What happens next? With a vote on Iran nuclear deal approaching, expert weighs in on likely outcomes

Congress has less than a month left to review the Iran nuclear agreement before it comes to an expected vote in mid-September. Despite opponents lobbying hard and spending millions to sway undecided lawmakers, President Barack Obama may still get his way, the Senate majority leader said recently.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to the Associated Press, told a business group in his home state on Monday that Obama has “a great likelihood of success” in pushing the Iran nuclear agreement forward.

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed earlier this year, Congress has 60 days to review and vote on a deal. A vote on a joint resolution of disapproval is expected to take place Sept. 17.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

It’s generally accepted that Republicans have enough support to vote down the deal initially, but Obama has promised a swift veto. To sustain a veto, 34 Democrats in the Senate and 146 in the House are needed.

As McConnell put it quite simply, “[Obama] can win by getting one-third plus one of either house.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the second Senate Democrat, the other being Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. Menendez called the current agreement “a very expensive alarm system” that in his estimation was a “far cry from significant dismantling” of Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier in the day, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) became the 21st Democrat to back the deal.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, said Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

As of press time, no Republicans have come out in favor of the deal. To overcome a Democrat-led filibuster of a motion disapproving the deal, six Democrats would need to join with the GOP. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) the one Republican who considered supporting the deal, said recently he will vote no.

Said McConnell, “The campaign of the president to get it approved will be entirely among Democrats, probably Democrats in very safe Democratic seats whose only fear in re-election would probably be getting [through] a primary.”

If opponents of the deal are able to overcome a presidential veto, what are the consequences to the United States for rejecting the deal?

No one can say for sure, but Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution in Washington, examined likely outcomes in an extensive paper published earlier this month.

Under INARA, if Congress disapproves the deal, then Obama is prohibited from issuing waivers needed to lift sanctions, a key component of the United States’ commitment under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thus removing Iran’s incentive to keep its own commitments.

In the short term, Einhorn wrote, the president could not enact limited sanctions relief required by the Joint Plan of Action reached in November 2013. The release of $700 million to Iran each month from its estimated $100 billion in frozen overseas accounts would stop.

It would become increasingly difficult to enforce sanctions on the purchase of Iranian crude oil. Since 2012, United States oil sanctions compelled countries to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil every six months. Under the JPOA, countries were allowed to stop their import reduction without risk of sanctions. Reimplementing sanctions would impact India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and, most notably, China, the largest purchaser of Iranian crude oil.

China might offer up token sanctions to keep the United States happy, wrote Einhorn, but it is far more likely that China would find a workaround or completely ignore the United States’ sanctions. Other countries would follow China’s lead.

At the same time, the United States would be trying to enforce other existing sanctions. Some major international financial institutions, Einhorn predicted, might get on board rather than risk being cut off from the United States financial system, but the temptation of entry into Iranian markets may be too much for European allies.

The European Union and European governments might not crack down on sanctions busters, forcing the United States to become a worldwide sanctions enforcer, setting up a scenario where the United States government could impose sanctions on allies in pursuit of compliance.

“And as the ranks of sanctions evaders grew and as the defectors came to believe there was strength in numbers, such a campaign could become increasingly confrontational, futile and self-defeating, especially if the sanctioned entities had substantial economic links to the United States,” wrote Einhorn.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, in Einhorn’s view. In the meantime, Iran would likely begin expanding its nuclear capacity with the justification that the United States did not hold up its end of the deal. Then it would be harder to get partners back to the negotiating table, and even if the United States succeeded in restarting talks, Iran’s nuclear program would be further along than it is today.


A Man of Great Character Owings Mills’ Lenny ‘Batman’ Robinson, dedicated to brightening lives of sick children, dies in roadside crash

Leonard “Lenny” Robinson, known to many as Batman due to his dedication to visiting hospitalized children while dressed as the superhero, died Aug. 16. He was 51. Robinson had stopped his car on the shoulder of Interstate 70 near Hagerstown, Md., to check on apparent engine trouble, when a Toyota Camry hit his Lamborghini Batmobile, which then hit him. His car had not been completely clear of the driving lane, according to a police statement. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Robinson, an Owings Mills resident who volunteered hundreds of hours and spent tens of thousands of dollars each year bringing happiness to ill children and their parents, was well-known in the halls of LifeBridge Sinai Hospital.

“The amazing thing about Lenny is that he used the Batman costume and the car to form a bond with kids; their eyes would light up, and the adults too,” said Dr. John Herzenberg, director of the International Center for Limb Lengthening at Sinai. “But the real contribution was Lenny; his humanity, his beautiful kindness, his generosity and his complete lack of guile. He was just a sincere, honest, caring man.”

Herzenberg, who knew Robinson from his visits to the pediatric ward and his regular attendance at — and support of — charity events for more than a decade, said Robinson was “inspired by the children as much as they were inspired by him,” and also quite humble, always deflecting any praise he received back to the kids, who Robinson referred to as “the real heroes.”

Marilyn Richardson, child-life specialist and pediatric liaison at Sinai, said Robinson made a world of difference in children’s lives.

“He was just amazing, he knew the kids personally; it was more than just a one-time visit. He knew them by name, he acknowledged them and loved them and gave them courage,” Richardson said, adding, “When Batman came to see you, that changed everything.”

Robinson was also an anti-bullying advocate.

Richardson recalled that one young patient, who knew Batman from hospital visits and other charity events, told her schoolmates that ‘she knew Batman and he was her friend.’ Her classmates teased her about the claim and called her a liar, which made her sad. When Robinson learned of the situation, “he showed up at school to prove them wrong. Then she became the star,” Richardson said.

Stacy Fox Crain met Robinson long before he took on the Batman persona. At about age 12, she moved onto the block where Robinson was her neighbor.

He owned a cleaning business and worked long hours, but in the evenings he was always in his garage, hand-washing his classic cars and playing ‘80s music, she recalled.

“All the neighborhood kids would come and hang out with Lenny. He would spin his cars around the court to get the water out of the mirrors,” and we’d have fun watching him. “He even took 10 neighborhood kids to an Orioles game, and we had the best time,” she said.

Crain said Robinson was respected in the community, had many friends, was very close with his children, nieces and nephews and “was just someone you wanted to be around.”

Crain recalled that the Batman persona began when one of his sons became fascinated with the character as a little boy.

He started showing up at birthday parties dressed as the superhero, and soon after, his living and dining room was “packed with Batman regalia that he would give away” to kids.

Whoever requested him, whether for a birthday or at a hospital, “there was nothing that Lenny — or Batman — wouldn’t do for you. … He was a hero even before he dressed up,” Crain said.

Robinson was always doing favors for neighbors too, even giving rides to Crain’s mother and grandmother when her grandfather was having heart surgery. And “if your house flooded, he was the first one there.”

Shua Bier, an attorney in Pikesville, met Batman when his daughter spent her first three months of life in Sinai’s neonatal unit. He saw him once again at Race for Our Kids, a fundraising event for the children’s hospital.

“He was always very kind, I knew he was a good man,” Bier said. “Whatever extra time and resources he had, he used for good. With my limited interaction, I could see he was a very special individual.”

Robinson’s selflessness was a big part of his character, whether in or out of costume.

“In that way he was a real hero,” said Herzenberg. “You might even say a superhero. Anyone can put on a costume and drive a car, but only Lenny could do it with the feeling and emotion and caring of the kids and what they were going through.”

Robinson was the devoted father of Justin, Brandon and Jake Robinson; beloved son of Larry D. and Ilona M. Robinson (nee Mermelstein); cherished brother of Scott (Jodi) Robinson and Michelle Robinson (Jeffrey Stroller); loving uncle of Marissa, Amanda and Lindsay Brook Robinson.

Contributions in his memory may be sent to Superheroes for Kids, c/o Marilyn Richardson (RIAO), Sinai Hospital, 1500 W. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, MD 21215.


Jews in Paradise In Curaçao, vibrant Jewish history gives way to small but committed community

Tourists come to Curaçaoin the southern part of the Caribbean Sea to snorkel and dive in its turquoise waters, to lie out on the 30-plus sandy beaches as a constant breeze blows past, to marvel at Mother Nature as the ocean crashes angrily against the cliffs of Shete Boca National Park and to sample the famous blue Curaçao liqueur brewed from the skins of the island’s bitter oranges.

Willemstad, the capital city for the 150,000 people who call the island home, is a UNESCO World Heritage City. Its pastel colored grand houses — originally white until 1817 when the governor ordered them painted, as it was decided that the glare of the sun was bad for the eyes — sync perfectly with the island’s colorful culture that melds Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, African, Caribbean and South American influences.

Of the 765 historic buildings that span across the capital city’s districts of Punda, Otrobanda — literally “the other side,” as the St. Anna Bay divides the city in two — Pietermaai and Scharloo, a Sephardic synagogue is highly touted alongside the likes of the Governor’s House and Fort Amsterdam.

A small sign hangs on the corner of the light yellow building in the Punda district, directing tourists to the entrance of Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and Museum, the oldest continuously used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Visitors traipse through the doors to the complex under a Hebrew sign that reads “Blessed may you be in your coming.” On the right side of the black-and-white tiled courtyard is the historic synagogue building, where every Shabbat and major simcha has been celebrated since 1732.

Sephardic Dutch Jews settled in Curaçao, part of the “ABC” islands (Aruba and Bonaire are the others) near Venezuela, in 1651. They earned their livings as merchants primarily and built a soaring Sephardic-style snoa, or synagogue, set with rich mahogany pews anchored with four tall white columns inscribed with the names of the matriarchs and giant chandeliers hanging high above that can hold 144 candles.

Past the entrance to the much-chronicled synagogue, whose floors are covered in white sand imported from Suriname, is an iron gate. It leads into a smaller courtyard flanked by two smaller houses, which once served as the rabbi’s residence and mikvah house. Here is the entrance to the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum and the woman at its helm, Myrna Moreno.

Since she took over as museum curator in 2002, Moreno has ensured that the brainchild of Jessy Jesurun, a member of a prominent local Jewish family, preserves the past and tells the story of the Jews who remain on the island, most of whom attend the snoa, now affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement.

Walking around the two floors of the museum, which was dedicated in November 1970, she points to improvements she’s made during her 13-year tenure. Moreno has added new exhibit labels in Dutch and English, restored paintings and reformatted and expanded displays — her favorite is a deerskin Torah scroll from 1320, carefully stored upright in its own glass cabinet.

The biggest challenge, she explains, is coaxing locals to explore this aspect of Curaçao history.

“The cruise ship tourists, they come to the museum, but the local people you have to inspire, you have to teach them. There is a threshold — they’re scared,” said Moreno. “They say, ‘What are they doing in there? A church with sand on the floor? They must be doing strange things in there.’”

“I say, ‘No,’” Moreno said with a chuckle. “By catering the right things to them, the locals enjoy it and the tourists too.”

For the record, three official explanations are offered for the sand floors. The first is that similar Spanish-Portuguese synagogues found in the Caribbean, such as the St. Thomas Synagogue in the U.S. Virgin Islands, use sand floors to serve as a reminder of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert. The second explanation offered is that many of the Sephardic ancestors of today’s congregants lived as conversos, secret Jews, in Spain and Portugal. Sand floors helped to muffle the sound of their worship to passers-by who might wish them harm. The final explanation offered is the sand symbolizes the promise God made to the Abraham to multiply his seed “as the sands of the seashore.”

A notable exhibit, she said, was one on the nannies of Jewish children, known as yayas in the local Creole language Papiamento. Yayas were black slaves or former slaves who looked after the children of wealthy Jewish households. Yayas were second mothers to the children and taught their charges Papiamento and about local wildlife and attended to the children’s daily needs.

Some members of the Jewish community worried about the controversy such an exhibit might attract, but Moreno found the response to be overwhelmingly positive.

“I was getting people from 80 to 85 years old coming with grandchildren,” said Moreno. “One lady said, ‘I was a seamstress for all these Jewish people, can I touch this fabric?’” referring to a yaya uniform displayed on a mannequin.

“Then another lady came and said, ‘I used to be a proud silver polisher for the Jewish families.’ That is the link I am trying to get,” said Moreno.

Clarita Hagenaar, an expert tour guide, directs tourists’ attention to the grand mansions of the Scharloo district of Willemstad, which was once home to wealthy Jewish families such as the Maduros and Penhas, whose names are still emblazoned on the sides of buildings in the capital city.

Also read, Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao.

On the way to a stand that sells handmade local sweets, Hagenaar gestures to the corner of a busy intersection not far from the floating market where Venezuelans sell fish and fresh produce. There, she recalls from her childhood, tourists would come to town and make huge purchases from the Jewish-owned jewelry stores. So safe was the island that porters would carry the diamond-laden bags down the street to the ships without security escorts.

During the Jewish High Holy Days, Hagenaar continued, so many shops were closed that it was as if the non-Jewish locals were treated to an extra holiday. These days, Hagenaar said, a new wave of immigrants from China and India operate many of the shops downtown.

The Jews of Curaçao shared their wealth with other communities through- out the Americas, including congregations in Newport, R.I., Philadelphia, Caracas, Venezuela and Colon in Panama. According to information compiled by Michele Russel-Capriles, some of those congregations still say a special prayer for the Curaçao community on Yom Kippur.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life.

Hagenaar pauses yet again to draw attention to another yellow-and-white building that looks distinctly like a church but without a cross on top. It was not a church but the former home of Temple Emanuel, established in 1864 by Sephardic Jews who wanted to practice a more liberal stream of Judaism akin to the Reform Jewish Movement that was taking root in the United States. One third of the snoa’s membership went on to the new synagogue, but there was such crossover and intermarriage between the two communities that 100 years later the two Sephardic congregation  merged, thus the present hyphenated name.

Today, Hagenaar bemoans, the Temple Emanuel building is now a government facility where locals go to pay fines.

Not long after Temple Emanuel was founded, Ashkenazi Jews, predominantly from Central Europe, began arriving in Curaçao in the 1920s and ‘30s and like their counterparts in the United States, took up as peddlers before becoming shop owners just as prominent as their Sephardic neighbors. The Ashkenazim established a social center and sports club and dedicated their own congregational building called Shaarei Tsedek in Scharloo in 1959. In the 1980s, the congregation sold its building to move into a more suburban location, though its new building, round in shape with a stunning glass dome, was not completed and dedicated until 2006. Shaarei Tsedek continues to follow Asheknazi Orthodox customs, though some membership will attend the snoa too.

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and her husband Morris Seibald (see sidebar, above) belong to both congregations. Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald was a founder of Shaarei Tsedek, while Sheila’s family has been members of Mikve Israel-Emanuel for seven generations.

When the two married some 40 years ago, there’s was considered a “mixed marriage” because of her Sephardic background and his Ashkenazic background. Up to the day of the wedding, Sheila told me, her future husband’s grandmother kept asking relatives, “Are you sure [Sheila is] Jewish? She doesn’t speak Yiddish!”

The couple’s three children refer to themselves as “Ashkefards” or “Porto-pols” — half and half. Morris, admittedly, prefers to spend Shabbat mornings at Shaarei Tsedek, and the couple alternates where they worship for the major holidays.

Every Friday night and Saturday morning, the snoa is filled with worshippers and the sounds of the grand pipe organ built in 1866 — the oldest pipe organ in the area and thought to be the second oldest in the Americas — and restored shortly after the congregation’s 350th anniversary in 2001 with a generous donation made by the Ministry for Interior and Kingdom Affairs of The Netherlands. Services are led by Cantor Avery Tracht. A local from the Adventist church plays on the Sabbath so the congregants do not have to violate that aspect of Jewish law.

Ritual objects housed in the museum are routinely used by the congregation. In a glass cabinet near the reception desk are ornate silver breastplates used for the High Holy Days and Rosh Chodesh. A silver chanukiah from 1716 is lit with olive oil during the week of Chanukah. Glass goblets are still smashed against a 300-year old wedding tray at the conclusion of nuptials celebrated in the synagogue.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life. There is a Hebrew school and an active BBYO chapter. Extended families routinely share Shabbat dinners together. All take pride in the long history of their beloved snoa.

More information about the synagogue and museum is available at snoa.com. This trip was sponsored by the Curacao Tourist Board and Diamond Public Relations.


Ravens or Redskins? Picking a team, living between cities


Ravens helmet (Trask Smith/ZUMA Press/Newscom)


Redskins helmet (Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire DAW)

The NFL season is approaching with the defending Super Bowl XLIX champions, the New England Patriots, hosting the league’s annual kickoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10.

Although Howard County, geographically, lies between Baltimore and Washington D.C., locals seem to favor the Ravens over the Redskins.

“Central to northern Howard County is heavily Ravens [fans], and southern Howard County, around Laurel, is more Redskins,” said Eric Tanenholtz from Bet Chaverim Congregation, who is a lifelong Redskins fans. “I’d say, anecdotally, between people I know and the amount of Ravens materials displayed, countywide it is a 70-to-30 split favoring the Ravens.”

Tanenholtz said although the past few years have been difficult for the Redskins, his childhood memories of players such as John Riggins, Darrell Green and Art Monk, the former wide receiver who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008, keep him going. Jonathan Goldberg, also a member of Bet Chaverim, is a lifetime Ravens fan and agrees the community favors the boys in Baltimore.

For some, including Tanenholtz and Goldberg who grew up in Potomac and Baltimore, respectively, their team support is based on their hometown.

“Any time it’s Packers game day you’ll find me wearing my Packers yarmulke,” said Rabbi Daniel Plotkin from Beth Shalom, who is a native of Milwaukee, Wis. However, his congregation does not share his sentiment. “This congregation is very Baltimore oriented.”

Plotkin said he has seen a variety of fans in the community including Ravens, Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles.

“I’m originally from Philadelphia so I really like the Eagles,” said Dave Yanovitz from Columbia Jewish Congregation. “Being here for 15 years, I follow the Ravens, but from the look of the congregation, I notice a lot more Ravens jerseys on Sundays during Hebrew school.”

I’d say, anecdotally, between people I know, the amount of Ravens materials displayed, countywide it is a 70-to-30 split favoring the Ravens.

Henry Rossman, from Bet Chaverim, lives in Columbia but has had season tickets to Ravens games since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, when then owner of the Cleveland Browns Art Modell relocated the franchise. Similarly, more than a decade before that move, in 1984, the Baltimore Colts relocated to Indianapolis.

When asked who he supports, Rossman smiled and said the question was hardly necessary while motioning to his Ravens baseball cap.

“The president of our synagogue [supports] Cleveland teams,” said Rossman. “We forgive him, but we love him anyhow.”

Marty Leshin is the president of Bet Chaverim.

“I’m a frustrated Browns fan because we just never seem to get there,” said Leshin. “My son is a frustrated Redskins fan.”

Despite being a long way from Ohio, Leshin is not alone in his support of the Browns.

“My father was a big football fan and had no boys. But he was a big jock so I’m a big football fan,” said Susan Groman from Bet Chaverim. As a native of Cleveland, Groman said she can never support the Ravens, especially since they left Ohio. She has stayed loyal to her hometown.

“I’ve seen Jim Brown play,” said Groman referring to James Nathaniel “Jim” Brown, former fullback for the Browns who was named the greatest professional football player by Sporting News in 2002. “I live a sad existence as a Browns fan because we don’t ever do well anymore.”

Regardless of where the support lies, Plotkin thinks Howard County has a healthy sports culture.

“[Sports] get in the way of things for Judaism at times, but even people with different sporting views can come together,” said Plotkin. “Especially when the Packers beat the Ravens in the Super Bowl this year.”


A Threat to Jewish Civil Rights? Jerusalem Post editor rakes Obama for his pointed remarks on the Iran deal

Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor, speaks to a full sanctuary crowd at Beth Tfiloh, urging American Jews to fight against “a deliberate attempt on behalf of the President of the United States to scapegoat American Jewry.” (Melissa Gerr)

Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor, speaks to a full sanctuary crowd at Beth Tfiloh, urging American Jews to fight against “a deliberate attempt on behalf of the President of the United States to scapegoat American Jewry.” (Melissa Gerr)

Upward of 500 people assembled in Beth Tfiloh Congregations’s sanctuary to hear Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, expertly unfurl her thoughts about President Barack Obama’s promotion of the Iran nuclear deal, what its outcome could mean for Israel and the United States and his alleged threat to American Jewish civil rights.

In conversation with BT Rabbi Jonathan Gross, Glick, who made aliyah after college from her native Chicago, first took Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to task for their criticism of Jewish leaders, such as AIPAC, who were lobbying against the deal. She challenges the criticism by asking why it is acceptable for the teacher’s union to lobby billions of dollars to prevent principals from firing teachers, but “standing up to a deal that enables Iran to acquire nuclear weapons” is somehow corrupt, disloyal and treacherous.

“He acts as though there’s something illegitimate about Jews expressing concern … as if there’s something dirty about Jewish money and lobbyists,” she said.

Glick then detailed what she sees as a gross inconsistency of the president’s public remarks about the deal and the message he gave to American Jewish leaders in a private meeting earlier this week, for which she obtained the transcript.

She speaks from experience and with credibility not only because of her role as a journalist, but also as a core member of Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians from 1994 to 1996. She also served as assistant foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard in 2002.

She continued, Obama explains “every morning, noon and night” to the public, “‘If Congress kills the deal, [Iran] will re-engage in high-level uranium enrichment, and as a result, the U.S. will be required to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities,’” ostensibly starting a war.

Then, she said, the president changed his narrative and told the Jewish leaders, “‘There won’t be a war, Iran is going to engage in asymmetric retaliation and that will involve attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East but mainly against Israel, and Tel Aviv is going to have missiles raining down on it. The only one that will pay a price for this is Israel.’” He essentially threatened American Jews that the outcome is in their hands, she asserted.

Rabbi Menachem Goldberger of Tiferes Yisroel Congregation, who started the evening with a reading of Psalm 121, said, “I’m here because I strongly oppose the treaty with Iran. I think it’s dangerous to the entire world. I’m here in support; I’m expecting to hear more details.” He’s contacted Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and Rep. John Sarbanes to voice his concern.

“You can’t negotiate with people who want to destroy you. It’s a simple thing,” said Goldberger.

When asked about the Israelis’ perspective on the deal, Glick said they are uncharacteristically unified and are “praying that Congress will kill it,” citing that they recognize that if the deal disintegrates, Israel may “get war with rockets and conventional missiles” but if it goes through, there could be nuclear war, meaning that as a country, Israel knows how to “pick our poison.”

Israel has long understood the benefit of “catering to the United States for our national security,” she said, though now the country must adapt — psychologically and militarily — to the “sense of betrayal that the United States has abandoned us, that the U.S. administration is really siding with Iran against Israel.”

Glick then ramped up to her most impassioned message regarding American Jews’ civil rights.

In her words, Obama threatened American Jewish leaders that he will “scapegoat American Jews and claim that you are disloyal to the United States of America and that you owe your loyalties to a foreign government, because you’re concerned by a deal that places Israel at existential risk. Unless you abandon your right, as American citizens, to lobby your lawmakers to oppose a deal you think is a disaster … you can expect me to continue to scapegoat you.”

Glick found the president’s message “stunning.”

“I feel it’s important for American Jews to recognize what we’re dealing with,” warned Glick. She said that it is a calculated campaign to “delegitimize political actions on the part of Americans on behalf of issues that they care about as a community. This cannot go unanswered.”

The talk was interrupted by numerous bursts of applause and several announcements urging people to contact politicians and voice their opinion on the deal.

Attendee Arnie Feiner said he has already contacted Sens. Cardin and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and will do so again. He and his wife, Lisa, both 72 and members of Chizuk Amuno, came to the open event, sponsored by BT congregants Eli and Mila Burman, because “this is extremely important — one of the most important foreign affairs issues since the end of World War II,” said Arnie. “And the way we perceive it, it’s about the very existence of Israel as well as a threat to not only America but the world in general.”

“I don’t think American Jews can stand for this,” Glick continued, and called it “the Alamo of American Jewry,” adding that “American Jewry [could] completely lose its political power as a community in America.”

“This is really about Jewish civil rights,” she said. “When the president of the United States tells the American Jewish leadership, ‘if you don’t back off in your opposition to this deal I’m going to continue scapegoating you as a community’ … it doesn’t matter if [American Jews] think it’s a good deal or not, the
very notion that the president of the United States should speak that way to citizens of the United States of any ethnic background and any ethnic persuasion is basically un-American.”


The Ties that Bind In Eastern Europe, Jewish communities are woven with memory, culture

Legend has it that Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, was founded by Jason and the Argonauts. The heroes of Greek mythology stole the Golden Fleece from King Aetes and fled across the Black Sea and up the Danube until they rested on the modest Ljubljana River.

The way Robert Waltl figures it, if legend is anything like life, there undoubtedly were Jews among the Argonauts. In the lands of Eastern Europe, you never know who will turn out to be a Jew.

Ljubljana, Slovenia (©iStockphoto.com/TomasSereda)

Ljubljana, Slovenia (©iStockphoto.com/TomasSereda)

Waltl, an actor and activist, is director of Ljubljana’s Mini Teater (mini-theater) and Jewish Cultural Center. I met him in Berlin last month on a weeklong tour of Jewish Germany sponsored by the German Foreign Office. Waltl was one of four participants from Eastern Europe. In conversations and in emails following the tour, they described Jewish life that was tenuous, fragile, yet surprisingly resilient. Surprising, at least, to an American Jew accustomed to abundance in all things, including the number of Jews.

Slovenia, tucked between Austria, Italy and Croatia, lost 90 percent of its Jews in the Holocaust. It emerged from the war with 200 Jewish souls. Most left the country, Waltl says. In Slovenia’s 2002 census, 99 citizens declared themselves of Jewish religion, he says, although unofficially the number is believed to be higher.

Waltl tries to knit this community together through culture — “theater and puppet performances, concerts, literary evenings, exhibitions, lectures, educational programs about the Holocaust, Hebrew lessons,” he says. The Chanukah menorah lighting front of the center at 3 Kriûevniöka St. attracts public officials as well as interested citizens. Holocaust Remembrance Day and an International Festival of Tolerance are also on the annual calendar.

“I see culture as an instrument for creating tolerance,” Waltl says. “Culture, unlike religion, offers the gift of discussion about various issues with different people. Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.”

Not everyone in this community who is drawn to Jewish culture is a Jew. That includes Waltl, a burly 50-year-old with short-cropped graying blond hair. Born in Austria, he came to Ljubljana as a young man to study theater. A few years ago, he learned that his great-great-grandfather may have been Jewish. Around that time he found out that a Jewish actress friend was a relative of his.

He began studying about Judaism, learning Hebrew and collecting Judaica. He attends religious services, although he is not religious.

“I even started to wear a kippa to all bigger events in order to raise the awareness among fellow citizens about the existence of Jews in Slovenia,” he says. “Since I discovered my Jewish roots, I felt obligated as a public figure to make sure that Jewish culture that left behind its traces here in Slovenia regains its deserved importance.”

Bukovina is the Eastern European territory with large Jewish populations that changed hands many times during the 20th century, with numbers declining at each turn. The city of Chernivtsi was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and today is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of about 1,300. The Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews helps preserve the memory of lives lost in the Holocaust. (Photo courtesy of The Bukovina Society of the Americas)

Bukovina is the Eastern European territory with large Jewish populations that changed hands many times during the 20th century, with numbers declining at each turn. The city of Chernivtsi was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and today is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of about 1,300. The Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews helps preserve the memory of lives lost in the Holocaust. (Photo courtesy of The Bukovina Society of the Americas)

Ghosts of Old Bukovina
Bukovina is one of those Eastern European territories with large Jewish populations that changed hands several times in the 20th century, going from bad to worse at each turn. At the end of World War I, Bukovina passed from Austria-Hungary to Romania. A part, including the city of Chernivtsi, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The Soviets exiled bourgeois Jews to Siberia. The next year the Nazis invaded. Today Chernivtsi is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of perhaps 1,300. At the Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews, Anna Yamchuk helps preserve the memory of the lives snuffed out in the Holocaust.

Yamchuk, 27, is the museum’s public relations and program manager. Walking between meetings one day in Berlin, she told me how terrifying it is for her as a Ukrainian that Russia’s Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and continues to threaten the country militarily. The West is just watching, she said. It is doing nothing.

It’s easy to draw parallels between the latent threat to this region and the devastating war that was fought here 70 years ago. The museum in which Yamchuk works calls up the ghosts of old Bukovina, where many nationalities mingled and Jews lived with relative freedom until Austria lost the war.

“I believe that the work that we do is important for Jews, for the people of Chernivtsi and Ukrainians in general,” says Yamchuk, who is not Jewish. “Here we are preserving the memory about the history and culture of a great community — Bukovinian Jews. The memory that cannot be lost.”

Here, as in Ljubljana, one can join the Jewish community by remembering it. The national act of remembering what happened to the Jews, liberals believe, will promote tolerance.

The museum also promotes a living culture, she adds. “We do some projects with students and young people. These projects aim not only at discovering important historical facts, but also at promoting tolerance, understanding and friendship. This is a small contribution into forming open-minded civil society.”

The Sky of Belarus
My Eastern European tour mates left me with the impression that, although they came from nearby, their Jewish communities were a world away.
They needed support from the West to give them the oxygen necessary to flourish.

“Communities in Eastern Europe don’t feel secure and this is for several reasons,” says Marcin Wodzinski, director of the Center for the Culture and Languages of Jews at the University of Wroclaw, in western Poland. “With the exception of Ukraine, they are tiny, suffering from extensive out-migration, either in the past or very recently. Simply, they feel very fragile and rightly so.”

Wodzinski is neither Jewish nor a specialist in contemporary Jewish life — the 19th century is his field of study — but his deep knowledge of Jewish subjects is obvious.

Eastern European Jews suffer from an identity crisis, he says in an email. “It is rooted in the Holocaust, frozen through the communist times and actually aggravated by the post-communist transformations.” At the same time, it’s easier to be a Jew in Eastern Europe.

A candle stands among a set of stolpelsteine or stumbling stones in Frankfurt. The stones memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. (TILMAN VOGLER/EPA/Newscom)

A candle stands among a set of stolpelsteine or stumbling stones in Frankfurt. The stones memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. (TILMAN VOGLER/EPA/Newscom)

While walking in Frankfurt, we passed a group of 22 stolpelsteine — so-called stumbling stones embedded in the pavement that memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. Galina Levina, an architect from Belarus, saw them and froze. The tiles stated the Jews named on them had been deported from Frankfurt to Minsk, where Levina lives.

“During the Second World War, Jews from Germany, Austria, the former Czechoslovakia and Poland were deported to and killed in the Minsk ghetto and the Maly Trostenets extermination camp,” she explains in an email.

“I was at the end point, where the fates of the 22 names listed on these tiles had been broken,” she says. “The last thing these people saw was the sky of Belarus.”

It is a great responsibility for those who live freely under the sky of Belarus today “to preserve the memory of the names and fates of the Holocaust victims and all the events of the Shoah.”

Levina, 53, has a quiet, disciplined presence. She carries out that responsibility as an architect and as first vice-chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Organizations and Communities, an umbrella group for the ex-Soviet republic’s 60,000 Jews.

She also acts as the daughter of Leonid Levin, the union’s chairman until his death in 2014 and a prominent architect and artist. Levin’s work included designing Holocaust memorials around Belarus.

“Father had planned to carry out the project of a monument in Trostenets, in the place where the Jews from Minsk and European countries, partisans and civilians were exterminated,” Levina says. “I am working on this project together with a group of architects and sculptors. It is the duty of memory for me. Not only is it a monument, it is also great public activity to preserve the historical memory and explore the fates of the perished.”

Robert Waltl in Ljubljana, Slovenia:  “Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.” (dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com)

Robert Waltl in Ljubljana, Slovenia:  “Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.” (Photo courtesy of Jure Eržen/Delo)

Levina says that her Jewish community, while different than it was before the Holocaust, “is different nowadays, but it is developing after passing what seemed to be the point of no return.”

Wodzinski, watching Jewish life unfold from Poland, agrees.

“I’ve heard this story of the end of Eastern European Jewry so many times for nearly 40 years. It is certainly in process of transformation. It needs to reinvent itself, but I’m confident it will develop and thrive.”

When Eastern European economies improve, he predicts, they’ll act as a magnet for Israelis and other Jews, just as Berlin is today.

“There are also still East Europeans who search for their Jewish identity,” he says. “Even if not all of them become really Jewish, I’m confident some of them will and they will make a new chapter of Eastern European Jewry.”


What’s in a Number? Parsing the polls to find where Jews stand on Iran nuclear deal

Millions are being spent on advertisements aimed at swaying the public and putting pressure on lawmakers to either denounce or support the Iran nuclear agreement. But where do American Jews stand on this hot topic?

The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles poll concluded that American Jews support the deal by a margin of 20 percentage points, 48 to 28, while the poll sponsored by J Street found an equal margin of support, but with a 60 to 40 breakdown. By contrast, The Israel Project survey found a slight majority of those polled opposed the deal with 47 percent against and 44 percent in favor.

Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said that given how “malleable” the public is regarding the deal, how questions are framed has a significant impact on respondents’ answers.

Hundreds of people protest against the Iran nuclear deal on July 26 in Los Angeles. (Peter Duke)

Hundreds of people protest against the Iran nuclear deal on July 26 in Los Angeles. (Peter Duke)

Generally speaking, “when you give people a little bit of information, you get a little bit more support for the agreement,” said Kiley.

But, the TIP poll, designed by Nathan Klein, founder of Olive Tree Strategies, found the opposite to be true.

When the nuclear topic was first put in front of respondents, arguments for and against the deal were presented, but in the middle of the survey, respondents were asked to rank from “very concerning” to “not at all concerning” 10 concerns that “foreign policy experts” said they had regarding the deal.

Among the statements respondents were asked to rank were: “Iran will receive an estimated $100 billion-$150 billion in this agreement, money that can be used to support terrorism.” And: “The sanctions on Iran that are related to terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will also be lifted despite no progress or promises from Iran on these issues.”

Following the statement section, respondents were asked, “Now that you have some more information, in your own opinion, do you think that Congress should vote to approve the deal and lift sanctions on Iran or reject the deal and NOT lift sanctions on Iran?”

Respondents were asked that same question at three points during the survey.

Near the beginning of the survey, 40 percent approved the deal while 45 percent rejected it. Near the end of the survey, approval of the deal dropped to 30 percent while disapproval rose to 58 percent.

Klein told JTA that he designed the questions to “educate” respondents. He said he wanted to gauge how respondents’ views would change with more information.

However, the methodology Klein employed is not uncommon, said Kiley, particularly if the researcher wants to see how “attitudes changed through additional information given,” but for a “clean read” of public opinion, look to the responses given before additional information or statements are offered to respondents.

TIP Jewish respondents, when asked: “Recently, the United States and five other countries (known as the P5+1) reached an agreement with Iran regarding the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions in Iran’s  nuclear program. Based on what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?” Of the 1,034 respondents, 44 percent approved, 47 percent disapproved, and 9 percent didn’t know or didn’t offer an opinion.

The J Street poll, designed by Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, a public opinion research firm that works for Democratic candidates, and administered to 1,000 respondents between July 21 and 23, only asked two questions specific to the Iran nuclear deal, one regarding the deal itself and the other regarding how Congress should vote.

Read one of the two Iran-related questions: “As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Respondents had the options of strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose and strongly oppose. “No opinion” was not an option as it was in the other two surveys.

Klein criticized the omission, telling JTA that it introduced a bias in favor of the Iran deal, but Gerstein pushed back stating that there is widespread distrust of the government, which, if anything, would cause respondents without an opinion to oppose the deal.

That’s the inherent flaw with online surveys, said Kiley. Both the J Street and TIP polls were conducted online. Only the Jewish Journal utilized a telephone survey.

Kiley said it’s a common practice for those administering a phone survey to not offer “an explicit ‘I don’t know’ as an option, [but] if a respondent doesn’t offer an opinion or if the person says ‘I don’t know,’ that response can be registered; but with an online poll, you don’t [always] have that option.”

“One of the benefits of phone polls,” she added, “is that there is a probability that any American with a phone can be dialed randomly —weighted for demographics and such — but with online polls, that’s not how they’re designed generally.”

The Jewish Journal’s survey, conducted by phone, called only respondents who identified as Jewish in previous surveys unrelated to the Iran deal. TIP conducted its poll via email, using a third-party company to find self-identified Jews. For the J Street poll, Gerstein contracted with Mountain West Research Center to administer the online survey by email to Jews who identified themselves by religion or consider themselves Jewish.

The wording of the J Street poll question is identical to the ABC News-Washington Post survey published in late July, done purposefully, Gerstein told JTA, to compare the Jewish-specific survey results against the general population. The ABC News-Washington Post poll results published on July 20 found that 56 percent of Americans supported the deal while 37 percent oppose.

New secular polls have shown support of the deal slipping. In an extreme example, a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found that 57 percent of Americans oppose the deal while 28 percent support it and 15 percent either didn’t know or didn’t express an opinion. The question asked simply: “Do you support or oppose the nuclear deal with Iran?” No clarifying language of the nature of the deal or negotiations was offered.

The Pew Research Center similarly abstained from offering details. Instead, respondents were asked: “How much, if anything, have you heard about a recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran, the United States and other nations?” Followed by: “From what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?”

When formatted in such a way, Pew found that of the overall public, 33 percent approved, 45 percent disapproved, and 22 percent offered no opinion. Of the 79 percent of the 2,002 adults surveyed between July 14 and 20 who said they’d heard of the deal, 38 percent expressed approval, 48 percent disapproved, and 14 percent offered no opinion.

Of the Jewish polls, the Jewish Journal contained the most neutral verbiage. Steven M. Cohen, a demographer with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, designed the questions and supervised the poll conducted by Social Science Research Solutions Omnibus.

The key question was worded: “As you know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons. Do you support or oppose this agreement, or don’t know enough to say?”

Of the 501 Jews surveyed by phone, 47.8 percent said they support the deal, 27.6 oppose and 24.6 percent didn’t know.

As to how Congress should vote, respondents were asked, simply, “Should Congress vote to approve or oppose the deal?” When asked in those neutral terms, 53.6 percent said approve, 34.7 percent said oppose, and 11.7 percent responded “don’t know.”

Jewish Journal also gets praise for rotating between the placement of “good idea” and “bad idea” for the question: “In retrospect was it a (good idea) or a (bad idea) for the U.S. to conduct negotiations with Iran, or are you not sure whether it was a good idea or bad idea?”

Of the respondents, 57.9 percent said it was a good idea, 18.2 percent said it was a bad idea, and 23.9 percent were unsure.

If the Jewish Journal poll is accepted as the least biased, then American Jews, though skeptical of Iran’s ability to live up to its agreements, are divided but mostly in favor of the deal.

 JTA contributed to this story.


A Garden for the Future Temple Isaiah congregant pushes green initiative

Several years ago Temple Isaiah’s grounds were little more than turf and parking lot, but through the efforts of Betsy Singer and the Sacred Grounds committee that she chairs, the grounds have been transformed both aesthetically and environmentally.

Singer, who has been described as a driving force behind the initiative, says her primary motivation is about sending a positive message to the synagogue’s younger members.

“We’re facing real challenges to our climate because of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Singer. “Taking care of our synagogue ground and enhancing it tells our children that we care about their future, that we’re trying to make their future better.”

Betsy Singer (Provided)

Betsy Singer (Provided)

The original impetus for the committee was to assist with the effort to mitigate the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. Although the property had storage ponds to filter water with plants during heavy rains, the run-off from the pavement would still reach the bay, filled with pollution. At the same time, the base of the building had erosion problems when the water ran off of the building’s flat roof and plunged through the storm gutter.

“The leadership of Temple Isaiah felt we should do all we could do as a congregation to alleviate this pollution [as a form of] tikkun olam,” said Singer.

The congregation ended up reaching out to the Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth program for help.

“I think it’s been a great partnership with Temple Isaiah,” said Don Tsusaki, project manager for READY. “In 2012, when I met Betsy, she was talking about her vision for increasing the environmental stewardship of the community, and that’s when we installed the first rain garden.”

The READY program, which is funded by Howard County and administered by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, trains high school and college students to build rain gardens as a way to help alleviate pollutants from reaching the bay and gives students a chance to earn work experience and some income.

“[Singer] was able to begin a transformation, and people are getting behind her,” said Tsusaki. “They’ve been doing a lot, and I’m pretty impressed.”

Tsusaki is not the only one who has noticed Singer’s ability to create and maintain connections in the community.

“Betsy has done a fabulous job in having a vision and making contacts,” said Marge Gold, co-chair for the Sacred Grounds committee.

Like Singer, Gold’s motivation for participating in the committee is to invest in the future.

Taking care of our synagogue ground and enhancing it tells our children that we care about their future, that we’re trying to make their future better.

“We want to connect all of this to our kids to give them an understanding of sacred space and connecting it to our responsibilities as Jews to tikkun olam,” said Gold. “It’s wonderful to have these things and share them in meaningful ways with our kids.”

The program has even reached out to the congregation’s youngest members.

“We are working with preschool teachers on programs for small children; we had a marigold planting session with them,” said Singer. “They love to get in the dirt, touch the plants and water them. There is something very basic that they like about that. It’s nurturing a living thing.”

Aside from the READY project, Singer also reached out to Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, an environmental activist who founded the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network and Baltimore Orchard Project.

“It’s great when synagogues ask, ‘How does what we do affect the environment?’” said Cardin.

“We have to be discerning and intentional about all our behaviors —how we operate our businesses, energy, consumption and waste; these are all ethical and Jewish issues.”

Cardin reflected on one of her first jobs. She was responsible for overseeing a cafeteria, and a part of that responsibility included considering the environmental impact of the facility. At the time she didn’t appreciate the task of monitoring food waste or whether or not disposable utensils were being used, but looking back on it, she had a change of perspective.

“The way we relate to the physical world reflects the way we relate to other people,” said Cardin. “From this perspective, my first job was probably one of the most sacred jobs I could have had.”

Since the Sacred Grounds committee’s inception in 2012, it has built several rain gardens, a tree canopy in the synagogue’s front yard, planted over 100 trees and explored renewable energy options, among other things.

Along with improving the environment, the committee has also memorialized one of the its past rebbetzin and preschool directors.

“[Singer] was central to pushing that project forward,” said Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler. “What we were able to build there is a beautiful memorial to [Moira Renee Panoff] in the sense that it’s filled with children exploring nature, musical instruments and beautiful plants, [which was] really what her life was all about. When I see a group of kids interacting with nature, it’s a little bit of Renee’s spirit there.”


Coming Together LGBT discussion at Enoch Pratt led by change-makers

Yitz Jordan, also known as Y-love, speaks about his experiences coming out as a gay man at Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore City. (Justin Katz)

Yitz Jordan, also known as Y-love, speaks about his experiences coming out as a gay man at Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore City. (Justin Katz)

Yitz Jordan, whose stage name is Y-love, has seen hate, prejudice and racism throughout his life, but when he and several other LGBT activists shared their stories in Baltimore on July 21, the negative wasn’t the focus of their discussion.

“Taking a negative and making it a learning experience,” said Jordan, “[People have heard] a lot of stories of struggle and horrible things that have happened to people, but all those experiences have been transformed into something positive.”

Jordan, a gay Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist, was a panelist in a discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. The discussion was centered on Dr. Joe Wenke and his new book “The Human Agenda.”

Wenke thought of the title when he was writing an article about the persistence of the phrase “the homosexual agenda.”

“It became apparent to me that there is no such thing as the homosexual agenda,” said Wenke, during the panel. “There’s only the human agenda: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How controversial is that message? We’re all human beings.”

Other panelists included Gisele Alicea, a transgender activist who talked with Wenke for his book, Saida Agostini, director of LGBTQ resources at the FreeState Legal Project, and Keith Thirion, director of advocacy and programs for Equality Maryland.

Although Wenke interviewed many for his book, he picked Jordan and Alicea to accompany him on a panel discussion for their unique stories.

“Gisele and Y-Love have unique human stories to tell,” said Wenke. “I think if you have an open mind and a good heart, it’s hard to judge people for who they are.”

Jordan grew up in East Baltimore, and although his mother was catholic, he always had a deep interest in Judaism. After seeing a commercial on television that said ‘Happy Passover’, he began researching Judaism. His mother was doubtful that his interest would last.

But Jordan’s interest in Judaism only increased; at age 9, he insisted on celebrating Chanukah instead of Christmas, in high school he taught himself to read Hebrew, and in 2000, he converted. Although his engagement with Judaism was growing, his relationship with his mother was declining.

“When I was 13, my mother and I fought like cats and dogs. It became a mantra: ‘The Jewish community will not accept you,’” said Jordan. “Ironically, it was tzedakah that paid for my mother’s funeral in 2004.”

Jordan attempted to come out when he was a teenager, but between the lack of support from his mother and his efforts to join the Orthodox community, he went back into the closet.

While Jordan’s life has not always been easy, what makes his story more impactful is when people hear it side-by-side with Alicea’s story, as they did at Enoch Pratt.

“When I came out of the closet my mother was hurt, and she did cry, but she was so supportive,” said Alicea. “She let me live my life freely and didn’t question me after that,” said Alicea. “[My mother] and I didn’t always have a perfect relationship but when it came to gender she was very accepting.”

Alicea, who is transgender, had a very different childhood compared with Jordan’s. Most of her family was supportive with one exception.

“My father initially had an issue. He banged his hands on the table and shouted, ‘My son is not going to be gay’” said Alicea.

Alicea’s father eventually came around when he saw her after she transitioned. Although Jordan’s mother passed away before he came out of the closet again in 2012, he ended up receiving support from places he didn’t expect.

When Jordan and a friend were studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, they’d use music and rhyming to help them with Talmudic studies. After performing at an open-mic night in Tribeca, N.Y., the owner invited them to come back for a regular slot.

Jordan stopped performing for some time when his rabbis told him that it would hurt his integration into the Chasidic community. But after seeing Matisyahu grow in popularity and losing both his mother and grandmother in 2004, he had a change of heart.

In 2005, one of Jordan’s friends from yeshiva, Erez Safar, got him signed on to record at Modular Moods, which would become Shemspeed, the premier Jewish-owned-and-operated label.

The success helped him come to terms with his sexuality, but not without hesitations.

“Before coming out I was preparing myself for backlash of epic biblical proportions,” said Jordan. “I was literally expecting people with pitchforks to bang on the door.”

To Jordan’s surprise, when stories appeared about his coming out in  2012, social media comments started flooding in showing support.

“I was expecting extreme hatred when I came out, but it got thousands of shares on Facebook, and lots of tweets through social media,” said Jordan. “People were saying, ‘I don’t understand Y-Love, but I support him.’”

Jordan was later approached by Wenke to participate in “The Human Agenda” with Alicea and other LGBT change-makers.

Wenke’s approach to writing his book and guiding the panel discussion was simplistic but direct.

“What if I just have conversations with amazing people in different communities across the country,” said Wenke during the panel. “Unique and amazing human beings telling stories about their lives and sharing their experiences. Maybe that would be a way of reaching people who have open minds and hearts but need to be educated.”

Jordan believes Wenke’s method is appropriate, and the event at Enoch Pratt is proof.

“What could be a better catalyst for change than just a simple conversation, where we come and explain why we’re human beings,” said Jordan after the event. “There were no confrontations, no heckling, no anger, it was literally just coming together as humans.”


From Owings Mills to Mississippi Ali Duhan takes her Jewish involvement down South

Those who have worked with her call her ambitious and passionate and say she has bright future in the Jewish community.

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan, 22, who graduated from McDaniel College this past spring, has taken her energy to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), where she recently started a two-year education fellowship.

She and seven others are responsible for becoming experts in the ISJL’s religious school curriculum, visiting member communities in the 13 states that span from Florida’s panhandle up to Virginia and over to parts of Texas, organizing and directing the ISJL’s education conference (which was held in late June) and creating and running various programming.

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan has just begun a two-year education fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. (Provided)

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan has just begun a two-year education fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. (Provided)

“I’m just hoping to learn,” Duhan said. “Everyone here is so amazing at what they do and so passionate. I would love to learn from them.”

A look at Duhan’s previous work in the Jewish community shows that she should fit right in.

A graduate of Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Duhan was an active member of Temple Emanuel, where she served on the youth group board and worked as a madricha. She was involved in Beit RJ (Baltimore Education Initiative for Teens of Reform Judaism) as well as NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth).

“I could tell that she was very passionate about the community,” said Amy Goldberg, who taught seventh grade at Temple Emanuel and had Duhan as her madricha. Goldberg, who works as a youth educator at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, also served as Temple Emanuel’s youth adviser.

At McDaniel, Duhan studied sociology with minors in religious studies and ASL/deaf studies.

“Sociology is a great lens in which to view religion especially in a fellowship like this when you’re looking at how people want to have religion in their lives,” she said.

Last summer, she interned at Jewish Volunteer Connection, where she worked on Jewish service learning projects and helped enhance programming. She also served on the J-Serve International Day of Youth Service Committee and the organization’s Students Taking Action for Change program. Erica Bloom, assistant director at Jewish Volunteer Connection, said the internship was a step for Duhan to explore the world of being a Jewish communal professional.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with. She has a lot of strengths and a lot of passion,” Bloom said. “I would support her in whatever she does.”

Duhan heard about the fellowship at the ISJL through Goldberg, who went through the program from 2006 to 2008, prior to her time in Baltimore.

“It really let me have a taste of Jewish communal work, and it sort of identified what I’m passionate about in the community,” Goldberg said. “I think this will be a good experience for [Duhan], and I think she can find more of a direction for where she wants to go from here.”

In addition to the duties all the fellows work on, Duhan is working on alternative minyanim and how to get people more engaged in different aspects of the Torah through avenues such as Kaballah. But she’s going to let those southern communities she’ll be working with guide her work.

“I like the philosophy of the institute because it’s trans-denominational and it meets the needs of the community as opposed to being like ‘oh, you need this,’” she said.

The curriculum will be one of the bigger items she and the fellows work on. It allows the ISJL’s 350 member congregations to have standardized Hebrew instruction, and through the curriculum and the involvement of the fellows, the institute provides guidance and resources to congregations with small staffs and Hebrew school teachers who don’t have strong religious study backgrounds.

Rabbi Matt Dreffin, associate director of education at the ISJL, said fellows are hitting the road this week in two groups of four and visiting several communities, and they’ll be out for the remainder of the month and all of August. Fellows will then revisit communities by themselves again in the fall and spring, where they do a sort of scholar-in-residence program in which they lead services, programs and sometimes retreats.

“We hire young, potential future Jewish professionals to travel around,” Dreffin said. “Our fellows kind of become experts in enthusiasm in the program and in the curriculum.”

He described Duhan as “a fountain of energy” who is asking a lot of questions, which is good.

“She’s not 100 percent sure what she wants to do next, and that’s partially why you come here,” he said. “She is just soaking it all up.”

But what about Duhan’s own Jewish life? To the Baltimorean’s surprise, Jackson, Miss., where the ISJL is based, has a vibrant Jewish community.

“It’s not Baltimore, there’s not a synagogue on every corner, but there is something there,” she said. “It’s a lot more than I was expecting.”

She’s connected with a young Jewish professionals group, a local synagogue and college groups as well.

“Much like every other region in the country­… we have smart Jews and we have Jews that are less knowledgeable, and we have large congregations and smaller congregations,” Dreffin said. “The biggest thing [the fellows] say about Jackson is they’re a little worried. We show them there’s a Target, it’s a real city. We have Whole Foods. It’s legit.”