Biden Pledges Continued Support for Israel

111414_ga_biden_smAmong the many personal connections Vice President Joe Biden has made in the Jewish community, he holds that of Elie Wiesel close to his heart. The Holocaust survivor, author, activist and professor said something that has stuck with Biden for a long time.

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Wiesel told Biden, who recalled the encounter during a speech before Jewish community officials Monday. Those words have inspired Biden in how he teaches his family about the Holocaust, and have provided a foundation to his foreign policy in regards to Israel and Iran, said Biden.

The vice president spoke at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly after being introduced by Holocaust survivor and advocate Nesse Godin.

Biden, one of several Democrats among a slate of presidential hopefuls who could be on the ballot in 2016, began by referencing his early connections to the Jewish community, including campaigning for the Delaware state Senate out of the Wilmington JCC. His unwavering support for the Jewish community began at age 13, he said, when he learned about the Holocaust at the family dinner table.

“[I was] never fully understanding why there was even a debate in the Jewish community about why there should be a state of Israel,” he said.

He now teaches his children similar lessons, and has taken all three of them to Europe for their 15th birthdays with the first stop being the Dachau concentration camp in Germany “to not only show them what man and humanity is capable of but also more importantly to let them witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit,” Biden said.

He credited Jewish federations across the United States with continuing to bear witness, something he said is getting harder as the Holocaust becomes more distant.

“Silence is never acceptable,” he said.

To that end, Biden is working to address the needs of Holocaust survivors in America, 25 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line, he said, and has held hearings about anti-Semitism in Europe despite criticism. He noted that anti-Semitic speech all too often gets disguised as opposition to Israeli policies.

“Too often in too many countries, opposition to Israel’s military operation crosses the line,” he said. “The president and I stand with you. … We make it clear that Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter of debate. It is not negotiable.”

Biden said he and President Barack Obama will continue to support Israel’s security, something he sees as necessary for the security of the United States.

“Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent one. It’s more than an obligation we have, it’s a security necessity,” he said. “We will never, ever, abandon Israel out of our own self-interest.”

As he spoke of Israel, which he said has no friend like the U.S., and vice-versa, he turned to Iran, and used the opportunity to refute critics of the Obama administration’s overtures to Tehran to achieve a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

“I’ve heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran, let me say to you clearly in a ‘Biden-esque’ way: we will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period,” he said.

He assured the audience that as the Nov. 24 deadline for signing a nuclear agreement approaches, the U.S. will not sign a bad deal.

Of course no discussion of Israel’s security would be complete without addressing the ongoing conflict with Palestinians. While Biden said part of securing Israel’s safety includes a two-state solution, he also sees opportunity for Israel and its Arab neighbors to battle emerging and longtime common threats together. And he is hopeful that it could change the political landscape of the Middle East.

“Israel and nearly all its Arab neighbors … find themselves on the same side in a fight against violent Islamist extremists like [the so-called Islamic State] as well as a regional struggle against Iran,” he explained. “They have all this in common and shame on us if we are not as nimble and as capable as our grandparents taking advantage of this.”

Can We Rise Above the Muck?



So much has been written since last week’s revelation that an unnamed Obama administration official used a barnyard epithet to impugn the reputation and political ability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that I will not add my own denunciation — however justified it might be — to the thousands of words already out there condemning the White House for what is at best a gross breach of diplomatic etiquette.

Instead, it’s worth noting that such salty and destructive language is apparently run of the mill in the current administration, and may well have been in those of presidents past.

Just six days after the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic came another in Politico that examined the perilous position occupied by the president, who, by most accounts, has lost control of both his domestic and foreign policy agendas as well as a firm grip on the shaping of his political legacy. In it, a senior administration official describes Obama’s visceral disgust of the lead-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections by dropping an S-bomb: “There have been $2 billion in ads s—-ing on the president and no one to defend him,” the official says.

In the same article, a top presidential aide drops another, telling reporters Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown that the administration knows “we’re in for a s—- storm if we lose the Senate.”

A colleague of mine described the occupants of the West Wing as puerile, that their antics and statements have reached a new low in American political life. But their language is unfortunately nothing new. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney famously dropped an F-bomb in telling off Sen. Patrick Leahy. And Obama’s aides wouldn’t be the first to be juvenile: Veterans of the Clinton White House were implicated in removing the Ws from West Wing computers before the administration of President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

No, the use of vulgarity by government officials is quite arguably so regular as to not be noticed, and no less than the president himself — President Nixon recorded himself doing just as much — has spewed profanities from the Oval Office. What is new, however, is that such comments are now regularly quoted, that the baser forms of language arguably are the new parlance of political speech.

I hope that I’m wrong.

By the time you read this week’s JT, voters throughout the nation will have decided who shall occupy their state’s legislature and governor’s mansion and who will represent them in both houses of Congress. In the days leading up to Election Day, many expressed to reporters their disgust with a phenomenon that President Clinton described as “the politics of personal destruction.”

What historically happens after all the ballots are counted is that politicians enter their offices determined to rise above the muck that characterized their campaigns. Should such a return to high-minded debate not occur, they and their aides will have demeaned not only the institution of their offices, they will have demeaned what it means to lead a people as great as those of the United States.

A Stage Legend’s Final Bow

The name Vivienne Shub has been synonymous with Baltimore theater for nearly three-quarters of a century. When she passed away at the age of 95 on Sept. 18, Shub left behind her son, Daniel Shub, her daughters, Judith Shub-Condliffe and Amy Shub Rothstein, her younger sister, Naomi Greenberg, as well as grandchildren, cousins, nieces and nephews. But Shub’s passing was also a huge loss to friends, colleagues and audiences in Baltimore and beyond.

Shub was born to Rose Slovin, a seamstress and homemaker, and dentist Samuel Slovin on Oct. 18, 1918 in Baltimore. Both of her parents were Eastern European immigrants. Shub’s sister, a cellist and Everyman Theatre’s dramaturge, was born when Shub was 4 years old. Although Naomi Greenberg lived in Holland for 30 years, Greenberg says she and her sister shared an unbreakable bond that lasted to the very end of Shub’s life.

“Vivienne showed a love for acting very early,” Greenberg recalled. “She loved to imitate our grandmother’s Yiddish accent.”

Greenberg and Shub’s father was also a story teller and poet and encouraged his daughters to pursue their artistic talents.

Shub studied music at the Peabody Conservatory and performed in the plays at Forest Park High School. She also won roles in community theater productions such as those at Baltimore’s Vagabond Theatre. After high school, Shub enrolled in full-time acting classes at the Ramsey Street Theatre Conservatory in Baltimore.

Since there was no professional theater scene in Baltimore in those days, as a young woman, Shub decided to try her luck in New York City. But she soon concluded she was not well suited to New York’s fast-paced and cutthroat theater scene. Shub returned to Baltimore and enrolled in a secretarial school, gaining the skills that enabled her to support herself. She continued acting in her free time.

In 1941, Shub married Louis Shub, a concert pianist, and the couple raised three children together. Daniel, the couple’s second child, said that his parents’ marriage gave him a “distorted view of what marriage was like. They had a great relationship. They were both gentle and encouraging to one another and were very compatible, creatively and politically.”

His parents met at a political meeting, likely a meeting about the need for desegregation in Baltimore, the son said.

Almost immediately following their wedding, Louis was required to leave his new bride and report for military service. He was stationed in North Africa and Italy. While he was gone, said their son, his parents wrote to each other every day.

Photos provided.

As parents, he added, Vivienne and Louis were exceedingly approachable and always ready to lend an ear or to provide support.

In 1963, Shub helped to found Center Stage, Baltimore’s first regional professional repertory theater. She acted in Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” the first play produced by the fledgling company, and continued to perform with Center Stage for the next 20 years. In the mid- 1990s, Shub became a company member of Everyman Theatre. She performed with Everyman well into her 80s, said Greenberg, appearing in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Buried Child,” “Uncle Vanya,” “Hedda Gabler” and “The Trip to Bountiful.”

For her 90th birthday in 2008, Shub performed “Viva la Vivienne,” a one-woman show written by her sister as a tribute to Shub’s life and career. Greenberg also wrote “The Cone Sister,” a one-woman show about the lives of art collector Etta Cone and her sister, Claribel. Shub performed the play at Everyman in 2006.

Shub’s acting was not limited to the stage.

“She also did a lot of commercial work,” said Harriet Lynn, Shub’s cousin and an actress and producer/artistic director at the Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium.

Shub appeared in the films “Runaway Bride” and John Water’s “Cry Baby,” television shows “Homicide: Life on the Street,” public television programs and even training films, said Lynn. She also had an illustrious teaching career in the theater department at Towson University, where she was granted an honorary diploma in 2012.

Lynn said that one of Shub’s greatest contributions to Baltimore’s theater community was the leadership she provided to the Baltimore Theatre Alliance, which she founded in 1996.

“What she did with BTA was huge,” said Lynn. “Only Vivienne could have done this. She coalesced over 50 theater companies and this large group of individuals of actors [and] designers.”

Shub spent the last years of her life at Towson’s Edenwald retirement home. In her final days, Greenberg was amazed that her sister could still recite lines of dialogue from plays she had acted in decades earlier. She was amused that her sister enjoyed speaking Yiddish and reminisced about their Yiddish-speaking grandparents.

Shub received a send-off during a memorial program at Everyman Theatre on Oct. 20. On Nov. 13, the Jewish community will celebrate Shub’s life at a special event at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The event will feature remarks from her family, friends and colleagues, clips of the actress at work and an exhibition paying tribute to Shub’s remarkable life and 72-year career.

For additional information, visit

School Daze

110714_beshertLauren & Matthew Mittleman
First Date: June 2008, Artful Gourmet Bistro

Wedding Date: June 14, 2014
Venue: Woodholme Country Club
Residence: Owings Mills
Favorite Activity: Walking their Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix, Chloe

Lauren Shapiro and Matthew Mittleman were schoolmates. They played at the JCC preschool and attended Franklin Middle School together. They even summered together at Camp Milldale.

However, the two were just acquaintances. It wasn’t until after their college graduations in 2008 (she from Towson University, he from the University of Maryland) that they actually became friends. By then, Lauren had moved to Pikesville, so Matthew offered her a ride home from a graduation party. The next day, he called.

They met at the Artful Gourmet Bistro in Owings Mills during Matthew’s lunch break. Flattered by his choice of one of the nicest restaurants in the area, she also was concerned about the menu, not wanting to be embarrassed by lettuce in her teeth. So, they headed over to Courtney’s, where they enjoyed a simple bagel. That impressed Matthew.

They were together again the next day, and that quickly grew to about four times a week. Within a month, they returned to Courtney’s, where Matthew asked Lauren to be his girlfriend.

Both returned to graduate school. Matthew earned his M.B.A. and is now a health care consultant for Signature Consulting Group in Windsor Mill; Lauren earned her master’s degree in education. After briefly teaching, she is now a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Ellicott City.

They professed their love about a year into their relationship. By 2010, they discussed marriage, but there was no rush.

“We were young, having fun, trying to find what we were going to do with our lives,” Matthew said.

Their first major vacation together was to Turkey and Greece in June 2012. Matthew proposed in Athens on the last night. They strolled in a park next to the Acropolis, and he knelt down and presented her with the ring she had helped design a year earlier.

They were married at Woodholme Country Club on June 14, 2014. Columbia Jewish Congregation Cantor Jan Morrison officiated the traditional ceremony. The weather was perfect for the outdoor ceremony witnessed by 200 friends and family members.

The most telling moment was Matthew’s first glimpse of Lauren in her wedding dress. As he twirled his bride, he was shaking and crying, full of emotion. They celebrated with their 28-member wedding party, and the night concluded with a sparkler sendoff, as they departed on a golf cart.

Matthew calls Lauren the “It girl,” noting her drive, determination and bubbly nature. Lauren relies on Matthew’s calmness, and his caring and romantic nature.

“He’s the type of guy who would rather please you than himself,” she said. She must have known something good was in store when he shared his blocks with her in preschool.

Linda L. Esterson is an Owings Mills-based freelance writer. For “Beshert,” call 410-902-2305 or email

The Importance of Free Will

This Shabbat we read from Parshat Vayera, which tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God destroyed these two towns filled with malicious people because they were so evil, God could not help them find the path of goodness.

Many times in the Torah, one must delve very deep into the text, looking at every word and every note, to find deeper meaning in a passage. In the story of Sodom, there is a very uncommon trope, shalshelet, which occurs only four times in the entire Torah. Each time, it sheds light on the meaning of the word on which it appears. The trope has 16 notes that alternate in frequency; it’s like one deliberating on a difficult decision — she makes a decision, than changes it, then changes it back and then ultimately comes to a final decision. Usually this decision is a struggle between one’s internal versus external self and ultimately reveals the essence of who he or she really is.

In the story of Sodom, shalshelet appears on the Hebrew word vayitmahmah, meaning, “and he delayed.” The trope reflects Lot’s indecision as to whether he should go away from Sodom or stay in the city where he has lived a lifetime. However, the choice whether to stay or leave is just the first layer of the choice. The deeper layers consist of Lot’s decision whether to believe in God or comply with Lot’s malicious neighbors. In Sodom, Lot has lost his connection to his Israelite religion; he has been seduced by his evil companions. Lot must reconnect to his Israelite companions, or it will jeopardize his life along with his family’s survival.

According to God’s plan, Lot chooses to return to his Israelite people and goes on to live a more virtuous faith. But what can we learn from this story? Are we supposed to learn to always follow our Judaism blindly or only rely on our internal instincts for guidance? While looking at this story, I chose to interpret this passage to mean that we should always follow God and our Judaic faith.

My personal belief about God is such: To believe that God either exists or does not exist is looking at God through a binary glance. I prefer to take the more multidimensional perspective and believe that God both exists and does not exist at the same time. If one believes that God exists or does not exist, then in his or her truth, He either exists or does not according to his or her beliefs. I believe that God exists, so in my truth, He exists. In Genesis 4:7, God says to Cain, “Timshol (Thou mayest … overcome sin).” By saying mayest, God is giving Cain and all of his descendants free will. Most people solely interpret free will as the choice whether to act in goodness or in evil. However, I believe that through timshol, God is not only giving us the ability to choose our actions, He is giving us the choice of whether to believe in Him or not, and henceforth decide if He exists in our own truth. The shalshelet reflects, for me, the understanding in Jewish life that our decisions, our beliefs and our actions can change back and forth over time and that indecision can, at times, help us understand our world, God and ourselves even better.

Sage Friedman is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

­Profile in Conscience

(Photo by Jérôme Prébois)

(Photo by Jérôme Prébois)

It is not necessary for every new movie about World War II — and there are a surprising number each year — to reference the Holocaust. Even so, many moviegoers consider the calamities inextricably linked, as do most filmmakers.

Contemporary audiences have the benefit of hindsight, and as Jews we are particularly attuned to the Third Reich’s crimes against civilians, so we never forget the genocidal campaign happening concurrently with the military operation— even if it’s not the movie’s focus, or isn’t mentioned.

The Holocaust is alluded to only once in “Diplomacy,” Volker Schlondorff’s  marvelously directed and beautifully acted film about the late-summer night in 1944 when Paris’s fate hung by a thread of conversation. Yet, that passing reference is arguably the crux upon which the high-stakes drama turns.

Adapted by Cyril Gely from his play and starring the great veteran French actors Niels Arestrup as German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz and André Dussollier as Swedish consul Raoul Nordling, “Diplomacy” (opening Nov. 14 at the Charles) is at its core an impassioned debate about the prospects for human civilization.

Gen. Choltitz, you see, has been recently dispatched to Paris with an order from Hitler to destroy the city when the Allies arrive. Choltitz has approved the wiring of explosives that will not only demolish the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, et al but will cause the Seine to flood, killing thousands of residents.

A loyal, seasoned officer, Choltitz has every intention of carrying out his instructions. It doesn’t matter that no military advantage will ensue from turning one of the world’s great cities to rubble; an order is an order. The logic behind the order is likewise of little interest to him, with revenge (for the bombing of German cities) constituting sufficient grounds.

Enter Consul Nordling, through a hidden entrance to the general’s hotel headquarters that Choltitz was unaware of, with a nocturnal plea to defy Hitler’s wishes. The impassioned Nordling delivers an array of arguments, all effortlessly rebuffed by Choltitz, but the diplomat does manage to reveal the man behind the uniform.

Not for the first time in movies (although it is a comparatively recent development), the German officer isn’t depicted as a one-dimensional, sadistic true believer. He is an educated man with a wider worldview, albeit one only arrived at through the devastating realization that the Third Reich had irrevocably crossed serious lines under the influence of Fuehrer worship.

At one point in their verbal fencing match, Choltitz informs Nordling that early in the war he had unhesitatingly carried out an order to eliminate the Jews in a town on the Eastern Front. It didn’t even occur to him to question Hitler’s directive.

To Nordling — though he doesn’t say it — and to us, no conceivable justification exists for the targeted murders of a minority. Choltitz, we gather, has reconsidered his behavior during that mass murder as the war ground on and Hitler lost his tenuous grasp on reality.

The question is whether Choltitz will, yet again, obey an immoral and indefensible order from his once-infallible Fuehrer. His decision depends on whether he has enough character to acknowledge that he willingly participated in (at least) one heinous act.

Can a supposedly neutral diplomat outwit a general with his finger on the button? Can a Nazi officer rejoin the civilized peoples of the world? Even if you don’t find the latter a compelling conversation starter, and you are well aware that Paris survived the war intact, “Diplomacy” is an expertly made and deeply rewarding profile in conscience.

Michael Fox is a San Francisco-based film critic and journalist.

Hurtful Words

Obama Administration officials attempted to distance themselves from administration officials’ insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after those comments set off a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers, organizations and pundits.

In an article written by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic, anonymous administration officials used choice words to denounce Netanyahu for what the article claimed was the administration’s belief that the Israeli leader lacks vision, leadership and courage to make tough political decisions necessary to handle the region’s problems.

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chicken—-” one official is quoted telling Goldberg. “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars, the bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. … He’s got no guts.”

Confronting the outrage prompted by those undiplomatic comments, along with further allegations in the article describing the administration’s internal disdain for the Israeli prime minister as having recently reached a boiling point, National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey denied that there was anything unusual in the relationship between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.

“Certainly, the comments in the article do not represent the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive,” Baskey said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office.”

Although the White House’s response was timely, it fell short of a complete disavowal of what the officials unartfully tried to tell Goldberg — that members of the administration are angry at recent reports that Israel was moving forward with plans to build additional housing units in East Jerusalem.

“Obviously, despite the extremely close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, we do not agree on every issue,” Baskey said. “For instance, we have repeatedly made clear the United States’ longstanding view that settlement activity is illegitimate and complicates efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest delivered a message that was almost identical to Baskey’s but added that Senior National Security Advisor Susan Rice will be conducting numerous meetings with Israeli officials in Washington, D.C., which Earnest believes is proof of continuing friendly relations.

When asked whether the White House will investigate the source of the comments like it had in other national security leak cases, Earnest was unclear in his response, telling the reporters that such news media leaks were not unusual. Yet, Earnest did not deny that the comments were made.

But beside the list of incendiary words used to express their frustration, little of what the officials in Goldberg’s article said surprised security experts and others who closely follow the diplomatic developments between the two nations.

There were many indicators of the icy relationship between Obama and Netanyahu throughout much of the president’s administration, including disparaging comments by the president himself when he was caught on a hot mic in 2011, complaining to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy about having to deal with Netanyahu every day.

Most recently, the White House refused to grant requests from Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Rice in an apparent snub during his visit to the United States last week.

“What is shocking here is that these comments were not made off the record but on background — meaning the White House official knew they would be printed and linked to the White House,” said Elliot Abrams, who served as a top national security adviser to President George W. Bush. “That was deliberate, a deliberate ad hominem attack on the elected prime minister of a close ally. This is sophomoric behavior of a sort we have a right to expect no White House official will engage in and no president will tolerate.”

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers also chimed in to condemn the insults.

“We know that relations between allies can be strained at times.

But there is no excuse for Obama administration officials to insult the prime minister of Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, the way they did,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement. “Apparently, the Obama administration does not believe it has enough problems on its hands dealing with America’s enemies in the Middle East. It also wants to insult and alienate our allies. That does nothing but harm to America’s national security interests, and President Obama must put an end to it immediately.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed alarm at the anonymous comments, saying that he was “shocked” and “disappointed” and called on the administration to put an end to such damaging leaks.

“I realize that two allies, such as the United States and Israel, are not going to agree on everything, but I think it is counterproductive and unprofessional for administration officials to air their dirty laundry in such a public way,” Engel said in a press release. “I am getting tired of hearing about the leaks and denials. This ought to be the last time we hear of such talk because it is getting to a point where nobody believes the denials anymore.”

For his part, Netanyahu took the attacks in stride, reminding the people of Israel that a majority of Americans unequivocally support them, despite administration grumblings.

“As prime minister, I am responsible for Israel’s security. I care about the lives of every citizen and soldier,” he said in an address to a special Knesset session in memory of former Tourism Minister Rechavam Zeevy, who was assassinated in 2001. “I have been on the battlefield many times. I have risked my life for the country, and I am not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state.”

Right in Our Backyard

Last year’s G.A. hosted overflow audiences. (AG for JFNA)

Last year’s G.A. hosted overflow audiences. (AG for JFNA)

Nearly 3,000 participants from 124 communities, including 1,000 first-time attendees, will gather at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County beginning Sunday to discuss today’s pressing Jewish issues, including rising anti-Semitism in Europe, Jewish life on college campuses, Jewish education in North America and the ongoing conflict in Israel and the wider Middle East.

The overarching theme of the 2014 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America is “The World is Our Backyard.” It runs from Nov. 9 through 11.

“We want people to understand that it’s as casual and easy to be involved with the Jewish community as it is to be in your backyard with your friends,” said Gail Norry, co-chair of this year’s G.A. along with Baltimore’s Howard Friedman. “It’s the same across the Jewish world.”

This year’s conference features heavy hitters in American, Jewish and Israeli life. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan will open the G.A. with a session hosted by National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg. Vice President Joe Biden has been confirmed for Tuesday. Participants will also hear from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and NBC’s Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell.

“It speaks to the power of the G.A. that we were able to attract so many prominent speakers this year,” said Norry.

Jewish Times editor-in-chief Joshua Runyan and Geoffrey W. Melada, editor-in-chief of the JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week, will also make presentations at the G.A. and the adjoining conference of the American Jewish Press Association.

“We, the federation, touch more Jews on the planet than any other movement. We want this to be the largest gathering of lay leaders in the business of federation,” said Linda A. Hurwitz, national campaign chair of JFNA and chair-elect of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We want to build the G.A.’s reputation as an event that is the central gathering of federation leadership, where there will be multiple delivery of messages through combinations of thinking
sessions, inspirational moments that define our work.”

Half of world Jewry is represented by JFNA with 153 federations and 300 smaller communities throughout North America.

In a similar vein to last year’s “Fed Talks,” this year’s G.A. will debut “FEDovations” a series of breakout presentations highlighting the most successful JFNA programs and activities.

“I’ve been on many missions and it’s always fascinating to me when you get together with federations across the country, people are champing at the bit to learn about each other’s best practices,” said Norry.

Baltimore will be well represented at the FEDovation breakouts on Tuesday with presentations from Renée Dain, director of community services at The Associated, titled “Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance: Transforming the way individuals and families navigate transitions and access services,” and from Leslie Pomerantz, senior vice president at The Associated, who is presenting “Riding the Wave of Giving Tuesday: Seizing unexpected opportunities to drive dollars and donors.”

Also new to the 2014 G.A. is the Joshua Society inaugural lunch. Similar to the existing Prime Minister’s Council, the Joshua Society honors those families and individuals who pledge $10,000 to $24,999 to their federation’s annual campaign.

G.A. participants and watchers can keep track of events through the Twitter hashtag #JFNAGA and the JFNA Twitter account @jfederations or by downloading the JFNA GA app, where users can share pictures and posts, trade likes and find programming notes and locations.

With a diverse range of panels, breakout sessions and conversation pits to attend, what is the hoped-for takeaway for participants?

“First and foremost, I think it’s important for people to go to the conference and see the power of the national organization,” said Norry, “to hear about the most pressing issues and to have great ideas and information to bring back to our individual communities.”

“As a part of the federation, as a contributing member of your community, this is your opportunity to be with other people who care as much as you,” said Hurwitz. “There will be people from all over the world, and this is just an hour’s drive away from us. It behooves us as Baltimoreans to take advantage of this opportunity right in our backyard.”

Out of the Loop

Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation, is the largest synagogue in Anne Arundel County. (Provided)

Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation, is the largest synagogue in Anne Arundel County. (Provided)

In 2012, when Rita Kaufman Grindle’s now 17-year-old daughter Maura wanted to join her North America Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) group on an Eisen-drath Israel Experience (EIE) program, Grindle sought financial assistance from The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. The Annapolis resident and member of Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation in the Anne Arundel County community of Arnold, Md., was told that her daughter wasn’t eligible for assistance, because the family lived outside of the catchment areas of both federations.

“I was told by someone at the Washington federation that I live in ‘no-man’s land,’” recalled Grindle, though she couldn’t remember with whom she had spoken.

“The only scholarship money we received was $250 from NFTY that they gave for her bat mitzvah,” Grindle continued. “I had to enter into a payment plan with EIE in order to send her.”

At the time, said Grindle, the family was not as familiar with NFTY as they are now. Had she known about the existence of a separate NFTY Mid-Atlantic Region scholarship, she would have had Maura apply for the assistance.

But she maintained that the lack of organized Jewish resources in Anne Arundel County is appalling. The community in and around Annapolis is large enough to support three synagogues — Orthodox Congregation Kneseth Israel, Conservative Congregation Kol Shalom and Reform Temple Beth Shalom — a Chabad House, a Jewish chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy and the availability of kosher food at a local Trader Joe’s, but it lacks federation representation in either Baltimore or Washington, both no more than an hour away.

According to Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, research and analysis director at the Berman Jewish Databank at the Jewish Federations of North America, an estimate from the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University claims there are 8,050 adult Jews “by religion” in Anne Arundel County. “You’d have to add roughly 40 percent more to include adult Jews of no religion [adults who identify as Jews for reasons other than religion] and Jewish children,” said Kotler-Berkowitz. “You’d end up with an estimate of a little over 11,000.”

By contrast, an estimated 93,400 Jewish people live in the Greater Baltimore area, according to a 2010 survey of the community, whereas a 2003 study concluded that 215,000 Jewish people live in the greater Washington, D.C., area, making it the sixth-largest Jewish population in the country. Still, an estimate of 11,000 Jewish residents would make the Jewish community in Anne Arundel County larger than that of Nashville, Tenn. — more than 7,800 people,
according to 2002 data — which boasts its own Jewish federation.

Despite the fact that those affiliated with synagogues in Anne Arundel County are not eligible to receive funds or services from The Associated or the Washington federation, Grindle said she has been solicited for donations by both organizations. She said that the federations ask for donations during High Holiday services in Anne Arundel County synagogues, as well as at other times during the year.

(Grindle admitted that those solicitations may originate from the fact that her name has appeared on the mailing lists of Jewish organizations such as the Reform movement’s Camp Harlem and the Jewish National Fund and subscription lists of the Baltimore Jewish Times and Washington Jewish Week.)

According to Anna Greenberg, 85, a lifelong member of Annapolis’ Jewish community, over the years, she and others have made attempts to organize a united leadership body.

“About 12 to 15 years ago, we did start a United Jewish Council,” she said. “It included all the 501(c)(3)s, the synagogues and groups such as the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah and B’nai Brith.

“We met for a few years, had a festival, but then the Reform synagogue said, ‘We can do this bigger and better.’ And they can,” added Greenberg, who belongs to both Beth Shalom and Kneseth Israel.

“The Reform synagogue under the leadership of Rabbi [Ari] Goldstein does really good work — a lot of social justice. We do a food drive for My Brother’s Pantry, and between Christmas and New Year’s we take in all the homeless, feed them, clothe them [and] play games with them. They have a lot of young members with a lot of energy.”

Some residents of Anne Arundel County were flummoxed why their community hasn’t affiliated with either The Associated or the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, but according to Michael Hoffman, chief development officer at The Associated, the question is simply one of geography.

“The Associated’s primary catchment area for community development and community building is Baltimore City and Baltimore County,” said Hoffman.

Likewise, Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said that in his understanding, Washington D.C.’s federation was formed to serve the greater D.C. area, which is “contiguous of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.”

Rakkit, who has been with the federation for almost four years, said he was unaware of any conversations regarding the concerns of the Anne Arundel Jewish community vis-a-vis the federation.

“I am not aware that we are doing any active fundraising there,” he explained. “It’s just not part of our strategy.”

Greenberg said that Washington D.C.’s federation “didn’t want us,” although she was uncertain about why that was the case. She said that more than 10 years ago, the community was approached by The Associated, which offered to “take over our fundraising.”

“We said OK, but then we got a tremendous bill from The Associated,” she said. That put an end to the relationship.

Rabbi Goldstein at Beth Shalom, said that there are “a lot of reasons” why the synagogues in Anne Arundel County aren’t affiliated with either of the federations. For one thing, said Goldstein, “We are kind of far away. Those institutions don’t stretch their arms out that far. I’m sure those institutions would be glad to have us, but it’s complicated. We can’t do it ourselves.

“Add to that the fact that the people who live here are divided about 50/50, about whether they cast their gazes on Baltimore or Washington,” Goldstein continued. “People here have roots in both places.”

Others contend the needs of Jewish residents are being met through alternative channels within the Jewish world. Rabbi Philip Pohl of Kol Shalom pointed to the work of Edward Finkel, Northeast Region director for the Jewish Federations of North America.

Finkel explained that JFNA, as an umbrella organization that represents 153 Jewish federations and more than 300 small non-federated Jewish communities across the United States, looks out for the needs of Anne Arundel County through its Network of Independent Communities.

Finkel said he’s tried to help the Anne Arundel community organize itself since he was assigned to the area several months ago and there was
a series of meetings with Jewish community leaders and stakeholders aimed at strengthening the community’s unity.

“The points of entry are the synagogues,” said Finkel, “and the community leaders are working on having a broader structure, since not all Jews in the county are synagogue members.

“Where do synagogues’ responsibilities begin and end? We believe that the need to organize has to come from within.”

Greenberg hosted a community meeting in her home where Finkel pitched JFNA affiliation. Kneseth Israel and Kol Shalom bought into it and sent their mailing list, but Temple Beth Shalom, which is the largest, wasn’t interested.

“They felt that it wouldn’t make sense to take money they could use for their own programs to give it to JFNA. We did try, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve done what I could.”

As for Grindle, she is not hoping to receive a scholarship for when her son travels to Israel. But she wants others to appreciate what she says is an injustice.

“I believe that the politics is hurting our kids,” she said, “and the Jewish future.”

Verbal Assault

As fallout from anonymous Obama administration officials’ insults toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues, advocates for people with disabilities are calling on the White House to issue a separate apology for officials’ reported use of the word “Aspergery” in their description of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to reshape American society’s attitudes toward and strive for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, told the Washington Jewish Week Thursday that she hopes the administration directly addresses the use of that word and reforms its internal etiquette and sensitivity practices.

“Disability impacts Americans in huge ways. Literally, 18.6 percent of us have disabilities, which means a majority of us have a loved one with a disability,” said Mizrahi. “And so what they think they were trying to convey is that [Netanyahu] is a person who’s incapable of building a relationship.”

In an article published in The Atlantic on Oct. 28, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg listed the collection of outrageous words he has heard Obama administration officials direct at Netanyahu.

“Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’ (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.),” Goldberg wrote.

The article exploded in the media in the days following its publication primarily because of another word used by one anonymous administration official, who called the prime minister “a chickenshit.”  Yet, the use of the word “Aspergery,” which references stereotypical traits of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, might hurt the administration in more than just in its relationship with Netanyahu and Israel.

On Wednesday, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability advocacy organization based in Boston, released a statement singling out the word “Aspergery” and called for action from the administration.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “The term ‘Aspergery’ was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.

“The Foundation calls on the administration to release a statement denouncing the use of the name of a disability in a derogatory manner,” Ruderman continued.

Going beyond the use of that word, Mizrahi thought the insults between the two countries are unfortunate, pointing out that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was once quoted in Israeli media questioning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” fervor in pursuit of an Israel-Palestine peace deal.

“I know that there is a lot of concern about what an unnamed official said about Prime Minister Netanyahu, but definitely using disability as an insult is disgusting — to use it as an insult or slur — but I will say that I hope that the insults diminish on both sides, because there are some very serious issues right now,” said Mizrahi, pointing to a reported nuclear deal with Iran in development and the escalation of violence in East Jerusalem. “Whether it’s disability names or any other kind of names, we need to work together.”