Liberator, Educator, Motivator ­­Murray Simon: ‘an incredible mentsch’ from East Harlem

Murray Simon, 90, is described by his rabbi as a gentleman and a mentsch who is always willing to help anyway he can. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Murray Simon, 90, is described by his rabbi as a gentleman and a mentsch who is always willing to help anyway he can. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Spending a few minutes with Howard County resident Murray Simon in his Columbia apartment, it quickly becomes obvious that every picture on a wall and trinket on a shelf tells a story. But what is not as obvious is how many people Simon has influenced, and the extraordinary depth with which he has touched their lives.

Simon, 90, was born in East Harlem, N.Y., during the Great Depression and for much of his youth he was a “lackadaisical student,” he said. So much so that he was once dismissed from a yeshiva.

“I think what is extraordinary is his transformation from almost a juvenile delinquent to a very serious student,” said daughter Barbara Simon, who lives in Manhattan and teaches Hebrew at the Jewish Community Center. [He became] very academic and he made a choice to be a lifelong student.”

She attributes her father’s change to when he had pneumonia at age 12 and was hospitalized at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Despite his young age he stayed in the adult ward. This was a transformative time in Simon’s life as he “met people who took an interest in him intellectually. The world of books opened up, and he began to gather mentors that would be important to him throughout his life,” she said.

Barbara Simon said her grandmother always stressed the importance of a good education, and that message has come down through the generations.

“After I completed junior high school, I selected a high school in Brooklyn and … it turned out to be one of my good decisions,” said Simon. “I haven’t made all good decisions.”

Barbara added that her grandmother, Simon’s mother, Sarah Markman Simon, went to the high school to personally thank the principal for allowing her son to have the education he did. Following his high school graduation in 1942, Simon attended New York University, but World War II quickly disrupted his education, and Simon enlisted.

He was assigned to an Army student training program that was meant to be an “army of occupation” despite the bleak outlook of the war at the time. Simon said, “We had this attitude that we would win.” Toward the end of his training, due to heavy casualties in Europe, the Army canceled his program and sent him to an infantry unit. By October of 1944, Simon was on the Queen Mary headed for Europe as a machine gunner in the 3rd Infantry Division.

“Later, they called me to become a radio operator. I told them ‘as a machine gunner, I’m shooting at them. As a radio operator they’re shooting at me,’” said Simon. “But I accepted the position.”

When I taught the class in 1956, they were all 12 years old. Last September when they were 70, we had another class reunion

In November 1944, the 3rd Infantry Division helped liberate the concentration camp Natzweiler-Struthof in Alsace, France. Although credit was officially given to the First French Army, Simon and other members of the 3rd Infantry Division would be recognized in April 2010 at the U.S. Holocaust Museum for their work with survivors in the Salzburg area.

The following year, Simon and other veterans, were appointed the title of Chevalier, or Knight, in France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to acknowledge services rendered to France and holds five of the country’s highest decorations.

“We began having Sunday morning services and we would go to the work camps, pick up survivors there and bring them to services,” said Simon. “At the end of services we’d put money or cigarettes [into a collection bin] so that we could give it to [the survivors], and they could share it amongst themselves.”

Simon and his fellow soldiers later found out to their amusement that some of the items they donated were sold on the black market by survivors. Eventually, Simon and his division took Nuremburg in April 1945, and although he was offered other positions, by then Simon knew he wanted to return home.

When he returned from Europe, he continued his education at New York University and eventually earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree. Although he’s worked as an educator and administrator in the United States, Latin America and Africa, Simon had one class that he described as his “dream class.”

“We’re talking about 1956, at what really qualified as an inner-city public school which was crowded, and most of the teachers there were tenured into their position; totally bored, just trying to do their best to maintain discipline,” said Dr. Robert Kolodny, who was a part of Simon’s class 7-4B at Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High School in Yonkers, N.Y.

Kolodny said that Simon stood out among other teachers because he taught skills that were unheard of in the public school system from critical thinking to reading and understanding The New York Times.

“Picture a group of seventh-grade students who were not inspired by their schooling. But when you walked in that classroom, you felt like a freshmen in college,” said Kolodny. “He treated us and made us feel like our opinions were important and needed to be aired, debated and mulled over.”

Kolodny added that of Murray’s class 7-4B; two  became doctors (including Kolodny), four became lawyers and several attended Ivy League schools.

Simon’s part in his student’s lives didn’t stop — figuratively or literally — after they graduated from junior high school.

“When I taught the class in 1956, they were all 12 years old,” said Simon. “Last September, when they were 70, we had another class reunion.”

The class has continually reunited at different locations and for different celebrations, one of the latest being Simon’s 90th birthday. Simon has attended several of his former student’s weddings as well as their children’s bar and bat mitzvahs.

Despite lengthy conversations about World War II, Kolodny and his classmates never knew about their teacher’s service in the military until later in life.

“I have no idea why he didn’t talk about World War II,” said Kolodny. “I was astonished to find out Murray had grown up in East Harlem. It was very surprising to me because my father had run a medical clinic not far from there.”

Barbara Simon said her father never discussed his time in the military with her either, but she attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. when he was appointed a Chevalier. While she is moved by the sacrifices that her father and others in his generation made, she recognized that the subject of World War II is “still very raw.”

“I always think about people in my father’s generation as having lived through spectacular years. Living through the 20th century with all the technological innovations and changes in politics and society,” she said, “it’s almost mind-boggling the changes [my father] has gone through.”

Today, Simon and his wife, Juana, are  active members in Columbia Jewish Congregation, led by Rabbi Sonya Starr.

“[Simon] has been a dedicated member of CJC since he joined, and he’s always a gentleman, knowledgeable but respectful, kind and willing to help in any way he can. … He’s really an incredible mentsch,” said Starr. “One of the other things he is known for is playing Jewish geography better than anyone.”

While Simon’s personal and professional endeavors span far beyond a school in Yonkers or his time in the military, his daughter said the people he has met and relationships he has built are a testimony to his ability to inspire those around him.

“I think my father has a lot of warmth, and over the years it has been very difficult for him to articulate the depths of all his emotions and love for people,” said Barbara Simon. “But I think his soul has always been involved in tikkun olam.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Faiths United At 50 Jews, Catholics celebrate milestone anniversary of landmark treaty from Vatican II

With the vote of more than 2,000 Catholic bishops and the help of one pope 50 years ago, relations between Jews and Catholics became more civil than ever. These two faith communities of Baltimore will mark the signing of the treaty that made it possible — Nostra Aetate — with a series of events this month commemorating its 50th anniversary.

Nostra Aetate, which translates to “in our time,” was a statement passed by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965 that extended an olive branch toward Jews and people of other faiths with whom Catholics previously were at odds. The document was the final result of a five-year effort to reform the church that was started by Pope John XXIII with the formation of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

The impetus for Nostra Aetate is partially attributed to Jules Isaac — a French Jewish historian who had been France’s inspector general of education and later survived the Holocaust.

John Borelli, a religion professor at Georgetown University, said that after Isaac’s wife and daughter died at Auschwitz he began thinking about what could have triggered such events.

“That kind of put him on a road to rethinking everything that was happening in the war and in the Holocaust,” he said.

Borelli said Pope John, a reformer who surprised everyone at the time by striving for ecumenism, met with Isaac in 1960 to discuss incorporating Jews into the various groups addressed in the treaty, which also included Muslims and Buddhists.

“John wanted to update the windows and open up to the modern world,” Borelli said.

Pope John had already set up the Secretariat that was headed by Cardinal Augustin Bea, but both agreed with Isaac that the treaty should be extended to Jews.

At issue was the long-held belief by Catholics that Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death. Borelli said the earliest example of this teaching appears in the Gospel of Matthew, written about 60 years after the time of Jesus.

“If you read some of the gospels literally, especially John and parts of Matthew, you could come across that this was a condemnation of Jews for not receiving Jesus as Messiah.”

Borelli said the First Vatican Council — convened by Pope Pius IX in 1868 — had ended without resolution, and Pope John was determined to convene a council dedicated to changing the way Christians prayed.

“He knew that the way to update the church in the modern world would come to him,” he said. “He had these kind of vague ideas but knew that if he gathered the bishops of the world, it would work itself out. One piece of this was the part on interreligious dialogue.”

Despite Pope John and later Pope Paul VI’s efforts, a number of Jews still did not entirely trust the motivation of the church’s leaders due to a not-so-friendly history dating to the Crusades.

“There were a number of incidents of persecution in history that were remembered,” Borelli said. “I think the trust factor had to come from this long experience that Jews had lived as a minority in a Christian country, and their fate depended on the will of the Christians.”

Borelli added that many objections came from Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East.

“There was the worry that there was that negativity, and you had a number of bishops from the Middle East who worried this would have negative repercussions,” he said.

He knew that the way to update the church in the modern world would come to him. He had these kind of vague ideas but knew that if he gathered the bishops of the world, it would work itself out. One piece of this of this was the part on interreligious dialogue.

Ultimately only 88 of the more than 2,000 bishops convened voted against the treaty. To recognize the historic achievement, the Baltimore Jewish Council will host William Lori, the Archbishop Diocese of Baltimore, at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8, where they will present him with a letter expressing appreciation for his interfaith work in the city.

BJC executive director Art Abramson said the outreach to the Catholic community came as a part of ongoing conversation they have had.

“We have a very strong relationship with the Catholic community,” he said. “Together, we lobby on a variety of issues, and we’re going to highlight that in terms of what Nostre Aetate meant.”

Abramson cited Pope Francis’s visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23 as another key event in what he sees as an ongoing progressive stance by the Catholic Church. He compared Pope Francis’ political positions to those taken by Pope John 50 years before.

“It’s a very important effort, and especially in light of the present pope and the many initiatives he’s been making on social justice and climate change and outreach to so many faith communities, the parallels are there,” he said.

Later in the month, the BJC will help host the city’s third annual Open Windows Festival, a panel discussion that will feature Borelli, Abramson and other notable speakers such as Christopher Leighton, who is the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

Father Robert Albright, a retired Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, has been involved with the festival from its beginning in 2013. The first year, 250 people showed up, and the second year, they had about 100. Abright hopes that by “going ecumenical and interfaith this year,” there is an even larger turnout.

“[Nostre Aetate] is a document that has to do with the church from all different religions,” he said. “The very fact that we’re reaching out to the Muslim community and the Jewish community, we’d like to have as many people there from other religions as possible.”

Albright said the first year most of the event was centered around the history of Vatican II; last year’s discussion focused on “the liturgy and the laity” of the council.

Albright will emcee the event and said the idea of open windows is a metaphor for the evolution of the church over the last 50 years.

“That particular imagery is strong this year in terms of opening the windows not just in the church, but to other religions as well, and so that’s very central to Pope John XXIII’s dream,” he said.

Albright said he and several other bishops made the pilgrimage to Washington to see Pope Francis and got about 200 yards from the pontiff. He also watched the pope’s speech to Congress the next day and said he thought it was “fabulous.”

“What I loved about him all along is that he never scolds anybody and he never dominates,” he said. “He comes as an equal partner in the dialogue.”

Albright said previous popes have taken similar stands, such as Pope John Paul II, but Francis’ personality is unique.

“John Paul was more of a dictator,” he said. “He came across with an iron fist.”

The interfaith spirit was in the air Sept. 17 when The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore co-hosted a day of service at Weinberg Housing and Resource Center with Catholic Charities. The events concluded with a philosophical discussion about the religious interpretations of “The Giving Tree,” a 1964 children’s book by the late Shel Silverstein. In it, a small boy repeatedly takes different parts of the tree for his own use to the tree’s satisfaction until the tree is nothing but a stump. Scholars discussed the Jewish value of tzedakah and the Christian value of agape. Tzedakah commands Jews to give charity as an act of loving kindness, whereas agape defines charity as a form of love by Christians, where God is the originating source and the end.

After 15 minutes of discussion about the book, Leighton, who was leading the discussion, concluded by suggesting there are multiple correct interpretations of the relationship between the boy and the tree.

“On the one hand, is this a model of self-navigation and self-emulation, or is it self-destruction,” he said. “Or in some sense, is this the fullest realest realization of extremists? And in that tension resides, I think, occasions for Christians and Jews to challenge each other and learn from each other in exciting ways.”

Mary Anne O’Donnell, assistant director of Catholic Charities, said she found herself struggling with the stories but said interfaith discussions such as this one are essential for personal growth.

“I really think that kind of debate and conversation is what makes us all better people, because we learn from one another and we hear a different perspective,” she said.

Despite the evolution of relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Western world, religious persecution persists in the Middle East. On Sept. 21, the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, a humanitarian organization that helps Iraqi Christians in need, held a candlelight vigil at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington to honor Christian victims of the violence in the region and call on Pope Francis to condemn it as genocide. The ceremony included a benediction and shofar blast from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac. Weinblatt said he has followed these events in the Middle East closely and is glad people are finally speaking out.

“I think that the timing of this is meant to call attention to while the pope is here,” he said. “The pope has spoken about oppression in the Muslim world, and I think it’s one of the things that we as Jews certainly should also share a great deal of concern about.”

Weinblatt too drew comparisons between Pope Francis and Pope John in noting how both were close to the Jewish community in some part of the world.

“I think one of the points was that Nostre Aetate opened up those possibilities for reconciliation, for dialogue, for greater understanding,” he said. “And I would say Pope Francis is in that line because he had such terrific relations with the Jewish community in Argentina.”

Some scholars, such as Borelli, were in college when Nostra Aetate came to be and did not immediately realize its impact. He said by 1972 he knew it would have a large impact on him professionally. Borelli emphasized that the evolution of Jewish relations with the church can be seen in the academic community, adding that “every bishop has a best-friend rabbi.”

“In the last 50 years look at the number of Jewish scholars of the new testament, and that’s really changed the dialogue,” he said. “These kinds of things that have happened in Christian-Jewish relations have happened in the wake of Nostra Aetate.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Comptroller, Governor Weigh In on Baltimore County Schools’ AC State’s high officials call for accelerated action

Peter Franchot (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Peter Franchot (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

A contentious debate is taking place between Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot as the state officials have criticized the county for not fixing sooner its schools that lack air conditioning.

The county executive has gone on the defense, saying that he is fixing a problem he inherited, with a plan to have air conditioning in 99 percent of county schools by 2021.

“There is no resource problem. There is no money problem. It’s a lack of leadership, it is a lack of priority,” Franchot told The Jewish Times. “It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.”

Franchot’s suggestion is to outfit classrooms with window units as renovations take place, something Kamenetz attacked at a recent news conference held with Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas S. Dance.

“I know the comptroller is very interested in this subject, but most interestingly, the state doesn’t authorize funding for room air conditioning,” Kamenetz said. “So he’s sitting there telling us to add room air conditioning, and by virtue of the state rules they’re going to pay for zero. So really it’s not a well-thought-out position when you kind of look at what the facts are.”

He added: “It’s really putting a Band-Aid on a problem when we’re offering a long-term cure.”

Kamenetz and Franchot are both viewed as potential Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election, adding a political undertone to the debate that Franchot said has “twisted” the issue.

“This is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind,” he said. “I don’t really care where the blame lies. I want the problem fixed.”

Hogan said Dance and Kamenetz should explain the air-conditioning situation at the next Board of Public Works meeting on Oct. 7, according to The Baltimore Sun. Kamenetz told the newspaper he hadn’t received an invitation and would not say if he would attend, adding that Hogan is welcome to meet with him at his Baltimore County office.

It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.

At his news conference, Kamenetz highlighted that projects are completed or fully funded to reduce the number of schools without air conditioning to 15 percent this year. Fifty-two percent of schools lacked air conditioning when he took office in 2010. He has asked the state for additional funds to expedite the county’s Schools for Our Future program, a 10-year $1.3 billion program of which $900 million are county funds and $400 million are state funds.

“Customarily, the state requires the county to provide a dollar-for-dollar match. We are providing more than $2 for every $1 of state funding,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We need the state to step up and equally match our county contributions so we can expedite the air-conditioning projects at the remaining schools.” At the end of the program, 99 percent of county schools, including all middle and elementary schools, will have air conditioning.

Locally, Pikesville High School is in the midst of a $44.9 million renovation that includes a new HVAC system, a new roof, accessibility upgrades, new classrooms and technology. The project is expected to be completed by the 2016-17 school year.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

The Legacy of ‘Mr. Defense’ How Yitzhak Rabin changed Israel

Yitzhak Rabin (Wikimedia Commons)

Yitzhak Rabin (Wikimedia Commons)

As the 20th yahrzeit of Israel’s fifth prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, approaches, the legacy of the man nicknamed “Mr. Defense” remains as polarizing as the conflict he tried to resolve.

Jewish organizations across Maryland are recognizing the Nov. 4 anniversary by bringing in scholars and political authorities to speak about the effect Rabin had on the Jewish state.

“[Yitzhak] Rabin is the history of Israel,” said Avraham Azrieli, a novelist who will speak about Rabin on Oct. 14 at a Howard County Jewish Federation event. “His life mirrors the history of Israel … because he was so prominent.”

Azrieli, who grew up and studied law in Israel, wrote about 1967’s Six Day War in which Rabin was chief of general staff in the Israeli army, as well as the immediate events leading up to the day he was assassinated. His books “The Jerusalem Inception” and “The Jerusalem Assassin” follow these events respectively through the eyes of fictional characters. How Rabin was central to Israeli life will be one aspect of his talk in Howard County.

From serving in the army for nearly three decades during the War of Independence and the Six Day War to serving as Israel’s prime minister and ambassador to the United States, Rabin had a part in many of the Jewish state’s defining moments, most notably during the polarizing period of the Oslo Accords, which had Israelis concerned as a “matter of life and death,” according to Azrieli.

The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that, among other things, initiated a peace process between the two groups. What bothered some Israelis about the agreement was Rabin’s intention to concede land.

“That is why the Oslo Accords raised such terrible anxiety in Israel. It cuts Israel in half, making it an indefensible country,” said Azrieli. “The reason Rabin was pushing it [was because of] who he was as a person. He served Israel as a soldier, military and political leader almost continually from the 1930s to his death.”

Azrieli added that Rabin saw Israel in a position of power in the negotiations; if the PLO had attacked Israel despite the promise of Yasser Arafat, who represented the PLO, then Israel would be strong enough to protect itself.

Dr. Ralph Nurnberger, a former professor at Georgetown University and a former lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will also talk about Rabin at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville on Nov. 2. He echoed Azrieli’s description of the parties both supporting and opposing the Oslo Accords.

“The [two groups] who opposed Oslo and the concept of peace with Palestine reached the same conclusions with different perspectives but agreed to not give up territory,” said Nurnberger. He explained that if one party approached it from a militaristic view, Israel would be too narrow geographically to defend itself. “Secondly, from a religious perspective, Jews have the right to live anywhere in the world but particularly in the lands that were occupied by Jews millennia ago.”

When Israel and the PLO were negotiating the Oslo Accords, Nurnberger was serving in an organization called Builders for Peace, whose goal was to assist the peace process through economic development. During his time with the organization, he sat down with Rabin, Arafat and Shimon Peres, then Israeli foreign minister.

During his talk at B’nai Israel, Nurnberger will recount his first meeting Rabin in the 1980s, when he was as an AIPAC lobbyist, where they outlined what a vision of peace might look like. Although Rabin said it would include returning certain territories, he didn’t draw any lines at the time.

“At the time, Rabin was a former everything, a future everything and a current lesser figure,” joked Nurnberger.

On Nov. 4, 1995, when Rabin was leaving a peace rally at the Kings of Israel Square, he was shot several times by Yigal Amir, a right-wing ultranationalist who opposed the peace process.

“The assassination was incredibly shocking to Israelis because it was [by] a Jew. There was always fear of Arab terrorism, but here is a religious Jew shooting the prime minster to death,” said Azrieli. “There was tremendous shock on all sides of the political scale and this tremendous sense of guilt that Rabin was demonized. His blood was on everybody’s hands.”

There was no shortage of world leaders at Rabin’s funeral, including President Bill Clinton, who famously recited a eulogy ending with the phrase “goodbye friend” in Hebrew.

Azrieli said that some people felt Rabin’s political opponents, not the least of which was Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, were in part to blame for the assassination. Nurnberger added that Leah Rabin, his wife, allowed Yasser Arafat to make a shiva call but refused Netanyahu.

“Some people misconstrued what political disagreement is,” said Azrieli. “Just because he objected to Rabin’s peace-making, that implied [Netanyahu thought] killing Rabin was right to do, which he never did.”

After his assassination, Rabin was succeeded by Peres who had relatively similar views, and despite the anger some Israelis had toward the right, Netanyahu managed to beat Peres in the following election. Nurnberger explained that a series of terror attacks fell on Israel shortly before the election targeting Egged bus No. 18. (The number 18, when represented in Hebrew letters, spells the word life.) Many Israelis felt Peres would not be as hard on terrorism and violence as Netanyahu, which ultimately cost Peres the election.

Following Rabin’s death, although parts of the Oslo Accords remained in effect, the peace talks that would draw permanent borders fell through.

Joshua Muravchik is a distinguished fellow at the World Affairs Institute and author of “Making David into Goliath: How the world turned against Israel.” He questions the power of one man over the power of a people.

“The myth is that Rabin was a peace maker and that things in the Middle East would be different today had Rabin not been assassinated,” said Muravchik. “One enduring obstacle between peace with Israel and Palestinians is that Palestinians are not ready to make peace. It’s true today and it was true when Rabin was alive. There’s very little that Israel can do to change that.”

For more information about these events, visit the following websites:
jewishhowardcounty.org/federationcalendar
bnaiisraelcong.org/events-programs/event-calendar

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Stuff of a Legend Career-spanning Paul Simon exhibit comes to Jewish Museum

There’s Paul Simon’s first acoustic guitar, early lyrics of legendary song “The Boxer” scrawled inside a 1968 issue of Mainliner magazine and a notepad with early lyrics for world-music fusion hit “Graceland.” Those pieces, along with a letter Paul Simon wrote to Art Garfunkel from summer camp and the duo’s first record contract, which their parents had to sign because they were too young, are among a treasured collection coming to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, when Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Paul Simon: Words and Music” opens on Oct. 11.

It’s the first tour stop for the exhibit, which opened in Cleveland in October 2014. Alongside more than 80 artifacts that chronicle Simon’s life and career are videos of select performances and the man himself narrating his life, discussing some of the artifacts and his creative process through interviews conducted by the Hall of Fame.

“He is a master, master, master songwriter, and you can see that, not only that, but he’s always grown. He’s never stagnant,” said Karen Herman, vice president of curatorial and collections affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “His music, it just crosses over so many lines.”

From his folky roots in Greenwich Village in New York to being at the forefront of folk-rock to pioneering the fusion of American and African music, Paul Simon has permanently etched himself in popular music history.

“[He went] from a rock ’n’ roller to a folk-rocker to a genuinely original American songwriter, and that’s also the evolution of his generation,” said Richard Goldstein, author, professor and former executive editor and longtime rock critic at The Village Voice. “He eventually becomes a real pioneer of world music by the time he’s doing ‘Graceland’ … you can see that he is a superb synthesist of different musical styles from around the world. So he has a tremendous trajectory as an artist.”

Goldstein is part of a robust schedule of programs, film showings and lectures that the Jewish Museum will host in conjunction with the exhibit to further explore Simon, folk music and the connection between folk and the Jewish experience.

In addition to Goldstein’s lecture on Nov. 15, entitled “Paul Simon and the Birth of Folk Rock,” there are performances by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cantor Robbie Solomon alongside New York Cantor Jeff Klepper, a major figure in American Jewish music, and Baltimore native and Grammy winner Sonia Rutstein of Disappear Fear; a folk movie festival featuring four films; and lectures on Woody Guthrie’s Yiddish connection by his daughter, Nora, the New York folk revival and the Jewish entrepreneurs who recorded, promoted and celebrated the music, among others. There are 15 performances, film and lectures and three opening events.

“We talk about celebrating the life of the Jewish community and not just the religious life of the community, the community as a whole,” said Marvin Pinkert, the Jewish Museum’s executive director. “It seems to me that this is providing just an ideal opportunity to broaden that scope, and we are going to be able to really introduce a much wider community to what’s happening in the Jewish
experience.”

Pinkert also curated the pop-up exhibit “An American Tune: Jewish Connections to Folk and Folk-Rock,” a small display in the museum’s lobby that explores the Jewish roots of Simon and fellow folkies Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs and Baltimore’s Cass Elliott, as well as the Jewish entrepreneurs who worked to bring the music to the masses.

The Birth of the Exhibit and Its Move to Baltimore
All it took was a visit. When Paul Simon, who has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — as a member of Simon and Garfunkel and as a solo artist — visited the museum, he liked what he saw and began talking with museum President and CEO Greg Harris.

“The next thing we knew, he was all in for an exhibit,” Herman said.

Although Simon didn’t save a lot of stuff from his Simon and Garfunkel days, he saved everything when he went solo and now has an archivist. The Hall of Fame’s curators were able to go through his personal collection to find the combination of objects that would best tell Simon’s story. Simon even suggested a few things himself, including his first guitar, which he got as a birthday present when he turned 13.

Herman, who has a background in oral history, thought they should get Simon to narrate his own story. So in addition to talking about his life, videos in the exhibit have Simon playing guitar and discussing some of the objects, including the time he broke a string on the first guitar and hid it under his bed because he didn’t want his father to find out.

“You really get a sense of how he kind of thinks in music and how comfortable he is with a guitar in his hand,” Herman said. The videos are projected on screens above mini-stages with stools on them.

Joanna Church, collections manager at the Jewish Museum, said this exhibit is a different direction than the museum has taken in the past,
especially in terms of artifacts.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had to put up guitars. I don’t think we’ve had Grammys on display,” she said. “There’s ephemera from his childhood. I love the letters that he wrote to Art Garfunkel when they were both at different summer camps. … I think a lot of visitors are also going to really enjoy the lyrics he wrote on random pieces of mail.”

She’s already hearing from a wide spectrum of people who are anticipating the exhibit’s opening.

Music aficionado and Jewish Museum board member Ira Malis, who traveled to Cleveland to see the Paul Simon exhibit at the Hall of Fame, helped get the ball rolling when heard the exhibit, which was built to tour, was going to be traveling.

“Much like when the museum had a very successful exhibit that involved comic books and [Jewish writers and illustrators], I think it exposed a lot of people to that fact, but also exposed a wonderful historical museum to people who were maybe coming in for the cultural items,” he said. “So I think it’s a win-win to get those kind of exhibits with broader appeal.”

Folk-Rock and the Jewish Experience
Paul Simon is Jewish, and many Jews like his music. So what? How do Paul Simon and all the other Jewish folk singers represent being Jewish?

Pinkert’s pop-up exhibit and Goldstein’s lecture, among other presentations, will answer that question in various ways.

“I met him not long after ‘Sounds of Silence’ came out because I was doing my column. … Like a good New York Jew he knew a good cheap Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and he took me to it and we had to climb this flight of linoleum-covered stairs,” Goldstein recalled. They talked about the music industry over egg rolls and fried rice. “It felt to me like a typical New York Jewish experience.”

But Chinese food aside, Simon and his Jewish contemporaries such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen created their own forms of music with common lyrical themes.

“Jewish performers are most strongly associated with original folk music,” Pinkert said. “People like Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen are literally writing new folk music. Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs grew up in non-Jewish communities as outsiders. They could look at other folk traditions and could see it with an eye and an angle and be able to write something new.”

Goldstein said this outsider view inspired songs that sang of an idealized view of America.

“These writers tend to create an ideal, larger-than-life America,” he said. “This is true of a lot of great Jewish American artists who write or sing popular music. Where would American music be without them?”

From Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” to Bob Dylan creating new music from traditional folk forms to Neil Diamond’s “hyper-American songs,” Goldstein said, “Rather than Jews creating a Jewish music in America, they created an American music that is informed by their views as outsiders.” While Simon fit this tradition, Simon’s lyrics often took on a more critical edge.

“There’s kind of an edge of uncertainty that really reflects a more modern vision of America,” Goldstein said. “These are really American themes.”

For Pinkert, the question was why so many Jewish people are connected to folk and folk-rock. His pop-up exhibit aims to answer that.

Jewish involvement in progressive politics at the time was very strong, and folk singers and folk-rockers captured that energy in their music, Pinkert said. There were a lot of connections between the Jewish and African American communities at the time, and these connections were often centered around folk music, with the Civil Rights movement as another forum and inspiration for the genre.

“Being born in an environment with tikkun olam as a major tenet is probably something that has an impact,” Pinkert said. “I think that within the tradition, there are elements about social justice among other things that made [folk music] attractive.”

The exhibit and the programs curated around it offer up a wealth of experts and knowledge in a variety of areas, but Pinkert thinks people just need to come see the exhibit themselves.

“The quality of the Paul Simon exhibit really speaks for itself,” he said. “It’s a chance to check out all the ways Jews and folk music have been connected.”

“Paul Simon: Words and Music” runs from Oct. 11 through Jan. 18 at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd St., Baltimore. Visit jewishmuseummd.org for a complete schedule of events.

 

Jewish Folk Entrepreneurs

Jews weren’t just prominent performers of folk music when it experienced a resurgence during the 1950s and 1960s. Members of the Tribe had record companies and magazines, owned venues and wrote articles that helped the scene grow and remain abundant.

Author Stephen Petrus, who curated the Museum of the City of New York exhibit “Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival,” will give a lecture of the same name on Sunday, Dec. 13 at the Jewish Museum to discuss some of these important figures in folk and what made New York City the center of folk revival.

Petrus hesitates to call them businessmen because he believes these men, mostly of Eastern European background, were motivated by their left-leaning, progressive values.

“[They thought] almost from an anthropological point of view, ‘this is the people’s music. We’re here to disseminate it, we’re here to preserve it,’” Petrus said.

He’ll talk about people such as Moses “Moe” Asch, who founded Folkways Records in a mission to record the sounds of the world “as an expression of people’s culture,” Petrus said.

“He wanted to come up with this kind of chronicle of world music, what we call world music today,” Petrus said. “He saw this as a cultural and political imperative. He’s not ranking musicians in a hierarchy or cultures in a hierarchy.” The liner notes in Folkways albums included historical context and information about the cultural backgrounds of the musicians as well.

There were people like Jac Holzman, who founded of Elektra Records in his dorm room at St. John’s College in Annapolis and worked to get albums out by new folk singers in the Greenwich Village scene. And Irwin Silber, co-founder of Sing Out! magazine, who Petrus said came from a leftist background with strong commitment to the labor movement. A provocative character who criticized The Weavers for playing African-American music but not having any black members, Silber was interested in folk music as a means to advance political change.

Petrus will discuss Robert Shelton, a New York Times critic who chronicled the music scene.

“That would be the best if you got your set reviewed by Robert Shelton,” he said. Bob Dylan got a major boost from a Shelton review in 1961.

There’s a wealth of people Petrus plans to discuss, with Jewish people also involved in sheet music publication, venues and more facets of the industry.

“There’s really just a tremendous amount,” he said. “[The Jewish community] was particularly critical in pushing forward folk music.”

 

Folk Music Goes to Synagogue

There weren’t always guitars in synagogues, but that’s just one of the ways folk music has made its way into Jewish ritual.

Jewish leaders of today took some of the music of their childhood with them, whether it was growing up in New York City during the folk revival of the 1950s and ’60s, going to to Jewish summer camps where folk music was sung and or listening the music of Shlomo Carlebach.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cantor Robbie Solomon and New York-based Cantor Jeff Klepper, both influential figures in American Jewish music, will speak, perform and demonstrate various folk instruments during a presentation called “Jews and the Folk Revival: When Change was in the Air and the Music Mattered” at the Jewish Museum on Sunday, Oct. 18.

“Folk music went from Greenwich Village to the summer camps to the Jewish summer camps and eventually ended up in the synagogue,” Solomon said. “That’s quite a journey. A lot of us who grew up in that time, that’s the way we developed our music.”

In addition to the ideas expressed in folk music, Solomon and Klepper plan to talk about their own musical journeys and their music, including Klepper’s band, Kol B’Seder, and Solomon’s band, Safam, and their more well-known songs.

They’ll trace the journey of Jewish music, starting with “the singing rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach, who Solomon said was the first well-known Jewish clergy member to play Jewish music on guitar. They’ll discuss the Jewish influence of The Weavers, of which Pete Seeger was a member.

“Pete Seeger came to Jewish summer camps in his early years,” Solomon said. “Then the camps became the breeding ground for the leaders of the synagogues. [Folk music] was their memory of what worked in Judaism.”

Although Paul Simon and his Jewish contemporaries didn’t necessarily make Jewish music, they influenced future Jewish leaders such as Solomon and sang about Jewish values, whether they knew it or not.

“[The lyrics had] a lot of social concerns, the concerns of tikkun olam, repairing the world, it’s a Jewish idea,” Solomon said. “So you have these guys singing about the ills of the world and how we should try to help where we can. It’s powerful stuff.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Praying with Their Feet 200 rabbis complete march from Selma to Washington

WASHINGTON — Rabbis and reverends, black and white, stood together on the bimah of Washington Hebrew Congregation and raised their voices in a triumphant rendition of the civil rights protest song, “We Shall Overcome.”

The clergy were celebrating, along with hundreds of attendees, the completion of America’s Journey for Justice, a 1,000-mile march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C. It began Aug. 1 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and ended Sept. 15 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Hundreds of rabbis joined the march, spearheaded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, “praying with their feet,” under the banner of “Our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools matter.”

Addressing the crowd during the Sept. 16 advocacy rally are (from left) Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau leader; and Rep. Terri Sewell, (D-Ala.). (Melissa Apter)

Addressing the crowd during the Sept. 16 advocacy rally are (from left) Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau leader; and Rep. Terri Sewell, (D-Ala.). (Melissa Apter)

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, called attention to the faith leaders who joined in the 46-day journey and in particular to the 200 rabbis who heeded the “Macedonian call” to march.

Brooks, noting the weight of the Torah, said, “Whether it was carried by someone of the Reform tradition or the Conservative tradition, Baptist or Methodist, Pentecostal or Evangelical, whether it was carried by agnostic or an atheist, by a regular synagogue attender or someone who attends infrequently — some of our church folk understand that — we found that whether it was carried by a man 6 feet, 8 inches tall or by a child 4 feet tall, what we found is that no one was able to carry the Torah the entire distance, what we discovered is that it took the hands of many to carry God’s word 1,002 miles.”

“What we found is that no one was able to carry the Torah the entire distance, what we discovered is that it took the hands of many to carry God’s word 1,002 miles.

The Torah scroll that journeyed from Selma to Washington was on loan from Chicago Sinai Congregation, whose senior rabbi, Seth Limmer first proposed the Torah make the journey and was on hand for the beginning and conclusion of the march. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis were coalition members from the start of the journey and helped coordinate the 200 rabbis and countless Jewish lay leaders and youth group members who participated.

When they arrived in Washington, Brooks said the weight of God’s word reminded him of a passage from the Bible: “God gave these words to Joshua: Be strong and of good courage.”

At the Lincoln Memorial the afternoon of Sept. 15, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the RAC, held the Torah and offered final words to the marchers on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke decades ago.

“As a country, it is past time to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and afforded equal opportunities,” Pesner said in a statement. “We have been honored and humbled to be part of this journey. May the year ahead and those beyond be filled with righteousness and justice.”

That evening, Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation, welcomed the marchers into his sanctuary for an interfaith prayer service.

Through songs, readings and speeches, the clergy, sitting two rows deep on the bimah, recounted their journey and the work ahead of them. Brooks and Lustig paid homage to Middle Passage, a 68-year-old disabled veteran who died on the journey. Another marcher picked up his American flag and made sure it reached Washington.

Following the service, advocates made their way to the front of the sanctuary for a legislative teach-in with Hilary Shelton, director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. He spoke of the specific pieces of legislation the advocates — many of whom were still wearing their yellow Journey for Justice shirts or blue shirts with the word “shalom” scrolled across the back — lobbied for on Sept. 16.

The NAACP and its coalition members called on Congress to support the Raise the Wage Act, End Racial Profiling Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015.

Limmer, joined by his young daughter, offered his thoughts at the Sept. 16 morning rally in the Upper Senate Park in Washington. Afterward, advocates breaking off for their lobbying sessions.

Speaking before the hundreds of clergy, union leaders, environmentalists, LGBTQ rights activists and NAACP members, Limmer described the 10 Days of Awe and the Jewish tradition of sharing the burden of repentance and then launched into a rendition of “Al Chet,” the confession of sins that is part of the Yom Kippur service, that he customized for the occasion.

“For the sin of letting the powerful Voting Rights Act of 1965 fall back, for letting voting rights be stripped, for letting disenfranchisement happen,” said Limmer.

“For letting the working class become the lower class, for making work not equal to dignity, al chet shechatanu lefanecha …”

Democratic members of Congress, including Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Mark Warner (Va.), Jeff Merkeley (Ore.) and Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Bobby Scott (Va.) took to the microphone in support of restoring the Voting Rights Act and called on their Republican counterparts to do the same.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and partner to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, donned a rainbow-patterned kippah and gave an impassioned speech to the awaiting crowd.

“This fight will not end unless every ally is a part of it,” Weingarten said.

“So we need anyone who is religious to work with their sisters and brothers — it’s a good time, the pope is coming, it’s a Muslim New Year, it’s the Jewish New Year — to talk to their sisters and brothers in the pulpit, to say, ‘If you believe in justice, you must fix the Voting Rights Act.’”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Making Her Mark in Macedonia Baltimorean takes on the Peace Corps experience

Reisterstown native Jen Stutman has embarked on a 27-month journey to Macedonia, where she hopes to effect change in the Balkan country and dig deep into the issues facing its people.

Stutman, 23, left on Sept. 19 to volunteer with the Peace Corps as a part of her graduate program at American University, where she is studying for a master’s degree in social enterprise.

“I’ve always been interested in history and how people are affected by it,” said Stutman. “I couldn’t imagine working for an NGO without going to the place first and actually understanding what people need.”

The Peace Corps, an international service organization established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, sends Americans around the world to tackle the social, economic and governmental issues of the countries it serves. According to a spokesperson, 195 Marylanders are currently serving in the Peace Corps, 76 of whom are from Baltimore; 5,836 Marylanders have served in the organization since its inception.

Jen Stutman left last Saturday for a 27-month assignment in Macedonia as a member of the Peace Corps. (Marc Shapiro)

Jen Stutman left last Saturday for a 27-month assignment in Macedonia as a member of the Peace Corps. (Marc Shapiro)

Stutman’s involvement with the Peace Corps began when she interned at its office in Washington, D.C., during her undergraduate studies. After learning how much thought and care the organization puts into selecting where volunteers would have the most impact, she decided to let the Peace Corps select her destination, Macedonia. After studying Eastern Europe in college, she said she “couldn’t be more excited.”

“When I went to graduate school, I realized how often organizations throw money at a problem without understanding what the people [in the country] need,” said Stutman. “I like that the Peace Corps is all about putting people in the field to understand the real problems in the long run.”

Stutman’s desire to help others and enact change began as an undergrad at George Washington University. She was active in a group called GW Students Against Sexual Assault, which educates students on ways to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault on campus. She is continuing that work in her thesis by discussing ways to reduce violence in certain situations.

Stutman’s family, although sad to see her leave, knows this trip is one she wants, and is ready, to go on.

When I went to graduate school, I realized how often organizations throw money at a problem without understanding what the people [in the country] need. I like that the Peace Corps is all about putting people in the field to understand the real problems in the long run.

“She’s always been that person who really wants to help others,” said Stutman’s sister, Sandy Sanders. “She looked at other organizations, but this is the best fit. It allows her to travel, immerse herself in a community and make a difference.”

Stutman’s stepfather, Gary Shapiro, described Stutman as determined and dedicated.

He said he knew the Peace Corps would be a part of her life as soon as she brought it up to him.

“Her mother and I are already planning our first trip, next August, to see her, but I’m also very excited for her,” Shapiro said.

“She’s at the beginning of a wonderful adventure. Her entire family is very proud of Jennifer, and we are looking forward to her safe return in 27 months.”

Once Stutman lands in Macedonia she’ll spend her first three months near the capitol. After training with other volunteers and learning the language, she’ll travel to her host family. Of the several different areas of work for Peace Corps volunteers, Stutman will be focusing on education and teaching.

She believes that working with the people who may run the country in 20 or so years is a great way to make a tangible change.

As for her family, she intends to keep them close by, at least in spirit.

Said Stutman, “I’m sorry to leave my family here; if I could bundle them up and take them with me I would. But they are excited for me, and I just got a bunch of photos printed so they’ll be all over my walls.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Navigating Through The Holidays Many Jews are taking time off into next month to contemplate, repent and celebrate

Last Sunday marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and the start of the High Holidays. But in broader terms, it marked the beginning of an annual three-week period lasting through Simchat Torah that is virtually consumed by Jewish holidays. In Baltimore, this equates to a steady stream of Jews who will temporarily withdraw from daily life by missing school or work to repent and reflect on the past year, as well as celebrate the new.

The abundance of holidays sometimes can create pragmatic challenges for Jews observing them, as it does for Doni Mayer, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Mayer estimates he will be absent from 20 classes over a total of seven days in observance of the holidays.

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

“I have to email all my professors to make sure I’m not missing anything important and that they’re not going to take off points from those assignments,” he said.

Mayer said this year is more challenging due to both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur falling on weekdays, whereas last year, Yom Kippur was on a Saturday. He anticipates a number of other students at UMBC missing the same amount of class time.

“The professors are very understanding, so most of them understand the religious holidays, and they know the school policy,” he said.

Mayer grew up in Pikesville and attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where he became accustomed to not having school on any of these holidays. He said the transition to college was “pretty intense,” but that dealing with makeup work is a small price to pay for the spiritual experience of the holidays.

Following the High Holidays is Sukkot on Sept. 28 and 29, Shmini Atzeret on Oct. 5 and Simchat Torah on Oct. 6.

Rabbi Debbie Pine, the executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, said the holidays are a “wonderful and exciting time on campus” and that the timing of the High Holidays works out nicely with the beginning of the academic year.

“What’s really meaningful about this work is for the first time in our students’ lives, they are making a decision about how to celebrate,” she said.

Pine said there are about 600 students total in Hillel and half to one-third of them typically show up for Erev Rosh Hashanah services. Beyond that, she said, students do other activities such as gracing nursing homes with the sound of the shofar, building a sukkah outside the school dining hall and handing out apples and honey.

“It’s never just about services or just about a meal,” she said. “It’s really very broad.”

Pine said she recognizes the difficulties of observing the holidays as a full-time student.

“In a religious academic environment like Hopkins it’s very difficult to miss class,” she said.

At Towson University’s Hillel, many students stay on campus and attend services offered there, said the executive director, Noam Bentov, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service and said the class will be canceled during Yom Kippur.

“The university’s very understanding and very supportive of students wanting to celebrate their identity,” he said.

091815_cover3

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

The High Holidays often have an effect on universities that is felt across more than simply the Jewish student body. In UMBC’s Judaic Studies program, a number of faculty members take timeoff to observe the High Holidays themselves in addition to canceling class. Chairwoman Michele Osherow said professors who do this must make up the hours lost by having their students engage in an alternative learning experience. She said this year, an instructor who is teaching a course on modern Jewish history will cancel class for the holidays but take the students on a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on a Sunday in October.

“There are ways of learning beyond the classroom,” she said. “The student is also engaging in instruction and engaging in learning.”

Osherow, in her 13th year at UMBC, said the provost’s office issues a memo at the beginning of the year alerting all faculty to the High Holidays. She said students generally do a good job letting her know of their absences through email.

“I have never required a student to prove to me if they are going to be in synagogue observing a holiday,” she said.

Osherow said this year most faculty will observe the High Holidays, but this is not the case with the students.

“Most of the students in my Judaic studies courses are not Jewish,” she said.

Grade schools vary in their observance of the Jewish holidays, with many Jewish day schools canceling class for Sukkot. Baltimore County Public Schools were closed Monday and will close for Yom Kippur this Wednesday. But Baltimore City Public Schools remain open for the High Holidays. Spokeswoman Arezo Rahmani said students who miss class for a religious observance will be excused, but the system has never closed for the High Holidays.

“We’ve never really seen an indication to need to,” she said. “Our attendance rates haven’t been a concern.”

Just as the public schools are prepared to accommodate observant Jews, large employers such as the University of Maryland Medical System also take this into account, said spokeswoman Karen Lancaster.

“While we don’t specifically track those statistics, as with any religious holiday, we encourage flexibility among our managers to allow employees time off to observe the holidays of their faith,” she said. “Of course, hospitals provide patient care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our clinicians and other staff collaborate in creating schedules for the whole year to accommodate holiday time off.”

One downtown spot that will observe the holidays is the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which will be closed for all of the Jewish holidays, including Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. It will be open during the intervening days. Deputy Director Deborah Cardin said because the museum is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, it maintains a highly observant schedule. She added that the majority of the museum’s employees are Jewish.

Cardin said these holidays typically coincide with the opening of their fall exhibit and that planning must begin early.

“We really have to build in the time and take into account the holiday schedule,” she said.

The museum’s upcoming exhibit on Paul Simon will open Oct. 11, giving staff members a short amount of time to prepare.

“It puts a lot of pressure on our staff to do all the work that needs to be done on a compressed schedule,” she said.

People like to bifurcate things but the truth of the matter is the weight of the High Holidays is really just a reflection of what I believe being a spiritual personal is all about.

Much of Baltimore’s Jewish community lies in the county, and this includes some of its most influential leaders like County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Fronda Cohen, his spokeswoman, said Kamenetz will attend services at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation during the High Holidays but his office will remain open.

“Observant Jews will take the day off, but there really would be no impact to county services,” she said. “It would be no different than if a Christian were taking off Good Friday.”

One alteration this year will be a temporary halt to roadwork on Old Court Road, where a resurfacing project has led to lane closures and flagging operations. County Councilwoman Vicki Almond made this request “out of respect to the community she represents and the fact that her staff will be at services,” said her spokesman, Jonathan Schwartz. David Peake, an engineer with the Maryland State Highway Administration, responded to her in an email, assuring her they would comply with the request.

“Our maintenance managers for this area wide project have asked the contractor to suspend lane closures at this location on 9/14, 9/15, 9/22, and 9/23,” he wrote. “This project is scheduled to be complete late November.”

Peake also wrote that there will be no planned construction during these days at the I-695 interchanges with Park Heights Avenue and Stevenson Road, but that the Park Heights interchange would remain in its current construction pattern with one lane in each direction.

The temporary changes to society brought on by the holidays may be seen as an obstacle to some, but Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel Congregation cautions people not to overlook the importance of this time.

“From a rabbinical perspective, it’s a very powerful thing to have so much time to focus and be in synagogue and be with family,” he said.

Mintz said the work of becoming a better person during the High Holidays requires commitment and compared it to training for a marathon.

“You have to be in it for the long haul,” he said.

Mintz said he understands the stress so much disruption can cause, but argues that slowing down the pace of one’s life ultimately leads to greater
fulfillment.

“I think religion in general can become that, [a pain],” he said. “But because we are spending so much time and it matters, I really encourage people to acquire knowledge and become educated about the power of the holidays.”

Mintz said Judaism should not be viewed as a sector of someone’s life but rather a method by which a person lives his or her life.

“People like to bifurcate things but the truth of the matter is the weight of the High Holidays is really just a reflection of what I believe being a spiritual personal is all about,” he said.

Rochelle Kaplan, co-director of the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, said the order of the holidays could be likened to the way in which the human body operates.

“Starting with Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year, the head is pretty much the main part of the body that incorporates all the other organs,” she said. “So the head is where we get all the steam for our engines. It helps when we get off to a good start, then everything follows the rest of the year.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Shabbat Shared Around the World Strengthening community through mitzvot

In preparation for a Shabbat shared among more than a million Jews worldwide, the Baltimore Shabbat Project, which has partnered with the International Shabbos Project, will host its second Great Challah Bake on Oct. 22 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

The impetus for the International Shabbos Project came from an idea Rabbi Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, had two years ago to bring all Jews in his community together for a single Shabbat.

Goldstein’s community was largely receptive to the idea, and the concept ended up taking off in 465 cities last year, including Baltimore, according to Nisa Felps, project manager for the BSP.

Last year’s challah bake took place at the JCC of Owings Mills; this year’s will be at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. (Photo by David Stuck)

Last year’s challah bake took place at the JCC of Owings Mills; this year’s will be at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. (Photo by David Stuck)

“I think we’re at a stage of Jewish history when there are a lot of dividing lines between us, and they are very superficial,” said Rabbi Nitzan Bergman, executive director of the Etz Chaim Center and co-chair of the BSP. Bergman is from South Africa and close friends with Goldstein.

“All Jews value Shabbat,” said Bergman. “That’s why it is such a brilliant idea because it builds unity around Shabbat.”

Felps explained that last year, several women came together to put on the challah bake as a way to help families prepare for the global Shabbat. The event last year was largely successful, she said, with more than 1,200 participants braiding and baking challah at the Owings Mills branch of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

This year, the BSP  purposefully gathered a diverse array of leadership from different Jewish backgrounds to enhance the unity of the event.

“We know how to come together out of fear; when there is a threat we come together naturally, but [for the challah bake] we want to come together out of love,” said Felps.

Using the mitzvah of baking challah from scratch, the BSP hopes to grow unity within the Baltimore Jewish community from Orthodox to the non-observant. Organizers anticipate that 4,500 women and girls will use 6,750 pounds of flour, 1,575 pounds of sugar, 730 pounds of vegetable oil, 750 dozen eggs, 11 pounds of salt, 4,500 packs of yeast and 450 gallons of water making challah.

Liora Hill is co-chair of the BSP alongside Bergman.

“The Baltimore Shabbat Project is about honoring, dignifying and respecting every single Jew as who they are with an awareness that Judaism is precious for every one of us,” said Hill.

“No matter what our practices or traditions are, we are one people.”

In addition to building unity, Myriad Genetics, one of the corporate sponsors of the event, will be helping  to raise awareness about cancer. Since October is breast cancer awareness month there will be information available to participants about the BRCA gene which, when mutated, has been linked to causing cancer.

Read: Making Challah in Columbia

Melanie Waxman and Jennifer Kaplan are co-chairs of the challah bake; they come from different levels of religious observance in terms of their backgrounds, but they see the blurred lines as a beautiful part of the event.

“We’re different in practice but not spiritually, in heart and soul,” said Kaplan. “Everyone has the same value on kindness, charity and education. Every single one of those women who are a part of the challah bake wants the same thing for their children.”

Waxman explained that her reasons for becoming involved in the project morphed over time. She initially joined because she heard about last year’s success, but she was quickly moved by leaders of different communities coming together for the sake of unity.

What has kept her going has been seeing the educational aspect behind it all.

“There’s learning in all of it from learning to braid challah to an in-depth study of Shabbat,” said Waxman.

“Everyone is doing something different, but everyone is doing something that connects them.”

Bergman hopes at the end of the day participants will have one question on their mind: “What can I do, who can I share this with?”

 

The Great Challah Bake
By The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Thursday, Oct. 22.
6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

2200 York Road,
Lutherville-Timonium

For information visit baltimoreshabbatproject.org or email info@baltimoreshabbatproject.org.

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Let My People Go’ Exhibit commemorates 25th anniversary of Russian exodus, captures struggle and success of former Soviet Union Jews

After years of agitation and demonstrations, the gates of the Soviet Union finally opened to oppressed Jewish citizens 25 years ago, setting in motion Operation Exodus, a flood of emigration to Israel and the United States unseen since the Russian Revolution.

“Let My People Go,” a photo exhibit that captures the politics, protests and immigrant journeys of that time, is on view at Chizuk Amuno Congregation from Sept. 16 to 30 to commemorate the historic events. Sponsored by Limmud FSU together with The Jerusalem Post, it is also serving to show gratitude to congregant Shoshana Cardin for her relentless work and devotion to the betterment of Soviet Jewry.

“The North American Jewish community did this, and we’re celebrating the accomplishment,” said Sandra Cahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU with Chaim Chesler. “And we are also celebrating the current success of the Russian Jewish community worldwide.”

More than 50 historic images, curated by Asher Weill and culled from several sources including longtime Jewish campaign documentary photographer Robert A. Cumins, illustrate the refuseniks’ struggle in the USSR and the worldwide campaign launched by North American Jews on their behalf; the high-profile activists who headed that movement, including leaders from Baltimore such as Harvey Meyerhoff, Richard Pearlstone, Beth Goldsmith and Charles Hoffberger in addition to Cardin; the famous 1987 Let My People Go march in Washington, D.C., where more than 250,000 people assembled on the White House lawn demanding freedom for Soviet Jews; scenes of joy and homecoming of the immigrants; and images of Russian-born individuals who have made an impact on Jewish life today.

Cumins, who began photographing for Jewish agencies in 1971 and has traveled to Israel more than 250 times since, said many of the images he made during that time still remain as emotional imprints on his mind, but the coming together of a small but powerful group for the Breakfast of Champions at New York City’s Regency Hotel was particularly memorable. Together, they committed $58 million to kick off the campaign that ultimately raised almost $1 billion nationwide on behalf of the plight of Soviet Jews.

“It was more than just taking pictures of the Jewish world,” said Cumins. “I was part of it and felt very close and involved in what was happening.”

One particularly moving image in “Let My People Go” shows an almost expressionless family at a train station, surrounded by their belongings, waiting to embark on their new life in Israel. Many of the photos, though taken decades ago, resonate with current events and echo the struggle of fleeing refugees today. Some in color and some in black and white, each image includes a detailed description so the timeline of events is easily trackable.

Chizuk Amuno Rabbi Ron Shulman said the exhibit is “a fitting tribute to the individual and communal efforts and the results that came to be, and Shoshana was at the forefront of the movement.”

The exhibit was first shown at The Jerusalem Post conference in Manhattan; it then traveled to the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York offices for an event that brought together some of the major players of the time, including then-famous refusenik Natan Sharansky. The images will continue to travel around the country and elsewhere to commemorate the historic events.

Cahn, who underwrote the exhibit with Diane Wohl and considers Cardin a major influence and role model in her continued involvement in Jewish social justice affairs, said she hopes visitors to the exhibit will grasp the struggle and success of Soviet Jews but most of all understand what is possible when a community is united for a cause.

“We used the strength of who we are,” she said, “and we accomplished an amazing thing. That’s the message — the power of the Jewish community when we’re united.”

Limmud FSU conducts outreach and support to thousands of young Russian speakers in the former Soviet Union, Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia and worldwide. Limmud FSU provides Jewish leadership training and education and seeks to restore Jewish community and identity and works to instill a national pride and sense of unity with the State of Israel.

 

‘Let My People Go’
Chizuk Amuno Congregation
8100 Stevenson Road

September 16-30,
Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information call
410-486-6400.

 

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com