The Transformation of Pikesville High School already reaping benefits of renovations as construction continues

John Boelker, superintendent with Oak Contracting, walks through the construction of what will become Pikesville High School’s new front entrance. (Mark Shapiro)

John Boelker, superintendent with Oak Contracting, walks through the construction of what will become Pikesville High School’s new front entrance. (Mark Shapiro)

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, new Pikesville High School principal Sandra Reid led a group of county and state officials and PTSA representatives through some brand-new parts of the school.

The hallways were bright from natural light, the computers and technology in classrooms were new, and there was excitement and hope in the air.

“I feel like I’m recipient of a gift,” Reid said. “It just has changed the  climate of the whole building.”

The school is in the midst of a $49 million renovation that essentially gutted the entire school to make way for upgrades including a new HVAC system — the school was previously un-air-conditioned — a new roof,  accessibility upgrades, new classrooms, new technology and a renovated  auditorium with new flooring, lighting and acoustic upgrades, a new sound system and a handicap-accessible stage. The project started a year-and-a-half ago.

“We gutted it completely,” said Jonathan Goetz, project manager with Oak Contracting. “The courtyard is gone, it’s now new classroom space. The old science wing, which sat up here on the hill, [it was] completely leveled. We put in two new science-wing additions as well. … Our second-floor wing here is all newly renovated classrooms.”

Construction is underway for the new portico and administrative  offices, which should be done by the end of January, ahead of schedule.

“Finally we will finish with the  auditorium and the back corner of the building — which was the old tech-ed wing — which will have  tech-ed, digital and multimedia art as well as the gymnasium,” Goetz added.

The whole project should be  finished in August, in time for the 2016-2017 school year.

Among those touring the school were Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Del. Shelly Hettleman, a representative of Del. Dana Stein’s office, PTSA president Casey Parson and vice president of membership and fundraising Sherri Flaks.

“It just really is exciting to see how modern this school is, and the energy exudes from everyone within the building,” Kamenetz said after the tour. “Everyone is excited and should be.”

It just has changed the  climate of the whole building. — Principal Sandra Reid

While there is normally a one-to-one match from the state for projects such as this, Baltimore County contributed almost $38 million, 78 percent of the funds, compared with the state’s almost $11 million, 22 percent of the funds. Last year, the county added $4 million to its Fiscal Year 2016 budget to ensure the school would get a complete renovation. Upgrades to the auditorium and other areas may have gotten cut without that additional funding.

Reid was eager to show off the newer parts of her school, first stopping at a new science classroom, the sight of which, she said, made a first-year teacher cry from excitement. She took the tour to an Interactive Media Production (IMP) room, which had a green screen, lighting and camera equipment. The “quasi-magnet,” as Reid called it, produces PR materials for the school as well as various shows and presentations.

“It’s definitely made a big impact on me,” senior Jillian Offermann said. The IMP program, in which she makes movies, posters and 3D animation, was a big part of why she chose to attend Pikesville over another area school.

Added senior Amalya Murrill: “The skills you learn in this class can transcend making cool stuff.” Both she and Offermann are members of the National Technical Honor Society.

While walking around the school, Reid pointed out the library’s new computer labs and the school’s new career center, where students can  research colleges. Before taking the group outside to where the new  entrance and offices are under  construction, she stopped in the cafeteria, which was enlarged, and now has new furniture and glass walls all around.

In addition to a new school,  Parson, the PTSA president, said the school community owes a lot to its new principal, who has expanded after-school clubs and brought back school spirit events that hadn’t been held in years.

“Pikesville’s just rising to incredible highs,” said Parson, who took her kids out of private school to send them to Pikesville. “The students are so excited coming in. They just come in here and they have a whole new feeling.”

Hettleman, who graduated from Pikesville in 1982, said the renovations were “transformational.”

“The community has this wonderful gem now right in the midst of it,  and it’s a great bridge between the students, parents and the local community,” she said, “and it’s just going to be a great magnet for families.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

On Your Mark! D.C., Md., Va. residents take part in Pan-American Maccabi Games

Mitchell Berliner is competing in freestyle swimming in the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Berliner)

Mitchell Berliner is competing in freestyle swimming in the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Berliner)

At 67, Mitchell Berliner considers himself in pretty good shape. So on a whim, the  Potomac resident picked up the phone and called the people running the Pan American Maccabi Games to see if he might be able to qualify for the swim team.

“I wanted to find out what times I needed”  to qualify, he said. But after the person answering the phone asked him how old he was, Berliner  immediately was told, “OK, you are on the team.”

Berliner, along with 36 other athletes and coaches from the Washington area, are participating in the games in Chile, which began Dec. 27 and continue through Jan. 4.

More than 2,500 Jewish athletes from 22 countries are participating. Team USA has 314 athletes on 33 teams and is competing in 14 sports.

Erica Gelb of Baltimore has competed in field hockey at several earlier Maccabi games. She earned bronze medals playing in Australia and Argentina and a silver competing in Israel.

This time, she is the assistant coach of the women’s field hockey team; two of her cousins,  Allison and Emily Weiner of Lutherville, are on the team. The women’s team met for the first time when they arrived in Chile and began practicing only after that.

“It works out,” she said. “Obviously we are there to win medals, but it’s about more than that.

More than 30 people from the area are participating in the Pan American  Maccabi Games.

“It’s really nice to be able to be surrounded by all these athletes and all these Jews,” added Gelb, who plays hockey once a week for most of the year through the Baltimore Field Hockey Association, an adult coed league.

Lou Moyerman, general chairman, said the 13th Pan American games are designed to “build Jewish pride through sports as well as through three community service projects, including a food drive, hospital visits and free eye examinations and glasses for more than 1,000 Chilean children.”

Berliner, who is swimming freestyle in the masters division, already has experienced that pride. He and his wife, Debra Moser, hosted three young athletes from California during previous Maccabi games.

“We had a ball,” he said. Moser also went to Chile and is photographing athletes from the Maryland area.

Berliner, who is a member of Washington Hebrew Congregation, swam competitively in the eighth grade. But once he realized he was on the team, Berliner hired a coach to help him improve his speed.

That coach told him, “I am swimming wrong. I had my head wrong. I had my arms wrong,” he said. “I just swam to stay healthy” and wasn’t aware of the best way to move through the water.

Two months before going to Chile, Berliner learned how to do a racing dive off the blocks, he said.

He is aware he probably will be swimming with athletes who have stayed competitive throughout their lives. He’s also aware that some of the other sports, golf in particular, are harder to get on the team at his age. No matter, he said, he’s going to give it his best shot.

“My goal,” he joked, “is not to have a heart  attack or embarrass myself.”


 

Area participants include:
• Michael April, Rockville, team doctor • Veronica Binstock, Severna Park, “women’s gymnastics • Lawrence Block, Boyds, men’s soccer • Benjamin Charles, Arlington, Va., swimming • Noah Desman, Clifton, swimming • Joshua Hart, Washington, golf • Benjamin Harteimer, Washington,  men’s soccer • Ori Hoffer, Arlington, Va., men’s soccer • Douglas Homer, Falls Church, Va., men’s soccer • Mara Kaplan, Potomac, swimming • Jake Kaplan, Leesburg, Va., men’s volleyball • Bryan Knapp, Washington, men’s basketball • Samantha Knapp, Washington,  women’s soccer • Aaron Krens, Olney, men’s basketball • Robert Kutner, Lutherville, tennis • Paul Loube, Gaithersburg, men’s basketball • Richard Loube, Gaithersburg, men’s basketball • Douglas Markoff, Germantown, swimming • David Ostroff, Arlington, Va., men’s basketball • Brandon Robinson, Bethesda, men’s  basketball • Steven Roomberg, Germantown, judo • Samuel Roytman, Fairfax, Va., men’s soccer • Alexander Rubin, Rockville, men’s basketball • Gary Sandler, Clarksville, men’s basketball • Casey Skvorc, Rockville, accommodations manager • Eli Smolen, Fairfax, Va., men’s soccer • Sarah Soloman, Rockville, swimming • Aaron Struminger, Elkton, trainer • Claire Trilling, Chevy Chase, women’s  field hockey • Julie Tucker, Silver Spring, trainer • McKenna Witlin, Herndon, Va., swimming • Jaycee Yegher, Germantown, swimming • Mitchell Zack, Silver Spring, men’s  basketball

spollak@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Families Reconnect to N.J. Shul Effort to revitalize Torahs leads man on a sacred journey

These atzei chaim, Torah rollers, were dedicated to Samuel Kossman, who has a grandson in Baltimore. (Provided)

These atzei chaim, Torah rollers, were dedicated to Samuel Kossman, who has a grandson in Baltimore. (Provided)

On some Shabbats, Fair Lawn, N.J., resident Jerry Schranz goes on a three-mile walk to Paterson, which was once a very Jewish area. There, he and  a few others hold a minyan in the basement of  independent-living facility Federation Apartments.

With the two Torahs that belong to the synagogue — known as the Paterson Shul or Beit Knesset  Paterson — in disrepair, Schranz set out to raise funds to fix them. In the process, from simply reading inscriptions and plaques, Schranz tracked down those who originally planted the shul’s roots as well as the families who dedicated pieces of the Torahs.

On Nov. 29, the Paterson Shul was rededicated with those families in attendance.

“It was reconnecting people with history,” Schranz said. “It all started with just looking at them and being curious about where the Torah came from.”

Through looking at the atzei chaim, the Torah rollers, Schranz was able to figure out that one Torah, which dates to 1953, was dedicated to Samuel Kossman. The other Torah, which dated to 1927, could be traced to the Goldberg family.  As Schranz tracked down those families, he also noticed a plaque on the wall at the Paterson Shul dedicated to the late granddaughter of a man named Joseph Fooks.

Through obituaries, Facebook, Jewish genealogy resources and a lot of phone calls, Schranz was able to get in touch with Kossman’s grandchildren, one of whom lives in Baltimore, and descendants of the Goldberg family in New Jersey. Through similar means, he discovered that Joseph Fooks was  the founder of the minyan, and Schranz found his family in Baltimore.

“I didn’t know the Torah’s whereabouts,” said Baltimore resident Simcha Kossman, grandson of Shalom. “For all I knew it was in a tattered condition buried in some cemetery. I had no idea it was still being used. That in the merit of its use, we believe that the person who passed away benefits from it, and it’s nice to know it’s still being used.”

That Torah was donated to Yanveh Academy,  a yeshiva that used to be across the street from the Federation Apartments, by Kossman’s grandmother when his grandfather passed away.

Jennie Kossman dedicated a Torah in 1953 to her late husband, Samuel. It would wind up at the Paterson Shul. (Provided)

Jennie Kossman dedicated a Torah in 1953 to her late husband, Samuel. It would wind up at the Paterson Shul. (Provided)

“It was unaccounted for for 35 years,” said Stephen Sussman, Kossman’s cousin who lives in Teaneck, N.J., and attended the rededication. Sussman and his son both got to inscribe letters in  the Torah as it was being repaired and damaged passages re-inscribed.

“It was very special, very meaningful,” he said. “My grandmother lives on and other families live on.”

When Yavneh moved to Paramus in the early 1980s, the Kossman and Goldberg Torahs were loaned to the Federation Building for their minyans. The families were unaware until Schranz did the research. Kossman now has the original atzei chaim as it had to be replaced to repair  the Torah.

“The Torah is the central focus of our Jewish life,” Schranz said. “Looking into the history of it is such a fascinating thing, and I encourage other shuls to do it.”

Joseph Fooks, pictured with his wife, Marcia, started a minyan in the 1980s at the Federation Apartments in Paterson, which is active to this day. (Provided)

Joseph Fooks, pictured with his wife, Marcia, started a minyan in the 1980s at the Federation Apartments in Paterson, which is active to this day. (Provided)“It was reconnecting people with history. It all started with just looking at them

“It was reconnecting people with history. It all started with just looking at them and being curious about where the Torah came from.”
— Jerry Schranz

Researching Joseph Fooks led Schranz to Fooks’ daughter, Risha, and son-in-law, Ray Saperstein, in Baltimore. As it turns out, Fooks is the one who started the minyan at the Federation Apartments after he moved there in 1980s, according to  Ray Saperstein.

There was no shul in the building, but there were a lot of Russian immigrants who were Jewish but knew little about Judaism. Fooks got siddurim and Torahs from Yavneh and got the Jewish  Federation to provide a Kiddush.

“He figured a good way to get people to want  to come to shul was to give them free food,”  Saperstein said.

The Sapersteins didn’t know the minyan kept going after all these years, even after Fooks died in the early 2000s.

“It says a lot about the community quite  honestly that people kept going for so long,” Saperstein said. “The idea that people are still davening there and having some identification with  yiddishkeit, if he was still alive [it] would make him really happy.”

The Sapersteins, along with their niece  and nephew and their children, attended the rededication cemermony.

The “no frills” synagogue, as Schranz called it, also got some new benches, books and a bimah. The ceremony was attended by around 100 people.

“It’s just a nice story that will perpetuate  Jewish life with really the last Jews of Paterson,” Schranz said.

The Paterson Shul’s new Torah covers were rededicated by the descendents of those to whom the Torahs were originally dedicated. (Provided)

The Paterson Shul’s new Torah covers were rededicated by the descendents of those to whom the Torahs were originally dedicated. (Provided)

For more information, visit PatersonShul.com.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Community Calendar Conundrum HoCo Jewish community fights to keep schools closed on High Holy Days

President of the Howard County Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Susan Grossman, testifies at the board of education meeting.  (Marc Shapiro)

President of the Howard County Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Susan Grossman, testifies at the board of education meeting. (Marc Shapiro)

Members of the Howard County Jewish community were out in force at a board of education meeting that addressed a possible change in the public school system’s calendar on Dec. 17.

The change, concerning whether or not schools should remain open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presented two options. One maintains the current calendar, which closes schools on the Jewish High Holy Days. The other opens schools on all days  except for state-mandated holidays as a way to be “equitable” to all.

Howard County Board of Education chairwoman Christine O’Connor began the meeting, which had more than 100 attendees, saying the board had received an estimated 500 emails concerning the topic.

The first to testify were those who the change would affect most directly: students.

Leanna Feinleib, a senior at Howard High School, said the proposal is “forcing us to choose between our  education and our religion. … I don’t even understand why it’s even being considered.”

“…I think the  underlying issue behind the  committee’s  premature  recommendation [is] the desire to treat all faith groups equally and to honor and respect the  diversity of belief and culture that makes Howard County such an amazing place  to live.”
— Joshua Kaufman, former  member and chairman of the Howard County Board of Education

“The school system has presented no current [data] on the operational impact of keeping schools open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from the perspective of Jewish students and teachers,” said Jamie Kotler, a student at Atholton High School.

The numbers were the focus for many of those who spoke at the meeting. Many members of the community  reminded the board that the original closure of schools on the Jewish High Holy Days was due to a 1979 survey. The survey concluded the absentee rate on those days — 12 percent in 1979 — would make it operationally impractical to open schools.

“Lacking current data, the report [from the board of education] states ‘the only way to obtain absence data on those days would be to open school,’” said Beth Shalom Rabbi Susan Grossman, president of the Howard County Board of Rabbis, during her testimony. “It does not seem very responsible to open school without knowing beforehand if there will be sufficient staff and [substitute teachers] available to ensure a safe and sound educational environment.”

Jeremy Goldman, an Ellicott City resident, is a parent of two children who testified at the meeting. He is in favor of the first option.

“My son, who is in fourth grade, asked me the same [question],” said Goldman when asked what prompted the board to consider this change. “I don’t have an answer. The [board’s] report says ‘recognizing the changing demographic in Howard County,’ [but] no one knows what that means.”

Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, submitted several statistics to demonstrate the Jewish community has grown significantly since the 1979 survey. The statistics were taken from the 2010 Jewish community study of Howard County. It said in 2010, there were 17,500 Jews in the county; an 8 percent increase since 1999. It also said there were 7,500 Jewish households; a 15 percent increase since 1999.

“In order to make a data-driven  decision, more work must be done. That work should include a survey of various cultural and religious communities regarding absences on all of our most important days,” Ostroff said during her testimony. “The Jewish Federation is fully committed to  assisting in collecting data and partnering with other faith and cultural organizations as well as the Howard County [Education] Association and the Howard County Administrators Association to report what’s needed to make an informed decision.”

Not all testimony was in support of keeping schools closed during the High Holidays. Indian-American  resident Dipak Srinivasan said he supports keeping the schools open, because “I think it’s the only responsible thing to do.” Srinivasan  explained he, and his wife, are forced to take off of work on the Jewish High Holy Days to watch their children. However, his children must also miss school on Indian holidays.

“1979 — we’ve gone along with this discriminatory practice for that long,” said Srinivasan.

There were several attendees at the meeting who testified about the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by the Chinese community. They  requested the board move a professional development day to coincide with the Lunar New Year and believe supporting option one would lead to this change.

The board also heard from one member of the community who is no stranger to the inner-workings of the school system.

“I think the underlying issue  behind the committee’s premature recommendation [is] the desire to treat all faith groups equally and to honor and respect the diversity of  belief and culture that makes Howard County such an amazing place to live,” said Joshua Kaufman, former member and chairman of the Howard County Board of Education. “The committee’s instinct is wonderful and I fully support it.

“However, making a change that will negatively impact the operations of the school system,” Kaufman continued, “While making students and staff across the county feel less valued and included is the totally wrong way to do that.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

A Call for Reform In wake of Freddie Gray mistrial, Jewish community, activists call for systemic change

(BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS/Newscom)

(BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS/Newscom)

After the mistrial of  Officer William Porter, the first of six officers facing charges in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, protesters hit the streets for what they saw as an injustice. But many in Baltimore’s Jewish community say Porter’s complex trial further highlighted the need for police reform and a change in police culture in Baltimore.

“I think there are two general areas that need to be addressed. One of them is police accountability and  the other is, for lack of a better term, cultural sensitivity and a paradigm shift within the culture of policing in Baltimore City and a lot of cities around the country,” said Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who is active with Jews United for Justice (JUFJ).

While JUFJ and other activist groups will push for police reform in the coming legislative session in Annapolis, Burg acknowledges that more needs to happen. While he hopes to see implementation of body cameras, better training and better  recruitment, Burg said a big change is needed in police mentality.

“A lot of it is also about how the police begin to see themselves once again as being a part of their communities and the communities building trust with the officers who serve and protect them,” he said.

The day of the mistrial announcement, Wednesday, Dec. 16, there was a tangible police presence in downtown Baltimore, with dozens of police officers at the corners of Fayette Street, other officers behind barricades in front of City Hall and others blocking doors to the courthouse.

A Call for Reform

The evening was one of peaceful protest as people marched through downtown in the late afternoon into the evening and later assembled at  the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues.

Porter was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless  endangerment in the death of Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while in  police custody earlier this year. A new trial for Porter is set for June 13, 2016.

“I’m disappointed because I thought he would be found guilty of misconduct at least,” said Renaya Nkechi, who was protesting outside City Hall on Dec. 16. “I’m scared for society … where you can be injured in the presence of public servants and they  will turn their back, do nothing  and let you die and then not be held accountable. That’s a scary society. That’s a society we need to address with reform of our police.”

Later that night, about a dozen protestors from the People’s Power Assembly had gathered on the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues, the area that was the epicenter of  unrest during the riots that occurred the day of Gray’s funeral in April.

Elder C.D. Witherspoon of City Revival Ministries was leading the crowd in chants.

“This trial makes it clear that the way our police interact with those they are supposed to serve and protect,  especially in black communities,  is extremely problematic.”

— Molly Amster, JUFJ Baltimore director

“I completely disagree with the  decision. I realize that [the jury] had a very tough task, but this is a major blow to the fight for justice in Baltimore and nationally, and I think we missed the opportunity early on to send the message that we are taking a hard line in opposition to police terror,” he said. “We believe that all the officers violated the public trust, and they all could gave done something to prevent Freddie Gray’s brutal and heinous murder, and they really let the general public down.”

JUFJ’s Baltimore director, Molly Amster, said Porter’s trial was  “incredibly complicated” but agreed with a recent editorial in The Baltimore Sun that said the trial shed light on the failings of Baltimore police. “We’re not sure whose depiction of it was worse: the prosecution’s account of police who express a callous indifference to the lives of those they  arrest and then lie to cover for each other or the defense’s picture of a  department so rife with incompetence that their client’s failures were entirely unexceptional,” the editorial said.

“We couldn’t agree more,” Amster said via email. “While the prosecutors failed to convince the entire jury of officer Porter’s guilt, the callousness described by the prosecution and the  incompetence described by the defense further solidified our commitment to achieving police accountability. This trial makes it clear that the way our  police interact with those they are  supposed to serve and protect, especially in black communities, is extremely problematic.”

JUFJ is interested in amending the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, something for which the  organization lobbied in Maryland’s 2015 legislative session and will lobby for again this coming session. Maryland is one of 14 states with a LEOBR  law, which offers protections for law  enforcement who are under investigation or are the subject of formal citizen complaints. Amster argues that LEOBR goes too far and hides misconduct from the public, and reforming it would  increase transparency, citizen oversight and accountability, she said.

“[LEOBR] only serves to protect and shield police officers when they have been accused of misconduct and is a significant barrier to building the community trust that is essential to  improving policing and the community,” Amster said. “JUFJ is advocating for changes that would improve  police-community relations while also working to end the larger,  systemic inequalities that create the desperation that leads to crime in  Baltimore and beyond.”

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the BJC is going to look at the issue of police reform this upcoming  legislative session. The council will review LEOBR and bills associated with it as they come during the session.

“I think in the end we’ve got to take this day by day,” he said.

Looking forward, it is unclear how Porter’s mistrial may affect those of the other five officers. The next trial, for Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who drove the van in which Freddie Gray suffered his fatal injury, begins Jan. 6. He faces second-degree depraved-heart murder, among other charges.

University of Baltimore associate professor of law Amy Dillard said the case against Porter was complex, and the jury will be put in similarly unique positions in the upcoming cases.

“The theory is the same. It’s all rooted in this negligence theory or callous disregard for human life. It makes sense that you could assess the viability for the other cases [based on Porter’s case],” she said. “In these cases, the role of the jury is uniquely complex, and  it will demand jurors really draw on personal experience about what is  reasonable or unreasonable conduct.”

Abramson emphasized that Porter’s mistrial was not a conviction or an acquittal, all it meant was 12 jurors couldn’t unanimously agree.

“The most important thing right now is to give the system a chance, and we can deal with it if it doesn’t perform adequately, but I think it will,” he said.

On the morning of Thursday, Dec. 17, the day after the mistrial was  declared, members of the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs, a coalition of more than 50 organizations including JUFJ, held a news conference in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where Freddie Gray lived.

Ray Kelly, organizer and resident advocate with the West Baltimore  organization No Boundaries coalition, underscored the importance of the crossroads at which the city sits.

“We as a community can actually take this opportunity to really channel this protest into actual policies. We don’t want to get lost in the judicial proceedings, we want to keep our eyes on the prize,” he said. “Baltimore’s at a critical moment. We can and should make some policy changes right now, and we should develop  systems for actively encouraging and engaging civic discourse in these  reform efforts, especially with black and brown youth in our city.”

In speaking about how the Dec. 16 protests were peaceful, Burg said he looks to the future with hope, and he wishes others would too.

“I think we would be better off as a community if we meet these things — instead of with a feeling of anxiety and fear — if we meet them with a willingness to be hopeful about the future,” he said “These moments in history are watershed moments. Either we’re going to grow or see this as something to suffer through together and then business as usual. And we can’t have business as usual. Things have to change, and I’m hopeful that they will.”

Daniel Schere contributed to this report.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Honoring Those Who Came Before Us Jewish communities grapple with upkeep at older cemeteries

Just weeks ago, the Ohr Knesseth Israel Anshe Sfard Congregation Cemetery looked like a tornado had torn through it.

At least 80 stones, possibly as many as 100, had been toppled over by vandals on Erev Yom Kippur (the date appears to be a coincidence). The stones, which date to the early 1900s, lay flat on the ground, some even disconnected from their bases.

But on this particular day, things were looking up. Mark Hyatt and his crew of four, contracted by the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore (JCA), were hard at work repairing the damage at the cemetery on German Hill Road in East Baltimore.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hyatt said. “It was looking disastrous when we got here on Sunday, [Dec. 6].” He and his crew were on their third day of flipping stones over, leveling bases and reattaching headstones using weather-proof industrial-strength epoxy.

“It’s really backbreaking,” he said. And there were two or three more days to go.

The whole job, including fixing the fence so it can be secured overnight, would cost about $10,000, which was being split by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the JCA.

Honoring Those Who Came Before Us

The JCA, an agency of The Associated, maintains 13 of Baltimore’s older cemeteries, most of which were owned by congregations that no longer exist and whose caretakers have passed on. Pooling the assets and perpetual-care trusts of the 13 cemeteries into one fund allows the organization the flexibility to fix disasters such as this one.

About 10 minutes up the road on a hill surrounded by office buildings with a view of I-895 lies a number of cemeteries, including Mikro Kodesh Beth Israel Cemetery, which is owned and operated by Beth Israel Congregation, now located in Owings Mills.

Baltimore native Scott Gartner, who lives in Lakewood, N.J., visits the cemetery regularly. His parents, Freida and Jack, are buried there, as are grandparents, aunts and uncles. The part of the cemetery where his family lies was purchased by his maternal grandfather and three friends under the Swinicher Woliner Benevolent Association. There’s a memorial that pays tribute to members of families who perished in the Holocaust. This cemetery is important to Gartner.

On a visit in early December for his mother’s yartzeit, the site of leaning headstones and those that had already toppled over brought tears to his eyes.

“That could be Uncle Benny and Aunt Molly,” Gartner said, as he pointed to fallen stones.

The older section of the cemetery further troubles Gartner. There are stones that have fallen on other stones, stones that are sinking and stones that have fallen forward with grass growing around them. Even the road to the older part is in disrepair with cracked concrete and fallen, mangled tree branches covering the surface.

For Beth Israel, this part of the cemetery also is troubling.

“Some of those older parts are well over 100 years old, and so consequently we don’t even know who some of the families are,” said Allen Cohen, co-president of the cemetery.

While he and fellow co-president Marilyn Schloss recently switched caretakers to help beautify the newer part of the cemetery, the older part remains an issue. Without families to contact, funding to repair fallen stones is virtually nonexistent. The perpetual-care trusts, funds bought into by the deceased or their families that grow interest, pay for grass mowing and regular maintenance, but not to repair hundred-year-old cemetery areas that could cost in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I don’t know that we have the money ourselves to do it,” Cohen said. “That’s always a problem.”

Without a pool to draw from like the JCA has, Beth Israel is left only with the hope that The Associated and JCA can help out, although at this moment, the JCA only works in its 13 cemeteries.

“It’s tough. As Jews, it’s a major responsibility,” Cohen said. “I don’t know of too many responsibilities that are more important than that.”

These issues are not unique to Baltimore. All over the country, Jewish communities are grappling with how to maintain their aging cemeteries. While nonprofits such as the JCA exist in some cities, in some cases, cemeteries are unfortunately forgotten and neglected.

“Cemeteries need a pot of money to be able to continue the maintenance going forward, really forever … and that’s the biggest challenge for cemeteries: to have sufficient funds,” said Amy Koplow, membership co-chair of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America and executive director of the Hebrew Free Burial Association in New York. “When people are buried, when people buy graves, Jewish people, they’re expecting that their place of eternal rest will be respectful forever. You don’t pick to get buried in a garbage dump, you pick to get buried in a respectful spot in a well-maintained cemetery.”

The JCA cemeteries

In 1999, the same year Steve Venick became president of the Fram Monument Company, the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore was formed under the umbrella of The Associated to be a committee that anyone involved with cemeteries could come to with questions and issues. Its members consisted of the people who ran the cemeteries.

A few years after its formation, the JCA was approached by two cemeteries for much-needed help. It wasn’t the synagogues that approached the JCA — the synagogues that once ran these cemeteries had folded in the 1970s and ’80s. It was aging board members who were responsible for the cemeteries.

“[They asked], ‘What happens when we pass on? Who’s going to maintain and operate our cemeteries?’” Venick said. “So the board met, and we shifted models and we shifted priorities. We needed to get into the position of acquiring and operating cemeteries.”

These days, the board is led by Venick, its president, and includes Sol Levinson & Bros. vice president Matt Levinson and cemetery directors of several local congregations.

Mark Smolarz, COO and CFO at The Associated, refers to the organization as a “catcher’s mitt.” He oversees The Associated’s constituent agencies, such as the JCA.

“Most of the cemeteries are cemeteries of synagogues that have long been dissolved or merged, and therefore the synagogue no longer had the capacity or financial resources to maintain them,” he explained.

The Ohr Knesseth Israel Anshe Sfard Congregation Cemetery ended up in the JCA’s hands through a series of mergers. Ohr Knesseth merged with the old Rogers Avenue shul that merged with Beth Jacob, which merged with Beth Tfiloh, at which point the cemetery was turned over to the JCA.

All but one JCA cemetery are active, and some more than others. Most are on the east side of Baltimore, where the Jewish community once lived.

Matt Levinson, who has been on the board of the JCA for years, said Baltimore is lucky to have the JCA.

“If it wasn’t for the Jewish Cemetery Association, there’d be a much bigger issue in Baltimore,” he said. “Cemeteries are different than a business. You can’t just close a cemetery; there’s always maintenance and things you have to do.”

Bill Bisesi, caretaker for the JCA cemeteries, said stones falling over is not uncommon. In some cemeteries, like the older part of Beth Israel’s, the rows were laid out close together, and stones were often put on top of graves instead of solid ground. As ground moves over time and graves settle, stones are bound to move, lean and fall.

“It’s a different job to take care of an old cemetery than it is to take care of your new, modern cemeteries,” he said. “There’s just so much more involved and so much other stuff you have to take care of.”

In addition to funding issues and trouble tracking down families, old cemeteries don’t have the grave liners or vaults that many modern-day cemeteries require to help keep stones in place. Older stones, many of which are made of marble, have degraded over time, making it hard to read the names on the markers.

“Monuments fall in older cemeteries because the ground continues to settle and foundations crack and foundations sink, and all of this comes under the umbrella of maintenance,” Koplow said. “And very easily, a cemetery can start to look overgrown and abandoned if even in one season that grass isn’t cut.”

While major catastrophes are few and far between, the JCA had to spend $20,000 last year at Adas Israel’s cemetery on German Hill Road, when a nearly 400-foot rear retaining wall fell forward, taking the fence on top of it down.

“One part went and it was like a domino,” Venick said. “It was mind boggling how something could collapse like that.”

Luckily, no stones were damaged.

The JCA can put out $20,000 or split the $10,000 repair at Ohr Knesseth with The Associated, because all the perpetual care trusts from the cemeteries it took over have been pooled into one fund that the organization can spend as it sees fit. That flexibility, to spend one cemetery’s money on another, was something for which the organization had to petition the courts.

The JCA doesn’t actively seek out cemeteries, but when caretakers approach the JCA, the board meets to decide if it fits into its mission.

Gartner, who has been in touch with Venick and Smolarz about his concerns in Baltimore’s aging cemeteries (his paternal grandfather is buried at Ohr Knesseth), wants to see the group become more proactive.

In detailed letters to Associated officials, Gartner wrote about how he would like to see a board of rabbis involved in the JCA, regular visits and maintenance at Baltimore’s cemeteries and tighter security and partnerships with organizations such as the police to ensure cemeteries remain sacred. He would also like to see the JCA partner with the wider Jewish community in a superfund that could help all cemeteries and come up with a plan of care for cemeteries when their synagogues’ operations cease.

“If our generation doesn’t take perpetual care responsibly, who will in the next generation and the next generation?” Gartner asked. “Who’s going to care about my parents’ cemetery when I’m gone?”

While it may be a tall order, the JCA is looking into a number of things that can push the organization’s mission forward. There are discussions about enrolling volunteers through Jewish Volunteer Connection to check on cemeteries on a regular basis. Venick said the JCA is also looking into how it might help other cemeteries that it does not run.

“We have to be careful how much we take on. It’s a financial burden, even though it’s the right thing over time,” said Smolarz, who thinks at some point the JCA is going to have 40 to 50 cemeteries. He would love to see a team of volunteers from the JVC come into the fold and is open to the idea of a superfund.

“If there’s a way to pull assets [together] and be administratively more efficient and be economically more efficient to have one entity be the czar over the cemeteries, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said.

There is also talk of merging the JCA with the United Hebrew Cemetery Corporation of Rosedale, another group of which Venick is president. UHCC is a nonprofit that takes care of about three-quarters of the Jewish cemeteries in Rosedale. Venick said the organization is smaller, taking care of about 22 small cemeteries, with funding about one-tenth of the JCA’s.

Old issues and new trends

Amy Koplow, membership chair at JCANA, the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America, said there are organizations similar to Baltimore’s JCA in Boston, Cincinnati and New York, in areas where there are older cemeteries and the Jewish community has moved away. The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts uses a similar model.

“Their business model is to sort of take from the rich and give to the poor. Whatever assets these cemeteries had were put into one pot; that way everybody could be taken care of,” she said.

As executive director of the Hebrew Free Burial Association, the largest in the diaspora, she deals with her own organization’s old cemetery, which was filled up in 1909. The organization’s active cemetery has about 400 burials a year, for which the organization provides funeral services and the burial. And there is a program through which donors can pay for grave markers.

She said New York has a large number of old cemeteries that have fallen into states of neglect. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were hundreds of burial societies formed by groups called landsmanshaftn, which were fraternal organizations for immigrants from the same towns in Europe.

“One way of keeping from feeling like they weren’t lost in this mass of population was to form these societies,” Koplow said. “So there were hundreds of them, if not thousands, and over several generations … the sort of upkeep of the landsmanshaftn cemeteries sort of disappeared.”

At the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s own cemetery, the organization is left up to its own devices to deal with these issues. When stones fall, they place them on the grave or lean them against the grave since the group doesn’t have the funds to reset them, Koplow said.

“It’s a problem in many Jewish communities,” she explained, noting that some of New Jersey’s historical cemeteries in areas where Jews no longer live have suffered similar issues.

In her JCANA capacity, Koplow has seen some new trends emerging in the Jewish cemetery world, “things where there’s no traditional halachic road map,” she said. As the number of interfaith couples grows, some cemeteries have started allowing interfaith burials, even carving out sections for those burials.

Cremation is also on the rise, Koplow said. For some people with children who don’t live near them, cremation is a way for them to be with their family where they are. For some, the lower cost is attractive, and others says they want to take up less space and have a more environmentally friendly death.

Koplow isn’t convinced it’s a good way to go.

“It’s against Jewish law, and secondly, the energy it takes to cremate doesn’t make it a very green process,” she said.

Walter Tegeler, who runs W.S. Tegeler Monument Company in Baltimore, said he sees more interfaith and cremation burials in Reform cemeteries.

“It’s been going on for years, but I think you see more and more of it now than you used to,” he said of cremations. “People aren’t as religious as they used to be.”

At the cemetery of Beth Tfiloh, a modern Orthodox congregation, there are no interfaith or cremation burials allowed. At Conservative congregation Chizuk Amuno’s cemetery, they don’t accept cremations, but do have a section for interfaith families, something the congregation approved a few years ago.

“We have one burial there so far and some purchased lots,” said cemetery director Marsha Yoffe. “It’s not a stampede; I would say there is a need, and we’re addressing it, and I think in the future that’s where things are going. We’re trying to be realistic.”

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation accepts cremains as well as interfaith burials.

“We don’t mind if a non-Jewish person is buried at our cemetery as long as the internment is officiated by a rabbi and it’s done by Jewish tradition or law,” said Jo Ann Windman, the congregation’s executive director. Non-Jews are buried throughout the cemetery rather than in a separate section.

Windman does see cremations slowly rising in recent years. A couple can buy one lot for both in cases of cremation, and although they pay a premium to use one lot, it does save money in the long run.

“I think it has to do with costs, and the other part of it has to do with the way people feel about taking up less space on the earth,” Windman said.

The rise in cremations may signify a wider trend. Wendy Farley, cemetery coordinator at Beth Tfiloh, doesn’t see young people appreciating the importance of cemeteries the way previous generations did, as the number of attendees at the annual memorial service has dropped in recent years.

“I don’t think a lot of people are going to visit their grandparents anymore. I think visiting a cemetery used to be a much more common thing … and I don’t think it’s happening as much anymore,” she said. “I think honoring the dead is something that needs to be brought to the attention of the younger generation.”

Clearing the WEEDS

Just outside of West Philadelphia in Lower Merion Township lies what was once known as Har Hasetim, a cemetery that had been neglected for more than half a century.

“The cemetery was started back in 1892, and it was really a number of burial societies who were burying people in the cemetery. But because of its location high on a hill, a little difficult to get to, far from public transportation, it became less favored,” said Stephen Anderer.

“Burial associations started to die out, and people become assimilated and associated them with the old world. And as a result, the last burial in that cemetery was in 1945, and after that period it really fell into neglect and disrepair. There were homes built up all around it — nice big expensive homes, so it was really cut off from the active public street.”

It became overgrown and essentially a forest until the land owner tried to sell it to a developer who planned to move the graves and build more luxury homes.

“Once word got around about that, not just members of the Jewish community, but members of the local community were up in arms and thought it was sacrilege and really disrespectful to the people who are buried,” Anderer said. Rabbis spoke out against it as well.

The community won a court case, and the six-acre cemetery was turned over to Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery. Anderer chairs the nonprofit, which was started about four years ago. The organization aims to preserve the cemetery, honor those buried there and educate future generations.

Tasks have included landscape management — weeding, moving fallen trees and pruning old trees that haven’t been touched since the 1940s — repairing cracked and fallen stones and doing research on who is buried there. On a recent weekend, volunteers were out with chainsaws, weed whackers and wood chippers to trim away some of the growth. A local landscaping company even donated some of its time.

Anderer’s goal for 2016 is to make every grave visible and accessible via a trail, a goal that was difficult to meet this year.

“As soon as you clear the weeds, another month and they’re back,” he said. “Seventy years of neglect can seem overwhelming, but we’re really starting to get it under control.”

The organization has done some fundraising as well as public events that re-enact some of the history of the area.

“We want to build memorials and kiosks to tell the story and have seating areas, maybe a small reflecting pond,” Anderer said. “That’s going to cost money.”

Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery has also established partnerships, including one with the nearby West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Scout troupes and local synagogues have also helped clean up. A professor at Villanova University has a graduate class doing research on the history of the cemetery and the people buried there.

“We want to tell that story to a new generation and generations to come,” Anderer said. “It’s not just the story of the immigrants who came to this country, but certainly Jewish immigrants, people who were fleeing persecution in the late 1800s and their children. Ultimately, these people were the foundation for the Jewish community of today, people like those who are buried in the cemetery.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

In the Company of Men Bagel Boys stay young, engaged at Myerberg Center

Allan Gold, Ernest Silversmith and Louis Hyatt particpate in a Bagel Boys Boot Camp weekly work out. (photo by Melissa Gerr)

Allan Gold, Ernest Silversmith and Louis Hyatt particpate in a Bagel Boys Boot Camp weekly work out. (photo by Melissa Gerr)

Each Tuesday morning at 10 at the Edward A. Myerberg Center, the boys are back — the Bagel Boys that is — noshing on bagels, sipping coffee and having a good schmooze before the week’s lecture. They claim events like this keep them coming back for more and help them stay young.

On this day, the Frosburg Room, which the group expanded into when they outgrew the former meeting place, was abuzz with smart-aleck remarks, off-color jokes and about 50 kibitzing guys because they’re genuinely interested in each other and hungry for learning about the topic at hand.

“Sometimes, I go to the gym [before the lecture], sometimes I don’t,” Leo Sirota, 86, a retired pharmacist, said. “And sometimes, he just looks in the gym!” heckled a friend at his table.

“This is a sociable crowd; we joke and argue back and forth,” said Sirota, brushing off his heckler friend with a wave of his hand. He likes the variety of speakers, but “we had a series about World War I, and I didn’t find that too interesting because I probably knew more than the speaker,” Sirota added with a laugh.

At first, Sirota said he only used the gym at Myerberg because other programs didn’t really appeal to him until the Bagel Boys came along. Since his wife died, he said, the Bagel Boys “have given me a chance to get out of the house instead of looking at the walls.”

“One thing we know about older adult men is that in general, they are less inclined to plan social interaction,” said Autumn Sadovnik, assistant director of the center. “They’re prone to social isolation and less likely to be a part of a community” on their own accord.

 (From left): Bagel Boys co-chairs Sidney Rankin, Howard Cornblatt and Marty Buckman with Edward A. Myerberg Center assistant director Autumn Sadovnik. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

(From left): Bagel Boys co-chairs Sidney Rankin, Howard Cornblatt and Marty Buckman with Edward A. Myerberg Center assistant director Autumn Sadovnik. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

So in the fall of 2013, Myerberg dedicated its efforts to provide more programming aimed at men to counter that trend. Sadovnik researched what other places were doing and then put a notice in the Myerberg Center news-letter inviting people to meet and discuss what they wanted in a men’s club.

About a half-dozen male members showed up and “a bunch of women sent their husbands because they’ve been trying to push them out of the house,” Sadovnik said with a laugh. She received calls from female Myerberg members pleading, “[He’s] driving me crazy! My husband’s really bored. Please find something for him to do!’”

Sadovnik said that characteristically women, especially those who may not have worked full time, are used to finding activities to fill their days, “but a newly retired man suddenly has 40 to 50 hours to fill.” And, she added, much of the offerings at Myerberg, such as art and fitness classes, tend to appeal more — though not exclusively — to women.

After its first meeting, word of the Bagel Boys spread, and in a few months the group grew from less than 10 men to dozens. Now there are about 75 members. The group is co-chaired by Marty Buckman, Howard Cornblatt and Sidney Rankin.

“I was single when I moved [back] here, and wives are the social leaders,” Rankin, 83, said. He retired from chemical engineering about 25 years ago.

“I’ve outlived almost all of my relatives, so my ‘family’ is in this building. I come in here to use the fitness center for my 15 minutes,” he said laughing, “but every time I walk in the room there’s four, five, six people who I can say hello to and talk a bit. A lot of fitness centers are not a community I think, but the Myerberg is a community.”

Buckman, 85, has learned a lot from the speakers and enjoys the camaraderie, and even though he’s a native Baltimorean, “I’ve met a lot of very nice gentlemen,” he said. “And it’s a place to be. When you’re a senior, you have to have things to do and places to be. [The Bagel Boys’ meetings are] something that I can look forward to doing every week.”

Arriving just in time for the lecture from his 30-minute circuit training, Cornblatt, 73, said he enjoys the talks about current events and added the group has heard from an audiologist that included free screenings for everyone and a cardiologist who also offered heart-healthy information. “And the feedback is all positive — [we] keep coming back.”

This day’s presentation was from Deborah Cardin, deputy director at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, who spoke about an upcoming exhibit, “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” opening in March.

“It’s such a joy, it’s so much fun going there,” Cardin said after her presentation. “There’s a real sense of interest in nostalgia and reliving the stories of their youth.”

She also commended the volunteer hours that Buckman, Rankin and many other seniors provide for the JMM as well.

There’s even an offshoot called the Bagel Boys Boot Camp, of which Alan B. Cohen, 64, is a participant. He appreciates the mix of retired lawyers, pharmacists, businessmen, chemists, engineers, doctors and tech gurus, such as himself, who provide engaging “adult communication.” But he added, “I don’t get as much exercise as I ought to. [Boot Camp] forces me to have at least an hour of exercise a week,” referring to the class led by Ross Wilson, fitness and wellness manager.

In a small classroom on Wednesday mornings, Wilson runs the group through a combination of circuit and strength training, where “everything can be modified; it can all be done seated or standing because skill levels can range a lot, even from day to day,” he said.

Ernest Silversmith, 85, a retired Morgan State University chemistry professor, counted off bicep curls while “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman blasted from speakers to pump up the group.

“The talks are extremely interesting, but above and beyond that, we all enjoy each other’s company,” he said, adding that regular exercise was “something I probably wouldn’t do on my own.”

Albert Ginsburg, 71, two days into his retirement from podiatry and in attendance just to check out the group, said he ate “a nice bagel and it was a very good lecture.” He said he would likely return “so I can partake with all the new time I have on my hands.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

From Squad Car to Synagogue Local cantor builds bridges between law enforcement and community

Cantor Michael Shochet

Cantor Michael Shochet (Photos courtesy of Cantor Michael Shochet)

It was July 1987. Michael Shochet was a young police officer working the midnight shift in Baltimore City. A signal 13 came across the radio. An off-duty officer needed backup.

Soon after Shochet and his fellow officers arrived at the 1100 block of Abbott Court, shots rang out. Officer Tom Martini was shot through his shoulder by a mentally ill suspect standing less than four feet away.

“I grabbed Tom, who was screaming, and dragged him around the side of the house to get him out of the line of fire,” said Shochet. “That was a hugely traumatic experience. It’s been almost 30 years, and I still remember that to this day.”

It proved to be a life-changing event, one that would lead Shochet on a spiritual journey to create bridges among clergy, community and police departments.

Not long after the shooting, Shochet — who now lives in Fairfax County, Va. — found himself having a hard time on the street.

­Shochet remained active in his Reform congregation, Temple Emanuel, then located in Pikesville. Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl of Temple Emanuel encouraged Shochet to pursue cantorial school, and Shochet was further mentored by Cantor Samuel Berman of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

The transition from the squad car to the pulpit was actually his third career move. After graduating from Ithaca College, he worked at WMAR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore, as an on-air reporter. When he first entered the police academy, he said, his fellow trainees were convinced that he was actually undercover for a story.

As an officer, he responded to people in their worst moments. Unfortunately, he wrote in an op-ed piece published in May in The Baltimore Sun, little has changed in his hometown.

The cynicism of some police officers, the violence carried out by some residents, were both crystallized in the death of Freddie Gray and the protests that followed. But Shochet, instead of despairing, outlined solutions and tactics that he has modeled as a law enforcement chaplain in northern Virginia.

When Shochet became the first cantor at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church nearly 18 years ago, he reached out to local law enforcement; today, he serves as the police chaplain coordinator of the Fairfax County Police Department. In that capacity he brings faith leaders together with the department and helps today’s officers prepare for what Maj. Ed O’Carroll, a 26-year veteran of the Fairfax Police Department, described as unique challenges.

“The new phenomenon in law enforcement is we’ve been on alert since 9/11, which was 15 years ago. For the average officer on the road, terrorism has been on their mind for most of their career,” said O’Carroll.

Filming of police officers is par the course — and something O’Carroll says his department encourages the community to do — but the speed at which such videos make it to the national news is newer.

“Does it add a little bit of stress?” O’Carroll queried. “It may. That’s where folks like Mike and peer support and education and training come into play.”

Cantor Michael Shochet worked for the Baltimore Police Department in the late 1980s. Witnessing his partner getting shot proved to be a pivotal moment in his life. (Photo courtesy of Cantor Michael Shochet)

Cantor Michael Shochet worked for the Baltimore Police Department in the late 1980s. Witnessing his partner getting shot proved to be a pivotal moment in his life. (Photo courtesy of Cantor Michael Shochet)

Shochet never received counseling after his partner was shot. The officers were given the day off and told to report back for duty as normal.

“There was no processing of it from an emotional, psychological or spiritual sense back then,” recalled Shochet. “It was kind of like ‘man-up’ and ‘this is what police work is all about.’”

That lack of care for the traumatized and the secondarily traumatized is part of what compels him to teach classes at the local police academy on how officers can take care of their spiritual well-being. It spurred him to join the chaplaincy program and later become the first chaplain of any faith at the CIA. (He was at the Pentagon on Sept. 12, 2011 manning the chaplain tent. The smell of burning fuel, he said, will never leave him.)

Today, said Shochet, the approach to police psychological care is different.

“Our most valuable asset is our employees,” said O’Carroll. “They’re ordinary people we ask to do extraordinary things. We want them to know that they’re cared for and loved at all levels.”

Over the course of his nearly three decades with law enforcement, O’Carroll has seen a lot of change.

“We talk about things more. We talk about suicide. We talk about alcoholism and high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” he explained. “We’re not shy to recognize that we need to safeguard our employees against the dangers that come from stress.”

But what about the stress of citizens who are victims of criminal acts perpetrated by police? Who safeguards them?

“I think there’s kind of a meta-climate and a micro-climate,” said Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, where he and his family reside. “The meta-climate is fraught right now. You read the papers and you look at what’s going on in the city with the crime and murder rates and the desperate need for police reform. There’s some large problems in front of us.”

In the micro-climates of individual neighborhoods, Burg said most people are just trying to go about their lives.

We talk about things more. We talk about suicide. We talk about alcoholism and high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

— Maj. Ed O’Carroll, Fairfox Police Department

Molly Amster, who grew up in Montgomery County and now serves as the Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice, said that those whose “action and inaction” caused Gray’s death must be held accountable. “Anything less would be a tragedy.”

Burg shares those concerns.

“I’m worried in a sense that it’s hard for a lot of people right now to trust the criminal justice system,” he said. “The rule of law is obviously very important, but I think there’s a real deficit of trust right now.”

That trust, he said, has eroded over time. It didn’t start with Freddie Gray or John Greer, a Springfield, Va., resident allegedly shot and killed by former Fairfax County police officer Adam Torres. Torres’ trial, originally scheduled to begin Dec. 14, was postponed to April.

Shochet addresses police abuses — which stem, he wrote, from an “us (the police) against them (everyone else)” mentality — in his class, sharing the story of former Baltimore police lieutenant Michael Timothy Snow, who was sentenced in 2001 to 14 years in federal prison for bank robberies. (In his first career in broadcast news, Shochet had filmed a ride-along with Snow.)

It’s also why Shochet advocates for law enforcement agencies to mandate visits to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Police back then were seen as the bad guys because they were the ones who abused their power, and so I think it’s important to understand when you put that badge on what it means and how not to take advantage of the system,” said Shochet.

On the other hand, Shochet added, officers deserve support from the government and should not be put on trial through the public.

JUFJ advocates for improved police-community relations, and part of that, it believes, includes reforming the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights to be more transparent.

“As [Shochet] indicated in his op-ed in The Sun, to see a change we need significant cultural shifts within police departments and the larger society,” said Amster. “Police misconduct and lack of accountability has led to serious community mistrust.”

Burg was among faith leaders who met with Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis last week.

“I think he’s an earnest guy who really wants to make change, and I think he is willing to own the mistakes that the police department has made,” said Burg. “The question is: Does he have the capacity, the funding, the political will to implement the sorts of changes that need to happen right now? I don’t know the answer to that.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com
mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

‘The Land of Israel Belongs to Us’ Israel’s education minister addresses appreciative Beth Tfiloh audience

Israeli education minister and right-wing firebrand Naftali Bennett was on friendly territory last week, telling a crowd at Beth Tfiloh Congregation that it was impossible for Israel to be an occupying power and attacking Arab media outlets for what he said was biased reporting against him and the Jewish state.

“One cannot occupy his own home,” Bennett told Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg at the Dec. 3 event, which was sponsored by the congregation’s Mercaz Dahan Center and the One Israel Fund, which supports the welfare of men, women and children living in Judea and Samaria. “The land of Israel belongs to us, it has always belonged to us, and it always will belong to us.”

Naftali Bennett (Copyright (C) Flash 90 2013)

Naftali Bennett (Copyright (C) Flash 90 2013)

The remarks, which drew thunderous applause from the packed house of the Dahan Sanctuary, came in response to an Al-Monitor article published the day before that Wohlberg referenced. The rabbi said that the piece, which was about the radicalization of politics in Israel, could lead people to perceive Bennett as “on the extremist side” for supporting “the partial annexation of the occupied territories to Israel.” In the article, Bennett is quoted as saying, “When the prime minister supports the creation of a Palestinian state, that is not a right-wing government.”

Bennett criticized the author and said she made several mistakes, but the main mistake was using the word “occupied.”

The conversation had started off with Wohlberg joking that Bennett, who also holds the diaspora affairs portfolio, cannot hold down a job; the rabbi listed several ministerial positions his guest has held, including over the economy and religious services. Wohlberg’s first question was if Bennett wanted to become prime minister.

“I am the happiest person in Israel,” responded Bennett, who added that he never planned to become minster of education. “I have the best job in Israel; being responsible for [educating] 2 million Israeli kids.”

In the days leading up to the event Bennett resigned from his ministerial positions, but his leave is temporary. Knesset member Yinon Magal, who is a part of Bennett’s Jewish Home Party, resigned from his legislative seat amid sexual assault allegations on Nov. 30.

With a Knesset seat open, Bennett, who was not serving as a lawmaker, resigned from the Cabinet with the intention to resume his position as both a minister and a Knesset member.

[pullquote]The acceptance here of every Jew, regardless of the size of their yarmulke or the length of their sleeve; that is something we [in Israel] need to learn. We have to learn to open up and love every brother and sister, period.[/pullquote]Other topics of the discussion included Bennett’s past experiences growing and selling a Manhattan-based technology company, educational reforms for Israel’s haredi Orthodox population and strategies for fighting the so-called Islamic State.

In a question-and-answer session afterward, Bennett was asked how he was treated during an interview with Al Jazeera. He responded that the experience was “like torture.”

One attendee wanted to know what Bennett has done, as minister of education, to crack down on Arab schools that teach incitement against Jews. He explained the ministry reviews and revises the curriculum that schools teach, and he has a “zero tolerance policy” for incitement.

Another attendee asked what Bennett thought about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris last week during the global climate talks.

“I’m not in the business of telling the prime minister what to do,” said Bennett. “As long as he doesn’t give up land, I’m not against negotiations. As long as we don’t give up one centimeter of land.”

The night concluded with attendees singing “Hatikvah” and Bennett offering a takeaway about Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“The acceptance here of every Jew, regardless of the size of their yarmulke or the length of their sleeve — that is something we [in Israel] need to learn,” said Bennett. “We have to learn to open up and love every brother and sister, period.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Bead Closes After 48 Years Storied Baltimore store run by two sisters and their mother to close in January

Calling The Bead a clothing and accessories store hardly scratches the surface. What started from a teenager’s dream of making an antique finish for earrings in the late 1960s blossomed into a cutting-edge clothing store, where Baltimoreans could buy Nehru shirts and bell-bottom jeans, a hangout, a place where any woman of any age and body type could walk in unsure of her style and walk out feeling beautiful.

No, The Bead isn’t just a store. It’s a Baltimore institution.

After 48 years, sisters Anne Liner and Idy Harris, who started the business with their mother, Belle Bashoff, in 1967, have decided to close their doors in January.

Anne Liner (left) and Idy Harris, sisters and best friends, opened The Bead in 1967 with their mother, Belle Bashoff. Behind them are photos from over the years and drawings that customers made of them. The store is closing after 48 years. (Marc Shapiro)

Anne Liner (left) and Idy Harris, sisters and best friends, opened The Bead in 1967 with their mother, Belle Bashoff. Behind them are photos from over the years and drawings that customers made of them. The store is closing after 48 years. (Marc Shapiro)

Once the announcement got out, much fanfare followed, as one would hope for with any business that was around for nearly half a century. People have come in crying. Employees from as long ago as 1969 have called in to say “thank you.” Someone even showed up with a sign to protest.

“It’s like coming into a shiva house,” said employee Adrienne Blumberg. “[Customers] are devastated. People are stockpiling. They’re buying next winter’s clothes and putting them away.”

For Liner, 68, and Harris, 71, both of Pikesville, the doors to The Bead, at The Shops at Kenilworth, close in triumph — the triumph that three women with $1,500 and little business acumen turned an idea into a successful, sustainable business that has remained relevant for almost 50 years.

“I’m just amazed that we did it. I’m just amazed every day,” Liner said as she high-fived her sister on a recent evening outside of the shop.

The two remain best friends, and it shines through as they tell the story of their shop, interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences as they look back on the last 48 years.

It started in 1967 when Liner had a dream of making a special antique finish for earrings.

“My father had died, my mother was raising her two teenage daughters, and there was very little money,” Harris said, “and Anne wanted to go to what is now [Baltimore City Community College] … we couldn’t afford to send her.”

Some signs for The Bead Experience over the years. The top right photo is of Idy Harris and Anne Liner holding up a promotional poster for Woodstock for which their store sold tickets. (Marc Shapiro)

Some signs for The Bead Experience over the years. The top right photo is of Idy Harris and Anne Liner holding up a promotional poster for Woodstock for which their store sold tickets. (Marc Shapiro)

“We had $1,500 in the world and my mother gave us all her money,” Liner recalled. “And I often think about it, if my kids came to me [and asked] ‘Can I have all your money? I have this dream.’ She was very special.”

Liner and Harris went to Providence, R.I., to buy jewelry-making supplies. Liner then made jewelry at their apartment with help from her sister and mother and would sell it in the cafeteria at the community college.

When Liner heard about an empty store on Read Street, which she said was like Baltimore’s Georgetown in the late 1960s, she set up shop there to start making her jewelry. She originally intended for the store, which had a front door shaped like a coffin, to just be a workshop, but when people started coming in to buy the jewelry, The Bead was born.

Pulling from the same $1,500 that bought the jewelry-making supplies, Liner, in her teens, and Harris, in her early 20s, went to New York City and bought six Nehru shirts and six pairs of bellbottoms. As the first store in Baltimore to sell those items, they sold out and went back and bought 12.

“This was sort of our business plan. We kept reinvesting the money and kept buying more merchandise,” Liner said. “It was the new hippie generation.”

Bashoff and Harris continued to work other jobs for four or five months so the family could afford food and rent, but after about six months the store had made enough money that the family could actually take a cut. Bashoff came on board to handle the books and finances.

The store was originally named The Bead Experience. Liner went to get a trader’s license when she started selling her jewelry but didn’t know what to call it, so she took a nod from Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 debut album “Are You Experienced.”

The name would serve the store well as it became a destination for the hippie clothing of the days — the store has always sold tie dye — and became a concert ticket outlet as well, selling tickets for the Civic Center, now Royal Farms Arena, and Woodstock.

When they outgrew Read Street, they moved to Park Avenue and Mulberry Street.

“At that point, we had guys working for us and girls, and all the guys had hair down to their waist. If they worked at The Bead, they were guaranteed a good time. They were like rock stars,” Liner said. “We were like the happening place, and the young people would come hang out in the store and loved talking my mother.”

“They called her Ma Bead,” Harris added.

Business boomed on Park Avenue, and soon The Bead was operating several stores by the early 1970s, including a head shop, an accessories store and a men’s shoe department and suits store.

Liner traveled to London to learn about the shoe business, and her designs included snakeskin and metallic platform shoes.

“The men were going through what was called the peacock revolution,” Harris said. “We sold velvet shirts with ruffles for guys. But then the girls started coming in to buy them.”

But the early days weren’t all flowers and sunshine. Bashoff was taken to jail once for allegedly desecrating the American flag when an onlooker during a Vietnam march noticed the American flag with a peace sign on it in the store’s window.

“They took everything that had peace symbols on it,” Liner said of the police. That same flag adorns The Bead’s current shop, displayed prominently when customers walk in.

As Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was developed, the Park Avenue area gradually declined, as more business flocked to the water. The store was broken into; Harris was even shot at once.

The Bead moved north to The Rotunda in the late ’­­70s, and was there for about 30 years. Not wanting to go through the shopping center’s major facelift and redevelopment, the family moved the store to The Shops at Kenilworth 11 years ago.

“We thought we would be here the rest of our lives, but as it turned out, Kenilworth got bought out, and it was going to be a two-year rebuild,” Liner said.

“We just didn’t want to wait around while they did that. … We’re leaving on such a high, and we’re leaving on our own terms.”

Since announcing their retirement, the love has just been pouring in. Liner and Harris can hardly spend 10 minutes without someone else coming by to give them hugs and tell them how sorry they are to see the store go.

“We hear from all these people, these women who were saying ‘I never thought I was pretty, never had the nerve to go out and try something different. And [when] I came in the first time, I was scared to death, and I talked to you and your sister or your mother and it changed my life,” Liner said.

“Our father had the most outgoing personality,” Harris said. “Anne got his personality, and my mother was sensitive, caring.” “Idy got that,” Liner chimed in.

And their personalities truly shined through the store.

“I have brought so many people here to The Bead. I’ve brought my step-daughter, older friends, younger friends, all different sizes and shapes, and everyone’s comfortable at The Bead,” said longtime customer Valerie Williams.

“I call it ‘Bead bonding.’”

The store has even kept four generations in several families coming back. They’re honest to their customers and even talk people out of buying certain things in favor of something less expensive if it looks better.

“You can find your individual look here,” said Jane Gabor, a customer since the beginning.

Michele Decker, a customer of five years, said The Bead is a legacy.

“There’s nothing else like it in Baltimore,” she said.

“There’s nothing even close.”

And the friendship between Harris and Liner isn’t just for show. After closing up shop on a recent Thursday night, the two were off to meet their husbands at a local diner.

“What we were able to do was amazing, to be best friends and be in business together for 48 years, which in retail years is forever,” Liner said. “To be in business with your sister who is your best friend and your mother who is your best friend, we were joined at the hip. … We’ve been so lucky.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com