On the Watch for Child Sexual Abuse

jcw

(istockphoto.com/baona)

The packed room sat silent at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation last weekend, as about 150 people watched a 15-minute video of several adult survivors recounting their stories of childhood sexual abuse that happened within their Orthodox Jewish communities — committed by camp counselors, rabbis and other authority figures — some of which lasted over years.

The video was produced and presented by the New York-based Jewish Community Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to combatting and exposing child sexual abuse in the Jewish community and to help its victims become survivors. One of the tactics the organization is known for is its Wall of Shame, a page on its website that identifies alleged and convicted child abusers by name, photograph and address. Some are categorized as being “exposed by JCW” without any notation of being charged, arrested or convicted.

Rivka Joseph, from Cleveland, who said she was sexually abused over 10 years from age 11 to 21 by a family member, told the audience she was able to heal and move on with her life with the support of JCW. Joseph’s family didn’t believe her claims; when confronted with the information, her rabbi, she said, asked her, “If it happened so long ago, why not just get over it? Why do you need to punish your [abuser]?”

The family member was offered counseling from JCW but refused it, she said, adding that she does not have support from her family.

“I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t,” Joseph said. “But you will get better.”

We have a problem folks, and I’m here today to ask you to acknowledge the problem. How many cases are reported from the Jewish community? I can’t think of one. You’re not immune. … I’m asking you to help me protect your children. … That reporting system starts with you.       

— Moe Greenberg, detective, Baltimore County child abuse unit

Rabbi Elie Ganz, speaking that night on behalf of JCW, said that two out of three calls JCW receives involve incest-related abuses. He added that the organization’s 11 full-time staff members, which include researchers, advocates and legal counsel, have received between 20 to 30 calls from the Baltimore area in recent months and that four cases are currently under investigation that involve Baltimore residents.

Baltimore County Police officer Moe Greenberg, a detective with the force’s child abuse unit, spoke to the prevalence of child abuse in the area at large. He said that in Baltimore County, there were 277 child sexual abuse cases investigated in 2014. That number jumped to 317 cases last year, and the number is on par in 2016 to again exceed previous years.

Greenberg said the event was the first time he was invited to speak to the Jewish community and added, “There is no socioeconomic, racial, religious, ethnic or professional group that is immune to child sexual abuse.” He said that though it’s common to teach children of “stranger danger,” most offenders know their victims and target multiple victims.

“We have a problem folks, and I’m here today to ask you to acknowledge the problem,” said Greenberg. “How many cases are reported from the Jewish community? I can’t think of one. You’re not immune. … I’m asking you to help me protect your children. … That reporting system starts with you.”

Ganz made a point of highlighting the lack of rabbinical presence in the audience and was in the middle of explaining that in other cities, a local rabbi typically speaks about the halachic issues involved in JCW’s work when an audience member gently interrupted him.

“Please don’t impugn Baltimore,” he said.

“I have not done that yet,” responded Ganz, who went on to present what he said were halachic concerns the Orthodox community might have about JCW’s methods in identifying and exposing alleged abusers.

“This is the beginning of the conversation,” Ganz said. “You take these ideas and you ask your local rabbi what they think about it.”

Ganz called out a common concern, the concept of mesirah, literally “informing,” and a moseir, “one who hands over another Jew” to the authorities. He maintained that JCW is not a witch hunt and offers abusers access to treatment. One of the organization’s members later said JCW has a monthly therapy bill that runs between $30,000 and $40,000.

“It hurts to put another Jew in jail,” said JCW’s founder and director of victim advocacy, Meyer Seewald, the final speaker of the evening. “But we have no choice. It hurts to expose another person on the Wall of Shame. Families are being destroyed, but we have no choice. … There is no excuse for abusing a child. … The days of sweeping this under the rug are over.”

His comments were met with loud applause.

Attendee Lisa, who chose to withhold her last name, agreed with those sentiments and added she was “ashamed” no leaders of the local Jewish community were in attendance. Her friend, who asked to remain anonymous, said she knows three people, one from Baltimore, who were sexually abused as children.

“It’s shocking and scary, and people need to step up,” she said.

At one point Seewald referenced a dispute between JCW and the Baltimore-based Shoresh that erupted last month about an alleged incident last year between a former Camp Shoresh employee and a camper at the organization’s Frederick facility. According to a Shoresh email, posted on JCW’s website, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Child Protective Services concluded after an investigation that no charges were warranted and closed the case.

Although Seewald didn’t mention Shoresh by name at the event — he later confirmed by phone that he was talking about the Baltimore organization — Seewald charged that it didn’t go far enough in its handling of the matter, even though the organization reported the allegations to county authorities. He seemed to intimate that JCW should have been a part of the investigation.

“If at the end he is guilty, every single person will know about it,” Seewald said. “If he’s innocent, we’ll make sure everyone knows that he’s innocent.”

Shoresh considers the case closed.

“For 37 years, Shoresh has always protected children and continues to do so in this case,” said director Rabbi David Finkelstein. “We feel that the courts have taken care of this case.”

Frequently gripping the sides of the podium during his impassioned delivery, Seewald, himself a survivor of child sexual abuse, lamented that in Baltimore’s community of about 100,000 Jews, there were less than 10 Jewish names on the public sex offenders list when he checked it. He thought it should be larger, citing the prevalence of sexual abuse nationally, although he didn’t compare Baltimore’s Jewish community with other American Jewish communities.

“Incest is unfortunately the least talked about form of child sexual abuse. And in our community, unfortunately, very common,” he said. “We know about a well-known case of incest and the way it was handled in the Baltimore community … and want to apologize … on behalf of the Baltimore community … that your community tormented you, they brought you shame, they didn’t believe you, they re-victimized you.”

Seewald urged attendees to take proactive measures, pointing out a guidebook placed on each chair that detailed warning signs to heed, support for victims who come forward and ways to help spread awareness of the issue.

“We are ready to talk,” he said in a message to unnamed community leaders. “Those who wish to continue to hide our dirty little secret … we’ll catch up with you. How do you want to look in that spotlight, centered on you, on your home, on your community, on your town and on your village?”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Four Questions Notions of Passover through a contemporary lens

coverRotatorThemes of oppression, affliction, soul-searching and liberation hold great importance in the Passover story, one that recounts the Jewish people’s escape from bondage, their exodus from Egypt and their eventual freedom.

As we prepare to revisit and recount that story of Passover — a time during which, among many observances, we’re encouraged to question the present and learn from the past — the JT staff crafted four questions that delve into some contemporary implications of the holiday.

 

(Abstract technology:©iStockphoto.com/KrulUA)

(©iStockphoto.com/KrulUA)

How does OPPRESSION manifest itself today?

At first blush, one might think it’s humans who are slaves to our electronic devices, whether by constantly checking email on a phone, updating a Facebook status or sending a text.

Amy Webb, author, futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, which researches emerging technologies for companies and organizations around the world, claims just the opposite is true. And that truth comes with a warning.

“There is no question. We are the masters and the devices are our slaves. But you can’t have that conversation without having some context and also talk about artificial intelligence,” she said, citing “smart houses” with programmable lights, thermostats, dishwashers, coffeemakers and more. In some cases, “this is technology that we’ve humanized [even in] the way that it looks and responds to us and even the names we’ve given it.”

For a ubiquitous example, think Siri — the friendly voice that responds to requests when spoken into an iPhone.

“A lot of the newer technologies have artificial intelligence, and we’re training the AI as we use it,” Webb explained. “[Devices] must have huge data sets and be in use in order for them to learn” and serve more accurately and efficiently.

Case in point, Webb said, is Amazon’s Echo, also called Alexa, a speech-recognition driven module that can be commanded to play music, retrieve weather reports, read audiobooks and even provide a sports score. Alexa, according to its description, is “always getting smarter and adding new features and skills — over 100 added since its launch, including [calling upon] Domino’s Pizza and Uber.”

But the outcome of Microsoft’s recently released chat bot named Tay, a computer program designed to simulate conversation with humans, especially over the internet, is where the warning comes in.

“It took less than [24] hours for the chat bot to start making incredibly anti-Semitic (and racist and sexist) remarks and saying things about Hitler,” said Webb. “It was because these bots are programmed to [repeat and] respond to us. And as it turns out, humans can be pretty horrible teachers. We can say some pretty horrible things.”

Tay has since been silenced.

“The challenge is when the algorithms a machine is learning uses that data and incorporates it into its overall learning,” Webb said, who employs technology, including a telepresence robot (a screen on wheels that can be controlled remotely to allow interaction with humans) to streamline her life.

“The truly terrifying thing is that as our devices become smarter and more capable of servicing our needs, they will necessarily have to start making decisions without us, supposedly in our best interests,” she said. “But what happens when the machines decide we’re not treating them well? Suddenly — and I’m not exaggerating when I say this — you could many years from now be facing a crisis that really is of the proportions that were described in the Bible.”

— Melissa Gerr

(©iStockphoto.com/borisz)

(©iStockphoto.com/borisz)

What PLAGUES the Jewish community?

The Jewish people are a demonstrably resilient group, in part due to  overcoming such obstacles as oppression in  ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany.

But there are still challenges that both the Baltimore Jewish community and Jews around the world must work to overcome on a daily basis.

“We must never forget the Holocaust and what happened to us,” said Arthur Abramson,  departing executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “But our strength lies in what we are now, not what we were then.”

Abramson said victimization is one of a handful of issues plaguing the Jewish community. He emphasized that Jews and the State of Israel are not the same as they were 10, 15 or 50 years ago. To the extent that “we try to fall back on that [mentality], it diminishes our effectiveness” when trying to overcome problems.

In a similar vein, he said the Jewish experience should teach us how crucial it is to stand up for “the other.”

“We are often forgetting where we come from,” said Abramson. “We must very clearly be involved when Muslims are attacked and other groups are attacked. We cannot afford to simply ignore it when it’s someone else.”

Ashley Pressman, executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection, is concerned about a trend toward isolation among senior citizens in Baltimore’s Jewish community. It’s a problem that happens gradually, she said, and isn’t always obvious. She added it requires proactive responses to prevent it from happening.

Pressman also cited “indifference” as a current societal problem.

“We’re so busy with our own lives and the stimuli that we get that we no longer see the other,” she said. “[It’s important] for each of us to recognize our neighbors and see our neighbors in all of their complexity and nuance, not just [think it’s] us and them.”

Though not solely a Jewish or Baltimore issue, Pressman said that “the world as a whole benefits when people come into conversation with each other.”

— Justin Katz

 

(Ebony Brown)

(Ebony Brown)

What are you SEARCHING for?

Jewish teenagers who consider themselves “too old” for the custom of the afikomen hunt find themselves searching for something much deeper as they transition into the next chapter of their lives.

“As a Jewish teenager,” said Lea Glazer, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, “I am searching for my role in Jewish society … for my own personal way to impact the world at large … for what I was meant to do and [for] how to use everything I’ve learned from my Jewish education to better the world.”

Referencing tikkun olam, repairing the world, Glazer also expressed her hope of “finding a way to personally fulfill this mitzvah and to make a difference in the world, no matter how large or small it is.”

Whereas Glazer aspires to find her place in Jewish society, Mia Kaufman, a Franklin High School senior and an active member of United Synagogue Youth, strives to become more globally aware.

“I am searching for a greater connection with people that are not just in the Baltimore area,” she said. “Being involved in many Jewish organizations such as USY has helped me to do just that and has given me those connections around the world.”

During Kaufman’s quest to understand the global community, she encountered some opposition to her viewpoints that have exposed her to the world outside the Jewish Baltimore bubble.

“I often run into news about Israel, which hits closer to home as a Jew,” she said. “I am constantly hit with the reality that the global community is not as big of an Israel fanatic as I am.”

Though Glazer and Kaufman are currently involved in the Jewish community, as graduation approaches, both students have begun to consider how they will continue their search without built-in Judaism being a “given.”

“When I go to college next year, I will be faced with the challenge of maintaining my Judaism in a new, diverse environment,” Glazer said. “I will have to actively seek out events and organizations that will allow me to stay connected with my religion.”

Glazer also plans to do this by participating in the University of Maryland College Park’s Hillel, joining a pro-Israel club on campus and visiting Israel on a Birthright trip.

Kaufman, who will attend the University of Maryland, College Park, plans to be involved with organized Jewish activities on campus and also hopes “to live in Israel for an extended period of time and definitely do some form of Israel advocacy, working or volunteering” throughout life.

— Meital Abraham

 

(©iStockphoto.com/matsiash)

(©iStockphoto.com/matsiash)

What does liberation mean?

For Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue, the idea of exodus or liberation in 2016 is a more universal concept rather than one focused on the individual. “The community silos we [keep ourselves] in are all interconnected,” he argued, citing the late Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

“Rather than tell the tale about our particular success vis-à-vis other people, winners and losers, us versus them, friends and enemies, I think we’re all caught in the systemic oppressions,” he explained.

He looks at recent events as examples, locally and globally, in how the situation in Syria affected Brussels and the world at large and how what happens in Baltimore City affects the suburbs.

There’s a debate in the Talmud, Basik said, about the Ten Plagues, where some rabbis say there were 50 or even 200 to “really stick it” to the Egyptians.

“[But] our joy is diminished because Egyptians were suffering, so you [take] the drop out of your wine glass. So these [concepts] represent these two polarities with human beings, the personal versus the public,” he said. “So the ‘pour out thy wrath upon thine enemies’ at the end of the seder is not a message for today. It’s more, I think, about universal healing as opposed to one people’s liberation alone.”

For Nancy Aiken, executive director of CHANA, the universality of the Passover story hits home with what her clients go through. The organization offers support for victims of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.

After the Israelites leave Egypt — and are free from slavery — they actually consider going back because of uncertainty about the future. Similarly, some of CHANA’s clients consider returning — and some do — to awful, sometimes life-threatening situations because of fears and ambiguity associated with the future.

“The story of Exodus really teaches us that it’s almost normal, it’s natural to consider an awful situation as an alternative because at least you knew it, it was familiar. … When you leave and go forward, you’re scared,” she said. “The Israelites kept going because God gave them manna and took care of the hunger at least. I’d like to say CHANA is that manna.”

She said the story also speaks to the emotional, not just the physical, side of enslavement and abuse in that the Israelites went on their journey even when it meant food and water might be scarce and shelter wouldn’t be ideal.

“Sometimes our clients, like the Israelites, their exodus is to get away from the emotional, psychological abuse even if it means they’re going to be homeless or hungry or unsettled for a while,” she said. “They willingly accept those challenges in order to have emotional, spiritual, psychological peace of mind.”

— Marc Shapiro

 

These are just a few interpretations of contemporary themes, of course. And since questioning, discussion and debate are so integral to our Passover observance and who we are as Jews, please let us know what subjects arise during the conversations around your seder table.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com, mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com, mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Sol Schwartz Remembered as Inspirational, Selfless

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

At 46, Sol Richard Schwartz of Reisterstown had everything to live for. Married for 22 years to Ilene Legum Schwartz, they had two children and a loving extended family, countless friends and admirers and a career in which he excelled. By all accounts he was the definition of the word “mensch.”

His sudden death from a massive heart attack on March 16 is a tremendous loss to his family, friends and the community.

A Baltimore native, Sol Schwartz was the son of Judith and the late Herman Schwartz and the brother of Dr. Steven Schwartz and Cynthia Schwartz. He was a Pikesville High School graduate and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

When he was 20 years old, Schwartz met his future wife, and they were married at Beth Tfiloh Congregation four years later. In the early days of their marriage, Ilene Schwartz pursued a master’s degree in early childhood education — she now teaches 3- and 4-year-olds at Franklin Elementary School — and Sol Schwartz began working at Holabird Sports in Dundalk, which became his career.

Their daughter Dori, 17, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School, was a “daddy’s girl,” Ilene said, adding, “They [had] such a special relationship. It’s almost like they share the same soul, and she has his blue eyes. Sol always encouraged her in sports, [and] he taught her to drive. I was worried [about her driving], but because Sol said she’d be fine, I knew she would be.”

At the funeral, attended by nearly 800 mourners, Evan, 15, honored his father with a speech that shared all he loved about him.

“My dad cared about everyone else before him. … I’m sure every single person here could tell a story about his selflessness,” Evan said. “My dad was the kind of person that you just felt knew the answer to any question. He was the smartest and funniest guy I knew. He was by far the greatest man I ever knew, a blessing to this world — a blessing to all who associated with him.”

Evan’s speech also mentioned his father’s talent for cooking, his penchant for Greek salads with extra feta cheese and his love of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Aside from beloved family and friends, tennis — especially college tennis — was Schwartz’s other passion. He worked tirelessly to keep college tennis programs alive. In addition to managing Holabird and having a sixth sense about which tennis shoes were perfect for each player, Schwartz taught tennis and was a volunteer coach at UMBC, where he worked with head coach Ron Hubbard.

When the two met, Hubbard was competing on the pro tennis tour, and Schwartz was a 9-year-old “hanging out at the club trying to get someone to hit tennis balls with him,” Hubbard recalled. “I had just finished [a tournament’s] semifinals and was waiting for the finals, and I decided to go hit with him. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Little did I know it would turn into such a close friendship.”

When Hubbard learned of his dear friend’s death, he was with the UMBC tennis team in Dallas, where they were competing.

“I told the team I had to leave and that another staff member would bring them home two days later. But all the kids said, ‘No, coach. We’re going with you.’ They rarely saw Sol, but he had such an impact on them,” said Hubbard, who spoke at Schwartz’s funeral. “I was just floored when I walked in and saw the overflow crowd. How did such a young guy touch so many people?”

Through his coaching at UMBC and his work at Holabird, Schwartz became a mentor to many young athletes.

One of those athletes was the son of blogger and radio show host Lisa G. Stone, who wrote about Schwartz and his impact on her son and the tennis community.

“For my son, Sol acted as a mentor,” wrote Stone on her blog, ParentingAces.com. “He would ask the right questions or just listen if that’s what was needed. And my son was but one of many young people who had this type of relationship with Sol.”

Stone also wrote about the fundraising campaign Schwartz initiated through Holabird to help New York-area tennis programs and coaches after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Mid-Atlantic coastline in 2012.

“He solicited donations from all his industry contacts for things like cases of balls and hoppers so the coaches could get back to work,” Stone wrote. “He took to social media and posted daily on the various tennis groups asking for donations of time, money and equipment. He connected with the local [U.S. Tennis Association] office so he could stay on top of their needs. When they asked for something, anything, Sol delivered. He was their angel during a time of real crisis.”

“He touched so many lives,” said his wife. “People have been contacting me from all over the world to tell me how Sol helped them. I got a message from someone in India — Sol helped his daughter get a sponsorship from Adidas. Another woman, whose son played in the Australian open — she came to the funeral and wrote on Facebook: ‘Heads of state don’t get this kind of a turnout.’ I’ve also been getting messages from lots of the kids he coached. A lot of people tell me they want to be better people because of him.”

In addition to his immediate family, Schwartz is survived by his mother, Judith Schwartz, his brother, Dr. Steven (Lisa) Schwartz and sister Cynthia Schwartz, his mother-in-law and father in-law, Ina and Jeffrey Legum, his sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, Sherri and Gary Kassimir and Laurie and Jason Sklar, and many nieces and nephews.

Simone Ellin is a local freelancer writer.

Edwards’ Emily’s List Support Rankles Van Hollen Backers

Rep. Donna Edwards (left) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen ( Photo credits: donnaedwardsforsenate.com; vanhollen.org)

Rep. Donna Edwards (left) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen ( Photo credits: donnaedwardsforsenate.com; vanhollen.org)

Members of America’s Jewish community, by and large, are some of the most progressive voters there are. They consistently back pro-choice Democrats, in some cases by a margin greater than 2-1, and other candidates who advocate increased public expenditures for social service projects and education.

But they’re also staunchly pro-Israel, a fact that has many in Montgomery County scratching their heads over a decision by the progressive political action committee Emily’s List — which backs Democratic women running for Congress — to throw its financial support, some of it raised from local Jewish voters, behind Rep. Donna Edwards in her primary fight against Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Both want to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

“It’s unfortunate that they’re going against one of the good guys,” said state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17), a Van Hollen backer, a member of Montgomery County’s Jewish community and an Emily’s List supporter, of the push for Edwards over Van Hollen. She said, “And now they have less money to spend in Pennsylvania, California, New York and other key races around the country.”

And at the top of the political heap nationwide stands former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who finds herself in a narrowing race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Emily’s List has “an opportunity to elect the first woman president of the United States,” said Kagan. “It seems to me like that would be a really important use of their time.”

(Emily’s List is on record as supporting Clinton in the primary race against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but its super PAC, Women Vote!, has spent more than $2 million on behalf of Edwards, who currently represents the Fourth Congressional District. Van Hollen represents the Eighth District.)

The controversy surrounding Edwards’ ties to Emily’s List played out onstage Monday night during an often contentious debate between the two candidates at Goucher College. When Baltimore Sun opinion editor Andy Green asked Edwards about her contributions from the PAC, she asserted she was “proud” to have its support.

“Emily’s List doesn’t hide who it is,” she said. “They support pro-choice Democratic women because we need to expand the number of women in the Senate and in all of our legislative bodies. On the other hand, Mr. Van Hollen, who was swearing off dark money, is now being supported by [the] Realtors PAC putting almost $1 million into his campaign.”

Van Hollen retorted that Edwards had taken $25,000 in PAC money from Realtors over the last two election cycles.

“Look, if you’re against Citizens United, you don’t get to pick and choose which super PAC you like and which one you don’t like,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court decision several years ago that affirmed the use of so-called “soft money” in federal campaigns.

Van Hollen went on to challenge television ads being run by Emily’s List that assert that she is not tied to big business.

“When you see their ads running that say Congresswoman Edwards doesn’t take any money from Wall Street, guess what? The overwhelming majority of the money for that super PAC, Women Vote! comes from people on Wall Street,” he said. “Hedge fund managers.”

Some in the Washington Jewish community, such as Helane Goldstein of Chevy Chase, dislike Edwards due to her voting record on foreign affairs, in particular a vote in which more than 400 members of the House of Representatives, including Van Hollen, backed a 2013 bill supporting sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. Edwards was one of 21 members who voted against it.

“She has played her hand dozens of times where she has showed us she’s not a supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, because legislatively she’s been on the other side of the fence of the House,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein, a supporter of Emily’s List, feels pay equity along with other women’s issues are important in the race, but she said that one should not vote solely based on gender.

“We don’t back Jewish candidates just because we’re Jewish,” she explained. “We have to be moral, and we have to be strategic. And we have to delve into what’s right and what’s wrong for us. I’m not going to support a candidate just because she’s a female.”

Edwards’ record on Israel has also been a source of concern for Washington attorney Behnam Dayanim, who wrote an op-ed last month for supporting Van Hollen. In an interview, Dayanim said he thinks Edwards has been “distinctively unsympathetic” toward Israel by not standing with other members of the House on votes such one on the Goldstone Report in 2009 — a United Nations-commissioned report that accused the Israel Defense Forces of human rights violations in the Gaza war and whose conclusions were later disputed by the lead author of the report. Van Hollen voted with the majority of Congress in denouncing it.

“On a consistent basis when it comes to issues that are important to Israel, Chris Van Hollen has been there and Donna Edwards has not,” Dayanim said. “That’s the kind of unhelpfulness and the lack of Israeli support that we’ve seen from her, and that contrasts with what we’ve seen from Chris.”

Dayanim added that Emily’s List’s decision to invest so much money to Edwards’ campaign shows a “lack of sensitivity” for Jewish voters in Maryland who care about Israel and thinks the organization ought to consider whether there is “anything about the candidate who might raise concerns within the constituency upon which they are running” when considering where it should spend its money.

“I think it raises a lot of questions about how Emily’s List prioritizes the candidates its support,” he said.

In a race in which Edwards has positioned herself as the standard-bearer of women’s issues, Kagan pointed out that Van Hollen is fervently pro-choice and has a record of supporting working families. She characterized Emily’s List’s stance as putting money into a “race against an ally.”

“Fundamentally, we shouldn’t be electing people because of gender. I didn’t ask people to vote for me because I was a woman,” said Kagan, who has known Van Hollen since the 1990s, when they both served in Maryland’s House of Delegates. “I thought I could be most effective and a lot more consistent in my advocacy than my opponents. I would love to have a woman as Barbara Mikulski’s successor, but more important than that, I want an effective leader for the state of Maryland in the U.S. Senate, and hands down, that candidate is Chris Van Hollen.”

Personal ties to Van Hollen are key for Bethesda resident and former Democratic National Committee vice chair Susan Turnbull, who has known Van Hollen since the early 1980s. Turnbull said everyone she knows has contributed to the Van Hollen campaign, including those who regularly give to Emily’s List.

“Emily’s List has as its sole mission the election of pro-choice Democratic women, and so I believe that they had no choice in the matter,” she said. “However, I believe that the long-term impact will be negligible among those who are paying attention to this race.”

One Jewish voter said he’d be happy with either.

Ken Feinberg, a Washington lawyer who was chief of staff for the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, would be happy with either Edwards or Van Hollen.

He said, “Not with any regard to any specific candidate, I think more women should be in government.”

For her part, Edwards sees Emily’s List support as a logical step in a legacy that reaches back to the PAC’s support for Mikulski during her first run for the Senate in 1986.

“Thirty years later,” said Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes, “we’re proud to have their support and the support of working women all across Maryland and around the country.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Beyond Chicken Soup’ JMM’s newest exhibit touts Jews’ contribution to medicine, health

With a collection of Jewish medical writings going back to the sixth century, a view into the back of a real ambulance and a series of interactive screens aimed at furthering a conversation about health care, the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s newest exhibit provides a tour of the Jewish physician’s journey in the United States.

“Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America,” which opened earlier last month and runs until Jan. 16, 2017, walks the visitor through a half-dozen settings named for locations typically associated with the health care field.

‘Beyond Chicken Soup'

The first stop is the “university” that focuses heavily on Baltimore’s prominent Friedenwald family.

Dr. Harry Friedenwald, son of Baltimore doctor Aaron Friedenwald, collected a series of ancient manuscripts containing the earliest Jewish medical teachings and donated them to the National Library of Israel in 1948. He also translated them into modern English.

The room, set up to re-create Friedenwald’s study, contains the manuscripts as well as other mementos such an invitation to a lecture he gave in 1943 in Gilman Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University.

The exhibit is not to serve as a hall of fame, said Deborah Cardin, the museum’s director for programs and development. “But we do think being in Baltimore, there are a number of individuals who have contributed so much to medical advancement.”

The visitor then enters the “medical school” section that focuses on the struggles that Jewish students faced when applying for and entering medical school in the early part of the 20th century. This included quotas limiting the number of Jews admitted to doctoral programs across the country.

To combat the quota discrimination issue, Rabbi Morris Lazaron of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and Baltimore Jewish Council president Leon Sachs contacted universities in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Chicago among other places asking for data on Jewish admissions.

“[Lazaron] sent letters to medical school deans asking for very specific information about how many Jewish students had applied, how many Jewish students were admitted and whether or not Jews were able to find internships in Christian hospitals,” Cardin said.

As can be seen in the letters that have been reproduced, most of the deans replied to Lazaron with the corresponding data backing up his assertion, although Cardin said he received a couple of angry responses suggesting Jewish students were “morally inferior” to Christians.

Cardin explained that education was a form of currency for Jewish immigrant families settling in the United States in the early 1900s, which partially accounts for the early influence of Jewish doctors in Baltimore.

“This was also a time when a medical education was part of the American dream, and that’s why you find this close association with Jews and medicine, and it becomes part of our aspiration to become fully accepted as American citizens,” she said.

The struggle among Jews to rise through the ranks in the medical community can also be seen in the “hospital” section that illustrates the push for a Jewish hospital during a time when hospitals of other faiths were unwelcoming toward Jews.

“In the mid-1800s prior to the establishment of Jewish hospitals, when Jewish patients went to Christian hospitals, they often found themselves at the mercy of a staff that was interested in converting them,” Cardin said. “And so there was a real desire to pull together and establish hospitals within the Jewish community and take care of itself.”

This led to the establishment of the Hebrew Hospital and Asylum in 1868, which later expanded to include non-Jewish patients and was renamed Sinai Hospital.

Among the highlights of this part of the exhibit is the back door of a real ambulance that the museum purchased on eBay and incorporated into the scenery.

“They took a slice off the back and sold the rest for scrap,” museum executive director Marvin Pinkert said.

The ambulance is just one of a variety of artifacts saturating the exhibit that illustrate the journey of the medical profession, including a violin that Dr. Morris Abramovitz played during college to earn money for tuition.

Abramovitz, famous for discovering a method of injecting multiple medications at one time into the body, emigrated from Lithuania in 1901 and opened a practice in East Baltimore serving the immigrant and sailor populations. The “doctor’s office” portion of the exhibit includes a replica of his workspace with a desk, chair, examining table and a scale that was donated by the Davidov family.

Howard Davidov, a retired Baltimore radiologist whose father Nathan was a general practitioner for 45 years, said when he heard the museum would be putting an exhibit together on Jews in medicine he felt his father “ought to be in it.”

“To me, medicine was his life,” said Davidov, one of several Jewish doctors in Baltimore who contributed either funds or artifacts to the exhibit. “He treated patients whether they could pay or not pay. If he made a diagnosis, that was the diagnosis, and this was before CT and ultrasound and all that sort of stuff.”

Nathan Davidov graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1920 and later completed a residency at Johns Hopkins before opening an office on Eastern Avenue near the Patterson Theater. (His diploma can be seen in the exhibit hanging near Abramovitz’s office). Davidov said his father enjoyed medicine from an academic standpoint but was also devoted to his patients.

“He loved taking care of people, he loved helping people, and the intellectual puzzle of the diagnosis was something he really liked,” he said. “If he got a call in the middle of the night, he would drive to Highlandtown and see patients. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

In the “pharmacy” section, visitors can see and smell a number of remedies, such as cinnamon and mace, that were once used to treat patients. Much of this portion of the exhibit was made possible by pharmacists Neil and Dixie Leikach, who have owned Catonsville Pharmacy since 1999. Dixie Leikach contributed an oral history along with several artifacts from the Maryland Pharmacists Association for which she briefly served as interim executive director.

Among Dixie Leikach’s contributions is a photo of her husband at work in Catonsville Pharmacy. Neil’s father, Henry, was also a pharmacist and worked in the Klotzman Drugstore in downtown Baltimore, which, she said, is a point of pride for him.

Dixie Leikach said, “When somebody decides to do the same thing as their parents, it’s a proud moment.”

While most of “Beyond Chicken Soup” showcases how Jews have advanced within the medical fields through the last two centuries, it also deals with current ethical debates about health care within the public discourse. Visitors are invited to answer questions on interactive displays such as, “Should you be able to choose your doctor based on their religion?” and “Must a doctor speak your language?” The answer choice prompts a pie chart of the cumulative results from all the other visitors.

“One of the inspirations for the exhibit was that there are so many contemporary conversations around health care, so we came up with the solution of embedding content into the exhibit through these touchscreens,” Cardin said.

Aside from the displays, there are also several activities for children such as a dress-up section, where you can put on a white coat, and a matching activity called “It’s all Greek to me,” where visitors are asked to identify a Greek term with the corresponding disease in English.

In the final “fitness center” section, a large wheel called “What’s On Your Plate” is mounted on the wall, and spinning it allows visitors to see what foods people in the United States ate during each decade from the 1900s to the 1990s. The foods progress from creamed cabbage and mashed potatoes eventually to a fresh-looking piece of chicken with vegetables.

“In 1900, doctors advised to steer clear of spicy foods,” Cardin said. “The idea of eating a very bland meal was very popular.”

The amount of detailed information and activities was too much for Davidov to absorb in one visit, and he has since been back several times. He recommends taking your time while there.

“It’s just a very well done exhibit that everybody should go see,” he said.

The exhibit concludes with a slideshow of people of all ages and nationalities in the medical field at work, which Cardin said demonstrates the progress that has been made in health care.

“Is the Jewish doctor still a stereotype that’s really prevalent today? What we come up with is the changing face of medicine,” Cardin said. “And if you look at what the medical field looks like today, it’s a very different place than it was a century ago.”

 

‘Beyond Chicken Soup:
Jews and Medicine in America’

Through Jan. 16, 2017

Jewish Museum of Maryland
15 Lloyd St., Baltimore

For more information: 410-732-6400 or jewishmusuemmd.org

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Sights Set Squarely on Iran AIPAC Policy Conference targets nuclear deal as top priority at event that draws record numbers

Iran was center stage at this week’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Months after its nuclear deal was ratified internationally and approved by the Senate after the pro-Israel lobby had fought hard to kill it, speaker after speaker denounced the agreement. It was, in the words of Republican candidate Donald Trump, speaking to 18,000 attendees, “catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole Middle East.”

AIPAC 2016: Sights Set Squarely On Iran

Meanwhile, think tank experts, speaking in smaller break-out sessions, concluded that when the deal expires in 15 years, the United States will have no choice but to launch a military attack on Iran.

With the mood against the Iran deal even more pronounced than in years past and the expectation of hearing from presidential candidates from both parties (although Democrat Bernie Sanders declined to appear and AIPAC refused to let him deliver a prerecorded speech), the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was not large enough to hold the record number of attendees, who walked the half-mile to the larger Verizon Center to hear big names such as Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton speak about the U.S-Israel relationship.

AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr made it clear that Iran was its top priority: “The struggle to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to deter Iranian aggression in the Middle East is far from over,” he said on Sunday night. “So let us be clear. Iran remains the greatest threat to America in the Middle East and to Israel’s ultimate survival.”

Kohr said the other items on AIPAC’s agenda are negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution and increasing American support for Israel’s military strength. The two countries are negotiating a 10-year defense memorandum of understanding, and many speakers during the conference pushed for the United States to be generous in the defense equipment it will provide Israel.

If Iran was the meat of the conference, the expected appearance of Trump was the sugar high that fueled two days of meetings and speeches.

“That’s what really got me excited,” said Michael Goller from Cincinnati, a Trump supporter.

The struggle to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to deter Iranian aggression in the Middle East is far from over. So let us be clear. Iran remains the greatest threat to America in the Middle East and to Israel’s ultimate survival.

— Howard Kohr, AIPAC executive director

Trump’s expected appearance led to calls for walkouts or boycotts of his speech in protest of his incendiary remarks against Mexicans, Muslims, women, Jews and the disabled.

Lee Rosenfield, of Philadelphia, said he supported Clinton for president. He favored taking “the moral high road” when it came to Trump, “all while disagreeing with his posturing, his distasteful opinions.”

Ross Mellman, of Boca Raton, Fla., said that he was looking forward to what the candidates had to say. He disapproved of plans to boycott or protest Trump’s appearance.

Also read, Clinton Eliminates Daylight; Biden Defends Iran Deal

“All candidates are here to speak and should be heard,” he said. “Some of the people here are missing that message. It’s just common courtesy.”

What AIPAC heard from Trump was a scripted, Trump-like address touting the candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides and his commitment to Israel’s security.

“I speak to you today as a lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel,” he began. “I came here to speak to you about where I stand on the future of American relations with our strategic ally, our unbreakable friendship and our cultural brother, the only democracy in the Middle East, the State of Israel.”

He said his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” A few minutes later he said, “At the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable. And we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”

Trump denounced the United Nations and said he would veto anything that came from discussions in the Security Council “for terms of an eventual agreement between Israel and Palestine.” Such an imposed agreement would be “a total and complete disaster,” he said.

Also read, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld Protests, Gets Ejected

He said Israel and the Palestinians must negotiate themselves. The United States could act as a facilitator.

“What Obama gets wrong about deal-making is that he “constantly applies pressure to our friends and rewards our enemies,” he said, drawing applause.

“The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable,” he said. “They must come to the table willing and able to stop the terror being committed on a daily basis against Israel. They must do that. And they must come to the table willing to accept that Israel is a Jewish state and it will forever exist as a Jewish state.”

Trump’s 25-minute speech was punctuated by hearty applause. But he received the loudest cheers when he attacked President Barack Obama.

“President Obama is in his final year. Yay!” Trump said.

AIPAC’s leadership on Tuesday apologized to Obama.

“While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama,” Lillian Pinkus, AIPAC’s newly installed president, said, joined by other AIPAC lay and professional leaders.

AIPAC’s evident anguish in the aftermath of Trump’s remarks could undercut the hopes that the Republican front-runner’s speech to the lobby would somehow help bring him into the mainstream.

“There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night, and for that we are deeply sorry,” Pinkus said, her voice choking. “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with nor condone.”

Also read, Reporters’ Notebook: AIPAC Protests

Trump was the third Republican in line speaking on Monday afternoon. Ohio Gov. and presidential contender John Kasich was first out, followed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) followed Trump.

Kasich said he has called for “the suspension of U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal in retaliation for Iran’s recent [missile tests]. These tests are both a violation of the spirit of the nuclear deal and provocations that cannot be ignored.”

Cruz repeated the promise he has made on the agreement.

“On my first day in office, I will rip this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal to shreds,” he said. “If I am president and Iran launches a missile test, we will shoot that missile down” — a promise that won moderate applause.

Ryan pledged “that as long as I am speaker of the House, we will not allow any legislation that divides our two countries to come to the floor for consideration. Our friendship is too important. The dangers we face are too real. America is safer when we stand with Israel.”

Jay Steinmetz of Baltimore said it was fine to demonstrate against Trump — as long as it wasn’t AIPAC members doing the protesting.

“If you’re part of AIPAC, you stick with AIPAC, and you don’t protest people coming to an event to tell us how you they feel or interact with us,” he said. “You can vote behind the scenes. You can vote with your vote. You can have conversations within AIPAC to AIPAC members, but when it comes to creating a unified front, our appearance needs to be unified.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu closed the conference with words of warning about the Iran agreement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, check your enthusiasm at the door,” he said by satellite feed. “You see, this deal doesn’t make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.”

“Under this deal, if Iran doesn’t change its behavior, it becomes even more dangerous in the years to come — the most important constraints will still be automatically lifted by year 10 and by year 15. That would place a militant Islamic terror regime weeks away from having the fissile material for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs. That just doesn’t make any sense.”

JTA News and Features contributed to this article.

dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com; dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Processing the Pain of Grief During Passover

Loss is an unfortunate part of life that everyone is forced to face at some point, and while there is no simple solution to coping with grief, it can be magnified around the holidays.

“In our experience, we have found that for people who may not be observant of other holidays or people who are not affiliated with a synagogue, Passover has a lot of meaning because of the tradition,” said Donna Kane, a grief specialist at Jewish Community Services. “It’s a family gathering that they’ve always had, and it’s a very different experience when someone is missing from the table.”

“There’s a lot of unaddressed pain and suffering out there, and a lot of it revolves around the holidays, which should be a time of happiness and joy and celebration. But for so many people it’s, at best, bittersweet and sometimes not even that.” — Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (Photo provided)

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (Photo provided)

JCS, in partnership with Sol Levinson Bros. Inc., the Foundation for Spirituality and Medicine and the Jewish Federation of Howard County, will host Empty Place at the Seder Table, a program to help those coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays. Kane, alongside Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, will lead a session at Temple Isaiah on April 6.

“There’s a lot of unaddressed pain and suffering out there, and a lot of it revolves around the holidays, which should be a time of happiness and joy and celebration,” said Scheinerman. “But for so many people it’s, at best, bittersweet and sometimes not even that.”

While the Torah, Scheinerman said, does not specifically address how to cope with grief, Jewish tradition encourages people to find outlets to address their pain and mechanisms to cope. The holidays have rituals built into them to allow for just that, such as Yizkor, a memorial prayer for those who have passed.

“It’s fairly brief, but it is also deeply emotional and offers people an opportunity to express their continuing grief in a safe, communal-supported setting,” said Scheinerman. “[It lets people] acknowledge that this holiday is not idyllic or complete for them because someone is missing.”

Scheinerman added that the prayer is also a good time for people who are not in pain to honor the memory of a loved one.

Kane said that coping begins with the acknowledgement that somebody important is missing and to not “allow there to be an elephant in the room.” Additionally, people should not avoid talking of memories of loved ones. Lastly, it’s important that people allow themselves to cry if they’re sad or laugh if they’re happy; moments of happiness do not diminish the grief or importance of loss.

Donna Kane, JCS grief specialist (Photo provided)

Donna Kane, JCS grief specialist (Photo provided)

“One of the messages I hope will come across is that the notions of ‘perfect’ and ‘ideal’ that runs so much through our culture is not a Jewish value,” said Scheinerman. “We don’t expect anybody to be perfect. We don’t expect life to be ideal; we expect life to be full of holes.”

While coping is stressful enough on adults, children grieve in different ways, and JCS offers other programs that provide parents with tools to help children cope. Kane emphasized that it’s important to address a child’s questions honestly while taking age into consideration before getting into detail.

Euphemisms such as “grandpa went to sleep” can be misunderstood by children and should be avoided.

The program at Temple Isaiah is geared for adults, but Kane said that some teenagers (16 and older) may find it helpful as well.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation will host another session, and there is a series for those coping with ongoing grief hosted by Beth El Congregation.

“We are very pleased to be a co-sponsor,” said Cheryl Snyderman, director of Gemilut Hasadim at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, via email. “Those who attend will receive support and feel comforted. It’s very meaningful to be able to give that to someone, particularly when they are struggling and contemplating an upcoming seder without their loved one.”

 

Empty Place at the Seder Table
Coping with Loss During the Passover Holiday

Temple Isaiah, 12200 Scaggsville Road, Fulton
April 6 at 6:30 p.m.

The program is free. Preregistration is requested. For information, visit jcsbaltimore.org/griefsupport or call 410-466-9200.

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Universality of Loss: ‘Falling Out of Time’ World Premiere

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

There is assuredly no pain greater than losing a child. Israeli novelist and public intellectual David Grossman lost his youngest son, Uri, in the final hours of the second Lebanon War. His grief was primal, elemental and profoundly personal. But as an act of healing, Grossman sought to capture the universality of the grieving process when losing a child in his 2014 poem/ novella/drama “Falling Out of Time.”

This month, his wrenching work of loss and reconciliation makes its world premiere on the Theater J stage in a sometimes vivid, sometimes sphinx-like adaptation of the book by locally based director Derek Goldman, known for his work at Theater J on “Our Class” and “In Darfur.” The 90-minute meditative drama, which runs through April 17 in the Goldman Theater of the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, is in parts thought-provoking, wrenching and captivating.

Grossman crafted a modern myth with an Everyman at its helm and a supporting cast serving in the metaphorical process of coming to terms with the death of a beloved. We watch the suffering and torment of these archetypal characters as they take steps back into the world of the living and accept life even amid incomprehensible death and tremendous loss.

For this production, Goldman pushes the boundaries of the playing space, placing characters in the audience and 19 audience members in on-stage seats — suggesting that we are all party to the joys and sorrows of living and dying, grieving, forgetting and remembering. Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack, set and costume designers, respectively, mix periods and styles, alluding to the timelessness of the piece — and the healing process. There’s an old-fashioned cobbler’s bench and a contemporary suburban streetlight, a bowler hat and long military swing coat and ubiquitous modern-day plaid shirts and khaki slacks that all suggest literally being out of time.

Eric Shimelonis’s original music and sound score also places the action in a mysterious and otherworldly environment, with tinkling bells, strumming bass notes and ambient noises of hammering, footsteps and water in a wash tub altering the senses.

A first glimpse of the Chronicler (Michael Russotto) occurs as he stands in thoughtful repose in the audience, notebook and pen in hand. As a bit of a Grossman alter ego, a writer and recorder, he’s the town note-taker, observing, questioning, pressing for details from every townsperson he meets. The Centaur, perhaps another side of Grossman, is a writer silenced, his notebook blank, his story choked inside as he cynically accuses the Chronicler about his voyeuristic penchant for peering into other people’s lives, mining their pain, for titillation as much as for reportage.

Bedraggled in ragged clothes and unkempt hair, the Centaur is trapped, his lower body invisible underground. He remains a sentry of sorts, representing stasis, an inability to move forward as the rest of these characters navigate the process of coming to terms with and breaking out of grief.

The narrative opens with an Everyman, known simply as Man in this telling (Joseph Wycoff), and his wife, Woman (Erika Rose), conversing elliptically at dinner. He’s leaving, going “there,” cryptically suggesting the place where their son was felled. The dialogue between the two opens up and enlivens Grossman’s prose from his written fable, which can be chilly and ascetic. Particularly with Rose’s insistent approach as the Wife who seems to see the danger in her husband’s quest, this early dialogue sets the action in motion. His first few steps lead into a labyrinthine walk around the theater as a means of healing himself and eventually others to join him. The journey of one becomes that of many.

Grossman’s words move these grieving parents from denial to, ultimately, acceptance. An apotheosis or visionary section is most problematic, as an imagined wall featuring the changing faces of children is described while the performers strip away the accoutrements of daily living. Myth and reality try mightily to mingle and merge in Goldman’s production — earth opening, a light- infused blaze, a thunderclap are described literarily rather than created through stagecraft.

Grossman set his work in a no-person’s land purposely. He has been castigated in Israel for his left-leaning politics, so the choice to universalize the setting is a telling one. In his mythologizing, he reaches out to others — the nameless — carrying neither religion nor country as an identity, only their titles.

As the circle of walkers widens and each new character arrives at a personal level of acceptance, a community of mourners is created. And while the group didn’t number the classic 10 required for a recitation of the Jewish mourner’s prayer, grieving in a community is the traditional Jewish way.

Grossman has created a community to mourn and to overcome the death of a loved one. “Falling Out of Time” theatricalizes a deeply personal account in ways that are striking and possibly disquieting. It’s a challenging and not always easy experience for viewers who may still be coming to terms with the freshness of their own losses.

 

‘Falling Out of Time’
by David Grossman

Theater J, Washington, DC-JCC
through April 17

1529 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C.
Tickets start at $37. Call 202-777-3210 or visit theaterj.org.

 

Lisa Traiger is a local freelance writer.

HoCo to Host Annual Purim Palooza

Purim Palooza is known as the one event that brings the Howard County Jewish community together, including Federation president Richard Schreibstein and executive director Michelle Ostroff. (Provided)

Purim Palooza is known as the one event that brings the Howard County Jewish community together, including Federation president Richard Schreibstein and executive director Michelle Ostroff. (Provided)

Few things bring Howard County’s Jewish community together like Purim Palooza and the Kids Activity Expo, and the 24th annual holiday event is expected to attract 1,500 people.

“I think that Purim Palooza [draws] so many families because it’s really the one time of the year that the whole county [can get together] regardless of religious affiliation, observance or synagogue membership,” said Randi Leshin, co-chair of the event and a Columbia native. The event, which takes place at Reservoir High School on March 20, is organized by the Jewish Federation of Howard County and sponsored by Camps Airy and Louise, DJ Doug, Window Nation and Sir Speedy as well as other synagogues, businesses, organizations and families.

Exhibitors and volunteers will provide food and activities such as photo novelties, airbrush hats and shirts, games, arts and crafts, face painting and — it wouldn’t be Purim without them — hamantaschen.

“I’ve watched Purim Palooza grow from a small community outreach program to this epic event,” said Doug Sandler, also known as DJ Doug, who has attended the event for more than 15 years.

Sandler, who recently moved to Rockville but was a longtime Howard County resident, became involved with the Federation initially as a way to network — he emcees for bar and bat mitzvah receptions — but said as he volunteered more, he began feeling like “a family member of the Federation.”

Being a DJ, his job requires him to stay up to date on popular trends among his audience; he brings that experience to the table when helping plan Purim Palooza.

“I’m a 51-year-old big kid,” said Sandler. “When we have seven or eight people around the table, my experience in the kid market has enabled me to make some proper decisions about entertainment, games and the flow of the event.”

Sandler added that although his kids are older, they have stayed involved in the event by helping him set up and run different booths. He joked that while he doesn’t profess to be a “hip or cool guy” himself, he knows what kids see as “hip and cool.”

Marty Rochlin, director of Camp Airy, sees the event as being similar to Jewish summer camp.

“We think what makes the Purim Palooza event appealing is that it’s a chance to do something Jewish with friends and family,” said Rochlin. “If [kids] aren’t involved in day school, they don’t have access [to that] on a regular basis. Going to an event like Purim Palooza lets you dive in and play for the day. That’s what camp is all about as well.”

Sara Magden, co-chair of the event alongside Leshin, stays involved with Purim Palooza and the Federation as a way of “setting the example for my daughter and husband.”

“Giving back to the community is important to me, and it has always been a strong value growing up,” said Magden.

While the Howard County Jewish community can sometimes be dwarfed by the neighboring community in Baltimore, Rochlin said he sees this event as a time for it to shine.

“I think for a lot of people, there is a misnomer that the Jewish community is centered around Pikesville or Baltimore County,” said Rochlin. “When there’s an event like this in Howard County, it sheds a real positive light that there are thriving Jewish communities in other places.”

 

Purim Palooza and Kids Activity Expo

Reservoir High School
11550 Scaggsville Road, Fulton

March 20, 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

$7 per person; $20 per family (includes 10 tickets; family package with extras, $72

Contact Meghann Schwartz for more information, 410-730-4976, ext. 106

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Refocusing Baltimore Despite last year’s unrest, city’s future has much in its favor

Baltimore Inner Harbor (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore Inner Harbor (Photo by David Stuck)

With memories still fresh of last April’s unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, the young African-American man from Sandtown who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, organizations throughout the city are working to erase the disgrace that national headlines heaped upon Baltimore, even as the upcoming trials of the officers involved generate almost daily news.

“The publicity made it look like the city was in flames, when in reality only a few areas were directly affected by the violence,” said Bob Merbler, a resident of Federal Hill for more than 30 years and a real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty.

Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel Synagogue in East Baltimore’s Jonestown neighborhood met with a group of rabbis immediately following the unrest to provide support to the areas heavily affected by violence. The reactions from his congregants varied based on their backgrounds.

B’nai Israel Rabbi Eitan Mintz leads a Jonestown neighborhood vigil in 2015. (Melissa Gerr)

B’nai Israel Rabbi Eitan Mintz leads a Jonestown neighborhood vigil in 2015. (Melissa Gerr)

“Some people remembered living through this [kind of violence] in the 1960s,” said Mintz. “Some people were focused on the injustices and the question of police accountability. Other folks had a sense of anger because they saw people burning down their city. It definitely gave the city a bad image.”

Despite this, Mintz added, people didn’t necessarily feel the urge to abandon Baltimore but rather wanted to ensure the city would come out stronger after self-introspection.

“Nothing happens in a day. Communities, organizations and governments need to work together to find a mutually beneficial solution going forward,” said Rabbi Ariel Fishman, director of JHeritage, an urban educational and social organization for young Jewish adults at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “I think that what we can do on a practical level is build a positive outlook. When you have a situation where there’s been a lot of baggage and pain, the only way you can start to develop that in a positive direction is with acts of kindness.”

It’s a challenging time for Baltimore but also an opportunistic time because people are looking to have an impact.

— Rabbi Jessy Gross, founder, Charm City Tribe

Mintz added that many of his congregants wanted to enact positive change and see the inequities and systemic problems addressed. “There was a real sense of wanting to make a difference,” he said.

Fishman, who regularly speaks with prospective students, has a message for those on the fence about coming to the city for school or employment.

“Baltimore isn’t just about something that you want to [avoid] because there were some issues in the past,” he said. “There are still issues that we need to take care of, but there are [also] opportunities for change. [These are] opportunities where we can work together as a community, both within the Jewish and the general community to try to find a way to go forward.”

Steven Gondol (provided)

Steven Gondol (provided)

Live Baltimore is an organization, founded 18 years ago, that focuses on portraying the city through positive marketing.

“I do respect and realize there is a crime problem,” said Steven Gondol, its executive director. “We had one of our worst years [in 2015], but I don’t think it affects every neighborhood to the same degree. We recognize we have a problem. We recognize it’s not the whole city, [but] it does paint the image [of the city] as being violent.”

Live Baltimore studied the city’s real estate market following the unrest by examining factors such as number of homes being sold, who is buying homes (traditional homeowners or investors) and the number of days a home is on the market.

Joe Quinn (provided)

Joe Quinn (provided)

Baltimore’s population has declined for several decades since hitting its peak, just short of 1 million in 1950, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Gondol, who studied urban planning at the University of Cincinnati, explained that Baltimore’s initial decline in population was not unique.

Following World War II, many American cities experienced population decline due to housing policies that supported suburban migration for returning servicemen and safety issues in cities that stemmed from unbalanced employment opportunities and neighborhood destabilization, among other issues.

While Baltimore’s real estate market did lag shortly following the unrest, according to Merbler, the market did not falter as much as people may have expected.

Gondol said when cities experience disruptive events, such as in Baltimore, the first red flag is a large influx of new homes being listed — a signal that people are panicking and trying to leave. Home sales and values would drop, and the average days of homes on the market would rise.

Bob Merbler (provided)

Bob Merbler (provided)

But “fewer homes were being listed, so people weren’t panicking. We saw home values [and the number of sales] go up and days on the market drop,” said Gondol on the months following the unrest. “It defied everything that a textbook would say would happen after a major incident like that. That baffles people; they would have expected this huge drop, [but] it followed the trend of [the previous year].”

Gondol added that not only were home sales up 25 percent from May 2014 to the beginning of 2015, but 60 percent were being financed — rather than being purchased with cash — which is a sign that the property is being bought by a traditional homeowner instead of an investor.

 Scott Lederer (provided)

Scott Lederer (provided)

“We look at inventory in the real estate world and gauge it by the number of months to deplete everything on the market for sale,” said Scott Lederer, broker and Maryland regional president at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty. “In a normal market we would expect six months of inventory. We’re closer to four in Baltimore City, which means we don’t have enough homes to sell right now.”

Gondol attributes the market’s behavior to the power of social media and distribution of information that kept Baltimoreans well informed on the reality of the situation in a way that was unavailable in 1968, when riots broke out across the city after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Prospective mayoral candidates, in anticipation of the upcoming election, have cited the need for population growth in the city as a platform issue.

But Donn Worgs, associate political science professor at Towson University, said the challenge of bringing in new residents is a balancing act.

“[A mayor has] to create a sense that the city is growing and evolving and is an attractive place for these newcomers,” Worgs said. “The challenge is, can you do that while not losing existing residents?”

Domino Sugar Factory (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Domino Sugar Factory (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Worgs added that depending on the economic profile of new residents and where they choose to live could cause gentrification, which can lead to tensions that drive longstanding residents away.

“The mayor is the chief salesperson for the city, [but] at this particular time, the mayor’s race will be decided by how people [already here] manage things inside the city,” said Worgs. “It’s kind of like getting your house in order before you [have an open house].”

Businesses play a large part in attracting new residents through recruitment. Joe Quinn is the chief human resources officer for LifeBridge Health.

When asked about how he reconciles Baltimore being between major cities such as New York and Washington, Quinn said he considers Baltimore’s geography an advantage because it has ease-of-access into other larger cities.

“If someone is looking at a different [city], they are looking at the opportunity [of the job] rather than what does Baltimore have to offer,” said Quinn.

Baltimore neighborhoods (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore neighborhoods (Photo by David Stuck)

Visit Baltimore generates economic benefits through the attraction of convention, group and leisure visitors. This includes overseeing the Baltimore Convention Center.

One tool the organization uses to gauge its success is “definite future room nights” booked within its fiscal year. These include different events such as conventions, meetings, family reunions, weddings and group tours.

A room night is the equivalent of a single night stay by a visitor.

“The unrest of April 2015 and resulting negative media attention was felt in a slower than usual [fourth-quarter] sales figure, with several major citywide groups deferring their booking decisions to fiscal year 2016,” according to Visit Baltimore’s financial report. “While total room nights booked in fiscal year 2015 fell below prior years, Visit Baltimore is still outperforming our [peer cities] and booking convention center business at a rate to maximize the Baltimore Convention Center’s impact.”

Washington Monument (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Washington Monument (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

From 2010 to 2014, Convention Center activity generated 337,877 room nights per year on average; and it only booked 225,777 room nights in 2015. Despite the drop, said Visit Baltimore president and CEO Tom Noonan, the deferred business puts the company ahead of schedule at the start of its fiscal year.

“People are not being scared off by unrest,” said Noonan. The question that remains unanswered is, how much better we would have been without unrest?”

Rabbi Jessy Gross, founder of Charm City Tribe, an organization that is part of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Jewish Community Center, works to bring Jewish young professionals together who live in Baltimore City.

Gross said the group’s strength comes from what others might consider a deficiency. Since it has no official residence, CCT meets in public spaces around the city, which results in attracting people who may not seek out a Jewish experience, to come and learn.

She sees Baltimore’s size and challenges as something that actually attracts people.

“[Baltimore] is a small enough city that you can be somebody but large enough that you have options,” Gross said. “It’s also in a state of transition and people are interested in [making a change]. It’s a challenging time for Baltimore but also an opportunistic time because people are looking to have an impact.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com