Waiting in the Wings O’Malley announces presidential bid

On a sunny Saturday in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley finally declared, “To all who can hear my voice — I declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States and I’m running for you.”

But, as Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County explained, the odds of O’Malley — or any other Democratic presidential hopeful — wrestling the nomination away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are “close to zero.”

“If you think about the possibilities out there in the Republican and Democratic parties, there just aren’t very many,” said Norris. “I think O’Malley is positioning himself to be the recipient of a movement away from Hillary from her supporters in case she does stumble.”

Martin O’Malley makes it official: “I’m running for you.” (Photo provided)

Martin O’Malley makes it official: “I’m running for you.” (Photo provided)

Waiting in the wings should Clinton’s campaign implodes is a viable option. As Norris pointed out, during Clinton’s first run for the presidency, “she had the nomination locked up, nobody thought anybody could beat her. A lot of things happen in the run up to a primary.”

Clinton is only the first of several substantial hurdles O’Malley needs to overcome in order to secure his party’s nomination.

Despite having served as mayor of Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, and as a wildly popular governor for two terms, his visibility nationally has been poor; a Washington Post poll from October found that O’Malley’s popularity in deep blue Maryland had taken a big hit (though he continued to poll above a 50 percent approval rating in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties). His former lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, lost spectacularly in last year’s governor’s race that was his to lose, and Baltimore, whose streets O’Malley claimed to have cleaned up using a data-driven initiative, erupted this spring after the death in police custody of Freddie Gray.

The opposition, Norris said, has and will continue to use all these points.

Then there’s the issue of positioning himself to the left of Clinton to both distance himself from the woman he once supported and attract the votes and organizing power of those more aligned with the party’s liberal wing, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

O’Malley took an obvious swipe at Clinton — and the presidential aspirations of Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, son and brother of two presidents — in his announcement.

“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” he told the crowd. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”

Norris acknowledged O’Malley’s liberal credentials. The problem is they may not be enough to carry him through the primaries.

“If you look at his record as governor, he got the DREAM Act passed, he got same-sex marriage passed, all of these by referendum and all upheld by popular vote,” said Norris. “He also got the living wage passed. These are all touchstones for [progressives].”

O’Malley spoke of Maryland’s successes during his tenure as governor, and outlined an a social and economic agenda that matches with progressive values: “higher minimum wage, overtime pay for overtime work, and respect for the rights of all workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages.”

“If we take these actions, the dream will live again,” O’Malley said.

But the Jewish, self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) firmly occupies the progressive left of the party and has had a national platform from which to champion his views. Sanders is polling ahead of O’Malley in the early states and garnering large, enthusiastic crowds of grassroots volunteers. Whether that enthusiasm can be maintained remains to be seen.

What O’Malley does have going for him is his 15 years of executive experience — more than Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama had under their belts when they entered the White House, Norris pointed out — and his youth. And don’t expect O’Malley to come right out and say it, but part of his campaign strategy is running as an alternative for a younger generation. At 52, he is far younger than Clinton, 67, and Sanders, 73.

Looking to build on O’Malley’s youthful energy is Generation Forward, a new super PAC founded by Damian O’Doherty, 41, and Ron Boehmer, 25, who served as O’Malley’s spokesman shortly before the former governor left office.

The duo, who moved into a WeWork shared office space in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, are intentionally bucking the trend of most super PACs by targeting their messaging to millennials in early nomination states. There will be some television an online ads, said Boehmer, but expect to see more grass roots ventures that capture the authenticity millennials look for.

It’s an ambitious project, considering millennials by and large tend not to participate in the political process. Boehmer attributes millennials lack of political involvement to general cynicism about the future and the perceived inability of government to function.

“We’re trying to recapture the idea that we can build the next great generation of Americans,” said Boehmer. He added that Generation Forward is working to build on the momentum young people had for Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

All three declared Democratic candidates — former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee was set to announce after press time — have strong ties with the American Jewish community and Israel.

The National Jewish Democratic Council welcomed O’Malley to the race, releasing a statement that read, in part, that as governor, “O’Malley has proven that he is able to deliver on his promises. Furthermore, having been to Israel numerous times over the course of his career and having established strong business ties between Maryland and the Jewish state, Gov. O’Malley has proven to be a true friend to the American Jewish community.”


Medal of Honor President awards medal posthumously to Jewish WWI serviceman

Three sisters looked on with a mixture of pride and tears, as their great-grandfather, Sgt. William Shemin, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Barack Obama.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s so exciting,” said Alice Philips-Roth of Missouri.

Her sisters, Julie and Emily, said they didn’t know which was better — to watch as their great-grandfather was honored or to see their grandmother, Elsie Shemin-Roth, who is in her 90s, watch as her father finally received the medal she so wanted him to have.

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sgt. William Shemin as daughters Ida Shemin and Elsie Shemin-Roth proudly accept the honor. (Suzanne Pollak)

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sgt. William Shemin as daughters Ida Shemin and Elsie Shemin-Roth proudly accept the honor. (Suzanne Pollak)

More than 96 years after Shemin ran across an open field through heavy machine gun and rifle fire to help wounded soldiers during World War I, Shemin-Roth and her sister, Ida Shemin, stood next to Obama on Tuesday morning to accept the award for their late father.

The president spoke of Shemin’s courage.

Shemin ran through an area about as large as a football field. “That open space was a bloodbath,” Obama said.

Shemin’s choice was to try and rescue those he served with “or watch them die. William Shemin couldn’t stand to watch them die,” the president said.

“Too young to enlist, no problem. He pumped his chest and lied about his age,” Obama said. While serving in France, Shemin not only risked his life for others, but when his officers were injured or killed, Shemin stepped up and led his group.

He was wounded during the fighting.

“He was the son of Russian immigrants,” and his father lived through the pogroms, Obama said. “That’s why he would do anything for this country.”

Sgt. William Shemin poses in Germany in 1919. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History)

Sgt. William Shemin poses in Germany in 1919. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History)

Although Shemin, who was a rifleman, had received the Distinguished Service Cross, he, like other Jews who served, “were too often overlooked,” Obama said. Honoring Shemin helps “make this right.

“We have work to do as a nation, to make sure all their stories are told,” Obama said. “The least we can do is say, ‘We know who you are. We know what you did for us.’”

The father of three, grandfather of 14, loved sports, including football, wrestling, boxing and swimming, Obama told a room crowded with many of Shemin’s relatives.

Shemin made sure all his grandchildren knew the meaning of hard work, how to salute and how to fold a flag. “He taught them how to be Americans,” Obama said.

Barry Shemin, whose father was the late serviceman’s cousin, said his calloused hands, earned while picking vegetables in Shemin’s nursery, proved how true that was. “He put me to work,” said Barry Shemin.

Vicki Shemin, another relative, came from Boston to watch the ceremony.

“He was a man of incredibly strong character. Even in his advanced years, he was as strong as an ox,” she said.

“We learned how to raise the flag,” added Shemin’s granddaughter, Suzanne Shemin Katz of Connecticut.

Elsie Shemin-Roth beamed from her wheelchair. She had fought hard for at least four years to see this day. With a broad smile that did not fade, she shook hands and kissed relatives, military officials and politicians alike.

Her sister stood beside her, holding the framed Medal of Honor.

Shemin, who died in 1973 at the age of 78, was attached to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. He was awarded the country’s highest military honor for his efforts in the vicinity of the Vesle River in Bazoches, France, on Aug. 7-9, 1918.

Also receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously was Henry Johnson, a private who fought in combat operations in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers in France on May 15, 1918. While on night sentry duty, Johnson and another soldier were attacked by a German raiding party.

Under fire and wounded, Johnson fought back, killing several enemy soldiers.

“They both risked their own lives for the lives of others,” Obama said. Although both men should have received these honors much earlier, “it’s never too late to say ‘thank you.’”



Fitness Appeal Jewish women find strength, confidence on a pole

Gabi Faye Levin, a Beth Tfiloh graduate, has taught and performed pole dancing. (Photo provided)

Gabi Faye Levin, a Beth Tfiloh graduate,
has taught and performed pole dancing. (Photo provided)

When Gabi Faye Levin graduated college, she wasn’t satisfied with her dance skills even though she minored in the subject.

She did some research on local studios while living at home in Pikesville, and found pole dancing classes at Xpose Fitness.

“I was like, ‘Hmm, why have I never considered this? I’m really good at climbing trees and things like that so I could probably climb a pole,’” the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate said.

Within a few classes, she was hooked.

“When I do it, I feel extremely powerful and strong,” Levin, 24, said. “In the pole world, there’s so many different things that you can conquer and improve upon. When I’d see these teachers doing new moves, I’d say, ‘OK, I need to get there.’”

Levin is not the only one who got hooked on pole fitness; like many others, she found physical strength, self-confidence and a community of like-minded women.

Samantha Hodge, a 28-year-old Pikesville native who lives in Hanover, Md., said she got interested in pole fitness, because “it sounded like a fun and sexy way to stay in shape.”

She’s gotten much more than a workout.

“I now have more confidence in myself and my body,” she said via email. “When I go out, I stand up taller and prouder. To me, that is what stands out as ‘sexy.’”

For Owings Mills native Erin Resnick, learning new tricks and moves was a fun way to be active. She also took classes at Xpose Fitness, where she did pole dancing and a “floor chair” class, which involved using a chair and a mat on the floor for exercise.

“The two of those classes combined was a fully body workout,” the 25-year-old New York City resident said. “My upper-body strength was insane at the time.”

Resnick took the classes for about three years from the time she was 19 until 22 but stopped when she broke her collar bone after falling off the pole. While the injury initially scared her off, she’s thinking about getting back into it since there are a lot of pole dancing studios in New York.

Those who take the classes do acknowledge some stigma from the outside world — pole dancing has more traditionally been seen as more of an activity for booze-soaked late-night locales — but none of that concern creeps into the classes.

“It wasn’t about learning how to dance on the pole to go to a strip club and dance, it was strictly fitness,” said Jodi Pozanek, who used to teach pole dancing and floor chair classes at an Xpose Fitness franchise and now teaches yoga at her Reisterstown studio, Pink Lotus Yoga. “I think it was empowering for a lot of women too, to feel sexy. There was a part of them they haven’t been able to connect with in a long time, with little children and everything; it was a release for them.”

Pozanek said she’s taught classes for women in their 80s and women from religious backgrounds and is doing a floor chair class at a membership meeting for Hadassah in the near future.

“It’s kind of like teaching women to feel sexy,” she said. “And all women are sexy.”

Resnick said she would get a lot of questions from people and some light-hearted jokes from her family, but ultimately when she’d show people her tricks — she had a pole at home — they were impressed.

Women who take pole dancing classes find renewed physical strength, increased
confidence and a supportive community of women.

For Levin, who has put on pole dancing performances and taught classes, her family has been nothing but supportive.

“My parents are very proud that I pole dance, which is kind of awesome because most parents would be horrified,” she said. “My dad installed my pole in my room. Best dad ever.”

Her parents show off pictures of videos of her performance, one of which landed her a role in a feature film.

“My father actually brags to people, ‘This is what my daughter does,’ and shows them pictures,” she said. “It’s such a good feeling to have that support because I realized it’s very risqué, especially for a nice Jewish girl.”

Levin, who co-founded the West Village Moishe House with a friend, gets some reactions when they have events and people see the pole in her room.

“People call it a stripper pole, which really annoys me,” she said. “It’s not a stripper pole, it’s just a pole.”

Hodge noted that the teachers at her Xpose studio are “amazing and supportive role models,” including a teacher with a math education degree, one who works in health and human services and another pursuing a doctorate in cellular and molecular medicine.

And with the studios being open to women only, with no one allowed to watch classes, it becomes a supportive, welcoming environment.

“I have seen women of all races, religions, ages, shapes and sizes in classes,” Hodge said. “The studio makes you feel like you are in a safe place, where no one will judge you.”

For Pozanek, “it’s all about combining the sexy aspect with the fitness,” she said.

“It’s a fun way to get in shape. You’re having fun,” she added. “It’s not like being in on a treadmill or running five miles.”


Clear Skies Combining faith, service, WVU grad sets sights as Air Force chaplain

For Ze’ev Lowenberg, “becoming an Air Force chaplain was how I could connect what I had been learning in the classroom with my desire to serve my country and my Jewish faith.” (Photo by M.G. Ellis)

For Ze’ev Lowenberg, “becoming an Air Force chaplain was how I could connect what I had been learning in the classroom with my desire to serve my country and my Jewish faith.” (Photo by M.G. Ellis)

Once there was a 6-year-old boy who wanted to be a firefighter — or a rabbi. When he was 8 years old, on a sunny Tuesday morning in 2001, he was sitting in his Jewish day school classroom when someone came in and said, “Don’t worry if you see your teachers crying. There’s been a plane crash in New York. Your parents may be coming to pick you up.” He saw the horrifying images on the TV screens and understood that something terrible had happened to his country.

Even before that, he wanted to be in the military, but as he got older he realized that the freedoms he had were because “there were men and women protecting us so that kind of thing was not going to happen again in the United States. I wanted to give back, and that was the way I was going to give back.”

Rabbi — soldier — for some kids, those dreams would have faded as they grew up, but not for Baltimore native Ze’ev Lowenberg. On May 17, Lowenberg graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in sociology and anthropology/criminology and in a few weeks will be moving to New York City to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary’s five-year program for Conservative rabbinic ordination.

After he graduates, he will serve his country and his people by becoming one of a handful of Jewish chaplains in the Air Force.

“I realized that becoming an Air Force chaplain was how I could connect what I had been learning in the classroom with my desire to serve my country and my Jewish faith,” said Lowenberg.

With not quite 1,000 Jewish students on a campus of 30,000, West Virginia University was a surprising choice for a young man who attended a Jewish day school and high school. The easy and expected path would have been to go to college at one of the main Jewish centers on the East Coast such as New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore.

Lowenberg pointed out that, “Most people would choose to stay in their comfort zone; West Virginia was far outside of mine.”

But Lowenberg wanted a place where he could make a difference.

WVU turned out to be an excellent choice. He was the only Jewish student there who had a day school education. From his first semester, he led services at WVU Hillel, led Seders, led almost every service since he arrived. For the past two years he was WVU Hillel president.

Lowenberg said he “got to be a big fish in a little pond, to be able to influence the Jewish community” at WVU in a way he never would have been able to in a large, established Jewish community. He got to “experience the love of Judaism in a much different way. The Jewish community was relying on me, but I was also relying on them — to lend their presence to the services, to offer their prayers and to make a connection with God.”

Lowenberg’s original plan was to have a career in the military and then join a government intelligence agency after separation. But while at WVU, he joined the Air Force ROTC and saw what an impact the Air Force chaplain made on the cadets, how he was able to calm and comfort them. That sealed it for him: He would become a chaplain.

Half of WVU’s students are West Virginia residents; the other half are from outside the state and outside the country. The vast majority are Christians.

Some students “have told me I was the first Jew they had ever met,” said Lowenberg. “They ask me about rituals and why do you wear a kippah. Have you ever tasted pig? How can you not eat a pepperoni roll? Pepperoni is huge here and of course I can’t eat it. I tell them about keeping kosher, where it comes from. Most of them are incredibly interested: they want to know more.

“I love being the first Jew people meet because I think that if they can meet someone who is proud of being Jewish, who is knowledgeable about Judaism, and about Israel, we can educate people and rid the world of anti-Semitism, slowly but surely,” he added.

WVU official Marissa Sura was effusive in her praise of the graduate.

“Zevi is a natural leader,” said Sura. “He is extraordinarily mature, he’s funny. He is confident about his choice of a lifelong calling, and as soon as you talk to him you can tell he is perfect for it. I’ve spoken to a lot of students in my career. He is one of the most outstanding students I’ve ever met.”

Lowenberg described his core beliefs: “I believe in an active God. I think that everything happens for a reason. It may take us five minutes, five weeks or five years to understand that reason,” he said. “If we take a step out of ourselves and make that connection with God, it helps us get through both the good and the bad things of life. We shouldn’t just ask God for things and pray in times of need or in times of sorrow. I do my best to also pray and to thank God when good things happen.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh.

Dollars and Sense Local Hebrew schools feeling the pinch

Walk through any number of the area’s supplemental Jewish educational programs and it’ll be quickly clear that these aren’t your parents’ Hebrew schools.

For them, or perhaps in your own Hebrew school experience, upward of six agonizing hours a week were devoted to rote memorization of prayers and traditions. As The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Learning Commission noted in its “Spotlight on Supplementary Jewish Education,” “[there is an] awareness that there has been much significant negative review of supplementary schools in the latter part of the 20th century.”

Today’s supplemental schools — also known as Hebrew schools, Sunday schools, religious schools and congregational schools — have changed dramatically in the new millennium. The changes range from what they’re named — you don’t dare call Beth Am Synagogue’s program a Hebrew school, for instance — to when, where and for how long classes are held to the adoption of effective secular teaching techniques.

In such programs, educators see a wealth of opportunity, if not always a wealth of monetary resources. Innovative programming is great, they say, but field trips and special guest appearances cost money, and funds are frequently tight. No educator interviewed for this story said that the price of tuition actually covered the cost of a religious school education.

And yet, the general desire not to overwhelm parents forces programs to seek alternate forms of funding.

“A family of five with three kids in third through seventh grades may pay up to $5,000 between tuition and dues, not including all the other extras — camp, donations, Shabbat dinners,” said Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, education director at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia.

No family is ever turned away for inability to pay, he was quick to add, a sentiment echoed by other educators.

As a result of fiscal realities, congregations end up supplementing the budgets of their religious schools, sometimes in excess of 50 percent of the school’s operating budget. Principals, therefore, turn to communal organizations for a financial boost, but some of those funds are becoming scarcer.

Last week, the Jewish Federation of Howard County approved a budget that changes how religious schools will be funded come September.

In years past, explained Michelle Ostroff, the federation’s executive director, the religious schools located in Howard County received funding in two ways. Each institution received a block grant and an allotment for scholarship money on a per-capita basis.

Last year, $32,000 was disbursed to religious schools, with a small portion of the money designated for needs-based scholarships for families sending their children to day schools in Baltimore or Montgomery counties. There are no day schools in Howard County.

But as of the budget vote on May 21, schools will no longer automatically receive funding. Instead, they will have to apply to the federation for grants for specific programming. The exact amount that will be made available was not disclosed as of press time, but Ostroff stated that the pool of money available for religious schools come this fall will see “a slight reduction.”

This reflects the fact that the Jewish Federation of Howard County raised $605,000 in its most recent annual campaign. To be commensurate with similarly sized federations, such as the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater in Virginia, Ostroff estimated her federation would need to manage a $1 million campaign.

Howard County is a growing Jewish community with limited resources, Ostroff explained, home to 17,500 Jews across 7,500 Jewish households, according to a 2010 community study. Fewer than 800 donors contributed to the 2014 campaign.

Speaking anonymously, members of the community expressed frustration and concern at the cutbacks and change in how funds will be awarded to Hebrew schools. Ostroff, though, asserted that “the federation is absolutely dedicated to teaching our children. That’s one of our core values and will not change.”

“I would encourage federations not to give up on supplemental schools because that’s the main way that non-Orthodox students get their Jewish education,” said Plotkin.” In Howard County especially, the religious schools are important if not the sole source of Jewish education outside the home. Or at least the source that’s available [nearly] year round.”

The funding switch approved in Howard County dovetails with a decision made by the Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated, more than a decade ago, according to the agency’s CEO, Larry Ziffer. That move, he said, was in response to shifting priorities and a decline in enrollment.

“We had to realize that we [couldn’t] fix the schools, the challenge was too great,” said Ziffer. “In order to turn the CJE into a successful model, we had to turn the priority of the schools over to the congregations, to the movements.”

He further asserted that educators who express a desire for the good old days of more teaching hours, stipends and incentives for professional development and a widely advertised community-wide teacher salary scale may be looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.

“There are ample resources,” said Ziffer. “The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s a lack of participation.”

Ziffer and his chief operating officer, Amian Frost Kelemer, pointed to the financial, educational and professional resources that continue to be made available to congregational schools and educators in greater Baltimore. Resources include a free lending library, Sulam Salon classroom trade books, Gratz College-NEXT: The Professional Learning Program for Supplementary School Teachers — a professional development program developed in Philadelphia which CJE will supplement up to 75 percent — Crane Professional development stipends and Jewish Education Enhancement Projects. According to a report by The Associated, $110,500 was distributed through JEEP.

For her part, Ostroff noted that beyond direct funding, religious schools in Howard County, like those in Baltimore’s orbit, also benefit from federation programming, such as a Jewish Agency for Israel emissary who works in the religious schools on Israel-related education.

But at the end of the day, those on the front lines of providing Jewish education continue to stress they need more.

Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation, said, “I think that it’s mandatory for large Jewish communities as a whole to support and
enhance Jewish education for future generations [and] to make it affordable for young Jewish families. We are commanded l’dor vador, to teach future generations.”

[we’re trying] to build in more immersion experiences. It’s continuing to evolve depending on the wants and desires of the families and congregation.

Such support, though, needn’t come solely from Jewish federations. Other philanthropic foundations, like the Blaustein Philanthropic Fund, award grants for innovative education, while in Baltimore, the Charles Crane Family Foundation, Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds and Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Study, alongside The Associated, provide funds for Beit-RJ, a Jewish educational program for teens affiliated with the Reform movement.

These funds are seen as crucial to the continuing evolution of religious school education.

Some of that evolution has been as simple as doing away with the terminology of the past.

Starting this fall, Har Sinai Congregation is rebranding its school as the Judaic Education Magnet, or JEM, as in “the crown jewel of the congregation,” explained Jo-Ellen Unger, director of congregational learning. Likewise at Beth Am, Rabbi Kelley Gludt developed the Jewish Discovery Lab, known as the Lab for short.

And rebranding is just the start. When and for how long students are in the classroom has changed dramatically, particularly within the Conservative movement, Plotkin explained. “Religious school has changed a lot. Twenty years ago, three day a week programs were the standard and today those programs are exceedingly rare.”

One of the challenges of meeting two days a week, he said, is that the children arrive right from school and they’re tired or they’d rather be playing sports or participating in the school play.

To address the reality, Plotkin and his staff created Jewish Experiential Wednesdays. Third through seventh graders are given a theme for the semester that is broken down into subtopics. The theme this semester is Jewish history and a recent subtopic was life in the shtetl. Students learned about the shtetl — there were even some snippets of “Fiddler on the Roof” involved — and created their own model shtetl out of clay, down to the tiniest detail: little braided challahs went in the baker’s cart.

There’s also been a shift to meeting families where they are. For Beth El Congregation in Pikesville that means in the physical sense; the synagogue has seven satellite Hebrew schools where teachers travel for the benefit of students who may live too far away to attend the regular weekday class. Jill Eisen, director of the Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood initiative, was recently feted by the CJE for the development of the program.

Over at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s religious school, under the leadership of education director Brad Cohen, families can choose an education model that meets their schedule and the children’s educational needs.

The student who doesn’t do well in a classroom setting can participate in Jewish Outdoor Education with his or her family on select weekends and work with a tutor during the week. The program will likely evolve into a family and mitzvah program, according to Cohen. Though the BHC religious school meets on Sunday mornings, students who want to explore Hebrew more in-depth can partake in a midweek Hebrew class or Skype one-on-one with a language tutor.

“[We’re trying] to build in more immersion experiences,” said Cohen. “It’s continuing to evolve depending on the wants and desires of the families and congregations.”

Hands-on, engaging field trips and activities have also been incorporated into religious education alongside history, Judaics, prayers and Hebrew. In its pilot year, Hebrew School on the Farm brought 70 students from Beth El, BHC and Beth Israel Congregation to the Pearlstone Center to learn about Hebrew blessings, tzedakah, avoiding waste and communal responsibility.

“Immersive,” “engaging,” “hands-on” — these are not the experiences of previous generations of religious school attendees, but through the best use of public school best practices, incorporation of innovative experiences and intentionally probing curricula, Unger said educators like her are beginning to see positive results. All of her b’nai mitzvah students have returned to class within weeks of their ceremonies, she pointed out, and she has 22 counselors in grades eight through 12 who volunteer their time in younger students’ classrooms.

“In 10 years when these kids who had a positive experience are out in the world,” she said, “I wonder how that will change Judaism?”


Perfect Fit Peace Puzzle Project connects global Jewish family

Surrounded by pictures of Theodor Herzl and Israeli flags, a crowd of friends, parents and art lovers perused a decorated wall Sunday at the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of the local installment of the Peace Puzzle Project.

Created by New York-based artist Tim Kelly, the traveling group art exhibition asks people from all over the world to decorate an individual white puzzle piece. Each piece is eventually sent to Kelly, who has collected more than 10,000 unique items.

“There are no rules to how you make it,” said Kelly. “You just have to make it meaningful to you.”

Here in Baltimore, the Macks Center for Jewish Education coordinated the effort and titled the exhibit the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project.

Amalia Phillips, director of Israel and overseas education at the CJE, played a leading role in Baltimore’s part of the project.

Susannah Feinstein, right, presents Amalia Phillips with a certificate for the Macks Center for Jewish Education from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in recognition of the launch of the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project. ( Justin Katz)

Susannah Feinstein, right, presents Amalia Phillips with a certificate for the Macks Center for Jewish Education from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in recognition of the launch of the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project. ( Justin Katz)

“Each puzzle piece tells a story, and some of them come from hospitals, where patients draw messages of resilience and hope,” said Phillips. “And some come from rural America, where a grandmother asks for 10 puzzle pieces so she can explore with her grandchildren what really matters.”

Students in Baltimore and its sister cities Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel decorated their pieces in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut by making them with one question in mind: What does Israel mean to you?

Susannah Feinstein, neighborhood district liaison for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, presented a certificate of recognition to the CJE at the project’s unveiling. Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector also presented a certificate to the CJE on behalf of the Baltimore City Council.

Phillips worked closely with contacts in both of Baltimore’s sister cities to ensure the museum exhibit would have international representation.

“[The project] was important for us now that Ukraine is facing war. It gave a feeling of not being left outside,” said Jenny Spektor, who worked with Phillips from Ukraine.

Sigal Ariely has been coordinating with Phillips from Israel.

“When I saw our children’s pieces in Ashkelon just before we shipped them to Baltimore, they were individual, colorful pieces,” said Ariely. “When I saw the whole art piece hanging on the wall, it was stunning!

“We are very proud to be part of this worldwide art project that connects us all to one global Jewish family.”


In the Epicenter of Unrest Pikesville developer hopes to redevelop parts of West Baltimore

After the protests that turned violent with clashes between residents and police, looting and fires in the Penn North area as well as other parts of the city, Pikesville developer Carl Verstandig got a phone call from Burt Greenwood.

The third-generation owner of Greenwood Towing in Penn North wanted to see if Verstandig would be interested redeveloping a vacant warehouse.

“We have been in this area since 1970 and don’t expect to move anytime soon,” Greenwood said. “We are very committed to the community, and we are committed to ensuring that the people who live and breathe here have the same basic infrastructure that people do in the county.”

The impoverished neighborhood was the epicenter of unrest after the police custody death of Freddie Gray. Things exploded on Monday, April 27, with looting and fires that included the burning of the local CVS.

To Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, the neighborhood represents opportunity.

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, plans to redevelop a vacant warehouse in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Penn North. (Marc Shapiro)

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty,
plans to redevelop a vacant warehouse in the West Baltimore
neighborhood of Penn North. (Marc Shapiro)

With more than 30 years of experience buying distressed and vacant commercial properties around the country and turning them around, Verstandig wasted no time reaching out to potential tenants to fill the 100,000-square-foot warehouse on Greenwood’s property.

Several clients have already expressed interest in the property: Roses department store, an international grocer, McDonald’s, a local café, a national health clinic, a laundromat and a men’s clothing store, Verstandig said. He estimated his company will put about $4.5 million to $7.5 million of initial investment into the property but is hoping for some incentives from the state and city.

To entice tenants, Verstandig is offering the first year rent-free, then five years of discounted rent at $5 per square foot, whereas most of his city properties rent for $10 a square foot. He’s also offering tenants a three-year kick-out, so they can leave if they’re not making money at the end of the period.

The nearest shopping center with similar services — Mondawmin Mall, which was also looted that Monday afternoon — is more than a mile away.

“A lot of people there don’t have transportation, so they’re sort of lost without those services,” Verstandig, a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, said of the neighborhood.

The property was home to two different health facilities, first a University of Maryland Clinic that opened about 15 years ago, then a Baltimore City health clinic, which closed about two years ago when its grant money ran out, Greenwood said.

Outside of the real estate opportunity, Verstandig has a connection to the area, having grown up about three miles from Greenwood’s property in East Baltimore, above the grocery store his parents owned. During the 1968 riots, his family’s business stayed open and gave food out to the neighborhood.

When rioters came to destroy the business, local residents intervened and stopped them, Verstandig said.

“So I’ve got a certain allegiance,” he explained. “I also like that a day after the rioting or looting that the neighborhood on Pennsylvania and North got out and started cleaning up and chipping in.”

Greenwood, whose family’s business opened on East North Avenue in 1925, remembers feeling a similar sentiment as an 8-year-old during the 1968 riots to what he felt during the recent unrest.

“When I started to see what was going on in front of me, it frightened me, but it didn’t frighten me in a way that I was scared of where I was,” Greenwood recalled, adding that he thought, “Wow, this is big. This means people aren’t happy with what is happening here.”

Looking at the recent events, Greenwood remarked, “It happened, so something had to make this happen, make it erupt.

“It’s not a total loss if people turn their head and say, ‘Hey, why did that happen?’”

Verstandig and Greenwood might not be the only ones with hope for Baltimore’s future, according to Susan Yum, a spokeswoman for the city’s economic development nonprofit Baltimore Development Corporation.

“Not a single project that we know of that has been in the pipeline has dropped out,” she said. “In fact, some have said that they want to double down and move even faster.”

Verstandig is also looking at about 10 vacant storefronts on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Fulton Avenue, he said. He’s trying to track down the owners so he can redevelop the properties.

“They need some positive energy,” Verstandig said of the neighborhood. “I think Baltimore’s going to rebound and, hopefully, stronger than ever. … Hopefully out of this horrific situation something positive will come.”


Dreams Derailed As Amtrak resumes service, communities cope with loss

With mandated Federal Railroad Administration safety measures and rail improvements in place, Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor reopened Monday, just shy of one week after a deadly train derailment north of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station claimed eight lives and injured more than 200 people.

Among the dead were two Jewish victims, Rachel Jacobs, 39, the CEO of Philadelphia-based online education firm ApprenNet, and Justin Zemser, 20, a New York-native and second-year midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Funerals were held for Zemser on Friday and for Jacobs on Monday.


Amtrak train derailment May 12.

The investigation into the disaster will take months, with investigators seeking an explanation as to why Northeast Regional Train 188, traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City, was speeding along at a reported 106 mph before encountering the sharp curve in North Philadelphia. News reports have also focused on the possibility of a projectile or other object striking the engineer’s compartment shortly before the accident, but a larger issue, according to rail safety consultant José Marquez, is the lack of safety systems that could have prevented the derailment.

“There were control systems in place, but not in both directions,” said Marquez, a former safety manager for Tren Urbano in Puerto Rico. “Why put it on one direction and not the other? That is very peculiar.”

Marquez was referring to technology known as automatic train control, which had already been in use for southbound trains and, due to new federal directives, is being added to all northbound lines. The system detects when a train is traveling above the speed limit and sends a signal to the engineer. If the engineer fails to act, the system will automatically apply the train’s brakes.

Risk assessment of all the curves along the Northeast Corridor and increased wayside speed limit signage to provide “a redundant means to remind engineers and conductors of the authorized speed” were also included in the federal requirements put in place last week for Amtrak to resume service.

Marquez, who said National Transportation Safety Board investigators are “top of the line and everyone in the industry respects them,” said that future rail travel will likely be safer as a result of the investigation.

“There is a saying, every safety rule is written in blood. Any time something happens, [an] industry looks into it to find out what’s wrong,” he said. “From every tragedy we learn something. … If people think these reports end up in a desk somewhere and no one reads them, they are wrong. We read them and share them, discuss it among ourselves and throughout our systems.”

There is a saying, every safety rule is written in blood. Any time something happens, [an] industry looks into it to find out what’s wrong. From every tragedy we learn something.

William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, is among the commuters who regularly ride Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, who numbered 750,000 last year. Shortly after the May 12 derailment — he was going the other way on the Amtrak line — he spoke about how the risk of an accident is not something that crosses most riders’ minds.

“As I was hearing the news and watching the [footage] on TV, I could very much picture the bodies being thrown around and the laptops flying through the air and the sense of panic,” said Daroff. “I can just imagine how unprepared any of us are for that to occur.”

Samantha Silver, a Washington-based journalist from Baltimore, takes the MARC train to Union Station on a weekly basis.

“I was flabbergasted,” Silver said upon hearing about the accident. “I took the 6:20 p.m. train [that night], so I probably just missed [Train 188].”

Fred Jacobs, senior vice president at AKRF, Inc., an environmental and engineering consulting firm, travels to New York from Baltimore on average once a week, and has done so for the past 13 years.

Also read, Despite Tragedy, Rail Travel Is a Safe Bet.

In order to return to Baltimore after the Amtrak accident, he took the Bolt Bus for the first time. Jacobs said it was “OK in a pinch,” but “I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.” It took longer, was less comfortable and had fewer amenities for professionals, though on that day there were many suit-clad “Acela riders who had to get out of town,” he said. Jacobs chose to video conference into a meeting he had to facilitate in New York the next day and “it wasn’t good,” he lamented. “You lose a lot.”

Weldon Spurling, a medical student who recently began commuting daily from Washington to Baltimore, still saw taking the train as relatively safe compared to other activities.

“Whatever hysteria is being brought up by this train accident or any other type of accident with mass transit, I would suggest that [you instead] consider your lifestyle, what you do, what you eat, what you smoke, what you drink,” he said. “Worrying about riding on a train or flying in a plane is the least of your concerns.”

Silver shared his sentiment.

“You take risks in life,” said Silver. “There is nothing any of those people could have done.”

For Silver, taking the train isn’t the scary part. What worried her was a meeting took take place only hours after the derailment to determine whether Amtrak should receive a $252 million budget cut. The Obama administration called for boosting Amtrak funding to $2.45 billion, but on May 13, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee blocked a bid by Democrats to increase the federally-subsidized carrier’s budget by more than $1 billion, including $556 million targeted for the Northeast Corridor. The Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines to slash Amtrak’s funding.

Daroff said while he will be more cognizant of safety factors, he will be boarding an Amtrak train again soon.

He said, “At the end of the day I’m sure statistically it’s more dangerous to cross the street in Rockville than it is to take a train.”

Justin Zemser, who was about to complete his second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, also died in the crash.

Justin Zemser, who was about to complete his second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, died in the crash. (Provided)

Lives lost

Among the dead, Zemser, the Naval Academy midshipman, was traveling home to visit his family in the Rockaways.

Zemser was completing his second year at the academy, said Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a chaplain at the academy. Sherwin has known Zemser and his parents, Howard and Susan, since the day Justin arrived in Annapolis.

“Justin was a regular at services; he was here almost every week and actively participated,” said Sherwin. “He was a member of the Jewish Midshipmen’s Club and was recently elected incoming vice president” after serving a year as secretary.

In addition to knowing Justin through faith-related activities, Sherwin got to know him “as a fun kid.” Zemser, known to friends as Z, traveled with a group to Israel in March led by Sherwin and sponsored by the Friends of the Jewish Chapel.

The 10-day interfaith trip comprised religious activities, touristy outings and a day spent with the Israeli navy that included a visit to the Golan Heights led by a colonel who fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

“He was deeply moved,” Sherwin said of Zemser. “He asked a lot of questions and really dug in throughout and engaged with the trip. It affected him on the personal Jewish level and in the larger world view.”

Prior to the May 15 funeral, Justin’s uncle, Richard Zemser, encapsulated his nephew’s short life.

“He did more things in his young 20 years,” he said, “than anybody can imagine.”

Zemser was goal oriented, said the uncle, deeply dedicated to education and encouraging of such traits in others. He was co-captain of his high school football team, class president and valedictorian at Channel View School for Research in Rockaway Park, N.Y. At the Naval Academy, he was set to mentor incoming freshman and had his sights set on becoming a Navy SEAL.

“The bottom line is he was looking for what he can do to make the world a better place,” said Richard Zemser. “No question. That’s why he was in the academy, that’s why he wanted to serve his country.”

Midshipmen in crisp white uniforms carried Zemser’s flag-draped casket at the funeral in Hewlett, N.Y. More than 400 people attended another service May 17 at the Commander Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy. Commandant Capt. Bill Byrne and company officer Capt. Brandy Soublet spoke at the service, as did Ross Gilchriest, Zemser’s best friend and Navy football teammate.

Sherwin said the hour-long Jewish-themed service was intentionally accessible to everyone.

“We wanted to be true to who Justin was,” said the rabbi, who described leading the service as difficult. “I was having a hard time emotionally, but that’s what we do. … We get together and celebrate someone’s life.”

Todd Waldman (left) lost his wife, Rachel Jacobs (pictured), to the deadly Amtrak train derailment May 12.

Rachel Jacobs (Provided)

Rachel Jacobs, the daughter of former Michigan state Sen. Gilda Jacobs, was commuting home to her husband and 2-year-old son in Manhattan when the train derailed. In statements to the media, friends and family members remembered her as loving and attentive, a person who devoted her life to education and social justice. A private service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York memorialized her life.

“We will continue to honor her,” her husband, Todd Waldman, said at the service, according to the New York Daily News. “Remember how each and every one of you shaped her world.”

Songs that were special to the Swarthmore College and Columbia Business School graduate were played at the memorial, including The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which she sang to her son; the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels”; and Journey’s “Faithfully,” the first dance at her wedding.

“When we think about what it means to be Jewish, it’s very much focused on building community,” Jacobs once said in describing Detroit Nation, a nonprofit group she co-founded in 2010 to help Detroit-area natives stay connected and involved even if they didn’t live there.

A funeral for Jacobs was held Monday in Michigan, where she was buried in her hometown of Ferndale.

JTA contributed to this article.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com, jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com, mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

The Obvious Choice Relief for Britain’s Jews as Cameron elected to second term

LONDON — A large chunk of Britain’s Jewish community breathed a sigh of relief on May 8, when David Cameron secured a second five-year term as prime minister. The Conservative’s win of an outright majority in the House of Commons shocked the nation, as nearly all pre-election polls suggested that the Labour party led by Ed Milliband and the Conservatives, who have ruled in coalition with the Liberal Democrats for the last five years, were running neck-and-neck.

Unlike in America, where a majority of Jews regularly vote for Democratic candidates, Jews in the United Kingdom are less likely to follow one particular party.

Prior to the election, nearly 70 percent of British Jewish voters said that they would vote Conservative, according to a poll conducted in April by Britain’s main Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle. Only 22 percent of respondents said they would cast their vote for Labour. Statistics indicating how the Jewish community actually voted are not yet available.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for Israel brought in the Jewish vote. (Paul Edwards/Newscom/The Sun/News Syndication)

Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for Israel brought in the Jewish vote. (Paul Edwards/Newscom/The Sun/News Syndication)

For Jewish voters who place a strong emphasis on a candidate’s support for Israel as well as on other issues that affect the community, Cameron was the obvious choice. With him now in power for the next five years, Britain’s Jews can expect his support for traditional Jewish causes to continue, analysts predict.

“We are particularly delighted that the vast majority of those in the prime minister’s newly formed cabinet are longstanding friends of Israel,” said James Gurd, political director of the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel.

It’s not only on Israel that Cameron won praise from the Jewish community. His government has been equally supportive of the Jewish community’s domestic concerns. After the recent terror attacks in Paris, Home Secretary Theresa May spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism, saying, “We must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom.”

Under her watch, the government increased security funding for Jewish communal institutions.

Over the last five years, the government has also defended kosher animal slaughter, known as shechita, which has increasingly come under fire from animal rights activists, and supported funding for “faith schools,” a category which includes many Jewish institutions.

The Conservative record stood in contrast to Miliband’s perceived hostility toward Israel.  Miliband, who is Jewish, spoke out strongly against Israel during the conflict in Gaza last summer.

Calling Israel’s actions “unacceptable and unjustifiable,” he criticized the Cameron for his “silence on the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians caused by Israel’s military action.” The comments, which were perceived by some as political posturing, led many Jews to feel that he didn’t appreciate Israel’s challenges and pushed away potential voters as well as long-time Labour supporters.

“I feel I don’t recognize the party of principle and serious government that I knocked on doors and delivered leaflets for. It has let me down,” wrote the former director of the lobbying group Labour Friends of Israel, Kate Bearman, in a piece published in the Chronicle in August. “I simply don’t think Labour is fit to govern when its leadership issues simplistic statements that are at odds with the realities Israel faces.”

Miliband further alienated Jewish voters in the fall with his support for a symbolic House of Commons vote recognizing a Palestinian state.

“The ultimate irony is that here’s a Jewish leader who the Jews couldn’t bring themselves to vote for,” said David Mencer, a political consultant and former head of Labour Friends of Israel. “It didn’t have to be that way. He chose this.”

After the election, Miliband resigned from his party chairmanship.

Other U.K. political parties have been even more vocal in their opposition to Israeli policies and actions. The Green Party supports a cultural boycott of Israel. The centrist Liberal Democrat party came under fire from Jewish groups for failing to discipline MP David Ward, who regularly made provocative statements against Israel, including one tweet in July that read: “The big question is — if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? — probably yes.” The third largest party in parliament, the Scottish Nationalist Party, has voiced its support for the unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Although the polls were too close to call for much of the campaign, the end result came as no surprise to some political veterans.

“The Jewish community holds a fascinating place in society, because if you win it over then it’s likely you will win general election,” said Mencer. “It’s what Tony Blair did in ’97 and what Cameron did in 2015. The Jewish community is aspirational, has traditional values, is socially conscious and has a belief in helping those less fortunate. If a candidate can win over the Jewish community then it’s likely that it will win the election.

“This is exactly what Cameron has done,” continued Mencer. “He has positioned his party to be center right rather than extreme right.”

Though it may be a bellwether, Britain’s Jewish community is small, numbering around 270,000, or .5 percent of the population, a fact which led Jonathan Boyd to discount the community’s power.

“Even if [Jews] were to vote as a bloc, which they do not, their capacity to influence the outcome is extremely limited,” said Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

That being said, in at least two swing London constituencies where Jews are concentrated, Hendon and Finchley and Golders Green, there were strong majorities for Conservative candidates despite polls predicting a dead heat. In Hendon, the Conservative candidate, Matthew Offord, won by 3,724 votes, a significant jump from the 106 that put him over the top in 2010.

In the end, it was the stark contrast between the heads of the two parties that inspired many Jews who had not previously voted to head to the polls.

“I voted Tory for both Jewish and economic reasons,” said Corinne Tapnack, a 39-year-old London resident who voted for the first time on Thursday. “I felt the Tories should stay in control of the recovery given how much progress country has made. Plus I didn’t feel Miliband portrayed himself as a friend of Israel. I didn’t feel like he would be the right person to represent the Jewish community. His tendencies didn’t lie toward supporting Israel and he made that clear.”

A native of Baltimore, freelancer Rachel Stafler lives in London.

The Debate on Policing Jewish organizations in position to help make change

Interfaith St. Louis community members gather in song during last year’s 9/11 commemorative concert that focused on reconciliation. (Provided)

Interfaith St. Louis community members gather in song during last year’s 9/11 commemorative concert that focused on reconciliation. (Provided)

WASHINGTON — From roundtable discussions to protests and prayers to candid talks with law enforcement officials, American Jewish communities are joining in the debate about community policing in the wake of several high-profile deaths of unarmed black men while in police custody.

Officials were short on specifics, but several said that protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray on April 19 have sparked a determination to confront the tensions between police and minority communities.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella public policy body, last week called for a “new national conversation” about police tactics.

“At this critical time in our nation’s history it is abundantly clear that a conversation not only needs to be had between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities — particularly the African-American community — but within our own communities,” JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a statement.

In several communities, Jewish organizations with strong ties to both the African-American community and law enforcement see themselves as well positioned to help bridge differences.

In Baltimore, where violent protests led the mayor to impose a curfew on the city for several days following Gray’s death, the local chapter of Jews United for Justice appealed to its members in the legal profession to volunteer “as a legal observer … or as a hotline volunteer” during the protests.

In Detroit, the Michigan Round Table, an umbrella body for minorities in which local Jewish groups take part, called an emergency meeting following the Baltimore protests. Heidi Budaj, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the meeting was mainly an opportunity to share reactions to what was unfolding in the Maryland city.

“These incidents are bringing to the forefront in our discussions feelings that may have been hidden for many, many years,” Budaj said. “All of us want to resolve any issues before it turns into Ferguson or Baltimore.”

Through its various law enforcement training programs addressing bias and hate crimes, among other topics, the ADL has long forged close relations with local police departments. At its national conference here over the weekend, the ADL featured a session about police-community relations and the organization’s role in improving them.

In Detroit, Budaj said the Jewish community is also part of a coalition, Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, that has held monthly meetings with area police about police brutality and other “touchy issues.” The group rallied members, including 14 rabbis from Baltimore and Washington, to join in protests in Baltimore on May 1.

In Ferguson, Mo., a city near St. Louis, protests following the shooting last summer of Michael Brown by a local police officer were a major catalyst for a renewed national debate about police relations with the African-American community.

“What we’re focusing on is healing what’s broken and building a St. Louis that is safe, equal and just for all,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in St. Louis, which helps organize an annual 9/11 commemorative concert that last year made reconciliation its focus.

The Ferguson protests also drew attention to the increased militarization of local police departments.

“To suggest we need police looking like they did in Ferguson, it’s outrageous,” Gutow said. “When you see the blue uniform of police it should be a sign of friendship.”

The expanded availability of military-grade hardware to local police departments coincided with a growing concern about counterterrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. John Cohen, who until last year was a senior counterterrorism official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the war footing adopted by police departments after the attacks put community policing on the back burner.

After race riots in the early 1990s, “there really was a broad and energized movement within the policing discipline to expand local community cooperation focused on preventing crime, improving life,” said Cohen, now a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice in New Jersey who is helping to direct a project examining attacks on faith communities. But after 9/11, he said, “there was a shift in priorities.”

Jewish groups “benefited greatly” from the shift, according to Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community. Concerned that Jewish institutions were prime targets for terrorism, Jewish groups won significant grant money from the Department of Homeland Security — including 97 percent of all funds doled out in 2012 under the department’s Non-Profit Security Grant Program, according to a report that year in the Forward.

Goldenberg praised law enforcement agencies for the “extraordinary amount of time” spent assisting Jewish communities. A degree of militarization was inevitable, he said, to face terrorists at home and abroad.

“Police officers a decade ago were carrying 357s with six shots and rounds on their belts, and they found themselves being confronted by adversaries with automatic weapons,” Goldenberg said. “The paradigm has changed.”