‘Glue That Holds Us Together’

101714_shabbosPut down your cell phones and grab a prayer book, because the Shabbos Project is coming to Baltimore. From sundown to nightfall on Oct. 24-25, the project is encouraging locals to join Jews around the world and keep Shabbat for one weekend.

Starting in South Africa in October 2013, the Shabbos Project introduced many Jews to Shabbat observance for the first time, say organizers. Going global this year, more than 212 cities — including Baltimore — in 33 countries will participate in the 25-hour event. Festivities will begin with a women’s Challah Bake at the Owings Mills JCC on Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and conclude with a Jewish Unity Havdallah service and concert at the Park Heights JCC on Oct. 25 at 8:30 p.m.

“Shabbat is a common denominator for all Jews. It is the glue that holds us all together,” said Rabbi Nitzan Bergman, executive director of the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Living and Learning, which is coordinating the Shabbos Project in Baltimore. “We are tailoring our events to be more specific to Baltimore and hope to reach as many people as possible.”

Geared toward people who do not always observe Shabbat, the project hopes to inspire people to keep Shabbat more frequently. Max Abelson, a former master’s student at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, is coming down from Philadelphia to participate in the event. Raised as a secular Jew, he became more involved in Judaism after meeting Berman during his time in Baltimore.

“I do not keep Shabbat regularly, and I cannot wait to come down for this weekend,” said  Abelson. “This is such an important initiative. The Baltimore Jewish community really elevated my involvement in Judaism, and I cannot wait to take part in the weekend’s events.”

Playing trumpet in the Saturday night concert, Abelson will take the stage with Diaspora Yeshiva Band member Avraham Rosenblum in the debut of the Brisket Brothers.

“I am known as the ‘Rockin’ Rabbi,’ and I can’t wait to perform in the Shabbos Project,” said Rosenblum. “When I heard about the Shabbos Project, I felt inspired. I volunteered my services because I feel like just being in each other’s presence during Shabbat is important.”

Helping run the Challah Bake, Jen Gaither hopes to encourage women to come out for that event.

“The Challah Bake is a time for Jewish women to bake challah together on the Thursday evening leading up to the Shabbos Project,” said Gaither. “Baking challah is a powerful and easy way for Jewish women to connect with their culture and religion and for mothers to show their daughters that Judaism is important and relevant to them. Just as they shape the challah, women can help shape the world they want for their daughters.”

Gaither believes people should take a break from their daily lives and enjoy the beauty of Shabbat.

“When the boundaries between work and home have faded and technology is a constant distraction, families need a time to unplug and connect,” she said. “And we all need to be reminded that there is something bigger than our egos. Committing to one Shabbat is a very doable way to do this. Individuality is important but not more important than community and relationships, so let’s all observe one Shabbat together to bring back that balance in our lives.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation is looking forward to the event and cannot wait to see how it impacts the Baltimore community.

“It is a magnificent project, and I encourage all to participate,” he said. “Whether you celebrate Shabbat regularly or not, Shabbat is a beautiful weekly unifier and is meant to be observed by everyone.”

For more information, visit website.

 

afreedman@jewishtimes.com

Prominent Rabbi, Towson Professor Arrested

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been suspended without pay. (File photo)

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been suspended without pay. (File photo)

Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in the 3000 block of O Street N.W. by Washington D.C. Metro Police. Freundel, 62, was charged with voyeurism, according to Officer Hugh Carew, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department.

Freundel, who was suspended without pay from the position he has held since 1989, was to have appeared in Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Wednesday. He was also suspended from Towson University, where he was a faculty member in the department of philosophy and religious studies.

A member of Kesher Israel with intimate knowledge of the case against Freundel confirmed that the investigation centers around a camera or cameras placed in the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath located in a synagogue-owned building adjoining the congregation. The mikvah and the synagogue are separate legal entities, according to tax documents.

According to the D.C. criminal code, the crime of voyeurism exists when a person unlawfully maintains a peephole, mirror or any electronic device for the purpose of secretly or surreptitiously observing an individual who is: using a bathroom, totally or partially undressed or changing, or engaged in sexual activity, without the consent of that individual and in an area where a person would expect privacy.

Voyeurism is graded as a misdemeanor under most circumstances, but the charge can be upgraded to a felony if the defendant distributes the spied-upon material.

As a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for voyeurism is imprisonment of no more than one year or a $2,500 fine or both. Graded as a felony, the charge carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years in prison and a fine of up to $12,500.

While Freundel has been charged with voyeurism, his mere arrest is not conclusive of his guilt.

To be lawful, an arrest must be supported by probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. The government’s burden of proof to convict Freundel at trial, as with any criminal defendant, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard.

“This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community,” the synagogue’s board of directors said in a statement shortly after news of the charges broke. “At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.”

The statement acknowledged that the board was aware of allegations against Freundel prior to his arrest.

“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the board of directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” said the statement, which went on to emphasize that the synagogue reamins open “as a place of learning, prayer and community.” “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

The synagogue has retained the Gibson Dunn law firm, the same firm hired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the fallout over closures on the George Washington Bridge that were said to be politically motivated. As of press time, it was not known who represents Freundel.

Tuesday morning, uniformed police and plainclothes officers were seen leading away in handcuffs a man whom neighbors said was Freundel, according to Washingtonian magazine. Police were later seen removing computers and other items, according to that report.

Rabbi Herzl Kranz of the Silver Spring Jewish Center said he was saddened to hear the news.

“It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for all Jews as well,” the rabbi said. He quickly added all the facts must be known before judging his fellow Orthodox rabbi.

Freundel received his ordination from Yeshiva University. He has served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Maryland, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a consultant to an ethics review board at the National Institutes of Health. He heads the conversion committee at the Rabbinical Council of America and is author of “Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity” and “Why We Pray What We Pray.”

In a Sept. 18 article in Washington Jewish Week about the state of Orthodox Judaism, Freundel is quoted about the leading reasons for divorce. “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place, and the Orthodox community, no matter how traditional, is not immune from this, and it creates terrible problems,” said Freundel. “Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages.

“It’s two keystrokes away,” he continued. “You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue.”

Read our update on this story here.

spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com
dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

An ‘Oy Vey’ Journey of Self-Discovery

101714_filmEstella Fish is Puerto Rican, and she clasps a rosary while fretting about her directionless youngest daughter, Alexis. Yet, she sounds like a typical Jewish mother concerned about an underachieving adult child.

It may have something to do with the fact that Estella’s husband is Jewish, although he’s easygoing and soft-spoken rather than schticky. The truth, though, is she embodies the universal instincts of mothers everywhere and reminds viewers of their own mom.

New York writer-director Nicole Gomez Fisher modeled Estella on her own mother for the altogether winning indie comedy “Sleeping With the Fishes.” For her first screenplay, Fisher followed the age-old advice to write what you know.

“The characters are all loosely based on my family,” she confided. “The actual story itself is a mix of fiction and truth. It is based on my upbringing of being a Puerto Rican Jew, my mother being Puerto Rican and when she met my father made the choice to convert to Judaism. So we were raised Jewish, and, for the most part, we went to Sunday school and Hebrew school.”

“Sleeping With the Fishes” presents a colorblind New York in which young people pay no attention to ethnicity, race and religion. Fisher’s childhood was a lot more complicated, however.

“It was a weird upbringing in the sense that my sister and I tended not to be accepted by kids in Hebrew school,” she recalled. “They would say things like, ‘You know you’re technically not a Jew,’ or ‘You don’t celebrate this [holiday],’ or ‘You’re not kosher.’ They put labels on us and made us feel very excluded.”

“Sleeping With the Fishes” premiered last year at the Brooklyn Film Festival. It’s airing numerous times in October and November on various HBO networks, and it comes out Oct. 21 on DVD.

As the film begins, Alexis (appealingly played by Gina Rodriguez) is living in Los Angeles and working humiliating jobs in a futile attempt to make ends meet. She’s summoned back to New York — her more responsible sister Kayla (an acerbic Ana Ortiz) advances the airfare — for the funeral of a random relative. Moving back in with her parents, Alexis naturally chafes against their concerned (and loving) interest.

The plot kicks into another gear when Alexis and Kayla are hired to produce a bat mitzvah party on one week’s notice with a tiny budget. Propelled by the sisters’ spiky banter and further enlivened by the droll introduction of a potential romantic partner, “Sleeping With the Fishes” is a warm-hearted and deeply pleasurable saga of a resourceful 20-something’s navigation past various bumps in the road.

“I didn’t want this to be a Jewish and/or a Latino film,” said Fisher, who spent four years in Los Angeles doing standup comedy. “For me, it was really more about the mother-daughter relationship than anything else because I tried so hard not to identify myself as one or the other — but just as Nicole — because it was so cloudy growing up and trying to figure out where I fit in.”

A turning point was the film’s West Coast premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in the summer of 2013.

“I was very nervous,” Fisher said, “not only because it was the first Jewish forum, but the demographic of the audience was easily 50-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus. I’ve never seen more walkers and scooters in my life. And it was 500 people, too. I’d gone from the Brooklyn Film Festival, where it was 200 mostly family and friends so I felt a little safe, into a whole different world for me, and it was probably in our top three best responses ever.”

Fisher laughs at herself and elaborates on the happy misperception she had of her own work.

“When I wrote this film, I could have sworn that my demographic was going to be young, possibly more Latino than Jewish,” Fisher said. “I have to tell you, with all the screenings we’ve had, definitely I was wrong. It appeals to a much older crowd. A lot of people seem to enjoy the quality of the humor because it’s not like I’m just dashing off stereotypes. I’m speaking from a voice of my own personal experience.”

The response to “Sleeping With the Fishes” is especially gratifying to Fisher given her concern with depicting her family onscreen.

“The process of writing something so close to home, and with characters that are literally your family, was stifling for me,” she admitted. “I was so afraid of insulting or offending or hurting feelings on any level or portraying my mother to be super evil.”

Fisher laughs when her interviewer suggests she didn’t attend the Joan Rivers school of comedy, in which anything — especially family — is fair game and feelings don’t matter.

“I would love to get to that point in my comedy,” she said. “For a first script, I was overly cautious. I felt the need to protect my family, not even knowing it would get to this point with HBO. So now I’m really, really nervous.”

Not so nervous, though, to refrain from telling a childhood anecdote that provokes a chuckle at her mother’s expense.

“We did try doing seders,” Fisher said. “It just didn’t work out. My mom would always cook Puerto Rican food.”

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

Heating Up

-The Republican candidate for District 10 delegate filed a motion last week to have one of the three Democratic candidates, Hasan “Jay” Jalisi, removed from the Nov. 4 general election ballot over residency concerns.

The move follows months of speculation over Jalisi’s address. His candidacy filings report an address on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills, but in campaign contributions to other candidates, tax records and phone book listings, he has been tied to an address on Greenspring Avenue in Lutherville-Timonium, which would make him a resident of District 11. Other official documentation, such elections and court records, list his address as a suite at Greenspring Station, but the postal service confirmed that the listing is a P.O. box, not a physical address.

William Newton filed an official complaint with the state Board of Elections and a writ with Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on Oct. 7 alleging that Jalisi is not a resident of District 10 and requesting that he be removed from the ballot. The petition also claims Jalisi is in violation of state election law by serving on the Democratic Central Committee for District 10 without residing in the district.

Maryland law refers to domicile in issues of residency. The 1998 court case Blount v. Boston established that, in Maryland, “domicile” does not necessarily need to be the place the person in question actually lives. Rather, it refers to a place the person has a settled connection, where they conduct their affairs. As such, it is difficult to prove a candidate’s domicile when, as in the case of Jalisi, the candidate is in the real estate business and owns several properties.

“It, in large measure, has to do with one’s objective intention to make [any one place] their permanent home,” Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland professor who teaches an election law course, told the JT in June. Essentially, Jalisi’s domicile is wherever he feels most connected.

The Board of Elections reported having heard talk about Jalisi’s residency, but Donna Duncan, assistant deputy administrator for election policy, said the deadline to challenge any candidate’s residency with the board passed in March 2014. The content and arrangement of the ballot was finalized in September.

State Sen. Delores Kelley, who has represented the District 10 area in the General Assembly since 1991, has also heard the complaints about Jalisi.

“It’s disheartening,” she said. “Anybody in the state should be concerned.”

Kelley and the only incumbent delegate in District 10, Del. Adrienne Jones, both backed different candidates in the June primary. Jalisi, who had no endorsements from any legislators in June, collected more votes than all three of the official-backed candidates in the primary election, falling short of only Jones when all votes were tallied.

Jalisi has maintained that his residence is the Reisterstown Road address, out of which he also runs his campaign office.

Jalisi and Newton are in a five-person race for three District 10 delegate seats. In addition to the incumbent Jones, a Democrat, other candidates include Democrat Benjamin Brooks and write-in Democrat Michael Tyrone Brown Sr. The Board of Elections’ Duncan said any action from this point on is in the hands of the Anne Arundel Court. As of press time, the court had not responded.

 

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Protective Order

A handful of Secret Service agents surround President Barack Obama after disembarking from Air Force One. In contrast, at a recent luncheon in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accompanied by nearly 30 security personnel. (Pete Souza/White House)

A handful of Secret Service agents surround President Barack Obama after disembarking from Air Force One. In contrast, at a recent luncheon in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accompanied by nearly 30 security personnel. (Pete Souza/White House)

What’s the cure for the recent ills of the United States Secret Service? American officials might consider taking some advice from their Israeli counterparts at the Shin Bet security agency.

White House security breaches have sent the Secret Service scrambling to restructure itself in order to prevent similar or more serious mistakes in the future. But former Israeli security and intelligence officials note that the Shin Bet, which also protects top dignitaries, has virtually the same tactics, rules of engagement and training procedures as its American equivalent — without experiencing the same hiccups, at least in recent years. In 1995, the Shin Bet did experience its own crisis following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“I don’t think [Israel’s protection of dignitaries] is different from what the Americans do,” said former Israeli Mossad agent Gad Shimron, who was never part of the Shin Bet’s VIP security service but is familiar with its operations. “It’s the same training, more or less. It’s like the training of an elite soldier, whether he is in the Israeli army or the American army. Maybe there are little differences, but the basic training is the same, the aim of the service is the same.”

Another former senior Israeli security official said that working on culture, rather than changing tactics or overhauling organizational structure, can help the Secret Service fix its problems.

“Every organization is built out of people, procedures and culture,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “So if this is true, take out the written procedures, take out the people one by one as private individuals, and try to figure out whether there is something left.”

Shimron said that even if agencies such as the Secret Service are guarding dignitaries 24/7, all it takes is “two seconds of carelessness” for a disaster like an assassination.

“Or in this case, I’m sure that the White House normally is very well-guarded, but somehow, for reasons I can’t really tell you because I don’t know all the details, someone managed to jump over the fence and run into the White House,” he said.

Questions were raised about the effectiveness of the Secret Service after Omar Gonzalez, carrying a knife, on Sept. 19 jumped the White House fence, ran inside the front door and passed the presidential living quarters into the East Room, where he was stopped by an off-duty agent.

More embarrassment for the agency came when leaks to the media uncovered that President Barack Obama, while visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, rode in an elevator with an armed security guard who possessed a criminal record and proceeded to take pictures of the president.

The last straw came with the revelation that the Secret Service delayed confessing that shots fired at the White House in 2011 hit their target. Initial reports on the incident had said that all of the shots missed the building.

After a heated House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed their lost confidence in the leadership of Julia Pierson, the Secret Service’s director, Pierson resigned. Her post was quickly given to former U.S. special agent Joseph Clancy, who came out of retirement to act as interim director.

Pierson, who assumed the position in March 2013, had succeeded Mark Sullivan, who resigned after it was reported that 11 agents engaged with prostitutes while they were on a trip with the president to a summit in Colombia.

The former Israeli security official commended Pierson’s resignation, saying that when a director of such an agency steps down, it sends the message to citizens that the concept of responsibility is still important.

In Israel, the Shin Bet has a dual role: part VIP security agency and part anti-terrorism organization. With a large portion of its members coming from other Israeli intelligence agencies, the anti-terrorism branch offers protective service agents on the ground with clear alerts on threats.

The Shin Bet’s meticulousness was recently demonstrated in a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the U.S. to attend the U.N. General Assembly. Reporting on a dinner between Netanyahu and Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson at a New York City restaurant, a New York Post reporter mused about the 30 security personnel tagging along — closing off the block and making the restaurant’s patrons go through a metal detector.

Yet, the Shin Bet is also no stranger to security failures, in particular the 1995 assassination of Rabin by an Israeli extremist.

“That was the equivalent of the JFK assassination in America, in terms of the shock waves domestically and worldwide — and the humiliation that the bodyguards experienced,” said Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent who co-authored the book “Spies Against Armageddon,” which offers a history of Israeli security and espionage. “Shin Bet veterans told me that they did not imagine that an Israeli Jew would murder his own country’s prime minister. They had, in effect, been on the lookout only for threats that Arab attackers might pose.”

Shimron said that Israeli intelligence became aware of a possible internal threat to Rabin after he signed the Oslo Peace Accords. That turned out not to be enough to prevent the assassination. After the murder, the Shin Bet went through its own upheaval, which included the resignation of its director and a change in tactics.

The Shin Bet shifted its focus when protecting dignitaries toward surrounding them with agents, preferably those who were taller and bigger than the individual they are trying to protect, so that a gunshot was more likely to hit an agent wearing a bulletproof vest than the dignitary.

The number of agents protecting the prime minister was also significantly increased after the Rabin assassination. Now, whenever the Israeli prime minister goes anywhere, “the whole regiment of security people are busy making sure that there will be as little contact and as little exposure as possible,” Shimron said.

In situations involving large groups of people, the Shin Bet now utilizes casually dressed agents among the crowd who look for potential threats — often using women for the job.

“Something interesting that we found was that women have a much better capability to detect strange behavior in a potential threat than men,” said the former Israeli security official. “They probably don’t have the physical power [as male agents], but when it comes to detecting suspicious behavior that might lead to a potential threat, they are much better than men.”

The official also pointed out that there are structural differences between the Shin Bet and the Secret Service that might contribute to varying degrees of effectiveness. In Israel, Shin Bet agents are usually much younger than their American counterparts and usually serve between five and seven years. In the Secret Service, the older average age means more seasoned agents, but they may lose some of their sensitivity and alertness.

Raviv said that lapses like the recent White House intrusion are less likely to occur with the Shin Bet.

“Would anything so ridiculous as what happened at the White House occur at an Israeli government building — or, specifically, at the home of the prime minister in Jerusalem? It’s not at all likely,” he said. “Israeli facilities have fences that are far more serious, including sensors that high-tech Israeli industries developed. And, frankly, Israeli guards — [who are] part of Shin Bet — would be
far more likely to open fire on an intruder.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

A Close Race: Be Counted

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

In case you haven’t noticed, Maryland’s got a gubernatorial race shaping up. If the latest polling numbers are any indication, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, GOP candidate Larry Hogan has narrowed a once-commanding lead enjoyed by Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to anywhere from 9 percentage points (The Washington Post) to 4. (Hogan’s own campaign released this last result).

A Baltimore Sun poll released last week gave the Democrat a 7-point lead, and all of the poll results are within their respective margins of error.

This is good for the Jews, and not because a victory by either candidate is inherently better or worse for Jewish voters. What the race for the governor’s mansion is instead demonstrating is that come Nov. 4, every vote counts.

In past elections Marylanders could have been forgiven for considering their own votes not worth that much — either they were Republicans who knew going into Election Day that theirs were “throw-away” votes or they were Democrats who

realized that their candidate was going to win anyway. But now, thanks largely to an early primary that afforded months of attention to the looming general election, news media, advocates and citizens are parsing the candidates’ words, weighing their positions and, as indicated by polling showing that a sizable number — as much as 18 percent of the electorate haven’t yet made up their minds, actively contemplating their votes.

For the Jewish community, now is the opportunity to assert its political voice. Are there so-called Jewish issues at play in the election? Of course not. Tax reform, health care, education, crime or any of the other issues touched on in this week’s cover story are no more “Jewish issues” than is gun control. Even the fight against anti-Semitism and the prominence of the Maryland/Israel Development Center are issues that affect everyone in the state, not just our unique constituency.

But if the Jewish community wants a say in how the next four years in Annapolis will unfold, now is when candidates have their ears open. And Nov. 4 is when we can seal the deal.

As it turns out, the millions of dollars spent to passively sway your vote through the endless hours of television and radio advertisements notwithstanding, politics is not a spectator sport. Like football or, some might say, rugby, it is a full-contact sport that requires the participation of everyone to truly be successful.

At a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high, the existence of close races here at home and in states such as Kansas and Louisiana means that no candidate should take his or her opponent or the constituents for granted. It means that voters should not give up on the power they possess in the ballot box and in the lead-up to the election. It means that participatory government, one of the greatest things that sets the United States apart from many other countries in the world, is a concept that should still be valued and nurtured.

 

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Waiting for the Chips to Fall

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, and you don’t need to look further than the city’s Cheswolde neighborhood for proof. There on Taney Road stands the new headquarters of Hatzalah, built with the help of a grant tied to state revenue gleaned from slot machines.

While some, mindful of the Talmudic directive that gamblers may not be counted as witnesses in court proceedings, might scoff at the notion of gambling dollars going to fund a Jewish organization, the truth is that Hatzalah of Baltimore has yet to see a slot-stained nickel.

Ronnie Rosenbluth, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, tells reporter Heather Norris in this week’s cover story that funds from the $315,000 grant have been held up by the city’s process for disbursing its share of gambling revenue.

“We were told two years ago to have shovel-ready programs, and we were told that as of July 2, 2013, ‘the check will be in the mail,’ and the check wasn’t in the mail,” said Rosenbluth. “After two years, you have a lot of frustration.”

The concept is simple: To offset the harms that can befall communities from the presence of casinos, legislators built into Maryland’s gambling regime a way for slot dollars to flow back into those communities for public works projects. The neighborhoods around Pimlico Race Course, such as Cheswolde, are just as much at risk as those areas around the new Horseshoe Casino, others argued, so they should also get a share of the funds.

But while legalized gaming has been touted by the state as a way to plug budget shortfalls and to help out local communities, not to mention a way for Maryland to compete with New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, gambling itself is far from a panacea. Just ask Atlantic City.

Could it be that those in the northwest section of the city are on the losing side of the bet?

Without commenting on whether or not the gambling industry is compatible with Jewish ideals–it should be noted that many synagogues host successful day trips to local casinos as a way for congregants to socialize–it is interesting to note that Jews everywhere over the coming week will be eating and in some cases sleeping in ramshackle huts known as sukkahs.

An explanation of this practice during the holiday of Sukkot is that by subjecting yourself to the vagaries of the elements and enduring the primitiveness of a temporary structure, you are demonstrating your complete faith in the Almighty to provide for all of your needs. It is neither chance nor your own prowess that guarantees success, the argument goes, but rather Divine Providence.

Seen through this lens, putting a quarter in a slot machine is far from a mundane act. Do people gamble merely for the entertainment value or is their financial well-being dependent on three sevens improbably appearing on the same line?

It might help to realize that some societal good is coming from placing a few chips on the table, but in Cheswolde at least, the locals are still waiting.

Beyond the Stutter

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Despite all of his accomplishments, Ben Goldstein of Baltimore still finds it difficult to order a cup of coffee.

Since early childhood, Goldstein, 24, has had a stutter. Despite his speech impediment, he spent a year in Israel teaching English, graduated with almost a 4.0 grade point average from college and received a full scholarship to a Top 25 law school. Trading in his law aspirations for a career in speech pathology, Goldstein is determined to help others reach their full potential.

“When I was younger, I spent my whole day thinking about stuttering,” said Goldstein. “I would plan my day around it. I would go to a grocery store and try to avoid speaking as much as possible. Now, I realize stuttering is just one small part of me.”

According to the Stuttering Foundation, more than 68 million people worldwide stutter, 3 million in the United States. Stuttering affects males four times as much as females. While there is no cure for stuttering, patients can alleviate symptoms through therapy.

“Stuttering is a neurological and genetic disorder and is not caused by psychological factors,” said University of Maryland clinical professor and speech-language pathologist Vivian Sisskin. “However, therapy aims to change the way stutterers think and potentially lessen the stutter. Many people try to hide their stutter through avoidance. Paradoxically, avoidance intensifies the stutter. Instead, we teach them to advertise it. That reduces fear.”

Growing up in Finksburg, Goldstein attended Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s elementary and middle school and the Park School for high school. On top of normal grade-school pressures, he experienced an added layer of anxiety due to his stuttering.

“I used to avoid answering questions in class or ordering certain foods at restaurants with my friends,” said Goldstein. “For much of my life, I thought I was the only person in the world who stutters. Therapy was my turning point.”

Once Goldstein began his undergraduate career at the University of Maryland, he started working with Sisskin and joined an adult therapy group. A regular in the group, Goldstein now serves as a mentor for new members.

“Ben is a leader in the stuttering community,” said Sisskin. “He developed a joy of communicating and is very open about his stutter. Ben is able to define many of his own problems with stuttering and has become his own clinician.”

Through therapy, Goldstein has learned how to live with stuttering. Comparing stuttering to asthma, he explains that stuttering can reach high or low points depending on the context and conditions of the situation.

“If you run a marathon, your asthma may increase. If I get up and speak in front of a large crowd, my stuttering may increase. The worst that can happen is that I’ll get embarrassed. And no one has died of embarrassment yet,” he said.

Taking a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, he opted for 10 months abroad as an Israel Service Fellow through Masa Israel Journey. Living in the mixed city of Acre, a northern Israel town that is 70 percent Jewish and 30 percent Arab, Goldstein taught students English in an underprivileged school along with 16 other American Jews.  As well as stuttering, Goldstein also had to conquer a language barrier.

“My first day of school, I learned how to say ‘I stutter’ in Hebrew,” said Goldstein. “At one point, I had trouble getting some words out and felt blocked. One of my first-grade students came up to me and gave me a hug. I wish everyone had a reaction like that.”

Using creative techniques such as singing to his students and using a stuttering puppet to entertain the children, Goldstein confidently led his class. Goldstein recalled that one of his scariest experiences was presenting a speech in front of 600 people at a Masa event.

“I was asked to present on behalf of my program,” he said. “I went up there and stuttered continuously. However, I did it. Many people asked me if I was scared to go to Israel with my stutter. I had challenges there, but so did everyone else. I’m not going to let one part of my life define me.”

Now studying to be a speech pathologist, Goldstein assists four students as part of his course load.

“I work with teenagers right now to help them tackle everyday problems,” said Goldstein. “One of my kids is a 12-year-old nonverbal student on the autism spectrum. We are working with him on making sounds and one day say basic words. Years ago, I walked into the University of Maryland as a speech client. Now, I am working as a student clinician. It is hard to believe.”

As both his teacher and his speech pathologist, Sisskin believes that Goldstein has a bright future in speech pathology.

“Due to the fact that Ben has experienced speech problems himself, his clients will look up to him,” said Sisskin. “Younger students will see that Ben is a cool guy who happens to stutter. They will model themselves after him.”

Seeing speech pathology as his calling, he aims to change lives through therapy.

“Vivian (Sisskin) changed my life, and I want to be that influence for someone else,” said Goldstein. “Going through life with a stutter is not easy, but if I can provide support, I will feel fulfilled.”

afreedman@jewishtimes.com

A Matter of Concern

The Iranian nuclear power plant in Bushehr. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)

The Iranian nuclear power plant in Bushehr. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)

Hundreds of members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last weed expressing concern over Iran’s “refusal to fully cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s continuing investigation into Iran’s dismantlement of its nuclear program as required by the  P5+1 framework agreement.

The letter, signed by 352 members of the House of Representatives, included House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“We believe that Iran’s willingness to fully reveal all aspects of its nuclear program is a fundamental test of Iran’s intention to uphold a comprehensive agreement,” Royce and Engel, who authored the letter, wrote. “As you [Kerry] wrote in the Washington Post earlier this summer, if Iran’s nuclear program is truly peaceful, ‘it’s not a hard proposition to prove.’ The only reasonable conclusion for its stonewalling of international investigators is that Tehran does indeed have much to hide.”

The letter stated that any agreement that does not fully hold the Iranian regime accountable for meeting IAEA deadlines and inquiries would set a “dangerous precedent” and that Iran should not be allowed to declare parts of its nuclear infrastructure off limits to IAEA inspections. Such obstruction would frustrate the monitors’ ability to make “accurate predictions of the period of time needed by Iran to assemble a [nuclear] weapon and [to make an] assessment of Iran’s compliance.

“We would like to achieve a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis,” continued the letter. “As negotiations resume, we urge you to carefully monitor Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s inquiry.”

The IAEA, an agency of the U.N., reported last month that Iran missed a deadline in February to which it had agreed as part of a framework agreement with the P5+1. That agreement led the United States to lift some of its economic sanctions against Iran and to contemplate providing further relief when and if a final deal is reached.

According to Reuters in a story last week, the IAEA reported that Iran had failed to answer questions about its research into explosive testing and neutron calculations — essential to the production of nuclear weapons — by the Aug. 25 deadline.

Meeting with President Barack Obama last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that despite the numerous regional threats to Israel, including Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS, Iran remains Israel’s greatest danger.

“Even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power,” said Netanyahu. “As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.”

The P5+1 negotiations recently entered their final phase, beginning with trilateral meetings between Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton. The deadline for a final agreement in the negotiations is scheduled for Nov. 24.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Conservative Rabbi Comes Out to Congregants

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Provided)

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Provided)

In a poignant letter to his congregants, Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., announced Monday that he is gay and that he and his wife of 20 years, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, are divorcing.

While members of the congregation are still digesting the news, many have already expressed their support.

“I am unbelievably overwhelmed by the endless stream” of positive messages, said Steinlauf, who has been a rabbi at Adas Israel since 2008.

In an email blast to the congregation’s 1,350 households on Monday, Steinlauf, 45, wrote that “I have come to understand that I am gay.” He explained that he had “struggled in my childhood and adolescence with a difference I recognized in myself.” But he grew up “in a different era, when the attitudes and counsel of adult professionals and peers encouraged me to deny this uncertain aspect of myself.”

For much of his life, Steinlauf considered his possible homosexuality “a problem, something to get over, to outgrow.” But three years ago, he said, “I had just reached a point in my life where I was able to connect the dots of my life.”

Since then, there has been much “healing, fear and pain,” Steinlauf said, adding that his wife has stood by his side through it all.

“We are each other’s best friends, even through this,” he said.

Until recently, he had hoped to remain married, but “this summer, I finally reached the place where I had some real clarity,” he said, and realized the best way to be the best person he could for his wife and three teenage children was to “let go of the marriage. I didn’t want to become somebody who lives a lie. I owe this to my family, the congregation — to live with integrity.”

Many in his D.C. congregation apparently appreciate that.

Joel Fischman, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors and its chair of the social action council, said that as soon as he found out, he sent a message to Steinlauf “expressing my wife’s and my full measure of devotion and support.” He called Steinlauf “an inspiration.”

Fischman said he predicts the Steinlaufs will be treated the same as they always have by most, if not all, of Adas’ members.

“We have a huge demographic spread, and as you know, generations think differently” on this issue, said Fischman, who is in his 70s. He added that the rabbi “will certainly have the support of all the clergy. He has the support of the congregational leadership.”

Leah Chanin, a member of the board of trustees, praised Steinlauf for being “very courageous for sharing the information with the congregation.” However, she said, “I really feel that all the rest is the business of his family” and need not be discussed further.

Steinlauf agrees. His upcoming sermons, he said, will focus on Sukkot, not his sexuality. He would like his congregants to know, “I was a rabbi before yesterday, and I am a rabbi today. My job is to teach Torah. My job is to help others along their Jewish path.”

Almost two years ago, Steinlauf wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal about his experiences officiating at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of Adas Israel.

In the article, Steinlauf wrote, “I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman. Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorization of roles and gender. Love is commitment, presence and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.”

Steinlauf also turned to ancient tradition when he first “met and fell in love with Batya, a wonderful woman who loved and accepted me exactly as I am,” he wrote in the email to the congregation. “Together, we have shared a love so deep and real, and together, we have built a loving home with our children — founded principally on the values and joys of Jewish life and tradition.”

He proudly labeled his progeny “extraordinary, loving children,” adding that “while this is certainly not easy for them, they understand.”

Synagogue president Arnie Podgorsky believes the congregation also will understand.

“For my part, I commend Rabbi Steinlauf for his courage in sharing his news with our community in such an honest way,” Podgorsky wrote in an email to congregations that accompanied Steinlauf’s message. “I offer him my full support and that of the Adas Israel lay leadership.”

The Conservative movement voted to allow the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies in December 2006. The Jewish Theological Seminary began admitting openly gay students to its Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music in 2007.

According to Beatrice Mora, JTS’s communications coordinator, “JTS actually took the lead in creating an inclusive hiring statement that is used by the [Rabbinical Assembly] and [United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism] to guide communities to consider applicants exclusively on the merits of their spiritual and intellectual gifts.”

Added Mora: “We are of course supportive of Rabbi Steinlauf and applaud the sensitive and forthright way that he, his family and his congregation have handled this transition.”

spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com