medical career and enrolling in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Though she was dedicated to her chosen field of study, the early 1900s was not a time known for its liberal views of women and their abilities. The percentage of women doctors was in the mere single digits, Klapper said. In fact, a Baltimore Home News article in 1939 placed the number of Baltimore women doctors at just 25.

“Jewish women doctors were discriminated against on two fronts,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons so many of them went into the birth control movement.”

And yet, Moses persevered.

According to the Maryland State Archives, she was the first woman obstetrical intern at Johns Hopkins and later studied at the Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia. She opened her own private practice in 1924, and she continued to practice until just before her death in 1965, more than 40 years.

“Few physicians were as loved by patients as much as Bess; she gave of herself unstintingly,” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, a friend, former Planned Parenthood president and namesake of the Guttmacher Institute, in a memorial written in a Planned Parenthood newsletter after Moses’ death.

But it was her journey into contraception where she became celebrated as a pioneer. Opening the Bureau for Contraceptive Advice in 1927 wasn’t just radical by the social mores of the time, it was essentially illegal — the federal Comstock Law prohibited moving contraceptives (and other “articles of immoral use”) across state lines.

Moses skirted around this obstacle by setting up the  Bureau as a research facility. Even still, none of the local hospitals would house the program, and she instead set up shop in a row house north of Johns Hopkins Hospital at 1028 North Broadway. She would later publish her research as an influential book called “Contraception as a Therapeutic Measure.”

In 1932, the Bureau would become the Baltimore Birth Control Clinic and then, 10 years later, Planned Parenthood of Maryland. Moses would stay on as its first medical director until 1956. Her work was so important to the birth control movement that she was honored in 1950 alongside Sanger with the Lasker Foundation Award from Planned Parenthood — the first women to win this award.

It is easy to account for her various accomplishments — they are impressive and always outlined in local biographies, articles from that time and Planned Parenthood of Maryland’s official history. It is harder, now more than 50 years after her death, to know much about the woman  herself.


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Envisioning the Future JCC Biennial celebrates history, looks ahead

from left: Annette Saxon, board chair of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, with biennial host community chair Maury Garten and co-chairs Carol Noel, Randi Hertzog and Randi Buergenthal. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

from left: Annette Saxon, board chair of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, with biennial host community chair Maury Garten and co-chairs Carol Noel, Randi Hertzberg and Randi Buergenthal. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

More than 500 representatives of Jewish Community Centers from around the world convened in Baltimore this week for the JCCs of North America Biennial.

The officials gathered to share their unique successes, discuss their concerns and look at how the continually evolving Jewish community poses challenges and opportunities for JCCs. The event also served as an early kick-off to next year’s centennial celebrations.

Barak Hermann, president of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said it was a great honor to bring people together to share best practices in Baltimore.

“We’re constantly looking for new ideas that can inspire new programs, attract people to be involved with lay leadership and volunteer, inspire staff and create partnerships,” he said. “We have growing needs from our membership in our community, and like any other nonprofit or JCC, we’re constantly looking for strategies to meet those needs, to drive those revenues [that] we need to maintain our 160 years of being a JCC.”

The Baltimore JCC, the oldest in the country, was founded in 1854 as the first Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association to provide support for Jewish immigrants.

The biennial, which kicked off with Shabbat celebrations on Friday, May 13 and ran through Wednesday, allowed JCC professionals and leaders at all levels and employed in all disciplines chances to connect with their peers and refine their skills. There were sessions for JCCs of all sizes for fundraising, for programming, for young leaders and for JCC programs such as the Maccabi Games and Artsfest, arts and culture, camps, fitness and board development.

There was a particular focus on engaging key JCC demographics — baby boomers, millennials and teenagers — who were the subject of Monday morning’s plenary and the breakout sessions that followed.

Embracing the Change

The Sunday afternoon plenary, which was the first of the biennial, kicked off with a performance of “Good Morning Baltimore” by Amy Toporek, a longtime member of the JCC of Central New Jersey who played the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in a national tour of the American musical “Hairspray.”

Stephen Seiden, chair of the JCC Association, made the opening remarks, noting the 2016 biennial featured delegations from 90 JCCs, 45 participants from the Esther Leah Ritz Emerging JCC Leaders Institute, 24 overseas delegates from JCC Global and guests from 11 countries in addition to the U.S. and Canada such as Israel, Mexico, Poland, Spain, France and Bulgaria.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to learn with Jews from around the globe. As we’re all aware, participants from some of these communities have experienced increased anti-Semitism or have endured troubled, terrible acts of terror,” said Seiden. “Being together here gives us a profound sense of peoplehood at a time that I know we all need it.”

Annette Saxon, board chair of JCC of Greater Baltimore, introduced Maury Garten, the biennial host community chair. Garten, along with his co-chairs Carol Noel, Randi Hertzberg and Randi Buergenthal, led the biennial’s planning for the past two years.

From left: Alexis Abramson, Rabbi Jessy Gross and David Bryfman join forces at a plenary session to talk about baby boomers, millennials and teenagers, respectively. (Photo by David Stuck)

From left: Alexis Abramson, Rabbi Jessy Gross and David Bryfman join forces at a plenary session to talk about baby boomers, millennials and teenagers, respectively. (Photo by David Stuck)

Garten also delivered a d’var Torah focusing on the event being an opportunity for JCC leaders to reflect on faith and the past as they look toward the future of the movement. Garten shared a story about his grandmother, Bess Cohen Fedder, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years. Despite losing the ability to recognize family, the disease never impeded her faith, he said. On a Friday night in 1994, she lit her Shabbat candles, recited the prayers, ate dinner and then died.

“I suspect for all of you [here today], if you were ill with Alzheimer’s disease, the meaning of faith wouldn’t escape you,” said Garten, who received a standing ovation.

The keynote speaker was Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the American arm of the United Nations Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF.

Stern recalled memories of traveling to African countries and seeing the effects of malnourishment in children, watching an infant suffering from tetanus die in front of her and what it means for women to give birth in third-world countries — a stark contrast to how she herself gave birth in a Manhattan hospital surrounded by family.

One of Stern’s main motivations throughout her career, she said, was her upbringing.

“If you weren’t part of the solution, you were the problem,” said Stern, quoting her mother who insisted her children be active contributors in bettering the world. “You weren’t part of the problem; you were the problem.”

The Owings Mills JCC hosted a delegation from the biennial for JBaltimore Live: Onsite at the Owings Mills JCC. Attendees were greeted by music from students at the JCC’s Early Childhood Education Center and attended sessions on health care, engaging the observant community, the arts and leveraging the JCC brand beyond the facility. (Photo by David Stuck)

The Owings Mills JCC hosted a delegation from the biennial for JBaltimore Live: Onsite at the Owings Mills JCC. Attendees were greeted by music from students at the JCC’s Early Childhood Education Center and attended sessions on health care, engaging the observant community, the arts and leveraging the JCC brand beyond the facility. (Photo by David Stuck)

Monday morning’s plenary opened with remarks by Aviad Friedman, chairman of the Israeli Association of Community Centers who spoke to the work the organization is doing in the Jewish state.

He was followed by the JCC Association’s interim president, Alan Mann, whose speech was based on an imaginary conversation with his eventual successor. He answered the question as to why he came out of his comfortable retirement to lead the organization.

“I wouldn’t have come back for any other job. I care deeply and believe deeply in the JCC Association and the JCCs,” said Mann. “There’s something special about what the JCC does for people who enter its doors and the community as a whole.”

However, he acknowledged, “we’re going to have to figure out new ways to do business as communities shift and how to stay relevant and meet the needs of an ever-changing Jewish world.”

Staying relevant was the theme of the day, factoring in the primary discussion of Monday’s plenary about teens, millennials and baby boomers and what makes them tick — their misconceptions and their commonalities.

The panel was moderated by Stuart Raynor, a JCC Association board member from Denver. Alexis Abramson, a leading industry expert and trend-spotter for those over 50, represented baby boomers; Baltimore’s Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of Charm City Tribe, spoke about millennials; and David Bryfman, chief innovation officer of the Jewish Education Project, fielded questions about teenagers.

The discussion began with each expert offering one or two individuals who they believe made a significant contribution to society.

Baltimore artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen (right) spearheaded a mural project in which participants painted three panels during the biennial that represent the past, present and future of the JCC. The mural was hung at the closing plenary and will tour to JCCs around the country. (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen (right) spearheaded a mural project in which participants painted three panels during the biennial that represent the past, present and future of the JCC. The mural was hung at the closing plenary and will tour to JCCs around the country. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Abramson chose Craig Venter, the scientist who first sequenced the human genome, in place of who she said was a likely favorite, the late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs. Gross choose Brad Damphousse and Andrew Ballester, founders of the online-crowdfunding website GoFundMe over Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Bryfman named Malala Yousafzai, a Pakastani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

Raynor gave each panelist general questions as well as ones targeted to each age group. When asked about how society can more effectively care for the aging baby-boomer population, Abramson stressed communication.

“Ask them what they want. We have been neglectful [about] talking to boomers. For some reason we don’t ask them about their voice or opinion,” said Abramson. “Boomers want to understand their next step in life; more than just staying healthy, they want [us to take] interest in what is happening in their lives.”

Responding to a question about affiliation rates dropping among younger Jews, Gross spoke to what she sees as a reality that organized Jewish institutions have not yet come to terms with.

Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of Charm City Tribe, speaks about her organization, which aims to engage millennials in Jewish life outside of typical Jewish settings. (Photo by David Stuck)

Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of Charm City Tribe, speaks about her organization, which aims to engage millennials in Jewish life outside of typical Jewish settings. (Photo by David Stuck)

“When are [millennials] going to come back to the way we have been doing things?” asked Gross. “The difficult thing to engage with is that they’re not returning. For most millennials, we’ve already started [this change] that won’t let us return to where we came from.”

Bryfman, who represented what he called “the most narcissistic, egotistical” generation, related the issue to teenagers, who like millennials, are sometimes put off by organized  religious institutions.

“[People who ask this question] don’t get it … [they’re] not coming back,” said Bryfman. “Stop thinking of [teenagers] as your failure [and] start thinking of [them] as your success,” he said, emphasizing the fact teenagers have gone off and are exploring religion in their own ways, and that is a reflection of their strong relationship with religion rather than a failure in their upbringings.

Gross, who was recently named by The Forward as one of the most inspiring rabbis in the country, spoke about her work with Charm City Tribe, which focuses on engaging young Jewish professionals in Jewish life outside of typical Jewish settings.

“One of the efforts that I try to do as someone who is located kind of on the margins and the periphery of lots of the JCC’s departments and the way we think about our organizational structure is to always make sure that we are being consistent and authentic with our messaging, that it is rooted in Torah and tradition,” said Gross.

She explained that many of her events have people congregating in public spaces where Jewish people may come but not necessarily expect Jewish activity such as a Chanukah party at a brewery.

“It gives you an opportunity to give people a sense of rhythm and a connection to a Jewish experience that they may or may not have if they don’t walk in the building,” she said.

Best Practices

JCC directors from around the region were eager to learn from their peers.

“It is the single best opportunity to bring the leadership of JCCs from around the world together and to hear from, learn from each other about what’s happening,” said Les Cohen, executive director of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J. “I think most of us are finding business is a little bit different than it was even five years ago, certainly 10 years ago, in terms of revenue streams. So it is good to hear what else is going on, how [others] are solving this.”

The Katz JCC was recognized for programmatic excellence and user management at the biennial.

Randi Benesch (center) tells biennial attendees about the Owings Mills JCC and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts’ wide offerings and how arts programming has served as another entry point into the JCC for many. (Photo by David Stuck)

Randi Benesch (center) tells biennial attendees about the Owings Mills JCC and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts’ wide offerings and how arts programming has served as another entry point into the JCC for many. (Photo by David Stuck)

Felicia “Lisie” Gottdenker, chair of the board of directors at the JCC of Greater Washington, came to the biennial looking forward to sessions for different sized JCCs, citing the idea that similar operating revenues and size result in similar challenges to overcome. But more than any one topic, Gottdenker was interested in the exchange of ideas.

“One of the best things about biennial is being able to hear what’s going in the movement on a continental basis,” said Gottdenker, who has served on her JCC’s board since 2004. “You can engage with other leaders, and you can try to maximize on your own good ideas as well as what’s going on across the country and continental arena.”

The JCC of Greater Washington was recognized for attracting and retaining the best staff.

Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, which was honored for JBrand implantation and execution, said he always looks for ideas that he can adapt in Pittsburgh.

“You have to be innovating all of your program areas all the time, so part of that is trying to build a culture that’s always innovating at the ground level,” he said. “So one of our mantras is how do we create innovation up, down and all around?”

On the innovation side of things, Schreiber’s JCC recently started a live Web chat option on its website that is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For messages sent outside of those hours, staffers get back to people within 24 hours.

In keeping with the sharing of best practices, Schreiber and Hermann shared some successes from their JCCs at a Sunday morning session for JCCs in metro areas.

Schreiber spoke about his JCC’s PJ Library ambassador program. In an effort to engage families with young children, the JCC hired young moms who were not working to serve as PJ ambassadors, and the program grew from five in-facility programs to 21 community programs that took place at the zoo, Barnes and Noble, congregations and homes. Families came out in droves for an afikomen hunt on city blocks and matzoh pizza at a local Italian bakery.

“You have to step out of your box,” Schreiber said. “Our paradigm shift, it’s not about subscriptions, although we want them to grow … it’s about being in the long haul and not expecting immediate return.”

Hermann spoke about “opening up the market” with the JCC of Greater Baltimore’s community block party, which will be held for the third time on June 5. While not all stakeholders bought into the idea at first, the party saw the JCC invite secular and religious organizations, including those with competing swim programs, schools and camps.

“We thought that anybody who saw us as not being territorial about our program would value the J,” Hermann said. “We’re not competition anymore, we’re one big community.”

Partnerships have formed and expanded because of the party and membership has risen as well out of the event.

On Monday afternoon, the JCC of Greater Baltimore hosted JBaltimore Live: Onsite at the Owings Mills JCC, where a delegation from the biennial learned about Jewish Baltimore and the programs of its JCC.

Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the American arm of UNICEF, addresses the opening plenary as keynote speaker. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the American arm of UNICEF, addresses the opening plenary as keynote speaker. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

The professional staff behind some of the JCC’s programming discussed the strategies and methods of engagement on how they attract different demographics. One of the panelists, Sharon Siegel, senior program director at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, challenged the audience to count the number of times the panel said “relationship, partner or support,” all of which she emphasized were key elements of their job.

In another session, representatives discussed how the JCC has utilized partnerships with leading health care systems in Baltimore such as LifeBridge Health to develop a profitable and successful partnership.

At the session on arts programming, senior managing director of arts and culture Randi Benesch spoke about the JCC and the Gordon Center for Performing Art’s extensive arts offerings and how they bring in community members.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring new people to our campus. I can’t tell you how many people walk through these doors who have never been here before” she said. “This provides an entry point for them.”

Another session focused on serving the observant community and the balancing act the JCC on Park Heights Avenue goes through to make sure it is accommodating both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities in the same facility.

At breakout sessions, JCC biennial attendees shared successes and challenges and exchanged ideas with colleagues from around the world. (Photo by David Stuck)

At breakout sessions, JCC biennial attendees shared successes and challenges and exchanged ideas with colleagues from around the world. (Photo by David Stuck)

Past, Present and Future

As Jewish immigrants came to America in droves in the late 19th century, Young Men’s Hebrew Associations, Young Women’s Hebrew Associations and Jewish Community Centers helped immigrants adapt to life in the North America.

During the first World War, the Council of Young Men’s Hebrew and Kindred Associations made sure soldiers had rabbis to serve them as chaplains. The organization called a conference of Jewish bodies in 1917, which gave birth to the Jewish Welfare Board. JWB became the national association of JCCs and YM-YWHAs.

“JWB stressed unity in the Jewish community for a largely urban population, focusing on Jewish summer camps, youth programs and cultural and recreational aspirations of an assimilating tribe,” said centennial chair Lisa Brill. “They created a lecture and concert bureau, trained camp counselors and helped JCCs find qualified staff. And then they brought the staff and the leadership together much like we’re doing today. So, sometimes the more things change, the more they actually stay the same.”

While Brill promised there will be a variety of ways the JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization of JCCs, will be celebrating the centennial year, she revealed several at the biennial.

The military siddur created and printed in conjunction with the 2014 biennial will see a second printing, including a large-print version for veterans. There has also been a digital registry created where people can enter information on chaplains who have served, and that database will eventually be part of the centennial website.

A newly created grant program, Making Music Happen, will award grants of up to $7,500 for affiliated JCCs to bring music programs to their facilities and communities.

Throughout the biennial, participants helped paint three panels for a mural that captures the JCC’s past, present and future. The artist who led the effort was Baltimore’s Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, and the elements in the murals came out of workshops in New York, Rockville, Md., Jerusalem and Baltimore.

“Each one’s a little unique, not quite what everyone thinks,” Schlossberg-Cohen said. “It will end with my vision of the future, which is the Jews still here, colorful, everyone accepted in our doors. Really the J, I think, is the one place, particularly in Baltimore, where Jews of all denominations feel comfortable. It’s the only place I’ve ever really seen that as a Jewish institution.”

The murals, which were displayed at the closing plenary, will tour to JCCs around the country.

Brill hopes the murals won’t be the only product of the biennial that JCCs will see.

“This is a celebration of all JCCs, and we hope you will share the joy and pride of this wonderful movement,” she said, “that hopefully what you’re feeling tonight you will take back to your communities.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com
jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

White House Names Weissman as Jewish Liaison

chananweissman

Chanan Weissman (center) speaks with Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington director William Daroff (right) and Jordan Hirsch. (Photo by Ron Sachs from CNP/Courtesy of Jewish Insider)

Being a White House liaison to the Jewish community can be a tough, thankless job. But Chanan Weissman, who was appointed to the position last week for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s time in office, is more than prepared, say many of his closest colleagues.

Weissman, 32, is the first modern Orthodox Jew to serve as the Jewish liaison in a Democratic administration. He replaces Matt Nosanchuk, who stepped down last month after almost three years. Weissman previously served as spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, in addition to previous federal government roles.

Weissman’s responsibilities will include reaching out to Jewish communities across the country about the White House’s policy issues as well as organizing functions such as the two annual White House Chanukah parties.

The liaison’s job is to unite people of all political and religious backgrounds, said Steve Rabinowitz, who heads a Washington public relations firm and worked for the Clinton White House.

 Chanan Weissman will inherit an American Jewish community that is deeply divided over President Obama’s policies toward Israel and the Middle East.

“The trite answer is, [his job is] to not screw up. But really the challenge is to properly represent the administration in easy times and tougher times — not that any of us want to relive the Iran debacle — and to try to be as inclusive of the community as possible,” Rabinowitz said. “You can’t touch everybody, but you want to be able to touch all kinds of people.”

Rabinowitz, who has known Weissman since Weissman worked in the State Department, said he is a “lovely guy” who comes to the new position with a large amount of political knowledge.

“He knows the community,” Rabinowitz said. “He understands the issues already. It’s like he’s the rare guy who comes to the job already knowing 80 to 90 percent of it on the first day.”

Rabinowitz said that he expects a smooth transition from Nosanchuk to Weissman and that nothing about Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community will change.

“The president is already a very well-known commodity to the community,” he said. “Chanan will pick up nicely where Matt left off and continue to represent the White House and the Jewish community.”

Weissman will inherit an American Jewish community that is deeply divided over Obama’s policies toward Israel and the Middle East. Nosanchuk saw a clear example of the tension play out last year when he launched a “pedal-to-the-metal” effort to inform the Jewish community about the Iran nuclear deal.

“We engaged the entire community, not just those who agreed with this,” Nosanchuk told Washington Jewish Week last October. “Our efforts were predicated on the strong belief that the facts were on our side, that a good deal will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons while strengthening Israel’s security and predicated on intensive monitoring and inspections. We had a war room we called the ‘peace room.’ There were two colleagues there all the time in order to have information for members of Congress. We used email, Twitter and social media to [get the word out], and we traveled, going out into the community.”

Perhaps the most colorful description of the liaison’s job comes from Michael Koplow, the policy director of the liberal Israel Policy Forum.

“It’s a lot like herding cats,” he said. “American Jews are obviously a diverse group in all sorts of ways.”

Koplow met Weissman when both were members of Kesher Israel in Georgetown. He said the two also worked together in 2007 and 2008 at the Israel Policy Forum. Koplow thinks Weissman’s youth and knowledge of what American Jewry thinks about certain issues makes him ideal for the position.

“More than trying to unite the Jewish community around a single policy, I think it’s about listening to the various Jewish groups and individuals and relaying concerns back to the White House,” he said. “I think anyone expecting a uniform view on Israel will be disappointed.”

Weissman has spent the most of his life and career in Maryland and Washington. He grew up in Baltimore, where he attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and government from the University of Maryland, College Park and a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

His civic engagement dates back to his childhood, said Zipora Schorr, director of education for Beth Tfiloh. Schorr said that Weissman was heavily involved in student government at the school and always put others first.

“He did a lot of community service,” she said. “He volunteered constantly. He was involved because his family was involved.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

How the 2016 Election Is Upending Pro-Israel Orthodoxies

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes his point at  a news conference at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in March. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes his point at a news conference at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in March. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — When it comes to Israel, Democrats and Republicans simply do not see eye to eye, and for all their love of Zion, evangelicals will turn out for a candidate who is less than 100 percent on the issue.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential election, when the conventional pro-Israel wisdom has been turned upside down.

For years it was sacrosanct that whatever else divides the parties, backing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s line on Israel unites them. And Republicans who want to be elected better count on evangelicals and their rock-solid support for Israel.

This year, the presumptive Republican nominee is an unknowable provocateur who has said he couldn’t care less about pandering to pro-Israel donors. Democrats who bucked pro-Israel orthodoxies over the last year are confident they can reclaim the Senate and are setting their sights on the once-unthinkable — regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would approach Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with neutrality and for weeks would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also told a roomful of Jewish Republicans that he did not want their money.

Trump seems unwilling to consistently pander — on Israel or anything else — to a constituency whose turnout many deem essential to a Republican victory in presidential elections.

Yet while much of the evangelical establishment loathes Trump, the real estate magnate’s support among evangelicals, at 36 percent, was commensurate with his support among Republicans overall, The Washington Post reported in March. And some leaders in the movement back him, most prominently Jerry Falwell Jr., who heads Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Pro-Israel insiders, attempting to explain evangelical support for Trump, point to disquisitions like one in the Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin and Peter Wehner, neoconservative commentators who distinguish between evangelicals who self-identify because of “broad cultural identification” (and are likelier to vote Trump) and those who do because of a “creedal faith” (less likely to vote Trump.)

It’s an old argument, but it explodes the conventional wisdom. David Brog, the one-time director of Christians United for Israel, would tell reporters year in and year out at CUFI’s conferences that the group had as one of its missions reminding Republicans that to win they needed evangelicals, and to win evangelicals they needed to be pro-Israel.

CUFI declined to comment, as did Brog, who now heads a Sheldon Adelson-funded initiative to advance pro-Israel activism on campus.

Rabbi Steve Gutow also embodies the new normal: He helped set up AIPAC’s Southwest operation in the 1980s, helped found the National Jewish Democratic Council — for years the pro-Israel voice in the party — in the 1990s and for 10 years starting in 2005 directed the consensus-driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Last week, Gutow began working for J Street helping candidates who once may have been isolated for their criticism of Israel tap into what J Street calls “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American Jewish voters. Its affiliated J Street PAC is raising money to support candidates who backed the Iran deal over AIPAC’s objections.

“Most of the folks who led for the Iran deal will have won re-election and those who opposed will have lost” come November, predicted Ben Shnider, J Street’s political director. “It’s not the single factor, but if you look at the calculus, supporting diplomacy was added value, and that will go even further in changing the dynamics.”

In an interview, Gutow said the willingness of incumbents to openly challenge pro-Israel orthodoxies came not just because of differences over the Iran deal, but had evolved as Democrats sought to salvage the two-state solution. He said the collapse of the U.S.-driven Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2014 meant that sentiments once uttered privately were coming out into the open.

“Why are people feeling more free to speak out?” Gutow asked. “It’s the length of the problem and the seeming insolubleness of the problem.”

AIPAC recognizes the challenges and this month named Jonathan Kessler, who set up the Israel lobby’s campus operation — one of its signal successes in recent decades — as a “director of strategic initiatives.” Kessler will identify new “outside the box” approaches, according to a release that cited “upheaval in the Middle East and real changes in Washington, D.C.” as reasons for the new position.

AIPAC remains steadfastly nonpartisan. A hallway at its annual conference in March was lined with posters profiling a diverse array of activists — black, white, Latino, Christian, Jewish, liberal, conservative.

“AIPAC is strongly committed to further strengthening the bipartisan pro-Israel movement in America both in its size and diversity,” Marshall Wittmann, its spokesman, said in an email.

But bipartisanship has its limits. For eight years, from 2007 to 2014, AIPAC hosted the Steny and Eric show. The titles varied — some years one was the majority leader, the other the minority whip and vice versa — but the script for Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Eric Cantor, R-Va., didn’t vary by much: It was a demonstration of bipartisan solidarity on Israel despite political differences.

“Although we’re on opposite sides of the political aisle, we are absolutely united when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Cantor said in 2008.

This year’s installment was very different. Cantor, booted from Congress in 2014 by a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primaries, was replaced by Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. All seemed good when he and Hoyer paired up in March at the AIPAC conference.

But McCarthy said the Obama administration sowed “doubt” about Israel, and Hoyer, his voice tense, interrupted the moderator to say the U.S. and Israeli security establishments “are cooperating as closely today as they have in the past.”

If the seams began to show, it was because it had been a rough year or so for unanimity. A year earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress, blasting President Barack Obama’s talks with Iran to achieve a nuclear deal. The speech and its fallout rallied the Democratic Party’s leadership to keep the deal alive, even as AIPAC led the charge against it.

The deal went through. AIPAC has profited from the perception, however mythical, that it can kill political careers. But with a new perception looming — of a lobby that no longer gets its way — the folks who would supplant AIPAC and its allies are ready to seize the day.

By April, when Hillary Clinton faced off against Bernie Sanders ahead of the New York Democratic presidential primary, the Vermont senator chided Clinton in the debate for her well-received speech to AIPAC.

“You barely mentioned the Palestinians,” he said, and the Brooklyn audience cheered.

Sanders did not win the primary, but his willingness to take on Clinton over an issue once seen as the third rail was the sign that the new normal had arrived.

Within days of the debate, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry — representing twice the administration firepower AIPAC had drawn just weeks earlier — were preaching tough love at J Street’s annual gala. Biden made headlines at the event, saying Netanyahu was taking Israel in the “wrong direction.”

Common Goals, Common Ground Women’s Federation Still Strong at 100

Photo courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland

Photo courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland

A century ago, a small group of savvy, dedicated Jewish women in Baltimore recognized a problem and decided to take charge of the situation.

“So, what else is new,” you might ask? Well, in this particular case, their efforts yielded a coalition that remains strong, even 100 years later.

Harnessing the energy and focusing the efforts of dozens of female-fueled organizations, the founding mothers created the nation’s first, and now only one of its kind — since all others around the country have since disbanded — Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland. This month, at its annual convention held at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 19, the organization will commemorate that legacy and celebrate its future.

“East was east and west was west and it seemed as if ‘never the twain would meet,’” said Sadie Crockin, a co-founder along with Hortense Moses, as quoted on the organization’s comprehensive timeline. She was referring to the strong division between German and Eastern European Jewish organizations at that time.

“And then the Federation came, which afforded the opportunity for the wonderful women from all parts of the city to meet, appreciate one another, express themselves from a common platform and cooperate with one another,” five years prior to the formation of the Associated Jewish Charities, now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which coalesced in 1921.

This is an organization that is extremely unique and the founding mothers were brilliant women we hope we’re emulating. They knew in 1916 that there was a need for the Jewish women to be strong, and they would only do it if they were together.

— Sheila Derman, president, Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland

Seven founding organizations of the womens’ federation are still active today: Aged Home and Friendly Inn Auxilliary (Levindale Auxiliary), Baltimore Section National Council of Jewish Women, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Sisterhood, Eutaw Place Temple Sisterhood (Temple Oheb Shalom Sisterhood), Hadassah, Har Sinai Congregation Sisterhood and Miriam Lodge, K.S.B., Inc. The organization added “of Maryland” to its name back in the 1920s, to accommodate the sizeable participation from Jewish women’s groups in Cumberland and Annapolis. Today, the constituents are solely from Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but the name remains.

Since its inception, the FJWOM, whose membership is comprised of the leadership from its constituent organizations, has been active in addressing social justice issues. Those began with war relief efforts, aid to immigrant families and support of women’s suffrage in its first decades, and also founding the Young Women’s Hebrew Association, a forerunner to the JCC. Later, they instituted Serv-A, through the U.S.O. which provided services and holiday resources to Jewish armed forces personnel, and they helped settle thousands of arriving refugees and also surveyed the Jewish community in order to discover and address its unmet needs.

 From left, Florence Liltzer, Rose Meyers, Elsie Caplan, president Flora Dashew, Elsie Herman, Sara Sherbow, Peggy Weiner and an unidentified woman, volunteer on behalf of the Jewish Armed Services, circa 1950. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1993.159.054)

From left, Florence Liltzer, Rose Meyers, Elsie Caplan, president Flora Dashew, Elsie Herman, Sara Sherbow, Peggy Weiner and an unidentified woman, volunteer on behalf of the Jewish Armed Services, circa 1950. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1993.159.054)

Another of the organization’s priorities has been to provide leadership training in parliamentary procedure and advocacy efforts, and also to promote the importance of staying educated on community concerns — all of which continues to be a strong part of its mission today.

“If you’re not educated, you’re not a good advocate,” said the current president, Sheila Derman. Derman’s passion for advocacy runs deep, reaching back to rallies she attended with her grandmother, Ida Davidson, a founder of the Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York. Davidson also worked alongside Baltimorean Henrietta Szold, who founded Hadassah in 1912.

To tackle more complex topics, FJWOM organizes panel discussions that might include experts, politicians or clergy. Issues are addressed through a Jewish lens, so halacha is always part of the discussion as well.

“We’ve organized trips to D.C. and Annapolis to meet with our elected officials and testified on committees on behalf of [many] issues,” Derman said. “While we’re not lobbyists per se, we’re really teaching federation women the importance of being involved, in a bipartisan way. That’s the way things happen.”

Attendees at ‘School for a Day,’ 1965. From left, standing: Mrs. Benjamin C. Glass, second vice president; Mrs. LeRoy F. Kappelman, first vice president; Mrs. Jerome S. Cardin, president; Mrs. Bernard Siroka, third vice president and Mrs. Morris Rotholz, past president. Seated, from left: Mrs. I. Harold Hammermont and Mrs. Allan T. Hirsh, co-chairwomen of the 50th Anniversary Convention. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1989.108.004)

Attendees at ‘School for a Day,’ 1965. From left, standing: Mrs. Benjamin C. Glass, second vice president; Mrs. LeRoy F. Kappelman, first vice president; Mrs. Jerome S. Cardin, president; Mrs. Bernard Siroka, third vice president and Mrs. Morris Rotholz, past president. Seated, from left: Mrs. I. Harold Hammermont and Mrs. Allan T. Hirsh, co-chairwomen of the 50th Anniversary Convention. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1989.108.004)

The organization votes upon resolutions at its annual conference and disseminates written decisions to its constituents, which could range from issues regarding women’s reproductive health, domestic abuse, climate change, stem cell research or Israel, and the resolutions are “meant to be educational, informative and to provide a basis for action,” Derman said. “I feel what the resolutions do is they stimulate education, and to me, it’s education of women and families that leads to good public policy and eventually to social justice.”

In addition to voting on resolutions, said past president Eve Vogelstein, the national convention this month will feature a centennial celebration including a play that illustrates the FJWOM history, written by Ronda Cooperstein and directed by Miriam Bazensky. Vogelstein, who co-chairs the convention with Lynda Weinstein, added that each year the organization honors outstanding women from constituent organizations and also presents the E.B. Hirsh Lifetime Achievement award. This year’s honoree is Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector.

Hirsh, president from 1963 to 1965, has a legacy that includes being a catalyst for saving the Lloyd Street Synagogue from demolition with another past president, Shoshana Cardin.

From left: Eve Vogelstein, Helene Waranch and Deborah Weiner at the 90th annual convention in 1996. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland)

From left: Eve Vogelstein, Helene Waranch and Deborah Weiner at the 90th annual convention in 1996. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland)

“E.B. Hirsh’s daughter, Helene Waranch, is going in as president,” Vogelstein said. “So we’ve got the whole l’dor v’dor [concept happening] also because our incoming vice president’s [Linda Boteach] daughter is our keynote speaker, Melissa Boteach,” who is vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program.

“[My mother] was an understated, capable, thoughtful, caring human being,” Waranch said. “I was very lucky to have a mother like that. She didn’t care about fanfare and notoriety — she did what she thought was right. I can’t ask for a better legacy. I don’t know that I can live up to it, but I try.”

52nd annual convention flyer. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland)

52nd annual convention flyer. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland)

Waranch added that she plans to implement a strategic planning phase during her term “to make sure that we’re stable and can change as the times have changed.”

But, according to author and historian Deborah Weiner, who compiled special organizational timeline panels for the centennial, the organization has done just that.

“They chose to keep up with the times rather than stay stuck in the past,” she said, citing the beginning of the women’s movement as a turning point in their history. Looking at the past president portraits, one can practically pinpoint that change, when the portrait identification changed from women using Mrs. (husband’s name) to using their own.

“They’ve always had this dedicated leadership from the very beginning and still have it,” Weiner added. “They’re interested in uniting the Jewish community, and they work to make sure they’re as inclusive as possible. Their commitment to keep diverse elements of the community together in the group is part of the reason for their success.”

Noting the 27 member organizations that span the Jewish affiliation spectrum, Sheila Stern, a few months into her role as president of Hadassah of Greater Baltimore, appreciates the diversity.

“Everyone in our group — you can be Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist — we all come together to give our ideas and opinions on the issues,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your Judaism is, they’re all welcome at federation.”

A page from the Federation newsletter, 1965. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland)

A page from the Federation newsletter, 1965. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland)

“You get to meet and become friends with people that I would not have met at another venue,” echoed Weinstein. “This allowed me to expand, which I think is important, because [my own] community, to me, is not only what I’m interested in. You live in a world, you have to understand everybody. I raised my kids to be tolerant and you have to practice what you preach.”

Linda S. Elman, president of Women’s Institute of Torah, incoming women’s campaign chair for The Associated and a business owner, said, “It’s a great networking opportunity to meet others in the community. I’ve met incredible talented, dynamic women.”

She added that all the women, many who have families, full time jobs or run businesses and are leaders in other organizations are “extremely dedicated” and marveled at the FJWOM past presidents list, which she calls “a who’s who” of power-house women in Baltimore.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, Ellen Lightman, 2013 E.B. Hirsh award winner, Harriet Meier, 2013 president. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland)

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, Ellen Lightman, 2013 E.B. Hirsh award winner, Harriet Meier, 2013 president. (Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland)

Early in its history, at a time when it was more common for men to be communally involved, the federation “gave [women] a vehicle to use to play a leadership role in the community,” Weiner said. “It gave them an organizational structure and their coordinating role was important. There were all these groups going off in all different directions. They coordinated it all and didn’t step on people’s toes. They created a calendar each year [to prevent overlapping of organizations’ events], which was kind of mundane but was probably very important. It helped with the nitty gritty of organizing. It’s that kind of behind the scenes, non-glamorous stuff that nobody thinks about. A lot of times when events happened [JFWOM] might not have been front and center, but [instead] behind the scenes to make it happen.” She added, that over the years “I was surprised to the extent they took on women’s issues as opposed to only Jewish issues.”

Though socializing and camaraderie definitely factor into the group’s appeal, it’s the issues the organization takes on, such as equal pay for women; an end to human trafficking for forced labor or sex; affordable quality childcare and healthcare and housing and employment assistance; that are the heart and soul of what they stand for.

From left: Incoming president Helene Waranch, 2016 convention co-chairs Lynda Weinstein and Eve Vogelstein and current president Sheila Derman. (Photo by David Stuck)

From left: Incoming president Helene Waranch, 2016 convention co-chairs Lynda Weinstein and Eve Vogelstein and current president Sheila Derman. (Photo by David Stuck)

“This is an organization that is extremely unique and the founding mothers were brilliant women we hope we’re emulating,” Derman said. “[They] knew in 1916 that there was a need for the Jewish women to be strong, and they would only do it if they were together.”

Incoming president Waranch agrees.

“My hope is that federation will get stronger as we move into our second century and that women in Baltimore Jewish organizations will thrive and we’ll be there to serve our community and our constituency. And together we’re stronger.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Fight and Flight Documentary Tells Triumph of American Pilots in Israel’s War for Independence

Al Schwimmer (left) and David Ben-Gurion (Provided)

Al Schwimmer (left) and David Ben-Gurion (Provided)

There are many ways to honor Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, but one Pikesville synagogue chose to shine a light on a little-known (and unsanctioned) post-World War II operation that proved critical in the creation of the Jewish state.

Beth El Congregation, in partnership with the Center for Jewish Education, hosted a screening the evening of May 4 of “A Wing and a Prayer,” a documentary that chronicles the illicit operation by several U.S. pilots to assist the young Israeli army in its War of Independence.

“[A member of the congregation who had seen the film] came to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You have to bring this to Beth El,’” said Eyal Bor, the director of education at Beth El.

So he did. He and the CJE decided to host not only a showing of the documentary, but also invited the filmmaker, Boaz Dvir, and one of the pilots, Harold Rothstein, for a post-screening Q&A.

 It’s an astonishing — and astonishingly unknown — story.

“It’s really a Jewish tradition, putting the joys and oys together,” said CJE director of Israel and Overseas Education, Amalia Phillips, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. “First, the remembrance, which is the oy. Then the act of heroism [in the documentary], which is the joy.”

The documentary mostly recalls the year 1948, three years after the end of WWII and about a year into the Cold War. American pilot Al Schwimmer was disturbed by the United States’ lack of support for the Jewish fighters up against the more well-resourced armed forces of the surrounding Arab countries.

Movie poster (Provided)

Movie poster (Provided)

So Schwimmer recruited a number of his pilot friends and set up an illegal operation to smuggle weapons from then-Czechoslovakia (the only country willing to sell to them) into Israel — all while evading the FBI. Many of the pilots in the film remember thinking of what they were doing as helping to prevent a potential second Holocaust.

It’s an astonishing — and astonishingly unknown — story.

Rothstein, now 94 and living in a suburb of Chicago, met Dvir at a previous showing in New York. He is not in the documentary, but has been traveling with Dvir for some of the recent screenings. Seeing the documentary brought up a lot of memories he hadn’t thought about in decades, he said, but he is happy it exists. He hopes that people take away “the realization of how close they came to losing Israel,” he said. “It was by hours, not just days. Hours.”

“What I love getting across is the message that these guys were in their 20s when they did that and they changed the world,” Dvir said.

Rothstein’s response was just to laugh. “Although, at that time, we really didn’t realize it.”

Dvir originally became interested in the story through his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who moved with Dvir’s grandmother to Palestine after WWII to fight for Israeli independence. His grandfather told him that he and the other soldiers fought with rifles branded with the German eagle, and asked him if he knew how they got those weapons.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t know, but I am a journalist, so give me a couple days and I can find out.’ Well, it took me 10 years, but here is the answer,” Dvir said, while introducing the film. It turns out, those guns were the ones sold to them by Czechoslovakia and carted to Israel by the American pilots.

More than 350 people attended the screening. And once Rothstein took to the stage post-screening, the audience rose in a respectful — and awed — standing ovation for his efforts nearly 70 years ago.

Harold Rothstein (left) and Boaz Dvir (Photo by Hanna Monicken)

Harold Rothstein (left) and Boaz Dvir (Photo by Hanna Monicken)

“It was marvelous,” said Linda Mondel, who attended with her husband Jerry. “I thought it was such a beautiful story.”

Many in the audience had never heard the story before and were both sad it was not more well-known, but also excited to see it now being told.

“I thought it was incredible. I also liked the style, the humor. He told [the story] well,” said Ali Weinberg, whose father fought in the 1948 war. She added that she wished she could have had the chance to ask her father about this story.

Dvir doesn’t usually attend synagogue showings, but felt this was a special exception. Not only because it was Holocaust Remembrance Day, but also because he loved the energy of those organizing the event. And he was not disappointed, he said.

“I always love the Q&As,” he said. “This was a great crowd. They asked great questions.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

They Voted Cruz, Now What?

Bruce Botwin voted for Cruz, but now says that Trump’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.” (Photo courtesy Bruce Botwin)

Bruce Botwin voted for Cruz, but now says that Trump’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.” (Photo courtesy Bruce Botwin)

Ted Cruz might be out of the presidential race, but Republican Jews who supported the tough talking Texas senator during the primary say they plan to vote according to their conscience in November by supporting the candidate who cares most about their core concerns: illegal immigration and national security. For them, that means supporting businessman and de facto nominee Donald Trump.

Trump’s path to the nomination became all but inevitable on May 4 after Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended their campaigns following Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary. The outcome has upset a number of Republicans throughout the country, even to the point of causing some to switch sides and pledge their support for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Cruz’s defeat in New York, where Trump won all 89 delegates, was particularly crippling due to the missed opportunity to capitalize on the bloc of Orthodox Jews who supported him, according to Cruz senior advisor Nick Muzin.

“Both from a voting perspective and people that were involved in the campaign, as far as people who provided moral support, Jews played a huge role,” he said. “A lot of our major supporters financially were Jewish.”

People don’t like change, they want the same old same old. This is what we need, a little kick in the pants to get things going. — Brad Botwin

Muzin, an Orthodox Jew and Silver Spring resident, said the campaign spent a good deal of time in synagogues reaching out to Jewish communities across the country. He also noted that Cruz had received awards in the past from pro-Israel groups such as the Endowment for Middle East Truth for his work in the Senate on pursuing justice for Israeli victims of Palestinian violence. He noted that Cruz has earned the reputation of the “foremost champion of Israel in the U.S. Senate.”

When asked if he planned to support Trump, Muzin said he has not taken a position, but hopes to first see the businessman bone up on foreign policy.

“I am open to supporting Mr. Trump, but would like to see an evolution on details and what his polices will be on Israel and on other issues in the Middle East,” he said.

Muzin’s wait-and-see attitude about Trump differs from that of Bethesda resident Gail Weiss, who said she is perfectly happy to support a candidate like Trump who will “upend the status quo.”

“He has shown a savant-like ability to get his message out and past the filter of the professional media, and certainly no Republican has been able to do that in my lifetime,” she said.

Weiss, an active member of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said she was undecided heading into the primary between Trump, Cruz and Kasich, but ultimately voted for Cruz because of his intelligence and experience of arguing cases before the Supreme Court before he became a senator.

“I thought all three candidates offered pluses and minuses, and then I asked myself, who seems the most presidential and who seems the smartest?” she said.

Despite her support for Cruz, Weiss acknowledged that she had reservations about his electability in the general election due to his strict pro-life stance on abortion.

“I think the laws should be clarified, but I think there should be a cutoff point where abortions are not legal except in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother,” she said, adding that she did not agree with any of the candidates on 100 percent of the issues. “But certainly in the early stages of a pregnancy, I think women should be able to make that choice for themselves.”

Weiss said she is encouraged by Trump’s views on immigration and agrees that his temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States is reasonable given the number of international terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists.

“I think culturally, unfortunately, it’s ironic that Islam keeps claiming that the West is attacking them when in fact the reverse is true, they are attacking the West,” she said.

Weiss said she understands that terrorist groups only comprise a small percentage of Muslims, but that they must first “get the evil out of their own ranks” before she can feel comfortable.

Immigration is also a key issue for Rockville resident Brad Botwin, who said he supports the idea of the United States being a “melting pot,” but that illegal immigration has led to too many people coming into the country and not assimilating, making it closer to a “salad bowl.”

“As a Jew, my great-grandparents came over early 1900s legally into Ellis Island and I have always been interested in this issue,” he said.

Botwin, a government employee, grew up in a family of Democrats in New York and was a Democrat himself up until the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to taking on the Soviets changed his ideology. He had been a Cruz supporter from the beginning, volunteering locally for the campaign and making small donations.

“When he announced he was going to run for president, I thought that was great,” he said.

Botwin now fully supports Trump and said the candidate’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.”

“I don’t mind the brash talk,” Botwin said. “I’m from New York and that’s how people talk up there. Is he the most articulate guy? Neither am I. The only thing that he says is that he opposes illegal immigrants coming in here, so I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

Botwin said he is concerned about immigration and homeland security, the latter of which he thinks could be improved by making the airport security process more selective.

“We’re not getting blown up by Australian visitors or Buddhist visitors. The terrorists by and large are Muslims. You need to focus on what the problems are,” he said. “Having traveled to Israel, they do a much better job of screening than we do.”

Botwin said the country has not had a president with Trump’s gumption since the days of Harry Truman, and that it may be time for such a leader.

“People don’t like change, they want the same old same old,” he said. “This is what we need, a little kick in the pants to get things going.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Congregation’s Dream, Neighbors’ Headache Chabad Synagogue Battle Reminiscent of Cases Around State, Country

(Photo by David Stuck)

(Photo by David Stuck)

As Rabbi Velvel Belinsky heads into the second round of hearings over his proposed Chabad synagogue in Pikesville, rabbis and attorneys from the Baltimore area and beyond are reminded of a myriad of similar cases in which it was community versus synagogue or mosque or church.

Chabad synagogues throughout Maryland and the country have faced and continue to face community opposition. And while the issue is not unique to Chabad, or to synagogues, Belinsky believes that trying to build synagogues outside of the Orthodox community can make Chabad an easy target.

“[Chabad] comes into nonobservant areas or areas where there are nonobservant Jews, and that’s why we always end up facing more opposition,” he said.

Belinsky, the spiritual leader of the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad-Lubavitch congregation for Russian Jews, wants to build a permanent home for his synagogue on a 3-acre plot at 8420 Stevenson Road in Pikesville. The synagogue would have two stories of 4,000 square feet.

You want a religious institution to be part of the community. When it comes to Orthodox synagogues that are particularly focused on being neighborhood institutions, it baffles me that anybody would really have opposition.

— Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland

A group of surrounding residents has organized in opposition to the plan. After a split decision in a Baltimore County Administrative Law Hearing was appealed, the issue will be heard in the Baltimore County Board of Appeals as a new set of hearings beginning May 12.

Belinksy’s story is strikingly similar to many others in the state and country and all too familiar to Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland.

In the early 1980s, neighbors sued Kaplan over services he held in a Rockville home. He won the suit. In the early 1990s, he faced a similar issue when he held minyanim at his house on Deancroft Road in Baltimore. He won that suit, and the case became an example to follow for small synagogues that are held in homes.

Ken Abel (left) and attorney J. Carroll Holzer dissect a document at a county hearing. (Marc Shapiro)

Ken Abel (left) and attorney J. Carroll Holzer dissect a document at a county hearing. (Marc Shapiro)

The building Kaplan’s congregation is housed in now, at 6701 Old Pimlico Road, was the subject of a five-year dispute with the community from 1991 to 1996. He’s also familiar with issues at other Chabads in Montgomery and Howard counties.

“All of them eventually got resolved in our favor,” he said.

Kaplan said the litigation in the 1990s cost about $70,000. He hired a prominent zoning attorney who told him he wouldn’t lose the case, it would just be a matter of time and funds.

“It was torturous. Absolutely tortuous,” he said. “Had I known to begin with it was going to cost $70,000, I may have not done it. But it starts with $10,000, $5,000 … then you look back and it’s $60,000 to $70,000. I wanted to buy in the neighborhood. There was no other property here.”

As in Belinsky’s case, Kaplan’s legal costs were paid by money raised through the congregation. Chabad is set up so that each congregation is financially independent.

Kaplan believes his synagogue has been a stabilizing force in his neighborhood and said housing prices have remained steady.

Neighbors opposed to the synagogue wore these red T-shirts. (Marc Shapiro)

Neighbors opposed to the synagogue wore these red T-shirts. (Marc Shapiro)

“You want a religious institution to be part of the community,” he said. “When it comes to Orthodox synagogues that are particularly focused on being neighborhood institutions, it baffles me that anybody would really have opposition.”

But residents of the surrounding neighborhood, who have worn shirts to hearings that say “Friends of Stevenson Road — Protecting Our Neighborhood,” disagree. During the administrative law hearing, residents cited concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety, noise, and light pollution from the synagogue’s rear parking lot, among others. They’ve argued that the proposed synagogue violates the Baltimore County zoning code and is not compatible with a decade-old development plan that called for houses to be built on the property.

Belinsky, his attorney and the experts they called on during the hearings argue that the proposal does meet county code and doesn’t even have to comply with the property’s former development plan.

A split decision was issued in January after Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen heard arguments over the course of eight hearings between June and November last year. While the judge ruled that the synagogue complied with certain zoning regulations, he said it may have violated other sections of code but did not say whether the synagogue was subject to those other sections it would violate.

Ken Abel, the property’s immediate neighbor to the south, said at a hearing that his dream home has turned into “a little bit of a nightmare.” When he moved to the neighborhood from Worthington Park a little more than two years ago, he expected a quiet neighborhood and houses to be built on the property in question, he said.

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky and his attorney, Herbert Burgunder, state their case at a county hearing, with a large number of community members behind them. (Marc Shapiro)

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky and his attorney, Herbert Burgunder, state their case at a county hearing, with a large number of community members behind them. (Marc Shapiro)

Dana Stein, a state delegate for the 11th District and the property’s immediate neighbor to the north, has also been involved in the opposition effort and hired an attorney. He cleared his involvement with the state legislature’s ethics adviser. He and his wife, Margaret Presley-Stein, share Abel’s concerns. Presley-Stein helped circulate a petition that collected 638 signatures from 426 residences.

Abel said the neighborhood plans to take the case as far as it needs to go. Belinsky and his congregants, who have been stepping up financially, said the same.

“There is a level of commitment,” Igor Goldberg said. “We’re going to stick it out with the rabbi … there’s a trust in the rabbi, and so he will do what is necessary.”

If the cases are further appealed, they would go to the Baltimore County Circuit Court and then to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

“There’s no limits to these things,” Kaplan said. “They’re almost interminable with these things. What they try to do is kill you by delay. And justice delayed is justice denied. But that theory isn’t the way it applies in real life in the judicial system.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky’s congregants, Russian immigrants from various parts of the former Soviet Union, say the rabbi has taught them what it is to be Jewish. (David Stuck)

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky’s congregants, Russian immigrants from various parts of the former Soviet Union, say the rabbi has taught them what it is to be Jewish. (David Stuck)

RLUIPA

The state court system might not be the next stop for this issue if Belinsky were to file a federal suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000, which allows synagogues to be built in residential areas as a right and protects religious institutions in a number of ways. As a federal statute, it trumps local zoning code.

Roman Storzer, a top RLUIPA attorney who Belinsky recently retained, said RLUIPA is not a “blank check” for religious organizations.

“In general, a government cannot burden religious exercise unless it uses the least restrictive means of compelling government interest,” he said. “Normal zoning rules don’t apply.”

As far as traffic and other safety issues are concerned, Storzer said: “It’s been my long experience that these types of justifications have often been used to oppose uses where they really have no merit. … There has to be demonstrated evidence that there is some real threat, not simply a hypothetical or speculative threat, to public health and safety.”

He believes an RLUIPA issue may have been raised when, prior to the beginning of the administrative law hearings, any plans for Ariel submitted to county zoning needed to be reviewed directly by Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, or W. Carl Richards Jr., zoning review supervisor, Richards told the JT at the time.

“I believe that ‘flagging’ the project certainly raises an issue under RLUIPA and can be evidence of improper differential treatment of Ariel, which is prohibited by the statute,” he said.

Abel and Stein declined to comment on RLUIPA, and an attorney for the neighborhood opposition declined to comment as well.

Nat Lewin, another prominent RLUIPA attorney, said that while RLUIPA has helped synagogues, there are cases he’s seen where religious institutions have lost because of issues such as the size of the parcel of land and insufficient parking.

Storzer’s firm is currently working on another Chabad dispute in Toms River, N.J. Rabbi Moshe Gourarie has been operating a synagogue and Jewish community center out of his home since 2011, but a 2009 revision to the township’s zoning banned religious institutions from locating in the residential zone where the rabbi lives, according to the Asbury Park Press. In March, the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River and Gourarie filed a federal lawsuit against Toms River and its zoning board.

The complaint in the suit documents extensive anti-Semitic sentiment that was posted on social media, including in various private Facebook groups.

“There’s a range of issues that are involved [in opposing religious institutions] from flat-out old-school discrimination all the way to the typical NIMBYism you see where somebody doesn’t want something built next to them,” Storzer said.

In February, two Boca Raton, Fla., residents filed a suit against the city, claiming the city showed preferential treatment in approving the Harry and Celia Litwak Chabad Center, according to the Palm Beach Post. The Chabad was subject to debate at council meetings, with opponents concerned about the size of the proposed building, parking problems, traffic and proximity to nearby homes, the newspaper reported.

Locally, several non-Chabad congregations faced opposition when moving. Har Sinai Congregation, located on Walnut Avenue near the intersection of Greenspring Avenue, was subject to sizable opposition when its 62,000-square-foot building was proposed in the late 1990s.

Residents cited concerns about traffic, the synagogue drying up neighboring wells or its septic system polluting groundwater. Opponents also pointed to environmental concerns since the site was an unregulated dump, even though Har Sinai said it would clean up the site. Disputes were settled when Har Sinai agreed to noise abatement and landscaping and lighting restrictions, and stopped plans for a commercial day care, according to The Baltimore Sun.

When Beth Tfiloh sought to expand to a property in Glyndon to house its elementary school, neighbors also filed a lawsuit because of traffic concerns. The school, which operated there for several years, has since moved back to Beth Tfiloh’s Pikesville campus, and the Forbush School of Glyndon now operates on that site.

Not ‘If’ But ‘When’

While Kaplan did refer to Belinsky’s opposition as “mind-boggling,” he’s not completely unsympathetic.

“The neighbors next door, I don’t like what they’re doing. I can understand it. It’s not that I don’t understand, but it doesn’t make it right,” he said. “There’s a certain zoning. There are laws. We live by laws.”

As the neighborhood opposition is prepared to fight as long as it takes, confident it will come out on top, so are Belinsky and his congregants.

“If we are getting denied [at the Board of Appeals], we are going to the federal level,” Belinsky said. “I want to win, but I’m not very concerned because either way we are going to be in good shape. The only question is how long it’s going to take us. It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when.’”

Only time (and litigation) will tell.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore’s Oldest Acting Social Club Ready for Its Close-Up

Male members of the Paint and Powder Club perform in drag during last year’s production of “Judge Judy: The Musical.” (Provided)

Male members of the Paint and Powder Club perform in drag during last year’s production of “Judge Judy: The Musical.” (Provided)

For being one of the oldest acting clubs in the country, the Paint and Powder Club doesn’t take itself too seriously. But then, it’s hard to be too serious when performing shows with names such as “Judge Judy: The Musical,” “King Willy’s Court” and “Hijinx at the P and P Saloon.”

The Paint and Powder Club is a Baltimore social performing arts organization founded in 1893. It raises money for local charities through its annual variety show — this year, a 40-year retrospective called “Best of the Bits,” to benefit the Linwood Center and the Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation.

Writer/director Rod Clark, former director of Paint and Powder shows for nearly 20 years starting in 1981 and now back in the director’s seat once more, called this year’s show “up-tempo, fast, funny and crowd-pleasing.”

There’s also a new piano player this year in Dick Schroeder, who was the longtime pianist at Krieger Shechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno. Legend has it he may (or may not) be the inspiration for the character of Schroeder in the long-running comic strip “Peanuts.” He was a piano player in San Francisco during the time Charles M. Schulz would have been there, and the names do offer an impressive coincidence.

Older people still got it.”
— Amber Parks, Paint and Powder scholarship student and a senior at George Washington Carver Center for Arts

Schulz has said the character was inspired by a childhood friend, but that’s no reason to get in the way of a good origin story.

Each show’s idea often comes from that year’s president of the club. And, since this year is current president Frank Fiske’s 40th anniversary in the club, he wanted to celebrate by reliving some of the, well, best bits.

Fiske, 63, joined out of college at the behest of his father, who was also in the club. Many of the members are in their 60s to 70s, but the ages range all the way from 18 — each year, they have a couple of scholarship students who participate — to 93.

Many joined the club because of family, like Fiske, or because they went to a couple of shows and got recruited. That’s how they roped in Eileen Chiat and her husband, Jerry, who have been members now for about 10 years.

“A woman [at a club event] came over, put her arm around me and said, ‘You guys are coming to audition,’” Eileen said. So they did. Jerry performs in the shows, and Eileen stage manages.

The club has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for various charities. Linwood Center, an organization providing services for people with developmental disabilities, has actually been one of the chosen charities a few times before; its executive director, Bill Moss, is a member of the group.

The Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation, a national organization based in Baltimore that raises money and awareness for colon cancer support and treatment, is a first-time partner charity with Paint and Powder.

“We’re very selective who we align ourselves with,” said David Cohan, the president of the foundation. “And we were honored to be selected by Paint and Powder.”

The club was originally only open to men. Women were allowed to audition for parts in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the ’90s, 100 years after its inception, that they could become full members.

Since the early days were men-only, the club has a long tradition of men dressing in drag for female characters — which continues to this day. True to form, this year’s show does feature at least one drag line. And Fiske, according to Moss (and several others who chimed in agreement), puts all the other men to shame with his shapely legs.

No one in the club is a professional thespian, but that doesn’t stop them from having a lot of fun, along with the audience.

“It’s hard work,” Eileen said, “but there’s great camaraderie.” The goal, she said, is always to “have fun and be successful for the charities.”

The club seems out to prove that age really is just a number. Though most of the members are older, they’re out there singing and dancing those showstoppers with the best of them.

“It’s not just young people who can put on a good show,” said Amber Parks, one of the scholarship students and a senior at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. “Older people still got it.”

Shows take place May 13 and 14 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Building.

“Come because it’s a fun show, it’s good food, it’s an open bar, and it’s for a good cause,” Fiske said.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Former ‘Hidden Child’ Out Of Shadows, Into Spotlight

Edith Mayer Cord flips through a book with the names of people who were deported by the Nazis from France. “The Germans kept records,” Cord says. “There are still people who say [the Holocaust] didn’t happen. How they can say that? I don’t know because the Germans kept records.” (Justin Katz)

Edith Mayer Cord flips through a book with the names of people who were deported by the Nazis from France. “The Germans kept records,” Cord says. “There are still people who say [the Holocaust] didn’t happen. How they can say that? I don’t know because the Germans kept records.” (Justin Katz)

Edith Mayer Cord tells her story of  hiding in plain sight as a teenager in Europe during the Third Reich while invoking a range of emotions from the fear of nearly being discovered as a Jew in a convent to the desperation of constantly trying to overcome poverty.

Cord, who was born in Vienna, now lives in Columbia , Md., and documented her story in “Becoming Edith: The Education of a Hidden Child.” She spoke to members of Columbia Jewish Congregation on April 20 about going underground to avoid persecution by the Nazis.

But she does not shy away from infusing her story with messages about the issues that face today’s American Jewry.

“One of the Nazis’ militias was the Brownshirts. They were a bunch of a thugs. They would beat you up if they didn’t like you [and] disrupt meetings.” said Cord, 87, referring to the Sturmabteilung, a paramilitary unit of the Nazi Party.

“So when I see people on our [college] campuses who prevent speakers from speaking because they don’t agree with them, it brings back [those memories] of when the Nazis — when the Brownshirts — prevented speakers from speaking,” continued Cord, who has taught French and German at  Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

 

I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t hate the Germans.  … Hatred only begets hatred.” — Edith Mayer Cord, author of “Becoming Edith:  The Education of a Hidden Child”

 

Cord’s upbringing was in a traditional Jewish home, where her father put on tallis and tefillin every day, and her mother went to the mikvah. Despite being poor, she described the year she spent in a Jewish day school as the “happiest year of my childhood.” In 1938, things started to decay; her parents had moved the family to Italy, fearful of what was happening in Germany. When things went sour in Italy, the family became refugees.

“My father went from one consulate to another” and one after another, each country rejected them. “And because of that, that’s what gave Hitler a free hand to kill us,” said Cord.

Her father and brother would eventually be deported and sent to several concentration camps including Auschwitz.

“Most people don’t realize that the French had concentration camps all over the place,” said Cord, as she pointed to a map of World War II France littered with Stars of David, each one representing a concentration camp. She listed the camps where her brother and father were sent.

“This is the French, this is not the Germans,” as she pointed at photos showing the conditions. “This is the French,” she repeated.

An audience member asked if Cord knew where her father and brother were at the time. She responded that she did not, but she later received a postcard from her father and brother from when they crossed the demarcation line that divided southern France from a German-occupied zone.

The postcard said, “We are crossing. I hope to see you again. God bless you and goodbye.” This card gave her a vague idea of where they were going.

Cord was 14 years old when she said goodbye to her mother in July 1943 to begin her life as a hidden child. She did not see her mother again until after the war.

“It wasn’t a simple thing to hide in plain sight. I was lying all the time. I had to be on my guard all the time,” said Cord.

“It’s a terrible crisis for [hidden children] and a problem that they couldn’t communicate with their parents,” said Dr. Patricia Heberer-Rice, acting senior historian for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “They couldn’t communicate with rescuers or teachers about it because it would endanger themselves. They had to bottle up their emotions, which is very hard for a young child.”

Cord emphasized that the deprivation of education was especially difficult. Heberer-Rice said this was a common problem because when Jews were ghettoized, there was a general ban on educating Jewish children. While Heberer-Rice said there are no official numbers about the number of hidden children — mainly due to the very nature of what it meant to be hidden — a lack of education was likely a common problem among them.

“When you’re moving from place to place you lose all [your] skillsets,” said Heberer-Rice, who said sometimes that included one’s native language. “You have children missing entire [skills such as] writing, mathematics and reading.”

Cord was eventually smuggled into the neutral country of Switzerland, which the Nazis never invaded due to its role in the international banking system, according to Heberer-Rice. She would reunite with her mother after the war, but their financial situation was equally as dire.

When she returned to France, she “had absolutely nothing. I had no skills, no education. I had nothing, and I am confronted with this abomination [of the aftermath of the war]. Now what do I do? Do I commit suicide because life isn’t worth living?”

She decided that her only hope was gaining an education. In 1949, and after an intense struggle to catch up, she earned the French equivalent of a high school diploma. But this was by no means the end of her problems.

She recalled that when she went to the president of the Jewish community in Toulouse and asked for help finding a job, he told her that a local rabbi’s wife had just given birth and needed help with housework. Since Cord had worked as a nanny in Switzerland, she quickly went to the rabbi’s home, but the rabbi’s wife refused to give her work.

“I can’t tell you to scrub the floor,” the rabbi’s wife told Cord.

“I need a job,” said Cord with desperation in her voice. “I can scrub the floor. I’m young, I’m strong; if you want me to scrub the floors, I’ll scrub the floors.”

“You have your [diploma], I can’t tell you to scrub the floor,” the rabbi’s wife repeated. And so Cord became a sales girl for a local merchant. She described the job as the lowest position one could have in French society at the time.

In 1952, Cord made it to the United States, and by working a minimum-wage job, she quickly became self-sufficient, an accomplishment she professes with pride.

Through her speaking engagements, Cord said her goal is “to share the hard lessons of her life.”

“The reason we chose [Cord to speak] was because she has a unique story that she was ­­separated from everybody [at a young age] and she had to be a hidden child,” said Suzanne Waller, a founding member of CJC who organized the event. “[Despite] the terror that it must have caused, she goes on to be resilient and learned life lessons all of us can learn — how to move on and deal with hatred.”

Despite what she’s endured, she ended her presentation by saying, “I don’t hate anybody. I don’t hate the Germans. … Hatred only begets hatred.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com