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.”

mapter@jewishtimes.com

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.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

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.”

For Maryland, Brown and Frosh

103114_editorial_lgIn the races for the top two state positions on Tuesday, Brian Frosh for attorney general and Anthony Brown for governor, both Democrats, are more experienced and more in tune with mainstream Maryland voters than their opponents.

Frosh, a proud member of the Jewish community, has been a state senator representing District 16 since 1994. For 11 years, he has been the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. During the three-way Democratic primary in June, the Gazette quoted him as pointing out that as attorney general, most of the laws he’ll be enforcing, he has written.

A mainstream liberal, Frosh has earned high ratings from consumer groups and high votes for his work to protect the environment, particularly the Chesapeake Bay. He also gets good marks on civil rights. Unsurprisingly, considering his leadership in restricting who can have access to firearms, he received an “F” from the National Rifle Association. These are among the reasons we believe he should be Maryland’s next attorney general. His Republican opponent, attorney Jeffrey Pritzker — who is also a proud Jew and a past board member of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville — lacks Frosh’s stature and experience.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has admittedly run a lackluster campaign in his bid to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. It is perhaps the lack of dynamism and policy specifics from the Brown camp that has allowed his Republican challenger, businessman Larry Hogan, to close the wide gap between them to fewer than 10 percentage points.

But Brown has crucial experience that Hogan lacks: eight years as lieutenant governor, another eight as a state delegate, and military service including a 10-month Army Reserve stint in Iraq while serving in the statehouse. Brown’s Jewish running mate for lieutenant governor, Ken Ulman, is impressive in his own right, having served two terms as Howard County executive after one term as a councilman.

Hogan, meanwhile, has no elective experience — neither does his running mate, former USDA official Boyd Rutherford — and we do not believe the governor’s chair is a place for on-the-job training. We are also leery of Hogan’s call to make Maryland “more business friendly” — which Pritzker has done as well — without just as strong a commitment to building a state that is more affordable, cleaner and livable for its working and middle-class residents, who need access to better transportation and sustainable wages in order to thrive.

We trust that, as governor, Anthony Brown will be equal to that challenge.

‘City College Made Me’

The stage was packed for City’s 175th anniversary, which featured a Hall of Fame induction.

The stage was packed for City’s 175th anniversary, which featured a Hall of Fame induction.

Maryland’s oldes­t public high school, Baltimore City College, turned 175 years old last weekend.

As part of the festivities, City held a Hall of Fame induction ceremony to honor six accomplished alumni. Hosted by college adviser Rodney Joyner, the event was held in the school’s William Donald Schaefer Auditorium. Other events included The Women of City Awards brunch and a gala at Martin’s Valley Mansion.

“These six honorees were once in your shoes,” principal Cindy Harcum said at the induction ceremony. “They walked these halls and sat in your classrooms. One day, you might be on this stage as well.”

This year, the Hall of Fame welcomed assistant secretary of Maryland’s Division of Development Finance and Community Development Administration Frank Coakley, WPI Health Delivery Institute strategic adviser Jay Himmelstein, Big Screen Store owner and business entrepreneur Jack Luskin, WJZ-TV Channel 13 television personality Ron Matz, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development Maria Price-Detherage and veteran sportscaster Michael “Mike” Trager.

“The inductee ceremony comes on such a momentous occasion,” said City president Michael Hamilton. “On this stage, we honor six distinguished alumni. I honor our alumni, and I honor all of you: City past, City present, City future, City forever.”

The Friday morning event commenced with a continental breakfast with Hall of Fame members, inductees and guests.

“One of my favorite parts of the whole ceremony is the recognition of the Hall of Fame members. You mean so much to us,” Joyner said.

Himmelstein was thrilled. Working with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy on health care policy and reform, he credited City for providing him a jumpstart in life.

“BCC gave me a window of opportunity,” said Himmelstein. “I loved my time here and am filled with enthusiasm to be back. I am given too much credit as a wrestling star though. It was all about my team.”

Now working on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, he discussed his involvement in health care reform at the ceremony.

“Despite the controversy, we have helped 20 million people get health care who otherwise would not have,” he said. “There is always more work to be done.”

As the “cheapest guy in town,” business owner Luskin said his experiences at City were “the best of times and the worst of times.”

“It was the tale of two cities: just not London or Paris,” said Luskin. “I was born prior to the Great Depression, and lived above a kosher butcher. There were streetcars on Pimlico, and resources were rationed. It was the best of times and the worst of times. Baltimore City College was the best of times.”

Like Luskin, Coakley was thrilled by his education at City. Gazing around the room, he noted the expansions made to the school after his graduation.

“It is unbelievable to me that I was so young when I graduated here and left these halls. You all look a lot better to me. Even the ladies weren’t here yet,” said Coakley. “However, from the great professors to the principal, Baltimore City College isalways in my heart. City forever.”

As the event ended with school anthems “The Castle on the Hill” and “City Forever,” the newly inducted members assembled at the Hall of Fame plaque to see the unveiling of their names.

“I have one thing left to say about City College,” said Luskin. “CCMM — City College made me.”

 

‘A Worldwide Kitchen’

 

 

More than 1,000 people got their bake on at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore in Owings Mills last week.

Starting at 6:30 p.m. last Thursday, Jewish mothers and daughters bonded over bread at the Great Challah Bake, a prelude event to the worldwide Shabbos Project that was coordinated locally by Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning. They cracked eggs, pounded flour and braided dough, all in preparation for the weekend global Shabbat celebration.

“Baking Challah is such a great way to mentally prep yourself for Shabbat,” said event volunteer Renee Jorisch. “Shabbat is about bringing the feminine divine presence to your home. I bake challah every week, and I love sharing this emotional experience with the community.”

Challah Bake organizer Rivka Malka Perlman, who led a team of more than 200 volunteers, stressed the beauty of the global challenge to keep one entire Shabbat together.

“We are not just in the JCC gyms, we are in a massive, worldwide kitchen,” said Perlman. “I can feel the walls tumbling down and oceans melting away. I got a message this morning from a Challah Bake in Israel. The Shabbos Project is bigger than us.”

Sponsoring organizations included The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the JCC and Seven Mile Market. The event began on a high note as people filled their plates with catered food and danced around the baking tables. Exposing many participants to the art of challah baking for the first time, both newbies and seasoned pros joined forces to make fresh dough from scratch.

“I’ve never made challah before, but I am so excited to learn,” said occupational therapist Jessica Gertz. “I am thrilled to be just one person in this global event.”

After showing a Shabbos Project video on huge projection screens, Perlman invited a special guest onto the stage. Frida Granat, 88, came to celebrate with her granddaughter after hearing about the event from Perlman in Seven Mile Market that morning. The Eastern European-born bubbie never dreamed that she would see hundreds of women participate in challah baking without fear.

“I survived Auschwitz,” said Granat. “When we were at the camps, I was told to go in one line, and my parents went in the other. I never saw them again. However, seeing this event all these years later makes me realize how far we’ve come.

Leaving the stage to thunderous applause, Granat joined fellow bakers and rolled up her sleeves. With more than 750 bowls set up, mothers, daughters and friends shared stations as they crafted the perfect loaf.

“I am at a table with my whole neighborhood,” said Melissa Scnidman. “I didn’t grow up observant, so I know both the secular and religious sides of Judaism very well. I am thrilled to share my challah techniques with my neighbors.”

Stay-at-home mom Beth Goldstein looked forward to being hosted by a Baltimore family for the entire Shabbat. Goldstein kept her first Shabbat in Israel. Since then, she’s tried to sprinkle more Judaism into her life by keeping more customs and volunteering with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

“I went to Israel for the first time with my daughter last January,” said Goldstein. “I really grew in my Judaism after that trip.” Hoping the Shabbos Project will become an annual event, Goldstein could not wait for the weekend to begin.

“Look at this room. It gives me chills,” said Goldstein. “I think the Shabbos Project is such a unique idea.”  Similarly, Sandra Swerd could not wait to test out her baking skills. Communicating through sign language with her translator, Swerd did not let her lack of hearing get in the way of enjoying the event.

“This is my first time ever making challah, and I was curious to try it,” she said. “I’ve never done it before, and I was curious. I heard that thousands of people came out for the project in South Africa last year. It is incredible.”

From speeches to giveaways, participants and organizers deemed the Great Challah Bake a success.“This is more than I could ever dream of,” said Perlman. “Spreading Shabbat awareness has filled this room with merriment and enthusiasm. We are all united by the idea of Shabbat, and this event was the icing on the cake.”

A Delicate Balance

2013_Runyan_-Josh“The pursuit of truth,” concluded the recently departed Ben Bradlee, “changes your life.”

The iconic former executive editor of The Washington Post, who passed away last week at the age of 93, made those comments to good friend Jim Lehrer of PBS as part of a reflection on a career that catapulted him to fame and fortune with the publication of “The Pentagon Papers” and the ensuring Supreme Court victory and the breaking of the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down a sitting U.S. president.

But the pursuit of truth did more than just make Bradlee a millionaire — if love is truth, it may have even ruined two of the journalist’s three marriages — because Bradlee’s guidance to such reporters as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein crafted the modern journalistic age we find ourselves in right now.

Indeed, many people entered the profession because of Bradlee. I myself became a journalist because of Jason Robards’ Academy Award-winning portrayal of him in “All the President’s Men” — cool and composed, with an indignant temper stewing just beneath the surface, holding on to a hot story like a bulldog when the collective forces of the government, other news outlets and even junior editors told him to let go.

What he bequeathed to every person who ferrets out a story is an ethics that puts a premium on the truth, emphasizing that no official or institution should be able to secret it away with the excuse of protecting the public. But he also stressed that reporters shouldn’t recklessly trample upon the rank and file in their pursuit — “Tell me again why we need to ruin this person’s life?” he would ask, according to The Post’s Martha Sherrill.

This balance between discovery at all costs and sensitivity to how much damage can ultimately be wielded by the pen is on full display in the coverage surrounding the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel of Washington, D.C., on charges of voyeurism. An authority on matters of conversion is accused of surreptitiously recording women at the National Capital Mikvah next door to the Kesher Israel Congregation he led as senior rabbi while they prepared to immerse in the ritual bath.

He pleaded not guilty at a preliminary arraignment just before the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, but hardly a day has gone by without some new revelation in the case. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, a police search of his office at Towson University — where he was a professor of religion and ethics — turned up surveillance cameras disguised as ordinary household items, and Towson students have told reporters that on tours of Kesher Israel and its mikvah, Freundel invited them to shower and use the bath.

What tends to get lost in digging up the details is that there are actual human beings affected by this story. The knee-jerk reaction among many is to point out that Freundel’s wife and children are likely undergoing tremendous agony (his daughter was at the hearing when he was brought into the courtroom in shackles), but there are a host of alleged victims and potential victims — women, converts, students — some of whom are questioning their faith and their trust in a man they viewed as a scholar and religious giant.

The JT and its sister publication, the Washington Jewish Week, have kept this in mind in reporting the story. Where the truth leads, only Providence can know.

Freundel Planned to Take More Female Towson Students on Tour

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

A Towson University senior who is taking a class Rabbi Barry Freundel taught prior to his arrest said she and “a couple of other girls” were invited to tour his synagogue.

“I had never planned on doing the mikvah, but going to the synagogue sounded like a cool experience,” Karen Berry, who is a student in the “Judeo-Christian Perspectives in Medical Ethics” class, said Thursday afternoon outside the classroom.

Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14 for allegedly setting up a hidden camera disguised as a clock radio in the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath next door to his Washington, D.C., synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation, in Georgetown. He is charged with six counts of voyeurism, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He is suspended without pay from his synagogue and suspended from all faculty responsibilities at Towson.

On Wednesday, the university began its own investigation into whether or not Freundel violated Title IX guidelines that pertain to sexual misconduct, university spokesman Ray Feldmann said. His office in the university’s liberal arts building was searched by police the previous day.

“There are parts of the Title IX law that pertain to sexual misconduct and behavior that creates what’s called an ‘impermissible hostile environment,’” explained Feldmann. A violation would mean Freundel’s actions interfered with a student’s ability to continue his or her education at Towson. “We’re certainly not accusing Dr. Freundel of having done these things, but we’re looking at whether or not he did.”

Feldmann said university officials felt they had enough reason to investigate Freundel based on information from students, which the university has been collecting since the arrest.

He said the university probably won’t make a decision on Freundel’s long-term status at Towson until both the Title IX investigation and the criminal investigation have concluded.

Berry said Freundel, who first started teaching at Towson in 2009 as a tenured professor, seemed knowledgeable.

“He was very prominent in the Jewish community so I figured he would be a good professor,” she said.

At least a half-dozen other students used the National Capital Mikvah during class trips, according to an unnamed woman who helped Freundel with the mikvah from late 2013 through May, The Washington Post reported. She wasn’t sure if students were recorded, but is afraid they might have been, she told the newspaper.

Another woman told The Post that she noticed a clock in the bath area as far back as 2012. According to reports, there was also a fan in the mikvah, and a manual for a fan with a hidden camera was found at Freundel’s home.

Nicole Coniglio, a senior mass communication major, told student newspaper The Towerlight that she toured the synagogue for a religious studies class she was taking with Freundel. While on the tour, she and other students were asked to shower in the mikveh, and while she declined, two of her Jewish classmates accepted.

Towerlight editor-in-chief Jonathan Munshaw, who is in the same class as Berry, said students came to class the day their professor was arrested and waited about 20 minutes before leaving.

“The arrest occurred in D.C., so even as a reporter, I was, frankly, behind the story,” Munshaw said. He wrote a piece later that afternoon, but since removed himself from reporting on further developments. He said the next class was “emotionally draining.”

That class resumed on Tuesday with Rabbi Avram Reisner of Chevrei Tzedek teaching.

“At the end, he just said, ‘This is obviously a very unfortunate situation. I’m very disappointed,’ and just opened the floor to everyone who wanted to share their thoughts,” Munshaw said of the new professor on Wednesday.

Reisner said that first day of teaching Freundel’s classes was somewhat difficult, but his job was to get things back on track academically.

“When I walked in, there was a little bit of discomfort among the students,” he acknowledged a day later. “Today, I’m teaching a normal class.”

Feldmann said that in addition to gathering information, the university is offering resources to those with questions or having difficulty processing what happened.

“A lot of students are very upset, feel like he was a good professor,” Feldmann said, “somebody they admired and looked up to.”

The university is also encouraging students who may have information that could aid in the police’s criminal investigation to report it to university police, who may then refer them to Washington, D.C., police.

“Anything Dr. Freundel is accused of doing in D.C., we don’t believe he did anything like that at Towson University,” Feldmann said.

While there have been no complaints against Freundel in the past — the university even looked at past student evaluations — and learning opportunities outside of class are encouraged, Feldmann said taking students to the mikvah was “where it would have crossed the line.”

“We encourage our faculty to create off-campus learning activities for our students,” he said. “The mikvah portion of a class trip is something we would not have condoned or sanctioned had we known about it.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Testing Your Knowledge

NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

At a time when statistics say young people are less aware of current events than perhaps ever before, the founders of Baltimore-based NewsUp think they have the solution.

Years ago, brothers Andrew and Jason Schuster, along with their friend Coleman Anderson, wanted to start a news outlet that millennials could relate to. Last month, they launched NewsUp, a website devoted entirely to relaying the news through interactive quizzes. From quizzes about local craft beers to Maryland’sgubernatorial race to Orioles statistics, the site offers people a way to test what they know about the biggest news both locally and internationally and read up on what they don’t have a clue about.

“In our generation, with the birth of mobile devices and social media — as these devices have gotten smaller and information has just exponentially increased in availability — content has gotten smaller and smaller,” said Andrew Schuster. “Long form just isn’t an ideal type of content for the medium. Anything that’s just quick and easy and digestible is proven to be the most effective way to deliver information on these devices.”

The five-person NewsUp staff works to provide content that both informs and engages their audience. Most of this audience, they’ve found, consists of 25- to 30-year-olds who are, for the most part, up to date on current events, but they have heard from some teachers who have incorporated it into their lessons and even some mothers who use it as a way to pass the time at sporting events.

“Our mission is making news fun,” said Schuster. And if the audience becomes more interested in the topic and chooses to learn more about it, all the better.

When users take one of NewsUp’s quizzes — most are a standard 10 questions — they are given scores upon completion and a breakdown of which questions they got right and wrong, along with a brief explanation about each topic and a link to a more in-depth story on the subject.

In the second month since its official launch, a major focus has been to emphasize local content. While they have seen users from all over the world, their primary market is the Baltimore area. All three founders are from the region, and, in the years of development, they have found Baltimore to be the ideal place to launch a startup company.

As part of Baltimore-based incubator Accelerate Baltimore, they have been supported by executives from other Baltimore businesses, such as Under Armor and Millennial Media.

“Being a business in Baltimore, which is where I’m from, has been amazing just because we’re working with entrepreneurs who are local, who are trying to make Baltimore a more attractive place for business, and we’re really kind of right in the middle of this entrepreneurial, startup ecosystem evolution here in Baltimore,” said Schuster. “The community here has been a tremendous resource. I think Baltimore’s probably one of the best places in the world to have a startup right now.”

It helps, he added, to have a company built around fun. Between board meetings and paperwork, Schuster said he likes to make some of the quizzes himself. And the competitive nature of their company runs all the way up the ranks of their staff.

“We’re thinking about making a leader board for our staff,” said Schuster.

“Everybody wants to have the quiz that gets the most hits.”

 

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

 

 

A Real Dog Fight

The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech. Photo by David Stuck

The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech.
Photo by David Stuck

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland claims Baltimore County Animal Services (BCAS) has policies and practices that aim to undermine the shelter’s public accountability.

In a statement, the ACLU raised concerns about the shelter, which is in Baldwin in northern Baltimore County, preventing volunteers and members of the public from documenting and speaking out about its conditions and practices.

A group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services has been staging protests and calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the county-run shelter’s kill rate and increase adoptions as well as improve facility conditions and veterinary care and increase its volunteer force.

The ACLU statement cites concerns by “numerous advocates, including Reform BCAS” reporting that volunteers and advocates are being hushed in their free speech through retaliation or threats of retaliation and have been banned from taking certain kinds of photos.

“Our rights under the First Amendment are the foundation of Americans’ ability to hold government agencies accountable,” Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “That is why it raises red flags for the Baltimore County Animal Shelter to selectively impose restrictions upon photography and speech freedoms at the facility, seemingly in an effort to stifle criticism.”

County officials have dismissed Reform BCAS’s complaints before, calling them “unfounded” and saying they work to adopt animals out as quickly as possible.

ACLU cited several incidents, including the removal of a volunteer who was photographing animals, a Facebook post to the Reform BCAS page from Don Mohler, chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, that said citizens can’t take photos of animals at the shelter and volunteers who told the ACLU that they were afraid to speak out. The statement also said two ACLU volunteers who posed as a couple looking to adopt a pet and brought with them large cameras said they were able to take photos, but a shelter official said it would not have been allowed for “inappropriate” purposes such as “if you were from Channel 2.”

Baltimore County officials said they do not have a policy against photographing animals at the shelter.

“It’s never been about photography — it’s about people coming into the facility and disrupting the work of staff trying to do their jobs,” county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said via email. “When volunteers are working at the shelter, they have specific tasks that don’t include photography, so they have been asked not to take pictures during their shifts. They are welcome to come back at other times as members of the public and take pictures.”

Kobler also mentioned that shutter clicks and flash photography can frighten nervous animals. The county plans to open a new, $6 million shelter in August 2015 that will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet for adoptions, a surgical center, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room. The shelter also hired two full-time veterinarians and introduced public spay and neuter services earlier this year.

The county maintains that the accusations from Reform BCAS and the ACLU are groundless.“This is a story manufactured by a handful of advocates who have disrupted shelter employees from their work taking care of animals,” Kobler said. “The story is generated by a group of people who want the county to release feral cats into neighborhoods.”