Park Heights JCC Briefly Evacuated After Bomb Threat


The Park Heights JCC, which houses the Meyerhoff Early Childhood Center, was briefly evacuated on Monday after a bomb threat was called in. (Daniel Nozick)

The Park Heights JCC was briefly evacuated on Monday after a phoned-in bomb threat, which proved to be unfounded.

The building was cleared after the phone call came in at 11:45 a.m. and was reopened shortly after 2 p.m., once the threat was found to be unsubstantiated.

That same day, bomb threats were called in to 16 JCCs in nine states. All were unsubstantiated.

In Baltimore, staff immediately alerted security personnel and began to take appropriate security measures, alerting the building manager and executive team.

After a quick consultation with JCC security and the police, evacuation procedures began for the Park Heights JCC and the other building that shares its campus — which houses several Jewish agencies — within minutes of the phone call.

“From when we actually put the evacuation into place until the last person evacuated the building took about five minutes, which fits right into where our security protocol is for this building,” said Paul Lurie, chief operations officer for the JCC of Greater Baltimore.

The Baltimore Police Department is investigating the incident with its federal partners, according to Det. Jeremy Silbert.

The Bender JCC of Greater Washington, which also received a bomb threat, was evacuated and reopened at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

“We have talked to the police and our full-time security consultant who made us aware of some of the other incidents that had happened after we completed our evacuation,” Lurie said. “The police are aware of the incidents around the country and do feel that there is a connection between them. We looked at it as an individual situation for the safety of our members and the people within the building and enacted our evacuation procedure.”

By 4:30 p.m. on Monday, authorities’ investigations of the impacted JCCs all resulted in all-clear findings, with most JCCs resuming regular operations, according to David Posner, director of strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America.

On Wednesday, officials from the FBI and Homeland Security conducted a conference call with U.S. Jewish communal leaders to discuss Monday’s incidents, what they stem from and how to craft protocols to handle such incidents in the future. Some communities already receive federal grants to provide for security.

While the FBI would not confirm whether they were investigating the string of incidents, spokeswoman Carol Cratty said the bureau was aware of them.

“We remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance if needed,” she wrote in a statement. “As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”

Last week, bomb threats were called in to Jewish institutions in Florida, Georgia and New Jersey, according to the ADL.

“Unfortunately, such threats are not new to the Jewish community,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a prepared statement. “While each of these threats must be taken seriously, and excellent preparation is key to a good response, bomb threats are most often not credible and are usually used as scare tactics in order to disrupt an institution’s operations and to cause fear and panic. At this juncture, none of these threats appear to be credible.

“We have also been in touch with Jewish institutions across the country to notify them of these threats and urge them to take this opportunity to always ‘think security’ by reviewing their security policies and procedures.”

The string of threats included a combination of robocalls and actual people calling, all of which were intended to put a scare into Jewish communities according to Paul Goldenberg, the director for the Secure Community Network (SCN), which works with the Jewish Federations of North America to oversee the safety of American Jewish institutions.

“We have seen over the past 18 months an uptick in domestic terrorism and that people will use tactics with regard to terrifying communities,” Goldenberg said. “They are looking to instill fear, and that’s their primary goal.”

Goldenberg said the FBI is investigating the incidents and that people should never hesitate to contact local and national authorities.

At the Park Heights JCC, evacuation procedures have members leave the campus and staff evacuate to a nearby location so that they can still be available if needed; students at the Meyerhoff Early Childhood Center are evacuated to a secure off-site facility, Lurie said.

Before the building was reopened to the public, JCC staff did a final walk-through with Baltimore City police officers. They completed the sweep with no suspicious activity or threat found.

“We take security seriously as you can see,” said Annette Saxon, chair of the board of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “We have drills and practice our protocol for these type of things all of the time, so when — God forbid — something does come up like this, that’s why [an evacuation] happens so quickly and seamlessly. Our members know that it is safe. Our professionals know what they are doing.”

Mathew Klickstein contributed to this report.

Renewing Baltimore New City Council members talk hopes, priorities


Baltimore City Councilmen Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (left) and Zeke Cohen (Justin Silberman)

When Zeke Cohen and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer decided to run for the 1st and 5th District seats on the Baltimore City Council this past election, they saw it as a calling.

Never mind that, if successful, it would be the first time two Jewish councilmembers served simultaneously since 1987.

Cohen and Schleifer felt the majority of people in their districts were looking to them for steady guidance and leadership.

Now, at 27 and 31, respectively, Schleifer and Cohen are the two youngest members of the new council, which was officially sworn in along with Mayor Catherine Pugh on Dec. 8.

Whatever political experience they lack, Schleifer and Cohen say they make up for it with what they feel is a full-fledged commitment to understanding the identity of Baltimore at its core.

“Ultimately, we want to sell Baltimore  as a city that is safe, has a world-class school system, world-class public transit and where people want to live,” Cohen said. “That means we need to have an eye toward the future.”

With eight Democratic freshmen councilmembers, including Cohen and Schleifer, and a new mayor in Pugh, the city government has undergone a massive makeover, replacing more than 125 years of experience.

At a time when Baltimore continues to combat an enduring number of social, economic and political issues, Cohen and Schleifer feel they can help provide the hope and change Baltimore residents crave.

And the issues are big, with the councilmen highlighting enduring poverty, high unemployment numbers, low public high school graduation rates, high crime levels and accusations of police misconduct. Joining Cohen and Schleifer in this fight are freshman councilmembers Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd District, Leon Pinkett III in the 7th District, Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District, John Bullock in the 9th District, Robert Stokes Jr. in the 12th District and Shannon Sneed in the 13th District.

“I like to think we all complement each other by dealing with these broad-range issues in the city that affect everyone,” Schleifer said. “As a side note, [Cohen]  and I just happen to be Jewish and understand the concerns and needs of the community as a whole.”

Together, with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young leading the charge, Cohen and Schleifer believe brokering deals with leaders and organizations from the public and private sectors is the best way to proceed.

While the job of a councilmember is regarded as part time, Cohen and Schleifer are treating their positions as full time. The pair, whose offices are next to one another on the fifth floor of City Hall, have  hit the ground running during their first month in office.

Their early commitment to putting constituent service at the forefront is something that has already resonated with many veteran councilmembers, creating an energetic atmosphere inside City Hall.

“It’s a joy to walk into the Hall,” said 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who became the longest-serving member of the council after the retirement of former 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. “There’s all this work going on, positive energy and great optimism for change. I just love the environment with this council; it makes my heart happy.”

In a prepared statement, Pugh, Baltimore’s 50th mayor, told the JT she has “been very impressed by the experiences, ideas and energy both Cohen and Schleifer bring to the council.” She is also “looking forward to partnering with them and working together to move Baltimore forward.”

Schleifer’s Top Issues

Before considering major legislation, Schleifer says he wants to address everyday problems.

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifercredit to FeeBee Photography

(FeeBee Photography)

A lifelong resident of the 5th District, which includes both traditionally African-American and Jewish neighborhoods such as Cheswolde and Glen in Northwest Baltimore, Schleifer is focused on affordable housing and taxes, bringing the city up to date technologically, improving the lives of seniors and improving public safety, which is his No. 1 priority.

“For as long as I can remember, public safety, preserving and protecting the basic safeties of residents, has been something I take very seriously,” Schleifer said.

The 72nd City Council was sworn into office more than 20 months after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody, which set off unrest in various parts of the city.

On a per-capita basis, 2015 was the deadliest ever in the city. That year’s 344 homicides was second only to the record of 353 in 1993, when Baltimore had about 100,000 more residents.

While the number of homicides dropped to 318 last year, Schleifer wants to ramp up his public safety efforts. He said he was pleased that Police Commissioner Kevin Davis reinstituted officers to patrol smaller areas in the Northwest last year rather than allowing them to roam larger areas.

Schleifer, a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, wants to see more initiatives like that throughout the city. He said rebuilding trust between the police and those they serve are pivotal to community relations and can be accomplished through more community walks with officers.

“This is an issue I have been very passionate about for a while,” Schleifer said. “We have first responders who will get to you in two minutes, so I say to everyone, if you’re going to have a heart attack, do it in the 5th District.”

Nathan Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, has seen firsthand the emphasis Schleifer, former vice president of the association, has placed on making the streets of Baltimore a safer place for all.

“No one has a better pulse on what is going on at all times in the community than Yitzy does,” Willner said. “Not only does he represent the Jewish community, but he has continued to bridge the gap and embrace the diversity we have in our African-American and Muslim communities.”

In addition to his emphasis on public safety, Schleifer is determined to once again fill the city’s vacant homes and neighborhoods.

As the newly appointed vice chairman of the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, he will work hand in hand with committee chairman John Bullock to take on that task.

Although Bullock and Schleifer have yet to formally come up with an agenda, Bullock said they plan to push for legislation to create more affordable housing.

“I have known Yitzy for a while, and we both seem to be coming at this committee assignment from a very similar place,” Bullock said. “Working together, I am looking forward to it, because we will come at the issues that persist with our housing [and do] what’s right for the city.”

In an interview with the JT, City Council President Young said he has laid out plans with leaders from the nonprofit and private sectors to improve the quality of life for Baltimoreans, starting with housing.

For instance, Young said, he is working on a deal with Details Deconstruction, a nonprofit that puts people to work deconstructing vacant houses. If completed, the partnership would create six to eight times more jobs than a demolition project, Young said.

Schleifer is also bullish on pushing to make expenses such as water and housing bills more affordable for seniors, given the growth of that population in the Northwest specifically.

In the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Survey, the last comprehensive study of the community, there were an estimated 3,900 Jewish seniors in Baltimore older than age 85, an increase of 166 percent from 1999.

Because many people are living longer lives, Schleifer, a former Edward A. Myerberg Center board member, said it’s imperative to find the right solutions for those people sooner rather than later.

“I am very passionate about the aging population, because it makes up a very large portion of the constituent base,” Schleifer said. “I’ve always wanted to help people age in place and have made sure we’ve had enough senior housing for our aging population. I am pushing hard for something like this because that can be an immediate fix.”

Cohen’s Focus on the Youth

A Canton resident, Cohen is steadfast in his desire to focus on public transportation, improve the Baltimore City Public School system, increase wages for workers and create jobs for youth.

As chairman of the Youth and Education committee, he said one of the first things he plans to push is locally owned businesses hiring from within the area.

photo by Justin Silberman

(Justin Silberman)

Cohen, executive director of The Intersection, a nonprofit that has helped more than 30 high school students earn college scholarships, understands that training students for such skills starts in the classroom.

“There is value to be had in hiring locally, and we know the benefit of hiring a workforce that is local, approximate and already knows the area,” said Cohen, whose district stretches from Harbor East to the city-county line in Dundalk and includes Southeast Baltimore. “What that requires is that our school system and government step up and deliver a better quality education and that our business sector steps up and makes that investment in our youth.”

Clarke was originally selected by Young to serve as chairwoman of the Youth and Education Committee but deferred to Cohen “because he has a passion for working with and helping young people.”

Young said he hopes Cohen works closely with Pugh to assume greater local control of the city school system, which has received increasing state oversight — and funding — since 1997.

“Because Zeke is the chair of the Youth and Education Committee, I want to see him hold the school system to the fire on budget issues,” Young said. “It’s imperative our children perform at a high level, and I want our schools to be held to the highest standards possible.”

Patterson Park resident Robbyn Lewis, who met Cohen when he started his council campaign two years ago, said Cohen’s background in racial, educational and socioeconomic issues make him an ideal person to do just that.

“The first thing I noticed about Zeke when we met was his sincerity, kindness and thoughtfulness,” Lewis said. “He’s a person you want to know, and he is a mensch in every sense of the word. Zeke lives what he preaches.”

Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and a resident of Patterson Park in Cohen’s district, said he is confident Cohen will make good on his promise to fight for youth, among other things.

“What we are all looking for Zeke to bring is the same type of zeal, enthusiasm and tenacious advocacy that he brought to his campaign and nonprofit work in the city,” Conner said. “When people think about Zeke, they think about how hard he fights for the things he’s very passionate about and [how he listens to] their concerns and what changes they want to see.”

The City Balloons and Deflates

No matter how Cohen and Schleifer plan to carry out their initiatives, the effects will certainly have a great impact on the city’s growing Jewish population.

The number of Jewish households in the city, particularly in the Orthodox community, have increased in recent years.

In the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Survey, more than three in 10 Jews identified as Orthodox, a percentage that more than doubles what Pew Research Center found at the national level. Additionally, the Greater Baltimore Jewish Community survey found that the number of Jews living in Baltimore County between 1999 and 2010 declined by 5,900 but increased by 7,800 in the city.

That’s a stark contrast to the trend of the city, where the population has experienced a steady decline. Baltimore was the nation’s sixth-largest city in 1950, home to about 950,000 people. During the succeeding six decades, though, it has lost nearly a third of the population and leveled off at a little more than 600,000 residents this past year.

Inner Harbor Baltimore Maryland at night

Inner Harbor Baltimore Maryland at night

Given the increase of  Jewish Orthodox families in his district, specifically the Park Heights corridor, Schleifer — the first Orthodox Jew on the council in decades — is regarded as the face of that community.

“He’s really trying to unite the diverse community members in the district to work together to make the district as good as it can be,” Willner said.

In the 1st District, there has also been rapid growth.

Whereas Schleifer’s district has seen an increase of many Jewish families, Cohen’s district is seen as a hub where many young working professionals settle.

Nate Pretl, 33, who lives on Patterson Park Avenue at Fleet Street on the border of Canton and Fells Point, said he feels Cohen is focused foremost on the needs of the city.

“Even though the 1st District is one of the wealthiest in the city, if not the wealthiest, Zeke doesn’t think about just the needs of his district specifically, but every district,” Pretl said. “Things that are going to help his constituents are really things that are going to help everyone in the city.”

Moving Forward

On some controversial issues, such as $15-per-hour minimum wage proposal, Cohen has pledged to take a more progressive approach than his predecessor, Jim Kraft, who voted against the bill in August.

Clarke, the bill’s lead sponsor, said she plans to introduce this month a proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 by January 2022. After that point, it would continue to rise with the cost of living. Her legislation would also call for increased pay for tipped workers, who currently earn $3.63 per hour.

Cohen said he backs the measure — with an exemption for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and those with less than $500,000 in gross annual income — asserting that it would help increase the wages of the working poor.

This past August, Clarke’s legislation, first introduced last April, failed to generate enough votes needed for passage from the council, which instead voted 8-6 with one abstention to return the bill to committee.

“We need to have a robust conversation about wages and labor and what is appropriate,” Cohen said. “People from labor, residents, City Hall and businesses all need a seat at the table. We need to do this in a way that doesn’t harm small local businesses and doesn’t make Baltimore uncompetitive with local jurisdictions.”

Schleifer, on the other hand, said he would not comment on any pending legislation until it is brought up for a vote.

For his part, Schleifer said he would like to see term limits for councilmembers, a measure that was supported by several members of the previous council before ultimately falling short at a hearing.

Schleifer said he would be in favor of limits of either three or four four-year terms.

By enacting term limits, Schleifer feels it would breed new generations of political leaders who otherwise may not be as engaged in the political process.

“I want to live every day like it’s our last day in office,” Schleifer said. “That’s why I want to encourage our youth to take our positions one day, and I want to encourage them to be engaged and be part of the political process. I want to show them that if they are as involved in the community as I am, they can be the leaders of their generation.”

Just Like That, Steve’s Deli Closes Its Doors


A view from outside of Steve’s Deli on Jan. 3. (Justin Silberman)

The Greater Baltimore Jewish community lost a mainstay last week with the abrupt closing of Steve’s Deli, leaving Owings Mills with just one Jewish deli.

Steve’s Deli officially locked its doors and covered two of them with brown paper on Dec. 27, according to several neighboring business owners and their employees.

Workers received a text message from Steve Saval, the store’s owner, at 2 a.m. the day of the closing informing them of his decision and telling them to seek employment elsewhere, neighbors said.

A publicly listed phone number for Saval, an Owings Mills resident, was disconnected. The Steve’s Deli Facebook page, which had 149 likes, was also taken down.

According to an employee of one of the neighboring businesses who asked to remain anonymous, two of Steve’s employees allege that Saval took most of the equipment from the store, leaving the building’s owner “high and dry.”

The source added that a maintenance worker at the building said there was food left on the counter and in a refrigerator and freezer. All the food was thrown into a parking lot dumpster on Tuesday.

Steve’s was a welcome addition to the area when it opened at the corner of Owings Mills Boulevard and Crondall Lane in 2006. In addition to serving omelets, corned beef and rainbow cookies and matzoh ball soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Steve’s also offered catering services.

According to the source and Steve’s former employees, Saval, who has family ties to the Saval Foods Corporation, will continue to cater events “using someone else’s kitchen.”

Steve’s becomes the third deli to vacate Crondall Corner Shops since its 1998 opening, following Miller’s Deli and Ellie’s Deli. Its departure makes Lenny’s Deli in the Valley Village Shopping Center on Reisterstown Road the lone Jewish deli in Owings Mills.

Sinai Hospice Unit Dedicates Kosher Kitchen


From left: Dr. Gary Applebaum, Laure Gutman’s sister Diane Liff, Ariella Gardyn and Gutman’s parents Audrey Ionta and Murray Daitchman (Provided)

On Dec. 20, the hospice unit at Sinai Hospital dedicated its new kosher kitchen to the late Laure Gutman, a local nurse, longtime volunteer and passionate advocate for end-of-life care.

Sinai only opened its inpatient hospice unit a little more than one year ago, and it is managed by Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, a large hospice company owned by a Jewish family in Chicago. The unit at Sinai has 12 patient rooms, and Dr. Gary

Applebaum, nat-ional medical director of Seasons, said that, like the
hospital, 10 to 15 percent of their patients at any given time are Jewish.

“The key of the hospice unit is for it to be supportive and comfortable for patients, as well as family,” he said.

With that in mind, the Sinai hospice has had plans for a kosher kitchen from the beginning (the space already has a regular kitchen area), but it only came to fruition recently. As they were beginning the process, Applebaum said, he was introduced to Gutman, and she was integral in its construction.

The dedication was a way to honor her legacy, of course, but it was also seen as a way to combat the stereotype among some religious communities, including sometimes in the Orthodox community, of hospice care as “giving up,” said Applebaum.

Gutman was never one to toot her own horn, says her daughter, Ariella Gardyn, but “this was the one thing she never argued against.”

Along with Gardyn and Applebaum, the dedication included Gutman’s sister — who came from Israel and created a painting to hang in the kitchen — Rabbis Yissocher Frand, E.B. “Bunny” Freedman and Daniel Rose and other LifeBridge Health officials.

After a few people spoke, blessings were recited over two mezuzahs, which were hung on the doors of the area, and a plaque was unveiled. It read, “Kosher Kitchen: Dedicated in loving memory of Laure Gutman, a Seasons Hospice volunteer. She graced us all with her selfless devotion to her family and our entire community, using her strength and faith to make the world a more beautiful place.”

“It just feels good on my end that we did it for her, to honor her,” Gardyn said. “It was the last project she didn’t finish.”

The kitchen will be available to patients and families in the hospice unit and some food will be provided by Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, a volunteer organization that helps Jewish families facing medical challenges. Gutman was also an active member of that group, which also provides food for the kosher pantry at Sinai.

For Gutman, her Jewish faith was tied up in her desire to help people.

“She had amazing, amazing faith and amazing trust and belief,” Gardyn said. “I was lucky to be able to grow up with her.”

An Uncertain Future As new developments take off in Owings Mills, mall site remains a question mark

The site of the Owings Mills Mall (David Stuck)

Wrecking balls and bulldozers have ripped through the walls, roof and foundation that housed Owings Mills Mall, leaving the once-premier upscale Baltimore shopping center a shadow of its former self.

A pile of mostly dust and rubble now, the mall appears to be the last piece of the equation for what is likely to become, once again, an Owings Mills town center.

Elsewhere in Owings Mills, both Foundry Row and Metro Centre already have become hubs for local commerce, making the need for the mall site to follow suit even more pressing.

“It is extremely important that we get the mall right and that it is complementary of what’s been going on so far,” said Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, whose 4th District includes the mall. “What I call it is the Triple Crown of Owings Mills — and that third crown, the mall — needs to be complementary of those two developments [Foundry Row and Metro Centre]. We want the mall, or town center, to be something everyone is happy and proud of.”

The state of the Owings Mills Mall property has long been a topic of much debate and speculation among developers, politicians and residents. In addition, there is growing angst about the future of the vacant site and the lack of urgency on the part of site owner Kimco Realty Corp.

Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, met with four Kimco representatives on Dec. 21 to review Kimco’s redevelopment plans. At this point, Jones said, its primary focus and goal for the mall site is “a power center, a group of big-box stores.”

Jones, who said Kimco is in the process of putting together a tenant mix, expects to learn more in the next few months about the New York-based company’s plans for the mall.


Demolition at the Owings Mills Mall began this past summer. (David Stuck)

“It’s my goal to help [Kimco] be successful, because I want them to be successful,” said Jones, who added he has conducted 10 to 12 meetings with Kimco officials. “I wish things would have moved faster, but we don’t have all the cards. It’s up to the retailers if they want to come here, which is the other part of this equation.”

Talk of redeveloping the mall began publicly in 2011, when Kimco purchased half of the property from then-owner General Growth Properties. Kimco, which took sole ownership of the mall site earlier this year, was recently given preliminary approval from the Baltimore County Council for an open-air center.

But Kimco has offered few specifics regarding its intentions for the land.

In a prepared statement, the company told the JT it is “considering several different retail options … which will enhance the available shopping options and complement the surrounding community.

“A large-scale redevelopment has many moving pieces and takes an extended period of time to successfully execute,” the statement said. “We are encouraged by the considerable interest we’ve received from potential retailers at this early stage.”

Time Will Tell

Stakeholders are worried that if the mall site fails, Owings Mills will never reach its ceiling, and all of the work that has been done around the area will be diminished.

Brian Gibbons, whose Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons has redeveloped Foundry Row from the former Solo Cup Factory, said he is very excited about Owings Mills.

Earlier this year, his company showed its commitment to the community with two high-profile acquisitions, purchasing the 19-acre Reisterstown Shopping Center for $34.5 million and the 104,624-square-foot St. Thomas Shopping Center for an undisclosed amount.

“Right now, there seems to be a little bit more traffic in both Reisterstown and Owings Mills, which really helps everybody,” Gibbons said. “Both of those areas, in my opinion, are going to continue to perform at a high level.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, Owings Mills, designated as a growth area by the county in the 1980s, has hit its stride in recent years. Median household income last year was $69,891 with a population of 30,622 residents.

Continued population growth and wealth are two reasons Jones feels Kimco remains committed to moving forward with its plans for the Owings Mills Mall.

In May 2015, Kimco unveiled four renderings of what could potentially replace the Owings Mills Mall. All involved two rows of retail shops with sufficient parking and plenty of green space. The site plans showed the largest retail space would be 68,000 square feet with other retail and restaurants ranging in size from 6,300 square feet to 65,500 square feet.

After his most recent meeting with Kimco, Jones said — when looking at other retailers in the area — he “would imagine Kimco is talking with retailers such as Lowes, Target and Costco.” He also confirmed Kimco officials have had discussions with Walmart about adding one of its supercenters as an anchor, but there has yet to be an agreement.

One way or another, Jones said, he is confident some type of development will start to take place at the mall site within two years after Kimco finalizes its plan with prospective tenants. He added that 2017 will be a “big year in terms of expecting something to happen.

“From what Kimco has told me, their desire would be to do the retail first and then come back later for other things,” Jones said. “The retail Kimco is talking about doesn’t even come to close what was there before in terms of the mall. That size is gone.”

As part of the redevelopment, Jones said Kimco has also vowed to spend $8 million on renovations for the AMC Owings Mills 17 movie theater, which opened to great fanfare in 1998.

Jones’ colleagues hope Kimco stays true to its word and brings further quality development to Owings Mills.

In a prepared statement, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the JT he was pleased that the owner of the once-vibrant shopping- destination-turned-eyesore has taken some of his suggestions into account.

“We are encouraged that [Kimco is] finally actively marketing the property, something I have strongly encouraged in many meetings with Kimco senior management,” Kamenetz said. “I have consistently urged Kimco to aim high, as they secure tenants looking to make the most of the strong Owings Mills market.”

Jones, meanwhile, held a pair of community meetings in late August to take input from community members on what they would like to see fill the vacant property. He said many residents stressed that they did not want to see a Walmart Supercenter as an anchor tenant and that Kimco should aim to lure “higher quality” tenants.

Baltimore County District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat whose district shares a border with Jones’ district, expressed concern that Kimco might not have the community’s best interest at heart.

If a Walmart Supercenter opened at the mall, Almond said, two nearby Walmart stores — one at 8730 Liberty Road in Randallstown and the other at 9750 Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills — would likely suffer or close altogether.

As a result, her fear is that both the current Walmart locations would then become vacant spaces, much like the Shoppers on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills that closed in Jones’ district nearly six years ago.

“I have a problem trusting Kimco,” Almond said, “because their intent is on the bottom line. That may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. Because Kimco doesn’t live in the area, they don’t understand that what goes on at the mall will affect all of us.”

Different Ideas

Residents have also shared similar sentiments, noting the importance of the mall site establishing a unique identity to avoid the shortcomings of why the mall failed in the first place.

Mike Frank, a lifelong 30-year-old Reisterstown resident, believes big-box stores or a mixed-use center in general are not the solutions Kimco should be proposing. Instead, he would like to see the land used for recreational purposes.

“Bringing a Kohl’s, for example, instead of Walmart is equally as disruptive,” Frank said. “It sounds great conceptually to build these big-box stores and apartment complexes, but how will they impact the community? It might not be as great of a financial opportunity to build recreational use, but we are littered with those other options all up and down the Reisterstown Road corridor.”

Rayna Verstandig, a 19-year-old Pikesville native whose father, Carl, specializes in the redevelopment of shopping centers around the country as CEO of Pikesville-based America’s Realty, has other ideas. She said she fully backs a concept at the mall centered on big-box stores such as Costco, Lowes and Walmart because she feels they would better serve the local population.

“The area surrounding the mall is saturated with retail stores,” Verstandig said. “So it’s important to stray away from re-establishing stores such as Macy’s or Boscov’s, which have previously failed to generate substantial revenue.”

On Nov. 21, Jones introduced a bill that would have prohibited a retail department or discount store such as a Walmart Supercenter in excess of more than 100,000 square feet in Owings Mills.

Just eight days later, however, Jones pulled the bill hours before it would have been discussed at a council meeting and then ultimately sent to the floor for a vote.

“To be reasonable with [Kimco], we pulled the legislation,” Jones said. “It doesn’t mean I can’t put in legislation anytime I want, so it was never an issue of now or never. We have plenty of time to do whatever we think is necessary.”

Jones added: “At the time, I thought it was necessary, but there were some internal agreements that were made, which is why the bill was pulled.” He said he could not elaborate on those “internal agreements” because “Kimco is under a confidentiality agreement,” and he “has to be respectful of that.”

Almond, County Council chairwoman, said she thinks the bill would have generated enough support from the seven-member council to pass.

“I have a problem trusting Kimco,” Almond said, “because their intent is on the bottom line. That may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. Because Kimco doesn’t live in the area, they don’t understand that what goes on at the mall will affect all of us.”  — Baltimore County Council chair Vicki Almond

A spokeswoman for Kamenetz said the county executive declined to comment on whether or not he would sign such a bill since he does not speculate on pending legislation.

Elsewhere, Development Flourishes

Foundry Row

Foundry Row (David Stuck)

About a mile-and-a-half away from the mall, Foundry Row, the new $140 million retail center at the intersection of Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads anchored by Wegmans, has flourished.

Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, said nearly 95 percent of the 50-acre property has been leased with more shops opening in the coming months. By April, Gibbons said, he expects 100 percent of the 356,000-square-foot retail space to be occupied.

An additional 40,000 square feet for office buildings is expected to be completed in April and will be fully rented out to LifeBridge Health, which had originally agreed to lease 75 percent of the space.

Brian White, president of Northwest Hospital and senior vice president of LifeBridge Health, said the decision to set up a branch at Foundry Row was a no-brainer.

“What we have seen at Foundry Row is a transformative project and an opportunity too good to pass up,” said White, who also sits on the Owings Mills Corporate Roundtable, which meets monthly. “It really blows my mind how Gibbons and [Howard] Brown [chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises] have executed their visions. They are clearly committed to this area, which is something I think we need to see with the mall.”

The Metro Centre, a $200 million project of Owings Mills-based David S. Brown Enterprises, has also enhanced Owings Mills’ appeal. With construction starting five years ago on a 45-acre parcel of land located off Interstate 795, it boasts retail, luxury apartments, a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch, adjacent to the Owings Mills Metro.

For his part, Gibbons said the mall property is perhaps the third and most important piece of the puzzle.

Gibbons sees a lot of untapped potential at the mall for residential homes, retail shops and office buildings, among other amenities.

In fact, specifically for that reason, Gibbons said his company attempted to acquire the site in “2014 or 2015” but was turned down by Kimco.

Brown also tried to purchase the property, according to The Baltimore Sun. His company even built a road bridging his Metro Centre project to the mall. Brown did not respond to multiple requests through a spokesman seeking comment.

After failing to secure the property individually, Gibbons told the JT that both he and Brown sent Kimco a joint proposal with a check for an undisclosed sum in an unsuccessful bid to buy the property.

Because Gibbons and Brown have so much invested in Owings Mills, Gibbons felt they had a better vision on how to effectively cultivate the 100-acre site at the mall.

“We felt that if we jointly developed [the mall], we could do it in a really harmonious way to help lift the entire area, because it’s such an important piece of property,” Gibbons said.

Time Marches On

Proponents of the area such as Gibbons have urged Kimco to come up with a sustainable long-term project, given the mall’s checkered history.


The site of the Owings Mills Mall is still being torn down. (David Stuck)

Welcomed with open arms in 1986 as the area’s go-to destination, the mall was considered a rousing success in its early years.

On its first day, the 820,000-square-foot facility opened with more than 155 shops and was patronized by an estimated 100,000 people. Champagne toasts marked the grand opening, while gold dust and pink feathers fell from the ceiling in celebration of the new “fashion mall.”

But its reputation deteriorated in later years. Some point to the death of Christina Brown as the beginning of the mall’s decline. An employee of a cleaning company under contract to Saks Fifth Avenue, Brown was shot and killed in 1992 while walking on a path from the mall to the Metro station.

Saks abruptly left in January 1996, followed by the departure of other high-end retailers such as Lord & Taylor in 2002.

At that point, a number of stores started to disappear, and by September 2015, the mall closed off its interior doors. The last two remaining tenants, department store anchors J.C. Penney and Macy’s, vacated the premises two months later.

Mark Stewart, president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, said he wants to see the mall site adapt with the times. He hopes to see something in the mold of Nottingham Square in White Marsh, an outdoor center that features a collection of retail stores and restaurant franchises such as FedEx Office, Noodles & Co., Starbucks and Next Day Blinds, among others.

“The entity itself of a mall with a movie theater like we had in Owings Mills has gone the way of a dinosaur,” Stewart said. “Time marches on.”

Beth El Gets Centered An Oasis of Spiritual Growth

(David Stuck)

(David Stuck)

In these harried, complex times, it can be easy to forget the importance of taking a step back from one’s busy day, breathe and simply be.

Integrating this brand of needful mental, physical and spiritual health into one’s connection to Judaism (and vice versa) is exactly what Rabbi Dana Saroken and Rachel Siegal are aspiring toward with Beth El Congregation’s new Alvin & Lois Lapidus Center for Healing and Spirituality (aka the Soul Center) open now to the public.

“People want to grow and reach their best selves,” said Saroken, who founded the center and acts as its spiritual director.

“They want clarity in a complicated world, they want moral and ethical guidance through complicated moments in life, and I think in some ways, we do have that; Judaism has all that,” Saroken continued. “But the question is: How do we offer it in 2016, recognizing that circumstances are different than they were 30 years ago, if not 100 years ago?”

It was two years ago that Saroken began coming up with ways to further engage members of the community — be they congregants of Beth El or not, affiliated with other synagogues or not.

This was in the aftermath of an alarming report by the Pew Research Center in  October 2013 that discovered “[t]he percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2 percent.”

“I started to wonder how it could be that with everything that Judaism has to offer, we’re not inspiring people,” Saroken said.

The Soul Center — which officially opened on Sunday, Nov. 13 and had a wildly successful first week in which nearly 500 people participated in various mindful events ranging from drum circles to meditation to a mixology tisch — has become an oasis from the hurly-burly modern-day melee.

It has become a place where Saroken and Siegal feel they are announcing to the community, “We recognize the fullness and busy-ness of your family’s life and can offer you something that will allow you to feel like you were actually transformed in some way, in a certain amount of time, because that short amount of time might be all you really have nowadays,” Saroken said.

Saroken and Siegal (who took on her role as director of the center in June after six years operating as the development director at Pearlstone) are employing a four-tiered approach to the facility’s methodology.

“Our mission is to transform Jewish life in Baltimore through innovative experiences in mindfulness, healing, rejuvenation and growth,” Siegal said. “Your mind is doing something, your body is doing something, your spirit is doing something … and it’s all localized in your own community.”

To Siegal, what makes the center so powerful is its drawing in people who might otherwise feel they need to leave their local area to take a trip to, say, an ashram or a retreat far away on a long  vacation or some other expensive and time-consuming journey away from home.

With the Soul Center, the same kinds of restful and health-conscious experiences can be had close by and with family members, friends and other community members who are perhaps right down the street.

In addition to various group activities offered that will help bolster one’s mind, body and soul, the center is bringing in the likes of Sarah Shapiro, who has been a social worker for the past two decades and has worked closely with other area Jewish  organizations for the past 12 years to provide one-on-one short-term counseling sessions.

Owings Mills native and current Remington resident Jordan Goodman, 31, was tapped to lead drum circle and meditation sessions at the center.

“Jordan was not engaged in Jewish life but has an amazing Jewish soul,” Saroken said. “The fact that here’s this Jewish guy who’s out there and not necessarily connecting to his Judaism, that’s exactly why we’re here. We want to give people an opportunity to explore without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.”

“Without feeling judged,” as Siegal put it. “We want people to feel good about coming without worrying about bowing the right way or saying the right thing or being able to read Hebrew. Jordan is a  perfect story to show the power of what we’re doing here.”

Goodman, a licensed clinical professional counselor who also happens to be a longtime musician with a special predilection for drumming, agreed that when he was first approached by the center, he was somewhat reticent to join in.

“But when I met Dana, I felt an immediate rapport with her,” he said. “I was very blunt with her and asked, ‘Who is this ‘God’ you keep talking about?’ and brought up the fact that my own feelings  were different from hers. She understood and encouraged me to share my beliefs with the people who came.

“Once she said that, it gave me the confidence that I could be 100 percent myself in the work, and that is really what I’m always looking for. I don’t have to hide, I don’t have to quiet parts of myself to show up and do the work, because if I had to do that, I wouldn’t be as effective as I could be.

“I think they’re doing it right there for all the different, right reasons. It’s really something there for the whole community.”

BJC ‘Profoundly Disappointed’ by UN Resolution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized for telling the World Zionist Congress that a Palestinian leader convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews, but “on one side of the room it was well received,” said Rabbi Jack Luxemburg. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Jewish Council released a statement Monday saying it is “profoundly disappointed” by last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained from voting, a departure from its usual policy of vetoing any resolutions seen as too overtly critical of Israel.

The BJC called the resolution “one-sided,” claiming it didn’t capture the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“U.N. resolutions like the one approved last week — attacking the only democracy of the Middle East and choosing to focus on isolated issues — harm, rather than help, efforts to restart peaceful negotiations, by making it far less likely that the parties will come to the negotiating table,” the statement goes on. “The BJC believes that the United States’ strong support for its most steadfast democratic ally in the Middle East is both principled and strategic. Unfortunately, the abstention from last week’s U.N. resolution was neither.”

The U.S. is one of five permanent members on the UNSC, along with 10 nonpermanent, rotating members. This resolution — the first addressing “the Palestine question” since 2009, according to the United Nations’ website — was passed nearly unanimously, with all but the U.S. voting in favor. News outlets also reported a burst of audience applause in the packed room upon its passing.

The resolution did not mince words, calling out Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as having “no legal validity” and as “a flagrant violation under international law.”

President-elect Donald Trump had expressed support for a veto and said in a tweet, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” His named ambassador to Israel — David Friedman — is a more hardline Israel supporter, including pro-settlement.

Since the resolution passed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has targeted those countries who voted for the resolution, suspending, or at least limiting, working ties with 12 of the UNSC members, according to CNN. The Israeli Foreign Ministry also tweeted that it has removed the ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, both co-sponsors of the resolution, back to Israel as well as canceled a trip to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister and halted its aid programs to that country.

The December Dilemma How interfaith families make the holidays meaningful

cover_rotatorThe December Dilemma is a reality that many interfaith families live out each holiday season. The big question is how to balance Christmas and Chanukah in a family with a parent of each faith.

While families try to keep the meaning of Chanukah at the forefront of their celebrations, it can be difficult living in a country that overwhelmingly celebrates Christmas, particularly in a season such as this during which Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukah share the same date.

Some experts argue that the overlap between these two holidays is a good thing, however. It provides the ideal opportunity for open dialogue between faiths, setting the grounds for each to share important traditions and practice.

“It is important to try to recast what has sometimes been referred to as ‘December Dilemma’ to ‘December Delights,’” said Dr. Keren McGinity, director of Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement at Hebrew College’s Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education. “Give interfaith families the support they need to honor all of their family members as well as engage Jewishly. There is no one correct way. What is better for one family is not necessarily the solution for another.”

For interfaith families that are raising their children Jewish, the problem boils down to how to celebrate and properly respect the traditions of each faith without confusing the Jewish identity of their children.

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

“I encourage families to celebrate with distinction,” said McGinity. “By that, I mean to acknowledge both the sanctity of the Christmas holiday and the historical reality and meaning of Chanukah. Not to blend the two, but rather to celebrate each on its own merit and in ways that are meaningful to all parties.”

Sykesville resident Erica Hamilton is Jewish, but she and her kids celebrate Christmas with her husband’s family. This year, to accommodate observance of both holidays, the family simply planned parties on different dates to give room for proper celebrations.

“It took some extra planning,” said Hamilton, “but it is very important to me that for our children, Chanukah is seen as this great celebration just as much as Christmas, rather than one over the other. We give them both their due.”

Even on Christmas Eve, the Hamilton family won’t skip saying the Chanukah prayers and lighting the menorah before celebrating with the Christian side of their family.

Pikesville resident Mandee Heinl is raising a Jewish family with her Catholic husband, Steve. Although their kids are still very young, Mandee said they understand the Chanukah traditions, and she plans to teach them more of the story as they get older. The Heinl children also experience Christmas at their grandparents’ house, where the family has a tree and gives out presents.

“I know some families do presents for Chanukah, but we have never done that. We try to stick to traditions such as jelly doughnuts and latkes, lighting the menorah, gelt and dreidels,” she said. “Santa does not come to our home. I think it would be confusing to have more than one religion in our home, but that could change, and they will have more questions as they get older. Right now, we stick to Chanukah to keep it clear for them.”

Celebrating non-Jewish holidays with friends and family should never be considered detrimental to a child’s Jewish identity, some rabbis say.

“I tell families with Christian relatives that they should make sure they are celebrating whatever holiday with that side of the family. It’s an often-used analogy, ‘They’re going to someone else’s party,’” said Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “The core issue is if your goal is to raise Jewish children, the majority of your own celebration should focus on emphasizing the Jewish holiday.”

Heinl thinks the cross-pollination of religions can be a learning experience for children.


Mandee Heinl’s two young children experience both Christmas and Chanukah. (Photos by Mandee Heinl)

cover5“We have Jewish children, but they don’t miss any Catholic traditions that my husband wants in their lives,” said Heinl. “He takes my lead in Judaism, and I take his in how he wants to integrate his religion into it. I’m not intimidated by another faith, I have a strong Jewish identity and I hope my kids will too, but I think being around other religions is a win. They learn about people and cultures that believe differently than they do. I still want to instill a strong Jewish identity in them, but I don’t think teaching them to be wary of a different faith is a good way to do that.”

The Hamiltons and the Heinls are far from the only families navigating a two-tradition holiday season. Twenty percent of married participants in the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community study were intermarried.

That rate was 42 percent among non-Orthodox Jews ages 18 to 34. Thirty-six percent of practicing Jews surveyed in the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” were intermarried, compared with 79 percent among secular Jews. According to the study, 35 percent of Jews intermarried in the years 1970 to 1974. Between 2005 and 2013, 58 percent of married Jews had non-Jewish spouses, a 23 percent increase.

Commercialization and the Holidays

While Chanukah is of less religious significance to Jews than Christmas is to Christians, some feel Chanukah has become commercialized like Christmas due to the coinciding timing of the holidays.

“I think a lot of Christians would say Christmas is out of control in its commercialism,” said Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation. “I have for a long time advocated bringing Chanukah back to its humble origins, I don’t think it is helpful to the celebration of Chanukah to try and make it into Christmas. We should celebrate it for what it is, but I don’t think there is a need to make a huge to-do about it.”

For Jews from other countries, celebrating Chanukah in America might come with a bit of culture shock.

“It has become clearer to me as a South African Jew that there is a different way to celebrate Chanukah,” said Lara Nicolson, director of Shalom Baltimore and interfaith engagement at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “When I moved here 12 years ago, I realized American Jewish culture is very different. We have fallen into buying eight gifts and decorating our home for Chanukah. We have lights, and [our home] looks festive like many of the non-Jewish homes in the neighborhood.”

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

Having been raised in a country where Chanukah was more about family being together, lighting and displaying the menorah and making the traditional food, Nicolson was surprised by the complexity of the American holiday season. “Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, and it has become a very big American civil holiday,” she said. “But the gifts and the trees, they are American traditions.”

While some feel the commercialization of Chanukah can be detrimental to its traditions, it can be a valuable opportunity to educate non- Jews about the holiday — many are unaware of its minor religious significance relative to other holidays.

“The Chanukah that we talk about as competitive of Christmas is the American cultural observance, not the religious observance,” said Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “Setting up a dichotomy between the holidays is something interfaith families have to deal with, but ultimately as a rabbi, I want people to feel connected to Jewish values and ideologies. What I care about is that people know the story of why we celebrate Chanukah in the first place.”

So how does one emphasize Chanukah to children in a way that empowers their Jewish identity? Tradition is a big part of Chanukah, but simply lighting the candles and giving gifts is not necessarily provoking the questions that an interfaith family may need to ask.

“It’s a holiday about rededicating [the Second Temple], so every year, we need to rededicate ourselves to retelling the story of Chanukah and doing so with historical accuracy,” said McGinity.

PJ Library, housed in the Macks Center for Jewish Education, provides resources for families looking to educate interfaith children about the holidays. Gabrielle Burger, the library’s director, recommends “Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise” by Karen Fisman.

“A little girl named Rachel travels to visit her Italian grandmother during the holiday season and made a special menorah to bring with her,” Burger said. “The menorah gets left behind, so the girl’s non-Jewish grandmother goes to great lengths to create her own handmade menorah and to surprise Rachel with it as a gift so that they can continue to celebrate the holidays together.” This book illustrates how interfaith families can respect each other’s traditions.

This holiday season, PJ Library is sponsoring thematic Chanukah programming addressing heroism and how people can be heroes with a program focusing on the story of Judah Maccabee and how the Maccabees were able to fight for religious freedom, “which is something everyone can appreciate,” said Burger.

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

“We are moving away from the concept of gift giving — people were so happy to hear we were moving the needle away from commercialism and more toward how you can be the best and make the world a better place,” Burger said. “At every Chanukah program this year, we are giving out a bag with four pieces of gelt, two dreidels and a ‘value’ card that speaks about Judah Maccabee and the concepts of gevurah (heroism) and chesed (kindness), the values we are instilling in our families.”

While some might question giving out a gift bag after stating that the library is moving away from gifts, it is for good reason. Rather than seeing it as giving a gift, Burger sees the gift bags as something people can take home to continue Jewish education.

“We are trying to get a paradigm shift for the entire family,” Burger said. “It’s easier to understand [the meaning of Chanukah] by talking about the different aspects rather than the religion behind it. It is considered the festival of lights, and we talk about different kinds of candles and how you can bring light into your community. Gelt is so important because after the Maccabees’ victory was the first time that Jews minted their own money with Jewish symbols and Hebrew letters on it.”

Reinforcing Jewish Identity

“I always have been of the belief that these issues are more complicated for adults than for children,” said Schwartz. “A child is told, ‘Oh, you’re Jewish or Christian or whatever,’ and the child says, ‘OK, that’s me.’ A kid can go to a grandparents’ Christmas celebration and know, ‘I’m a Jew, but my grandpa isn’t.’ It isn’t going to impact the child’s Jewish identity, and I remind families of that. It’s also important to make sure to respect the other faith’s traditions, to understand what they are and what their origin is. [A Christmas celebration as a Jew] doesn’t have to be threatening.”

Rabbi Busch echoed Schwartz’s sentiment.

“It will be simpler for both the children and the family if they have only one religion in their household, but I know families very successfully raising Jewish children who take a more complicated approach,” said Busch. “If the goal of the parents is to raise Jewish children, the Jewish holiday experience should be the bigger thing in their lives than celebrating anything else. I believe kids can go to other people’s celebrations and understand one family member is not Jewish but the family as a whole is. It is a complicated message, but kids can understand.”

Busch stressed that it is important for kids to be given a consistent message. If a child is observing Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, “they can deal with the complications that arise from celebrating [Christmas] one specific time of the year.”

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Another aspect of the December Dilemma is determining how and where to celebrate both holidays and what objects — Christmas trees, menorahs, gelt — to incorporate into those celebrations.

Often, the solution is a happy combination. Nicolson’s family embraces the mutual holiday season. “We go to a friend’s house who are not Jewish on Christmas,” she said. “We celebrate Christmas Eve and realize it is an important holiday for them. But we also bring latkes and our menorah … We honor them and respect them and give gifts with them, then we go participate in Mitzvah Day.”

However, Nicolson understands that for some interfaith families, celebrating Christmas will be more significant than to others. “Chanukah is not one of our major holidays, and we have eight days,” she said, “so if a family is feeling challenged, you can accept that for some families, [Christmas] will be their major holiday and you should not compete. For those that are struggling with how to steer their traditions in an interfaith family, the first point is that the couple really needs to discuss it with each other first to figure out how to blend their family and faiths.”

For example, Gail Willoughby raised her family Jewish, and although her two children are now grown and identify as Jewish, their entire family attends a Christmas Eve candle-lit service out of respect for Gail’s husband and his traditions.

“We support him during his holidays as he supports us,” explained Willoughby. “He is a Christian, but he is at Beth El a lot for services and not just during the high holidays. It’s interesting because when we go to church, the people are always very curious about our holidays and will come greet me and say happy Chanukah and ask about our traditions. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me, and the conversations that we have are very positive.”

Willoughby regularly engages in interfaith dialogue as a member of the interfaith chavurah at Beth El. A majority of the members are couples with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father who are raising a Jewish family. As far as celebrating during the holiday time, the general consensus was that they celebrate Christmas with that half of the family but also take their menorah along with them.

“It’s a great time to share our traditions. No one is forgetting Chanukah, we are just showing respect for family members who aren’t Jewish,” said Willoughby. “There is nothing wrong with going and celebrating with family members who aren’t Jewish because there are traditions in other parts of the family.”

Moshe Moskowitz Remembered as ‘Simcha’ 13-Year-Old Talmudical Academy Student Killed in Crash

Moshe Moskowitz (left) poses for a photo with his brother, Naftali, during Bike4Chai. (Courtesy of Chai Lifeline)

Moshe Moskowitz (left) poses for a photo with his brother, Naftali, during Bike4Chai. (Courtesy of Chai Lifeline)

The funeral service for 13-year-old Moshe Simcha Moskowitz, son of Rabbi Doniel and Tamara Moskowitz, Dec. 15 at Sol Levinson & Bros. attracted mourners numbering in the hundreds — the chapel, which seats 500 to 600 people, overflowed to fill a large part of the entryway and a side chapel.

Moshe died Dec. 13 from injuries sustained in a four-vehicle collision on northbound I-95. His mother, Tamara, who was driving, was being treated at MedStar Washington Hospital Center as of Monday afternoon.

He was an eighth-grader at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, where his father has also taught for nearly three decades. His classmates arrived to the service by school bus.

“What is there to say?” said Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, the Academy’s executive director. “It’s devastating for our whole school community. Rabbi Moskowitz has been teaching here for 30 years — his family is our family.”

Outpourings of support and condolences on Facebook paint Moshe as a dedicated and thoughtful young man, an image the service reinforced. A Facebook post from Chai Lifeline, a Jewish service organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses, said that Moshe was one of the youngest Bike4Chai riders — a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he had diabetes, said his brother, Naftali, during the service. Moshe and Naftali raised $12,475 for the charity this year.

“A tragedy like this befalls a family and a community,” said Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, who was officiating the service. “[It’s] so difficult to understand and so difficult to make sense of.”

He went on to say that through faith, the community can endure and take hope.

“It’s a pain, and it hurts, but we will never lose our faith,” he said. “We will persevere.”

The rabbi was followed by Moshe’s father and two of his brothers, all of whom spoke emotionally and tearfully about how much Moshe meant to them.

“There’s really nothing I can say today that will do justice to Moshe,” his father, Doniel Moskowitz, said, voice breaking. “Simcha was his second name, but it’s what he was.”

Moshe was described as a kind, generous, gentle boy who had a passion for learning and a strong determination to do what was right. All spoke about his ready smile and ability to take on any challenge with a positive attitude.

“Moshe, you were my teacher, you were my rebbe,” Doniel said of his son. “Now, you are a rebbe for everyone.”

On the night of Dec. 13, the Moskowitz’s Dodge Caravan was slowing down as it approached a disabled black Honda Pilot on the roadway when an 18-wheel tractor-trailer struck the rear of the Dodge van, essentially crushing it between the two vehicles, according to Sgt. John Pietanza of the Maryland State Police College Park Barrack. A white Volkswagon was also struck by the tractor-trailer as it veered to the left in the initial collision.

Moshe was flown to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police. The driver of the Honda, Maria Chryssos, 58, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and its passenger, Anastacia Chryssos, 35, of Perry Hall, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were transported to Prince George’s Hospital Center. Linda Perline, 53, of Glenwood, the driver of the Volkswagon, was not injured.

There is no indication that, at the time of the accident, any driver was impaired, Pietanza said. The investigation into the incident is ongoing, and police ask anyone with information to contact the College Park Barrack.

Misaskim, a group that helps to ensure Jewish rites are protected during emergencies and tragedies, was called that same night to work with the Washington, D.C., medical examiner so that the body was released in a timely manner, according to a rabbi with the organization, Jack Meyer.

All I Want for Christmas Is … Chinese Food and a Movie



Chinese food and a movie on Christmas: It’s become a cherished Jewish tradition across the nation, and Baltimore is certainly no exception.

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste, estimates that being strategically located in Reisterstown, he has amassed a following of customers over the past 15 years that is “90 to 95 percent Jewish. Their habit is always to celebrate Christmas in a Chinese restaurant.”

“Usually the busiest day is Christmas,” Lee said. “Much busier than New Year’s Eve.”

Grinning puckishly in his characteristic scholarly glasses, dandyish bowtie and “executive chef” button-up shirt with  simple, immaculate white apron, the  65-year-old born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong approximates that at least 400 customers come in to eat or order takeout over Christmas and Christmas Eve.

The question becomes an obvious one: Why not cater to kosher Jews?

There was that cherubic smile again: “Those people live in Pikesville,” he giggled. “And rabbi [mashgiach] is too expensive!”

Sonny Lee (Mathew Klickstein)

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste (Mathew Klickstein)

A master culinary artist who specializes in delightfully crunchy Sonny Crispy Shrimp, sweet and succulent orange chicken and his mouthwatering Peking duck that bring in customers from as far as Philadelphia, Lee’s rationale for avoiding a kosher kitchen goes beyond the  financial.

“Too much trouble! And I’d have to hand over my kitchen!” he said.

“It’s very challenging,” laughed Amy Fan, who has managed the two-decade old kosher glatt Chinese restaurant David Chu’s China Bistro since 2006.

“We have to fight for fresh broccoli,” Fan erupted, when first asked about the difficulties of running a fully dedicated Star K-approved restaurant.

If the mashgiach — who Fan confirmed does not work cheap — discerns that even one head of broccoli in a case is unclean, the entire order must be discarded.It makes cooking up dishes with broccoli, a staple of many favorite Chinese entrees, both costly and sometimes impossible.

Vegetables with leaves, such as broccoli, are more prone to being tainted by bugs, Fan said, and therefore David Chu’s must on occasion find non-leafy substitutes such as snow peas and string beans.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” Fan said. “But it’s part of the business.”

Other kosher rules David Chu’s must strictly follow include allowing no dairy (since this is a meat restaurant) and closing early on Shabbat so the mashgiach can leave for services (which means having to work harder and faster on Shabbat and similar observant holidays).

Additionally, no one is permitted to bring in outside food; this includes employees on break periods/lunches at the restaurant.

“The staff has worked here very long, so they know the rules,” Fan said, noting that “No.1 rule, though, is you can’t turn on the fire yourself.”

Yes, even the most basic element of the kitchen — turning on the heat — can only be left in the hands of the mashgiach.

Lee’s right, then: It is both costly and a lot of trouble handing over one’s kitchen to a mashgiach. So why do it?

“People need me!” Fan said. “The [Jewish] population here. They say, ‘I have a big party, Amy. I need a big party!’”

To Fan, local Jews need that hearty General Tso’s chicken and warm and moist beef lo mein that is ready and waiting when all the other restaurants are closed on Christmas in particular.

“Yeah, of course lots come on Christmas and Christmas Eve,” Fan said, approximating as many as 1,000 customers during the holiday, which the restaurant is expecting to double this year, as Chanukah and Christmas fall on the same day.

“So heavy volume, in kitchen: Everyone going to die!” chuckled the Taiwan-born, 60-year-old Steve Chu, owner of Pikesville’s Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, about the intensely busy days ahead for his staff on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Jumbo Seafood has been around since March 1993, and in that time, according to Chu, he has seen enough of a crush over the holidays to boast: “On Christmas Eve: 98 percent Jews. On Christmas: 99 percent.”

It’s likely Chu and his staff will cook for as many as 1,300 customers this weekend.

“Wow!” Chu exclaimed. “Most crazy days of year!”

Chu has been opening up and running Chinese restaurants around the country in such locations as Virginia Beach, Dallas, and Duncan, Okla., so he’s become an expert on the “what’s” and “how’s” of customer motivations.

But the looming “why” question remains elusive to him.

“I don’t know if it’s a Jewish tradition or what,” Chu said, “but most American restaurants are closed. When they come every year as kids, they come back from school over holidays when they’re older, and then they come back when they’re adults with their own kids.”

Kelly Yang has managed the 3-decade-old Mr. Chan Asian Bistro in Pikesville for the past five years and agrees that the reason the vast majority of the 450 customers she expects to serve over Christmas and Christmas Eve are Jewish is largely a generational one.

She further mused that Chinese, like the Jews, have their own calendars and holidays, with many of the former closing down their restaurants early on the Chinese New Year normally around February in lieu of Christmas.

Lee too sees an affinity between the Jewish and Chinese people, one based on the unfortunate reality of discrimination. He recalled the anti-Semitism in this country that was especially prominent back in the ’40s and ’50s.

“Jews were welcomed in Chinese restaurants on Christmas,” he said, smiling again that this “habit” was then passed down from generation to generation, as observed by his fellow Far East food purveyors.

The value both Jews and Chinese people put on family is another similarity, Lee said, which is perhaps the clearest reason why the two come together so well during the holiday.

“Some feel we are their lost tribes!” Lee laughed. “They say, ‘Sonny, we have a lot of lost tribes. Maybe you are one!’ I think so too!”