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.

(Photo LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

Amtrak train derailment May 12.
(Photo LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

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.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Continuing a Legacy Day school thrives in former Beth Jacob building

Children wearing crowns decorated with glitter rode their bicycles and scooters into the courtyard of their school on Park Heights Avenue and dashed inside for an icy treat and further Lag B’Omer celebrations.

Whether children would be seen at all in the large building that was once the home of Beth Jacob Congregation, a pillar of the local Jewish community, was uncertain just a few years ago. But through generous community support, including the donation of the building itself, the children’s school, Cheder Chabad, has grown nearly three-fold.

Beth Jacob Congregation sprang to life in Upper Park Heights in 1938, according to “The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook” by Kerry M. Olitzky, in response to the community’s desire for a modern Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood. The congregation was first housed in a building on Park Heights Avenue and Pinkney Road. The Manhattan Avenue property was purchased in 1940 and was used as the sanctuary until 1953.

In that year, Beth Jacob dedicated its first permanent home, which was expanded in 1965. The original house was converted into a gym for the congregation’s 750 pupil-strong Hebrew school, led by Dr. Sidney Esterson.

Steve Bond, who attended that school from 1949 to 1957 and became a bar mitzvah in 1956, described the bustling institutions and the vibrant congregation as a success. Children attended class two days a week, either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., with everyone gathering on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.


Throughout Beth Jacob’s storied 69-year history, it had five spiritual leaders. Dr. Louis L. Kaplan served from 1939 to 1944, having previously served as the president of Baltimore Hebrew College, now the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University. He went on to be involved with the founding of the conservative Beth El Congregation and Beth Am Synagogue. Kaplan was followed by Rabbi Uri Miller, who led Beth Jacob from 1945 to 1972 and also served as president of the now-dissolved Synagogue Council of America.

According to David Green, a former Beth Jacob member whose parents joined the synagogue in the late 1940s, Miller was a strong advocate for civil rights and was present for several historical moments in the fight for equal rights.

“Our rabbi was on the podium in Washington, D.C., the day Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech,” said Green. “When Dr. King gave his speech, he left his copy of the speech on the podium; it blew off and Rabbi Miller picked it up.”

Rabbi Nahum Ben-Natan began assisting Miller in 1972 and became senior rabbi upon Miller’s death. Rabbi Ronald Schwartz was appointed in 1984. Rabbi Gavriel Newman succeeded him and led Beth Jacob from 1998 until 2007. The congregation was further served by Cantors David Jacob and Ben Zion Weiss.

Ohr Knesseth Israel-Anshe Sphard Congregation, established in 1887, merged with Beth Jacob in 1993 — the sign outside the building still bears the lettering from the merger — and brought the membership to more than 800 family units. But toward the turn of the century, membership was on the decline. The once-bursting Hebrew school was closed down. The membership was advancing in age, and the survival of the congregation was in question.

Robert M. Klein, a lifelong resident of Baltimore and the last president of the congregation his parents, Sol and Eva Klein, had helped found decades before, led the congregation through the difficult task of deciding its future.

Bond, who served as the final chairman of the board, said, “We knew we couldn’t survive where we were, something needed to transpire. With the congregation, the average age was something like 78 years old, so … in order to do something positive for our congregants, [to give them] some place to go, we needed to find either a merger or what, start new? Didn’t make sense.”

In March 2007, Beth Jacob joined with Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville. Nearly 300 Beth Jacob members made the move which made Beth Tfiloh, at least according to contemporary reports, the largest modern Orthodox synagogue in the nation at the time.

“We made a nice arrangement with Beth Tfiloh, who was gracious and made us very welcome,” said Bond.

Beth Tfiloh paid tribute to the rich educational history of Beth Jacob by renaming its religious school the Beth Jacob Hebrew School at Beth Tfiloh. The ner tamid and massive golden doors that once led to Beth Jacob’s aron kodesh are on display alongside a plaque detailing the history of the congregation in the Beth Jacob wing at Beth Tfiloh.

What was to become of Beth Jacob’s building with its iconic arches was for several years, an unsettled question.

For a while, even prior to the move, the building was rented to Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, but it too moved on. The girls’ school now sits off of Park Heights Avenue north of Strathmore Avenue.

In the same year that Beth Jacob was joining with Beth Tfiloh, Cheder Chabad opened in the basement of Tuvia and Alisheva Givre’s home. Just 12 preschool children were enrolled at the time. The next year, a house with an adjoining backyard to Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon’s synagogue, Bais Lubavitch, was purchased on Cross Country Boulevard. That year, 30 children were enrolled in the preschool. The location served the school for a time, but it was clear that the young institution would expand rapidly as more Lubavitch families decided to make Baltimore their home.

“People have been touched in a very real way by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” Lisbon, director of the Cheder, said, referring to Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who passed away in 1994. “Parents who moved here want children to be exposed to that emphasis on continuing the Rebbe’s legacy.”

Though he noted that families do not have to be part of the movement to send their children to the school, the vast majority of students at the Cheder identify with Chabad-Lubavitch.

It’s meant to be, absolutely meant to be. It’s like when you sell a home, you only want the people to have joy. Same with Beth Jacob. We want the education to thrive … Jewish culture we have in Baltimore [to thrive].

In 2012, Dr. Paul Volosov, who had come into possession of the former Beth Jacob building, offered to let Cheder Chabad use the renovated building rent-free for a year. The preschool and boys’ elementary school, then encompassing just grades first through third, moved in. By the end of the year, Volosov had donated the building to the school and a girls’ elementary school was added. The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore helped facilitate the transition and subsidized a new HVAC system.

Today, approximately 170 children attend the preschool, boys’ elementary school grades first through fifth and girls’ elementary school grades first and second. Next year, a sixth grade will be added for the boys and a third grade will be added for the girls. JEWELS, the Jewish Education Where Every Level Succeeds inclusive preschool, which specializes in teaching children with special needs, rents space in the building.

To sustain the school’s growth and continue renovating the building, the schools is hosting the Cheder Chabad Building Inaugural Dinner on June 4. During the reception and dinner, several community members will be honored, among them Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health who will receive the Humanitarian Health Care Leadership Award; and the Dr. and Mrs. James Frenkil Charitable Foundation, which will receive the Community Service Award for its gift of an infirmary to the Cheder.

Mordechai Hackerman, who grew up at Beth Jacob and was valedictorian in its Talmud Torah, will be honored with the Pillar of Torah Award for his generosity to the school.

Naftoli “Talis” Brody and his wife Sarah have been named parents of the year.

Of the community they have been a part of since their third-grade son was 21⁄2 years old, Talis said, “Every time I go there, whether I’m dropping off or picking up … I feel like I’m contributing to the community. I certainly feel very close to the community by being able to participate in the school.”

Though the building has undergone renovations on the interior — the sanctuary is now the school’s multipurpose room, while a rear portion became girls’ classrooms — Lisbon and his 40 staff members say they are respectful and appreciative of the building’s past occupants. They have worked hard to be a “cornerstone of the neighborhood,” Lisbon said.

That Beth Jacob’s former home is again bustling with Jewish education brings comfort to synagogue alumni, who will be collectively recognized as guests of honor at the June gala.

“It was a very special place at a very special time, and I only have good feelings about it,” said Green, who graduated from the Beth Jacob Hebrew School in 1968. “Rabbi Lisbon asked me, ‘Well, what kind of feeling did you get in the sanctuary?’ It’s like a family feeling. It was a very significant place to be.

“It’s meant to be, absolutely meant to be,” added Green. “It’s like when you sell a home, you only want the people to have joy. Same with Beth Jacob. We want the education to thrive … Jewish culture we have in Baltimore [to thrive].”

“I’m delighted that it is being utilized for Jewish purposes and I’m delighted that they’ve elected to honor Beth Jacob’s original presence there,” echoed Bond. “As long as someone remembers Beth Jacob, we will live on.”

For more information, go to mycheder.com/dinner

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Hanging on to Heritage Baltimore’s Iranian Jewish population maintains identity decades after fleeing

The chorus of 30 men engaged in their morning prayer rituals filled the bottom floor room at Ohr Hamizrach Congregation Sephardic Center just before 7 a.m. on a Monday. The men, some of whom have been there since 5 a.m. to study Talmud, joined together for the Torah service around 7:30 a.m., when a Torah in an elegant blue and silver case took center stage on the flat bimah.

While many other minyanim were taking place around town, this one was different. Most of the men in this room were Iranian, and while some came to the United States in the late 1960s for education, most left the country just before, during or in the years following the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s. Many fled through Turkey and northwest to Vienna and later, when the Turkish border closed, to Pakistan, going on dangerous journeys — often being smuggled across borders — to leave a country where the future of a Jewish society dating back centuries was uncertain at best.

“Nobody knew what policy the government was going to pursue for the Jews or against the Jews, and people were very much afraid, and that was the cause of the mass exodus,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Hakakian, a teacher at Ner Israel Rabbinical College who left Iran in 1983 and arrived in Baltimore a year later at the age of 18. “You really had to watch out what you say and what you do. … We felt things were tightening up.”

As the government of the country they now call home — the United States — tries to negotiate a nuclear deal with their native country, Baltimore’s Iranian Jews look at the situation with the same skepticism and mistrust that brought them here in the first place.

“They cannot be trusted, and anyone who trusts them lives a life of illusion and delusion,” said Rabbi Emanuel Golfeiz of Congregation Beit Yaakov.

More than 1,000 Iranian young men left their home country to come to Baltimore, where they were taken in by Ner Israel. More than 30 years later, Baltimore is home to hundreds of families, and those who arrived in the’70s and ’80s have businesses and restaurants and children of their own who attend Ner Israel and their own minyanim at Ohr Hamizrach, whose name means “Light of the East.”

For these American-born children of Iran’s fleeing Jews, the nuclear debate is barely on their radar.

“I don’t have a connection to Iran. I have a connection to the Persian Jewry that came from Iran before the revolution,” said Shmuel Moinzadeh, 22, who prays in a minyan for younger congregants at Ohr Hamizrach. “Of course, I would love America to make sure they make the right decisions and not do stupid things against Israel, but just in regards to this whole nuclear stuff, I don’t really pay too much attention to it.”

Ner Israel and the Iranians
To understand how Baltimore became home to a flourishing Iranian Jewish community, one can look to Pikesville’s Ner Israel. It all goes back to Rabbi Herman Naftali Neuberger, for whom the Ohr Hamizrach facility is named.

In the mid- to late 1970s the longtime president of Ner Israel was asked by Rabbi Solomon David Sassoon, scion of a family of Iraqi-Jewish decent involved in the East India Company, to go with him to Tehran to negotiate with the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on behalf of Iran’s Jewish schools. The regime got wind that a revolution was coming and restricted religious instruction.

“[Sassoon] asked if my father would come with him to Tehran to negotiate with the Persian government to make an exception for the Jewish schools, because they were running a dual program,” said Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger, who took over as president at Ner Israel after his father passed away in 2005. “In the morning they’d learn Torah, and in the afternoon [they] had secular subjects. The Jewish community at that point in time was very, very friendly with the shah. They had nothing to worry about from those schools even though a revolution was being fomented.”

The negotiations succeeded.

During the same trip, Herman Neuberger visited his cousin, Rabbi Joseph Shuchatowitz, who was working for Ozar Hatorah, which ran schools in Sephardic communities in the Pacific Rim, including Iran. He went to Shiraz, which had a large Jewish community, and where a large majority of the Iranian Jews in Baltimore are from, and saw that the Jewish education beyond upper grade levels was lacking, Sheftel Neuberger said.

“So out of that visit, my father came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t we bring a group of college-level boys from Persia? We will train them as rabbis and as teachers’ and then they would go back and be able to invigorate the educational system and expand it,” he said.

Neuberger sold the idea to Ner Israel, and the first group came in the late ’70s, before the revolution. There was at least one student already at Ner Israel, a Persian who came to Baltimore in 1974 to enroll in Johns Hopkins University but instead attended the yeshiva, who could help assimilate the boys when they arrived.

That first group would travel to the University of Oklahoma — Persians were there and in Texas, hoping to learn about petroleum engineering and take their skills back home — months after arriving to hold a Passover Seder for their friends. Some of those Seder attendees, including Kosher Bite owner David Cohen, would later move to Baltimore.

Two groups came to Ner Israel on student visas. And then the revolution came.

“The whole situation changes,” Neuberger said. “Those who were here had their status changed from student visas to refugee status.”

Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and eventually replaced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Komeini, who was voted into office in a national referendum that also transformed Iran into the Islamic Republic. With the ayatollah came the rule of conservative Islam as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Western rhetoric.

When war between Iran and Iraq broke out in September 1980, the Jewish community became desperate to leave.

“This young man, Rheuben Khaver,” who was part of the first group who came to Ner Israel, “organized a smuggling operation because they were
taking Jewish kids and drafting them into the army with very little training and using them as cannon fodder.
So the families were very concerned and willing to try to get their kids out,” said Neuberger.

“They would come, and without much training, you would be sent to the frontline,” Hakakian said, “and that’s why the young people felt that it was just too dangerous to stay around.”

Neuberger estimates that his father’s efforts brought around 1,200 young men to Ner Israel over the years.

Coming to America
Ask 10 Iranian Jews how they got to America, and not surprisingly one will get 10 different stories.

Shlomo Moinzadeh, owner of Shlomo’s Kosher Fish and Meat Market and Shmuel Moinzadeh’s father, came to the United States in 1967 to get a better education. He bounced back and forth between Texas and Oklahoma, where he went to school, and got a job in manufacturing in Dallas after college. He came to Baltimore in 1982 upon learning of its growing Persian community.

Golfeiz was among the last group of people to get a visa from the American embassy in Iran before it was taken over by revolutionaries. He left in 1978 when the revolution had just begun.

“There was no future for the Jews,” he said of the country he left. “They didn’t think there would be any future for the kids, and they did not know what would happen tomorrow.”

Herman Neuberger sent Golfeiz to Turkey about 30 to 40 times throughout the ’80s to help boys fleeing Iran. He helped establish a route from Istanbul to Vienna and found a place for them to stay in Vienna as they awaited visas to come to the United States.

Rabbi Rouben Arieh, spiritual leader at Ohr Hamizrach since 1986, came to Baltimore via Israel in 1980. At that time, Israel was giving visas to Iranians.

“That was really the time that everybody left, when the war started,” he said. “Crazy and crazy.”

Hakakian left Iran in 1983, waited 10 months for his visa in Vienna, and got to Baltimore in 1984 at the age of 18. He already had a brother in town.

“I realized the best way to go about my future was to join Ner Israel,” he said. “So I came here as a student. At the same time I pursued a degree of computers in college. Although I finished my studies and have my master’s degree in computer science, I prefer to stay in teaching and the holy work and guiding my fellow students who came from Iran.”

Hakakian works with Sephardic foreign students, giving them supplemental tutoring to catch them up to the yeshiva’s curriculum, and works with Ner Israel to help the boys with other needs, from financial to counseling.

Not all who came to America landed in Baltimore. Daniel Golfeiz, the executive director at Ohr Hamizrach and Emanuel’s cousin, was part of a group of seven who went to Denver’s Yeshiva Toras Chaim in 1979, when Neuberger asked that other yeshivas take in Iranians. He went to Italy to get a student visa, but he said it wasn’t too hard to leave Iran.

“I was only 15, they really didn’t care. I was a student,” he said. “The revolution had started, but the country wasn’t solid yet.”

Golfeiz had two brothers in Baltimore, so he would always visit, but he moved to the city in 1997.

Golfeiz joined Ohr Hamizrach when he arrived in Baltimore, but the congregation’s roots go back to 1981, when the growing Iranian Jewish population began congregating in a room at Agudath Israel of Baltimore. One room became two, and two rooms became three.

“They thought we were going to take over the whole building,” Golfeiz said. In 1993, they bought the house on the corner of Park Heights Avenue and Fallstaff Road. In 2002, they bought the house next door on Fallstaff. Both were later demolished, and on March 15, 2009, the nearly $4 million synagogue opened with its pointy arches on the exterior, stone floors inside and sanctuary with a wrap-around balcony for women just like those in Iran.

“We wanted the building to be Middle Eastern looking. This was our first impression on American soil in Baltimore,” Golfeiz said. “We wanted to feel that we brought the 2,700 years of history in Iran.”

The Jewish population of Iran dates back to before the destruction of the first Temple in 587 B.C.E.

Centuries later, the ancient traditions remain in places such as Ohr Hamizrach, which has around 120 families.

“We want that to go to our kids,” Golfeiz said of the Persian customs and traditions. “We want to transfer that to our kids because we just can’t leave it. It’s 2,700 years, and we’re just not going to let it go.”

Disconnection with Iran
Although Ohr Hamizrach and other synagogues have helped keep the Iranian Jews’ deep tradition alive in America, the community has very little connection to its native country. Most left decades ago, their family and friends are out, and it’s difficult to communicate with friends who are still there. But word from Iran’s Jewish community, which numbered more than 100,000 before the revolution and is now estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, still travels to Baltimore.

“They’re comfortable. They’re working, and they’re making money,” Arieh said, “but they have to be careful what they say and what they’re doing.”

While there are synagogues, Iranian Jews in Baltimore report that there are no longer Jewish schools in Iran, and children turn to synagogues for their Jewish education.

“That’s always bothersome, and you hear a halachic question from Iran and you know how they dealt with it, and it shows they didn’t know how to deal with it,” Hakakian said. “That’s the pain.”

Coupled with that pain — as Baltimore’s Iranian community sees the government they fled negotiate with the United States — is feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

“It’s very hard because you never know what’s behind the curtain,” Daniel Golfeiz said. “It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen.”

Arieh added he doesn’t believe in the negotiations and that the American government doesn’t know “that these Iranian people are people not to be trusted,” he said.

Hakakian said Iranians get mixed feelings when their native country comes up in the news.

“Deep down, people yearn and they hope that maybe things would neutralize without a danger to Israel … and it could bring back the good old days. That nostalgia feeling settles in sometimes,” he said. “On the other hand, when you want to look at it reality, knowing the culture of the government right now, it’s very far-fetched to believe that they mean what they’re telling the Americans in their dealings.”

Although the American-born generation of Persian Jewry may share little connection to Iran, the culture and history of their people thrives.

“To see what [those who fled Iran] were able to do and what they did with opening many business here and opening up a fantastic shul and stuff like that is something that you want to make sure continues to grow,” Shmuel Moinzadeh said, adding that not all of his peers feel the same way. “I definitely feel a certain responsibility. It’s not a burden, it’s more of a cherished responsibility that I feel I must keep, and I definitely want to hold onto it as long as I can.”

To further serve the new generation of Iranian Jews, Hakakian now leads Ahavat Shalom, which he said consists of members of the new generation who have grown up here and now have jobs and families.

At Ohr Hamizrach, Daniel Golfeiz sees hope for the future in the younger members of the community.

“I know from my own kids that they feel like they want to be here for the High Holidays because it feels different, and they know it. All the kids here today, they know,” he said. “They feel this is part of their DNA.”

While the synagogue has three Shabbat minyanim, four classrooms, a room for toddlers to play and all the makings of a Persian synagogue, there is something more Golfeiz would like.

“We are hoping — I mean this is a dream right now — to hopefully open a Sephardic school here in Baltimore,” he said. “As I said, this is a dream, you know, but on the other hand, the building was also a dream and it came to reality.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

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L.A.’s Iranian-Jewish Community

Protests and Peace Baltimore’s Jewish community engages in marches, vigils to promote justice for all

Following the announcement on May 1 from Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby that six police officers were charged in the death of Sandtown resident Freddie Gray, downtown streets were host to several demonstrations and rallies, each demanding a follow-through of justice and calling for calm and peace to return to a fractured city.

About 100 people from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Jewish communities came together with Jews United for Justice at the corner of E. Baltimore and St. Paul streets that Friday afternoon to participate in a march organized by Bmore United for Change.

The group included hundreds more adults and youth from local advocacy groups such as Casa de Maryland, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and the Baltimore Algebra Project, in addition to a diversity of faith and community leaders.

“We stand for justice everywhere and we know specifically as a Jewish community what happens if people don’t speak up,” said Jodie Zisow, director of Repair the World: Baltimore. “We’ve seen in Baltimore City and we’ve seen all across the country … people are dying because of police brutality and we need to stand up.”

Zisow recounted the recent experiences of two friends, one a black man stopped by a National Guard soldier while he was out for a run. Because he didn’t have identification with him, he was escorted home. But another friend, a white woman, was also out for a run downtown, but in that case, the National Guard line waved hello as she passed.

“So this is a bigger structural problem,” said Zisow. “We’re talking about structural racism.”

The march occured four days after a night of widespread looting and rioting set in motion by the April 19 death of Gray, an African-American man who suffered a spinal injury during his arrest by Baltimore Police a week earlier.

As demonstrators, some with toddlers or strollers in tow, walked along the approximately mile-long route, the crowd chanted and waved signs, some written in Hebrew. Idling cars honked in solidarity at people spilling over the curbs and into the street as the group made its way over to N. Charles Street then down to Pratt Street before arriving at the City Hall square, an area that had been encircled for more than a week by lines of police officers, National Guard troops and television news trucks.

Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe said she was there out of a “sense of both communal and individual obligation to take what I feel is the call of our tradition to stand alongside brothers and sisters in our community” and “to use the wisdom of our tradition and the powers of our community to be able to support them.”

“I’m down here because I care about this city and I care about seeing our city be a model of justice and of moving forward from where we are at the moment,” echoed Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “We need to start, as a nation, having real conversations about race and poverty and inequality and the underpinnings of each individual crisis like Freddie Gray’s death.”

Deborah Agus and Lisa Akchin, both members of Beth Am Synagogue, marched, said Agus, to show their support for “a cause to improve justice for all” and in the words of Akchin, to be “allied with all of Baltimore.”

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation, who is also incoming president for the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, said, “My fear is that when things quiet down it’s going to go back to business as usual. We have the opportunity now to begin to make things right.”

The next day, on a grassy expanse at the other end of Baltimore Street in front of B’nai Israel synagogue, about 100 congregants and members of the greater Jonestown community gathered for a Circle of Unity and Peace vigil.

“I felt many of my congregants were trying to figure out what small good they could do and transform some of the tragedy of what was taking place for a positive purpose,” said Rabbi Eitan Mintz.

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Mintz initiated the gathering, which was hosted by neighboring faith leaders from St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Helping Up Mission, Gallery Church, the Little Italy Property Owner’s Association and Historic Jonestown, Inc., and also featured Pastor Richard Mosley from Road to Damascus Ministries, located on Liberty Heights Avenue.

“Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy for us to get together and pray and do something,” said Father Gary Byers of Helping Up Mission, “and we’re not going to let this terrible event and the events of this week happen in vain.

“We are going to have value come out of what’s happened,” he continued. “Together we’re going to do that. We’re just going to do what we know how to do, bloom where we’re planted and do what we can to make a difference.”

Mintz added they are committed as a community to have monthly clergy gatherings and to create programs for neighbors to socialize and participate in relief work. The community gathering left him feeling “incredibly uplifted and inspired,” he said.

Shelly Feldman, a member of B’nai Israel, lives downtown and said her participation in the vigil was meaningful because “it’s important that Baltimore and all of Maryland and everyone across the U.S. see that people across races and religions can peacefully come together for the greater good.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com
mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Senate Candidates Square Off Van Hollen’s history contrasts with Edwards’ grassroots ideology

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (left) and Terry O’Neill, NOW president, listen as Rep. Donna Edwards makes a point.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (left) and Terry O’Neill, NOW president,
listen as Rep. Donna Edwards makes a point. (Provided)

Rep. Donna Edwards was the first to take a direct swipe at her main Democratic rival for the open seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Speaking Sunday at a candidates forum in Rockville hosted by the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Prince George’s County Democrat and District 4 congressional representative sought to distance herself from Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

“I’m actually proud that I started out in 2006 not in the Congress, but allied with organizations all across the country who were fighting to shore up the backbones of members of Congress to protect Social Security from cuts, and I think sometimes as members, we actually overstate our importance and understate the importance of all the grassroots advocates around the country who did that,” Edwards said in a thinly veiled jab at Van Hollen, who remarked several times throughout the event that he “got it done.”

Within two sentences, Edwards launched into the first direct comment against Van Hollen — who represents District 8 — saying, “I think here is where there is and has been, frankly, a fundamental difference between myself and Chris Van Hollen. … Mr. Van Hollen was ‘willing to consider’ — those were his own words — cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

Given the format of the forum, moderated by NOW President Terry O’Neill, Van Hollen was not given an immediate opportunity to rebut as it was Edwards turn to respond first to an audience question regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Again, Edwards went on the offensive.

“I have been a very strong proponent of trade deals that are fair trade deals. Unfortunately, there again you can look at the differences in our record,” said Edwards. She asserted that she is leading the fight against fast-track trade authority and to TPP, calling it a “bad deal for American workers.”

Van Hollen in his rebuttal revealed what political watchers already know: Ideologically, there is not much difference between the two candidates.

The Montgomery County Democrat is against TPP and fast-track. As to Edwards’ criticisms, he said that he evaluates each trade deal on its own merits. He supports expansion of Social Security, pushing back against Edwards’ assertions that she made that day and in less direct terms in her candidacy announcement video.

“I actually led the effort to convince the president not to put the chained [Consumer Price Index] proposal in his second budget,” which limits the inflationary growth of Social Security benefits, said Van Hollen. “At the same time, frankly, I persuaded him not to put a cut in federal employee benefits in his budget. That is on the record.”

His remarks were interrupted with applause. Rockville is part of Van Hollen’s stomping grounds, and his supporters let attendees know it, lining the drive up to the building’s parking lot with Van Hollen campaign signs, passing out stickers and offering a volunteer sign-up sheet.

Their closing statements highlighted their differing campaign strategies. Van Hollen comes across as a wonk, pointing to his history in the state legislature and Congress, name dropping colleagues and supporters along the way. Edwards presents herself as the grassroots outsider, whose voice as a single working mother and woman of color deserves a seat at the table.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

My Israel Puzzle Project

In celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, more than 100 students from area congregational schools filled the auditorium of the Park Heights JCC on Sunday to participate in the My Israel Puzzle Art Installation and Collaborative Project hosted by the Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The students were asked to reflect on what Israel means to them and express those feelings artistically by decorating giant foam puzzle pieces. The pieces will be installed in the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Yom Yerushalayim, May 17, and remain open to viewing through May 27 alongside puzzle pieces created in Baltimore’s sister cities of Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel.

 


Photos by Esther Apt

Free-Range

Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, the Silver Spring parents under investigation for allowing their children, ages 6 and 10, to walk around town without adult supervision, believe they are raising their children to become responsible adults, but their free-range parenting style, which has resulted in two recent run-ins with police, is controversial.

“Free-range is for chickens and cattle, not for children,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children.

“Free-range parenting is not parenting at all,” he said. “We are awfully tired of hearing about naïve adults who put their child in harm’s way to learn at the child’s expense.”

Danielle Meitiv with her children in a family photo. (Provided)

Danielle Meitiv with her children in a family photo. (Provided)

But a hands-off approach to raising children has its supporters. A petition to the Maryland General Assembly on the website change.org urges legislators to “focus on real instances of child neglect” and let parents “responsibly raise” their own children. It had 923 signatures as of last week.

Several people who know the Meitivs described them as caring parents who don’t buy into the stranger-danger theory that encourages children to shy away from anyone they don’t know. Nor are they helicopters parents who hover closely, scrutinizing every move their children make.

“No question about it. They take care of their kids very well,” said Manuel Lopes, who lives across the street and has known the family more than five years.

“In a nutshell, [their parenting is] coming from a very good and thoughtful place,” said someone close to the family who did not want his name used, as he was not authorized to speak for them.

According to him, Danielle Meitiv feels so strongly about free-range parenting that she wants to make a statement. There is a “justice component” to their free-range parenting, he said.

“They see poor people, people of color” who have their children taken from them by the state because they may have left them alone to go to a job interview that could raise the family out of poverty. These families don’t necessarily have the same societal standing or financial means to fight any charges against them.

“They are fighting on behalf of so many others,” he said. “They are fighting for a cause.”

Also, he said, both parents are scientists and live in a data-driven world. The Meitivs talk about how the risks of anything happening is less than in years past. People talk of what a dangerous world it is — pointing anecdotally to the latest reported crime — but “in fact, the data suggests otherwise,” he said.

Attorney George Heym, a former child abuse prosecutor in Pennsylvania, agreed. “I can tell you from my experience dealing with child abuse cases on a daily basis for a number of years, abduction is far and away the least frequent crime that you see against children. And of those abductions, stranger abductions are the most minor percentage of that,” he said. “The vast majority of child abductions involved custody disputes.”

Fear of abduction may have been on the mind of the caller who was walking his dog when he phoned Montgomery County police at 5 p.m., Sunday, April 12, and said he saw two children in the area of Fenton and Easley streets. He told police the children seemed OK and even petted his dog but that he decided to follow them.

Throughout the emergency call, he alerted police where the children were walking and what they were passing, according to the audio of the call that was released to the public.

An officer answering the call found the children by the Fenton Street parking garage, according to a news release from county police. “The officer observed a homeless subject, who he was familiar with, eyeing the children,” it said.

The officer contacted Child Protective Services “per established protocol. Under Maryland law, police officers who become aware of circumstances involving possible child abuse or neglect are mandated to contact representatives of Child Protective Services,” according to the statement.

The children were taken to CPS offices in Rockville, and an investigation was begun by CPS and detectives from the county police’s Special Victims Investigations Division. That investigation is ongoing. The children were picked up by police Dec. 20 in a similar incident.

According to the Meitivs’ attorney, Matthew Dowd, a partner with the law firm of Wiley Rein , Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, were playing outdoors and were only “three short blocks from their home” when they were stopped by police.

“The police demanded that the children get into one of the police cars, under the misleading ëassurance’ that the police would take them home,” according to a written statement from Dowd. Instead, according to Dowd, the children were detained in a police car for almost three hours and kept from their parents for more than six hours.”

“The police never called Danielle or Alexander,” the statement continued. “Nor did they allow Rafi and Dvora to call their parents.”

The family is considering filing a lawsuit, claiming that their rights as parents were violated.

Following advice from their attorney, the Meitivs declined to be interviewed.

Under Maryland law, children must be at least 8 years old before they can be left alone in a house or car. However, there is no law specifying how old children must be to walk alone outdoors. Neither Virginia nor the District of Columbia has set a specific age when a child can be left alone legally.

The parents “are thoughtful, outgoing, personable. They seem to have their stuff together,” said a neighbor.

He called the matter “totally overblown,” and called free-range parenting a real issue. “I think what’s blown out of proportion is that stranger-danger thing,” he said.

Theirs is a safe neighborhood, said another neighbor. The children “seem real prepared.” A life where kids can go to the park and have fun on their own, “that’s the kind of world I want to live in,” said Sandy, who didn’t want her last name used.

The homes surrounding the Meitivs’ are well-tended. Brightly colored tulips bloomed in front of many front yards. The Meitivs have a garden with bright green lettuce leaves already emerging. Yet, their home, which sports a mezuzah on the door, is in clear sight of Fenton Street. A laundromat, 7-Eleven and Greyhound bus station are within a very short walk.

Within a 15-minute-walk is the home of the new Silver Spring library and downtown Silver Spring. It’s the kind of neighborhood that Silver Spring civic associations boast about — suburbia with an urban touch.

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book, blog and movement known as Free-Range Kids, says allowing  children to play outside alone isn’t negligent or abusive; it’s even common in other countries.

“I think that we’ve become so convinced that any time a child is not directly supervised, they are in incredible danger,” she said.

Free-range children are not automatically neglected. Rather, Skenazy said, they learn “that their parents believe in them.” Free play and free time “is really good for developing a lot of characteristics that we like to see in our children like problem-solving, confidence, focus. All those things happen when they have to figure out things for themselves.”

Skenazy said Jewish parents are required to do three things for their children. “One is have them study Torah. Two is teach them a trade. And three is teach them how to swim.” Learning a trade and how to swim “recognizes that our job as parents is to create self-sufficient adults. The Torah doesn’t say our job is to give our children water wings,” she said.

Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, said parenting should be a combination of doing and stepping aside: “There’s a happy medium. Parents should not be watching their kids every step. Parents should not be buying helmets for when [their children] learn to walk. Parents should not be letting their kids wander around whenever, wherever.”

Good parents “assess what is a reasonable level of responsibility,” he said. Most kids can walk around their neighborhood, but are they prepared should something arise, he questioned.

“Kids are individuals. Parents are individuals. And you need to figure out what’s right for your family as well as their safety,” Bilek said.

spollak@midatlanticmedia.com
jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

‘The Whole World Is Seeing This’

After a week that saw peaceful protests turn to riots and looting, members of the Baltimore Jewish community are concerned about the future of their city as well as what the world is seeing.

“We really were seeing a majority of very nonviolent protests. Our city has a very long history of being involved in nonviolent protests. This was really personal for a lot of people who feel like Baltimore has come a long way,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “When we see something like [rioting and looting], it completely detracts from where we started from.”

Tolle’s comments came Tuesday morning, a day after afternoon clashes with police in West Baltimore turned to looting, car fires and damage to businesses and properties that stretched from Mondawmin to Fells Point.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. “I am devastated.”

Photos by Melissa Gerr and Ilana Goldmeier.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Andrew Busch said it worries him what the world outside of Baltimore may be seeing, but it does not surprise him.

“Baltimore becomes the same as any other place dealing with a tragic crisis in that it’s hard to convey the complexity of the message,” he said. “I think what most of us are looking at locally is knowing there is the worst and the best. The people who have [peacefully] protested far outweigh, numerically, the people who then turned to riot.”

The city has been on edge since the death Freddie Gray, 25, who was arrested on April 12 and died on April 19 after suffering injuries while in police custody. It is not known when and how he sustained the injuries.

It was late Monday night when Tolle thought about how far and wide images of Baltimore were being broadcasted.

“My first thought when I had turned on WJZ was, ‘Is this also airing on CNN?’ I switched over to CNN and came to the realization that this isn’t just our local news, the whole world is seeing this,” she said.

The previous week saw smaller demonstrations that culminated on Saturday, April 25, when thousands of people chanted and waved signs as they marched from West Baltimore toward City Hall. When the protest got near downtown and near Camden Yards, the dispersing crowd turned violent as police cars were vandalized, business windows were broken, cars stuck in traffic were damaged and fights broke out between protesters and baseball fans at a bar outside the stadium.

Calm turned to chaos Monday afternoon, the day of Gray’s funeral, after a call for a “purge” spread through social media and what appeared to be school-aged individuals quarreled with police in the Mondawmin area, according to news and police reports. They threw rocks, bricks and bottles at officers; a car was set of fire, and later, residents ransacked Mondawmin Mall. But before the looting began there, businesses in the area of North and Pennsylvania avenues were attacked, including a CVS pharmacy, which was set on fire. Businesses on the west side of downtown were looted, their windows smashed. A large fire at Federal and North Gay streets destroyed a building that was under construction by a local church that was to become senior housing.

Spector maintained that recent events shed light on problems in the city that must be dealt with.

“I think that what has been swept under the rug, or not really tended to, is right in our face right now,” she said. “We can’t be blinded, we can’t give it a pass, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to these people who have nothing to lose but something to gain. We’re going to figure out how to fix this.”

At least 15 police officers were injured by Monday night, according to reports. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Tuesday. (Baltimore City already has a curfew of 9 p.m. for those 14 and under.) City schools were closed Tuesday as were many businesses and offices, some of which closed early after opening in the morning. The Orioles postponed Monday’s and Tuesday’s games, and while many fans were peeved, Orioles COO John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, offered thoughts via Twitter that were widely praised and circulated.

“The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards,” he said in several tweets. “We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

We can’t be blinded, we can’t give it a pass, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to these people who have nothing to lose but something to gain. We’re going to figure out how to fix this.

On Tuesday, with threats of more “purges” on social media to be held in areas such as Northern Parkway and the Owings Mills Mall, which did not occur, many organizations took action. A large number of Jewish day schools and the Park Heights JCC closed early. Baltimore County Public Schools canceled after-school and evening activities. CareFirst’s office in Owings Mills, located in the tower office buildings adjacent to the mall, closed early as well.

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen of Chabad of Owings Mills was still going to hold a minyan at 2 p.m. at one of the office buildings by the mall, although he said some people will not be there and security will be beefed up. He also evacuated the Torahs from the Chabad facility as a precaution.

While Monday was chaotic and there were “hotspots” until the following morning, before dawn on Tuesday dozens were out in the streets helping clean up the city. Cleanup on North and Pennsylvania avenues, which experienced looting and fire Monday, started before dawn when a diverse group of people from the neighborhood and beyond showed up.

A front-loader earlier in the day moved large pieces of trash, and the city brought in a large dumpster around 9 a.m. that residents used to dispose of bags of trash, broken doors and twisted metal shelving from stores. People were sweeping and hauling trash, while others gave out free drinks and snacks.

Molly Amster, Baltimore director of Jews United for Justice who attended Saturday’s protests, said her organization was heartbroken after Monday’s violence. She was out helping cleanup efforts on Tuesday.

“The message that is being sent by everyone, regardless of what types of actions they’re taking, the message is our system is broken,” Amster said, adding that she condemns Monday’s violence. “The issue of police brutality and the lack of accountability that we see when it occurs is what people are asking to be addressed and be fixed.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore started accepting donations to benefit the neighborhoods affected by Monday’s violence and is working with churches, community centers and civic organizations to property distribute that aid. Through Jewish Volunteer Connection, The Associated also sent volunteers to help clean up.

“For generations, The Associated has been there in the good times and bad,” its president, Marc Terrill, said in a prepared statement. “We know that soon, with everyone playing a role, we will rebuild Baltimore into the community of strength and charm for which it is known.”

On Tuesday morning, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young held a news conference where unidentified gang members pleaded for the violence to stop. Videos and photos of members of the Bloods, the Crips and the Nation of Islam coming together to condemn violence circulated social media the day before.

In news conferences on Monday night, Young, Rawlings-Blake, Hogan and Spector referred to Monday’s rioters as “thugs.”

“This is not what Freddie Gray’s family wanted,” Young said, noting that the riots remind him of the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “These are thugs who are seizing upon an opportunity to show their anger, their distrust and their frustration at the police department, and this is not the way to do it.”

Councilman Brandon M. Scott was blunt: “I am simply pissed off,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake added, “It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who was out at the protests on Saturday with Jews United for Justice, did not think the same people who peacefully protested Saturday were responsible for Monday’s destruction.

“This seems to be a social media instigated that quickly turned violent,” he said. “It’s different people, not community leaders, not the social justice community. It’s a reflection of the overall racial tensions in Baltimore, but the comparisons need to stop there.”

Burg was firm that there are problems that need to be addressed, but Monday’s events were not the right way.

“There’s no excuse for people stealing [and] throwing rocks and bricks at police,” he said. “It’s never helpful, never called for.”

In Northwest Baltimore County on Monday night, Shomrim was at work on a plan in case the violence migrated north to the Orthodox community, where things were quiet, spokesman Nathan Willner said.

“The biggest concern is that most of the police resources are deployed to the harbor and where the riots are taking place, which means our community would have less resources,” Willner said around 9:45 Monday night. “We are at a high alert. We are making sure that our responders are available.”

Less than five miles from several of Monday’s incidents, the Harbor East area was relatively quiet. A handful of restaurants hosted dining patrons, but almost everything was closed, including the 24-hour CVS.

Deirdre, a Baltimore County native and a manager at Gordon Biersch Brewing Company on Lancaster Street in Harbor East, was moving large tables and chairs inside from the patio with help from her staff.

“We’re just trying to get closed up so everyone can get home safely; we don’t know where all of the commotion is happening or where it’s coming [from],” she said. “We’re [bringing in] and locking up our patio furniture, anything that can be lifted and thrown is now locked up. We never do this. We usually lock things up with cords and master locks. So right now we’re getting everything safe.”

At the same time, neighbors helped each other clean up broken glass, board up windows and stand guard just half a mile away on Broadway in Fells Point, where a 7-Eleven, another convenience store and a MetroPCS mobile phone store was broken into and looted.

Because of the protests on Saturday, Rabbi Ariel Fishman, his wife and their son walked back from Lloyd Street Synagogue Saturday mid-afternoon
to Judaic Heritage, near University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he is director.

“We decided to walk down Lombard thinking we’d be off the main Pratt Street protest traffic, but we still saw tons of people pouring out,” he said, noting that some wore anonymous Guy Fawkes masks. “It didn’t feel unsafe, but there were a lot of people moving out of that area.”

“Some of the people had a pain and sadness on their faces,” said Fishman. “I always think of what MLK said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ And that resonates with Jewish ethics, to love all people, love all creation. It’s a concept that has a firm hold in Jewish tradition.”

Tolle expressed concerns over what impact this week’s events may have on the city from things such as business insurance, taxpayer costs and the city’s economic future. But there needs to be dialogue, she said.

“These are conversations we need to have about how to better our community,” she said, “how we can come together and make sure this doesn’t happen again and address the issues that started all this.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com, mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com