Jewish Camp, Jewish Life The lasting effect of Jewish summer camp

Jewish summer camps across Maryland opened their doors last week and the rising enrollment rates are likely to mean a more engaged and involved Jewry for the years to come.

“Jewish day camp attendance is clearly a conduit for teen Jewish experiences, and there’s no question that teen Jewish experiences affect adult Jewish engagements,” said Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A 2011 study showed an increased likelihood, between 5 and 55 percent, of adult Jewish engagement was linked to attending an overnight Jewish summer camp, according to the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

“Jewish [overnight] summer camps strengthen Jewish social networks and commitment as well as Jewish knowledge,” said Cohen. “The effects are seen decades later,” even in cases when parents are from different backgrounds or exposure to Jewish education varies.

Camp Shoresh, “a day camp with an overnight feel” according to its staff, began its summer session on June 22.

Shoresh, which is 36 years old, started in Frederick as a three-week summer camp based in Beth Sholom Congregation with less than 20 campers. Today, its campus sits on 107 acres of farmland in Adamstown with 450 campers enrolled, an increase of 30 campers — more than 7 percent — from last year.

The word shoresh in Hebrew means roots, and the camp’s method of inspiring kids, some of whom do not come from Jewishly active households, to take an active role in Judaism ended up inspiring the camp’s name.

“Shoresh made sense for us because we are bringing kids back to their roots,” said Rabbi Dave Finkelstein, executive director.

Shoresh has become a model for success, not only in Maryland, but throughout the country, and Finkelstein said he is called regularly from other camps asking for advice. One factor he attributes to its growing popularity is the fact that it engages campers all year round, far beyond the seven weeks that camp is in session.

“You can’t expect them to get the whole experience [of Judaism] in seven weeks. You have to deal with them all year round, from baby to bubbie,” said Finkelstein. For Shoresh, this includes having Purim carnivals, Chanukah parties and Shabbat dinners together. Finkelstein has personally officiated at his campers’ b’nai mitzvahs, weddings and funerals of family members.

Shoresh, though, is not alone in reporting rising enrollment. According to several other Jewish camps, both day and overnight, the number of campers is rising.


The Baltimore-based Camps Airy & Louise run overnight camps for boys and girls, respectively. Executive director Jonathan Gerstl said more than 650 boys are attending Camp Airy for Boys in Thurmont, Md., and 950 girls are attending Camp Louise for Girls in Cascade, Md., this summer. He says their combined numbers make the institution one of the top five Jewish summer camps by size in the country.

Jonah Geller, CEO and camp director of Capital Camps in Rockville, said this year has the highest enrollment in the camp’s history.

“We take our responsibility seriously to inspire Jewish curiosity and let campers explore and discover for themselves what’s meaningful to them,” said Geller. The camp  is located in Waynesboro, Pa.

Overnight summer camps in particular have proven to have an impact on Jewish teens lasting into their adulthood.

According to a 2010 study sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation, a private foundation committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, 71 percent of young American Jewish leaders attended an overnight summer camp.

However, overnight camp can be intimidating for some kids, which is why day camps, such as Shoresh, are equally as important.

“A lot of kids will not go to Jewish overnight camp if they do not go to Jewish day camp first,” said Finkelstein.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s summer camp program, which started in 1943, is also seeing a rise in enrollment. David Schimmel, executive director, said its enrollment soared past 1,100 campers this year. He reported at least a 5 percent increase from last year.

One of the goals of any Jewish summer camp is to have a lasting effect on its campers.

“[Jewish summer camp] lends itself to an open disposition for a child to experience new things that they may not be open to experience in school,” said Chabad Rabbi Levi Kaplan, director of Camp Gan Israel.

Even though it’s not an overnight camp, conversations with Shoresh campers reveal just how transformative the camp experience can be.

“I can’t even describe how much I love this place,” said Keren Binyamin, 14, who has spent more than five summers at Shoresh. “When it’s not camp, I am counting down the days until it is. Everyone is so warm, accepting and friendly. They make you feel special here.”

Ella Messler, 12, has been going to Shoresh for six years and attends Jewish day school. Her peers tell her that she doesn’t need to attend a camp such as Shoresh to establish a Jewish identity, but she disagrees.

“There’s so much more to being Jewish than just keeping kosher and learning Torah,” said Ella. “No matter what kind of school you go to, there is always more you can learn about your Jewish identity.”

Messler, whose bat mitzvah is approaching, will be studying her Torah portion with Rabbi Tzvi Tuchman, Shoresh’s assistant director. For her, learning from a friendly face is important.

“I’m excited that there is someone from Shoresh that I know who will help me study and learn the parshah and what I need to do,” said Ella. “I feel like all of my Jewish identity is a giant web with Shoresh, my family and my bat mitzvah.”

Aside from making kids excited to learn, the camp’s staff has a strong relationship with each other.

“The head staff is more than just friends and [that deep connection] has passed onto the kids,” said Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky, head counselor for the younger boys division.

Although you’ll find a lot of smiles at Shoresh, the staff ensures that the older children learn about some of the realities of Judaism in the world today. The camp currently has a large piece of open land surrounded by trees. Through the trees there is a small opening where a broken down bus sits in two distinct parts.

here’s so much more to being Jewish than just keeping kosher and learning Torah. No matter what kind of school you go to, there is always more you can learn about your Jewish identity.

On Jan. 29, 2004, Egged bus No. 19 was blown up in a terrorist attack, killing 11 and injuring scores more, near the Israeli president’s home. A Christian pastor took possession of the bus and used it to teach lessons about anti-Semitism in different parts of the world. Eventually the bus ended up in a junkyard near Frederick. The owner of the junkyard, whose kids went to Shoresh, contacted the camp and said there was no way he could junk it. Shoresh was quick to take the bus and incorporate it into its curriculum.

“It’s hidden at the end of campus, because you have to want to see it,” said Tuchman. He noted that the camp only shows the bus to older children.

On one of the trips to Israel that Shoresh coordinated for its teens, the delegation visited the site of the attack and said a prayer.

Understanding and dealing with anti-Semitism is a reality that the camp and its counselors take seriously.

“Kids will come back from Israel feeling excited and want to wear a pair of tzitzit or a kippah to school,” said Finkelstein. “One of our people here had their Jewish star ripped off of them by his own football teammates.”

Although visiting Israel is sometimes a somber experience, it has also been noted as one of the three pillars to young people establishing a healthy Jewish identity.

“Jewish camps, Jewish day school and a trip to Israel are the primary identity builders for young Jews,” said Barbara Schlaff, co-chair of the Center for Jewish Camping advisory committee run by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “I’ve seen it in my own life and my kids’ lives. Their friends today are all their camp friends; many of them are clergy or active lay leaders in the Jewish community.”

The Center for Jewish Camping advocates for different Jewish camps around Baltimore to maximize the number of campers enrolling each year.

Directors of many camps agree that beyond going to camp, counselors play an important role in terms of giving kids positive role models.

“When you come to Shoresh and you work on our staff, you’re told, ‘You’re not going to sleep for seven weeks,’” said Finkelstein. “You’re going to be non-stop and always be involved as a role model for kids.”

The campers at Shoresh not only have energetic counselors like Krawatsky, but some of Baltimore’s star athletes as role models.

“I met Rabbi Dave through a teammate and he brought some of us [to Shoresh,]” said Prescott Burgess, former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. “He calls me every summer to come out and I just enjoy my time with the kids, and teach them to play soccer and football.”

Burgess noted earlier that day he played Ga-Ga — Israel’s form of dodgeball — with some of the campers.

“I think all the girls wanted to get me out so they were all against me,” said Burgess, laughing. “The kids are very respectful and they ask a lot of questions to me as a football player and me as a person.”

Shoresh has such a lasting impact on its campers that many go far beyond simply observing Shabbat or becoming counselors. Sharon Nicholas wears several hats, but her position is special events director. Although she said she wasn’t raised in a very observant background, Shoresh has had a huge impact on all of her children.

After Nicholas moved to Frederick, she began looking for a synagogue to practice the small aspects of Judaism that she knew. Eventually her oldest son said he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. Nicholas found Beth Sholom, where Shoresh was originally based, and was approached by Finkelstein.

“I put [Finkelstein] off for a couple of years,” said Nicholas. “But once we joined, the kids loved it. They loved going to camp.”

Nicholas also noted that when her sons attended, the camp was nothing like what it is today in terms of facilities and space available.

“What they built from almost 36 years ago, it’s tremendous,” said Nicholas. “I can’t say enough about what this organization does, and does year round.”

Two of her sons moved to Israel, one serves in the Israel Defense Forces and one studied at a yeshiva. Her other
two sons embraced Orthodoxy. Her 13-year-old daughter has attended Shoresh since she was 3.

“Shoresh has just been amazing for all of the kids,” said Nicholas. “What I respect about Shoresh is the way they do things. They don’t try to throw things down your throat. It’s baby steps and whatever you choose to accept or grasp onto.”

Regardless of who attends or where they have been, Shoresh’s mission is clear.

“All kinds of Jews walk through our door,” said Finkelstein. “There are no labels, everyone is a loved and respected Jew. We just want them to become a better Jew whatever that means for their families.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Confederate Battle Flag Comes Under Fire Efforts underway in Maryland, Washington and Virginia to remove it from public displays

More than two weeks after nine people were gunned down at Charleston, S.C.’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in what appeared to be a racially motivated attack, states and municipalities across the country are grappling with what to do about symbols rooted in the darkest days of the nation’s history.

In addition to the infamous Confederate battle flag used by Southern forces during the Civil War — and which the suspected 21-year-old Charleston gunman, Dylan Roof, is seen holding in one of several photographs that surfaced on social media in the days after the attack — groups of citizens are targeting the numerous roads, parks, schools and public displays honoring Confederate figures and bearing their names.

A heated point of contention for decades, “arguments defending the flag ... [have] almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag,” said historian Marc Leepson. (The Washington Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

A heated point of contention for decades, “arguments defending the flag … [have] almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag,” said historian Marc Leepson. (The Washington Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

“This is a real sea change,” historian and author Marc Leepson said. “It’s rare that events in history just change radically.”

He was referring to, among other things, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, advocating for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capital grounds and Wal-Mart, Amazon and other major retailers removing products bearing the image of the flag.

“Even the fact that some people who use the flag are saying now is the time to put it away is really significant,” he said.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is looking to recall license plates that display the flag, as is Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. In Washington, D.C., there are calls to remove Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the National Cathedral’s stained glass windows.

In Baltimore County, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is pushing to rename Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

“We think the name more accurately depicts the centerpiece of this great park, but also it’s more reflective of the diversity and inclusion that we believe Baltimore County represents,” he said. “We can respect our history, but we don’t have to adore it.”

In 2009, the county took over management of the park, which is still owned by the city. Kamenetz has asked the city to approve the new name. The county has put about $6 million in improvements into the park over the years, and Kamenetz said each time a new improvement was made, there would be comments from staff about coming up with a more inclusive name.

While Kamenetz said he started the name-changing process a few months ago, the tragedy in Charleston prompted him and his staff to accelerate the process.

Dels. Dana Stein, Shelly Hettleman and Dan Morhaim and Sen. Bobby Zirkin, all Democrats representing District 11’s delegation in Annapolis, issued a letter in support of Kamenetz’s effort. Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes the park, said she recently discussed the issue with the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association, and since it was OK with a change, she is as well.

While similar conversations are happening in jurisdictions around the country, Leepson called the discussions unprecedented.

“The same arguments defending the flag have been out there,” he said. “I think they’ve almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag.”

Leepson said the flag was made after the first Civil War battle in 1861, when the literal fog of war confused commanders as to who was who. The Confederate States of America flag was red, white and blue, with two red stripes, one white stripe and 13 stars in its final version, an eerie likeness of the flag belonging to the Union.

“Because of the guns and the cannons, there was smoke all over the place and the commanders had a difficult time telling apart the two sides,” Leepson, a Middleburg, Va., resident said. “That’s when they developed the battle flag, which you cannot ever confuse with the American flag.”

For most, displaying the flag served to honor those who fought and died well into the 20th century. It started to become controversial in the 1960s when groups of college students in the Deep South who were opposed to the civil rights movement began using it, Leepson said. While it wasn’t being overtly used in opposition to civil rights, it was used in virtually everything the groups did, he explained.

Fast forward to 2015, when today, many acknowledge the battle flag as a symbol of hate, as Kamenetz said in regards to the license plate issue.

“It resonates as a symbol of hate. Why promote it?” he said. “We wouldn’t want a swastika on a license plate, it’s no different.”

Leepson agreed with that analogy, adding that since license plates are government-issued, forbidding a symbol on them is not a First Amendment issue. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to endorse that viewpoint, deciding last month that Texas, which allows citizen groups to propose new commemorative license plates, could forbid the issuing of plates bearing the Confederate battle flag.

In Richmond, which was the capital city of the Confederacy, Temple Beth-El Rabbi Emeritus Gary S. Creditor said things have changed.

“It’s been a revolution in the South in terms of its attitudes and its memories,” Creditor said. “The world around here has changed.”

But he still sees people holding onto the battle flag.

“There are people who are very resentful over the changing demographics of this country, so the battle flag doesn’t have to endorse ‘I want slavery,’” he said. “It can be ‘I don’t want to deal with people different than me.’”

With Richmond’s historic and modern-day segregation, with pockets of deep black poverty, Creditor feels that removal of the flag is appropriate. As recent as 1993, when he bought a house, there was a clause in his contract about not selling it to “Negroes,” he said.

While he is not advocating for the removal of all namesakes and statues of Confederate figures — something he doesn’t see gaining traction in
a city with bigger issues to deal with — he does think places such as Monument Avenue in Richmond, which has several statues of Confederate figures, can be more inclusive of history. He’d like to see more monuments like that of African-American Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and tennis star who can also be found on Monument Avenue.

But for decedents of the more than 10,000 Jewish Confederate soldiers, the issue isn’t so “black and white.” Pikesville resident Carl Berenholtz, who is the Sons of Confederate Veterans Maryland Division’s judge advocate, found that his great-great-uncle served in the Confederate Army. Michael Nufbaum came to America prior to the Civil War, leaving his family in Germany where they couldn’t own land, vote or hold public office, and landed in the South.

As shop owners from small villages, many German Jews looked to the agrarian South rather than the big city, Berenholtz said. Nufbaum settled in San Antonio, Texas, and enlisted in the Fourth Texas Light Artillery at 37 when the war started.

“He was fighting for one reason and one reason only, and that was state’s rights,” Berenholtz said. “He thought fighting for that fact would provide later on for the ability of Jews, his family in particular, to own land, vote, hold public office, et cetera, and that’s what he fought for.”

According to Berenholtz’s research, the Jewish soldiers were consciously not fighting in favor of slavery, given their people’s history. He is not in favor of taking down flags and removing Confederate figures from public display. For him, it’s a slippery slope, and he noted that slave ships carried the American flag.

“This is our history. Are you going to deny history? Are you going to change everything?” he asked. “I see that flag, it has nothing to do, for me, [with] slavery. It is, to me, about the second revolution, shaping our Constitution.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Law of the Land Jewish groups react to SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate outside the supreme court on June 26. (Photo Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate outside the supreme court on June 26. (Photo Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling announced last Friday morning, approved same-sex marriage for residents in all 50 states. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Elana Kagan.

“Love is love. Ahava is ahava,” said Halley Cohen, director of GLOE-Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement at the DCJCC. “I was so proud of our community, which has been fighting for LGBTQ equality from the beginning.”

Matt Nosanchuk, liaison to the American Jewish community through the White House Office of Public Engagement, arrived at the Supreme Court at 6:15 a.m. and sat among other lawyers when the decision was announced. As soon as it was known that Kennedy would be delivering the majority opinion, he realized that his hopes had come true.

Nosanchuk said he expected the court to rule in favor of marriage equality as he had “read, studied and taught” all the court’s previous rulings on gay rights and had even been in the court when those decisions had been announced.

Still, he was “thrilled it was such a complete and total victory,” and that Kennedy based decision on due process and equal protection.

Looking around, he noticed “tears of joy,” he said, adding, “I was moved. I recognized history was unfolding before my eyes.”

Nosanchuk chose not to miss any of Friday’s history-making day. He quickly went outside the courtroom to join in the celebration with others gathered on the court steps before rushing off to the White House’s Rose Garden to be present as President Barack Obama said, “Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.”

Nosanchuk was one of many Jews celebrating Friday. Seventy-eight percent of Jewish Americans favor marriage equality, according to data collected in a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Of that number, 47 percent strongly favor same-sex marriage.

Evan Wolfson, who founded Freedom to Marry in 2003, is generally considered the architect of the national marriage equality movement. The Pittsburgh native and Harvard-trained attorney has been in the trenches on the issue for 32 years.

“I was not surprised, but I was thrilled and moved and not a little relieved” after hearing the decision, he said.

“While I always believed we were going to win,” Wolfson said the text of the majority opinion was “extraordinarily powerful and resonant and will have a real impact going forward.”

He was particularly moved, he said, by “the way that Justice Kennedy talked not only about the importance of marriage, but also the importance of including gay people.”

Many Jewish organizations also expressed their joy. Both the Reform and Conservative movements employed phrases such as “moral victory,” “historic” and “a magnificent achievement for our country” in describing their reactions.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said, “Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what has been clear for a long time: same-sex couples deserve the same rights as opposite-sex couples.”

The ruling also “is about affirming the inherent dignity of same-sex couples and affirming that all people, regardless of whom they love, deserve the full protection of our Constitution,” Pesner said.

“As Jews, we believe we are all created in God’s image,” said Rabbi Hara Person, publisher and director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press. CCAR is Reform Judaism’s rabbinical leadership organization.

“All citizens of the United States should have the same rights” in financial, legal and other matters, said Person.

Matt Berger, senior adviser for strategic communications at Hillel International, said he stood among supportive friends and family when he was married to a man at a Jewish ceremony officiated by two rabbis. Speaking on his behalf, he said the court’s decision “codifies what so many of us have always believed, which is that our relationships are absolutely equal and deserving of the same rights. The true victory is for those who have not been so lucky to be in such a supportive community.”

Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno Jr., a Democrat from District 18, was vacationing at the beach when he heard the news. “I am thrilled,” he said, pointing out that Maryland played a role in the historic decision.

Lead plaintiff James Obergefell was married in Maryland to John Arthur, who was suffering from the incurable disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; the couple could not be wed in Ohio, where they lived.  When Arthur died, Obergefell could not be listed on the death certificate as the surviving spouse, as Ohio did not recognize the couple’s marriage. Obergefell sued, and Richard Hodges became the respondent because he was the director of Ohio’s Department of Health.
Virginia Congressman Don Beyer called the decision “a watershed moment in American history.”

Beyer, of Virginia’s 8th District, added, “Gay rights are human rights and today we have ensured that all Americans, regardless of their sexuality, have the right to share the rest of their lives with the person they love. I could not be prouder to stand with my LGBTQ constituents and celebrate this incredible moment.”

Both Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring praised the ruling, which Herring said protects the marriages of nearly 2,000 Virginia couples and “thousands more who have had their marriages recognized.”

He called the ruling “an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”

And Rabbi Sonya Starr of the Columbia Jewish Congregation called it an “incredibly exciting step forward,” noting there are “many different paths to a sacred union.”

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service and a strong advocate of gay rights all over the globe, said, “After decades of tireless work to advance the rights of LGBT people, I’m in awe and in tears that we’ve reached a day when dignity has triumphed over discrimination. As the mother of a lesbian daughter, and with many close LGBT relatives and friends, today’s historic Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has huge personal significance for me, for my family,
and for so many of my friends and colleagues.”

But not everyone supported the ruling, including the Orthodox Union, which noted that Judaism forbids homosexuality “in our Bible, Talmud and Codes.”

“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable,” the organization said in a statement.

However, the OU cautioned that “Judaism teaches respect for others, and we condemn discrimination against individuals.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonio Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Jim Campbell, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said the ruling “stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the Democratic process.”

Geoffrey Melada contributed to this article.

spollak@midatlanticmedia.com

The Changing Face of Eastern Shore Jewry With most descendants of original settlers gone, Jewish community finds new life in new places

An unassuming, one-room brick building lies on Third Street in Pocomoke City, adjacent to a home, a cemetery and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. A weathered blue-and-white wooden Jewish star hangs over the entranceway. It’s easy to pass by without knowing that it served four generations of Maryland’s Eastern Shore Jews before closing in the late 2000s.

Inside the former Congregation of Israel, it could be 2015 or 1947, the year the building became the first synagogue structure on the Delmarva Peninsula. Thirteen of the original benches, repurposed curved church pews, fill out most of the 2,000-square-foot building; the original ark, a simple wooden kind with the words “Knesset Yisrael” sits at the front of the room; and old prayer books sit on a shelf in the back of the sanctuary.

“This was our bench here,” Marc Scher, Pocomoke’s last Jewish business owner, said as he stood next to a bench in the fourth row. “My dad, he sat on the end here; that was his seat. The Spinaks sat in the front.”

Pocomoke City was once home to a small, but active and tight-knit Jewish community. The Eastern Shore was a safe haven for Jews fleeing Lithuania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many found their way to Pocomoke. The city’s downtown was home to at least a dozen Jewish-owned business, including clothing stores, a confectionary, a slaughterhouse, a car dealership and a grocery store.

Fast forward to 2015: The Jewish businesses are gone, with the exception of Scher’s Bridal Shop, the business Marc’s grandfather started as a clothing store that he and his wife, Judy, now run, and the town’s Jewish residents have either died or moved away.

But all is not lost. Congregation of Israel’s memorial plaques found a new home at Temple Bat Yam, a Reform Congregation in Berlin, and an Orthodox rabbi is forming a new congregation out of the Pocomoke City building. There are also congregations in Salisbury, Easton (which is set to break ground on a new building this fall) and Rehoboth Beach and Dover, Del., and a Chabad center in Ocean City. While the communities are small, combinations of vacationers, retirees and some young families, these congregations prove that Jewish life is alive and thriving on the Eastern Shore.

Lithuanians Find a New Home
In 1897, the small city of Užventis, Lithuania was home to 330 Jews, according to JewishGen.org, a genealogy affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The city, about 650 miles west of Moscow and 330 miles north of Warsaw, was home to the ancestors of those who would live Jewish lives in Pocomoke City — ancestors of the Scher and Spinak families, among others.

Congregation of Israel can trace its religious leader, Faivel Heilig, back to Užventis, where he was a shochet and chazzan like his father. Family stories suggest that he “was instrumental in helping to aid young Jewish boys in the town to avoid conscription in the Russian army,” according to JewishGen, and he had to flee when was the Russians found out.

He immigrated to the United States in 1899 and initially settled in Durham, N.C., with his younger brother. But his niece was living in Pocomoke City, which was becoming the center of Eastern Shore Jewish life, as Europeans fled pogroms and anti-Semitism for the shores of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. The nearest places to get kosher meats were Baltimore and Philadelphia.

“Jewish people were coming into the country and looking for somewhere where they were accepted and felt safe, and those areas really were,” said Hal Glick, 73, whose grandparents were involved in early Pocomoke Jewish life.

Heilig, at the urging of his niece, moved to Pocomoke City, where his skills as a shochet and chazzan were invaluable to the community. His wife, Ida Dora, would join him there in 1902. The couple had 16 children, 14 of them born in Užventis; three of them died in childhood.

Before long, Jewish residents in surrounding towns began flocking to Pocomoke.

Francis “Sonny” Heilig, born in Pocomoke City in 1928, the grandson of Faivel, remembers the small but connected Jewish community of his childhood.

“Whenever somebody had a yahrzeit, we could barely get a minyan,” he said. “We used to have to go to people’s homes.” But those called on would step up.

Heilig became a bar mitzvah at the Congregation of Israel before it had a home, in 1941. For years, the congregation met in homes, lodges, a fire station and above stores.

The Glick family was one of those families who came from a nearby town — Onancock, Va., 30 miles south of Pocomoke — to find Jewish community. Glick’s grandfather, Myer, who came to the United States in 1890 and grew up and opened a business in Baltimore, later moved his soft goods and department store to Onancock. It would operate for three generations until 2005, when it closed after 115 years.

Glick’s father, Saul, lit the synagogue’s ner tamid in 1948 when Congregation of Israel was dedicated.

A Thriving Community
The Spinak and Scher families played major roles in the early and late life of the synagogue. Marc Scher’s grandfather, Philip, raised money for the synagogue but died in 1941 before he could see it be built. Legend has it that his uncle, Leonard, bought the building’s bricks for cheap after they were delivered elsewhere in Pocomoke. He acquired the church pews that served as benches. A communion table was repurposed as the bimah, which is now a part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s collection in Baltimore, along with several other items from the congregation.

The synagogue, built in 1947 and dedicated in 1948, identified as Conservative when it opened but reflected its Orthodox heritage. An estimated 80 worshippers attended weekly and High Holiday services in the late 1940s and 1950s, according to information compiled by Barry Spinak. In the mid-1950s, the congregation could no longer afford a full-time rabbi but arranged for a Salisbury rabbi to conduct services, religious school classes and study sessions. Various rabbis would conduct High Holiday services.

Growing up, Spinak said the Friday evening Shabbat service was a major event in every Jewish family’s schedule.

“As children, we identified strongly with all of the other Jewish children as proud members of the small Jewish community,” Spinak said via email. “That identification was enhanced when, after our bar mitzvoth, as ‘adult’ members of the congregation we were now included, and often necessary, as part of the minyan.”

Although Glick had no trouble as the only Jewish kid in his high school, and Scher had no troubles growing up Jewish, Spinak’s experiences were different.

“When I was around 8 or 9 years old, some of the other kids, likely reflecting attitudes expressed at their homes by their parents, would gather in groups of three or four to ambush me as I walked home from school and ‘get the Jew kid,’” he said. “I took those lumps without saying anything to my parents, but when I would catch one of my attackers by himself, I would return the lesson.

“That would usually result in a phone call to my parents from the other boy’s parents complaining that I had ‘attacked’ their poor little, defenseless child,” he continued. “When I explained the situation to my parents, they provided only understanding.”

He recalled a Newberry’s manager telling him “no Jew kid will ever work at this store.” Spinak said he later became friends with those same boys as they got older.

Scher’s Pocomoke roots go back to 1933, when his grandfather moved his department store from Exmore, Va., to Pocomoke. While it evolved over time and offered various products over the years, the shop, still in the same space on Market Street, has survived, Marc said, because his father put a bridal department in the store in the 1960s. These days, the store survives on bridal and prom dresses and tuxedo fittings. He and Judy, a Baltimore native, do business with about 300 to 400 weddings a year.

His shop is surrounded by relics of the former Jewish businesses that now are either other shops or vacant storefronts. There was the Heilig’s Pocomoke Provision Company, the Miller’s Feldman’s furniture store, the Groh family’s clothing store, Ben Cohen’s office supply store, Kleger’s grocery store and more.

“We had a thriving Jewish community,” Scher said. “If somebody told me when I was bar mitzvah age that one day I would be the last from the congregation in Pocomoke … I’d say you’re crazy.”

Scher and Spinak kept the congregation running after their fathers passed away in 1996 and 1997, continuing the yearly High Holiday services. But after Spinak moved to the state of Washington in 2009 to be closer to his grandchildren, the two decided to cease operations.

Karen Falk, a curator at the Jewish Museum who visited Pocomoke when the museum acquired its bimah, candles, yad, a gavel from meetings and more, got a sense of the congregation in her brief time there.

“What strikes me about all the synagogues on the Eastern Shore [is] how they opened with such hope for permanence, for the future, the sense that ‘now we’re established, now we’re permanent,’” she said. “And the kind of thing that happens is not uncommon. It’s always said to see a synagogue close.”

Modern-Day Eastern Shore Jewry
Some of those who left Pocomoke went to Salisbury, where the conservative Beth Israel Congregation was founded in 1925 and built its current building in 1951.

Rabbi Arnold Bienstock, who works at the congregation half time and spends the rest of his time as the chaplain at Coastal Hospice, said his congregation has shrunk over the years. It now has 70 families, which are mostly elderly, and will have two bnai mitzvot this year, one bar and one bat.

“We’re a microcosm of everything that’s going on in the Jewish community,” Bienstock said. The once industrious city was home to many Jewish businesses in the 1960s. “The Jews were the merchants, and the early group of Jews tried to gain respect with the upper-crust Anglo-Saxon Protestant community, that the Jews could run businesses and be philanthropic.”

But, as in Pocomoke, times have changed.

“All the Jewish merchants that were once here are gone,” he said.

While smaller than it used to be, it is not without vibrancy. Its youth lounge was renovated in 2014 and dedicated to Barry Berger, “a pillar of our congregation” Bienstock said. The congregation hosts Mitzi Perdue on July 24. Wife of the late Frank Perdue, she is a member of Hadassah and was part of the U.N. delegation that defended against the “Zionism is Racism” movement during President Ronald Regan’s era.

In Easton, Rabbi Peter Hyman is preparing to usher in a new building for Temple B’nai Israel. He hopes to break ground in the fall and about 18 months later move into the $6 million, 9,000-square-foot Temple B’nai Israel: The Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore.

He can’t exactly pinpoint why his 140-family synagogue is growing, but in his eighth year there, he has a bit of an idea.

“I’m the first full-time rabbi they’ve had in decades, and as my friend … said ‘with the coming of a full-time rabbi, it meant that the community had to be full-time Jews,’” he said.

Also read, Ocean City’s Jewish Deli.

In his time there, he’s worked to strengthen overall synagogue education, create challenging and interesting programming and weave the synagogue into the fabric of the community as a leadership institution.

He said Easton is sophisticated, upscale and cultured, with a world-renowned chamber music festival and fabulous art museum. CEOs and politicians retire there. His congregation includes people from all over the Eastern seaboard.

“Not surprisingly, the synagogue serves as a focal point for Jewish life,” Hyman said. “Nobody moves to the Eastern Shore to exercise their Judaism, but it is certainly a good thing and an important component to the fabric of the community that B’nai Israel exists and is vibrant and is, in many ways, a beacon of Jewish life here.”

Elsewhere on the Shore, there’s a Chabad rabbi in Ocean City, and even Delaware’s beach towns have two congregations, Congregation Beth Sholom in Dover and the Seaside Jewish Community in Rehoboth Beach.

Ed Simon, president of the unaffiliated and egalitarian Seaside Jewish Community, said the congregation has about 400 members, although its building seats about 80 comfortably. High Holiday services, held at a local church, attract hundreds.

The synagogue can perform all life-cycle events and has a small religious school. Although some congregations wind down in the summer, they have more events, with volunteer work and various programming.

“Sussex County, Deleware has been a popular retirement spot,” Simon said. “A lot of our members were vacationers or they had a place and came down on certain weekends or maybe during the summer. I kind of stayed and became active.”

The synagogue has also ramped up efforts to engage younger families in the community with programs aimed at parents in their 30s and 40s and more social activities.

In Berlin, just west of Ocean City, about 140 families call Temple Bat Yam home. They have a small religious school, but a lot of congregants are retirees from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas. While there’s no JCC in the area, thanks to a local foundation, the younger members of the congregation can go to Camps Airy and Louise in the summers.

“That’s a wonderful thing that we have so these kids can get out with other Jewish kids and they can celebrate a Shabbat with other Jewish kids,” said Bat Yam Rabbi Susan Warshaw, who came from Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. “Literally, we are a congregation in the middle of a cornfield. It’s not like downtown Baltimore.”

Pocomoke Lives On
While the memorial plaques are now at Bat Yam, the former home of Congregation of Israel has been taken over by Yemenite Rabbi Shimon Grady.

He has invested in nearby property and hopes to grow his chevra out of the Pocomoke City building and help re-engage Eastern Shore Jews.

“I found there was a big need of someone to try to wake up all these small shuls, have somebody reach out to them,” he said.

And while Grady opens the next chapter in the Eastern Shore’s deep-rooted Jewish traditions, those who first came will be memorialized at Bat Yam and also on the West Coast, thanks to Spinak. Congregation Kol Shalom, in Bainbridge Island, Wash., where Spinak now lives, uses Congregation of Israel’s Torah every Saturday morning; Spinak blows its shofar during the High Holidays.

“This is history and it’s important,” he said.

Also read, Shabbat at the Beach.

Looking over the names listed on the two plaques at Bat Yam on Thursday, June 18, the day before they were rededicated in a special Shabbat service, Spinak counted 32 people in his family, from his great-grandparents Ida Dora and Faivel to cousins to his four grandparents. The plaques commemorate those who passed during the 1920s up to 2005.

“If this is not done to preserve it, it’s all lost,” said Steve Cohen, a Bat Yam member who chaired the Shabbat rededication.

The next day, 85 people came to Bat Yam for the service. Some hung out at the plaques all night, crying and sharing memories of their ancestors, cousins and friends.

Although Spinak, who came to town for a wedding and stayed for the rededication, was sad to formally mark the end of the Congregation of Israel, he was delighted the memorial tablets would be displayed at Bat Yam.

“I hope, for many years, the names on the individual plaques will instill fond memories for those who knew them,” he said, “and appreciation by those to whom the names are unfamiliar for the dedication and sacrifices made by early, small-town Jewish settlers to continue their Jewish traditions.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Spirituality in Art ‘Underground’ artist finds inspiration in Jewish mysticism

LONDON — The underside of one of London’s busiest train stations is an unlikely place to find a room full of Kabbalistic imagery. Yet, located under Waterloo station, south of the River Thames, is Gallery 223, now showing the works of artist Simone Krok, whose main inspiration comes from the Kabbalah.

Taking center stage in Krok’s most recent exhibition, which opened on June 5 and will run through June 18, is a 4-foot, 2-inch high bronze ring upon which are etched the 10 aspects of Sephirot, the Kabbalistic concept for the 10 aspects of creation. It’s one of the more well-known themes found in Kabbalah and has captivated Krok throughout her career.

As a student at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the South African-born artist concentrated on Kabbalist symbolism. In the years since, she has made a point of studying spirituality as well as Judaism and currently learns with the rabbi and his wife from her local synagogue in London.

“I like it when people look at my work and have a personal response,” said Krok, 46, whose soft-spoken nature is at odds with the violence found in some of her work. “I don’t want to say ‘this is what you have to see.’ People should take away from each piece whatever it is they get from it rather than what I feed them. The art should speak for itself and have a life of its own.”

Titled “Paradise Lost,” after John Milton’s epic poem, it is Krok’s first solo exhibition and features elaborate sculptures, smaller pieces of intricate bronze jewelry as well as two multimedia pieces. It is a show of paradoxes in that it incorporates the themes of creation and destruction, heaven and hell and war and peace. It’s also noteworthy for the range of media the artist employs: bronze sculpture, collaged canvas, digital animation and plates of resin and steel.

One of the more interesting and upbeat pieces in the exhibition is a bronze sculpture of a baby fixed to the underside of a wing shaped like the Hebrew letter yud. According to Krok, the wing represents both the wing of an angel and the scapula on a woman’s back, the place where babies in South Africa are often carried to keep mother’s hands free. This baby, unlike many of the other broken babies on display in the exhibition, is protected.

This piece also demonstrates the influence Krok’s South African upbringing. Though she describes her childhood as sheltered and isolated from the reality of apartheid that was happening around her, it’s a theme that has greatly influenced how she approaches her art.

“I don’t believe there are new ideas or themes but a layering of existing ones,” said Krok, 46, whose history is as varied as her work. “My work is a culmination of my personal experiences.”

Krok has studied in her native South Africa, Australia and Tel Aviv and earned degrees in subjects ranging from classical civilization, animation and digital media to jewelry engineering, all of which she considers influences on her work. In particular, her work with metals led to the creation of extensive sculptures, or as she describes them, “turning little things into big things.” She now lives in London with her 12-year-old daughter.

For “Paradise Lost,” Krok worked for about a year to prepare the pieces, some taking weeks to complete and others up to six months.

“Every piece I work on, I have a love-hate relationship with,” said Krok, who has also spent time living in Berlin and Los Angeles. “There always comes a time that I want to throw it in ocean and never look at it again. Especially if a piece is taking a long time to finish.”

Current events also strongly influence the pieces on display. In the colorful “Sequence of Many Levels of Deception,” newspapers are used for the base of 12 collages, framed and hung in three rows of four.

“When I was working on the pieces for this exhibition, I was feeling very affected by war, by what happened in Paris, by the girls who were abducted in Africa,” said Krok, whose work sells from several hundred dollars to more than $23,000 for the larger bronze sculptures. She added, “We are so exposed to horrific things that we become desensitized to what’s going on.”

“Most of the work explores themes such as war, death, creation and destruction, and the underworld cave-like setting of Gallery 223 is a fantastic place to consider the somewhat darker underbelly of our existence,” said Alex Wood, gallery manager and curator of the exhibition.

One of the most striking — and disturbing — works in the exhibition is an interactive piece entitled “War Games.” The viewer is asked to spin a wheel to determine the color of the wax-work baby that the viewer will then place in an entanglement of barbed wire.

“Krok deals with questions and themes that are relevant to each and every one of us. The viewer does not need to know anything about art to find some meaning,” said Wood. “The work may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it certainly doesn’t take an appreciation of art to leave an impression.”

Rachel Stafler is a freelance writer from Baltimore lives in London.

Uncertain Future BDS ties to trade package riles pro-Israel community

Despite unprecedented Democratic backing, including the overwhelming support of the Senate Finance Committee that approved it more than a month ago, Congress’ only legislative volley in the war against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement faces an uncertain future on Capitol Hill.

In advance of a likely vote Wednesday on the so-called Trade Promotion Authority that President Barack Obama says he needs in order to close a deal with 12 Pacific Rim nations and that contains an amendment authored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) committing the United States to the elimination
of state-sponsored boycotts against Israel, Sen. Robert P. Casey (D-Pa.) indicated late last week that, despite supporting the amendment, he will ultimately vote against the bill.

Even Cardin, who approved an earlier iteration of the bill that failed to advance in the House of Representatives when Democrats spurned entreaties by Obama to support the trade package, was noncommittal Monday on how he would vote.

Sen. Ben Cardin (Photo REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Newscom)

Sen. Ben Cardin (Photo REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Newscom)

If that leaves members of the pro-Israel community scratching their heads, Casey said that while fighting BDS remains a core priority of his, defeating the trade package is even more important.

“I don’t believe that this TPA legislation, or frankly any bill on TPA, is the only way to combat [BDS] or the most effective way,” he said.

When the legislation was last taken up by the full Senate — and approved in a 62-37 vote — Casey voted against it. When the House took it up June 12, a must-pass companion bill on Trade Adjustment Assistance that would provide funds for workers displaced by international trade fell victim to Democrats arguing that past comprehensive trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement of the early 1990s, ravaged America’s labor force.

At Obama’s urging, the TPA and TAA provisions were then decoupled, and the House approved the trade authority, which would subject any trade deal negotiated by the White House to a simple up or down vote in Congress, last week.

Through a spokeswoman, Cardin said that he bemoaned the fact that he would have to vote on the trade authority without the corresponding worker assistance package, which he supports.

“On TPA, Sen. Cardin prefers that the measures were bundled together,” spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said in an email.

Labor union members and environmentalists were scheduled to rally outside of Cardin’s district office in suburban Maryland.

“It’s time that you listened to your constituents and reject the effort to advance fast track trade authority in the Senate,” Communications Workers of America member Pam Wilt said in a news release directed at Cardin. “You cannot walk away from working people for a second time.”

When the Finance Committee discharged the trade legislation in a 20-6 vote on April 23, Cardin hailed the legislation for containing the BDS amendment, which passed unanimously. It requires trade negotiators to make rejection of BDS a principal objective in negotiations with the European Union.

“Israel is one of the America’s closest allies and the only stable democracy in the Middle East,” Cardin said at the time. “We may not agree with every Israeli policy, but we cannot allow our potential trading partners in the EU to fall prey to efforts that threaten Israel’s existence.”

In his interview June 19, Casey stood by Cardin’s assessment, calling BDS a movement rooted in anti-Semitism and having as its design the delegitimizing of Israel in the international arena.

“It is really, really disturbing,” he said. “Virtually every American knows about the strength of our relationship with Israel and how it is such a partner with us in the Middle East. So to have an effort that I believe undermines that relationship is disturbing and insulting to what we stand for.”

Although the only BDS legislation with any reasonable chance of passing on Capitol Hill will ultimately fail if Casey gets his way, Pennsylvania’s junior senator said there are other ways he can lead in the fight against BDS.

“As a senator, to prevent it and to mitigate it is first of all to use my voice,” he said. “The good news is as an elected official, you have a voice. But you can also use your vote to vote against any policy consistent with BDS or that advances a policy … counterproductive to working towards peace with the Palestinians.”

Associates of Casey’s on both sides of the aisle said that it would be unfair to see in his objection to the trade legislation anything more than a stand against a bill opposed by the labor movement. They didn’t question his commitment to Israel.

“Sen. Casey is probably as pro-Israel as any member of Congress right now,” said Marcel Groen, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, who has traveled to the Jewish state with the senator. “I can guarantee [BDS] is going to come up [again] and in the way he wants it to come up.”

Melissa Apter contributed to this article.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Perfect Match Hopkins-Technion partnership celebrates 15 years

About 110 benefactors gathered at the private home of Bruce Sholk and Beth Kaplan in Lutherville May 27 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the partnership between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The event also coincided with the 75th anniversary of the partnership between the Technion and the American Technion Society, its booster organization in the United States.

The event featured a number of prominent community members that included ATS Executive Director Jeffrey Richard, Hopkins medical school Dean T.E. Schlesinger and Technion medical school Dean Eliezer Shalev.

Since 2001, the two universities’ medical schools have operated an exchange program that focuses extensively on biomedical engineering. The program was made possible through the efforts of the late Fred Hittman — an engineer who emigrated from Germany in the 1930s and later settled in Baltimore.

“It was his baby,” his wife, Sandy Hittman, said. “He thought it would be a good collaboration between the two universities, and so he brought it about.”

Several attendees had parents and grandparents who attended the Technion, including current Baltimore ATS president John Davison, whose father was president of the national organization 42 years ago. Davison has been involved in the organization for the last four years.

“What I always say is, the thing I like about Technion versus other ways of charitable giving as it relates to Israel is you’re giving to an institution who is then educating people who are then literally making the country stronger by their inventions and through their good deeds,” he said.

After the guests spent an hour socializing over drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, a ceremony gave way to the signing of another 15-year agreement between the two universities. Davison began by explaining the importance of the Technion’s work in creating modern technological devices.

“Clearly, many of Baltimore’s philanthropic Jewish families have supported the Technion, and yet not many know the Technion’s successful story and its invaluable contributions to the world,” he said.

Davison listed several recent inventions developed at the school in Haifa, including a pill that takes photos of the small intestine when swallowed, which he briefly held up while at the podium.

His remarks were followed by a recognition from Chairman Emeritus Michael Klein, who recognized individual families that have been instrumental in supporting ATS. Richard then addressed the room and echoed Davison’s praise of the Technion.

“For me, taking the reins of this organization is really fulfillment of a dream,” he said. “When I took the job after spending 15 years in university development, first at NYU and then at Columbia I saw this position as a way for me to use my skills for Israel and the Jewish people which I am extremely passionate about my whole life.”

Richard told the crowd that ATS has raised more than $2 billion since the organization was founded in 1940 and praised the Baltimore chapter for recently raising $9 million.

“All of our success rests on your work in Baltimore, with each and every one of you,” he said.

Hittman shared highlights from the life of her late husband, telling the story of how his family escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s and was supposed to sail from London to the United States but missed it due to his mother’s illness. They later found out the ship was torpedoed.

He later settled in Detroit and settled into the academic world.

“Very quickly this chubby little kid who couldn’t speak much English became the highest ranking student in the class, and by the time he was 13 he was president of his class,” Hittman said.

The two met on a bus in high school and she was immediately drawn to his looks and intelligence, she added. “He had strawberry blonde hair; he began to lose his hair when he was 17. But I liked him because he knew what he wanted. He said, ‘I want to be an engineer.’”

Hittman passed away in 2002,having spent the later part of his life contributing to a variety of philanthropic causes, something his wife said she wants him to be remembered for.

“What he taught us most importantly is how important it is to give,” she explained. “That we shouldn’t concern ourselves only with ourselves, but we should try to make in every way we can the world a better place.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

The Sport of Mentschen For boys, Ultimate Frisbee puts perfect spin on teamwork, camaraderie

The Pikesville Ultimate Disc Association held its championship match of its boys’ league, ages 7 to 12, on June 9, ending its six-week season.

Ultimate Frisbee, which requires only an open field, a Frisbee and orange cones to play, is a unique sport using the “spirit of the game,” which dictates that players call their own fouls and resolve conflicts among themselves. For most levels of play, no referees are used. However, the PUDA has taken that concept and used it to instill values in some younger players.

“They’re typical young people playing a sport, they want to beat their friends and gloat,” said Mike Myers, head coach. “But anytime something is unfair, they’d complain. What I’ve seen in these past few weeks though is less gloating and more positive sportsmanship. They are congratulating each other, win or lose. No sore losers, no sore winners.”

The league is run by the JCC of Greater Baltimore and partners with the Greater Pikesville Recreational Council, USA Ultimate and Boy to Mentsch to help teach the boys skills such as teamwork and conflict resolution.

Members of the Pikesville Ultimate Disc Association in action during the championship and playoff matches at Wellwood International Elementary School. (Justin Katz)

Members of the Pikesville Ultimate Disc Association in action during the championship and playoff matches at Wellwood International Elementary School. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Boy to Mentsch, a federal grant directed toward young Jewish men, partners with Jewish Women International in Washington, D.C., and the Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women in Baltimore.

“[Boy to Mentsch] is trying to help boys develop a healthy masculinity and the skills to have good relationships,” said Rabbi Shmuel Fischler, director of outreach and advocacy of CHANA who is also a licensed social worker.

“Some of the families are using the Boy to Mentsch tools in their homes, such as communicating with empathy instead of anger,” said league commissioner, Brett Weil. “Essentially, it’s combating the selfish desires that could overtake a person and helping the family increase peace and cohesiveness in the home, so they can live together in greater harmony.”

In addition to Weil and Myers, the league has several other coaches who have years of experience playing Ultimate, one of whom is Clay Collins, who has coached at the collegiate level and played at the professional level.

“It’s a grassroots game that is developed and run by people who are entrenched in the community,” said Collins. “The more kids play it when they’re younger, the more it will develop in the future, which is great.”

PUDA’s league is open to everyone, including the Orthodox community because the schedule does not interfere with Shabbat or any Jewish holiday. Games are also scheduled later to accommodate school dismissal times.

Debbie Vogelstein was looking for a sports group for her 9-year-old son, Elan, to play in but initially only found a flag football group that met at a catholic school, and practices conflicted with Passover and Shavuot. After hearing about the Ultimate Frisbee league, she was quick to sign up.

“At the end of every game [Elan] is soaked in sweat and has a big smile on his face,” said Vogelstein. “It’s very competitive, and the coaches are totally immersed. Brett is right there on side of the field, giving tips.”

The combination of an Orthodox-friendly schedule and teambuilding exercises make for a successful season, and there are plans to begin promoting a Girls Ultimate program, said Weil.

“The schedule is very important to me; if they didn’t cater to the Orthodox, we couldn’t participate,” said Michelle Sharaby, whose son Sar-Shalom, 12, plays in the league. “I’m happy he’s running around and exercising. I’m happy with the sportsmanship they’re trying to instill in the boys, and I hope they can continue to offer it.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Many Lives of Arnold Clapman Renaissance man reconnects to Judaism in Baltimore as he continues lifetime of making music, art

Five years ago, Arnold David Clapman came to Baltimore, as he said, with his tail between his legs. His marriage had ended, as did his many art classes — which during his 25 years in California included teaching at-risk youth and incarcerated men — when funding dried up. California just didn’t feel like home anymore.

He hadn’t lived in Baltimore since 1962, when he left upon graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art to head to the cultural epicenter of Greenwich Village in New York City. No longer feeling the warmth of the Northern California sun, and with some encouragement from his Baltimorean sister, Arnie Clapman packed up to start over again, like he had done many times before.

“Five years out, it’s a whole new chapter,” he said. “A whole new door opened. I was just treading water when I first came here.”

Clapman, 75, whose life has been a whirlwind of making art and playing music, now finds himself playing congas — his longtime instrument — with a variety of musicians in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community, and the music has connected him to Judaism in a way he had only previously dreamed of. And as a resident of the Weinberg House on Old Court Road, Clapman screens movies for the residents three nights a week, provides monthly cartoons in the newsletter and even fixes his neighbors’ TVs and remote controls.

“I’m the punk kid on the block,” he joked. Clapman even has a girlfriend. “I could be a millionaire, but I don’t think I could be richer. I have everything. What I have money can’t buy.”

Clapman’s reconnecting to Judaism through music is essential to being Jewish, said Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak.

“Music is at the core foundation of Judaism … That’s the spark that ignites when everything of consequence takes place,” he said, referring to biblical stories such as when Miriam led the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea, as well as modern customs. “It’s at the core of who we are. I’m not just talking about music, I’m talking about any sort of artistic expression where all artists find ourselves.”

A look around Clapman’s two-room apartment shows that his life has been anything but ordinary. There are photos of him with famed folk singer Richie Havens, the first performer at Woodstock with whom Clapman had an artistic, musical and business relationship, and of Muhammad Ali signing a painting Clapman made for him; Clapman illustrated a children’s book for Ali and sketched him for DC Comics. There’s at least a dozen swords on display — replicas from “Kill Bill,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and “Excalibur” — die-cast fighter planes and at least seven congas in plain sight, with his two stage congas set up and another propped up with a tuning wrench sitting on top of it.

An easel sits across from his desk in his art and music room. Inside the closet, along with congas, are printouts of his demon paintings, based on “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” considered an important book in occult history.

“They’re not really idols, I don’t worship them,” he quipped.

The artifacts help tell Clapman’s story, from his time playing music and drawing portraits in Greenwich Village — where he played with everyone before they got famous — to Boston, where he had three children and joined a jazz-fusion band that would later get a record deal and take him back to New York, then to California, where he would teach art to those who may have needed a creative outlet the most.

Baltimore Beginnings
Arnie Clapman was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Baltimore when he was 2 years old, which is how young he was when he first exhibited his artistic abilities. His parents used to draw him pictures, his father in pencil when Clapman was learning to talk and his mother on a slate chalkboard to entertain him. She drew a bird one day, left the room, and when she came back, there were two birds.

“So, I don’t know whether I was a born artist or a born forger,” Clapman said. Drawing occupied his free time at home, where he spent his evenings after school taking care of his young twin sisters along with his other sister, Nannette, who is two years younger than Clampman. Both of his parents worked. “I liked just drawing stuff, but it didn’t really take off for me until I was old enough to read the Sunday funny papers. That was my first exposure to art that I wanted to be able to do.”

Comics like “Prince Valiant,” “Flash Gordon,” “Dick Tracy” and “Tarzan” piqued his interest, as did animals, dinosaurs and monster movies.

“We lived in a very small house. … My brother would make these animals, life-sized animals out of cardboard like a jaguar and various snake things, and my sisters, if they had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, these things would be sitting there and scare the hell of out them,” Clapman’s sister, Nannette Blinchikoff, recalled.

As a student at the Talmudical Academy, Clapman wanted to be able to draw comic book versions of biblical stories as well. As he went on to high school at Baltimore City College, he was emulating the comic-book artists he idolized and working with pen and pencil. But after winning a nationwide patriotic poster contest with his design of a kid saluting a flag, his mother, Terri, hired a local artist to give him lessons, which opened his world to other mediums such as charcoal and watercolor paints.

“I wanted to master them,” Clapman said.

She also got him enrolled in adult art classes at MICA while he was still in high school, and the quality of his work landed him a four-year scholarship at the school.

At the same time, his mother, who Clapman said “what she lacked in funds she made up for in contacts,” got him a job on The Block playing congas at the Rainbow Lounge. It would lead to the other gigs, including drumming for exotic dancers, which helped Clapman pay for books and art supplies.

“At night I had a different life. During the day I was studying art and falling asleep a lot because I was working all night,” he said.

A friend who acted as his agent got him a gig with pioneering bebop jazz drummer Max Roach, who would ultimately inspire Clapman to head to New York after college. While playing the song “Caravan” at a gig at a black club called Estelle’s on North Avenue, Clapman’s hands started bleeding a bit from playing the up-tempo tune.

“I went into the men’s room and while I was bandaging it up — because I was embarrassed, I didn’t want anyone to see — Max followed me into the men’s room, and he said, ‘You’re really good, kid, but you’re never gonna find out how good you are staying here in Baltimore, you gotta go to New York,’” Clapman said. And he listened, taking off for Greenwich Village in 1962, when “everything was just starting,” and got himself a storefront apartment with oriel windows on West 16th Street off 6th Avenue.

The ‘Electric’ Village
“It was like going into Never Neverland, like wonderland, it was just magical,” Clapman said. “You could sense that something really big was getting ready to happen there. It was all about entertainment and music and just the arts, and I just walked into it; it was amazing. I don’t think I got home for almost a week. I slept at a different place every night.”

He would become house percussionist at Café Bizarre, where he would back countless acts including calypso bands, Havens, The Smothers Brothers and The Ronettes, the latter of which he’d accompany to Harlem, where famed record producer Phil Spector taught the ladies their future hit “Be My Baby.”

As he was playing music and making his own art, he was drawing portraits to make extra money. It was at a portrait studio one night where he met Havens, the famed folk singer who would give the opening performance at Woodstock in 1969 and pen the anthem “Freedom.” Havens also drew portraits to make extra money.

“Before that, I didn’t talk to him. I used to watch him play, he was magic. I used to drop everything just to watch him play at the Bizarre,” Clapman said. “So did everybody else; the waitresses, waiters, the whole place would stop. Richie would start singing and everything would stop. He was just hypnotic. It was like nothing else that anybody had ever heard.”

The two struck up a friendship, and Clapman performed with Havens all over the Village, meeting greats such as Bob Dylan. He even shared the stage with icons Carlos Santana and Thelonius Monk.

“The air was like electric,” he said of the Village. “It was like the center of the world.”

But he only stayed a few years. Clapman married actress and dancer Nancy Hall and moved up to Cambridge, Mass., with her in the mid-’60s. The couple would have three children.

In Boston, Clapman took his art skills to Harvard University, where he drew dinosaurs and plants for gift shops and scientists and performed fossil restorations, a dream-come-true for some who drew dinosaurs as a kid. When archeologist Louis Leakey found the “ape-man” skull, believed to be an ancient relative of humans, Clapman was the first to draw it in America, he said.

“All this crazy stuff happened to me,” he said. “It’s being in the right places at the right time.”

All this time, Clapman continued playing music and making art on his own terms. He earned himself a reputation for being a good funk player, which landed him local gigs as well as musical run-ins with Miles Davis, around the time of his “On the Corner” album, and The Staples Singers.

“To this day, my daughter Madeleine [Hall] is a blues singer I think because Mavis [Staples] held her in her arms when she was a baby,” Clapman said. “The music came from somewhere.”

Hall remembers the kind of music her dad was playing back in those days.

“It was very experimental avant-garde jazz,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t know that I recognized it as music at the time. But it was cool having people around playing instruments.”

Clapman was recruited for super-band Baird Hersey & The Year of the Ear, which he described as an 11-piece band with a huge horn section and three drummers playing “avant-garde jazz rock.” It would take Clapman back to New York, where the band cut three albums under a contract with Arista Novus Records, and he reconnected with Havens.

California Dreamin’
Clapman and Havens, along with the folk singer’s longtime manager, Marcia Wolfson, formed ARM Productions (for Arnold, Richie and Marcia), which entailed Clapman working on art and music with Havens.

During this same period, Clapman created comic-book art for Heavy Metal magazine and art projects for Muhammad Ali and Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong.

ARM Productions would take Clapman to California, where he and Havens hoped to get in early on special-effects technology. They used top technology and a created a demo reel showing their colorization and film restoration skills using “King Kong.” Although Hollywood studios were interested, the project never came to fruition after millions of dollars in startup funds fell through.

With seven years of work down the tubes, Clapman decided to stay in California and met a woman who took him up to Santa Cruz, which he called “the most beautiful place I’d ever been.”

“I’d never been any place like that. I was a city boy,” he said. “The surfing capital of the world and redwoods and mountains and nature like I’d never seen. Big Sur, Monterey, unbelievable.”

Clapman started teaching adult art education: caricatures, cartooning, portraits, illustrations and watercolors. But he wasn’t making enough money, and his lifestyle caught up to him.

“I had hit a bottom. In 1991, it all kind of crashed. I was homeless and wanted to stop, couldn’t stop,” he said, referring to drinking and drugging. Although a car accident nearly killed him, it wasn’t until he was threatened with jail time that he decided to get clean.

“The problem all my life was that drinks were always on the house wherever I went, and the drugs were pretty much free, particularly when I was well known. I had dealers following me around,” he said. Even in California, where he was lesser known, “it was still there, all around me.”

He got sober, and through his recovery groups met a woman he would marry and a guy who became his best friend and bandmate, Joey Bryning, with whom he would form “sober band” Crazy Heart.

In the mid-’90s Clapman started working as an overnight counselor at a group home for troubled juveniles, “mostly gang kids,” he said. While on the job, he would work on freelance art projects.

“My wife would give me a pot of black coffee … so I could stay awake all night, and I would do illustrations,” he said. “Kids started sneaking out of bed to watch me.”

Word spread to the kids’ counselors and then to their schools, and in no time Clapman was teaching more at-risk youth from Santa Cruz to the barrios to juvenile hall, where he was affectionately known as “Arnie the Art Guy.”

He opened his own nonprofit art school, and with the work of these kids and other teens, he published “Comix by Kids,” a diverse series of comics still very dear to his heart. Two of the kids from barrios even landed scholarships at prestigious art institutes because of their work.

“I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” he said. “I never saw that coming. … California turned into an amazing trip for me, that’s why I stayed there for 25 years.”

But Clapman’s California honeymoon came to an end. Funding for his teaching dried up, his marriage of 17 years ended, and his age was preventing him from running around the way he used to.

“Everywhere I looked were things I can’t do anymore,” he said. “It was like rubbing my old age in my face.”

He moved back to Baltimore feeling like a failure for having left California under those circumstances.

“I thought it was all over for me here,” he said. But the ever-adaptable Clapman soon made a new, rich life for himself.

A Rebirth in Baltimore
Blinchikoff, Clapman’s sister, reintroduced him to Baltimore and helped him get into the Weinberg House. Through a Chasidic rabbi, the son of one of the building’s residents, Clapman wound up playing with Israeli folk singer Oneg Shemesh at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel on a whim.

“We rocked the place,” Clapman said. “On the strength of that I got noticed by the Chasidic community and even though I have an earring, even though I wasn’t one of them, they took me in.”

He’s become a regular at Guitars of Pikesville, where he performs Sunday, and got a gig with the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” Avraham Rosenblum, known for his work with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, playing with new band The Brisket Brothers.

“He’s one of those people you instantly fall in love with,” Rosenblum said. “He’s a very big-hearted individual, he’s a got a great sense of humanity.”

Added Rosenblum: “He’s a great conga player. He’s a total natural. It’s in his bones. It’s in his blood.”

Clapman, who has since purchased a “beautiful” talis, said he has everything he ever wanted now.

“What I wanted more than anything that I could never have was the joy, the joyous part of the religion. To be with people that love God so much it just comes bursting out,” he said, “Like Simchas Torah, I’m up on the bimah and I’m playing and the Torahs are dancing around me or I go to a Shabbaton over at Pearlstone and I’m playing congas and I’m soloing and all the rabbis are dancing in a circle. For a Jewish kid this is big stuff.”

Like Clapman, Polak reconnected with his own Judaism later in life.

“It’s something that never leaves you. I think it’s something you find truth in when you’re allowed to,” he said. “We find that when we’re allowed to experience Torah … when it’s not coercion and when it’s more a time of exploration, that’s when you get Torah and that’s what happened to him.”

Rivka Malka Perlman, a member of Tiferes Yisroel who first met Clapman at the Oneg Shemesh concert, said the Orthodox community is very accepting of Clapman in contrast to the Judaism he grew up with.

“[Back then] there was a strong sense of judgment and harshness: ‘You do it like this or you don’t do it at all.’ A very punitive kind of Judaism and judgmental,” she said. “I know in Baltimore, there’s a tremendous amount of diversity and acceptance. In the Orthodox community, the more cultural the better.” She’s seen people perk up when Clapman is introduced to them as a cartoonist or as someone who worked with at-risk gang kids.

Hall, who is 49 and lives in the Boston area, said she’s seen a lot of personal and spiritual growth in her father.

“He didn’t get the kind of recognition that other artists did. I know that at one point it was a big deal to him,” she said. “I think he’s in a different place now, a spiritual place. I think his priorities changed.”

Clapman, who is working on illustrations for a series of short stories written by his grandfather and namesake, Aaron David Schwartz, is now happy and comfortable in his Pikesville apartment, surrounded by mementos of his storybook life.

“These are fleeting moments and that’s why I like to surround myself with all this stuff, surround myself with my life,” he said. “It’s a whirlwind. It would make a great movie.”

See Arnie Clapman perform as a featured guest Sunday, June 21 at Guitars of Pikesville, 806 Reisterstown Road, Suite 6, Pikesville. Music starts at 6 p.m. Visit guitarsofpikesville.com or call 410-415-5400.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

On the Table Domestic security concerns, Iran dominate OU mission to D.C.

Local leaders and other attendees of the Orthodox Union Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C., made clear to Congress their concerns over ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and domestic security funding for Jewish institutions.

More than 120 lay leaders and modern Orthodox clergy from nine states gathered on Capitol Hill June 3 for a packed day of meetings with members of Congress and briefings from foreign ambassadors and the White House.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer kicked off the day with a briefing on Iran. He reiterated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position that Iran cannot be trusted and will continue to develop ballistic missiles.

“There is only one true existential threat to Israel: the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said.

His message was echoed by the delegates, who stood behind the OU’s position that no deal is preferable to a bad deal.

061215_ouSecurity on the home front was also a source of major concern. Participants lobbied to have the funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative Non-Profit Security Grant Program, to which nonprofit institutions, such as synagogues and day schools, can apply for funds that enable them to upgrade their security measures, raised to $25 million. The program is currently funded at $13 million.

In a letter sent in April to the leading members of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Peter King (R-N.Y.) and others cited the 2014 shooting at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, a string of anti-Semitic hate crimes targeting synagogues in northern New Jersey in 2011 and the 2009 murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as reasons to increase funding.

Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel Congregation in Baltimore said, “It’s a small bill, but it’s something that’s been critical for our local synagogues and nonprofits. We take all the steps to maintain the security of our synagogues.”

His sentiments were echoed by Elliot Holtz, chair of Foundation for Jewish Day Schools — a partner with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — who said the grants “are extremely important to neighborhoods like Philadelphia, which is mainly urban with many of our schools and synagogues unprotected by other resources. They’re on highways, in dense neighborhoods, so these funds have been important for improvements [that] harden the buildings.

“You can feel the difference in the community to those institutions that have applied and successfully received a grant,” added Holtz. “As we see
attacks around the world by individuals and small numbers of people, these deterrents are important to protecting our communities.”

Precisely for the reasons Holtz outlined, delegates from Cherry Hill, N.J., pressed their members of Congress to help reverse a decision made by the Urban Area Working Group for Philadelphia, under whose umbrella South Jersey falls as part of the Metropolitan Statistical Area. The working group declared their institutions ineligible to have grants considered for the upcoming fiscal year, although no reason for the denial was given.

According to Alise Panitch and Uri Halle, the delegates who helped lead the efforts to craft grant applications for Jewish day schools and institutions in the region, they were notified only days before the deadline. They spoke with Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and a member of Rep. Robert Brady’s (D-Pa.) staff on the issue.

Without the grants, the Jewish institutions in South Jersey will continue to “prioritize and seek local funding as we have year by year,” said Panitch. “There are property-wide things we’d like to accomplish” that a grant would help facilitate.

OU delegates further lobbied on behalf of the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and in the House by Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). Under the proposed legislation, nonprofits could apply for grants of up to 50 percent of the total cost of energy efficiency programs, or a maximum of $200,000, taken from $50 million that would be set aside for fiscal years 2016 to 2020.

The OU is part of a coalition, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Jewish Federations of North America, calling for the government to help nonprofits afford energy-efficient facility upgrades.

Following their lobbying sessions, the attendees gathered for a luncheon in the Senate.

“We must make sure, by any means necessary, that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). His comments were in line with the dozen or so senators in attendance at the afternoon luncheon, including Democratic stalwart Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) were particularly well received for their work on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Cardin, who belongs to the modern Orthodox synagogue Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore, spoke out against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and referenced the amendment he authored in the Senate that would discourage European trading partners from engaging in boycotts of Israel and Israeli controlled territories.

“I would say almost all the members of Congress, in most cases, were on the same page as our delegates,” said Nathan J. Diament, executive director of the OU Advocacy Center. “Both Republicans and Democrats we met with had serious concerns about the Iran nuclear issue. They’re waiting to see what the final terms of the deal are, if a deal does get concluded.”

The OU delegation received a briefing from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who mostly reiterated the administration’s position regarding ongoing nuclear agreement talks with Iran and world powers. But McDonough’s remarks were not well received by everyone in attendance.
Marc Hess of Cherry Hill described McDonough’s presentation as “weak.”

“[McDonough] said that Iran is very concerned about what the U.S. thinks … but that’s absurd,” said Hess, a military veteran who spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq as a civilian contractor with the Department of Defense. “That Iran is careful around the U.S. or intimidated by U.S. power is nonsense.”

French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud closed out the day with a briefing on how his country is implementing new tools to fight anti-Semitism. In particular, France is working with Internet service providers to remove anti-Semitic content from websites, he told the attendees.

“The Internet is changing the way hate is spread,” Araud said. “Anti-Semitism is not a French problem nor a European problem. It’s a global problem that requires a global strategy.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com