A Time to Act Thousands in Jewish community speak out in opposition to Iran nuclear deal

Little more than a week after the Iran nuclear deal agreement was announced and as the details begin to sink into the minds of Americans, many members of the Jewish community are raising their voices in protest and concern.

At Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, approximately 1,500 congregants and other community members came together at short notice for a Community Gathering for Prayer and Action on July 19, called by the Rabbinical Council of America.

“The rabbis feel that this is a critical moment and requires a communal response of both prayer and action,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer of BJSZC via email. “If not now, when?”

Speaking to the congregants, Hauer invoked the spirit of Esther, “the original lobbyist/advocate for the Jewish people,” and how she fasted and prayed to prepare herself to stop the Persian king from destroying all of Israel and called upon the Jewish people to act and to do the same — on her behalf and for themselves.

We gather “to make clear that we have learned the lessons of our history, our recent history. We are not here to be comforted but to be awakened, to be stirred to daven and to act,” Hauer said. In order not to leave the praying or lobbying “for the Jewish people in the hands of a few isolated heroes, as we have done in the past, we will all neither sleep nor slumber until we have done all that we can for the sake of the world and for our people.”

Hauer chose to address elected officials directly for much of his sermon as a way to urge community members to raise their voices and do the same.

“And so let us begin today a process … to plead and to lobby and to work to bring this issue to the eyes and hearts of our elected officials, so they can do what they can at this critical moment. And yes, there are many concerns about what exactly can be accomplished — with veto threats and U.N. resolutions and the like — but it is clear, and all those involved agree, that lobbying the Congress is of great importance and what we need to do at this time.”

Lobbying Congress is familiar territory for the Baltimore Jewish Council, which commended President Barack Obama for his diplomatic efforts and willingness to negotiate a deal. However, after sufficient time to review its details, the organization believes the Iran nuclear deal “does not foreclose Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon and, indeed, could lead to highly unstable conditions in the Middle East and around the world.”

N.Y.C. photos by Richard Chaitt and D.C. photos by Melissa Apter

In its four-point written statement, the BJC said it supported the original idea of lifting economic sanctions in exchange for a “true dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program,” but the resulting deal fell quite short of that, it said, by permitting Iran to begin a nuclear program after 10 years.

Because “the extraordinary sums of money currently frozen pursuant to international sanctions will be released and can be expended in further pursuit of Iran’s hegemonic aspirations and its demonstrated desire to wreak global havoc and terror,” the BJC does not support the current deal and asserts that the deal’s incentive for foreign firms to enter into commercial agreements with Iran — along with the ability of Iran’s neighbors to pursue nuclear weapons — could be “disastrous.”

“We should remember the president’s oft-cited remark that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’” continued the statement. “We need to go back to treating Iran like the rogue terrorist nation that it is. We need to present a credible economic and military challenge that will bring about change in Iranian behavior. … We encourage the president to heed the voices of those who are concerned over this agreement and to negotiate a better deal. If the president is right that this is the best deal that he can achieve at this time, and if he is nonetheless unwilling to walk away from it, then Congress should reject the agreement.”


NYC Protest Draws Thousands
An ecumenical, bipartisan crowd numbering more than 10,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square on July 22 and included Christians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, to name just a few of the disparate groups that united in the heart of the city to denounce the proposed United States-led nuclear deal with Iran.

The Stop Iran Rally was coordinated by the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition in partnership with more than 80 other sponsors. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the rally organizer, said he and several other JRRC members put their know-how and connections together to create this event.

He said there are very few Jewish organizations that advocate solely for Jews, and this rally represented standing up for them and for Israel.

Wiesenfeld said the agreements between the U.S. and Iran are essentially a negotiation for surrender, but with hard work from citizens, he thinks the deal can be undone.

“It’s not just enough that they vote for this,” he said. “This must be stopped for the security of the United States, for the future of Israel, for the future of the Jewish people; now is the time for Jews to act.”

Speakers at the rally — including congressmen and Israel advocates — echoed Wiesenfeld’s view of the deal and urged the crowd to contact their members of Congress to vote against the deal.

As the talk of national security was broadcast from the stage, shouted responses rippled through the crowd.

“Kill this deal!” they shouted. “Where is Chuck?” — a reference to New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles D. Schumer who is seen as a key to its approval. Schumer is Jewish and the heir apparent to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. His decision will go a long way in influencing other Senate Democrats.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Rabbi Jonathan Gross led a sizable delegation at the rally, including a group of students and parents from the BT Dahan Community School.

One student said, “It was great to be a part of something to help Israel, America and the world.” A classmate added, “Today, I really cared about Israel — I felt like I was a part of something.”

The usual throngs of tourists appeared curious but unfazed by the large gathering and still managed to snake their way through the sea of protesters, who enlivened their presence with Israeli and American flags and black-and-white anti-Iran posters.

East Brunswick, N.J., resident Karen Golding-Kushner changed her work schedule so she could attend the rally with her 23-year-old son, Leor Kushner.  “I wanted to make sure there was going to be a sufficient crowd here to make a point,” she said.

Golding-Kushner said she marched against the war in Vietnam and also supported the Soviet Jewry movement. Since then, she said, she hasn’t felt as strongly about an issue of national significance until news of the Iran deal struck.

“I think we’re on the brink of, God forbid, a tragedy,” she said. “And if they’re not stopped, I want to know that I did everything I possibly could.”

Golding-Kushner mentioned to her son on the drive from their home to the rally that one day, he will be able to tell his children that he stood up against Iran and did what he thought was right.


ALSO READ: Most Jewish Federations Find ‘Plethora’ of Opinions on Iran Deal


“Hopefully,” Leor said, “my children will be able to say, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”

Mandel Bar-David didn’t have to travel as far to get to the rally. But the 22-year-old hates big crowds and often doesn’t go to Manhattan from Crown Heights for that sole reason. Still, he felt compelled to attend this rally.

Bar-David is a Persian Orthodox Jew.

Some of his family still lives in Iran. He said it is wrong that they can’t go outside while wearing a kipah without facing scrutiny.

Bar-David said he connects to this issue as a Jew more than an American citizen or a Persian. He said it hurts him to see other Jews supporting Iran when Israel should be the focus of united support from the community.

“If we lived” in Iran, he asked rhetorically, “would they care for us? Would they be talking about our faith and supporting us? I don’t think so. They’re killing us.”

He said he wanted to stand up for his Jewish pride at the rally and give both Chasidim and Persians a good name.

As the crowd started to pick up again in volume and energy, Bar-David raised his voice as well, cheering “Am Yisrael Chai” three times in a row.

“My family is Persian, but I would never in my life support Iran. I am not Iranian,” he said. “I am Jewish. I am Israeli.”


Cruz vs. Code Pink
The day after thousands of people flooded Times Square to protest the Iran nuclear deal, concerned Washington, D.C.-area residents voiced their objections at a rally across the street from the White House.

Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group, organized the afternoon protest in Lafayette Park to criticize the deal and shed light on the four Americans being held hostage in Iran. Their protest drew the attendance of the liberal anti-war group Code Pink, who earlier last Thursday cheered Secretary of State John Kerry when he testified before Congress.

A scuffle broke out between members of Code Pink and CWA supporters as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) addressed the 100 or so attendees in the sweltering July sun. Later, a Code Pink supporter attempted to shout down Cruz, prompting the senator to call forward co-founder Medea Benjamin for an impromptu debate.

Responding to Benjamin’s accusations that the senator was engaged in war mongering, Cruz said, “In the midst of this negotiation the Ayatollah Khamenei led thousands of Iranians in chanting ‘Death to America’ while they burned American flags and Israeli flags.

If you want to know what this Iranian deal is, listen to President [Hassan] Rouhani of Iran who said, ‘We got everything we wanted out of this deal,’” Cruz added. “This deal is a complete capitulation by President Obama to radical Islamic theocratic zealots who want to murder millions of Americans.”

The majority Jewish audience cheered Cruz and later Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern addressed her remarks to Obama.

“Why, Mr. President, have you negotiated away the future of our children and our grandchildren to the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamic terrorism?” she said.

As the protest dragged on past the scheduled one-hour mark, supporters and detractors of the deal splintered off in mostly congenial debates.

Nate Atwell, a Code Pink member, strolled the lawn with Cruz pressing the senator to further explain his stance. Though Atwell said he respected Cruz’s consistency, he rejected the senator’s position regarding the deal.

“I believe it’s a good deal because it’s a step away from war, a step toward peace,” said Atwell, who added that members of Congress have rushed to condemn the deal without adequately reviewing its terms.

Shlomo Bolts of Silver Spring attended the rally while waving a Syrian revolutionary flag. Citing Iran’s engagement in other conflicts in the region, Bolts said he doesn’t trust Iran to follow through on the terms of the deal.

“I think Syria is the best proof that Iran is a bad actor in the world and in the region now,” he said. “They’re not going to moderate their behavior, they’ve only gotten more crazy.”

rkurland@midatlanticmedia.com; mapter@midatlanticmedia.com; mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Good or Bad? Area residents, clergy voice strong opinions about the United States’ nuclear deal with Iran

With an agreement having been reached between the United States and Iran, concerned citizens and clergy from the greater Baltimore region are beginning to weigh in.

The agreement, signed July 14 in Vienna, will require Iran to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions previously imposed by the United States. It calls for Iran to cut two-thirds of its centrifuges from its program and prohibits its use to produce enriched uranium for 10 years. Iran must also reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent and modify its nuclear facilities at Fordow and Arak so that they may only be used for research purposes for the next 15 years.

The agreement has been supported by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has said, according to news reports, that despite recent developments with the United States, Iran will remain allies with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

The next step is a 60-day review process by Congress that begins this week. House Speaker John Boehner said on July 22 that Republican members of Congress would “do everything possible” to block the deal.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he has read the agreement but has not yet taken a position.

“There are several issues where we need clarification on how it works,” he said. “What we see in this agreement is very consistent with what we expected.”

Cardin said although his primary focus is on the United States, he acknowledged that the security of Israel is also a concern of his in dealing with Iran.

“The bottom line in this agreement is whether Iran is prevented from developing a nuclear weapons program,” he said.

Cardin said he is not yet sure how the agreement will go over in the Senate but that many of his colleagues are in the process of reading the agreement and similarly have not taken a position. He said it is important not to lose sight of the many human-rights violations Iran has committed.

“There are so many things that they do that are against our interests,” Cardin said. “We know that if we get the right agreement, it does not eliminate other concerns.”

Cardin said that in the coming weeks he expects to hear input from several members of the community. Some groups, such as the Baltimore Jewish Council, contend that while a deal is promising, this particular agreement does not go far enough in guaranteeing a nuclear-weapons-free Iran.

“Ultimately, it is important that the American public is aware that just four days ago, Iranians took to the streets chanting, ‘Down with America’ while burning our flag,” a statement from the BJC said. “The U.S., in their eyes, is the ‘Great Satan,’ and Israel is just the ‘Little Satan.’”

BJC Deputy Executive Director Cailey Locklair Tolle said the group had originally lobbied for several components to an agreement, including an explanation by Iran of military dimensions to its nuclear program and the dismantling of all nuclear components.

“The way the agreement stands right now, we have major concerns,” she said.

Tolle said she has seen estimates that have put the timeframe of Iran’s ability to create a nuclear warhead at around two months, the same amount of time that the congressional review of the agreement is expected to last.

“Right now nothing stops,” she said. “The centrifuges are still spinning. Uranium is still being enriched.”

Tolle added that the BJC had asked for U.S. sanctions against Iran not to be lifted until all parts of the agreement were met.

Tolle said the BJC would have preferred to see an agreement that lasts multiple decades.

“An agreement that’s really only talking about a couple of years or a decade or two, it really needs to be longer than that,” she explained.

Still, Tolle found some things in the agreement to be positive, such as the 24/7 inspections of declared nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But even that is a far cry from the 24-day window between the IAEA signaling its desire to inspect undeclared nuclear facilities and it being granted the chance to do so.

The length of the process worries Israel advocates such as David Naftaly, a lobbyist with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who lives in Columbia.

“We have a convoluted system that is literally more than 24 days because then it goes to the United Nations, where either Russia or China could veto any claim made by the United States,” he said while noting that President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin were “not exactly friends.”

Naftaly, speaking on his own behalf, said he was shocked when he learned the details of the agreement.

“If you were going to build a house, you wouldn’t pay for the entire house to be built before it’s built,” he said, pointing to the speedy relief of economic sanctions called for in the deal.

Naftaly said he felt Obama had taken a detour from the parameters he originally set when he started the negotiations, which included the complete dismantling of the nuclear program and “anytime/ anywhere” inspections.

Naftaly, 68, has worked for AIPAC for 34 years and thinks Iran’s nuclear program is one the most serious threats to world security in the last 40 years.

“They’ve been caught a number of times [of trying to hide things],” he said. “The idea that we would just give Iran $150 billion when we don’t trust them, in my mind, it is lunacy.”

Jay Bernstein, chairman of the Baltimore Zionist District’s advocacy committee, was also critical of the agreement, noting that there is a sunset on the uranium enrichment provisions.

“The idea of wanting to pursue diplomacy is a good one, but that doesn’t mean any deal will work,” he said.

Bernstein said if the agreement required Iran to dismantle all nuclear weapons and be more forthcoming with information, he would be in favor of it. He thinks military action should at least be an option, even as a last resort.

“To me, this is all about how this was negotiated, and it bothers me tremendously that the United States would negotiate a deal and say there’s no other choice,” he said.

Were he in the Senate, said Bernstein, he would vote against the agreement.

Annie Sommer Kaufman, a Baltimore chapter leader for Jewish Voice for Peace, said she is encouraged to see negotiation between the United States and Iran as opposed to military action.

“I think it is a risk, but I think it’s wiser to take this risk than to get into another military invasion/occupation situation like we did in Iraq, which has also led to mass destabilization [and] radicalization,” she said. “It’s hopeful to see a different tack.”

While some Jewish communal organizations remain skeptical of the deal and how it may affect Israel, Kaufman doesn’t think that how’s most American Jews feel.

“American Jews want peace and justice, have some hope in this agreement, have some confidence in their government and don’t always agree with Benjamin Netanyahu,” she said. “And that’s becoming increasingly common, and it’s becoming decreasingly possible for Americans to support or agree with his policies.”

Each Thursday at noon, a group of 10 to 12 Russian seniors meet for News in English, a current events discussion led by Renaissance Adult Medical Center activities director Donna Tatro. This week the first topic was the Iran deal, which provided fodder for the group’s lively, impassioned conversation.

“Everybody knows that Iran helps all enemies of Israel and they always lie about nuclear [capability],” said Lydia Stolkina. “Why would you go to these people and shake their hands [in agreement]? You have to do everything to stop them. I can’t understand — if I know my neighbor is a bandit and he knocks on my door, will I open the door? No, never.”

The idea that we would just give Iran $150 billion when we don’t trust them, in my mind, it is lunacy.

The group consensus was that Iran was not to be trusted on any terms, and a deal that could allow more than 20 days for Iran to prepare for a nuclear plant inspection was not a deal at all and in fact dangerous, not only for Israel, but also for the world.

“This is a bad agreement because Iran will become rich because of the [easing of economic sanctions],” said Tomila Zhovno. “They will sell the oil, get rich, build nuclear plants, they will support Hamas, Hezbollah. They do this now without money, can you imagine what it will be when they get a lot of money from [selling] oil?”

Several local rabbis, such as Rabbi Chai Posner, a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s clergy, have spoken in slightly more measured tones. Posner said he expected an agreement to be reached but hoped it would be different.

“It’s hard to understand how any deal says we’ll let you know when we’re going to come check things out,” he said.

Posner said the United States needs to realize that it is not negotiating with levelheaded people who want peace.

“It’s almost like we’re sort of banking on the fact that 10 years from now Iran will be a different entity and that will be sort of a scary thought,” he said.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation described the deal as “kicking the can down the road.” He is worried that Iran’s nuclear capability will not be eliminated and that the financial windfall destined for Iran could be used to fund terrorists intent on attacking Israel. He focusedhis sermon at Shabbat services on June 17 on the agreement.

Rabbi Ariel Fishman, leader of the Jewish young professionals group JHeritage, said he too had a reaction of profound concern about the deal but didn’t think it would necessarily be detrimental.

“Diplomacy’s obviously the first resort,” he said. “I think what people are concerned about is having diplomacy in its strongest form.”

Fishman echoed the assessment of others in saying he still had very little faith in the Iranian government.

“Regardless of whatever the deal outcome is, people are concerned about members of the Iranian government saying ‘Death to America, Death to
Israel,’” he said.

Robert Freedman, a visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University specializing in Middle East history, said he can see both positives and negatives to the deal. Freedman said he read through all 159 pages of the agreement and was encouraged to know that Iran will be held to just 500 centrifuges.

“For the next eight to 10 years, the main avenues for Iran to get a nuclear weapon have been removed,” he said.

The most problematic area of the agreement is the 24-day advance notice required to inspect problematic sites, he said. “The question is, in 24 days, do the Iranians have the capabilities of cleaning everything up?”

Melissa Gerr and Marc Shapiro contributed to this article.


Eye-Opening Experience Israeli summer camps help underprivileged, at-risk kids find their way

JERUSALEM — Most schools are veritable ghost towns during the summer months. But in the halls of four high schools in the Israeli development towns of Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, Arad and Dimona, the sounds of learning, life and laughter can still be heard this season.

For five weeks this summer, 27 students from Yeshiva University have come to Israel to run four summer camps for approximately 300 teenagers, many of whom are underprivileged and at-risk. The Counterpoint Israel camps, all located in development towns in southern Israel, each run for 12 days and offer campers a chance to work on their English, as they enjoy regular camp activities such as sports, arts and crafts, drumming and cooking. In addition, campers learn about issues relevant to them, such as Internet safety and time and money management, all while studying Jewish history and heritage, culture and Diaspora relations. Campwide contests offer a chance to show off their competitive edge, and field trips take them to parts of the country they’ve never seen before — including the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

But most importantly, say organizers, camp gives these eighth- to 10-graders structure that would otherwise be missing from their summer. In Israel, camps for teenagers are in short supply, and when there are camps available, many families are not able to afford them. At the Counterpoint camps, though, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services picks up the tab for underprivileged families. And whereas typical high school classes have up to 35 students, at these four summer camps there are three counselors for every eight to 10 campers.

Though some campers and counselors lose touch after the 12-day experience, others forge connections that last long after the summer is over. “You’re Superman,” exclaimed a boy named Bar to 20-year-old YU student Elan Rotenberg of Baltimore. “No, I’m just Elan,” his counselor answered humbly. Not letting go, Bar insisted, “Well, you’re Superman to me.”

Before camp began, the YU students had a week-long orientation to prepare them for camp and to teach them the skills they would need to succeed. Orientation included presentations by Counterpoint counselors from previous summers.

Even though it’s summer, the kids seem to be enjoying some classroom sessions that can last more than an hour.

“I thought camp was going to be boring,” one camper began. “I came the first day to see if it was fun, and I thought I would leave early. But it was fun, so I came every day!”

“Every summer, Counterpoint campers find new levels of confidence through the expansion of their English vocabularies; the acquisition of knowledge and skills leaves the campers with a heightened sense of accomplishment,” said Kiva Rabinsky, director of Counterpoint Israel. “Additionally, dialoguing with their American counselors, who are religious Jews, and taking part in Jewish heritage programming results in the exploration of their personal and
Jewish identity — exciting growth of a different kind.

“Our hope,” added Rabinsky, “is that our multifaceted and innovative Counterpoint programming will improve the skills of the Israeli teens while helping them develop a positive self-image and a strong connection with traditional Jewish values and their own Jewish identities.”

Each camper who participates in Counterpoint enters with a clean slate; counselors are not told anything about who has a troubled background and who doesn’t, so all the teens start out on even footing. They show up to camp for a 9:30 a.m. start time and stay to hang out with their counselors past 2:45 p.m., when camp is dismissed. Over the 12 days, the campers form bonds with their counselors and develop a sense of empowerment and self-worth.

Our hope is that our multifaceted and innovative Counterpoint programming will improve the skills of the Israeli teens while helping them develop a positive self-image and a strong connection with traditional Jewish values.

YU student Gabriella Stein, 21, from Bala Cynwyd, Pa., who is studying communications and education, came on the program because she loves teaching and hopes to go into social work. Just days into the program, she said, “I feel we’ve already made a difference. We’re already friends with these kids; we’re already connected to them.”

Benji Shedlo, 20, of Silver Spring, Md., said that it’s not only the campers who are learning and getting a lot out of this experience. He told a story that to him epitomizes his time here. On a field trip to Jerusalem the campers were approached on the street by a homeless man begging for change. Despite their own meager resources, the campers dug into their pockets to give the man any change they could spare. They also offered him a bottle of water.

“The potential these kids have is really impressive,” said Shedlo.

One of the markers of success for the program, said Rabinsky, is seeing YU participants get involved in their communities in the future.

According to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, YU’s vice president for university and community life, many leaders of Jewish communities in North America and Israel are products of Counterpoint. Brander himself is a past head adviser of Counterpoint Canada.

Shedlo said that his experience this summer has been eye-opening.

“I came on Counterpoint because I wanted to give back to Israel,” he explained. “It’s like, rather than giving these kids fish so they can live for a day, we are teaching them to fish, which is the highest form of charity. We’re helping them become successful and in that way we are helping make Israel a stronger place for the future.”

Netanya Weiss is a freelancer living in Jerusalem.

Yankee Doodle’s Dandy For Kids Two Baltimore moms give parents, children space to create

From left: Kevin Ralston, Heather Ralston, Mason Tortora, Judith Tortora, with Mya Tortora on her lap, and Jon Tortora.(Provided)

From left: Kevin Ralston, Heather Ralston, Mason Tortora, Judith Tortora, with Mya Tortora on her lap, and Jon Tortora.(Provided)

For most people, the word “lawyer” doesn’t bring to mind images of arts and crafts or creativity, but for people who know Judith Tortora, an accomplished lawyer and mother of two, that preconception doesn’t hold true.

“Two years ago my family and my business partner’s family sat around a Shabbat dinner table discussing a new business we wanted to start,” said Tortora. “Soon thereafter, Yankee Doodle Art Studio was brought to life.”

The unique venture, co-founded by Tortora’s friend and business partner Heather Ralston, who has eight years of teaching experience, provides a clean and organized space for both parents and children to embrace their creative side.

The partners and their families spend a lot of time together, and both women agreed that Baltimore was missing a piece of family entertainment, where parents and kids could go to have a meaningful and educational experience without breaking the bank.

“Yankee Doodle provides several craft options that use multiple mediums which provide children different sensory experiences that enrich their development and creativity,” said Tortora.

The name came about because Tortora has a lot of family in the military and also because when she was discussing the idea of a studio, the city was preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

“We wanted to connect to something in Baltimore and with a name that has to do with arts and crafts, so we chose a play on words to be patriotic,” said Tortora.

Tortora compares the Yankee Doodle Art Studio experience to that of a restaurant. When customers sit at a table, a staff member approaches and asks,  ‘What do you want to create today?’ Yankee Doodle Art Studio provides all of the materials, and customers can take home their projects the same day.

The layout of the studio was designed with the help of educational consultants, and activities such as making soaps, lanterns and placemats are offered.

“We have an educational thread throughout our store; everything is arranged in a specific way,” said Ralston. “Everything is at eye level [for the kids]. I would walk around the store on my knees so I could see it on their level.”

Aside from the craft activities, there is space for kids and parents to take a break from their projects when needed. Tortora noted that at other art studios, customers are charged a sitting fee and then pay for the projects they create separately. At Yankee Doodle Art, customers are only charged for the projects they create.

Parents are encouraged to join in the creativity too, but they can be as involved as much or as little as they choose.

“We have what we call “doodlers” on staff, and they take your child around and show them what to do and help them each step of the way,” said Tortora, adding that staff is trained to work with kids of all ages as well as adults. Staff personalities and their enthusiasm are often what keep people coming back too.

Everything is at eye level [for the kids]. I would walk around the store on my knees so I could see it on their level.

“Even when [your kids] are done with the crafts, there is a reading corner, and the staff will play with the kids,” said Jana Block, mother of two and a repeat customer. “It’s just a nice place to have a great time.”

Cleanliness, in particular, also plays a major part in attracting families to the venue.

“It’s very clean, which is important to me, because a lot of these places aren’t,” said Mindy Saler, who has a 3-year-old daughter. “They put everything in these containers so it’s organized, and when you walk in it’s really engaging for the kids because it looks like a candy store.”

Aside from catering to kids, Yankee Doodle Art Studio also holds special events for adults and those with special needs.

“We had a woman who was 68 who made soap and candles with 10 of her friends,” she said. “Mommy and Me groups come to have a night together and hang out, and we’ve also held events for children with special needs who aren’t comfortable in public crowds. We have after-hours events for them.”

Tortora is proud that Yankee Doodle Art started out as a family venture and hopes to see it continue to grow.

It combines “the talents of a lawyer, a teacher, a counterintelligence agent (her husband), a construction manager (her partner’s husband) and two supportive, creative and silly children who love to doodle,” said Tortora.

“We would love to see the Yankee Doodle community expand and hope one day to be able to share the joy that Yankee Doodle brings with other communities.”


Mall Remains Achilles’ Heel While Metro Centre and Foundry Row move forward, Owings Mills Mall is left to wallow

When Sunny Yoo came to Owings Mills Mall 15 years ago to work in Hakky Instant Shoe Repair & Tailor Services, there were more than 100 stores in the mall.

Now Yoo’s store is one of the handful remaining inside a building that has become so empty, it has made its way onto the list at deadmalls.com. He said within five years of his arrival, stores began closing.

“If you look at the mall right now, I don’t see any future,” he said. “They’ve got to build something else.”

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, a few shoppers trickled through the mall including April Wilson, who commutes to work from her home in Carroll County and has been coming to the mall for the last 10 years but now only goes to J.C. Penney.

“A lot of the stores started closing down, and so I limited coming here,” she said. It’s convenient to [where I] work so I still come here.”

Wilson said she is excited about the possibility of an open-air shopping center eventually replacing the mall.

“I’d like it to become like Hunt Valley,” she said. “More open and to freely go into other stores and not worry about the empty halls.”

Cindy Zychowicz also commutes to work from Carroll County and has lived in the area for 21 years. She used to come to the mall often but now only shops at J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. She thinks a new shopping concept will be beneficial to the community.

“I think it’ll be good for the area, good for business,” she said. “I always run to the mall at lunch or after work. And it’s really nice if there’s something convenient [at which] you can just stop on your way home or at lunch time.”

Nearby in the Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield building, which overlooks the mall’s nearly empty parking lot, an afternoon minyan from Chabad of Owings Mills has been meeting since September 2014.

“It’s painful,” said Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen. “Over the past 10 years we’ve watched the mall empty out slowly but surely,” he said.

Katsenelenbogen said the minchah prayer service serves the roughly two dozen observant Jews who work on the Red Run Boulevard corridor, many of whom are lawyers and accountants. He said very few Jews shop at the mall these days.

“It probably needs to come down and be restructured and rebuilt,” he said. “The Jewish community would love to see the Owings Mills Mall come back to life one way or another.”

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation said the decline of the mall has been a “travesty.” Sharff moved to Owings Mills six years ago, and upon seeing the mall for the first time was immediatelyreminded of a similar eyesore in his previous home of Tuscon, Ariz.

“There is a mall really close to my [former] congregation that is basically the same thing,” he said. “There are the one or two anchors [stores], and the rest is completely empty.”

Sharff said he will occasionally go to the mall to shop at J.C. Penney or Macy’s, but otherwise he goes to Towson to do his shopping.

“In a pinch it works because it’s so much closer,” he said. “It’s not somewhere I’m going to take my kids.”

Even local officials such as Colleen Brady admit the situation is bleak. Brady is president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce and said she has lived here since 1993. When her kids were younger she would take them with her when she went shopping at the mall, but she now takes her business elsewhere.

“I want to say that it’s the demise of the indoor malls, and yet Towson is still doing OK,” she said.

An eyesore now, the mall was welcomed and an enormous success when it opened in 1986.

Patrons lauded the easy access from I-795 and then from the Owings Mills Metro Subway Station, which was built one year later. But its reputation as a high-end shopping destination gradually deterioratedbeginning in September 1992, when a Saks Fifth Avenue employee was shot and killed while walking on the path to the station. The path was later closed. That same month, Nordstrom opened a store in Towson Town Center — which is still there and has stood the test of time — while Saks closed in January 1996.

County officials say problems further intensified in 2008 with the onset of the recession, resulting in residents with less disposable income. Since then stores have continued to disappear, and now only the large anchor stores, J.C. Penney and Macy’s, are left.

Appearing like the final nail in the coffin, the Owings Mills mall was highlighted in a New York Times story in January entitled “The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls.”

Still, there have been glimmers of hope from time to time for the mall’s future.

In 2011, Kimco Realty purchased half of the property with the intent of developing it into an open-air shopping center, but those plans have not yet been realized.

More recently, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s spokeswoman Fronda Cohen said the mall’s owners were actively marketing the property at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual conference in Las Vegas in May.

According to ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron, the conference, known as RECon, usually draws about 36,000 people from various developers across the country who are looking to make deals with tenants.

“What that means is leasing deals where you’re looking at bringing retailers into your shopping center,” he said.

Tron said 50 percent of industry deals begin at RECon. But he added that in addition to the trade shows, the conference also serves as a networking opportunity for developers.

“A lot of that is putting the people together to start those conversations,” he said. “That’s why we had people coming [to the convention] during the recession when there was very little going on in terms of retail.”

But Kamenetz expressed optimism about the mall in a statement he made as recently as this month.

I think that the mall, like malls throughout the entire country are passé, and they’re being de-malled. And then the question you ask yourself is, what can we do with the property? And I don’t think it’s a retail play, meaning I don’t think it can be an open type of retail strip.

“We are encouraged that the owners of Owings Mills Mall are finally actively marketing the property, something I have strongly encouraged in many conversations with General Growth Properties and Kimco senior management,” he said in the statement. “We look forward to hearing more about their plans as they secure tenants looking to make the most of the strong Owings Mills market.”

This is a shift in tone from one year ago when Kamenetz criticized both Kimco and General Growth for their inaction on the mall.

“The problem with the mall is we have recalcitrant property owners who don’t want to reinvest in the property the way we think it should be done, but it’s their property, they pay taxes, and there are no code violations,” Kamenetz told the Baltimore Business Journal in June 2014. “Ultimately, I see Metro Centre as expanding into the mall and really making it into more of a continuum.”

Brady said she is also excited about the expansion of Metro Centre and the new construction of the Foundry Row shopping center on Reisterstown Road.

“We encourage all growth because it keeps our residents here,” she said. “By living here, they’re saving so much on commuting costs.”

Metro Centre construction crews are expected to break ground on a 22-story office building later this summer and a 250-room luxury hotel next year, according to Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises.

“We have a site that’s shovel ready that we can deliver to anybody who’s a large user within a one- to two-year period,” he said of the office building.

When completed, Metro Centre will feature 1,700 residential units, 300,000 square feet of retail space and over one million square feet of office space. The first building to open in 2013 was the Owings Mills Branch of the Baltimore County Library, which shares space with the Community College of Baltimore County, and that was followed by construction of 232 apartments.

Brown said Metro Centre falls into the category of “transit-oriented development” due to its proximity to the Metro Station, which 5,000 people use each day. He thinks this will draw residents who want to “live, work and play” in Owings Mills. Brown also developed the Symphony Center apartments downtown, close to the light rail line.

“The type of residents who are attracted here are looking for more of an urban type of living, where you can go downstairs, walk outside” and go to the library, attend classes, buy a coffee, a drink and pizza and get your nails done, he said. “You can work, play and live here without even getting in a car. Tell me somewhere else that can [offer] that? Downtown Baltimore, maybe. Downtown D.C. New York City. Towson would like to aspire to this.”

Brown thinks all of the new development will eventually form the “downtown” of Owings Mills, although he says residents throughout the county have reason to come here as it is.

“You’ve got T. Rowe Price with 3,000 employees every year. That’s certainly telling you something,” he said.

Brown explained that in the 1980s, Owings Mills and White Marsh were two planned communities that were originally part of a master plan for growth in Baltimore County, and both were designated to have large town shopping centers. However, only the White Marsh community developed as originally intended.

“Owings Mills was multiple land-owners so there really wasn’t a master developer to develop the site,” he said. “So the mall got developed and offices got developed, but there wasn’t any grand plan.”

Brown said he thinks this is the reason the mall has failed for so many years.

“I think that the mall, like malls throughout the entire country, are passé, and they’re being de-malled,” he said. “And then the question you ask yourself is, what can we do with the property? And I don’t think it’s a retail play, meaning I don’t think it can be an open type of retail strip.”

Brown noted that since there is already a BJ’s Warehouse, a Sam’s Club, a Wal-Mart and a Target nearby, another big-box store would not succeed at the site of the mall. In 2012, he expressed opposition to the construction of nearby Foundry Row, which will feature a Wegmans. Brown now says he does not think the addition of Foundry Row will hurt him.

“I think we actually will help it more than it’ll help me,” he said, explaining that the apartments on his property will support businesses in Foundry Row.

It may be hard to envision, but the mounds of earth set to be Foundry Row on Reisterstown Road will soon resemble the look of Hunt Valley Towne Center.

Brian Gibbons, chief executive officer of Foundry Row developer Greenberg Gibbons, said progress is moving swiftly with 88 percent of the retail space having been pre-leased and the office space at 75 percent.

“We feel really good about the project,” he said. “We feel like it’s going to be a real catalyst to Owings Mills.”

In addition to Wegmans, 16 tenants have been confirmed including Old Navy, L.A. Fitness and Sports Authority. Gibbons said regarding the office space, they just signed a lease with LifeBridge Health.

When completed, Foundry Row will have 356,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of office space. Gibbons said project completion is estimated for October 2016.

Gibbons believes ultimately it’s economically beneficial for both the mall and Metro Centre to see success. He predicts success for Foundry Row too, but the road to making it happen has been riddled with potholes over the last few years.

In addition to Brown’s opposition in 2012, Foundry Row met protests from members of the community who were part of a movement called the Say No To Solo Coalition and were concerned about the increased amount of traffic to the area and an overabundance of retail space. The movement was sponsored and funded by a prominent public relations professional.

The rezoning of the land on the old Solo Cup plant site for Foundry Row was not controversial within the Baltimore County Council, with only former District 4 Councilman Ken Oliver voting against it. But it later became a political issue for District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who became at odds with Brown as well as Caves Valley Partners after she voted against zoning for the latter’s mixed-use project in December 2013.

Despite this, Almond was able to fend off a primary challenge from attorney Jon Herbst and get re-elected last November. Herbst had previously run as a Republican against Almond in the 2010 general election but lost handily. The JT reported last year that Kamenetz endorsed Herbst’s campaign.Kamenetz also encouraged former State Sen. Paula Hollinger to run against Almond, but she declined.

Now with the election over and the developers having reconciled, it seems that the mall is the last piece of the puzzle for what is to become the eventual town center of Owings Mills.

Yoo said he does not expect the strip shopping center to be built any time soon, but he remains optimistic for the future of the area.

“There are a lot of people around the mall,” he said. “I don’t know why they stopped coming here.”


Finally, Deal is Reached Agreement limits Iran’s nuclear abilities while lifting economic sanctions

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) sits with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, before the final EU and P5+1 ministerial meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (State Department photo/Public Domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) sits with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, before the final EU and P5+1 ministerial meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (State Department photo/Public Domain)

Iran and a group of six countries led by the United States reached an agreement Tuesday morning that aims to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.

President Barack Obama said that because of the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.”

The deal reached in Vienna was met with vitriol by Republican members of Congress, who sought a deal that completely stripped Iran of its nuclear abilities, and skepticism as well as a bit of praise from the Jewish community.

“Tehran has a long history of misleading the world. Last Friday’s government-sponsored Quds Day rallies, in which the masses again shouted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’ are a good example of why we shouldn’t be overly optimistic,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “I fear we may have entered into an agreement that revives the Iranian economy but won’t stop this regime from developing nuclear arms in the long term, which would have disastrous consequences for the entire region and the world. As the famous proverb goes, ‘The road to hell is often paved with good intentions.’”

Other groups expressed hope that Congress would deeply examine and debate the content of the agreement. Obama vowed to veto any legislation that would prevent implementation of the deal.

Under the deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, and they will be subject to international supervision. Iran will not use its centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade, and it will get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium under the deal as well.

Iran will also modify its reactor in Arak so that it cannot produce weapons-grad plutonium, and the country will not build any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years under the deal.

Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s nuclear facilities as well as its entire supply chain.

Sanction relief to be phased in under the deal includes the United States’ sanctions as well as sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted.

Obama praised the strength of the deal.

“Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments,” he said. “That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification.”

Not all Jewish community leaders praised the deal as highly as the president did.

“Today’s announcement of this nuclear agreement with Iran is a realization of the deepest fears and the most dire predictions of skeptics who have, for two years, been warning against exactly this outcome — a bad deal that both enriches this tyrannical regime and fails to strip Iran of nuclear weapons capability,” said Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project.

The Baltimore Jewish Council said it is pleased there is movement on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat, but that the agreement needs further scrutiny as well as certain points to be addressed.

“[The points] include an explanation of the military dimensions, staggered sanctions only after complying with the agreement, that the deal last for decades and dismantling of all nuclear components,” its statement said. “Congressional review will be very important in this diplomatic process, but the above points need further intense examination to ensure the safety and security of the U.S., Israel and our allies around the world.”

The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged thorough scrutiny of the deal by Congress.

“That process should be driven by one central question: Will the deal enhance the security of the United States, our allies in the Middle East and the world? If so, then it should be supported,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “If not, then it must be opposed. This may be the single most important foreign policy issue of our generation to come before legislators in Washington.”

Knesset member and former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, in a TIME.com column, said virtually all Israelis consider the deal disastrous.

“We see an Iranian regime that will deceive inspectors and, in the end, achieve military nuclear capabilities,” he wrote. “We see an Iranian nuclear program that, while perhaps temporarily curtailed, will remain capable of eventually producing hundreds of nuclear weapons.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the world must stay focused on preventing Iran for acquiring nuclear weapons.

“The United States, the European Union, the United Nations — particularly the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — and the broader community of nations must each work to provide the necessary resources, structures and capabilities that are required to ensure Iran’s full compliance with an agreement,” the organization’s statement said.

J Street welcomed the deal, while adding that Congress should give it thorough review while remaining aware of the consequences of its rejection.

“From what we have seen so far and what we have learned from President Obama and the negotiators, this agreement appears to accurately reflect the parameters set forth in the April 2 framework,” the organization said in a statement. “It also appears to meet the critical criteria around which a consensus of U.S. and international nonproliferation experts has formed for a deal that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The talks, which spanned 20 months, were extended three times. Part of the delay was reportedly due in part to Iran’s insistence that the United Nations lift its arms embargo and that the United Nations Security Council’s eventual resolution approving a nuclear deal not describe Iran’s nuclear program as illegal.

The arms embargo on conventional weapons was put into place by the Security Council nine years ago. The ban also applies to technology for ballistic missiles.

Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter told Congress last week, “The reason that we want to stop Iran from having an [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] program is that the ‘I’ in ICBM stands for intercontinental, which means having the capability of flying from Iran to the United States.”

Carter’s stance was echoed by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he also testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking,” Dempsey said.

Neither the administration nor Congress wants Iran’s ability to traffic arms eased. The possibility of Iran using billions of dollars in sanctions relief to buy missiles from Russia was described by The New York Times as a “nonstarter” for Obama.

There is also the concern that lifting the arms embargo would allow Iran to openly supply weapons to Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad in that country’s ongoing civil war. Russia openly supplies the embattled regime with weapons while Iran does so not-so-secretly.

Congress has 60 days to review a deal. During that review period no United States imposed sanctions can be lifted by Obama. Congress will then have the opportunity to vote up or down on the submitted deal.

Republicans have been quite vocal in their opposition to the deal. On “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “It’s going to be a very hard sell — if it’s completed — in Congress.”

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed his Senate counterpart prior to the agreement by saying on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “From everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration’s backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set up for themselves.”

He reiterated that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” a position favored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Though McConnell said he believed that he could get more than 60 votes in the Senate disapproving the deal, he conceded that Democrats are unlikely to go against a deal the president has pressed so hard to achieve.

For their part, Democrats expressed optimism that the administration would walk away from a bad deal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a recent interview, “He fully realizes his legacy will not be the next 18 months and whether or not he gets a deal signed. It will be whether any deal, if there is one, endures and is effective and actually blocks Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”


Cancer Survival Through Prevention Hadassah uses Check It Out Challenge to spread the word

On Sunday, July 19, Hadassah of Greater Baltimore, the women’s Zionist organization, will host its 2015 Check It Out Challenge, featuring an 8K run, a 5K run/walk and a one-mile family obstacle course starting at Goucher College in Towson.

“[Check It Out] was started [about] 20 years ago by our national organization as a way to educate and empower young women with knowledge about their bodies,” said Jill Sapperstein, president of Hadassah of Greater Baltimore.

Dr. Stacey Keen (right) finishes last year’s Check It Out Challenge. (Provided)

Dr. Stacey Keen (right) finishes last year’s Check It Out Challenge. (Provided)

The Check It Out program, which has reached over 800,000 young women and men throughout the U.S, focuses on breast and testicular cancer prevention. The program features cancer survivors and physicians who present information on awareness, self-examinations and an explanation of mammography.

“Since screenings began in this country, breast cancer mortality rates have been reduced by 30 percent,” said Dr. Stacey Keen, a radiologist.

Keen not only works with breast cancer patients, but also is a survivor.

“I’ve really been there and can tell what people to expect,” said Keen. “There’s a lot of fear around cancer, but it’s not a death sentence anymore. People survive, and that’s why early detection is so crucial.”

Kelli Marinelli, a breast cancer survivor, is a physical education teacher and lacrosse coach at Dundalk Technical High School and discovered Check It Out through the school nurse.

“I wouldn’t be here right now if I [hadn’t taken] care of myself at a younger age,” said Marinelli.

Marinelli has always led an active lifestyle, and despite having no family history of cancer, she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in November 2009 at age 33.

If Marinelli had not been diagnosed when she was, the cancer may have metastasized, spreading to other organs. This is referred to as stage IV, or advanced breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org.

“[This cancer] is aggressive when you’re younger, and if you do not take care of yourself, you won’t be able to withstand the disease or the drugs to treat it,” said Marinelli.

When she speaks to students, she emphasizes how important it is to be active and healthy because she knows how much it helped her win her fight with breast cancer.

“You have to know what your body is telling you. You are what you eat, and you are what you do,” said Marinelli.

According to Keen, the recommended age for women to begin screening for breast cancer is between ages 40 to 50; however, men can have testicular cancer as young as their 20s.

Marc Kivitz, an attorney, is a speaker for Check It Out and a survivor of testicular cancer. Every time he speaks at a school, there are two messages he tries to re-enforce.

“The first is to do a self-examination once a month. The second is if you notice any change or have any concern at all, tell someone,” said Kivitz.

Kivitz has been a survivor for several decades and can recall every step of his fight with cancer in detail. It started in 1975 when Kivitz, a senior at the University Maryland, College Park, was taking a shower. He felt a small pain when the water hit his chest, but being athletic and having no family history of cancer, like Marinelli, he brushed it off.

“We’re guys, guys don’t go to the doctor every time we have a small pain. We tough it out; it’ll go away,” said Kivitz. “It doesn’t go away.”

Kivitz noticed that his chest started swelling, and since he didn’t have a general physician at the time, he visited a clinic, where the first doctor he spoke to said it was inflammation.

“‘Come back in a month if it’s still there,’” Kivitz’s doctor told him.

Kivitz ignored the doctor’s orders and went to an appointment with a general physician two weeks later. That physician sent Kivitz to a urologist, who he saw that same day, Sept. 21, 1975. The next day he was admitted to a hospital, and on Sept. 23 he underwent his first surgery. Two days later he underwent a second surgery to determine how far the cancer had spread. Finally, on Sept. 29, doctors removed the white blood cell system that had become a malignant tumor.

“If I had listened to that doctor who said to come back in a month, I wouln’t  be here today,” said Kivitz. “I am certain of it.”

Kivitz not only survived but he did so before much of the information about testicular cancer was known.

“I’m told I’m in a medical journal somewhere,” said Kivitz.

Now that the information is readily available, the Check It Out program is trying to make as many people aware of it as they can.

“It doesn’t matter if you only reach one person if it helps saves a life,” said Ferne Rogow, chairwoman of Check It Out. “Some kids don’t want to listen. You just do what you can and try to make a difference.”

Although getting through to teenagers is difficult, Rogow recalls one moment in particular where it paid off.

“A girl came up to me and said, ‘I have an aunt who has all the symptoms you’re telling us about,’” said Rogow. “That girl went home and possibly saved her aunt’s life.”

Advance registration for the Check It Out Challenge on July 19 at Goucher College is available online at active.com. Packet pick-up will be held at Fleet Feet Sports in Pikesville on Thursday evening, July 16 and on Friday, July 17. Race-day registration is also available beginning at 6:30 a.m. The registration fee is $36 ($40 on race day). Awards will be given for the fastest overall and age-group times in both the 5K and 8K runs.


Panther Power Twice monthly, for 75 years, club members meet, argue, bond

The Panthers may disagree on which restaurant has the best deal, recall conflicting details from parties long ago or argue over plans for an upcoming event, but all 50 members of the “boys only” club can agree on one thing: Every other Tuesday they may yell and scream at each other during a dinner business meeting, but they will always walk out arm in arm, the best of friends.

At a recent Panther Club meeting, a roomful of men in their 70s and 80s gathered at the Olive Branch in Pikesville, a favorite spot among members, but the energy electrifying the room felt more like a gaggle of teenagers, eager to shoot the breeze with their buddies. Before getting down to business, they laughed and shouted to each other as they drifted from table to table, gossiping with friends that, for many of them, they likely lunched with earlier that day or played golf with the day before.

“We stay together because — the same old story,” said Nathan Silver, 87, a Panther Club founding member. “We went to club meetings and we argued, but the minute the meeting was over we walked out of the room and had our arms around each other, and we just went home like nothing ever happened. So we were just a bunch of good, honest-to-goodness guys who got along with each other. And we stayed together because of that.”

Continued Silver, it’s also “because we have fun, we enjoy each other and, sorry to say, but we never let the wives interfere with anything that we did.”

Last month, the Panther Club celebrated its 75th anniversary with a two-day gala including a dinner dance at the Martins Valley Mansion and a brunch with musical entertainment and officer installation at Martins Westminster, both venues a long way from their humble beginnings in 1940 at the Jewish Educational Association (JEA) at 1216 E. Baltimore St., the precursor to the Jewish Community Center. JEA organizers formed clubs and offered activities as a destination for young Jewish teens to socialize and better themselves. Nate Berlin and Jerry Scher organized the club and supervised the meetings.

“Most of the fellas walked from Patterson Park every Tuesday night — rain, snow, shine, down to the JEA, about 12 or 13 blocks away,” said David Jacobs, 85, a member for 73 years, who was nearly a founding member but the newly instated must-be-bar-mitzvahed rule meant he had to wait.

“We’d fight, holler, scream at one another about which girl we took out, where was the next basketball game and getting set up for Sunday to play softball,” recalled Jacobs. “If we did homework — because we all went to City College — we would trade answers.”

Other nights “we did wrestling, we had basketball in the basement — it was a postage-size court,” said Silver. “We played volleyball, and in Patterson Park we did track meets” on Sundays and also played softball at Clifton, Patterson and Druid Hill parks.“They’d train you how to speak” too, and “some guys became lawyers and doctors and some of us did manual work. But we all had fun.”

From its inception and maintained to this day, the Panther Club is about having a good time.

One particularly good time recalled by several members was a party orchestrated by Jacobs that began with roller-skating at Collins Park in the former Park Circle area and ended with a cookout at Camp Wonderland on Liberty Road with a “straw ride” for transport between the locations. But because of the “great deal” Jacobs got on the truck, he said, what arrived was a closed-bed wagon so the whole lot of boys and girls rode together in the complete dark (due to the door being closed for safety reasons), and the memory still brings huge smiles to many Panther faces.

“Hands were flying all over the place to tell you the truth,” said Jacobs laughing, and after that, “they said they’d never let me throw another affair.”

The Panthers were known for hosting epic New Year’s Eve galas that were open to the public and they would rent out synagogue social halls and
hotels for the events. The men go all-out for anniversary affairs too that in the past included destinations such as upstate New York and even a Bermuda cruise. Said Silver, “We lived it up, we did it right.”

But after their first anniversary gala, said Jacobs, the Panthers could never go back to the Lord Baltimore Hotel because the club members and their dates — many never having seen such fancy surroundings — took home souvenirs in the form of forks, spoons and even plates decorated with the hotel’s fancy logo.

“And as we got older, we had dances on the roofs, and the girls would come from Park Heights and Forest Park, which was alien to us because the only way we could get up there was by street car; we didn’t have money for cabs,” said Jacobs. Often “we would all meet up at the Imperial bowling alley” not to bowl, just to hang out together, and many a Panther met his future wife at the numerous girls’ parties the boys crashed.

Other clubs were formed at the JEA too, such as the Greyhound Club, the Titans, the Trojans and the Olympic and Pioneer clubs — they were meet-up groups designed for each age and for both boys and girls. But the Panthers are by far the most enduring, they said, and the name came to the group in an unexpected way.

“When we started meeting, some of us walked to Simon Harris sporting goods on Gay Street,” saidSilver, and when “we got there, the guy [working] said he had a return” on jackets that had panther images on them. “And, he said, ‘You can have them for $3.’ So we thought it was a great deal and bought them. That’s how it started.”

After the JEA building closed, Jacobs said they continued to meet at the YMHA, and as the group grew up and men entered into and returned from the service — World War II and the Korean War — members married and started families, but the guys remained a tight-knit group. They couldn’t afford a rental space to meet so Jacobs volunteered his parent’s home on Mortimer Avenue, where they “would come every Tuesday night for a meeting, hollering and screaming,” for about 10 years. When Jacobs married, the group met at his home.

But “when they left [each meeting], they put their cigar and cigarette butts into my wife’s flower pots so we got thrown out,” said Jacobs. “That’s when we started going to different restaurants,” to meet. That was about 30 years ago.

Also read, Behind Every Great Man …

Make no bones about it, explained Alvin Singer, 84, and at 16 years one of the newer members, the Panther Club “is strictly social.” In the earlier years, the Panthers hosted some charity events and an annual party at the Happy Hills children’s convalescent home, but as the members grew older each became involved in his own philanthropic work.

“We meet 26 times [on Tuesdays], and six times a year we get together with our women” and have events and galas that might feature music and performances. Singer, who chaired the 75th anniversary gala committee, said it requires a little more than $1,000 a year to be a member and attend all of the social events, which are all slightly subsidized.

“It tells you what we are, we’re a group of social-minded people who want to enjoy our lives at our age,” said Singer. “It keeps you young. It keeps your mind going, you don’t sit around the house watching television all day; it’s a great feeling. Yes, it’s a club of older guys, but these are older young guys if you know what I mean. And age is just a number.”

Securing membership isn’t only a financial matter. New members — age 65 is the youngest they’ll consider — only qualify following a very specific protocol.

When a Panther wants to introduce a potential new member to the group, explained Singer, he must bring up the person’s name at three consecutive meetings stating his desire. At each meeting if even just one man has an objection to bringing the person in as a new member, they are not considered.

If the potential new member passes that hurdle, then a small committee interviews him at home, and he then attends four consecutive meetings, “where he gets to meet people, and during that time we’ll have an affair and we’ll get to meet his wife and see how he acts at socials,” said Singer. “Then after that, he gets voted on. So it’s not an easy process getting in, and yet we still fill our roster, and it’s been very successful.”

Robert Cohan, 76, joined the Panther Club only a year ago. The new-member process was involved but worth it, he said, because “I had 50 new friends right off the bat, I was treated like one of the old guys who had been there forever, and I’ve been welcomed ever since. It’s been very overwhelming the welcome I’ve gotten. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Though it was more than 30 years ago when Bernie Sher, 82, became a Panther, he remembers it felt like “instant family” and added that attending the meetings, affairs and seeing his friends regularly “gives you a purpose. There’s always something to look forward to, always something happening.”

“Having that bond, that friendship — that there’s a core group of men like that is phenomenal,” said recreational therapist Jamilah Bashir at LifeBridge Health and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

“That friend is important to socialize with, but they are also keeping an eye on you,” she continued. “And if [someone is] having a bad day, they’re still going get up to go see their friends, and those friends are going to be advocates,” such as if someone isn’t taking their medications or seems depressed, friends are going to notice and can let family members know, she said.

The danger is when people feel they can’t do the same activities anymore, and instead of adjusting their activity, they stop all together and start declining, said Bashir. “And when that happens they start to deteriorate.”

Bashir cited research in the “American Journal of Recreation Therapy” that pointed to cognitive and social engagement as critical for people to remain independent, active and maximize their quality of life into their senior years.

“It’s the best therapy they can get at this point in their lives,” Bashir said. “They are probably the best therapy for each other.”

Small offshoot groups have formed from within the Panther Club, groups that are in sync with the idea of “friends as therapy.”

There is a group of widowers that meets for lunch on alternate Tuesdays, and the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) get together regularly as well. One Panther will fix another up if someone is single, and there has even been recoupling of widows and widowers over the years as well. Like any group it naturally has some cliques too, said several members, but nothing that prevents everyone from getting along and remaining very close.

“The guys are close but the wives are even closer,” added immediate past president Jim Barrish, 78, a member for 14 years and originally from Philadelphia. “My wife receives between 10 and 12 calls a day” from other members’ wives. “They love the affairs and they love the Tuesday nights without us.”

Though the social aspect is what drives the Panthers, the support members receive right up until the end is extraordinary.

If a member becomes ill, there is an announcement and a phone chain in place so people can visit, call or send a card. If a member needs a ride to the doctor, it’s arranged. Members’ widows receive $1,000, a separate donation made by the members. And the staff at Sol Levinson’s knows that if a Panther member has passed, at the funeral service the group is called upon as an honor guard, and members line the aisle en masse, typically 30 to 40 of them, each kissing the casket as it passes as a goodbye gesture.

Said Barrish, “It could be a new member or a man in there for 72 years, we would be there. So it’s not just a Tuesday night, it’s your whole way of life. It’s wonderful.”

Eddie Baumell, 86, a Panther for 72 years, was a scrappy teen working at the New Model Cab Co. and Baumell Brothers garage, both owned by his uncle and located around the corner from JEA; that’s how he met Jacobs, Silver and several others.

“They really sort of settled me down,” said Baumell. “I don’t want to say saved my life, but [Panther involvement] made me more of a person. It made me feel a part of something and that I wasn’t out there by myself. I could be with a bunch of guys who were great.”

Now, Baumell said, the friendships have grown to feel like extended family. Members know each other’s kids and grandkids, and if someone needs a favor, it’s done.

Baumell said the Panthers have stayed together because “I think we all love life. We get mad at each other, but I think the bottom line is that we respect and enjoy each other.”


League of Their Own Hockey Moms take to the ice and find fitness, fun, camaraderie

Evie Altman, 50, shot a solid pass across the ice and immediately thrust her hockey stick high in the air, cheering on herself and her fellow Hockey Moms.

In the stands, her 14-year-old daughter, Marxe Orbach, took her eyes off her phone long enough to notice her mother’s play. “I like watching her. I love my mom, and I love watching her enjoying herself, and she enjoys herself so much when she’s playing.”

Call it payback.

Altman has been supporting her daughter’s pursuits all her life. She drives Marxe, a goalie and recent graduate of Westland Middle School, to and from practices at the Rockville Ice Arena on Southlawn Court. She makes sure her daughter has the proper pads, skates and uniform, and, yes, she cheers.

Forty-five mothers who know what it’s like to carpool, rush to practice and then hang around the lobby waiting for that practice to end have formed a league of their own. And “darn close to 50 percent” of those hockey-playing moms are Jewish, according to their coach, Steve Sprague.

On Sunday nights, from May through August, these women strive to replicate all the moves their children already have conquered. From 6:45 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., they skate around the rink, jump, stop and pick up one leg. There is no checking. These are not the Washington Capitals. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear them say, “I’m sorry,” following a poor pass.

“It’s a very nurturing environment. They encourage us to do our best and be a little adventurous,” said Irina Kebreau, 41. “You know, we are no spring chickens.”

Joyce Kammerman agreed. “We are not an aggressive bunch. A lot of us are just learning,” said the 49-year-old Rockville resident.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

“It’s very challenging. You need to be coordinated,” watch the puck and skate “all at the same time,” said Kebreau, of Silver Spring. She has two sons and a stepdaughter who play hockey and said one of the most important things she has learned after taking to the ice herself is not to be so critical of her children.

Several of the women vowed never again to say a disparaging word when their children take a long time to put on their pads, even when they put their pants on before their pads and have to start over. They also admit to being more reticent to criticize when a shot is missed.

Playing ice hockey “is not as easy as it looks,” Kebreau said as she sat on a bench in the arena’s lobby, pulling up her leggings and adjusting the bright pink helmet her daughter no longer wears.

Unlike the rest of her teammates, Kebreau chooses to steer clear of the ice rink’s locker rooms. Those rooms smell as bad as a boy’s bedroom, she said.

The lobby resembles a busy airport, with people of all ages rushing in and out, either lugging a huge bag of equipment or pulling a suitcase on wheels.

Many parents fill the time waiting for their children to finish by chatting with other parents they have met through numerous hockey seasons.

“We joke, when the kids play, at any time you could have a minyan” in the lobby, said Rori Kochman, 45, of Potomac, who is in her second season with Hockey Moms.

Playing “is exhilarating and a little bit scary,” she said. Her 15-year-old daughter, Julia, called it “hilarious” to watch her mom play. “I found someone as bad as me.”

Bonding with teenagers requires special skills. Sharing a sport helps, said Kammerman. “I think every woman here would say that it helps you relate to your kids.”

Agreed teammate Lisa Milofsky-Pinard, “There’s a lot of bonding that goes on.”

At first, the 49-year-old Silver Spring woman “never, ever thought I would play ice hockey.” Cycling, yes. Roller blading, yes, but not hockey.
“I thought it was too dangerous. And all those rules.”

She gave it a try last season, borrowing equipment from family members and friends. About three-quarters of the way through the season, she treated herself to her own gear.

Her sister, Alison Milofsky, 45 of Chevy Chase, “always wanted to play. I did play field hockey.” Not only does she work up a sweat during practice, but she claimed to be already perspiring by the time she finished donning her son’s jersey, her husband’s old gloves and helmet and her sister’s old skates.

At a recent practice, the sisters faced off, laughed loudly throughout.

Hockey Moms is the joint creation of Sprague and assistant coach Hilary Murphy.

“We joked about it for three years,” said Sprague.

Last year, she decided if it was ever going to happen, the time was now.

“I went to the rink, got some ice time, and was hoping to get 20 moms,” Sprague said. “We had 20 in the first week. After 40, I had to cut it off.”

Hockey Moms “is for beginners, for those who want to learn to skate, to understand the game better,” Sprague said, who has been coaching hockey for 13 years.

“They really want to be there. Most of them have told their spouses and kids, ‘Don’t come. Let me learn on my own,” he said. These are the same moms who “drive their kids back and forth, make dinner, bring snacks.”

Murphy, who normally takes to the ice with younger players, said, “adults learn faster. They are always so focused. They are quick learners.”

While focused, the women aren’t on the ice to conquer. Assistant coach Larry Boles recently demonstrated turning in a tight space. “If you can do a 360 [degree turn], you can do anything. If you fall down, you fall down. Most of you will.”

Only one skater fell, probably because most of the women slowed their skating speed to near zero as they tentatively attempted their turns.

Falling isn’t so bad, Kammerman said. After all, “you’re covered in what’s basically bubble wrap. There’s a level of protection.”

After they completed their turns, the women complimented each other on their success, banging their sticks on the ice in unison.

They soon finished their drills, followed by a few minutes of three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmages. Then it was back to the locker room for a quick change and out to the parking lot for 30 minutes of tailgating — wine, beer, cheese, crackers — before heading back to their roles as chauffeurs and nurturers.


Iran Talks Extended Again Day-to-day negotiations punctuate the deal’s high stakes

Nuclear talks with Iran were extended yet again as negotiators continued to work toward a final deal.

It was announced Tuesday that the current interim nuclear arrangement with Iran had been extended through July 10 to allow negotiators representing the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom — plus Germany to work through outstanding issues. As of press time, Secretary of State John Kerry was slated to remain in Vienna for the continuation of the talks.

Marie Harf, senior adviser for strategic communications at the State Department, said via Twitter that those involved are more concerned about the quality of a deal “than about the clock.”

“We are taking these negotiations day to day,” she tweeted. “We’ve made substantial progress in every area, but this work is highly technical [and] high stakes for all of the countries involved.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf,  addresses reporters during a news conference last year after two rounds  of talks with his Iranian counterpart. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf,
addresses reporters during a news conference last year after two rounds
of talks with his Iranian counterpart. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

It’s unclear if there has been any compromise on the red lines recently outlined by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran. He demanded a quick easing of sanctions, rejected inspections of military sites and ruled out the possibility of a multiyear freeze on sensitive nuclear work.

The ayatollah’s red lines are at odds with the ones outlined by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that have proven influential in Congress. The organization wants “anytime and anywhere” nuclear inspections, which would include Iranian military sites, a decades-long block on “Iran’s nuclear weapons quest” and the dismantling of existing Iranian nuclear infrastructure and sanctions relief to be predicated on “ongoing verification” of Iranian compliance.

State Department spokesman John Kirby toed the party line at a news briefing Monday, saying, “As the president said last week and as the secretary repeated himself yesterday, we will only accept a deal that effectively closes off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and it will have to be a deal that can stand up to the scrutiny of not just our experts, but experts around the world.”

Federica Mogherini, European Union foreign policy chief, maintained that the missed dates were not “deadlines” but extensions.

“We are continuing to negotiate for the next couple of days. This does not mean we are extending our deadlines,” said Mogherini, according to the Reuters news agency. Mogherini added that the interpretation of the nuclear talks deadlines was “flexible.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the chief Iranian diplomat present at the talks, also affirmed that deadlines were lessimportant than a good deal, leading a press corps member to query Kirby: At what point does the United States walk away?

“I just don’t think we’re in a position right now where we can answer that question,” Kirby said. “We’re not unmindful of deadlines that had been set before. But what [Kerry] is really focused on more than anything is getting or making sure that if we get a deal, it’s a good deal, it’s the right deal.”

Semantics aside, if a deal is delivered to Congress past July 9, it automatically goes into a 60-day review period. During that time, no congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran will be lifted.

Regardless of the outcome of the extended talks, a coalition of pro-Israel groups, mostly aligned with conservative causes, have scheduled a Stop Iran Now rally for July 22 in New York’s Times Square. Confirmed speakers for the rally include James Woolsey, former director of the CIA; Alan Dershowitz, legal scholar; Allen West, former congressman from Florida; and Paul Vallely, a former Army major general.

Co-sponsors include the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition, Christians United for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America.

ZOA President Morton A. Klein declined to predict how many participants are expected at the rally but hopes the number will be in the thousands. According to the event website, the New York City Police Department is preparing for 20,000 people.

“This is not a bad deal. This is a catastrophe,” said Klein. “This supplies nuclear weapons to the Adolf Hitler of the Middle East, Khamenei.”

ZOA supporters, he said, are pressing every member of the House and Senate not only to vote against a potential deal with Iran, but also to support Israel should the Jewish state decide to take military action against Iran.

Added Klein, “What President [Barack] Obama is doing is an absolute disaster, and I have to think that he is not interested in Israel or in Israel’s survival.”

JTA contributed to this report.