Subminimum Wage Bill Sparks Discussion

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

A new bill before the Maryland General Assembly would phase out the practice of paying some people with disabilities a subminimum wage for jobs they perform in sheltered workshops.

The bill has sparked a passionate response, particularly from disability advocates, who call it a civil rights issue. The first hearing for the bill was Feb. 10 with a number of people with disabilities and their allies speaking in favor. The bill, HB 420, is also called the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act.

“By guaranteeing equal protection under the law for minimum wage, individuals with disabilities will be empowered to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and full inclusion and integration into society,”  said Ken Capone, the public policy analyst for People on the Go Maryland, one of the main disability groups advocating for HB 420, in an email.

The bill specifically targets a section of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 14(c), which was set up to allow employers to pay below the minimum wage for those employees with disabilities that hinder their productivity.

It would phase out this practice, originally, in three years, although, with input from other parties, including agencies who run these kind of facilities, that will likely increase to four years.

This issue was actually addressed by the Baltimore Jewish Council in December 2014, where they, after hearing from both proponents and opponents, decided to call on the state to create a task force to study the issue.

The council wasn’t notified before the bill was introduced before the Assembly, said Sarah Mersky, the director of governmental relations, so their official position hasn’t changed. It is still an issue that is important to the community, however, she said.

“Right now, we have no  position, but we are getting  involved,”  she said.

She expects the council will address the issue again in the near future.

At the time, one of the  opponents who spoke out when BJC was looking at the issue was Chimes, a not-for-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find employment, whether that’s with outside companies or in its own supported facilities.

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Now, the group, which  employs about 800 people with disabilities in the state, is not actively opposed so much as concerned.

“We are sort of quasi-supportive of it,”  said Martin Lampner, the president and CEO of Chimes.  “We recognize that the system is changing.”

His main concern stems from lack of teeth in enforcing the state’s vague plan in providing resources and framework for those workers who would be affected. Of those Chimes works with in Maryland, 75 percent already make a competitive wage, he said.

The rest — largely those with complex medical problems or occasional significant behavioral issues — are in supported facilities, or sheltered workshops, and earn a wage, potentially under minimum wage, based on their productive capacity. If, after this change in the law, those people are hired at a job with fewer hours per week, the struggle will be to ensure they still have a meaningful way to spend the rest of their days.

Chimes is already working to address this issue with new initiatives. It has become a  “business incubator,”  meaning it provides physical space and certain services to startups in return for the business employing people with disabilities at a minimum wage or higher.

This ensures that those who need it will have services available on-site, but also brings them into an integrated environment. The organization is currently working with two businesses — Cyberspa and 800razors — and Lampner said it has so far been a success.

Capone worked at one time at a sheltered workshop and said he felt demeaned by the work, having completed a  difficult computer-training program at Johns Hopkins.  Instead of working with computers, however, he was earning  “pennies on the dollar”  doing repetitive work, he said.

“[A]s we have known since the 1960s, separate is not equal,”  Capone said.  “It benefits people with disabilities, as well as people without, to be able to interact with each other and learn from one  another. We are a better society.”

“I think there is a genuine  willingness on the part of  all parties to get this right.” — Martin Lampner, president and CEO of Chimes

The bill is the result of a long study by a coalition of groups, including People on the Go, provider agencies and other advocacy groups. Proponents say it will help integrate people with disabilities and those without, which improves their health and self-sufficiency.

The whole country is moving in this direction, said Nancy Pineles, the managing attorney for developmental disabilities with the Maryland Disability Law Center, and several states already have.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do and the right time,” she said.

People don’t want to be segregated, she said. Working in an integrated environment is beneficial for everyone. Pineles is optimistic about the chances for the bill passing this session.

Despite some of his concerns, Lampner said he is encouraged by how discussions are progressing with HB 420.

“I think there is a genuine willingness on the part of all  parties to get this right,”  he said.

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com

Lamplighter Dinner Shines Light on Columbia Chabad’s 30 Years

Rabbi Hillel and Chanie Baron will celebrate the Columbia Chabad Lubavitch Center’s 30th anniversary with its annual Lamplighter Dinner on Feb. 28. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Rabbi Hillel and Chanie Baron will celebrate the Columbia Chabad Lubavitch Center’s 30th anniversary with its annual Lamplighter Dinner on Feb. 28. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Rabbi Hillel Baron remembers the first Howard County Jewish Federation meeting he attended; it took place in a member’s family room, and in it was seated everyone in the Jewish community.

While the Howard County Jewish community has grown and changed exponentially, one constant has remained: Rabbi Hillel and Chanie Baron.

The Barons, who run the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Howard County, are celebrating Columbia Chabad’s 30th anniversary this month with their annual Lamplighter Award Dinner on Feb. 28.

“[A lamplighter is] someone who does good for the benefit of others, encourages others to do good and builds the community Jewishly,” said Baron. “[People have] been telling us that [we] should be the honorees one day.”

The couple has a lot to be thankful for with three decades of work under their belts, said Baron. When they started the Lubavitch Center in Howard County, not everyone felt Columbia was a worthwhile place to expand a Jewish community since nearby Baltimore’s was so large and established.

“It is important from the perspective of a rabbi because if everyone gravitates to where it’s bigger and easier to connect to Judaism, you leave people behind,” Baron said.

Thanks to Baron, Howard County has its own 770 Eastern Parkway — home of Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. — but in Columbia, it’s 770 Howes Lane. Baron added, “Nothing is a coincidence in our religion. There is always a story behind everything.”

The story is this: Because of growth in the area, the county kept changing the Columbia Lubavitch Center’s address during its first few years. Baron complained to the county and argued it was confusing his members and impacting his budget to continually reprint stationery.

“[The county] said, ‘All right rabbi, what number do you want?’” said Baron. Even though Columbia uses four-digit numbers Baron was pleased with the opportunity to choose the address — 770 — and jumped at the chance.

Baron’s contributions to the entire Jewish community are legendary.
— Richard Schreibstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County

Dedicated to growing and supporting the Jewish community in myriad ways over three decades, the community has taken note of his efforts.

“[Baron’s] contributions to the entire Jewish community are legendary,” said Richard Schreibstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County. “And his wife is there with him. You can’t talk about Hillel if you don’t talk about Chanie.”

Schreibstein, who emphasized that he was raised Conservative and attends a Reform congregation, has worked with Baron for six years. Baron cured him of his fear of “black hats,” he said. “[Baron and Chabad] understand those of us who are not like them. He appreciates what we can do for his organization, and he takes us as we are.”

Schreibstein added that some congregations he attended would question him if he had missed several services. But at Chabad he’s greeted with “‘I’m so glad to see you.’ It’s a completely different attitude.”

Rabbi Craig Axler said Baron was one of first people to visit him at Temple Isaiah when he arrived in Columbia, which he credits to “the energetic spirit of the Lubavitch [rabbis].”

“Together with their daughter, Chaya Sufrin, and son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Chaim, they have demonstrated tremendous dedication to the Jewish community of Howard County,” said Axler. “[They] are a model for openness to working across the lines of denominations in our Jewish community.”

Navigating across those lines remains a large part of Baron’s work.

“Our mission is to engage Jewish people wherever they are in their Jewish involvement or observance,” said Baron. “We have families and members from all of the congregations and the unaffiliated. Everyone takes what they need and what they like about what we offer.”

Lamplighter Award Dinner

Ten Oaks Ballroom
5000 Signal Bell Lane, Clarksville

February 28, 5 p.m.

For more information, contact Chaya Sufrin at 443-280-0340 or chayasufrin@gmail.com

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Local Photographer Finds New Life Through the Lens

Norm Dubin is quick to point out that many of his favorite photos “were taken in my own backyard.” ( Justin Katz)

Norm Dubin is quick to point out that many of his favorite photos “were taken in my own backyard.” ( Justin Katz)

Norm Dubin may be retired from his career as a reproductive biologist, but he has started a new life with what initially was just a hobby.

“Like most kids, I had a camera ever since I was young and liked to take pictures of weird things,” said Dubin. “A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you show these photographs at an exhibit?’ I exhibited some at a couple of galleries and people seem to enjoy it, so I continued doing it.”

Dubin, 74, takes photographs of whatever strikes him; sometimes it is an oddity in a foreign country that he’s traveled to with his wife, Valerie, and other times it’s right outside his front door in Baltimore. His latest work is on display through February at the Hoffberger Gallery at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

The gallery exhibits artists from the Baltimore/Washington area who use a variety of media such as watercolor, fabric design, photography and sculpture.

“[Dubin] has a unique way of using digital software to combine different [photographs] to create one image,” said Marcia Bornfriend, co-director of the Hoffberger Gallery with Lauren Loran. “One picture might be made up of two or three different photographs.”

Bornfriend is the daughter of Claire Bornfriend, an artist and congregant of BHC who established the Hoffberger Gallery in 1968. As an abstract painter and art teacher in Baltimore schools for more than 30 years, Marcia Bornfriend is no stranger to the art world. She said Dubin’s first exhibit in 2011 was a success, so inviting him back wasn’t a difficult decision.

It’s not important that one travels a lot to get good photographs. You can do it anywhere, you just have to develop an eye.
— Norm Dubin, photographer and graphic artist

Dubin has photographs from the Grand Canyon to Istanbul, but he emphasized, “I think it should be appreciated that a lot of my favorite photos were taken in my own backyard.”

Several other photographs are from Har Sinai Congregation, Park Heights Avenue and other Pikesville landmarks.

To achieve a unique look, Norm Dubin uses digital software to combine different photographs into a single image. (Photo provided)

To achieve a unique look, Norm Dubin uses digital software to combine different photographs into a single image. (Photo provided)

“It’s not important that one travels a lot to get good photographs,” said Dubin. “You can do it anywhere, you just have to develop an eye.”

The inspiration for Dubin’s work comes from television commercials, advertisements and paintings. Some people ask if his work has any social or political meaning.

“I never intentionally do anything like that because I use [photography] to escape the real world,” said Dubin. “Maybe when people look at it they can get into some meditative state.”

When it comes to gear, a simple Nikon camera or a point-and-shoot will suffice. What matters more than the gear, he said, is the composition of the image.

“I think Norm is an excellent photographer,” said Diane Marigotta, a member of the Towson Art Collective, an organization that is both a venue and educational center for artists.

Marigotta, who attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and has been an art teacher for more than 20 years, exhibits paintings but at one time created work similar to Dubin’s, using computer programs such as Photoshop.

“Some of the most stunning images are the ones where he has a colorful pattern like the dishes in the marketplace in Morocco,” said Marigotta. “The intensity of the color and pattern take my breath away. It could be chaotic, but he makes it look intriguing.”

Dubin, who considers himself more of a graphic artist than photographer, added that the hardest part of any photograph is knowing how to start and knowing when it’s done.

Dubin said laughing, “I just can’t leave well enough alone, as some people have told me.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Loud and Clear! BBYO’s Baltimore message of social justice resonates with Jewish teens

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More than 2,400 Jewish teens came to Baltimore for BBYO’s annual International Convention Feb. 11 though Feb. 15, including this group from Maryland and Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

More than 2,400 teenage Jews from around the globe came to Baltimore last week and were spurred to action by the words of NAACP president and CEO Cornell Brooks, who told them the future was in their hands.

“We have a generation that is not prematurely pessimistic, not prematurely cynical about what they can do, the kind of impact they can have,” he said. “That generation, my generation, is now in this room at this moment in American history. That would be you.”

Brooks’ speech, which energized an already enthusiastic crowd, was one of many during the plenary session of BBYO’s annual International Convention, which was held Feb. 11 through Feb. 15 at the Hilton Baltimore and the Baltimore Convention Center. The convention focuses on social justice, leadership development and celebration with this year’s theme of “It Starts with Us,” sending a message to young people that their voices count.

Brooks consistently received loud applause throughout his 22-minute address and struck a chord with the crowd when he mentioned the recent deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice — African-Americans who have died while in police custody — and challenged the teens to speak out against racism.

“The victims of racial profiling are multigenerational, and the opponents of racial profiling need to be multigenerational,” he said. “We need Jews, we need African-Americans, we need young people, we need older people, and we need to stand strong together.”

We have a generation that is not prematurely pessimistic, not prematurely cynical about what they can do, the kind of impact they can have. That generation, my generation is now in this room at this moment in American history. That would be you.
— Cornell Brooks, NAACP president

Brooks also touched on the shared history of Jews and African-Americans that dates back to the civil rights movement, when Jews made up 50 percent of the attorneys representing African-Americans in matters of voting rights, housing and education among other issues. He also cited last summer’s 50th anniversary march from Selma, Ala. to Washington, D.C. that included 150 rabbis who carried Torahs.

Lizzy Cohen (left) of Baltimore shares a happy moment with new friends Molly Opinsky (center) and Elana Tobb, both of Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

Lizzy Cohen (left) of Baltimore shares a happy moment with new friends Molly Opinsky (center) and Elana Tobb, both of Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

“However you carry the Torah, over your right shoulder or your left shoulder, it lays across your heart,” he proclaimed. “When you carry God’s word 1,002 miles, you have justice resting on your heart.”

Brooks concluded by imploring that the struggle for civil rights is not over and said new laws such as voter identification requirements are evidence that discrimination has now expanded from an entire race to an entire generation. He challenged everyone to join the NAACP and start their own chapters in their schools and even challenged the teens to take “selfies” of social justice.

“This is not a war against them as in African-Americans, it’s a war against you as young people,” Brooks said. “Students have always been in the lead, young people have always been in the lead. We need you now to lead this justice movement.”

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Some of the more than 2,400 attendees cheer one of the convention’s speakers. (Photo by David Stuck)

The conference has expanded substantially from its start, and this year hosted teens from 27 countries and more than 700 Jewish communities around the globe, all of whom were welcomed by the BBYO leadership at opening ceremonies, then enjoyed a musical performance and dancing.

Such scenes are sometimes overwhelming for first-timers such as Katie Schreck, who made the short trip from Rockville, Md., to the convention, but she said she is meeting a lot of people.

“There are a lot of Jewish people in the area where I live, so I feel like it’s kind of sheltered me a little bit,” she said. “I don’t really know what it’s like other places, so it’s really shocking me. There are people in Los Angeles who love BBYO, who love Judaism just as much as me.”

Schrek, 16, said she was moved by several of the plenary speakers’ presentations because each tapped into the teen spirit of social action, especially regarding access to education, which is one of Schrek’s passions.

“I think a lot of the things they talked about — how teens are the future — are really prevalent to the theme of this convention,” she said. “It starts with us, because it really is going to be what this generation makes it.” she said.

It starts with us, because it really is going to be what this generation makes it.
— Katie Schreck, 16

Alyssa Miller, 16, from Pikesville, said she only knew five people when she walked in but now knows about 50. She too felt particularly engaged by the plenary speakers.

“I liked how all of the different speakers had different reasons why they were here,” and even with different ideas they are an “active voice for people who are voiceless,” she said.

Baltimore attendees were in full force and included (top row, from left) Jordyn Robinson, Sara Buchdahl, Hannah Lobell and Jamie Neumann and (bottom row, from left) Remy Wendell, Lauren Schwartz, Jennie Jacobs and Alanna Sereboff. (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore attendees were in full force and included (top row, from left) Jordyn Robinson, Sara Buchdahl, Hannah Lobell and Jamie Neumann and (bottom row, from left) Remy Wendell, Lauren Schwartz, Jennie Jacobs and Alanna Sereboff. (Photo by David Stuck)

There was also a moving presentation by sisters Faiza and Moni — Syrian refugees who arrived in Baltimore in 2014 after fleeing the civil war in their homeland.

Faiza, 17, said that since coming to the United States she has taken well to social media and has fit in well with her peers for the most part, but occasionally she must answer questions at school about her hijab and explain to students that she is not a part of ISIS.

“Not all people know why we wear a hijab, and not all people know it’s not different [for us],” she said of the cultural misunderstandings she has faced.

During the afternoons, the teens broke off into leadership labs geared at tackling important social justice issues such as homelessness, philanthropy, Israel advocacy and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

In a gender-inclusion lab, teens discussed ways to implement LGBTQ education programming into their local communities. The group leader challenged everyone to find innovative ways of explaining its importance and emphasized that advocating for rights sometimes means brushing up against society.

Rockville, Md.’s turnout shows its BBYO enthusiasm. (Photo by David Stuck)

Rockville, Md.’s turnout shows its BBYO enthusiasm. (Photo by David Stuck)

“When you’re in a position to enact change, there’s a part of you that might feel like you’re being disrespectful of people you love who taught you otherwise, and that’s a real challenge,” the group leader said.

BBYO also provides a vehicle for leadership development, as has been the case with Jack Hirsh of Villanova, Pa. Hirsh, 18, attended the conference in Atlanta last year and participated in BBYO’s Jewish Enrichment Institute the past two years, where he learned to lead songs and play guitar. Hirsh serves as the communications vice president for BBYO’s Liberty Region, which he said helped him to grow personally and to consider journalism as a career.

“Serving in that position on a chapter level really got me into writing and working with communications and social media,” he said. “I’ve grown to love social media from a professional view, and this year I’m actually the regional vice president of communications for my region.”
Pittsburgh’s Zach Christiansen also attended the conference last year but said the size of this year’s convention has opened his eyes to the importance of Jews being connected with one another.

Officers of the Northern Region East, which includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., welcome the International Convention. (Photo by David Stuck)

Officers of the Northern Region East, which includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., welcome the International Convention. (Photo by David Stuck)

“This time at [the convention] I’ve really had the chance to branch out and understand the globalization efforts that [this] is really all about,” he said. “I went to the [the conference] global partner summit, and meeting all the kids from all these different countries is amazing.”

Christiansen, 17, said the level of enthusiasm during opening ceremonies was “unreal,” and at that moment he felt connected with everyone in the room.

He said, “Just the unanimous spirit present when everyone was up on [their] toes and we were all singing, you feel like you are part of something greater.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

The Power of Engagement Congregations look to members to guide — and create — the future

cover1Lynne Kirsner and her husband have remained members of Temple Oheb Shalom over the years mainly to attend High Holiday services and because they have a number of friends there. Until recently, Kirsner wasn’t very involved in the congregation.

But after being tapped for a role in assessing what the congregation can do to engage more members, Kirsner has found herself more engaged. She’s made new friends in the congregation, come to know acquaintances better and is even facilitating a newly formed interest group that is taking a day trip to Philadelphia.

“As we continued to meet and respond to relational questions, I came to love and admire my social acquaintances that I have known for 30 years,” she said. “I got to know some congregants I had never known before, and I’m really enjoying these relationships.”

Oheb Shalom is one of six Baltimore synagogues that recently took part in an engagement partnership through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center. The goal of the partnership is to help the synagogues, along with a number of Jewish communal organizations, engage more members and become more relevant in members’ lives.

 Clockwise from front: Rabbi Rachel Blatt, director of lifelong learning at Beth Israel; Ken Davidson, executive director of Baltimore Hebrew; facilitator and Beth Am member David Lunken; and Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein at a synagogue engagement partnership meeting. (Photo by Provided)


Clockwise from front: Rabbi Rachel Blatt, director of lifelong learning at Beth Israel; Ken Davidson, executive director of Baltimore Hebrew; facilitator and Beth Am member David Lunken; and Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein at a synagogue engagement partnership meeting. (Photo by Provided)

The idea came out of a statistic from The Associated’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study. Nearly half (43 percent) of those surveyed felt that Jewish organizations were remote and/or not relevant. Thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation and a $15,000 grant from The Associated, the synagogues and organizations were able to come together for trainings and exchange ideas as they underwent their engagement campaigns to try to reverse this trend.

Jeannie Appleman, senior organizer and trainer at Jewish Organizing Institute and Network for Justice, led the trainings, which focused on creating a culture of ownership in organizations and how to leverage congregants and leaders and the relationships among them to achieve this.

“I’m what you call an old-school organizer, so it’s very much about relationships and what’s called ‘the iron rule,’ which is don’t do for others what they can do for themselves,” she said.

Appleman trained the organization in how to conduct “listening campaigns,” structured conversations with congregants in one-on-one and group settings in which congregants talk about his or her connection to the synagogue, interests and a variety of personal stories.

“It’s a way to do several things at once,” Appleman said. “One is to uncover new leaders and to uncover the hopes and dreams, the passions, the concerns, the talent and really the myriad of self-interests that members have. When you have that kind of information about your membership, it does a lot of things. It can direct the synagogue going forward.”

Vicki Spira (left), chair of Temple Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, and Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. (Photo by David Stuck)

Vicki Spira (left), chair of Temple Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, and Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. (Photo by David Stuck)

The first cohort of synagogues included Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Temple Oheb Shalom and Beth Am Synagogue in 2014, and a year later they were joined by the second cohort, which included Beth Israel Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Beth El Congregation. The organizations involved in the partnership were CHAI, CHANA, DFI, Jews United for Justice, the Myerberg Center, the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, The Associated and a Washington, D.C., synagogue, Temple Micah.

Those involved in the partnership look at it as a cultural shift within synagogues that focuses on empowering congregants to take ownership of their experiences and build deeper relationships within the organizations.

Oheb Shalom focused its listening campaign on baby boomers, who make up about a third of its congregation with approximately 400 people.

“We really felt at this point they were the least engaged demographic at the congregation. We do a lot for our young families, but baby boomers are our biggest financial supporters,” said Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. “We run the risk of them saying, ‘My kids aren’t here, I don’t need to belong to a congregation anymore.’”

Oheb Shalom spoke with about 175 people in small group conversations, and even hosted a baby boomer Shabbat service in which members played guitar and sang with the cantor and shared stories about their relationship with the temple. From Oheb’s efforts, the congregation learned that baby boomers want to be involved in small groups that are centered around common interests, and they’d be willing to plan activities.

Three groups have already sprung up — a contemporary issues group that is planning a trip to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, a foodie group that is planning a variety of activities and a tikkun olam group that wants to go above and beyond what the synagogue is already doing in social action.

Andy Wayne, director of communications at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

Andy Wayne, director of communications at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

“What we’re really doing is going back to a time when congregants created their congregation,” Lowy said.

Vicki Spira, one of the board’s executive vice presidents and the chair of Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, said she’s seen a lot of engagement and leadership development come out of the effort.

“It really is a culture shift, and I think that takes time. I’m encouraged by it. I don’t by any means think it’s a panacea, but I’m energized by it,” she said. “I’ve seen more happen than I’ve seen in a long time.”

Baltimore Hebrew may soon follow in Oheb’s footsteps. The synagogue’s listening campaign focused on the congregation’s adult population. One-on-one conversations were held with about 70 people ranging in age from the late 20s to the early 80s.

“First of all, we learned that there’s a great love of our clergy and we have provided for congregants in times of need,” said Andy Wayne, director of communications and engagement. “We’ve also learned that there are so many opportunities to deepen our congregants’ involvement based off their ideas, their talents and their investment in Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.”

Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

The themes of social justice and social action came up a lot in conversation.

Those who conducted conversations presented their findings to Baltimore Hebrew’s board recently, which will determine what actions to take based on those findings.

Bobbi Perlman, chair of Baltimore Hebrew’s engagement partnership and a board member, said members of the engagement committee will reach back out to people who took part in the conversations to see if they’d like to get groups together around common interests, and a letter will be sent to the congregation’s members about the findings.

“We learned a lot from it,” Perlman said. “With this mechanism, the one-on-ones, we can do this for other information we might want to hear about from our congregation.”

Wayne said the partnership came at a great time for Baltimore Hebrew as it prepares to absorb the members of Temple Emanuel into its congregation, the details of which are still being worked out.

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Temple Oheb Shalom (Photo by David Stuck)

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to think about our mission, to have BHC continue as a dynamic congregational community,” he said. “This year is the 10th anniversary of Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars, which is nationally one of the largest gatherings of Jews. We know we are prime to grow our congregation but we also want to see how we can be a light for Baltimore’s Jewish community.”

At Beth Am, those who took part in conversations found it to be a very positive experience, so the congregation decided to take this model of relational meetings to three areas of the synagogue.

“Listening to congregants was interesting, rewarding, and we learned a lot, and those that were listened to definitely said it was a positive experience,” said David Lunken, who was involved in Beth Am’s engagement process. He also was on the original committee that formulated the engagement partnership and served as a facilitator for Baltimore Hebrew and Beth Israel. “We did get some insights into specific things that were working that we could do better. We also learned about people’s passions and interests and things they’d like to be doing.”

In onboarding of new members, the synagogue will utilize these meetings to learn about and engage new members. Committee chairs and others leading certain synagogue groups are implored to have these kinds of relational meetings with those they work with in order to get to know them better and capitalize on people’s strengths and interests. And the synagogue board will also use the methods to engage and learn about Beth Am’s congregants and leaders.

Beth Am Synagogue (Photo by David Stuck)

Beth Am Synagogue (Photo by David Stuck)

Chizuk Amuno Congregation, part of the engagement partnership’s second cohort, is undergoing a listening campaign that will likely last until May. The committee is hoping to interview 75 to 100 congregants in small groups and has decided to focus its campaign on individuals in the 35 to 50 age range.

“They represent a large portion of our overall membership and also are a lot of school families, between Krieger Schechter Day School and Hebrew school. They, hopefully, have a lot invested in the future of the synagogue,” said Stephani Braverman, the board chair for member engagement.

In addition to getting to know its members better, Braverman said the hope is to identify future leaders and make listening campaigns an ongoing part of member engagement as well as integral to the new member experience.

Beth Israel is focusing its listening campaign, which is still in progress, on families with children that are pre- and post-bar and bat mitzvah age. Beth Hecht, the chair of the engagement partnership team, said she sees this a culture shift at the synagogue.

“We’re looking at our future, we’re looking at making synagogue as meaningful as possible,” she said. “The synagogue should be relevant to [members] throughout their lives.”

Beth Israel Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

Beth Israel Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

While she said it’s too early to quantify any results, the general trend is that people have enjoyed being a part of the process and sharing their stories.

Cindy Goldstein, executive director of DFI, thinks that overall the engagement partnership reignited the idea of the power of relationships and added that the fact the listening campaigns and community conversations caught on so well signals to her that people want to get to know each other and be engaged on a deeper level.

“I hope that ultimately every organization will recognize the art of relationship building and create this culture shift of people before program, of being transformational as opposed to transactional,” she said via email. “A one-to-one relationship with people takes time — in order to build in a culture of ownership — but it’s the only way we will ultimately be able to engage and re-engage all members of our Jewish community and be sustainable and relevant into the future.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Edward Attman Devoted to family, faith; passed away at age 95

Edward Attman, center, with his four sons (from left) David, Gary, Ron and Steven attman. (Provided)

Edward Attman, center, with his four sons (from left) David, Gary, Ron and Steven attman. (Provided)

Edward Attman, founder of the Acme Paper & Supply Co., Inc. and longtime member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, passed away Feb. 2 at Sinai Hospital. He was 95.

A noted contributor to Jewish communal causes, he was equally devoted to his faith and his family.

“He was the patriarch of the family,” his son, Ron Attman, 68, said. “He set the tone for us, taught us how to live a good and productive life and not only to provide for yourself, but for the people in the community. That’s a big part of his legacy.”

Attman, the son of Attman’s Deli founders Harry and Ida Attman, was the first in his family to attend college, and he cultivated his work and family ethic early in life. Family lore identifies his mother as encouraging him to go into the paper industry because of her interaction with vendors at the deli.

According to Ron, Ida said to her son, “You know the person who sells those paper products, he’s always dressed nice, and he has a product that doesn’t spoil. And everybody needs it.”

Since Attman started the business in 1946, up “until he was 95, he came into the office every day,” another son, Steven Attman, 59, said, adding that his father always arrived early and stayed until some of his last employees left at 5:30 p.m.

But he came in a bit later on “Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he went to the LifeBridge gym and worked out with a trainer,” Ron said.

Attman was also a force to be reckoned with at trade shows, pounding miles of aisles for hours, dressed in a suit but sporting tennis shoes. Even his grandchildren, some of whom work at Acme Paper, had a hard time keeping pace.

“He had a dignity to him that really impressed us,” said another son, Gary Attman, 61. “He was always dressed in a jacket and a tie. He didn’t take short cuts. It wasn’t his way.”

“Yes, he had standards, and he wasn’t shy about expressing what they were,” echoed Steven. “He was a teacher, and he didn’t have any hesitation saying to his kids or grandkids exactly what he was thinking in a way that was coming from his heart and what was in our best interests to learn. And we never took it in a bad way. We understood our father was always trying to make us better men.”

As he grew his company, “my father would work late every night,” during the week, said Steven. “But on Shabbos we’d be all six of us. We’d have dinner together, it was a wonderful time for us. Then every Saturday we’d go to Chizuk Amuno … then we’d all come home for lunch together. So we had a lot of time together as a family.”

Devotion to Judaism as well as instilling a strong sense of faith in his children was important to Attman.

“We all went to Talmudical Academy, then went to Baltimore Hebrew College to extend our Jewish education and foundation. It was important to our parents, and it was one of the greatest things they ever gave to us,” Steven said.

Even after starting his own business, Attman continued to work on Saturday nights at the deli. But being a father and husband was just as important. He always managed to balance work, life and his Jewish faith, his sons said.

“I just remember every Sunday was so special to me because during the week my mother kept us up to see him coming home every night,” Ron said. “But Sunday we really got to spend time with him. He’d bring lox and bagels home, bagels he got right out of the oven” from the deli.

Sunday was also time for daytrip drives and dinners out, said son David Attman, 65.

Like any true Baltimorean, Attman’s devotion extended to sports. At Baltimore Colts games in the 1950s and ’60s, the whole family attended, even though Attman held only four seats, which were conveniently located.

“The usher would have an extra fold-up seat available” at the end of the aisle, Gary recalled. “So there were five chairs and six of us, and my father would carry one of us, either Steven or me, over the turnstile, and you know, he was a local guy; I think he knew the guy at the turnstile and they’d say ‘OK.’ Then we’d have a fantastic lunch — hot chocolate, and it was the best food we ever ate — like tuna sandwiches and Fritos and cookies — we just enjoyed it so much.”

In 1958, “my father took David and me to the All-Star Game — the first time they had a [Major League baseball] All-Star Game [in Baltimore], Ron recalled. “Then later that year, when the Colts played the Giants in the NFL championship game — it was the first sudden-death game and its called the Greatest Game Ever Played — he took us to New York for that game.”

To make up for lost Saturday date nights, Attman would take his wife out on Mondays and Thursdays; they might go bowling or to a movie.

His love of family grew as the family did. He welcomed daughters-in-law with open arms and was particularly devoted to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“One of his greatest pleasures was we’d go out to lunch (from work) just about every day with three generations of his family,” said Ron. “It was so meaningful for his grandsons to be able to spend that kind that time with their grandfather and know him as a person, not just as a grandfather.”

Attman had an extremely close relationship with his brothers, the late Seymour Attman and also Leonard Attman, who is founder and chairman of the board of FutureCare Health.

I “talked to him virtually every night,” for decades, Leonard, 81, said. “Don’t let the brothers be torn apart by anyone or anything,” Leonard remembers his parents insisting, especially his mother.

“They were so close,” David said. “And we learned what a brother relationship should be by watching my father and his brothers.”

Another gift handed down from Harry and Ida was the importance of tzedakah.

As a businessman, Attman “would get solicitation letters from yeshivas, rabbis, people who might have a medical or financial problem,” Ron said. “A couple of times a year he’d get all the letters together and send each person a check. It may not have been a lot of money, but he sent them all something.”

Attman generously supported The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also was a longtime supporter of the Jewish National Fund, Chizuk Amuno, Israel Bonds, Baltimore City College and Talmudical Academy, and there is a scholarship program in memory of his wife at University of Baltimore. Shoresh’s Attman Village is a project sponsored by Attman and his brothers, Seymour and Leonard, to perpetuate “their belief in supporting an opportunity for every Jewish child to learn about their roots,” Steven said. The brothers believed that knowledge of legacy and heritage enriches life to an immeasurable degree.

“Dad was really the conscience of our family,” added David, “and the way he showed it the best was when my mom got sick. Dad took care of her, made sure she was dressed beautifully, had dinner with her every night, always addressed her appropriately and respectfully and that wasn’t easy for him,” physically or emotionally.

Attman was married to his wife, Mildred, for 66 years before she passed away in June 2012. They first met at his parents’ deli but it was in school at the University of Baltimore, where they really began their courtship, his sons said. Attman left to serve in World War II in North Africa, Sardegna and Italy as a sergeant in the Fifth Army Corps and the Signal Corps. Mildred wrote him regularly, and when he returned in June, 1945, Attman immediately called to ask her out.

But her father answered and told Attman that Mildred wasn’t home, Ron said, having heard the story from his father many times. “So my father said, ‘OK, I’ll call back at 6 o’clock.’ Mildred’s father tracked her down and said, “‘Eddie Attman’s going to call you at 6 o’clock, and you better be home!’” Ron said his father would finish the story saying, “He was a smart guy. He knew I would be good to her.”

“And they really were lovers, there was no lack of public displays of affection,” Gary said. “They kissed, they hugged, they held hands, and they taught us what a real marriage was and should be.”

“People say dad was lucky to have four sons and a nice family,” David said. “We always felt we were so very lucky to have him, to have this much time with him and to learn the lessons that he shared with us.”

Edward Attman is survived by sons Ronald (Stephanie) Attman, David (late Bobbi) Attman, Gary (Patricia) Attman and Steven (Lisa) Attman; brother Leonard (Phyllis) Attman; grandchildren Lisa (Adam) Palmer, Scott (Donna) Attman, Andrew (Julie) Attman, Keith (Alissa) Attman, Rachel Attman, Michael (Kori) Attman, Sarah Rose Attman, Carlyn Attman and Shelby Attman; and great-grandchildren Ryan Attman, Sydney Attman, Samuel Attman, Chase Palmer, Alexandra Palmer, Dylan Attman, Mollie Attman and Tyler Attman.

He was preceded in death by Mildred Attman (née Cohen) and brother Seymour Attman.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

A ‘Finished Project’ Leading violinist to play Towson professor’s concerto

Left: Gil Shaham (photo by Luke Ratray) Jonathan Leshnoff (photo by Erica Hamilton)

Left: Gil Shaham (photo by Luke Ratray)
Right: Jonathan Leshnoff (photo by Erica Hamilton)

Jonathan Leshnoff is a man of many hats. He’s a musician, teacher and composer. But on Feb. 14, he’s going to be an audience member watching one of the world’s best violinists play his concerto.

Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham, called “the leading American violinist of his generation” by Time magazine, will perform Leshnoff’s “Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,” along with other works, with the Knights, an orchestral collective, as part of the Shriver Hall Concert Series “Born in Baltimore.” The special project is in celebration of its 50th anniversary season, featuring three new commissioned works from composers with strong ties to the city.

“Everyone knows Gil Shaham,” said Leshnoff, 42, from New Jersey and based in Baltimore. “To work with him is such a pleasure; he’s a fantastic guy and wonderful player.

Leshnoff initially met Shaham in Baltimore several years ago; he saw him standing backstage listening to one of Leshnoff’s pieces.

“He said [the piece] was really cool, so I followed up and said, ‘Great! I’ll write you a piece,’” said Leshnoff. Later, Shaham performed their Yiddish suite in New York and Washington, D.C.

“I have many wonderful memories from my performances at [Shriver] and always enjoy sharing music with the fantastic audience,” said Shaham in a written statement. “It is an honor to be part of the 50th anniversary season and to celebrate the great Shriver Hall legacy.”

The commissioned piece was inspired by Leshnoff’s spiritual heritage and is a part of a 10-piece collection that is driven by spiritual concepts, he said. The first movement of the concerto is slow and pensive, and the second movement is fast, lively and spirited.

“This piece focuses on the spiritual concept that is associated with the [Hebrew] letter Hay; that concept is malchus,” said Leshnoff. “The spiritual concept is the ‘finished project.’ The malchus is the final house without anyone living in it, full of potential, but people have to do something with it.”

Leshnoff added the first movement “is extremely bare, extremely open and spacious [when] looking at the notes on the page.”

“What is dependent on making the music happen is the heart that Gil and the orchestra will put in,” said Leshnoff. “Suddenly, that ‘house’ will come to life, and that’s the deeper spiritual movement I’m trying to portray.”

Shaham said he’s excited to perform it and described Leshnoff’s compositions as “deeply spiritual and uplifting.”

“Jonathan has such a great musical mind … and I cannot wait for the performance with the Knights, a group I have long admired,” said Shaham in a written statement. “I feel lucky to join their tour and am grateful that they agreed to play on my upcoming album. It is always a thrill to participate in music making at that highest level.”

The Shriver Concert is just one of Leshnoff’s premieres this year. A clarinet concerto, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and an oratorio called “Zohar,” commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, both premiere in April. The oratorio, co-commissioned by the ASO and Carnegie Hall, will be performed in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage later that month.

In addition to being a composer, Leshnoff works at Towson University teaching orchestration, contemporary music and music theory. When asked about his advice for young musicians, his wisdom was concise.

“Follow your inner voice,” said Leshnoff. “Because that’s what got you into this, and that’s what will pull you through, and that’s where you will end up.”

Shriver Hall Concert Series
105 Shriver Hall
3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore

Feb. 14, 5:30 p.m.

Tickets $42 (Students $21)
For more information, call 410-516-7164 or visit shriverconcerts.org/Shaham

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Ability to Succeed Employers look beyond disabilities, find dedicated, talented workers

Randy Duchesneau is director of the national leadership program at RespectAbility.

Randy Duchesneau is director of the national leadership program at RespectAbility. (Lauren Appelbaum)

Yoel Krigsman, 48, is an average Jewish Baltimorean by most accounts; he has a wife and four children, davens regularly and commutes to Washington, D.C., where he has managed computer systems at Gallaudet University for 18 years.

But statistics indicate that employers would think twice about hiring him because he’s deaf.

Dr. Andrew Houtenville, director of research for the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, said, based on a bureau of labor statistics job report, the number of employed people with disabilities has decreased by 4.3 percent from December 2014 to December 2015. The institute released its year-in-review report during the first week of February, which is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.

A wide range of disabilities affects approximately 56 million Americans, and while the job market in general fluctuates, the challenges of finding employment for people with disabilities are constant.

Part of the challenge stems from peoples’ perceptions of those with disabilities.

“I happen to be deaf. I don’t consider myself deaf first — I’m Jewish first,” said Krigsman, who speaks and reads lips but also uses American Sign Language. “Other hearing-impaired people [might] say they’re deaf first and Jewish second,”

Krigsman, who moved to Baltimore from New York, got his job at Gallaudet University, a private university in Washington D.C. for the deaf and hard of hearing, after exceling in a computer course.

Krigsman’s abilities are what earned him his job, and several experts emphasized that a person’s skills — even when they are disabled — can be utilized well if they are given the right tasks.

But challenges for finding employment can begin with how — and if — a person with disabilities completes a high school education.

“Some individuals with disabilities graduate [high school] at 18,” said Mira Labovitz, Baltimore coordinator for Yachad, a global organization dedicated to addressing the needs of Jewish individuals with disabilities. “If they are in a special needs school, some are on a diploma track, and some are on a vocational track.”

cover2Labovitz added the vocational track connects students with state employment agencies that help them find a career path based on their skills and desires.

And, as Eric Adler, whose son has autism, told the Jewish Times last October, even if students do graduate, they may not be equipped, or qualified, to hold down a full-time job.

While disabled students are entitled to certain benefits from the Developmental Disability Administration, if an individual graduates at 17 or 18, they aren’t entitled to any services from the DDA until they are 21.

“When the school bus stops coming, they don’t have much to do during their day. So they sit on their parents’ couch,” said Jennifer Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a national nonprofit that works for the inclusion and empowerment of the disabled community. “When their parents die, they sit on their siblings’ couch. This is a huge problem for them.”

According to statistics provided by RespectAbility, 300,000 people with disabilities age into the workforce each year — when they turn 18.

“There are many myths and stereotypes surrounding [autistic spectrum disorder], and employers can be reluctant to hire people on the spectrum,” said Theresa Ballinger, treasurer of the Howard County Autism Society, via email. “Employers need to understand individuals with disabilities like ASD are an untapped resource. Many who work are very excited about their jobs, and they’re really dedicated. All they need is a workplace that’s accommodating and welcoming.”

Randy Duchesneau, 30, director of the national leadership program at RespectAbility, has felt the impact of public perception. At Cornell University, he was an exceptional student who easily nailed interviews and landed internships. Then during his senior year, a gymnastics accident left him a quadriplegic, and he underwent a year of rehabilitation. When Duchesneau returned to Cornell, despite having an excellent resume, his experiences with interviews and internships changed.

“If I disclosed my disability in a cover letter I wouldn’t be selected [for an interview] at all,” said Duchesneau.

cover3Struggling to find employment, he went on to earn a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. It was there he learned to leverage his networks and eventually landed an internship at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“People think I’m intelligent because I have these degrees [from Cornell and Yale]. But for people who don’t have these degrees from top universities,” said Duchesneau, “there’s an additional stigma that [employers] think [people with disabilities] are limited in what they are capable of doing.”

But that perception, claims Krigsman, could easily be ameliorated.

“[There’s] not enough education about what we do. What is normal in our world may not look normal in yours,” he said.

For example, some people in the deaf community might beat a tabletop with their fist, which could be misinterpreted as anger. But Krigsman said it’s done to get someone’s attention because a deaf person feels the vibrations.

“Sometimes we don’t realize how loud that can be,” said Krigsman.

He added that people apologize to him when they find out he is deaf.

“What are you sorry about? I didn’t do anything to make you feel sorry,” said Krigsman. “Why do they keep saying that? It’s because it’s something new to them.”

“There’s always hesitation that [the employer doesn’t] know anything about these individuals, and they are weary of what the [individual] brings to the table,” said Jack Gourdji, executive director of the Jewish Union Foundation in New York, a partner of Yachad.

JUF works with individuals on social skills, workplace skills and behavior to help prepare people with disabilities for a business setting. It then finds volunteer and employment opportunities based on his or her skills.

“We always send job coaches with them,” said Gourdji. “The responsibility of a job coach is to assist the individual to the point that they can handle things on their own.”

Gourdji explained job coaches give employers some reassurance about hiring people with disabilities. With a coach present, the employer knows  the task will get done.

However, Gourdji emphasized that jobs are earned, not just awarded.

“I never place somebody as a favor,” said Gourdji. “I do it because I feel over a period of time, if not immediately, I believe they can succeed at the job.”

Devorah Lieberman, 31, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y, and has used Yachad’s services since she was 12. When she came of employment age, she also turned to JUF. She, and her mother, Andrea, credits the organization for her success in gaining employment, despite having Down syndrome.

cover4“The confidence they’ve given her and the abilities they’ve given her are wonderful,” said Andrea. “People should not be afraid to let your child do something. They are very optimistic about what they can do. Just let them try and go as far as they possibly can.”

Now, Devorah has three jobs: one at a clothing store in Manhattan; another at the Foundation for Jewish Camp; and a third at Yachad. Her message to the nondisabled community is concise.

“[They should] not make fun of my syndrome,” said Devorah. “They should treat me with the same respect [as anyone else] and not judge me by [my] disability.”

Positive experiences employing people with disabilities can be the incentive for some business leaders to make more hires and encourage others to do the same.

“I think the best motivation doesn’t come from governors, it comes from business leaders talking to each other,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said. “When they can say, ‘[Employing someone with a disability] has helped our company,’ then that is more powerful.”

Markell, who has championed employment of people with disabilities during his time in office, launched the initiative “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities in 2012” as the chair of the National Governors Association.

Markell’s reason for taking up the cause, he said, was his experience visiting a bank several years ago. He met a disabled man who was creating T-shirts for promotional material. Markell asked him what he did before getting that job.

“I sat at home watching television with my parents,” the man said.

“A light bulb went off in my head about how much his quality of life improved because of this job,” said Markell. “He had a purpose and a reason to get up every day. It was a big quality-of-life improvement for him and his family because he wasn’t sitting around doing nothing.”

Despite the negative perceptions held by some, businesses have thrived because of people with disabilities.

“Baking lends itself beautifully to people with certain disabilities,” said Sarah Milner, who has spent most of her career helping people with disabilities as a social worker.

Milner, with co-founder Laurie Wexler, also runs Sunflower Bakery in Gaithersburg, Md. In addition to running a full production bakery, they aim “to prepare individuals with developmental or other cognitive disabilities for employment in baking and related industries through skilled on-the-job training.” They offer 10-week courses, and students work alongside people without disabilities. Similar to JUF, students learn skills necessary to be successful in any work place such as promptness and self-advocacy.

Milner said some disabilities are conducive for the precise procedures of baking such as making exact measurements, following recipes and making repetitive motions.

cover5Another business known for hiring workers with disabilities is Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Sinai’s workforce development program, called VSP, tries “to maximize the employability of persons with barriers to employment,” said Mira Appleby, manager of program development at VSP, such as  employee Walter Beatty.

Beatty, 57, grew up in Baltimore City and struggled with alcoholism, something one in 12 Americans experience, according to the American Psychological Association.

After completing six months of rehabilitation, he was determined to change his life around and credits VSP for helping him do it.

“VSP taught me how to speak with people and how to be courteous to people,” said Beatty, who works as a cook at Northwest Hospital. “VSP taught me how to stand up properly, how to act toward people. They took the bad attitude from me and made me change my attitude around.”

Beatty is celebrating six years of sobriety and said spending time with his niece’s children every day after work keeps him motivated.

While Beatty doesn’t have the same challenges as those who are physically or mentally disabled, he did face the doubts and criticisms of others who didn’t think he would be successful. Despite that, he’s been recognized at the hospital as an exemplary employee and takes pride in helping others succeed.

“While there may be some accommodations that have to be made,” said Markell, “what most [employers] will find is that people with disabilities are great employees. They show up, they are grateful for their job, there is less turnover, and they do a good job.”

Milner added there is a moral responsibility to be considered as well.

“If every Jewish employer “[regardless of his or her type of business] would hire one person with a disability, what a great thing that would be,” she said. “We are all responsible for one another, and it’s not except for the people with disabilities.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Heart of Gold’ Charles Oberman, usher for decades at Baltimore venues

Charles Oberman (photo provided)

Charles Oberman (photo provided)

If there were a song that best described the life of Baltimore resident Charles Oberman, it would be Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart,” his family members say. Oberman, perhaps best known for his 40-plus years as a supervisory usher for the Orioles and at Royal Farms Arena, died on Jan. 23 at the age of 96.

“No matter what section of town we would go in, there would always be someone who knew him,” said his niece, Sandy Rosen who has been Oberman’s caretaker for the past seven years.

“I tried to get him to join the senior center and he refused because it’s all old people,” she joked. “What I’ve noticed about him the most, even in his last couple of senior years, is that he loved and embraced everybody. He was the most unpretentious person you ever you met.”

Oberman served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands between 1942 and 1945. One year later, he married Rose [Adelman] Oberman — a union that lasted more than 50 years until her death in 2009.

That was his life … The arena was really his second family. He saw generations come and go. Little boys who came to ice skate at the arena would [years later] take their own children to ice skate.
— Sandy Rosen, niece of Charles Oberman

Oberman began to work as an usher at what was then known as the Baltimore Civic Center when it opened in 1962. He often worked hockey games when the now-defunct AHL Baltimore Clippers were in town, and he had the opportunity to witness the Beatles’ only visit to Baltimore, in 1964.

“It was fantastic. I couldn’t see for an hour after the performance for all the flashbulbs that went off. The police had to move the horse patrols in to try to clear Howard Street,” Oberman told the Baltimore Sun in 1992, reflecting on the performance. His tenure at the arena has become the stuff of legend, even to the point of receiving recognition and a plaque from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake a few years back.

“That was his life. Not so much the Orioles, but the arena was really his second family,” Rosen said of Oberman’s career. “He saw generations come and go. Little boys who came to ice skate at the arena would [years later] take their own children to ice skate.”

Rosen said that her uncle had “a heart of gold” and taught everyone he knew to accept everyone despite their differences, and to be humble.

“He looked out for people,” she said.

Oberman’s son-in-law, Mark Donald, said his legacy will be the generations of Baltimoreans he got to know from his ushering days.

“Charlie was a very, very outgoing person,” Donald said. “He never met anybody he didn’t like. He was a people person.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Peacemaker Comes to the Gordon Center Achinoam Nini brings multicultural sounds to Owings Mills on Feb. 6

noa

Achinoam “Noa” Nini (Photo by Roberto Marziali)

She’s performed for three popes, collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Sting, Pat Metheny and Quincy Jones and is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. But Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, doesn’t let it get to her head or forget why she does what she does.

“All I need to do is remember why I am doing all this: to serve the God of music, not myself,” she said via email. “To bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, hearts and minds. To make the world a better place.”

The Yemenite/Israeli/American singer brings her eclectic jazz sounds to the Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 6.

To understand all the cultural influences she incorporates into her music, one needs to look at Noa’s journey. She was born in Israel but moved to New York City with her family at age 2. She returned to Israel in her late teens, served in the army, studied at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and began her career.

“It gave me the chance to be exposed to an enormous amount of culture, from my Yemenite grandmother who raised us and her songs, to Hebrew songs my parents loved, the wild abundance in N.Y., ranging from opera to Broadway, jazz and progressive, to my own process of leaving home and learning to live on my own at a young age,” she said.

And then, of course, there are the intangible aspects of the music.

“I dig deep into the roots of childhood, tradition, poetry and literature and a variety of other inspiring places. I also spend a lot of time observing the world around me and trying to reveal new perspectives and unveil hidden secrets of the human soul,” she said. “I try to capsulize ideas and emotions, contracting as I write and expanding as I perform.”

In addition to being an entertainer, wife and mother of three, Noa, 46, dedicates a lot of her time and music to being a peace activist. While she had performed for the cause of peace throughout her career, one performance and the horrible aftermath gave her reason to truly dedicate herself to the cause. She sang at a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Nov. 4, 1995 to support Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin would be assassinated while leaving that rally.

“I was devastated. That very night, I decided that if this great man could pay with his life for peace, for humanity, for values, for the future of our children, I too would pay a price,” Noa says in a soon-to-be released TED Talk. “I would act, I would speak out, I would carry this torch forward stubbornly, fearlessly.”

While that meant death threats and canceled concerts, it also landed her gigs at the White House and the World Economic Forum as well as knighthood in Italy among a long list of honors.

Noa supports a long list of progressive, pro-peace causes, including many that bring Arabs and Jews together.

“I believe with all of my heart that only the people and their ability to communicate, to learn about each other, to listen to each other, to understand each other’s humanity, to mitigate fear and share hopes and dreams, to recognize each other’s humanity, can bring change,” she said.

Of course Noa’s messages would need a powerful musical vessel, which is where longtime collaborator, musical partner and guitarist Gil Dor comes in.

“A friend once called us a two-headed monster. I usually come up with the ideas, I write lyrics and music, normally a cappella, then Gil and I work out all the details together, harmonizing, adding parts, arranging and producing,” she said. “We do it all together, with a lot of resonance and sometimes telepathy. We also argue a lot, but it is always done with respect and love. We are lucky to have found each other!”

Noa performs at Gordon Center Saturday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 or $72 for VIP and available at jcc.org/event/noa-achinoam-nini.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com