A Land Flowing With Milk, Honey and … Water Desalination Innovation Infiltrates Israel’s Economy

(Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

(Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Even as one of the world’s smallest countries, Israel is in its second decade of progress toward tackling one of the world’s largest problems: water scarcity.

One of Israel’s efforts toward making its water usage more efficient and environmentally sustainable came to fruition in 2005 with the construction of the Ashkelon Desalination Plant on the Mediterranean coast. There are now four plants with a fifth scheduled to open later this year at Ashdod.

The most recent plant to open was at Sorek in 2013, when the desalination company IDE Technologies partnered with Merkerot, Israel’s national water company, to implement a much more advanced reverse osmosis process converting salty water from the Mediterranean Sea into potable water.

“Ten years before, the question was: Who can make desalination? Of course, in those days a lot of companies made desalination,” said Boris Liberman, chief technology officer and vice president of IDE.

Liberman explained that Israel does not have separate water systems for drinking water and irrigation, but Sorek treats water for both purposes.

“It’s one common system, but the standard of the water we are producing is the highest standard,” he said.

With the production capacity of 624,000 cubic meters of water per day (164.8 million gallons), Sorek is the largest seawater desalination plant in the world. Water first undergoes the pre-treatment stage, where all suspended solids are removed, and “we try also to remove a little bit of the dissolved organic material as much as we can,” Liberman added.

The unique thing about our technology  is that this is very important. You can  incorporate it into a new system, or you can  also incorporate it in an existing system.” — Dr. Noam Perlmutter

 

The water then passes through long, tube-like structures called membranes, where dissolved salts are removed from the water in two stages: first from the seawater and then again from the brackish water (a mixture of seawater and freshwater). Due to its increased production, Sorek uses 16-inch membranes, which are twice the size of those in any other plant in Israel.

“The size of the membrane is related to the size of the desalination you’re doing,” Liberman said. But “when you actually start to design this plant, you understand that a huge membrane is not cost-effective.”

In the post-treatment stage, a bit of limestone is added to the water in the absence of  fluoride for drinking water.

“People need calcium for their bones, so somehow we have to add calcium,” he said, which limestone provides.

Liberman said each pump can produce about 2,500 cubic meters of potable water, which, he said, is unique to anywhere else.

Despite the larger, more expensive membranes, Liberman said Sorek’s cost of production is no different from that of Ashkelon’s or a plant in Hadera.

Drought-Propelled  Innovation

For many years, the Sea of Galilee was Israel’s major source of water, but drought conditions in the 1990s caused lake levels to become low and led to contamination, said Ehud Zion Waldoks, a spokesman for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. But the desalination plant project initially lacked public support, which caused delay and put Israel in “dire water straits,” even to the point of people not washing their cars.

“In 1999, it rained a lot, and people asked, ‘Why do I need an extremely expensive desalination plant?’” he said.

Israel now uses a combination of freshwater from the Kinneret and desalinated seawater from the Mediterranean as its potable water sources for both drinking and irrigation. More than 80 percent of Israel’s treated wastewater is recycled and is used for irrigation of crops, which is higher than anywhere else in the world. Next is Spain, which recycles 20 percent of its wastewater.

At the helm of much of  Israel’s water innovation has been BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. The university was established in 1969 by the Israeli government with the purpose of economically rejuvenating the Negev. It has produced a number of technological innovations such as the startup company ROTEC, which designs mineral scaling technology that prevents mineral salt deposits from collecting in membranes during the desalination process. The company has also brought its technology to Jordan, the United States and several countries in Europe.

Dr. Noam Perlmutter, one of ROTEC’s founders, explained that the desalination in Israel has ballooned to a roughly $30 billion- to $50 billion-per-year industry for revenue.

“The unique thing about our technology is that this is very important,” he said. “You can incorporate it into a new system, or you can also incorporate it in an existing system.”

Desalinated water has become a hot commodity around the world, used by large corporations such as IBM and Coca Cola. Perlmutter said ROTEC is developing a project with Coca Cola but is still in the early stages.

“In the United States, desalination is taking out water from the sea and [creating] potable water,” he said. “But desalination is much more than that. Today, you’re using desalination in every aspect of the industry.”

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Wastewater  Treatment

ROTEC’s latest pilot project is a flow reversal unit that is being tested at the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant, which supplies water to the Dan  region of Israel and includes Tel Aviv. It’s is the largest wastewater treatment plant in the country. Treating wastewater requires less pressure than  seawater, Perlmutter added.

Shafdan can process 7.5 cubic meters of wastewater per hour (almost 2,000 gallons) and can recover up to 90 percent of the water by reversing the  direction of the water’s flow and create a highly concentrated brine. The unit would be used only for nonpotable water purposes.

Perlmutter said that in Israel brine can be put back in the sea — there is no other current use for it — but other countries such as the United States and Australia forbid this practice.

“This is why in some cases the desalination of brackish water is not economically  viable,” he said. “This is a big problem when you’re trying to get this much water [out of] the desalination process.”

But the presence of an advanced water infrastructure in Israel dates back further than 15 years.

The remains of the ancient Israelites’ irrigation system from the seventh century B.C.E. can be seen on the site of Tel Beersheva, just east of the modern-day city of Beersheva, and is open to the public.

BGU archeology professor Steve Rosen said the water system was set up in order to manage flash flooding at Wadi Beer Sheba. Rosen said all of the work in constructing the cistern would have been done with iron picks and that the engineering feat was “genius” for its time.

“They have no optical instruments. They have obviously no mechanical instruments. The whole thing is dug by hand with picks. The dirt is removed on the backs of donkeys and on the backs of people,” he said.

“You’d take three steady rods to line them up, and if they’re lined up in a straight line, you get plumb bobs to get a straight line going down. And you had to do all of that to make sure that they had a slope that would bring the water into the system.”

Rosen said most likely the majority of the work was done by slaves, due to the pyramid-like social structure of the ancient Israelite society.

“You would come out during the season and work on the king’s lands unless you were part of the aristocracy,” he said. “If you got to be in the upper class it was great, but how many people were in the upper class, 2 percent?”

Rosen himself was a part of the excavation team that uncovered the site in the 1970s and said that upon digging, the  researchers discovered that much of the rock that was used in the construction collapsed in order to stabilize the ceiling, which is made of limestone block.

Rosen said the ancient civilizations typically did not drink the water due to the fact that it was full of waste but would typically elect to drink alcohol.

“We know from the Roman and Byzantine texts that you would not drink the water,” he said. “You would mix the water with wine, and they actually say it cleaned the water, which makes a little bit of sense because the wine had alcohol and the alcohol probably killed some of the bugs.”

Rosen added that some of Israel’s ancient cisterns still collect water, but it typically turns into green sludge that “you don’t want to put your toe in, let alone drink.”


The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

A Nutritious Negev for Noshing

The concept of Jews having “made the desert bloom” may not be completely visible as you travel along Route 40 through the bare hills of Israel’s Negev desert, but venturing off the beaten path between Beersheva and Sde Boker may turn you on to one of the region’s most delicious hidden treasures.

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant was started almost 20 years ago by Anat and Daniel Kornmehl, who had been studying agriculture at Hebrew University. Daniel had also studied cheese-making in France. After graduating and traveling around Australia and the United States, the couple came back to Israel with the intent of raising goats and starting their own cheese business.

“I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture in the extension service for farmers,” Anat said. “I was teaching sheep and goat farming, and then we decided that this is what we want to do. We want to practice agriculture and sell a product.”

They wanted to start their business in Jerusalem but were put off by the bureaucracy, so they decided to raise their own goats. The Kornmehls went to the land authorities and applied for a grazing  license, only to be told they needed the actual goats first.

“At that time, Daniel was starting cheese-making in one of the places in Jerusalem, and they got an agreement that instead of getting money for the work that he did there, he [would] get 12 young goats,” Anat said.

The Kornmehls raised the goats for five years only to be repeatedly met with red tape.

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

“We got to a point where we said enough is enough. We either sell the goats or else I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

They ended up settling on government-owned land just north of the Sde Boker kibbutz in 1997. Four kids and almost two decades later, the couple still does not have a permit, but they have been living on the site and going strong with their business.

“This is why we live in a compound, we can’t build a house yet after 18-and-a-half years,” she said.

In addition to the restaurant they offers tastings and opportunities to watch the goats being milked. March and April, Daniel said, is when farmers see their largest yield of goat’s milk, because mother goats usually get pregnant in July and start producing milk two months before they have kids. But the kids drink some of the mothers’ milk during infancy, which is around November and December.

The hard cheeses are in season first during the spring, and they then become progressively softer as the warm months progress.

Kornmehl’s menu is none too overwhelming but includes a series of effective outlets for getting cheese in the stomach including a calzone with goat cheese, tomatoes and red peppers and fried filo dough-wrapped goat cheese pieces that express “fresh from the farm” like no other style of goat cheese. You can also order a sampler plate that includes a selection of hard and soft cheese varieties.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

It’s Close, But Baltimore Voters Chose Pugh, Schleifer

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (FeeBee Photography )

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (FeeBee Photography )

In two hotly contested primaries, Baltimore City voters ultimately threw their support behind state Sen. Catherine Pugh for mayor and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer for District 5 councilman.

In a mayoral race with a large pool of candidates, Pugh narrowly defeated former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, who garnered much support, but ultimately fell short. Many Pugh supporters and experts pointed to Dixon’s misdemeanor conviction — and resignation — for using gift cards intended for the needy in 2010 as a major reason Pugh overtook her.

“I’ve always seen the glass as half-full as opposed to half-empty,” Pugh told supporters in a victory speech. “A great mayor understands where you are so you can move the city forward.”

As of press time, Pugh won with 45,360 votes, which was less than half of the votes cast in the Democratic mayoral primary at 36.8 percent, to Dixon’s 42,484 votes, which accounted for 34.5 percent. While Pugh will face Republican nominee Alan Walden, a former WBAL news anchor, and third-party candidates, she is expected to be the city’s next mayor. Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1 in Baltimore.

In the District 5 race, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer won in somewhat of an upset in a pool of seven candidates. Betsy Gardner, the neighborhood liaison for the 5th and 6th City Council districts and the citywide Jewish community liaison, was endorsed by sitting District 5 Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who is stepping down after nearly 40 years in office, and had the support of Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who won his primary.

There are no Republican or third-party candidates in the District 5 race. Another Jewish council candidate, Zeke Cohen, won the Democratic primary in the city’s 1st District.

Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh on election night, with her staff and supporters, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (left), at the Baltimore Harbor Hotel on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (Pugh: Lloyd Fox/TNS/Newscom)

Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh on election night, with her staff and supporters, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (left), at the Baltimore Harbor Hotel on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (Pugh: Lloyd Fox/TNS/Newscom)

Schleifer, 27, a small business owner who is involved in a number of Jewish and community organizations, said he is committed to transparency and hopes to use Spector’s  remaining time in office to further familiarize himself with his future constituents and the issues in the district.

“I think we’re going to bring new leadership to Baltimore and a lot of new ideas,” Schleifer said. “I know we can not only do better for the district, but for the city as a whole.”

Schleifer, who is vice president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association and Northwest community liaison for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, won with 3,363 votes (33 percent) to Gardner’s 2,968 (29.1 percent) as of press time. He campaigned on public safety, technologically updating the city and ensuring city services are dispersed evenly throughout Baltimore.

“I think when people looked at this race entirely, they saw me as a candidate of the future, somebody who understands the challenges and develops unique strategies to overcome those challenges,” Schleifer said.  “Whereas, when they looked at the other candidates, they felt it was same old, same old.”

While he had a quiet evening with some friends at his home, just after midnight when numbers from all the precincts were reported, his house quickly filled up with people coming by to celebrate. He considers the win quite the achievement, considering that having an election during Passover would pose challenges; he was aware that some people simply weren’t able to vote early during Passover preparation or on Tuesday since they were out of town.

Gardner’s election night party attendees were hopeful and excited for most of the evening. She and a group of supporters even danced to “Play That Funky Music” as a band played. The party wound down right around midnight, just before the last precinct results came in.

“I feel like I got a late start, and if I would have had more time to put a campaign together in an earlier time frame, I think I would have been more successful in my [run],” Gardner said. She announced in February just ahead of the deadline to file, whereas Schleifer announced in August.

She plans to speak to the City Council president about her future options but will  remain a servant of the city.

“I’ve been working for the citizens of Baltimore, not just the 5th District, for the last 14 years, and that won’t change,” Gardner said.

Spector suspects Gardner may be right in that she could have used more time but said she’s proud of the campaign Gardner ran and what she’s done for the district.

“There is always life after election day, and what’s important is that we do our best to make the transition as smooth as possible,” Spector said, noting she plans to work with Schleifer in her remaining time in office. “There’s work to be done for the constituents and our city.”

Earlier in the day when Baltimore was heading to the polls, Northwestern High School near Park Heights Avenue was crowded with campaign volunteers, at times even outnumbering voters.

Amanda Schuster, a volunteer for Schleifer’s campaign, said that despite some backed-up car traffic, she had seen a significant Jewish voting presence come through.

Dr. Michael Carter spent his day outside the school campaigning to incoming voters on behalf of Derrick Lennon. He said that at about noon on Tuesday, roughly 278 people had come through that polling place so far.

He added he was against the change from electronic ballots back to paper ballots, calling it antiquated.

“I think we’re moving backwards, not forwards. I thought it was very cumbersome to do it that way,” Carter said. “It was easier to go click my buttons, and it was done.”

Daniel Gordon, who voted at the school, agreed with Carter that the paper ballots were a step back. He said his votes were cast keeping in mind “that we need to have a caring government that is going to take care of its people.”

One voter, who identified herself only as Leah, came out to vote with her husband and said she voted for Donald Trump because “I don’t like the establishment and all their dirty tricks.” When it came to paper or electronic ballots, she said, “As long as they’re honest, I don’t care.”

At Fallstaff Elementary School, campaign volunteers were also out in full force and so were voters, including Alvin Young. A native of Jamaica who moved to Baltimore 20 years ago, Young said he is a proud American citizen and was eager to demonstrate his knowledge of the American history that he studied so diligently to become a citizen.

“I voted for Shelia Dixon, I’m not hiding it, I will tell anybody that I voted for Sheila Dixon. I want to bring her back in the system,” Young said.

After election results started pouring in, at Pugh’s party, held in the ballroom of the Baltimore Harbor Hotel on West Fayette Street, the atmosphere was one of excitement, confidence and anticipation. Supporters watched the state senator take an early lead of 3,000 votes when the first precincts began reporting.

That lead was maintained for the majority of the night as she beat out Dixon with a difference of only 5 percent of the vote, overtaking her other competitors by much larger margins.

“We’ve done some great things in our neighborhoods, but together we are going to build some great neighborhoods throughout the city,” Pugh told the crowd of hundreds.

Before Pugh — who was  affectionately called “Cathy” by most of the crowd — spoke,  familiar faces of Maryland’s Democratic delegation made brief remarks.

“Thank you, Baltimore. Thank you for bringing us the mayor that we deserve, the mayor that we’ve been waiting for,” said Del. Jill P. Carter, who represents the 41st District in Baltimore City. “I’m so thankful that we finally can have a mayor that can move us into the future — forwards, not backwards.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, spoke next and was introduced as a longtime and unapologetic supporter of Pugh.

“We’ve been through a lot, but now we are in the process of transformation,” he said. “[Pugh] knows every neighborhood is important, and I know she’ll put her fingerprints on every one of them.”

When Pugh took the microphone, she was flanked by a group of volunteers, campaign staff and fellow politicians,  including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and the crowd erupted when she came in.

She began her speech thanking everyone who made her victory possible, saying that many people “did not give this campaign a chance” and noting she didn’t have a campaign manager until Feb. 1. She also thanked volunteers who helped raise money, as “this was one of the most expensive campaigns I’ve ever run,” she said.

“We are going to work together because I understand the importance of growing business in the city and [the fact that] small business is the backbone of our economy,” Pugh said.

She briefly talked about her own history from working as a banker to being a business owner and working under former Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, emphasizing that everything she’s done in her career “has prepared me for this moment.”

At one point during her speech, a supporter yelled, “You’ll be the greatest mayor ever,” to which she interrupted herself to respond, “You know that’s right.”

On the GOP side, Walden made the Republican polls a one-man show, as he took roughly 40 percent of the vote while his contenders all came in under 20 percent each.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

HoCo Preschool Counts the Omer and Clothing

From left: Marcie Cissel, Barbara Frederick and Jodi Fishman. (Provided)

From left: Marcie Cissel, Barbara Frederick and Jodi Fishman. (Provided)

With Passover in full swing, so begins the tradition of counting the Omer, the ritual of counting each of the 49 days between the 16th of Nisan and Shavuot. But that’s not the only thing students at the Bet Yeladim preschool in Columbia will be counting this year.

“All teachers and staff have each been assigned a day of the Omer at which time they will bring in an item of clothing they are willing to donate to a local charity,” said Jodi Fishman, executive director at Bet Yeladim. “At the same time, all of our families have been invited to select one item of clothing a day for each of the 49 days of the Omer that they are also willing to donate.”

The clothing will be hung in Bet Yeladim’s hallways until June 10, the day before Erev Shavuot. GreenDrop, a charitable organization selected by the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the National Federation of the Blind to raise funds through the generation and collection of donated clothing and household items, will visit the school to pick up the clothing.

The idea for the project came from teacher Marcie Cissell and one of her colleagues, who saw this as an  opportune time to celebrate the Jewish tradition while also completing a tikkun olam project. When they pitched the idea to Fishman, she “brought it to the next level” by including not just the children, but their families as well.

“Because of [the visual  aspect] happening in the hallway, it’s going to prompt a lot of questions and discussions, not only for children and teachers, but everyone who comes into the school,” said Fishman. “It’s a great opportunity to  educate our families as well about the Omer.”

Cissell added, “Anytime we can bring the families together with the staff, it makes it more meaningful for the children.”

Anytime we can bring the families together with the staff, it makes it more meaningful for the children.”   — Marcie Cissell, teacher at  Bet Yeladim preschool

 

Because the project will  involve teachers, staff, students and their families, the range of clothes donated will span all ages and sizes, as families  decide who will donate a piece of clothing on any given day.

Aside from the visual aspect that collecting and counting clothes provides, Fishman emphasized that the school focuses on ensuring that students see the impact their giving makes.

Barbara Frederick is associate director of Bet Yeladim and has been with the school for 35 years. She said the concept of tzedakah has evolved as the school has developed.

“When I first started with this school, we had our decorated container for the children to contribute to and teachers could talk about [tzedakah], but it was very abstract,” said Frederick. “Teachers felt they needed to have something  concrete” to better explain the concept of tzedakah.

The school has organized other hands-on experiences such as going to the supermarket to purchase food items with the money raised from tzedakah. Afterward, the students walked to the Howard County Food Bank to weigh and donate the items. Cissell said this experience weighed heavily on one particular boy who asked others to bring food items to his next birthday party so he could make another donation to the food bank.

“I think making these connections between home and school is so important, and this is such a great way of  visually doing that for the children,” said Fishman. “Not only at school do we pay attention to the needs of others, but as a family, we do that too.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Miriam’s Cup Runneth Over, Filled with Associated Women’s Spirit

women's-seder-1

Photo by David Stuck

The camaraderie and kinship among more than 300 celebrants was palpable at Temple Oheb Shalom, site of the Associated Women’s “The Freedom to Create Passover Experience” this month.

“Being in a room with 320 women is the most empowering feeling in the world,” said Susan Manekin, who co-chaired the event with Jill Max. “There’s just nothing better than that and celebrating before the holiday. It was for women and about women.”

Hors d’oeuvres and drinks preceded the Passover experience (the event was not a seder nor was there official breaking of matzoh, they explained, because it happened prior to Passover), and panel displays filled the lobby offering glimpses into the creative work of many Israeli women. Attendees learned about the accomplishments of scientist Ada Yonath, 27-year-old technology futurist Dr. Kira Radinsky, serial entrepreneur Orit Hashay, savvy businesswoman and sustainable packaging developer Daphna Nissenbaum among others.

“I’m hoping there’s something they have during the seder that I can bring back to our seder,” at home, said Sharon Caplan beforehand, who attended with her sister, Paula Freeman.

Caplan’s hopes were fulfilled, beginning with a beautiful take-home haggadah created especially for the event.

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Local artist Smadar Livne’s sumptuous, colorful imagery fills its pages, as do stories that highlight contemporary work from women who have the “Freedom to Create’”in Israel such as Ruth Dayan, who founded Maskit, a women’s clothing design company; the students of the Ma’aleh School of Television and Film and the Arts in Jerusalem; the designers at the Megemeria School of Jewelry; and the Technion, which recently held a conference inviting teen girls from all over Israel to participate.

But women’s stories were infused even deeper into the telling of Passover through original text in the haggadah, including four questions from four daughters — the wise, the rebellious, the simple and pure, and finally, the one who cannot ask. Participants also read powerful stories that correlated with the four cups of wine, each celebrating the lives of biblical women — those who made the Exodus possible, the matriarchs, the scholars, the religious leaders and even the activists — all whose stories, not surprisingly, echoed the accomplishments of many women who filled the auditorium that day.

“I have to say I’m so thrilled to be here with so many great interesting women,” said Amy Rotenberg, who attended with her friend, Orlee Kahn.

“It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom,” Rotenberg said.

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

“And focusing on some of the women in the story who are often overlooked, like Yocheved and Miriam,” Kahn added.

Many attended along with the women’s groups they’re affiliated with from the Associated, such as the Heart to Heart Israel Mission, the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, Dor Tikvah and Chapter Two.

“The best part of it is, even though it’s an Associated event there are women who have never been to an Associated event before,” co-chair Jill Max said, happy that the affair is a vehicle for such wide outreach. “There are girls who are 11 and women into their 80s and 90s,” she added.

Many mothers and daughters attended together, and there were some multigenerational celebrants as well, such as Amy Harlan, who was there with her mother, Linda Kaufman, and her daughter, Stevie Harlan.

“I’m so blessed to be able to include my mom and my daughter, and the fact that we’re all here together celebrating as women is really powerful,” Amy said. “I like the way that [the event’s readings have] been giving the female bent on how important women are in Jewish life. And even though in the Bible and hagaddah women’s roles have been played down, we really are the strength and the backbone.”

It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom.
— Amy Rotenberg

Accents Grill catered the meal; Mezu-menet, an all-female, Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland College Park, entertained with live singing; and more than 30 volunteers helped bring the whole occasion to fruition. Nina Rosenzwog, the 2016 Associated Women’s Campaign chair, publicly thanked The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s professionals: Bonnie Garonzik, Esha Janssens, Pamela Martin, Amanda Max, Melinda Michel, Alisa Rank and Elizabeth Schuman, who all helped in the planning too.

Manekin, who also serves on the board of Jewish Volunteer Connection, was especially proud of ‘Seder in a Bag,’ a project created by Associated Women and assembled the day of the Passover Experience. Each of the 36 bags included a painted seder plate and silk matzoh cover, the makings for matzo ball soup, a mason jar of dirt and parsley seeds to grow bitter herbs, fresh horseradish root, Shabbat candles and a hagaddah. The bags were donated to CHANA and to Jewish Community Services for special needs clients.

“I got an email from Ellen Fox, at CHANA,” Manekin said, “telling us that the women cried when they got the bags. [She said] they were touched that somebody actually thought of them” for the holiday.

The energetic highlight of the event was when, for about 20 minutes, the roomful of women rose from their chairs to sing and dance around the room, playing timbrels provided for each guest to invoke the spirit of Miriam.

Miriam’s energy could truly be felt that day among the Associated Women.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Parents Grill Panelists On Colleges, Anti-Semitism

Seth Gordon-Lipkin (left), of the Anti-Defamation League, and Ben Brownstein, of StandWithUs, fielded hard-hitting questions from Howard County parents during a panel about anti-Semitism on college campuses. (Photos by Justin Katz)

Seth Gordon-Lipkin (left), of the Anti-Defamation League, and Ben Brownstein, of StandWithUs, fielded hard-hitting questions from Howard County parents during a panel about anti-Semitism on college campuses. (Photos by Justin Katz)

Howard County parents of high school students grilled representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and StandWithUs during a panel at Howard Community College about what their soon-to-be college students may face when confronted by groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Students Against Israel Apartheid.

The April 18 panel called “Peace Takes Two” was organized by staff and volunteers at the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Representing the ADL, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” was Seth Gordon-Lipkin, project director of education. Ben Brownstein, Philadelphia-based campus coordinator, represented StandWithUs, a nonprofit that works “to [inform] the public about Israel and to [combat] the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues.”

Gordon-Lipkin spoke about the “lines [that] are blurring between what is anti-Semitism and what is bigotry against the Jewish people.”

I think there is a political discourse to be had about BDS but you can only talk about something with two sides talking.

— Seth Gordon Lipkin, project director of education at the Anti-Defamation League

“To modern eyes, classical anti-Semitism is easy to recognize,” said Gordon-Lipkin, quoting Israeli politician Natan Sharansky.

Sharansky’s definition of anti- Semitism, or the three D’s, are the demonization of Israel; delegitimizing or denying Israel’s right to exist; and applying double standards that hold Israel to a different bar compared with other countries.

“We at the ADL think that like any country, Israel’s policies and its politicians can be critiqued; they are open to debate just like the U.S.,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “But there are certain lines that [the ADL] wants people to understand and know when something is going from legitimate political discourse into bigotry against Jews.”

A question-and-answer period followed each speaker’s presentation.

One audience member noted that the movement on college campuses in the 1980s and ‘90s with regard to South African apartheid is strikingly similar to what is being seen today. He challenged Gordon-Lipkin to define the lines between anti-Semitism and political discourse further. The attendee pointed out that while some photos shown during the presentation that used vampire imagery to describe Israel are clearly blood libel, other photos that question Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza could be seen as legitimate political discourse.

Gordon-Lipkin responded, saying that the tactics of the BDS movement intentionally mimic those used to protest apartheid. However, the comparison between events in the Middle East and what happened in South Africa is not entirely accurate, he said.

“The nature of it is inherently different,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “The concerns with Gaza and the West Bank stem from security concerns, not from systematic racism.”

Then Gordon-Lipkin referred to the double standard within Sharansky’s definition.

“[There is a] lack of equivalency between what groups are protesting against Israel’s actions against Palestinians and their protest — or lack of protest — against what’s going on in Syria,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “What [protestors] consider genocide and what they would not consider genocide is problematic.”

Brownstein, the representative from StandWithUs, spoke about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and how his organization works with college students to counter the movement as well as defeat legislation that moves through student governments.

Working with pro-Israel organizations and student connections, SWU recently helped to defeat a piece of BDS legislation at Ohio State University by bringing in two speakers to address the issue with a group of undecided student government members. One speaker was a former BDS activist, currently a student at San Diego State University, who now helps to fight against the movement. The other was David Makovsky, a Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East peace process.

In response to a question from the JT about whether or not a legitimate political discourse exists within the BDS movement, Brownstein said groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine put Israel on a pedestal and that, in fact, they are not a pro-Palestinian organization.

“If [it] was pro-Palestinian then [it] would speak about Hamas when they use Palestinians as human shields,” said Brownstein. “If you speak about injustices of Palestinians everywhere, then that’s OK. But what you’re doing by just talking about Israel means you’re just an anti-Israel organization.”

Gordon-Lipkin added, “I think there is a political discourse to be had [about BDS], but you can only talk about something with two sides talking,” which Gordon-Lipkin doesn’t think is happening among organizations.

The panel discussion, which lasted two hours, brought in upward of 50 people, including Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

“I’m just so pleased that our community, and in particular parents of high school students, came out for this really important program,” said Ostroff.

Jessamyn Abel, who has two children preparing for college, also attended. She noted the importance of educational institutions being pro-active on the issue.

“Colleges and universities need to realize that Jewish families are watching to see how administrations handle these incidents of anti-Semitism and harassment,” said Abel. “We will choose not to send our children to their colleges if they stand by and do not do something about it.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

High Stakes, Mixed Expectations Elections will bring new president, senator, mayor, city council

Flag of Baltimore City (©iStockphoto.com/Bosphorus)

Flag of Baltimore City (©iStockphoto.com/Bosphorus)

In Baltimore, as in the rest of the state, candidates and residents alike are underscoring the importance of this election.

In Baltimore, as in the rest of the state, candidates and residents alike are underscoring the importance of this election. While the presidential election looms overhead, Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat — which she has filled for almost 30 years — is up for grabs. Baltimore City, still reeling from last April’s unrest after the police custody death of Freddie Gray and the barrage of negative attention it attracted, will elect a new mayor in a race with a wide candidate pool full of insiders, outsiders and in-betweens.

And at the even more local level, a number of Baltimore City Council seats are up for grabs as candidates step down or run for other offices. The Jewish community that resides in upper Park Heights straddling the city-county line will vote for longtime District 5 Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector’s replacement. Spector, known as the “dean of the Council,” is stepping down after nearly 40 years in office.

There are 28 mayoral candidates (as of press time), 12 of whom are running in the Democratic primary. According to polling by The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore, State Sen. Catherine Pugh is on top with 31 percent of likely Democratic voters favoring her, followed by former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has 25 percent. The poll put lawyer Elizabeth Embry in third with 9 percent, businessman David Warnock in fourth with 7 percent and Councilmen Carl Stokes and Nick Mosby tied in fifth with 5 percent. Mosby has since dropped out of the race and put his support behind Pugh.

“It looks like the Sheila Dixon base of support has been steady, and I think what you’re seeing with Catherine Pugh’s surge is a coalescing around her,” said Nina Therese Kasniunas, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Goucher College.

In the District 5 race, seven Democrats are running to replace Spector, two of whom are members of the Jewish community. The candidates include Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, a small business owner and vice president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association; Betsy Gardner, 5th and 6th district neighborhood liaison and citywide Jewish community liaison for the City Council president’s office; Derrick Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen Improvement Association; Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate; Sharif Small, a small business owner; Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, an attorney; and Kinji Scott, a community organizer. There are no Republican candidates.

For Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross Country Improvement Association, the community is choosing between Gardner, who has been a community liaison for the past 14 years and under the three most recent mayoral administrations, and Schleifer, 27, who is involved in a variety of community and Jewish organizations.

“We have two very viable candidates,” Sauer said. “Of those two, each one has special qualifications, and people need to understand what they are and make their decisions accordingly.”

In the Senate race, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-District 4) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-District 8) are in close competition.

For many in the Jewish community, policy on Israel is at the forefront of this race. Mikulski is widely considered a friend to and advocate for Israel and the Jewish community, and voters are looking for someone to continue that legacy.

“There are two pro-Israel candidates with decidedly different perspectives on how to go about the peace process,” said Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Don Norris, director of the school of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that while the Senate race is up in the air, he thinks Van Hollen is going to win it.

“I think at the end of the day Van Hollen will pull it out by one or two points,” he said. “He’s not going to win big, but I think he’s going to be the beneficiary of the negative advertising Edwards is engaging in. I think it’s going to backfire on her.”

Nathan Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, said people see a stark contrast between Edwards and Van Hollen on Middle East policy.

“Most people feel Van Hollen will be stronger on continuing the Israel-U.S. relationship,” he said.

Abramson described it as Edwards being more philosophically aligned with J Street and Van Hollen more aligned with AIPAC.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh (File photo)

State Sen. Catherine Pugh (File photo)

The Mayoral Election

Although the city election coincides with the presidential election, Norris still expects low turnout.

“Turnout in the Baltimore City primary election is always low,” he said, “so the expectation is it should be low.”

He said there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to the city by the presidential race and doesn’t believe the senate race is engaging the electorate in the city either, and voter numbers tend to drop off in the races further down on the ballot.

Kasniunas, however, suspects that turnout could be higher for a number of reasons. Nominations in both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries are being contested, voters can register the same day during early voting, and legislation that took effect in March allows 40,000 ex-offenders to vote in this election cycle, 20,000 of which will be eligible to vote in city elections.

She also noted that Hillary Clinton recently campaigned in Baltimore City and John Kasich visited Howard County. GOP frontrunner Donald Trump visited Maryland earlier this week, Ted Cruz campaigned in Towson and Kasich in Annapolis. Bernie Sanders visited Baltimore in December.

The choice really is not competence but the choice is that people have seen Sheila Dixon as mayor and to the extent that they’re looking for something new, it would be Catherine Pugh. Either way, the Jewish community is going to be extremely, I think, safe and is going to be very comfortable.
— Art Abramson, executive director, Baltimore Jewish Council

“I would think anything above 20 percent would be a better-than-
expected turnout for this primary, particularly because in the past, mayoral elections have not coincided with presidential elections,” Kasniunas said.

Pointing to recent polling, experts predict Baltimore’s next mayor will be Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is the state senate majority leader, or Sheila Dixon, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s predecessor who resigned in 2010 after being convicted of a misdemeanor charge of stealing gift cards that were intended for needy city residents.

“[Pugh] is doing a clever job of not dissing Dixon but dissing her by saying ‘move the city forward, not back.’ Everybody understands what that means,” Norris said. “A lot of voters look at Dixon and say ‘no, I can’t do that.’”

Kasniunas added that voters have literally seen Pugh in action during the recent legislative session, which has given her a bit of an edge.

“She has at her fingertips access to a lot of information and data that she quickly turns around when she talks to people,” she said. “That gives people confidence.”

Abramson said he’s known both Pugh and Dixon for more than 25 years. The Jewish community has had a “superb” relationship with both of them, and Abramson has traveled to Israel with both Pugh and Dixon in different capacities.

“The Jewish community looks at one thing: effectiveness. Both of them in their different roles have been very effective,” he said. “The choice really is not competence but the choice is [that] people have seen Sheila Dixon as mayor and to the extent that they’re looking for something new, it would be Catherine. Either way, the Jewish community is going to be extremely, I think, safe and is going to be very comfortable with who the voters choose in the end.”

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon (File photo)

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon (File photo)

Willner said he’s seen some support for Embry and Warnock, and has seen Pugh put some resources into courting his community.

“Overall, I’m beginning to see a real groundswell for Catherine Pugh,” he said. “I’m seeing the community as a whole slowly solidify their support behind her.”

At a recent televised debate, candidates spoke about their plans to bolster city schools, improve police-community relations, drive down crime and bring more jobs and job training to the city.

Dixon has campaigned on the work she did as mayor and the fact that she would not have a learning curve going into office. She has pointed to work she did in health initiatives, minority business programs, engaging neighborhoods and crime, pointing to the gun registry she created. On the police department, she wants to increase foot patrols and update technology.

Pugh has touted her work as a state senator, state delegate, city councilwoman, small business owner and banker. Like Dixon, she would like to undergo a marketing campaign for Baltimore and added that she would like to provide incentives for police officers to move to the city.

Abramson said a major factor on voters’ minds is trying to avoid a situation like last year’s unrest, which depends on having and strong and effective police department working in conjunction with the mayor.

“The second factor is to try to resolve many of the roots of that tragic event, and the Jewish community, certainly the Baltimore Jewish community, has strongly supported the initiatives that have come out of the governor’s offices as well as the legislature.”

But Molly Amster, Baltimore dir-ector for Jews United for Justice, said that little has changed in a year. The CVS in the Penn-North neighborhood that was burned down during the unrest has been rebuilt, but the neighborhood is the same, she said. Other issues are weighing on her mind as well.

“The mayor, in an unbelievable move, has cut after school programming for kids and is entertaining the Port Covington TIF [tax increment financing], which is an unbelievable corporate giveaway at the direct expense of the city,” she said, referring to the possible $535 million in public financing for Under Armour’s mixed-use real estate project in South Baltimore. “So in particular, I will be looking to elect someone who is not going to allow TIFs like the Port Covington deal to go through, will invest in neighborhoods — the ones where we really need to incentivize development — and will include citizens of those neighborhoods in the process.”

From left: Baltimore City Council District 5 candidates Christopher Ervin, Betsy Gardner, Derrick Lennon, Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Sharif Small. Not pictured: Kinji Scott. (Marc Shapiro)

From left: Baltimore City Council District 5 candidates Christopher Ervin, Betsy Gardner, Derrick Lennon, Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Sharif Small. Not pictured: Kinji Scott. (Marc Shapiro)

The Council Race

In the District 5 council race, property tax rates, city services and public safety have been front and center in the discussion.

Schleifer has campaigned on transparency and increasing communication between residents and city hall. In addition to prioritizing public safety, he wants to bring the city up-to-date technologically and thinks property tax rates should be lower. He also wants to make sure each neighborhood gets its share of city services.

“I believe we can do better,” he told a crowd of about 100 at a recent debate.

Gardner, who has been endorsed by Spector, is running on her experience and has highlighted her knowledge of and connections to the inner-workings of the city.

“I know how to get things done. I know who to call,” she said at the same debate.

Schleifer brought the city’s free summer lunch program to the Jewish community for kosher and observant kids for the first time last summer and is involved in organizing his neighborhood’s National Night Out event. He pleaded with Mayor Rawlings-Blake to add more resources to the city’s crime lab, and soon after that conversation, she created 10 new positions there. He was appointed Northwest Liaison under Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee.

In her time at the City Council president’s office, Gardner has worked on Homeland Security grants for synagogues, worked in conjunction with the Baltimore Jewish Council to get security cameras installed on Park Heights Avenue and worked with police districts across the city to ensure synagogues have proper coverage for the High Holidays. She helped Hatzalah of Baltimore get linked into the city’s fire and 911 system, she helped Chabad with its menorah car parade and lighting in the Inner Harbor and helped move the city’s chametz burning to its current location after it outgrew its previous location.

Willner, who sits on the Cheswolde board with Schleifer, said he’s seeing a lot of enthusiasm in the community for the primary election, and sees a lot of support in the community for Schleifer. Local rabbis have information on their websites urging people to vote as a moral obligation, he said.

“I’ve not seen that kind of push in previous elections in the community,” Willner said. He’s even noticed a number of people changing their party affiliations from Republican to Democrat to vote in various primary races, notably the council and senate races.

Sauer said he’s seeing less engagement and more apathy in the Cross Country Neighborhood. He attributes this to a number of factors: the lack of favorable presidential candidates, the primary election being on Passover when a lot of people will be out of town and the fact that Maryland’s primary is late in the season and the state doesn’t have a large number of delegates.

“[People] don’t realize what’s at stake with the local election. They don’t understand the value or the necessity or the urgency to go and vote,” he said, adding that he feels the council race is of utmost importance.

He said among those who are engaged in the council race, he thinks people will have a tough choice between Gardner and Schleifer.

“I do see very strong support for both. Betsy has done an enormous amount in our neighborhood, that which [people] know and that which they don’t know,” he said. “Yitzy has done a great job but has very little experience working with people in the political system. He’s a novice, he’s young, he’s brash but that may help allow him to usher in his agenda. … He has a lot of friends in the area.”

As Willner sees it, a lot of these races boil down to a single issue.

“I think the number one issue in the Jewish community is safety and security and that is something that is of critical importance in the mayor’s race and in the city council race,” he said.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Matzoh Ball Mashup Whether Floaters or Sinkers, This Menu Item Is Sure to Bring Families Together

Matzoh Ball Mashup

Last week, the JT staff explored some contemporary meanings of the Passover story in its “Four Questions” cover story. This week, we delve into the festive meal, having diligently researched the one menu item that typically sets the tone for the rest of the repast.

Family debates may rage over the decision to serve chicken or brisket, but when it comes to tradition, everyone agrees you can’t have visions of Passover without chicken matzoh ball soup.

Yes, we agree that ultimately homemade is best. But with no steaming bowl of bubbie’s readily available, we pondered other options and decided upon eight local eateries. Why eight, you ask? Why, one for each day of course. So with nearly a century of discerning matzoh ball soup expertise among us, the JT staff sipped, supped and slurped our way through our research in anticipation of the Passover observance.

You’ll read from our survey (not a competition — What? Are we crazy?!) that the staff dutifully dug into our analysis, and the results invoked blissful praises such as “love at first taste,” “all the bells and whistles” you could hope for in a soup and “tip-the-bowl-back good.” Yes, it’s hard work, but someone had to do it.

So, is it firm or fluffy? (Pesachdik) noodles or no? What’s your perfect soup-to-matzoh-ball ratio? Let us know your personal predilections, traditions and experiments (or better yet, your secrets!) for the best chicken matzoh ball soup experience. (Obviously, with apologies to the non-gebrokts crowd.) Chag kasher sameach to you and your family.

 

Lenny’s Deli: Perfect Middle Ground

Given Lenny’s Deli’s history of more than 30 years in the Baltimore area, I was sure the matzoh ball soup would measure up.

Now, I come from the school of chopping up the matzoh ball into bite-sized pieces. This way, the matzoh ball soaks up the broth, and you can get a spoonful of soup, matzoh ball and, in the case of Lenny’s, carrots and noodles too.

The wide, flat noodles add some defining texture and the carrots more hearty flavor. The broth was not too salty — too much would be a definite deal-breaker for me. The carrots and noodles definitely add to the overall experience and give the soup pizazz.

“Oh, I got a piece of chicken! That was good,” my colleague, Daniel Schere, professed as we sampled the soup. Little chunks of chicken are always a nice surprise.

The matzoh ball itself was firm — not too mushy and not too hard. If you’re dining with a group divided on matzoh ball consistency, Lenny’s offers the perfect middle ground.

As JT photographer David Stuck so aptly put it, the soup was “very pleasing on the taste buds.” My taste buds too were pleased.

— Marc Shapiro

Suburban House: Substantive Texture and Taste

The first thing I noticed was that the broth was perfectly salted, which was wonderfully welcome. I mean, who wants to feel thirsty after consuming a liquid?

Then I noticed this matzoh ball has some gravitas to it. Contrary to some of the other melt-in-your-mouth light, airy matzoh balls — which all have their place — Suburban House’s matzoh ball has a firmer, coarser, more substantive texture and tastes very true to — believe it or not — matzoh.

As with most matzoh balls, it gets softer the more it soaks up the soup, but this ball holds its own when you take a big bite and reveal the insides.

“It’s a good texture,” colleague Justin Katz said. “It’s more like a meaty texture.”

For those who like variety in their soup, Suburban House offers the addition of curly noodles, which really do practically melt in your mouth, and tender carrots that add extra flavor.

The unsalty broth (again, a big plus in my book) wasn’t overwhelmingly chicken flavored, which allowed the taste and texture of the matzoh ball to be forefront in the experience.

When I let my Facebook friends know the Jewish Times would be tasting matzoh ball soups from around town, as a hometown boy I got a number of responses, and many said it was essential to include their favorite, Suburban House. And with such a unique matzoh ball with such character, I can see why.

— Marc Shapiro

Attman’s Deli: The Complete Package

I definitely went into this round of tasting with high hopes, since this soup was from Attman’s, a legendary Baltimore institution.

What I experienced not only surpassed my expectations, but it kind of blew my mind.

As I was serving up bowls for myself and Justin Katz, I exclaimed with delight and surprise: “Ooh! There’s these big, thick ‘home-style chicken noodle’ noodles in it.” As an Attman’s employee later told me, their house-made noodles — which I’d guess were almost 1/8-inch thick and an inch-and-a-half long — are designed just so, because thinner noodles tend to disintegrate when soup sits in a hot pot too long.

“That is a significant noodle,” Justin concurred.

As we continued our foray into this mouthwatering adventure, we realized how much thought was put into not just the broth and the matzoh ball, but also the whole package. The sizable pieces of chicken were cooked with added flavor, not just thrown into the soup. The carrots and celery were bite-size but thick enough to really be tasted.

And the broth! It was flavorful with a light film of actual chicken fat and a hint of herbs. The fluffy soup-soaked matzoh ball acted as a vehicle for the tasty combination of flavors.

“The inside of the matzoh ball looks like the moon with craters,” Justin said upon close inspection. My esteemed colleague brings up a good point about matzoh balls — what’s not there can be almost as important as what is there. The “craters” add to the matzoh ball’s fluffiness and give it a soup-infused sponge-like consistency.

This well-thought out recipe made this soup the complete package.

— Marc Shapiro

Miller’s Deli: A Hardy Meal

With three locations throughout Baltimore, Miller’s Deli certainly aims to satisfy as much of the Baltimore Jewish community as it has the manpower for, and satisfying is a great word to describe its matzoh balls too.

One of my favorite childhood memories during Passover was cutting into my matzoh balls so I could get a nice chunk with every spoonful of soup. Miller’s offers a firm, hearty matzoh ball that feels like it could quell the largest of appetites.

“It feels like they took two matzoh balls and compressed them together,” said fellow reporter Marc Shapiro. “You could have a meal out of this soup.”

He added that it tastes “eggier,” and colleague Daniel Schere agreed.

Firm and dense, or as JT photographer David Stuck put it: “It’s like snow compacted on your driveway,” and in a positive sense.

Stuck also particularly enjoyed Miller’s noodles, scooping as many as he could onto his spoon before eagerly digging in.

Aside from the matzoh ball itself, the broth favors the savory side over the sweet, so those who enjoy this style would do well with choosing Miller’s.

— Justin Katz

Gourmet Again: Tip-the-Bowl-BacK Goodness

Gourmet Again lives up to its name when it serves matzoh ball soup. And as Marc Shapiro put it, “It was “tip-the-bowl-back good.”

The presentation is wholly more colorful than my grandma’s matzoh ball soup ever was, which focused on the simplicity of a strong chicken broth and a rich matzoh ball. Alternatively, for those who enjoy pleasing the visual sense during a meal, Gourmet Again is quite the looker.

The matzoh ball presents a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth exterior while remaining firm and nicely textured on the inside.

But the greatest strength of Gourmet Again’s matzoh ball soup is how it brings together a medley of small strips of chicken, finely diced onions, chopped carrots and bits of celery resulting in an explosive hearty broth, with just the right amount of salt.

All in all, this matzoh ball soup has all the bells and whistles one could hope for.

And as managing editor Melissa Gerr pointed out, I literally “tipped the bowl back” to get those last delicious drops.

— Justin Katz

Dougie’s: Tongue-Tickling Good

If one were to describe the gestalt of Dougie’s matzoh ball soup, there could be a lot of descriptors, but the JT’s social media guru, Esther Apt, put it best.

“It tastes like the matzoh balls from my childhood.”

This is an “apt” description for the simple but flavorful soup that conjures memories of reclining around the Passover table with relatives, young and old.

With a flavor-forward broth, evenly tempered matzoh ball and spaghetti-like noodles, the simplicity of the soup reminds me of what my grandma served when we were young. (And what Jewish adults don’t enjoy reminiscing about their loving Jewish grandmothers? I always have.)

The matzoh ball itself has a smooth exterior and expresses a middle-of-the-road texture and consistency that allows anyone to sit down and enjoy a bowl, regardless of preferences. It also complements the flavor of the broth, which colleague Marc Shapiro describes as “tongue-tickling good.”

— Justin Katz

Steve’s Deli: Sweeter and Softer

Conveniently located for us just around the corner from the JT office in Owings Mills, Steve’s Deli is a common lunch destination for me. But up until recently I hadn’t sampled their take on matzoh ball soup. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down with a bowl and experienced a sweeter and softer version of the Jewish delicacy we all cherish.

After my first few spoonfuls, I detected character within the broth that had a sweet kiss to it, which complemented the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the matzoh ball.

“It’s easy to get on the spoon,” said fellow soup connoisseur Marc Shapiro as he dug into the delectable orb. “You don’t have to fight too much for it.”

Steve’s also offers linguini-thin noodles to complement the matzoh ball, and that will give you something else to get excited about. You’ll need to self-police your noodle intake in order to ensure that the proper noodle-to-matzoh-ball-to-broth ratio is achieved, however.

“I love the pile of noodles when you finish the bowl,” enthused colleague Justin Katz.

Steve’s recipe includes tiny chicken chunks hidden throughout that add a bit of gravitas to what is an otherwise romantic broth that goes down smoothly. The soup’s warm white florescence and easygoing personality make it the big brother or big sister you never had. If ever there was a need for comfort soup, Steve’s has the answer.

— Daniel Schere

Accents grill: Traditional and Delicious

For a traditional and delicious matzoh ball soup, Accents Grill is the place to go, and tasting Accents’ soup was love at first taste for me.

The recipe features Accents’ firm, thick matzoh ball, which transforms the soup from an appetizer into a main course and actually leaves you feeling full but not stuffed. It’s accompanied by carrots and legit-sized pieces of chicken that are emblematic of the diversity of ingredients we so expect in a good soup. There is absolutely no shortage of flavor with all of those lovely culinary components.

“This is the bomb,” JT photographer David Stuck proclaimed emphatically upon taking his first sips. Stuck said the soup “tickled his taste buds.”

Additional rave reviews came from Marc Shapiro, who added that the vegetables make it “more soupy,” and circulation coordinator Rochel Ziman said that the soup is strong enough to stand on its own with “no noodles necessary.”

The broth contains the right amount of salt to maintain the authentic Ashkenazi flavor of matzoh ball soup without going overboard. It’s no wonder Esau elected to consume a bowl of soup in exchange for his brother receiving their father’s birthright.

Accents’ soup is the gold standard when it comes to maintaining the proper balance between matzoh ball, chicken and vegetables. This recipe has both the look and personality of a great soup. You can take it out on a date and even take it home to your mother.

— Daniel Schere

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com; jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com; dschere@midatlanticmedia.com; mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Cardin, Ruppersberger Talk Defense, Iran with Netanyahu

Sen. Ben Cardin (left) and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger recently met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Middle East diplomats. (File photos)

Sen. Ben Cardin (left) and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger recently met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Middle East diplomats. (File photos)

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger recently met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss Iran, defense and the U.S.- Israel relationship moving forward.

Cardin and three other senators visited Israel, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to gauge the climate in the region and alliances with the United States after the passage of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

“It was an encouraging visit,” said Cardin, who went on the trip in his capacity as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Cardin was joined by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on the trip, which lasted from March 18 to 26. The senators were in Israel from March 22 to 25.

Ruppersberger traveled from March 28 to April 3 in his capacity as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, in which he sits on the Defense Subcommittee and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee. His trip included stops at naval bases in Bahrain and Spain, as well as visits to the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Israel.

Cardin and the other senators met with leaders of Qatar; King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince and deputy crown prince; chief Palestinian negotiator/Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Dr. Saeb Erekat; and Israeli leaders including Netanyahu.

“The attitude in Qatar and Saudi Arabia toward the Middle East and Israel [is that] they see Israel as a country that shares their same objective to prevent Iran from influencing their regional partners,” Cardin said. He added that the Saudis and Israelis are both concerned about the situation in Yemen as well.

Ruppersberger spoke about this commonality with Netanyahu, with whom he also discussed U.S. support of Israel’s defense capabilities.

“Israel and those countries have the same common enemies, and if there’s ever a time to pull those counties together … to fight ISIS and to fight Iran and to stand up to them [this is that time],” he said. “I pointed that out to Netanyahu and he said ‘look we’re willing to talk all times but I think you’re going to have issues with the other side because they refuse to acknowledge [Israel’s existence].’”

Ruppersberger said he has spoken to the White House about this issue.

On his meeting with Netanyahu, Cardin said the prime minster is committed to signing a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with President Barack Obama on the United States’ defense assistance to Israel. The current MOU, which expires in 2018, provides about $3 billion in defense assistance to Israel annually.

“[Netanyahu] remains very concerned about Iran’s influence in the region,” Cardin said, adding that the prime minister is concerned about Iran’s support of Hezbollah as well as its impact on what’s happening in Lebanon and Syria.

Ruppersberger assured Netanyahu there are sanctions that are not connected to the JCPOA that could be reauthorized if Iran continues “exporting terrorism,” he said.

Cardin also spoke with Netanyahu about the peace process with Palestinians: “He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, but he regretted the climate was not conducive for moving forward,” Cardin said.

They also spoke about the egalitarian portion of the Western Wall.

“We want to go forward with this, make this a permanent site where men and women can pray together,” Cardin said. “I think the prime minister understands the importance of moving forward with it, so I think he is looking for a way to do this … in a way that’s not confrontational with his coalition.”

While in Israel, the senators also visited Palestinian forces that are being trained by the international community, saw the technology used to discover Hamas’ tunnels and visited the Iron Dome facility, which Cardin found quite impressive.

“These young Israelis are 22 years old and are making decisions on whether to intercept incoming missiles or not,” he said.

Ruppersberger also visited the Iron Dome as well as David’s Sling and Arrow 3, Israel’s other missile defense systems.

Cardin noticed it was quieter in Israel, considering that it was the week of Easter and tourists should have been out in full force. There were places he couldn’t drive to, there were sections of the Old City the embassy told the senators not to visit, and the shops in the Old City weren’t as crowded as they usually are.

“I’m not sure we totally appreciate the constant terrorist activities in Israel. … It was not generally crowded,” Cardin said. “You don’t see as many people out. People are staying a bit more conservative.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Mercaz Celebrates New Building

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Green Meadow Parkway was packed with hundreds celebrating Mercaz Torah U’Tefilla’s new building and Torah on April 10. (photo by Marc Shapiro)

Hundreds marched and danced down Green Meadow Parkway in the late afternoon on Sunday, singing and dancing around the newly inscribed Torah as a band played and sang celebratory songs.

It was the chanukas habayis (housewarming or home dedication) and hachnasas sefer Torah (inauguration of a Torah scroll) for Mercaz Torah U’Tefilla, a Chasidic congregation located on the corner of Green Meadow Parkway and Baythorne Road.

As Gabbi Aaron Friedman, a founding member of the congregation, said: “Within a few days of the synagogue opening five years ago, it was apparent we were going to need bigger facilities.”

The congregation started about five-and-a-half years ago, when Rabbi Yissochor Dov Eichenstein moved to Baltimore from Israel. He’s a Chicago native and son of the Zidichover Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel Eichenstein.

“He’s infusing some of the younger individuals within the community — some of the young lay leaders — with a sense of energy and warmth in their Judaism,” Friedman said, “and he’s somebody that cares about each and every individual no matter what their background is.”

The new facility is going to allow the rabbi to fulfill his mission of building a tent within the community that is going to house more Torah, tefillah and chesed.

— Gabbi Aaron Friedman, Mercaz Torah U’Tefilla

Friedman said the shul consists of a few hundred families, many of which are younger families who recently settled in the Ranchleigh neighborhood.

Even neighbors have taken notice of the new synagogue. Shalom Addi, who was in attendance on Sunday, said his son is a member.

“It’s a very warm place, very welcoming place,” he said. “The rabbi, he’s very much involved with each individual and each family. A lot of people are drawn to it.”

Friedman said the rabbi’s “different approach” is what attracts members.

“It’s wide-open. Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s given an opportunity to feel welcome,” he said.

The synagogue offers minyanim throughout the day, multiple kolels (study groups) and seven different daf yomi (Talmud study classes) each day. The rabbi also studies one-on-one with congregants, Friedman said.

The rabbi’s wife, Reizal, who is the daughter of a Montreal rabbi, has an equally welcoming spirit. Friedman said the women of the congregation look up to her, and having grown up in a rabbinical family, she understands the needs of different community members.

Funds for the multimillion-dollar building were raised mostly over the course of the last two years, with efforts being spearheaded by the rabbi, co-presidents Nechemia Weinreb and Dovid Charnowitz and building committee chairmen Aryeh Gross, Marc Loeb and Yaakov “Yanky” Stanton.

Following the procession through the streets on Sunday, as well as speeches and blessings in front of the new building by prominent rabbis including Baltimore’s Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, a banquet was held. The men’s banquet had 300 in attendance, 250 women celebrated inside the new building, and there were activities for almost 300 children.

“It was a monumental day for us. It was a day a lot of dreams are coming to fruition. A lot of pride, a lot of excitement,” Friedman said. “The new facility is going to allow the rabbi to fulfill his mission of building a tent within the community that is going to house more Torah, tefillah and chesed.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Blumberg Turns Survival into Advocacy

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Edel Blumberg (center), founder of colon cancer awareness organization Semi-Colon Club, with his daughters Samantha (left) and Alison. (Provided)

After a lengthy battle with colon cancer, Edel Blumberg, a “two-and-a-half” time survivor, took ownership of his illness by founding the Semi-Colon Club to raise awareness of the disease and its preventability.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis — both forms of irritable bowel disease that are often precursors to colon cancer — by age 15, Blumberg said that he was initially afraid of and embarrassed by his condition, and didn’t take the necessary measures to prevent the advancement of the disease.

So, when he was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago, it was not a huge shock to him.

“It’s always a shock to hear ‘cancer,’ but it seemed like kind of the natural progression if you’re living with irritable bowel disease and you don’t take care of yourself,” he said.

After his first experience with cancer, Blumberg, now 58, was what he would call “OK” for three years before his second, more frightening diagnosis: Stage IV cancer with a 6 to 9 percent chance of survival.

His latest bout with cancer was two years ago, after he thought he had finally beaten it, when doctors warned that if he did not have his colon removed, he would face cancer a third time.

Even after such a long, exhausting battle, Blumberg never let his diagnosis define him; instead, he founded the Semi-Colon Club to “get the word out about colon cancer,” as the website says, and face the disease head-on, rather than succumb to it.

“I decided that I wanted to do something other than just be a victim of cancer. I wanted to be an advocate, and get the awareness out there,” he said. “It’s been a journey, and the essence of my organization is to not have my story become somebody else’s story.”

In the eight years since Blumberg came up with the idea for the Semi-Colon Club, the organization has hosted six Semi-Colon Crawls, its annual 5K walk, which has grown from the approximately 100 people who attended the first event. This year, Blumberg expects about 300.

Funds from the event are donated to causes such as colon cancer research, Hopewell Cancer Support and Johns Hopkins Hospital, among other organizations and efforts.

However, “the goal isn’t raising money, but raising awareness, raising education, outreach, getting people to tell other people,” Blumberg said. “No dollar amount will ever be able to replace the sole satisfaction you have of knowing, ‘Wow, I made a difference.’”

I decided that I wanted to do something other than just be a victim of cancer. I wanted to be an advocate, and get the awareness out there. It’s been a journey, and the essence of my organization is to not have my story become somebody else’s story.
— Edel Blumberg

 

Blumberg believes that his organization and his story have motivated people to take the right steps in dealing with and preventing colon cancer. But beyond that, Blumberg is a role model to the community and to anyone fortunate enough to have spent time with him.

“Most people that talk to me aren’t even interested in the colon cancer. That’s a facet of it, but it’s more that I’m a survivor, and they want to hear my story so that they can have some hope and so that they can be encouraged to keep the good fight up,” he said.

Chuck Krengel, who has spent five years on the executive board of the Semi-Colon Club, calls his close friend Blumberg an inspiration.

“I’ve had colon cancer in my family, but the primary reason why I got involved is because of Edel’s story,” Krengel said. “I believe that Edel is responsible for saving lives, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Along with Blumberg, Krengel is committed to spreading awareness about colon cancer.

“Colon cancer is so preventable. It is vital that people understand that a colonoscopy can save a life,” he said.

“You can’t just put your head in the sand [about colon cancer],” said Blumberg, “I, like anybody else when you’re young, thought ‘not me.’ You know, you think you’re invincible, you’re immortal.”

Blumberg’s advice to people currently struggling with colon cancer is to “seek help, read up, talk to people and get involved in support groups like our organization that can provide some insight,” he said.

This year’s Semi-Colon Crawl is at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 17 at the Owings Mills High School track. Register or donate at semicolonclub.org.

Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.