Emergency Israel Funds Launched

In light of the violence taking place in Israel, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore assured members of the Jewish community Thursday that they are closely monitoring the events taking place there.

In partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, The Associated reported they are providing “immediate and necessary support and resources, including trauma relief for those at risk and mobilization for vulnerable populations to safer environments.”

The Associated encouraged members of the community to lend their support in a variety of ways, including by making a contribution to its Israel Emergency Relief Campaign, visiting associated.org to keep abreast of the newest information, following The Associated on Facebook and Twitter, messaging friends and family in Ashkelon on the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Facebook page or sending a card to the children of Ashkelon by emailing Amalia Phillips at the Macks Center for Education.

The Associated and its partners are not the only Jewish organizations stepping up to support Israel. The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has initiated an emergency fundraising drive to support the EDEN Association for At-Risk Teenage girls, an organization it has long supported through its Israel Granting Program.

NCJW announced it has raised more than $10,000 in gifts in less than 24 hours for EDEN which is located just a mile and a half from the Gaza Strip where many of the most serious attacks have taken place.

“Because the girls of EDEN come from high-risk home environments, returning to their families at this time is not an option,” said NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman. “NCJW is grateful that when the need is greatest, once again, our supporters come through quickly and generously with critical funds to ensure that these young girls can be moved to safety.”

The public can support EDEN by donating through NCJW’s website.

“Life is complicated in this part of the world, but the services that we fund go on because they must,” said Michael Friedman, senior vice president of The Associated’s philanthropic planning and services department, who is currently in Israel on the JFNA campaign chairs and directors mission. “For those of us visiting, this is nothing like our normal routine. Unfortunately for the citizens of Israel, sirens and shelters are all too familiar.”

Far From Home

Julie August of Pikesville can’t help but get choked up when talking about her son, Josh. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, Josh, 20, will be transferred from his usual post in the northern part of Israel to a base near Gaza in the next day or two. The Augusts are one of many families from Jewish Baltimore with children serving in the Israeli army. Some like Josh, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate, were already on active duty, while others are among the 40,000 reservists called up to serve as part of Operation Protective Edge.
“All the fighters, especially the lone soldiers [who do not have parents or siblings in the country] are showing incredible courage,” said August, who grew up in Israel and “understands and appreciates the desire to serve.”
But that doesn’t mean she isn’t worried.
“I’m fluent in Hebrew so I’ve been reading all the newspapers,” she said. And in recent days, the news from Israel has not been good.
Vito and Gail Simone of Summit Park don’t know yet whether their son Alex will be deployed. Vito Simone said Alex had recently been in Baltimore for a two week visit. “We just took him to the airport, and he just returned to Tel Aviv where he lives,” he said of the 26-year-old, also a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate, who immigrated to Israel three years ago.
“He has always been passionate about Israel and his Jewish identity. We are very proud and sometimes anxious,” he admitted. “Fortunately, we don’t have iPhones so we’re not getting red alerts on our phones all the time to drive us crazy.”
Simone said he has been disappointed by what he sees as local politicians’ lack of condemnation for Hamas, and the absence of strong support for families like his own who have children serving in the IDF.
“I would like to see elected officials — especially those who are Jewish — come forward and really encourage people to support Israel and our young people there,” explained the father. “There is a strong constituency of families in Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland with children who are serving. The silence has been shameful.”
In contrast, he pointed out, he and his family have been grateful for the many friends and relatives who have contacted them to provide support and reassurance.
“They have even tried to thank us for his service,” said Simone. “I don’t know if I can take the credit. These kids are so excited to be part of the effort to defend Israel.”
Penina Eilberg and her family, formerly of Baltimore, learned that their oldest son, Pesach, 25, once a student at Talmudic Academy and Yeshivat Ram Bam, would be deployed while they were at a commemorative ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the family’s move to Israel. Despite her concern for her son and the fact that she has experienced violence and terror attacks — rocks thrown into car windows, drive-by shootings and Molotov cocktails — close to her home in the Nof Zion neighborhood near Jerusalem, Eilberg denied having any regrets about the decision to make aliyah.
“This is our land, our place and we have to make sure we have a safe place to live,” she said. “That’s not to say I’m not nervous, but the more of us who are here the better.”
Pesach Eilberg’s grandmother, Rachel Eilberg, who still lives in Pikesville, admitted she was tense.
“When I’m tense, I usually run out and buy myself ice cream and I’ve been doing that a lot. But look, we all have our duties. I’ll be back in Israel in September for a granddaughter’s wedding and I’ll hope for peace and quiet,” she said.
Rabbi Menachem Goldberger of Congregation Tferes Yisroel said that many of the families who were members of his congregation have made aliyah in recent years. Therefore, he knows many young people who are now active duty soldiers and reservists. Among the congregants who will be serving are Noam Orman, Dani and Aryeh Eastman and Avi Schamroth.
“We feel a number of things [about congregants serving in the IDF],” said Goldberger. “[We feel] pride in their courage and devotion to the Jewish people and also concern since they are out there in harm’s way. We have been saying extra prayers for them during services and individually. My wife has a tehillim

group and they have been meeting frequently.”
Goldberger said that although he has not spoken directly with the young men, he has been in contact with their families through email.
“I just hope God will watch over the Jewish people and that the Israeli government will have the determination to finish this so we do not have to live with this way any longer,” he added.

A Lofty Goal

Jesse Schwartzman is the MLL’s all-time winningest goalie. (Photos provided)

Jesse Schwartzman is the MLL’s
all-time winningest goalie. (Photos provided)

Pikesville’s own Jesse Schwartzman is on the U.S. national team’s 23-man roster for the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships in Colorado.

He was named to the team following a tryout process that began locally at Goucher College last September. Additional tryouts were held in Orlando, Fla., in January. The final team was selected from a 31-player roster that attended training camps in Connecticut and Massachusetts and competed in the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge.

“It was long, strenuous, stressful,” Schwartzman, a goalie, said.

Schwartzman, 28, was a two-time All-American at Pikesville High School and then played for Johns Hopkins University. He now handles gaol-tending duties for the Denver Outlaws. This season, he became the MLL’s all-time winningest goalie with 62 career victories.

Just days after the roster was named, Schwartzman and his teammates headed to a training camp at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to prepare for the world championships, which started Thursday and run through July 19 in Denver.

Playing by international rules for Team USA is very different from playing for the Outlaws, he said.

“All the rules are different, the style of play is different,” he said. “The only similarity is that you’re familiar with some of the players.”

A record 38 nations, including Israel, are playing 142 games over 10 days, with the U.S. defending its title. The American men defeated Canada for the 2010 championship in Manchester, England. For lacrosse fans, the championship brings a World Cup level of excitement.

“It happens every four years in a different country, so it’s exactly like the World Cup,” said Schwartzman. “There’s round-robin play, then the elimination rounds.

“The skill level is off the charts,” he added. “The best players in the world are here.”

071114_lacrosseIn addition to the U.S.-Canada rivalry, Schwartzman says fans can look for excitement from the Iroquois Nation Native American team.

Baltimore boasts fervent lacrosse fans, and Schwartzman finds much of the country is also onboard.

“There’s definitely a ton of excitement with social media for sure,” Schwartzman said. “There are big billboards where the games are being held. There’s a big sense of excitement.”

About 10 friends and family members are in Denver to cheer Schwartzman on.

In addition to his busy lacrosse schedule, Schwartzman finds time to actively give back to the community. Working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he hosted, in May, a young cancer patient and lacrosse fan from New York, Kyle Norton, who spent a weekend with the Outlaws

“I’ve always done charitable work,” said Schwartzman. “I feel that giving back to the community is very important. Helping those who are less fortunate is very important to me and my family. I grew up that way.”

When he was at Hopkins, Schwartzman spent time volunteering at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Schwartzman still lives in Baltimore — he flies to Denver for Outlaws’ games — and remains active locally.

He helps coach a couple of Maryland Lacrosse Club teams and recently spent a couple hours coaching kids at the JCC sports camp in Owings Mills.

Amy Landsman is a local freelance writer.

From Odessa with Love

It was early on a Monday morning, but youngsters at Camp Milldale were full of pep. About 80 5- to 10-year-olds and their counselors were gathered in the Big Max all-purpose room, and spirits ran high. Janna Zuckerman, program manager of the Center for Jewish Camping at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore was trying to get their attention in order to introduce two visitors who had come a long way to bring a piece of Ukraine to Reisterstown.

Irina Gokhman and Dima Garkavluk arrived in Baltimore last week from Odessa, Ukraine. Their trip to the U.S. was funded through the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, a program of The Associated. Gokhman and Garkavluk, both in their mid-20s, work for the Jewish Agency for Israel, which sponsors programs for Russian-speakers in the Former Soviet Union, North America, Germany, Australia and Israel.

The programs promote Jewish culture and unity through a continuum of immersive Jewish experiences, said Andrew Razumovsky, co-chair of The Associated’s Baltimore-Odessa Partnership committee. Razumovsky explained that particularly in the Former Soviet Union, summer camps are a major focus of the program, introducing 3,000 Jewish youth to Judaism and Israel though week-long summer camps.

According to JAFI, the Former Soviet Union was once home to 800,000 Jews. Now that number has dwindled to approximately 160,000, although JAFI estimates that three million Russian-speaking Jews reside elsewhere in the world. According to the organization’s website, these Russian-speaking Jews barely participate in “mainstream” Jewish life. The programs JAFI offers are designed to increase their Jewish involvement.

After they were introduced to Milldale’s youngest campers, Garkavluk told the youngsters a popular Odessan fairy tale. Afterward, Gokhman asked for questions and reactions from the children. Then she explained they would be making group collages to illustrate the story. There was organized chaos as materials were distributed and counselors tried to direct their charges’ attention to the task at hand. A few minutes later, campers were busily cutting and pasting old issues of the JT. Then it was time for the children to present their work.

Soon after the presentations, the campers filed out of the all-purpose room, and another group of campers filed in. Gokhman and Garkavluk would spend the rest of the day and the next at Camp Milldale and the following Wednesday with campers at the Owings Mills JCC’s Maccabi Sports Camp and Top Notch Teen program.

So far, both young adults said they are enjoying their visit to Baltimore and their first time in the U.S. In addition to visiting the JCC Camps, Gokhman and Garkavluk spent Shabbat with other young adults at Moishe House, toured the Jewish Museum of Maryland, met with Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders and visited Washington, D.C. They admitted that they were nervous prior to leading the storytelling activity at Camp Milldale.

“In Ukraine, we are used to working with much smaller groups,” said Gokhman. Yet, after meeting the campers, Gokhman and Garkavluk agreed they were no different from the children in Odessa.

Before his trip to the U.S., Garkavluk said he only knew about the U.S. through “film and cereals.”

“I like Baltimore,” he said. “It’s quite interesting and has more to [offer] than a lot of other cities.”

Garkavluk said he learned about Judaism when his grandmother began bringing him to visit the Jewish programs in Odessa when he was 5 years old.

“When I was 15, I realized I wanted to be a camp counselor to bring practical knowledge to Jewish kids,” he said. “Many of the children in Odessa don’t study at Jewish schools. They have many questions [about Judaism]. I try to teach them basic Jewish [facts] that are relevant to their lives.”

Gokhman said her family had always celebrated Jewish holidays, but she did not attend religious schools when she was a child. After she went on a JAFI-sponsored Birthright Israel trip, she knew she wanted more of a connection to Judaism and Israel.

“I decided I wanted to create something, to have an impact by bringing Jewish education to Odessa,” she said.


Baltimore Mourns For Hope

The search for Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach came to a bitter end, but in the eyes of those gathered at Beth El Congregation last week, hope, in spite of sorrow, remains.

Hosted by the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the July 2 memorial service brought the Baltimore Jewish community together to collectively grieve and honor the lives lost.

“We are mourning as a community,” said Beth Goldsmith, co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “It’s what we do; it’s the point of shiva.”

But the gathering was about more than mourning, said Goldsmith, who has been involved with communal affairs since 1978 and travels to Israel at least three times a year.

“The only hope is that with every senseless death, people stand up and make a difference,” she said. “The time for peace is now.”

The memorial commenced with a reading and song of Psalm 121, “God, Our Guardian,” by Cantor Roger Eisenberg. Following was a solemn but hopeful musical selection by clarinetist Dr. Eyal Bor, who had just one night to prepare for the piece adapted from the violin. Cantor Emanuel Perlman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation sang the traditional “El Male Rachamim” prayer.

“[I felt] shock and horror [learning] about the deaths of these children,” Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Howard County Hospice said in her remarks. “This was senseless, cruel violence.”

Scheinerman chanted Psalm 23 as photos of each of the boys were given to all in attendance. Her prayer interpretation, along with a rendition of “Sim Shalom” by Cantor Thom King and the Beth El Choir, provided a visibly emotional backdrop. Several members of the audience fought back tears.

“As family from afar, we gather to provide strength and support for loved ones,” said Scheinerman. “It is too easy to retreat into fear; though we are not unscathed, we are not bitter. This psalm shows our grief and sorrow but also our hope.”

The ceremony took place as the discovery of the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, presumably a revenge attack by Israelis, sparked riots in the eastern sections of Jerusalem.

“This is not our way, and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement. “I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”

Amid the rising tensions, Rabbi Chaim Landau, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, promoted a message of peace.

“There needs to be time to heal, and we need more speakers to speak at the nation to realize that the biggest act of revenge against the Palestinians is silence and kindness,” Landau said at the Beth El service.

At the conclusion of the service, yellow ribbons that had been displayed after the Israeli teenagers went missing in June were replaced with black ribbons.

“It’s a tragedy for anyone to lose a life,” remarked one attendee.

“We are never far when something happens to a Jew. It’s felt very strongly. We embrace the concept ‘every Jew is responsible for another,’” said Landau. “Distance is not a representation of how far we are, especially with news and social media represented.”

Andy Katz, assistant administrator at Beth El, said that the service was very much a communal gathering.

“[This service] strengthens the bonding and also allows us to grieve and find outlet in our own surroundings,” he said.

Lauren Root is a local freelance writer.

Let’s Choose Our Words Wisely

runyan_josh_otAccording to the biblical account, creation didn’t take place through fire or a divine wind. The world instead came into being through speech.

As taught and amplified by the Jewish tradition in the thousands of years since that seminal event, words — even when limited to the constricted realm of human speech — have retained the power to create. Have a bright idea that you want to spread to the masses? Then you better put it into words, either spoken or in print. This is a fundamental truth every editor lives by and every child accepts as a given: The most sublime way of engaging with the world around you is through words.

But words, as we’ve been reminded time and again this week, also have the power to destroy.

Observers of events in Israel have laid some of the blame for the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir at the feet of those who called for revenge after the bodies of Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach turned up in a field near Hebron. It’s an argument made by Rabbi Benny Lau, the rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem who told The Media Line news agency that racist elements in Israeli society were to blame for Abu Khdeir’s killing. He called for a “tikkun,” a spiritual repair, by being careful in the use of language.

Although the reckless use of words likely had something to do with the tragedy, their wholesale abuse by news organizations in the days since has further painted Israel — and the entire Jewish people — as the ones to blame in a conflict that, if we’re going to be completely honest, has its roots in the mismanagement of the British Mandate long before Jews saw a homeland as firmly within their reach.

In its half-hourly reports Sunday from Jerusalem, where Palestinians had taken to the streets and where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was mulling over the details of his country’s response to a near-constant volley of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza, the local CBS affiliate 99.1 WNEW broadcast news of the six “Jewish suspects” arrested in connection with Abu Khdeir’s murder. The murder, the broadcasts continued, had likely come as a response to the killings of the three “Israeli teenagers.”

And again, in The Washington Post the following morning, “Israel reckoned with rising homegrown extremism … as it arrested six Jewish suspects who are believed to have burned to death an Arab teenager in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens.”

The implication of such reporting is that when they suffer, Israel’s citizens are “Israeli.” When they commit a crime, they’re “Jewish.” It’s an ironic supposition, considering that the actions of the six suspects would be the least Jewish imaginable.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, that part of the world is quickly descending into chaos. Rockets flew over Tel Aviv on Tuesday; one reportedly struck a house in Jerusalem. Hamas has declared every home in Israel a target.

Let’s be careful with our language: Israelis are not the only ones whose lives are at stake. Suffering in war comes indiscriminately. Jews, Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Christians — at the end of the day, we’re all in the crosshairs when hate is fanning the flames.


Kindred Spirits

Author and commentator Aryeh Spero prompted shouts of “Amen” during his invocation (Photos provided)

Author and commentator Aryeh Spero prompted shouts of “Amen” during his invocation (Photos provided)

Religious freedom, family values, fiscal policy and Israel were the primary drivers of discussion, as faith activists and Republican politicians gathered in Washington last weekend for the Road to Majority 2014 Conference put on by the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition. Despite the group’s reputation as mostly evangelical, Jewish speakers, pundits and issues were prominent on the agenda, as was quoting the Old Testament, an apparent nod to the broad range of inclusion that the group considers its goal.

Held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel from Thursday morning to Saturday night, the conference dished out the bread-and-butter fare of conservative politics, with speakers denouncing President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic politics as well as expanding on such staples as abortion, fiscal responsibility and religious freedom. On the foreign affairs front, an active U.S. role in the Middle East and support of Israel as a strong regional ally were popular themes.

Sounding more like an evangelical preacher than the Orthodox rabbi that he is, author and commentator Aryeh Spero kicked off the conference by
delivering a fiery invocation answered by shouts of “Amen” from the several hundred people in attendance.

“And David said to the Philistines: Thou cometh to me with a sword and a spear but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, Lord of this holy nation you dare to mock and dismiss,” said Spero. “So my friends, we ask, who are these judges, these bureaucrats, these hedonists of Hollywood, that they should come and taunt America and defy the living God upon whose word this Judeo-Christian nation was founded?

“The brazen and the prideful have stood over us to transform this country by first transforming our language; by redefining our historic and biblical understanding of marriage; of life in the womb and outside the womb; our view of freedom of conscience, and especially our right to freedom of religion as opposed to only freedom of worship,” he continued.

This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by Sammy, Ezra and Dara Berger — the children of Orthodox Jewish Republican activist, donor and obstetrician Alan Berger of Englewood, N.J. — the boys wearing their kippot on stage.

Other Jewish speakers on the program included Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians; nationally syndicated talk radio host Michael Medved and his wife Dianne, a clinical psychologist and best-selling author; and conservative Jewish comedian Evan Sayet.

“While clearly the overwhelming majority of members of the organization are evangelicals, I believe the values that we’re advocating as a matter of public policy are based on the Bible and natural law and based on biblical principles of the importance of family, of hard work, of individual self-initiative,” Ralph Reed, the organization’s chairman and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, told the Washington Jewish Week, adding that all of the coalition’s policy positions are based on Mosaic Law.

“I think there’s tremendous continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament on the values that we advocate and while many of our members hold to Christian faith, you’re not required to hold to that faith,” continued Reed. “We have an open membership policy. We’re open to people of all faiths or no faith at all and particularly on issues relating to the security of Israel as the Jewish state.”

Reed estimates that in previous years, between 5 and 10 percent of the conference attendees were Jewish.

According to development director Orit Sklar, the conference did add more specifically Christian geared programing to cater to its core audience, such as a Christian music performance.

“The important thing to us is to make sure that we bring together people who understand the importance of Judeo-Christian values in our society and that we have programing for both communities,” said Sklar. “We very much have an outreach effort and an interest in growing the membership of our organization within the Jewish community. It goes with the understanding that people of faith were crucial in the founding of this country and they need to have a voice in government today.”

Public perception of the organization has focused on its evangelism, which according to Sayet, may keep some Jews away for the wrong reasons.

“A lot of Jews wrongly feel safer allied with a party that has no faith over a party that has the Christian faith, and they’re wrong. Because those with no faith hate Judaism as much as they hate Christianity,” Sayet, a non-practicing Jew, said. “They hate the notion of faith. The people of faith are closer to each other than Jews are to the seculars.”

House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy was one of many guest speakers at the conference.

House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy was one of many guest speakers at the conference.

Of course the big draw of the conference was top tier politicians, many with their sights set on winning the GOP’s nomination for president in the 2016 election. These included Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, TV host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Christie criticized the Obama administration for its lack of leadership in the world, telling attendees that leadership includes clearly making sure that friends and adversaries know who they are around the world.

“And we are seeing now all across this world that this administration’s pulling back of American influence and American ideas around the world is having catastrophic effects in every corner of the globe,” Christie said. “That’s not anything more than the failure of the American leader to speak clearly, profoundly and inspirationally about what America’s role is, whether it’s drawing a red line in Syria and then not enforcing it; hurting America’s credibility and allowing the Russian leader to fill the vacuum of leadership in a way that will not be good for the world; and then watching how that movement moves from Syria, our lack of engagement, to now causing the issues their causing in Iraq.”

Though Christie has drawn criticism for describing the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria as “occupied territories” at a Republican Jewish Coalition summit in Las Vegas earlier this year, and not mentioning Israel months later at the Champions of Jewish Values Gala hosted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, he praised the Jewish state this time around, and to thunderous applause.

“Worst of all, you have sitting in the midst of this, the beacon of hope, and democracy and respect for human rights in that section of the world — the state of Israel — who now feels at risk because they are no longer convinced that America is their unwavering friend because of the actions of this administration,” he said. “That’s wrong. Israel is our friend. We need to stand up for it and fight for it.”

With only the rare exception, almost all of the bible passages evoked by the speakers came from the Old Testament. Spero told WJW that he considers this to be a historic shift.

“When I was younger, as a kid, Christians generally were all New Testament oriented. Some of the Catholic community had actually rejected the Old Testament and among Protestants, they accepted it but it wasn’t their bread and butter,” he said. “But you’re seeing a tremendous shift here historically into emphasis on the Old Testament. Which is wonderful —that’s another reason why they’re very supportive of Israel.”

More rhetorical fireworks came later that day, as the attendees filled a meeting room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol to be addressed by Republican lawmakers. In his remarks to the group, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who is not seeking reelection in November, invoked the Holocaust, telling attendees that “modern day gas chambers are being constructed as you sit here, stand here, as I talk to you, they’re being constructed. And they’re being constructed by people that say, ‘We’re going to wipe out Israel and we’re going to wipe out the United States’ and they’re building what they need to do that.”

When pressed for clarification, Gohmert said that he was referring to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The Iranian leaders have made clear they want to wipe the ‘little Satan’, Israel, off the map and they’ve made clear they consider the United States the ‘great Satan’, and we need to go too,” he explained.

Departing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who lost to a Tea Party challenger in his state’s Republican Primary earlier this month, canceled his appearance due to “scheduling issues,” although attendees suspected that he didn’t want to deflect attention from the newly elected majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California.

JNS.org contributed to this story.

All In The Family

The seven children of Rose and Isaac Resnekov, from left: Zelda (Jenny), Yetta, Abraham, Sarah, Louis, Mary and William. (Provided)

The seven children of Rose and Isaac Resnekov, from left: Zelda (Jenny), Yetta, Abraham, Sarah, Louis, Mary and William. (Provided)

It all started in 2007 with a sick dog named Fonzie.

When the Feigelson family dog had surgery in Tennessee, Baltimore resident Margy Resnick Feigelson seized the opportunity to meet her extended family in Knoxville for the first time. Feigelson, who had pored over genealogy websites to trace her family’s roots, immediately connected with her grandfather’s sister, Yetta Resnick Burnett, and her Burnett cousins. Her quest to find her extended family ignited a spark in her newfound cousin, Michael Burnett. Soon after her initial visit, he began tracking down the rest of the Resenkov/Resnick clan. Seven years later, 116 Resenkov/Resnick descendants from 10 states packed the Park Heights Jewish Community Center on Sunday, June 22 for their largest-ever family reunion.

“Driving down to Tennessee all those years ago, I never would have dreamed it would lead to a major family reunion. I started the genealogy, but Michael took over and found so many long-lost relatives,” said Feigelson. “This beautiful family began with one brave couple, my great-grandparents, restarting their lives in Baltimore. My grandfather was one of seven children. Look at how much our family has grown.”

Between 1906 and 1910, Rose and Isaac Resnekov (changed to Resnick) immigrated from Haisyn, Ukraine in search of a better life. Escaping the hardships and pogroms of Eastern Europe, they brought their six children — Zelda “Jenny,” Sarah, Abraham, William, Louis and Mary — to the United States. Their seventh and youngest child, Yetta, was born in Baltimore. Blessed with longevity, Burnett’s mother, Yetta, passed away in January at the age of 101.

Burnett’s desire to fill in the branches of her family tree grew even stronger with the loss of her mother — the last surviving child of Rose and Isaac.

“After my mother passed away, I wanted to see her whole family. All of the guests today are descendants of my mom’s parents, Rose and Issac Resnick,” said Burnett. “When I planned a Baltimore reunion, I expected 20 people to attend. I had been working on the genealogy for a long time, and I was able to contact many people. Through multiple emails, phone calls and simple word of mouth, the event grew and grew and grew. The majority of family members are meeting each other for the first time, just like I met Margy all those years ago.”

Family members flocked to Baltimore from Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland, Florida, Connecticut, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina for the lively afternoon affair. Through sips of coffee and bites of chocolate cake, they got to know each other and pieced together
how they are related. The family’s rich history was on full display at the reunion via slide shows, old photographs, immigration papers, personal letters, certificates of achievement and newspaper clips. In addition, Burnett handed out copies of the most updated Resnkov/Resnick family tree for every guest.

“One of the best features is the article on my great-great grandmother Bessie Snyder,” said Feigelson, holding up a newspaper clip on Snyder at the White House. “Everyone has a story about Bubbie Snyder. She was Rose’s mother and adored by everyone. Although we didn’t know her exact age, she lived to be 109 to 115. She even went to the White House to meet the president when she turned 100.”

Since many members of the Resnick family live in Baltimore, Burnett hopes that the relationships forged will extend far beyond last Sunday’s reunion. Before meeting each other on Sunday, some of the relatives traveled in similar circles without realizing they were related. Prior to the reunion, for example, Barbara Goldman discovered she worked with one of her cousins, Lisa Greenberg, at Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville.

“After taking a job as a para-educator at Woodholme Elementary, I ran into my cousin Rozzie Seiden at the store,” said Goldman. “She informed me that our cousin, Lisa, worked there as a guidance counselor. Unaware of the family connection, I realized I had been working for several months with a cousin of mine, and I did not even know it.”

“It was very emotional once we discovered we were cousins,” added Greenberg. “I brought in family photos of our grandparents. We had an immediate bond. It was the family bond.”

That centrality of family was the overarching theme at Sunday’s reunion.

“This reunion amazed me,” said Burnett. “I had everyone write down their contact information on clipboards. I want to keep in touch and try to find more of the family. At the end, it all comes down to the importance of family. I guess now I’ll have to come to Baltimore more often.”

Allie Freedman is an area freelance writer.

The Power of (Puppy) Love

Elaine Mintzes (left)  and Paulette Carter celebrate the dedication of the Alvin and Elaine Mintzes Fund for the Care of  Animals at Levindale on June 19.  (Provided)

Elaine Mintzes (left) and Paulette Carter celebrate the dedication of the Alvin and Elaine Mintzes Fund for the Care of
Animals at Levindale on June 19. (Provided)

Some community events can’t help but boost one’s faith in humanity (and canine-ity). That was the case with Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital’s dedication of the Alvin and Elaine Mintzes Fund for the Care of Levindale Animals on June 19. The event also included a plaque-hanging ceremony “in loving honor of employee Paulette Carter and in dear remembrance” of her poodle, Lincoln, who died in 2013 after 12 years as a Levindale “volunteer.”

Major philanthropists to Jewish, medical, educational and cultural organizations, the Mintzeses wereknown for their generosity and kindness. After her husband of 51 years passed away in 2005, Elaine Mintzes continued with the couple’s philanthropic activities. While hospitalized at Levindale in 2011 and 2012, Mintzes was greatly helped in her recovery by the companionship of Lincoln, a poodle that was part of the Eden Alternative and Neighborhood Model of care at the hospital. The first facility of its kind in Maryland, Eden is based on the philosophy that patients do better in a home-like environment where they are surrounded with other patients and staff, are able to choose when and what to eat and how to decorate their apartments and are visited by children and pets.

For Mintzes, the visits she received from Lincoln and his owner, Paulette Carter, a Levindale employee for the past 36 years, played major roles in her recovery. At the event, Mintzes addressed an audience of more than 75 people in person and by pre-taped video. She praised Carter for her
dedicated service to Levindale.

“Paulette was the kind of employee who stood out. She never inquired if a task was part of her job description and had a unique style of befriending patients, staff and families,” said Mintzes. “She and Lincoln were inseparable; they were soul mates. He acquired his gentlemanly character from Paulette’s demeanor, and I hope Levindale is blessed to have Paulette for another 36 years. [Paulette], you bring light and brightness to everything you touch.”

After that, it was time for Mintzes to sing Lincoln’s praises. Mintzes began by noting that Lincoln was the first dog to be honored in Levindale’s [more than]100-year history.

“Lincoln had all the attributes of a human being,” she said. “When I spoke to him, I was speaking to a human being, not a dog. Lincoln was more therapeutic than medicine. “Lincoln had custom-made sweaters inscribed with his name,” she continued. “They said, Lincoln: a gentleman and almost a scholar!’ Everyone loved and admired him. They called him a jewel.”

Also on the afternoon’s program was Dr. Elizabeth McDonald, a local veterinarian who confirmed that animals are known to have a calming effect on people, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure and brightening the mood.

Longtime volunteer Betty Seidel reminisced about Lincoln, and Barry Eisenberg, executive director and COO of Levindale, delivered the program’s welcome and introductions and dedicated the plaque that will honor Carter and Lincoln.

“No other dog will ever be Lincoln, but thanks to the Mintzes Foundation, other pets will bring comfort to our residents,” said Eisenberg.

Carter, Lincoln’s owner, also spoke about her beloved pet. “Lincoln brought a smile to everyone,” she said.

Rabbi Chaim Landau, rabbi emeritus of Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Synagogue, was a surprise guest, giving an impromptu but spirited talk about the power of pets.

“I’ve never spoken on behalf of animals before,” said the rabbi, “but do you know how God tells Noah to save the animals first? That was because humans will give Noah a hard time; animals won’t. You can speak to a pet for an unlimited period of time, and he will listen for an unlimited period of time. Afterward, he will look at you with those two eyes that say, I understood every word you said.’ Then, if you’re lucky, he’ll cover your face in licks. The love of an animal is precious as any gem.”

Despite Lincoln’s absence, there was another dog in attendance. Griffin, a Siberian Husky mix who recently completed a stint performing in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and his master, Gregg Boersma, were on hand to provide entertainment. Boersma and Griffin, who narrowly escaped being euthanized at an Ohio shelter, wowed the crowd with several amazing tricks before refreshments were served.


Business as Usual?

062714_presbyterianWhile national Jewish leaders are predicting a rift in Jewish-Presbyterian relations following last week’s PCUSA General Assembly vote to divest from three American companies doing business with Israel, the situation likely will prove more affable in Baltimore.

“We have a lot of very strong relationships with the local Presbyterian Church” said Chana Siff, associate director of Israel and government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council. “We have those relationships, we have our friends, I imagine we will not change that based upon ­what happened at a national level.”

After hours of at times emotional debate last Friday, June 20, the Presbyterian Church-USA approved a resolution by a vote of 310 to 303 to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, companies that resolution advocates said profit from West Bank security systems.

This was the second time in two years that the measure has been put to vote at the Presbyterian General Assembly. It was defeated by just two votes in 2012.

Some said this most recent decision, combined with a church assembly’s release of an anti-Zionist tract earlier this year called “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study,” points toward a connection between the Presbyterian Church and groups that wish to dismantle Israel.

The “decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church (USA),” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, said in a statement.

“We hold the leadership of the PCUSA accountable for squandering countless opportunities, not only to act responsibly to advance prospects for Middle East peace, but also to isolate and repudiate the radical, prejudiced voices in their denomination,” Gutow said.

Amendments added to the resolution during the course of the assembly sought to distance it from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, a move that Siff said was meaningless given the intention of the resolution.

“If you’re divesting from three companies you can disassociate yourself as much as you’d like but you have participated in what the BDS movement stands for,” she said. “There’s no differentiating between those two things.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, StandWithUs, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the American Jewish Committee all spoke out against the resolution, predicting strained relations in the future.

On the other side of the debate, Jewish Voice for Peace applauded the measure.

“We are grateful the church voted not to profit from the suffering of Palestinians under Israel’s 47-year-old occupation,” said the group’s deputy director, Cecile Surasky, in a statement. “Now that U.S.-backed peace talks have proven to be ineffective, we hope that others, including Jewish institutions, will follow suit. Divestment has become one of our best hopes for change.”

Rev. Craig Palmer, transitional general presbyter at the Presbytery of Baltimore, said he and other local Presbyterians are preparing for backlash.

“I’m aware, just from talking to some of our pastors, they are planning on connecting with rabbis that are … in their community or in their neighborhood where they’ve got relationships to have those conversations,” said Palmer. “The hope is that through dialogue we can continue to be in a relationship, and, obviously, all our desire is that peace may one day prevail throughout the region, and secure boundaries will be established, and no more shall there be war and violence.”

Additionally, Palmer pointed out that the commissioners sent from each region to the General Assembly are not there to vote for what they believe is popular in their local congregation. Rather, the commissioners sent to the assembly “are commissioned to discern God’s will at this time for the church in this place, in this day and age. This isn’t representative government,” he continued. “If a poll was taken of our denomination, I’m not sure where it would come out on divestment.”

The BJC’s Siff said her organization has not heard of any similar divestment efforts moving through any other Christian denominations, but the council is planning summer and fall campaigns to educate the public about Israel and strengthen relationships with the Baltimore’s Christian community.

“We will continue to advocate and share the facts with our friends so that they’re aware of them,” she said.

“Unfortunately this incident happened and they did pass this resolution but we have heard and we feel that the local position and the national position are two diverse positions,” said Siff, adding that those who voted on the measure are not necessarily representative of the whole Presbyterian Church. Conference commissioners are chosen each year from congregations around the country to represent their region and each assembly general consists of different commissioners.

“They are very frustrated,” Siff saif of the local Presbyterian groups the BJC has worked with. “They do not believe in divestment of the church. Many of them strongly support Israel. They recognize that Israel is not perfect but do not agree that divestment is the right way to go.”

JNS.org contributed to this story.