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.”

‘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.

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.

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.”

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.”

Hashing Out An Industry Jews around Maryland are anxiously awaiting soon-to-be-awarded medical cannabis licenses

They differ by age, background, experience and many other factors, but a handful of Jews in Maryland have one aspect of their lives in common — they are currently playing a waiting game while the state determines who will be allowed to grow, produce and sell medical cannabis among almost 900 applicants.

Clarksville’s Cary Millstein has spent the past year navigating a complex system of practicalities and legalities that come with entry into the cannabis industry.

Hashing Out An Industry

“Everything in this initial stage must be carefully done,” he said. “I’m not allowed to solicit publicly for any investments so I couldn’t advertise. I could make calls to people I knew, but I couldn’t put anything in the paper.”

Millstein’s company, Freestate Wellness LLC, has applied for all three types of licenses in Howard County. He has assembled a team of 23 people who include horticulturalists, doctors and former McCormick and Pepsi corporate officers.

“We’re really trying to make sure this not a small casual business we’re going into lightly,” he said.

Millstein said it was not terribly difficult to put the team together, but if he is awarded licenses, the cost of producing the marijuana strains and extracting the chemicals is likely to cost between $5 million and $10 million.

Millstein said his operation would involve a carbon dioxide extraction process that would remove all organic plant material. He plans to sell both dry flowers and ointments, one third of which will contain minimal THC, marijuana’s primary hallucinogenic compound, in order to accommodate patients with no previous exposure to the drug.

“We want to be able to do it in a very methodical way so that they don’t have any adverse effects,” he said.

He has brought on a few large investors and said he would be in a position to produce if he wins a license, but he still has concerns about the business infrastructure. Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, many banks are hesitant to get involved.

“Banking — and the risks surrounding an all-cash business — makes this one of the riskiest aspects and attracts it to crime and theft,” Millstein said. “How do you have a business that’s supposed to be legal to operate [yet] illegal to have a bank account or a checking account?”

While there are federal guidlines for banking in the cannabis industry, there is still much uncertainty regarding the feasibility of banks working within this emerging field.

Millstein is also concerned that only a handful a patients will be approved for marijuana use due to a remaining social stigma that has persisted for several years, making doctors hesitant to prescribe the drug.

“If you have three people who come to your business every month, that’s not going to pay the water bill,” he said.

Millstein has served as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Howard County for 12 years and said he has received a good amount of support, including from his rabbi, Craig Axler at Temple Isaiah.

“He understands our passion and why we’re getting involved,” he said. “What we’ve found is that cannabis has a terrific following of supporters seeing the medical benefits that are coming to life, and I believe that the benefits have not been fully understood.”

Robin Katcoff, a retired pharmacist who is now a health and wellness coach, said she was on the fence initially about becoming involved in the industry. Katcoff lives in Owings Mills and attends Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore. She is part of the Cannavations MD team that is applying for licenses in four legislative districts, led by Jessica White of Pikesville. (She was profiled in the JT’s “Kosher Kush” on Nov. 20.)

“When Jessica mentioned this whole thing, I thought, ‘You know that’s kind of weird for me,’” Katcoff said, “because I was always the person who would go out and talk about drugs and how you shouldn’t do them. And a few months ago, she asks, ‘What are you thinking about this?’ And I said, ‘You know what, I think I’ll do it.’ It’s a great way to help people, especially people who are in pain. And nothing else is working.”

Banking — and the risks surrounding an all-cash business — makes this one of the riskiest aspects and attracts it to crime and theft. How do you have a business that’s supposed to be legal to operate [yet] illegal to have a bank account or a checking account?

Katcoff said her role will be ever-changing, but it will include maintaining a dialogue with patients, keeping records and determining appropriate dosage levels.

“There’s not a whole lot of human research that has been done,” she said. “It’s mostly based on animal testing to try to figure out what to even recommend our patients. So we’re going to be starting low and going higher with the dosage as needed.”

Also on the Cannavations team is Eric Rubin, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University who will serve as a medical adviser but not prescribe the drug. He said his role will mainly involve providing patients with an objective voice.

“Coming from it with very little pre-knowledge also means no money in the game,” he said. “Conflict of interest would be a big no-no in this, and so someone who doesn’t prescribe, who’s coming in with a fresh perspective, who doesn’t have a lot of prejudices on the issue is probably a good person to have in the role of medical advisory board.”

Rubin said that generally speaking, the medical community in the United States has had cautious optimism about the use of cannabis for medical purposes. He noted that Israel is also in the process of creating a medical cannabis program and has developed a strain that is non-intoxicating. He said that the plant is a “blunt instrument,” in that it has numerous active agents that can cause negative side effects but that this does not make it worse than drugs such as OxyContin.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “Anything that’s going to be pain relieving and anxiety altering will have some abuse potential, and so we’ve got to be cautious going in with our eyes open, but the stuff that we have [on the market now] ain’t that great either.”

Green Leaf Medical LLC already has a lease signed on a 42,000-square-foot facility in Frederick County, where CEO Philip Goldberg hopes his company will grow and process medical cannabis in two separate spaces.

Goldberg, a Montgomery County native and member of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, runs an ad agency and marketing firm. He initially got interested in Maryland’s medical cannabis program as a money-making opportunity a couple of years ago.

“It sounded really good, and at that point I knew that there was going to be a big profit potential, and that’s honestly what first attracted me to this. I’m an entrepreneur; I’m looking out for opportunities,” he said. “After many commission hearings and being involved in the industry, I began to meet a lot of patients and … once you talk to all these patients, especially those parents of kids who are really sick, you learn it’s about a lot more than money. You can really help people.”

Goldberg, president-elect of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, has testified at hearings in Annapolis, brought out-of-state experts to testify and, as part of the MDCIA, is working to educate physicians on cannabis as a medicine.

He hopes to grow cannabis strains that are high in CBD, a non-psycho-active component in cannabis that has been shown to be therapeutic in a variety of ailments, including epilepsy. Green Leaf would also process and manufacture capsules, patches, creams, oils “and a variety of other administrations that look more like medicine,” Goldberg said.

While Green Leaf is one of 146 applicants vying for 15 grower licenses, Goldberg feels that his company has gone above and beyond and is hopeful they will be selected. A major selling point of his company, Goldberg believes, is its board of directors, which includes Thomas Chase, a retired lieutenant of the Frederick County Police who will review security plans, perform background checks and be a liaison to the community; Dr. Vincent Njar, a University of Maryland School of Medicine professor who works to develop cancer treatment drugs; Sarah Robinson, the mother of a child who has severe epilepsy; Dr. Paul Lyons, a neurologist who has obtained DEA and FDA approval to use cannabis in human trial, with which he has been studying its effects on children with epilepsy for two years; and two horticulturalists, Meagan Zaffaroni and Steven Schug.

“We’ve got a really nice team that brings a lot to the table from the time we put the plant in the ground to the time we turn it into medicine,” he said.

Green Leaf has more than $1 million raised from 30 investors and has commitments for an additional $6 million to begin operations.

He thinks Maryland has so many applicants because the state put together “the gold standard of cannabis laws.”

“I feel good about our chances,” he said. “We all put in so much time in that week before the applications were due because we care about the industry and we really believe in it.”

Many Jews around the country have fallen into the industry in places where cannabis is already legal, including Denver’s Julie Berliner, who needed a steady income after graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in elementary education in 2009.

“It was tough,” she said. “I was
substituting wherever I could and trying to find my place just as medical marijuana was becoming a reality in Colorado.”

The country was still in recession, and a Berliner’s friend had opened a dispensary near where she lived, prompting her to re-evaluate her career options.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, I had just graduated,” she said. “And in April 2010 the regulations began to tighten up. So it was around that time when I had to take the plunge and go for it or teach and go on as I had.”

Without telling her parents the whole truth, Berliner started Sweet Grass Kitchen, a bakery that sells cannabis-infused baked goods in both medicinal and recreational varieties.

“There were certain omissions like, I was starting a bakery. I didn’t say it was a weed bakery,” she said.

Berliner said her parents did eventually come around to support her endeavor.

“They were understandably concerned back then,” she said. “I think it took them visiting and understanding the industry itself.”

Berliner’s friend, Josh Genderson, opened two dispensaries in Washington, D.C., three years ago after working for his family liquor business, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.

Genderson has several ties to Washington’s Jewish community. His fiancée, Morgan Greenhouse, sits on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and he and his family are longtime members of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, where his uncle is part of the leadership.

He said being part of the wine and spirits industry was the key to sparking his interest in the drug.

“We were pretty passionate about the medical side of cannabis,” he said. “We’ve seen the positive effects it’s had with kids with epilepsy, with pain management, and we’ve been in a controlled-substance business [alcohol] for a long time.”

Genderson’s two businesses sell products that include flowers, waxes, oils and glycol-based cartridges. He has been following Maryland’s application process closely and said he is excited about cannabis’ entry into the state.

“It’s the biggest response to the application yet in the medical world,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a good program. It’s very pro-patient rights and pro-business. The turnout far surpassed what I imagined.”

Millstein said he thinks the cannabis program will be financially successful in the long run, but more importantly it will improve quality of life.

“For Maryland, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to stop suffering, to help people have better lives, to generate business and hopefully down the road to generate a nice tax revenue for expanded adult use,” he said. “Not for teen use or underage use, but for adult use to help Maryland increase its revenues without overburdening the population on taxes.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

An Enduring Legacy Levindale celebrates 125 years of support for Baltimore’s Jewish community

Present-day Levindale Panorama. (Provided)

Present-day Levindale Panorama. (Provided)

Doris Kahn, a spitfire redhead and 102-year-old (“Don’t tell my boyfriend!”) resident at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Northwest Baltimore for three years — and a volunteer there for more than 40 — spoke with delight about  her daily activities, especially playing the piano for fellow residents.

“Hum it and I can play it,” Kahn said, while  chatting in a lounge area last week, her eyes sparkling wide as her hands made gestures as if on a keyboard. “You name it and I can play it on the spot.” She uses her spinet piano, which she brought to Levindale from her home after she became a resident.

“After her stroke, the first thing she asked me,” said her daughter, Barbara Friedman, “was not about whether they would tend to “her clothes, her makeup or her hair, but, ‘Do they have a piano?’”

Kahn lives in the “households” of Levindale, the most recent residential concept in its 125-year history as an institution that responds to the evolving needs of Baltimore’s Jewish community.

Intended to create a homey atmosphere for  residents, the household design was completed about three years ago. Instead of a traditional nursing home set-up with nurses’ stations, shared rooms, an institutional feel and a set schedule for meals and other daily routines, the new concept — which reflects national trends — provides residents with private rooms decorated with their personal  belongings, big windows at every turn, large airy common spaces and even communal kosher kitchens and dining areas, where residents may order whatever they please and take meals when they wish.

An Enduring Legacy

Friedman said of her mother’s stay at Levindale, “It’s nice to know she’s close by, we come every day, and they have wonderful activities.”

“I don’t say, ‘What do they have [to do]?’ I say, ‘Where am I going?’” said Kahn, continuing her daughter’s thought. “It doesn’t matter what they have, I’m ready!”

“It’s quite a lovely facility,” added Friedman, “and I would say my mother has made an adjustment to a very different way of life.”

Providing care and support for those adjusting to different ways of life has been a hallmark of Levindale’s mission since its inception.

In the late 19th century, waves of refugee immigrants fleeing persecution — not unlike those pouring out of terrorist-stricken Middle East countries today — arrived at Baltimore’s port in Locust Point in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Many were Eastern European Jews, and the two local synagogues were quick to  welcome them and organize assistance, but they eventually were overcome by the demands and numbers of the new immigrants.

When people think of Levindale, they think of a nursing home. They don’t realize we’re so much more than that.  — Jennifer Labute, vice president of nursing home operations

In 1890, members of Baltimore’s Jewish community responded to the expanding needs of  Jewish refugees and established the Hebrew Friendly Inn, the earliest iteration of what would become Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital decades later.

Set up as a temporary stop for Jewish immigrants as they found footing in a new country, it was first located in a leased house on Harrison Street near Fayette Street, but immigrant demands grew and so did the need for living quarters. A new location, at 1153 E. Lombard St., was secured by early 1892.

In 1899, Adolph Kres, a German immigrant wine-and-spirits merchant, began his nearly three-decade direction of the organization, and one of his first orders of business was to acquire yet  another new home for the growing support system for Baltimore’s Jewish community.

The location at 111-113 Aisquith St. was purchased in 1904, thanks to funds and donor recruitment spearheaded by Jacob Epstein, a Lithuanian immigrant and the proprietor of Baltimore Bargain House, which eventually became the fourth-largest retail business in the country.

Always with a finger on the pulse of community needs, as Baltimore’s Jewish population aged, directors and board members recognized the special needs required for elderly residents, and soon space was designated for their care. To make its mission more evident, in 1905 the institution was renamed Hebrew Friendly Inn and Aged Home. Adjoining buildings on Aisquith Street were later purchased to house medical facilities and to hospitalize the chronically ill, creating a continuum of care in one place.

As more funds were needed — and solicited — for the many organizations sprouting up to support Baltimore’s burgeoning Jewish community, a  consolidation effort took place, and in 1921, the Associated Jewish Charities, now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, was formed to fundraise and allocate monies, first led by Louis H. Levin, also known for his advocacy for needy children.

Two years later in 1923, the Jewish Children’s Services opened Levindale, a large orphanage on 22 acres at Belvedere and Greenspring avenues in Northwest Baltimore, named in Levin’s memory, but by 1926, home placement was considered better care for orphans, and the Hebrew Friendly Inn and Home for the Aged took over the Levindale campus. This resulted in “an exodus,” as described in a July 1927 Baltimore Sun article of Hebrew Friendly Inn residents moving from Aisquith Street to Levindale, “the men carrying their tallit and tfillin bags and the women their candlesticks …”

For decades, resident housing grew, and medical  facilities were updated on the campus. In 1969, Sinai Hospital moved from Monument Street to its current location on Belevedere Avenue and was considered “the crowning achievement in the plan for a Jewish medical center,” according to a Jewish Museum of Maryland timeline created for Levindale.

In 1970, in its continued effort to evolve with community needs, but also to distinguish itself from the dated concept of a “nursing home,” the name Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Inc. was adopted. (In 1996, Levindale joined Sinai Hospital of Baltimore to form Sinai Health System; two years later, it merged with Northwest Hospital to form the current system, LifeBridge Health.)

“I love everyone who’s here, the way we work  together,” said Jennifer Labute, vice president of nursing home operations, a position she’s held for 16 years. “Everyone has the passion and desire to make residents happy,” which is formative to Levindale’s “resident-centered” mission, where staff interaction with residents, their friends and families is an integral part of the care.

“I’ve gotten attached to a lot of residents,” Paulette Carter said, who has worked at Levindale almost 40 years. “I sit in with them and listen to their stories, what they liked to cook for the holidays — we learn from each other. I have gained a lot of wisdom from them.”

Carter sings and dances to entertain residents too, “and residents who can, get up and dance for themselves,” she said with a laugh. “It makes me feel good to be part of that.”

“Levindale allows us time to get close and have [friendships] with residents,” added Phyllis Jones, a 15-year employee who was first a medical records technician and is now an executive assistant. She added, “When we lose a resident, we all feel that. It’s like losing a family member.”

Added Labute, “When people think of Levindale, they think of a nursing home, and they don’t realize we’re so much more than that. What it provides are many different levels of care, keeping people in their community.”

A long way in size perhaps from what the founders imagined, but still true to its mission, Levindale now provides services and care for 210 live-in residents with state-of-the-art facilities that include the household wings — some dementia-certified that include the added care that residents need; a respiratory care unit and a short-term  sub-acute medical care unit for those “not sick enough for a hospital, but not well enough to be home,” Labute said. They are treated with therapy and medications “with the goal of getting them back into their community.”

There is also a 120-bed specialty-care unit  for those with more complex or chronic health  issues. Two adult day centers, which Levindale  was first in the nation to offer, are also part of the system, one near the main campus and the other in Randallstown.

“Loneliness, helplessness and boredom,” are the three ‘plagues’ that affect the elderly, Labute said, as identified by Dr. Bill Thomas, who divined the Eden Alternative, an  approach designed to fend off those afflictions in order to improve the quality of life for seniors. Levindale adopted it in 2000, the first in the U.S. to do so.

Providing a destination plays a large part in the psychology of the Eden Alternative, and Levindale residents can attend the synagogue, happy hours, organized activities, regular events and outings. They can also visit a hair salon, a green house or a playground (for family visits), and there are Wii stations and iPods for use as well as music, physical and horticultural therapists on staff.  There are even special events such as carnivals, pet parades and classic car shows.

Interaction with animals plays a part in the Eden Alternative too, and dogs, cats, birds and fish can be found on the grounds at any given time. Some have become quite famous such as Lincoln, Carter’s beloved late poodle. Many residents eagerly awaited Lincoln’s visits and would shower him with special treats. They even staged a wedding for Lincoln and Rosie, a resident’s dog, complete with a tux and pink gown for “the couple.”

“We try to do lots of innovative things instead of just throwing medicine at people,” Labute said. “Traditionally a nursing home is so task oriented — wake up at this time, eat at this time. We work our day around [residents] instead of having them work around us.”

Handmade signs that read “Happy 99th Birthday Mr. Miller” peppered the walls around Solomon Miller’s residence last month. Before his 3 p.m. party, Miller was playing Scrabble with his daughter, Diane Miller, in a resident common area, one of his favorite activities when he’s not busy reading, playing bingo or finishing off the Baltimore Sun crossword puzzle. Miller, who grew up in West Baltimore and owned M&E Liquors at Monroe and Lombard Streets, has been a resident at Levindale for six years.

“They take good care of him here,” Diane Miller said. “It’s very cheerful if you have to be in a nursing home. He goes to [all the activities], and they come and get him. That’s another really good thing, they come and get people” if a resident can’t get to an activity on his or her own.

Not far from the Scrabble table, Ray Backus, 73, made his way to his room, which was decorated with personal photos and artwork. A voracious reader, there was a tower of books resting on a chair near his bed.

Backus has moved through the Levindale system, first at Sinai hospital and then one year in sub-acute care and two years in the households.

“I enjoy having my own room, I’m very satisfied here,” he said, and ran down his list of activities  including a book club, a bridge club and a current events group. Originally from Ohio, Backus came to Baltimore to teach philosophy at Towson University. He was raised Christian, like many of Levindale’s residents, but Backus resonates more with the  synagogue services on Saturdays, he said, and is even attending a Hebrew class led by a resident, who receives advisement on the curriculum from Levindale’s chaplain.

Working with the elderly is “a love and passion of mine,” Rabbi Jeffrey Orkin said, “I’ve been doing this since I left seminary.”

Orkin has served as Levindale’s chaplain since 2001 and leads services, Jewish programming and Passover seders and added that High Holiday services bring in an overflow crowd. He provides pastoral care for residents and their families as well. Orkin is grateful for Levindale’s Orthodox charter, he said, and added, “[Working at] Levindale has  revealed this to me — I take great pride in being a chaplain of all people, Jewish and secular.”

David Uhlfelder, chairman of Levindale’s board of directors, is also passionate about the organization’s Jewish mission.

“We’re [one of] the only kosher facilities for  eldercare,” said Uhlfelder, whose 103-year-old mother-in-law is a resident. “We have a large Jewish community [here], and in recent years, our  Orthodox community has grown substantially.”

“Since this is a Jewish nursing home, we very  heavily bring the ‘Jewish’ home to the residents,” Eve Vogelstein, Women’s Auxiliary past president, said, “by decorating the sukkah, delivering Chanukah gifts to all and bringing children in for Rosh Hashanah to make holiday cards for residents.”

The Women’s Auxiliary, active since 1899, also fundraises for resident field trips and in-house  entertainment, and it donated a sensory garden patio for residents and their  families to enjoy.

We “brighten and enhance the lives of the elderly,” president Esther Jacobson said.

Kahn is a perfect example of that. She likes to keep busy, and Levindale provides many options  — in fact she recently returned from  an outing to David Chiu’s Kosher Chinese restaurant.

“I don’t like to be down, you’ve got to be peppy — that’s why I had two husbands!” Kahn said, with a big laugh.

Idriz Limaj, about three months into his position as chief operating officer of Levindale and the Post-Acute Division at LifeBridge Health, has reached out to community leaders to ask what more can Levindale provide for them, and he was pleasantly surprised at a recent encounter.

“[I was told] you can’t do anything else, it is the only true Jewish nursing home that truly meets all the needs of the patients who want an environment of that kind,” said Limaj of the meeting, “and he added that the congregants he visits are very happy here.”

But Limaj, whose team takes a leadership role in defining care and innovation at Levindale, cited the statistic that many adults are even more ill when entering nursing homes now — perhaps  because people age in place longer at home. So Levindale is always “looking at specialty services” and “looking outside of the box at how we can  better meet the needs of our clients.”

Residential Revolt Some homeowners still frustrated with plans for development on The Associated’s land

Cheryl Aaron and Joel Marcus lead a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17. (Justin Katz)

Cheryl Aaron and Joel Marcus lead a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17. (Justin Katz)

Tensions remain high among some residents living near the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, where The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is planning to sell a  vacant area of land to a developer in order to build a 56-home development.

“The excess land was previously planned to be the home of a 90,000-square-foot office building, which would house Jewish organizations.  It is clear to us this is no longer necessary,” said Mark Smolarz, chief  operating and financial officer of The Associated, in a written statement. “We believe it would be better to sell the land in order to raise funds that will help us continue to provide our services to the community.”

The Greater Greenspring Association, which opposes the development, held a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17 to update residents about the current plans and discuss their concerns.

“This community that surrounds the JCC and Weinberg Village is a predominantly Jewish community,” said Cheryl Aaron, zoning committee chair of the Greater Greenspring  Association. “They’re pretty outraged and they’re feeling thrown under the bus. Nobody wants to talk to them;  no one is taking their concerns into  account, and they’re frustrated.”

One concern, which was brought up at the meeting by Joel Marcus — he lives on Nancy Ellen Way, perpendicular to Garrison Forrest Road — was the impact the development will have on traffic, the environment and the school system.

“I asked if [The Associated has] done a traffic study,” said Marcus. “They  essentially said they didn’t have to. There were no legalities saying they had to do that.”

Another concern brought up by Aaron is that Greenspring’s attorneys have reportedly called The Associated’s legal team repeatedly without a response.

“Nobody is returning our attorneys’ calls,” she charged. “It makes it difficult to have a dialogue.”

When asked about The Associated’s response to the community’s concerns, Smolarz said, “As a community organization, it’s important for us to maximize our resources so we can benefit the  community at large.”

He said The Associated has conducted a traffic study and emphasized the county ensures all of their tests and plans “pass muster.”

Regarding the attorneys, Smolarz said, “Our legal team has gone above and beyond to work with [their] counsel, and we sent them the [development] plans when most legal teams wouldn’t have sent the plans to other groups.”

Smolarz added that since the JT had inquired about Greenspring’s concerns, there had been multiple correspondences between the two legal teams.

At a meeting last year between the Worthington Park Homeowners  Association, some of whose members will be as close as 300 feet to the new development, and The Associated, the possibility of building an age- restricted community, which would likely pose less traffic concerns, was brought up.

A website affiliated with the Greater Greenspring Association,, said that the most recent Associated plans provided to the organization do not call for the development to be age- restricted. The website also pointed out that whereas the approximately 210 homes on the east side of Garrison Forrest Road from Aston Court to Starlite Court are now spaced one per acre, plans for the new development call for 5.5 homes per acre.

Ethel Barrish is the president of the Worthington Park Homeowners  Association and expressed the community’s views in an interview several days after the meeting.

“We have met with The Associated on several occasions to speak about the development, voice our concerns and keep apprised of the progress. I do understand that the zoning is  already in place that allows a housing community and that The Associated has made substantial changes that I have requested to the landscape buffer,” said Barrish.  “Worthington Park is not in favor of a traffic circle, but we understand that this decision is made at the county level. We  also strongly agree that it should be a 55-and-older community.”

The traffic circle Barrish referenced was a part of an earlier draft of the plans and has since been removed.

Both Aaron and Marcus urged people to attend a development plan hearing on Dec. 11 to express their sentiments about the issue.

“I know that the community feels absolutely uncared about by The Associated. We are their constituents; we are the people they are supposed to represent,” said Marcus. “It’s an  organization that has a charge to do good work for their community, and this is absolutely an act of uncaring for its community.”

Some attendees at the meeting asked Aaron and Marcus what changes they would like to see happen to the plan. Marcus responded that any changes he spoke about would be hypothetical  because of the difficulty communicating with The Associated.

Despite the Dec. 11 hearing quickly approaching, Smolarz said there is always time for negotiations if both parties are willing.

Farm to Farm to Table Upper Marlboro husband, wife team import olive oil from Israel to their organic farm.

Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, started an organic farm 10 years ago in Upper Marlboro after spending time on a kibbutz in Israel. (Courtesy of Scott Hertzberg)

Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, started an organic farm 10 years ago in Upper Marlboro after spending time on a kibbutz in Israel. (Courtesy of Scott Hertzberg)

It was a love for farming, a love for Israel and a love for each other shared by Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, that spurred the Upper Marlboro, Md., couple to start an organic farm 10 years ago. Since 2009, they have given their plot of land the distinction of being one of the few places in the country to sell imported Israeli olive oil.

Hertzberg grew up in Pikesville, where he  attended Talmudical Academy and Mount Saint Joseph High School before departing for Hampshire College (Amherst, Mass.) in the early 1990s. It  was there that he met Tolchin, and they began  volunteering in a food bank before heading to  Israel upon graduating to spend time on a Kibbutz.

On their second trip in 2005 the moment of  realization came for starting their own farm.

“That was the trip where we said, ‘Oh my goodness, another 10 years are going to pass before we have any connection with Israel,’” he said. “Realizing that we were going to go home, it would be nice to have something year after year.”

After learning much of their  organic farming techniques from  expert Mario Levy while in Israel, the couple began growing vegetables before importing olives, olive oil and dates in 2009. At that point they started their business, Israeli Harvest, choosing to import from Makura — a small family-owned farm roughly 20 miles south of Haifa.

We sort of had the idea for it that they could get better value for some of their products than they were seeing. We’re helping to support one family farm in Israel so it’s just the beginning. — Tanya Tolchin

“Mukura’s a small farm, and they’re not large enough to produce for the  big Israeli importers because those  importers need a very cheap price,” he said, adding that the domestic market there can vary.

“Every year the price of olive oil is not that good in Israel, so it’s good for them to have an export, particularly to America because Europe’s getting  difficult to export to because of the  politics.”

Tolchin said their practice of  importing Israeli products has the look and feel of two small family businesses supporting each other.

“We had the idea that they could get better value for some of their products than they were seeing,” she said. “We’re helping to support one family farm in Israel, so it’s just the beginning.”

Makura grows eight types of  olives, which include Spanish, Greek, Italian and local varieties. It then uses a cold-press technique to produce the oil and ensure it retains its flavor. Owner Guy Rilov said the farm has been handed down to him from his parents, and for the last 22 years it has used organic techniques. He said the business has faced struggles this year due to weather-related events.

“The crop is medium this year due to a big storm that did a lot of damage,” he said.

Hertzberg said he feels the quality of an imported product depends more on the individual farm than on the country it comes from, debunking myths about foods such as wine.

“For a long time Israeli wine had an inferiority complex, and now it’s proven itself it can be just as good as the Mediterranean wines,” he said.

This year, Hertzberg has scaled back the farm’s production a bit in order to spend more time with his children, Ezra and Shira.

For the most part, Israeli Harvest is an online business; however, the olive oil is sold at two area stores, including E.N. Olivier in Baltimore. Hertzberg and Tolchin have also been running a community-supported agriculture business for the entire time they have had the farm and deliver to a church near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Tolchin said they have also marketed their produce to places that include Pineapple Alley Catering in Clinton, Md., and MOM’s Organic Market.

“I think that it’s been a successful venture,” she said.

Let ’Em In Jewish agencies roll out welcome mat for Syrian refugees

Chanting "Let them in", hundreds of demonstrators rally outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 21, in support of allowing Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. More than half of the country’s governors said they will no longer provide placement for the refugees. (Jeff Malet/Newscom)

Chanting “Let them in”, hundreds of demonstrators rally outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 21, in support of allowing Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. More than half of the country’s governors said they will no longer provide placement for the refugees. (Jeff Malet/Newscom)

Last Friday, Corine Dehabey, resettlement officer with Us Together, welcomed the 11th Syrian refugee family to arrive in Toledo, Ohio, through her HIAS-affiliated agency this year. When Us Together receives a call, Dehabey springs into action.

In as little as 24 to 48 hours, Dehabey has to find refugees a place to live, furniture and food, schedule health assessment appointments and get ready to guide the new family through the Social Security offices so they can get identification cards to then apply for jobs and family services.

Local churches have been a good resource, she said, and recently the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo has offered assistance through its food bank.

The Syrians when they get here “are excited. It’s a weird feeling. It’s totally a new world for them. They are very grateful to the American government,” said Dehabey. “They want to make the best of their lives.”

“They’d love to stay in Syria, and they pray and hope that their country will heal and they can go back, but realistically, they know that can’t happen right now, so they’re with us in this fight against extremism,” said Deborah A. Drennan, ex-officio executive director of Freedom House Detroit, which works with asylum seekers.

Drennan said that the fear displayed by the more than half of U.S. governors, including of her own state, who have called on the Obama administration to halt plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States is unfounded. She called the concerns of anti-refugee politicians like Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) nothing more than “Islamophobia.”

“People are afraid that they’re going to bring with them a terrorist lifestyle and not understanding that they’re trying to flee that violence,” said Drennan, whose organization has partnered in the past with Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit.

Catholic Charities and the local Muslim community, she said, have played a large role in resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Mich., also a HIAS affiliate, has taken in 16 Syrian refugees. By the time refugees arrive in the United States, explained Anya Abramzon, JFS executive director, they have gone through multiple rounds of screening and have often waited two or three years to get into the country.

“This is one of the key principles that our organization’s been built on: welcoming the stranger,” said Abramzon. The Jewish and Christian communities, she added, have helped refugees obtain household items and other necessities through congregation-sponsored resettlement drives.

In addition to assistance with bureaucratic matters, refugees are given a cultural orientation before they arrive and again during the first three months of their resettlement. Often, said Shrina Eadeh, director of resettlement, refugees are not too surprised by American life and are instead most concerned with how their children will fit in at school and what should be done if their child experiences bullying. JFS employs interpreters to work with their diverse clientele.

Beyond day-to-day needs, refugees from war-torn countries often need mental health services for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, added Eadeh.

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, some 7,014 Syrian refugees have been interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, but only 2,034 have been resettled in the United States, according to numbers released by the White House. A total of 23,092 Syrians have been referred to the United States Refugees Admission Program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

HIAS, whose motto is “welcome the stranger, protect the refugee,” was founded in 1881 to help Jews who were fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.

“We’ve been helping to connect local congregations” with refugee families coming to their area, said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president of community engagement at HIAS in New York.

She noted that there has been an uptick in inquiries and “the community is starting to wake up” and get involved.

Congregations, perhaps, have been spurred to action by the numerous High Holiday addresses dedicated to welcoming the stranger.

“I urge you to lobby on behalf of these people. Pick up the phone or get on the computer and tell our nation’s leaders that we must offer our resources and shores to those who are running away from evil,” said Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington.

Following the conclusion of Yom Kippur, information on how to contribute to HIAS and other methods of assisting Syrian refugees was sent to Singer-Beilin’s congregation via email at the associate rabbi’s urging.

Rabbi Lance Sussman, senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, is a trustee of IsraAID, which aims to “help Israel, help humanity.” The group focuses on intervention, primarily in Jordan, which has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees during the ongoing conflict.

As a trustee on the organization’s North American board, Sussman is trying to build up the organization and solicit donations for the lifesaving work IsraAID conducts in Jordan, Turkey and the shores of Greece.

Rabbi Jonathan Roos of Temple Sinai in Washington spoke to his congregation about the need to assist Syrian refugees through the lens of Jewish law and tradition.

“All the parts of our ritual life remind us of our experience as slaves in Israel [and the commandment] to protect and care for strangers,” said Roos.

To that end, Temple Sinai has been working on the issue of refugees since 2014. Last year, when large numbers of Central American refugees were coming into the United States, 10 Temple Sinai members went down to Texas and paired with another Reform congregation to conduct relief work. Back home, a grant from the Gendler Grapevine Project enabled Temple Sinai to run the Open Door: Helping Refugees and Immigrants Initiative.

Though Temple Sinai cannot directly sponsor refugee families, as congregations in Canada currently are, Roos pledged that his congregation will do all it can to provide assistance to refugees and local agencies.

Invoking the lessons of the Holocaust and the Passover story, Roos added: “Our own historical experience reminds us and points to the need to empathize, understand and support the people who are in the same position.”

Organizations Seek Action After Protest Goucher president under fire after event shut down

José Bowen (Kim Ritzenthaler)

José Bowen (Kim Ritzenthaler)

More than 30 different organizations signed and delivered a letter to Goucher College President José Bowen urging him to take further action following student protestors disrupting a presentation by Israeli television personality Assi Azar.

Azar was invited to Goucher Hillel on Nov. 5 to screen his movie, “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You,” which addresses how parents cope with their children coming out as gay.

Following the screening, a group of students from the LGBT group TALQ Big removed pink tape placed over their mouths and began to disrupt the discussion by chanting anti-Israel sentiments. After about 45 minutes of heated discussion between the students and Azar, college officials ended the event.

Sammy Eisenberg, a senior and student co-president at Goucher Hillel, said TALQ Big objected to the screening and requested it be shut down; when their request was denied, they protested.

The letter, addressed to Bowen; Dr. Leslie Lewis, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Bryan Coker, vice president and dean of students, recounted the day’s events and quotes Azar’s recollection.

I do not want students to feel intimidated on campus, but I also cannot legally protect them from disagreeable speech.

“According to Azar, ‘The protesters were trying to shut down all dialogue and were aggressive toward those students who were trying to have a calm, respectful discussion,’” the letter said. “‘Jewish students in attendance felt ‘threatened,’ ‘targeted,’ ‘under attack’ and ‘bullied into silence.’ Many students were afraid and distraught after the event, and several were reduced to tears.”

The letter continued to commend Bowen for the actions he has taken and insisted his investigation will show that TALQ Big members violated several articles of the college’s code of conduct. However, it also pointed out where Bowen’s actions have fallen short.

“First and foremost, nowhere do you single out and unequivocally condemn the hateful, harmful and discriminatory actions of the members of TALQ Big who disrupted and sought to shut down a college-authorized event,” said the letter. “Their behavior was illegal, immoral and reprehensible, and it should have been immediately and vigorously condemned by your office.”

The letter continued to argue that Goucher officials should have removed the protestors when they became disruptive instead of ending the event prematurely.

The letter recommended Bowen publically condemn the protestors for their behavior, ensure disciplinary measures are carried out for laws broken at the university, local, state and federal level, and investigate administrative failures that led to the suppression of students’ civil rights and the threatening of student safety on campus.

Bowen, who in his response identified himself as Jewish, said the situation that arose was complex.

“The fact that Jewish students who identify as LGBTQ were among the protestors attending the Hillel event is a dramatic example of the complexities that can emerge,” Bowen said in his written response. “We have been clear to all students that one person’s freedom of speech does not extend to denying another’s, and we will be vigilant here.

“But students are allowed to disagree with one another,” he continued. “Our Constitution and courts have made it clear that inaccurate facts, opinions, historical distortions and even lies are still protected speech. I do not want students to feel intimidated on campus, but I also cannot legally protect them from disagreeable speech.”

Vegging Out Vegetarianism and veganism appeal to Jewish moral and environmental concerns

For Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Thanksgiving is more than simply a holiday to gorge on carbohydrates while reciting a laundry list of things to be thank- ful for. It is one the year’s primary opportunities to affirm her belief that being a vegetarian is both one of the most healthy and ethical ways to live.

“By radically reducing the amount of meat that we eat, we really are contributing to saving the world,” she said. “We are cutting down too many trees to accommodate an expanding global population.”



Cardin, the founder of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, has been a vegetarian since she was 18 and initially eschewed meat for dietary reasons.

“I did not really think I was saving the world,” she said. “I wanted to save animals, I wanted to be healthy, I wanted to keep kosher.”

For the last 14 Thanksgivings, Cardin has held the main feast on the preceding Wednesday with about 30 friends and family members who gather around a tofu turkey — a roll of vegetable protein with a filling — and a series of seasonal vegetable side dishes. She said the dinner serves as a forum for debate, which can range from serious issues during an election season to a subject as mundane as whether a tofu turkey should be called a “tofurkey”or “foturkey.”

“There’s entertainment that goes on,” she added.

But for diehard carnivores who need a more traditional meal, Cardin offers that too, although she of course does not partake of the meat. “Thursday is much quieter,” she said. “Growing up I can never remember having a big Thanksgiving dinner. But for people who want to celebrate an American Thanksgiving meal, we gather around the fireplace and have sliced deli turkey.”

Chava Goldberg, a kosher-keeping vegetarian, also puts out a tofu turkey each Thanksgiving and makes a regular turkey for guests.

“I make them a turkey and all the stuff that goes with it,” she said. “But for the kids and me, I’ll make a vegetarian substitute.”

Goldberg, a Baltimore resident, said she often uses meat substitutes in her food such as Gardein and Litelife products, while also going heavy on eggs and nuts. Goldberg is limited in the types of vegetables she can eat due to kashrut laws about making sure they are free of insects. (Many of today’s vegetables, say some authorities, are notoriously difficult to check for bugs.)

“We can’t have Brussels Sprouts anymore, and that used to be a staple before we kept kosher,” she said. “It’s not like I can just go to the store and just wash it. It’s a tedious process. It’s a little bit harder keeping kosher when you’re a vegetarian and it’s a little bit enlightening because of the bugs.”

To further complicate matters, Goldberg eats only non-GMO products.

This is when I finally realized that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving. This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression, starting with our oppression of animals raised for food.

Goldberg grew up on Johns Island off the South Carolina coast and said she became a vegetarian when she was 9, because she didn’t like eating foods with veins or bones that reminded her she was consuming an animal. She said this “made her parents crazy,” because they didn’t know what to do.

“I grew up on a small island where my family hunted, so it wasn’t unusual for my family to clean the animals that we ate,” she said.

Sarah Wasserstrum became a vegan three years ago after her grandfather began researching the vegan diet and chose it for himself.

“Within two months of being straight vegan, he was able to go off of every single medication, and there were about 20 of them,” she said. “My family just saw it happening and they were like, ‘Oh my god, changing your diet can completely change your health in a way you never thought before.’”

Wasserstrum said she adheres to the rules about 85 percent of the time, but she will sometimes eat fish and poultry. She said since becoming a vegan — others would call her a “flexitarian” — her mood has improved dramatically.

“I feel so much better when I’m not eating any forms of meat or dairy,” she said.

Jeffrey Cohan’s dramatic reveal of his organization’s name change. (Provided)

Jeffrey Cohan’s dramatic reveal of his organization’s name change. (Provided)

Jeffrey Cohan, a Pittsburgh resident who is the executive director of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), said the inspiration to become a vegetarian came while he was sitting in services nine years ago at his hometown Rodef Shalom Congregation and the creation story in Genesis was read.

“My wife and I looked at each other and said it looked like we’re supposed to be vegetarians,” he said upon hearing the verse about God setting aside trees and seeds for food. “It’s a fairly consistent theme between the five books of Moses, the Tanakh and all the sacred texts.”

Cohan said examples of vegetarianism as a regular diet can be found throughout history and was the social norm up until the period of the Industrial Revolution.

“Up until then there was not a lot of meat eating going on but generally speaking our great grandparents and our ancestors before them, Jewish or not Jewish, were not eating a lot of meat.”

Cohan said he has noticed that many Reconstructionist and Reform Jews have become vegetarians, in part, he thinks, due to the social justice aspect of the movement. But he said some in the Orthodox community have also embraced it, such as reputed vegetarian Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

“A number of top rabbis across the entire denominational spectrum are vegetarian or vegan for various reasons,” said Cohan.

JVNA turned 40 years old this year, and after several years as an all-volunteer advocacy group it is beginning to transition to a more professional model. Cohan said chapters will soon be starting in Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and Houston, with the D.C. chapter’s first meeting scheduled for Dec 2.

“It was not in our strategic plan to be studying chapters, but the demand was coming from localities and we wanted to be responsive to it,” he said.

Cohan said up until two years ago it was very difficult to incorporate plant-based products into Thanksgiving, but it has now become easier. He usually purchases plant-based pot roast as a substitute for Turkey.

“The family is very accommodating so there’s lots of side dishes without animal products,” he said.

Cohan said he thinks kosher-keeping Jews have incentives to transition to a vegetarian diet due to its simplicity.

Jewish Veg supporters enjoy vegan food at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration. (Provided)

Jewish Veg supporters enjoy vegan food at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration. (Provided)

“If everything you’re eating is pareve, there’s only one set of plates, one type of food, and it makes life a heck of a lot easier,” he said.

JVNA assistant director Sarah De Munck, who lives in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., said she has also incorporated vegan products, including plant-based butter and imitation turkey into her Thanksgiving menu.

“A lot of the sides are easy to make vegan, like vegetables and potatoes,” she said. “With every passing year it gets easier and easier because more and more companies are emerging.”

Last week, JVNA helped sponsor a lecture at Georgetown University by renowned animal-rights activist Alex Hershaft, who started the organization Farm Animal Rights Movement in 1976. Hershaft is a Holocaust survivor who spent time in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he was confined with 400,000 others into a 1.3 square-mile area and witnessed more than 100,000 die of starvation and disease.

After spending five years in an Italian refugee camp, Hershaft eventually immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. He settled in New York and earned a degree in general chemistry from the University of Connecticut. He moved to Washington in 1972 and got a job with an environmental consulting firm, at which point he was already involved in the environmental and religious freedom movements.

“It was satisfying, but it didn’t answer the fundamental question of what were the lessons of the Holocaust?” Hershaft said.

At the lecture, Hershaft explained that he once had the task of performing a waste inventory at a slaughterhouse and began to see parallels between the animal remains and the human carnage from the Holocaust. Among the similarities he listed were the crowded housing of victims in wood crates, the arbitrary designation of who lives and who dies, the social legitimization of abuse and the deception behind the horrors of the death campus and slaughterhouses.

Pumpkin soup (©

Pumpkin soup (©

“This is when I finally realized that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving,” he said. “This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression, starting with our oppression of animals raised for food.”

Hershaft said he sees hypocrisy from those who condemn violence going on in the world but consume meat.

“But then we do a food run and use our hard-earned dollars to directly subsidize the holocaust of the animals — the greatest oppression in the history of human kind, right in our own back yard,” he explained.

The ethical and environmental concerns for becoming a vegetarian are central to Cardin’s advocacy and she feels reducing the output of cattle will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. She also thinks Maryland’s poultry industry has gone too far in its practices.

“We are destroying the Eastern Shore environment and the Chesapeake because we’re raising too many fowl in a confined area,” she said.

Cardin said being aware of where your food comes from will encourage more people to cut out meat from their diet.

“I am aware of a greater sensitivity to not just the foods that we choose to eat,” she said, “but the way that food is produced in the world.”



From Sarah Wasserstrum:

cover5VEGAN CURRIED CHICKPEAS, aka Chana masala
Best served over rice. A heart healthy, low calorie dinner or side dish recipe for any occasion!

1 tbsp of olive oil
2- 15 oz cans of chick peas
1 can of diced tomatoes
couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach or kale
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsps of garam masala (curry powder)
1/2 tsp of tumeric
1/2 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of ginger
1 tbsp of lemon juice
1/4 cup of cilantro to sprinkle on to before serving.

1. Sautee diced onion in olive oil until cooked/translucent
2. Add garlic
3. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and 1/4 cup of water. Let simmer for a few minutes
4. Add spices, ripped spinach/kale, and lemon juice
5. Let stew for 20 minutes on low/medium low
6. Add cilantro right before serving and serve over rice


From Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin:

Tofurkey with Honey Teriyaki, Molasses, and Apricot marmalade; plus a bit of honey peanut butter!

Stuffing: sauté together craisins,
pomegranate seeds,
2 apples, 1 large onion,
toasted pumpernickel bread,
figs, raisins or any combination thereof

1. Blend 5 pounds of tofu in food processor until smooth.

2. Transfer to a large bowl, stir in seasonings (you can make the tofurkey savory or sweet, I prefer sweet so use a marinade of honey teriyaki, molasses, and apricot marmalade; and sometimes add a bit of honey peanut butter!) Save some  as a marinade to baste the tofurkey while cooking.

3. Line a medium, round bottomed colander with one layer of cheese cloth. Spoon the  smooth tofu mixture in colander and fold remaining cheese cloth over the top.  Place the colander on a plate (to catch excess water being squeezed out) and put a heavy weight on top. (I put a plate on the top of the tofu and place the weight on the plate. That evenly distributes the weight.) Place colander in the fridge for approx. 2-3 hours or overnight.

4. Remove the colander from the fridge, peel back the cheesecloth from the top of the tofu and — with the tofu still in the colander – scoop out the center, leaving about an inch of tofu around the edges. Place your stuffing in the cavity, and cover with a layer of tofu.

5. Now comes the hard part:  grasping the colander in both hands, flip it over so that the tofu — now formed into a semblance of a cooked turkey — lands on a large cookie sheet.  Form the turkey legs and wings from the excess tofu for an added turkey look.  Brush the whole “turkey” with the marinade.

6. Cook at 350º F for a minimum of 1.5 hours brushing with marinade every 15-30 minutes.

Tofurkey can cook for hours, though. So no worries about waiting for your late guests to arrive. Garnish with pecans if desired.