Looking to the Past for Our Future

runyan_josh_otYou need only look at the prime-time television commercials to realize that genealogy is a big business — a $1.6 billion one, in fact, according to a 2012 report on “Good Morning America.” With Ancestry.com’s sepia-toned spots pulling at heartstrings across the country, it seems that more and more people are seeking out their links to the past.

In a first for the JT, we let our own Marc Shapiro — who’s more often covering political campaigns, local development projects and other hot-button issues — explore his family roots on the company dime. What he discovered is amazing, not only in terms of how it deepened his connection to ancestors recently departed and those long gone, but also in terms of what his newfound passion for family history says about the rest of us.

Family pedigree, or what we would call in Yiddish yichus, has through the years meant a considerable deal to many Jewish families. In the late Middle Ages, great houses of sages married off their sons and daughters to each other, preserving an intellectual heritage as much through scholasticism as through genetics.

Traditionally, matchmakers have been just as interested in who a potential suitor’s family was as the young man or woman’s character traits. And, as hilariously parodied in one scene of “The In-Laws,” great has been the concern of parents marrying off their children that their future machatunim: “The son is the acorn,” Alan Arkin’s Dr. Sheldon Kornpett, quoting a patient, worryingly tells wife Barbara. “The father is the oak.”

There is truth in the idea that, as Antonio is William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” reasons, “what’s past is prologue.” All of the traits and experiences of our forebears help mold who we are and how we respond to challenges in the present. Things do not occur in a vacuum, but rather can be traced back generation to generation and can also help determine how our descendants will behave and what they will be.

But as revolutions both political and psychological have shown, at a certain point individuals — and whole societies, really — must take matters into their own hands. They must step up and take control of their own destinies.

This dichotomy plays out every day in the Middle East: Shall Israel and the other political actors be beholden to the mistakes of the past or shall a shared humanity propel the region into a new age of peace? Pessimism would seem logical at the present moment, but optimism should at least occupy some space in the public discourse.

The dichotomy also plays out in the day-to-day wanderings of countless human beings. True, King Solomon writes that “nothing is new under the sun,” but that mustn’t be used to justify a sense of fatalism. As Moses tells the Jewish people in the desert, we have been given the choice between goodness and the opposite of goodness, between life and death. We must choose life.

As you’ll see in this week’s cover story, Marc’s journey through the past isn’t over yet. If there’s one thing his quest through history has given him, it’s a renewed sense of determination.


‘An Effort of Love’

Dandre Wallace (left), materials specialist, and Sean Brunson, coordinator of surgical supply, pack up surgical gloves, needles, syringes, surgical sponges, skin staplers and other trauma medical equipment being sent to Barzilai Hospital, the  sister hospital of Sinai Medical Center in Baltimore, located in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city. (Melissa Gerr)

Dandre Wallace (left), materials specialist, and Sean Brunson, coordinator of surgical supply, pack up surgical gloves, needles, syringes, surgical sponges, skin staplers and other trauma medical equipment being sent to Barzilai Hospital, the
sister hospital of Sinai Medical Center in Baltimore, located in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city. (Melissa Gerr)

Two pallets of medical and surgical supplies woth a total of about $10,000 are on their way to the Barzilai University Medical Center in Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon, Israel, donated by Sinai Hospital of Baltimore to assist in treating patients during wartime.

Barzilai is located just a few miles from the Gaza border, explained Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, who visited the center a couple of years ago, meeting with Barzilai’s CEO and medical director, Dr. Chezy Levy.

The city of Ashkelon and therefore the hospital “is always a target,” Meltzer said. “It’s a trauma center, they treat Gazans and Israelis.”

Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, is in close contact with many Israeli businesses, including Barzilai, because of programs designed by the MIDC.

Though direct communications have been sporadic due to military activity, Bogage knew from past experience that Barzilai is “on the frontlines, and they probably need some assistance.” He confirmed the need, then contacted Meltzer at Sinai about donating medical supplies. The MIDC is also extending a grace period for repayment of loans for small businesses in Israel due to the economic impact of Operation Protective Edge.

There was not a specific request list supplied by Barzilai, said Terrence Carney, assistant vice president for supply chain management at LifeBridge Health, but he added, “As we understand it, the patients they’re receiving are patients with trauma, many require surgery. From our experience as a trauma center, we know the products that would be useful.”

After requiring about 10 hours for 12 staff to retrieve, assemble and pack, the shipment included surgical gloves, needles, syringes, surgical sponges, skin staplers, sutures and other instruments for minimally invasive surgery. Some of Sinai’s vendors have also added to the materials donated, and Bogage enlisted the help of a local shipping business to assist in delivery of the supplies. Carney added, “It was a large effort, but it was an effort of love.”

Sinai’s relationship with Barzilai has been ongoing. For the past several years, Martha D. Nathanson, vice president of government and community engagement at LifeBridge Health, has worked with Barzilai, helping it craft an advocacy strategy to develop more efficient and appropriate ambulance safety screening guidelines.

“When Palestinian ambulances come across the border, it takes a long time to be searched because of [potential] bombs,” said Nathanson, “and that would have an impact on patient care because it would take longer for them to get through than perhaps it should.” So Sinai helped Barzilai secure funding for more efficient screening techniques that could reduce the search time. The search happens for ambulances going both ways across the Gaza-Israel border, Nathanson added.

“They’re nationality blind,” she said, referring to Barzilai’s treatment of anyone arriving to the center in need of medical help. “Not just even in times like this, but routinely, because there are services at Barzilai that aren’t available in hospitals in Gaza.”

Originally known as Ashkelon Hospital and in operation since 1961, Barzilai Medical Center has also undergone significant redesign and now operates with 520 beds. About two years ago it began excavation for an underground facility attached to the main hospital. The area served has grown to include Ashdod in the north, Kiryat-Gat and Kiryat Malachi in the east, Sderot in the south and Ashkelon in the west. It also includes all settlements in the periphery.

Meltzer pledged Sinai’s support if there is a need for more assistance. He stressed that they will continue communication with Barzilai via The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the MIDC.

“We feel very fortunate to have this kind of relationship with the organization,” said Meltzer, “and I’m sure they’re exhausted. Our thoughts and hearts and prayers are with them.”


Fond Farewell to Frankle

For Rick Frankle, pictured here with his wife Pam, Camp Airy has been “a blessing.” (David Stuck)

For Rick Frankle, pictured here with his wife Pam, Camp Airy has been “a blessing.” (David Stuck)

It only takes five minutes with Rick Frankle to know that he is a mensch. And Frankle has spent the better part of three decades at Camp Airy, teaching boys and younger men to become menschen too. Frankle, 57, who has served as the camp’s director since 2002, will retire at the end of this summer, but colleagues say his influence will be felt long after he leaves the post.

Frankle’s relationship with Camp Airy began during the summer when he was 12. He and his older brother went to the camp with their mother, who had taken a position as the camp nurse. As the legend goes, early on, Frankle told his mother, Reva, a World War II-era camper at Camp Louise, Airy’s sister camp, that he would one day run Camp Airy.

While Frankle’s brother attended camp for that first summer, Frankle kept coming back.

“The love of camp is something my mother and I share,” he said recently.

After four years as a camper, Frankle became a counselor-in-training, spent three years as a counselor and was a unit leader for another year. Afterward, he served as director of the pool, a position he held for close to 20 years. In the days before his job at Camp Airy became a year-round position, Frankle taught middle school in the Howard County Public Schools, even getting a master’s degree in technology, the subject he taught for 14 years.

“There’s no better life than the life of a teacher,” he said of his former career.

In the mid-1980s, Frankle said he became assistant camp director while continuing to run the Camp Airy pool. In 1995, he and his wife, Pam, a former Louise camper who also worked as a camp nurse, and their children, Hilary and Seth, both Airy and Louise alums and staff members took several years off to do some traveling and focus on their family. At the end of the summer in 2001, former director Mike Schneider called.

“He said, ‘Don’t you want to come back?’” Frankle recalled. “I’ve been here ever since.”

Frankle has seen great changes in the world of Jewish camping since he was a boy and even in the past decade.

“Jewish camping has come so far,” he said. “There is such more of a focus on Jewish education. We have become more intentional in our Jewish teaching.”

For example, the camp has brought in more Israeli staff while also training American staff to be more fluent in Israeli culture, he pointed out. “We’ve become a camp that sings. Now there is lots of singing in the dining hall and on Friday nights, and many of the songs we sing have Jewish themes. It’s been a blessing to experience that transition.”

Frankle said Camp Airy’s program have also evolved in other ways.

“In my day as a camper, there was softball and basketball, and we played all day, and every once in a while we might wander into the art room. Now, the program is so much more sophisticated,” he explained. “We have taken camp to a whole new level.”

Today’s Camp Airy offers extreme sports such as mountain biking, remote go-cars, skate boarding and paint ball. Airy also has full outdoor adventure and arts programs. A culinary arts program known as “Culin-Airy” takes place in a professional kitchen, where kids learn from professional chefs. Frankle has been known to teach the boys cake decorating, one of his hobbies.

This summer, the camp purchased a “fixer-upper” car and started an activity called Nuts and Bolts.

“We hired local mechanics, and the kids have been learning to fix the car. Our goal is to get the car to inspection standards and then find a family who needs it. When we do mitzvah projects here, they have to be real,” said Frankle. “When the kids fix a car and donate it to a family they know, or when our CITs work with kids with special needs, the mitzvah is real for them.”

The desire to teach campers to perform mitzvot is one expression of the kindness that Frankle’s wife, Pam, has witnessed in her husband at camp and elsewhere for so many years.

“I think Rick’s kindness to kids and staff is one thing that has made him such a good director,” she said. “He is all about making sure people are happy.”

Last fall, the Frankles were honored with a Lifetime Passion Award from the camp’s Order of the Leaf fellowship. Sybil Modispacher, who now heads up Camp Airy’s swim program and was Frankle’s assistant beginning in the mid-1980s, said the award couldn’t have gone to a worthier couple.

“They have lived the three pillars of the Order of the Leaf: friendship, loyalty and service,” she said.

Modispacher said she is extremely sad about their departure.

“They have always been such good friends,” said Modispacher. “Rick has done so many incredible things here. He started so many traditions, and his creativity can be seen all over camp. He has taught me everything I know.

“I’m just hoping that everything he has done and all the people he has trained have created a really strong base,” she added. “Rick will never be gone as long as there are people here to carry on the ‘Rickisms’ and hold him in their hearts.”

As they prepare to leave Camp Airy, the Frankles are excited to begin a new part of their lives.

“Camp is life lessons in microcosm. It has given me the right balance,” said Frankle. “I’m sad and it’s a little scary, but then again, it’s just one part of my life. There are times when you keep reaching, trying to accomplish. And there are times when you scale back and look at your blessings. My greatest joy has been getting to know people — kids, families in good times and bad — being part of that. Camp has given me the chance to make this [the camp experience] happen for kids. It’s miraculous to see them grow up.

“It’s been a blessing that I’ve had the opportunity to do this for so long,” he added. “But I’ve accomplished what I’ve wanted to do. The organization is healthy, and there is joy in being able to begin a new chapter.”


Living with the Land

Photos Alisha Rovner

Photos by Alisha Rovner

At Bet Yeladim’s new Jewish teaching garden — Gan Ellen in Columbia — preschool students learn Jewish values in a hands-on environment.

“The best way to teach children is to get their hands dirty,” said Bet Yeladim’s executive director, Jodi Fishman. “By having an educational garden in our school, we are able to provide Jewish education in a fun, innovative way.”

The garden features bird feeders, butterfly gardens, digging areas, relaxation zones and four planting boxes — Shabbat, Havdalah, Chagim and Tikun Olam — that allow students to physically connect Jewish ideas with foliage. Hebrew signs on plot sections and seasonal crops corresponding with Jewish holidays teach the students language and culture.

“We focus on the Jewish value, shomrei adamah, which means keepers and guardians of the earth,” said Fishman.

There are flowers grown in the Shabbat planting box and spices in the Havdalah box. Three mitzvot have been created, related to the garden, to encourage Jewish values in a positive space.

“I’m also proud that we grow fruits and vegetables for charities like Grassroots Crisis Intervention,” added Fishman. “We want to teach students the value of giving back and helping out the community.”

Unlike the Garden of Eden, Gan Ellen took more than seven days to create. During three years of planning and two years of fundraising, Bet Yeladim formed a gardening committee, interviewed landscapers and held fundraisers and annual fund campaigns, and then the garden committee met with Kayam Farm in Baltimore to brainstorm its vision a year and a half ago.

Finally dedicated in May, the new garden is named after Bet Yeladim’s former executive director, Ellen Rappoport. Created as a gift to honor Rappoport’s seven years of service, the inspiration for a garden draws from her strong, lasting impact on the school.

The garden, Gan Ellen, has become part of the preschool’s curriculum.

The garden, Gan Ellen, has become part of the preschool’s curriculum.

“At that time, it was difficult to imagine a verdant garden in place of the hill of dirt lining the playground,” said Alisha Rovner, Bet Yeladim board president and gardening committee member at the dedication ceremony.  The task seemed daunting at first but ended in a “magical transformation,” she added. “Nevertheless, we were fortunate to find wonderful people to work with who were able to make our vision into a reality and create this amazing garden for our children to learn from and enjoy.”

Students and staff of the year-round preschool have quickly embraced the new garden. Teachers incorporate Gan Ellen into their curriculum by assigning different classes to water the plants, feed the birds and perform science experiments.

“Since the garden is in such close proximity to the playground, it is so interesting to watch students share the space,” said Rovner. “The garden allows students to touch things, feel things and even taste what they grew. I’ve watched students dig in the soil and read books in the makom shel shalom – place of peace – during breaks.”

Bet Yeladim looks forward to watching its garden continue to blossom.

“I have to say, Gan Ellen has already been the highlight of everyone’s year at Bet Yeladim,” said Fishman. “We had a clear vision of what we wanted, and we ended up getting even more.”

Police Still Searching for Clues in Miami Rabbi Murder

Police have ramped up patrols in the Northeast Miami neighborhood where Rabbi Joseph Raksin was murdered last Saturday on his way to a local synagogue in the hopes of catching Raksin’s killer or killers.
On Monday, hundreds attended the funeral in Miami for Raksin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn who was shot on his way to Sabbath services in North Miami Beach.
Following the funeral Sunday at the Bais Menachem Chabad synagogue, where Raksin was headed when he was shot by two assailants on Saturday morning, the body was taken to the airport, the Miami Herald reported. A funeral and burial took place Monday afternoon in Brooklyn.
Raksin, 60, had arrived on Thursday in Miami for a weeklong visit with his daughter and her family, the New York Post reported. Raksin is the father of six and a leader in the Crown Heights community, according to the Post.
Police said Raksin was shot several times following an altercation, though witnesses told NBC reporters that there was no altercation and the assailants were African-American males. Raksin was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center, where he died.
Miami-Dade police have said they do not believe the murder was a hate crime but rather a robbery gone bad. Members of Miami’s Jewish community are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Raksin’s assailants, according to the Miami Herald.
A nearby synagogue, Torah V’Emunah, was the target of vandalism on July 28, with swastikas and the word “Hamas” spray-painted on the front pillars.

‘Campaign of Retaliation’

Jay Jalisi surprised many when he won a Top 2 slot in June’s House of Delegates primary election. The District 10 general election candidate defeated three officially supported candidates, losing only to incumbent Del. Adrienne Jones when all votes were totaled.

Three days after the election, on June 27, Jalisi, together with his Friends of Jay Jalisi campaign committee, sued two former staffers and a former contractor for more than $200,000 and filed for a temporary restraining order against all three, accusing the group of violating their contracts and distributing false and harmful statements about the candidate. The restraining order request has since been denied, but the decision on the injunction remains open.

Additionally, on April 8, HMJ Asset Management Company, Jalisi’s real estate company, filed a petition to collect money from one of the former staffers in a landlord-tenant claim. Later, on May 1, Jalisi successfully obtained a restraining order against that same employee.

The June 27 lawsuit stems from a video that spread on YouTube days before the primary election. The video, which accused Jalisi of lying about his age, nationality and occupation, among other things, was attributed to the group “Citizens of District Ten,” but Jalisi accuses the former staffers, whom the suit says were terminated and reacted “by instituting a campaign of retaliation and negative accusation,” of producing and promoting the clip.

“The video contained false and disparaging statements about Dr. Jalisi and included confidential information, as defined in the [contracts],” filings read. Additionally, the documents say, the video violates Maryland election law by omitting any information about the name and address of the treasurer of the campaign finance entity responsible for the material.

“As a result, Plaintiff Jalisi cannot properly address his detractors and risks losing potential votes each passing day,” the suit says. It does not identify what of the information is false and what was confidential. The $200,000 figure, the documents say, does less damage to the former staffers than the continued distribution of the video would do to Jalisi and his campaign.

Jalisi also alleges in the suit that the group conspired to post an advertisement titled “Room for Rent” with Jalisi’s personal cell phone number on Craigslist in the days before the election in an effort to tie up his phone on the most critical days of the campaign.

The suit is one of more than 50 lawsuits in which Jalisi has been a party, either individually or via his property management company. In several of the cases in which Jalisi is listed as a defendant, the plaintiff has had difficulty finding a physical address to deliver a summons. A traffic violation lists Jalisi’s address as 10807 Falls Road, #632, Brooklandville, but that address leads to a P.O. box at the post office in the Greenspring Professional Building, something the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration does not allow be used as an address on a state-issued ID.

Four days before the June 24 primary election, Jalisi garnered attention when multiple local politicians, including Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond and State Delegates Dan Morhaim and Dana Stein, sent statements to local news outlets clarifying that they had not endorsed Jalisi in the District 10 race but rather had endorsed three of his opponents instead. The move was in response to an email blast and website post from the Jalisi campaign that featured supportive messages from the politicians. Jalisi’s campaign later countered with their own statement insisting that he had not sought their endorsements, and the statements featured in his blast were in support of his work with the community.

Despite the statements made by Almond, Morhaim and Stein and the video at the heart of the suit, Jalisi managed to comfortably win a spot on the November ballot, somethinga memorandum from the defense pointed to as a potential reason to support dismissing the claim.

On July 29, two of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

The response to the suit asserts that Jalisi’s memorandum in support of the motion “is replete with bad accusations and vague assertations of improper activity which lack factual support.” Additionally, the defense claims, Friends of Jalisi, Inc. had forfeited its corporate charter and was not in good standing at the time all contracts were signed and therefore cannot hold any of the three former staffers to it. The charter was not reincorporated until April 2, 2014.

As of press time, the video at the center of the suit had been removed from video hosting sites.


‘He Will Kill Himself’

Alan Gross, the contractor from Potomac currently imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has taken a major turn for the worse, according to Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the family.

Gross, 65, “has said that he will kill himself if he is in prison much longer,” Zuckman said.

During a permitted visit this past July between Gross, wife Judy and daughter Nina, Gross was “saying goodbye,” said Judy Gross. “It was gut wrenching.”

Gross was a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet when he was arrested as he was leaving Cuba. He is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”

In an interview with Washington Jewish Week, Judy Gross said: “I think he is hopeless.” During last month’s visit, she recalled that Gross said he no longer wanted any visitors.

“I’m hoping to talk to him about that,” she said. “You know it’s really up to him.

“He is depressed. I think he is hopeless,” she continued. “I think he thinks the State Department … is useless in terms of information. He gets nothing. He is very frustrated that no one is telling him anything.”

In a previous visit, she said, her husband still seemed hopeful about his release. But after Gross’ mother died this summer and his health deteriorated, “it’s not a pretty picture.” He is in chronic pain, has lost more than 100 pounds, has arthritis, a mass on his shoulder and has lost vision in his right eye, said his wife.

On Friday, Aug. 1, some 300 rabbis from across the Jewish denominations sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take immediate action to secure Gross’ release. Baltimore-area signatories included Rabbis Avram Israel Reisner, Michael Meyerstein, Dr. Tsvi G. Schur, Amy Scheinerman, Donald R. Berlin and John Franken.

“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government,” the rabbis wrote. “His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative.

“Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest,” the letter continued. “We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.”

Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release “remains a top priority of the United States, and his continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship between the United States and Cuba,” National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said when asked to respond to the rabbis’ letter, adding that Gross should be “released now.”

“We have urged governments around the world and prominent figures traveling to Cuba, including religious leaders, to press for Mr. Gross’ immediate release,” said Ventrell. “This includes President Obama asking Uruguayan President [Jose] Mujica to use any opportunity he might have to raise Alan Gross’ case directly with President [Raul] Castro.”

Ventrell concluded: “Alan Gross is an international development worker. He has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities … for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the Internet.”


Sharfstein Joins Hopkins School of Public Health

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and  Mental Hygiene, will join the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training in January. (Provided)

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene, will join the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training in January. (Provided)

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will be stepping down from his current position and joining the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training.

The move is effective Jan. 1, 2015. Sharfstein will also hold a faculty position in the school’s department of health policy and management.

“I think it’s a good time and a great opportunity that will allow me to get involved more deeply in a number of issues I care about, help train future public heath leaders and also keep me involved in issues in the city and state,” Sharfstein said.

While he doesn’t have specifics yet, Sharfstein said he’ll be teaching classes on health policy at Hopkins. Come January, he plans to meet with other Hopkins faculty to discuss his new job and the opportunities it offers.

“Josh Sharfstein has had a distinguished career in public health practice and policy, and we are delighted that he is joining the faculty of the Bloomberg School,” Dean Michael J. Klag said in a statement. “Josh will bring a wealth of experience and insights that will strengthen the practice, teaching and research opportunities available to our faculty and students.”

Sharfstein, a Maryland native, graduated from Harvard Medical School and is a trained pediatrician. He served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, was deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and chairs the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange in his current capacity. While the exchange has been the subject of much public scrutiny due to the troubled rollout of Maryland’s health exchange website, Sharfstein sounded hopeful
for the reopening of the exchange in November.

“One reason that I’m staying on through the end of the year is to see the exchange get to a much better place,” he said. “It’s going to be radically different.”

In a previous interview, Sharfstein counted among his biggest accomplishments organizing coalitions around public health outcomes, strengthening primary care, reorienting hospital incentives to support prevention and integrating mental health and substance-abuse treatment more into medical care.

“As a pediatrician and as a public servant, Josh Sharfstein has been committed to children, families and improving people’s lives,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “As the secretary of health and mental hygiene, he’s led the way as we have invested in public health and prevention, aligned the health care system to the vision of better health at lower cost and expanded health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders. As a Marylander, I’m thrilled that he’s going to Johns Hopkins.”

O’Malley appointed Sharfstein to secretary of health and mental hygiene in January 2011. In his previous position, as an FDA deputy commissioner appointed by President Barack Obama, he worked to make the agency more transparent and took on food safety and tobacco use.

As Baltimore health commissioner, Sharfstein campaigned to warn parents about over-the-counter cough and cold medicines after the deaths of four Baltimore toddlers, worked with doctors to reduce overdose deaths in the city and spearheaded new community health data.

At Hopkins, Sharfstein will succeed Thomas Burke, who is Obama’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. Burke is currently director of the school’s risk sciences and public policy institute and a professor of health policy and management and environmental health sciences.

Among the issues Sharfstein believes his successor — who will chair the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange as stipulated by the law — will have to handle is drug overdoses, with heroin use making some resurgence. Other challenges ahead may be unknown, as the health care system is in transition, but Sharfstein thinks the public is up for the discussions.

“The fact that health is really at the center of a lot of discussion in Maryland is a great thing,” he said. “Now, I think there’s a very strong recognition on Maryland [that] our health care system, even our economy, is dependent on public health.”


End of a Long Commute

Rabbi Jordan Hersh is Beth Sholom Congregation’s new full-time rabbi. (Provided)

Rabbi Jordan Hersh is Beth Sholom Congregation’s new full-time rabbi. (Provided)

Rabbi Jordan Hersh can finally have a rest from his twice-monthly commute from New York City to Frederick. After one year of leading services, teaching and counseling part time at Beth Sholom Congregation, he has been named the congregation’s full-time rabbi.

Hersh, 32, had been working at the 150-member synagogue as a Gladstein Fellow, a program designed to give students from the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary intensive experiences in both being a rabbi and a community developer.

The synagogue has been without a full-time rabbi for several years and has undergone much change during that time. The congregation had been unaffiliated with any of the major Jewish denominations but joined the Conservative movement roughly two years ago, Hersh said.

The Frederick synagogue had always been unaffiliated, but its previously rabbis were Orthodox, he explained.

Hersh’s goal is to continue paving the way for Beth Sholom to operate fully as an egalitarian Conservative community, he said.

Frederick already is home to both a Reform and a Chabad synagogue. Hersh said he plans to work closely with his fellow rabbis there to build a “thriving” and “vibrant” Jewish community.

Hersh said Frederick’s isn’t the only Jewish community on his mind lately.  He has just returned from a four day-long trip to Israel with fellow rabbis.  There he got an up close and personal view of the war, visiting Israeli “children who are spending their summer in shelters.”

Hersh is no stranger to Israel, having lived there for two years. While doing so, he served as a rabbinic intern at a Masorti congregation in Be’ersheva. He also participated in the Shalom Hartman Rabbinical Students Seminar, a yearlong program that brings together rabbinical students from all Jewish denominations.

Additionally, he has held a rabbinical student fellowship with the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership’s Rabbis Without Borders. He also has served as a hospice chaplain at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Hersh grew up in upstate New York and received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is married to Shulie Hersh, who is in her last year as a cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion.

She will be joining her husband part time at the synagogue, leading High Holiday services, developing and conducting a music program for the Early Childhood Center preschool students and holding a leadership role with the congregation’s Tot Shabbat and Junior Congregation services.

When not involved in their synagogue responsibilities, the Hershes enjoy playing music together (he’s on guitar) and hiking. He also is a cycling enthusiast and has participated in long-distance bike rides.

Hersh said he is looking forward to getting to know his congregants and the area better and is “really excited to be here in the Greater Washington and Baltimore communities.”


15 Seconds to Safety

The Bomb Shelter Museum, created by Artists 4 Israel, was in Baltimore for one week at the Greenspring Shopping Center. (Photos Marc Shapiro)

The Bomb Shelter Museum, created by Artists 4 Israel, was in Baltimore for one week at the Greenspring Shopping Center. (Photos Marc Shapiro)

The sound of children singing can be heard when walking into the dark 10-by-8-by-10 room. Their voices are quickly drowned out by sirens and chaos, as translations show that their song is about hiding from rockets in a bomb shelter.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry to a safe area. My heart is beating boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” the children on the video sing in Hebrew.

The short video was being played on a loop inside the Bomb Shelter Museum, which was stationed on the sidewalk of the Greenspring Shopping Center from July 30 through August 4.

“It’s difficult for me to watch, especially watching the children,” Bernie Kozlovsky said of the video. “You only have 15 seconds to actually seek shelter.”

The one-room museum, which has trash and other items on the floor much like a shelter in Israel would, was created by Artists 4 Israel, and Baltimore Zionist District (BZD) paid to have it in town for the week. According to Israeli estimates, more than 3,000 rockets have been fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since the beginning of the month-long Operation Protective Edge, which entered a new phase Tuesday with the adoption of a 72-hour cease-fire.

“The most important thing is to educate people,” said Berly

Hershkovitz, a BZD board member. “If it weren’t for the Iron Dome [anti-missile defense system] and these shelters, people would be dying.”

The museum was originally built to showcase the situation in Sderot, a city in the Negev that sits one mile from Gaza, which has been subject to rocket attacks since the early 2000s. When Operation Protective Edge started, it took on a larger symbolic role.

080814_bzd-bombshelter2BZD officials said more than 300 people visited the museum on the first day, and the following day it saw constant traffic from Jews and non-Jews alike.

“It reinforces their awareness to support Israel,” BZD president Leora Pushett said. “Some people have been very emotionally moved.”

Shoshana Zaslow said that while the video was horrifying and sad, it’s an essential reminder of the situation in Israel.

“I’d rather be aware of what’s going on,” she said. “We live our life, we’re doing whatever we want [in the U.S.], so to stop and think for a minute
is nice.”

For Donald Berman, the museum hit home because it was tangible.

“I think it’s a great idea to help people understand what people in Israel are going through,” he said. “Everything’s a little abstract, so this helps bring it down to reality.”

To keep up with the realities, Zaslow and Kozlovsky both have apps on their smartphones that send red alerts in real time, including locations, when a rocket is heading for Israel.

“I reminds me of what’s going on there,” Kozlovsky said. “I have relatives, I have friends.”

BZD is getting calls from other cities interested is having the museum, which was previously in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“We, as Jews living in America … we feel empty not being able to do anything,” he said. “It makes us feel like we’re doing something for our brothers and sisters in Israel.”