New Outlook for Myerberg

062714_seniorclassesIt’s not news that people are living longer and staying healthier than ever before. Baby boomers don’t feel like senior citizens, they don’t behave like senior citizens, and they may not envision themselves spending time at a senior center. At the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Pikesville, board and staff members get it. About two years ago, the center, which is open to people 55 and up, removed the word “senior” from its title, and according to director of life-long learning Autumn Sadovnik, the center’s name isn’t the only thing that’s evolved.

“The Myerberg Center is no longer a place where people just come to have lunch and play cards,” said Sadovnik. “We just had 25 people in an advanced aerobics class. One member, who trained at our fitness center, is now riding his bike across Europe. We are growing and diversifying our offerings in fitness and wellness, academics and the arts,” she said. “It’s become a place where people can come and do the things they may have not had time to do when their work schedules were heavier.”

Some members, Sadovnik added, still have full-time jobs, and the center is expanding its hours to accommodate them. For example, now the fitness center is open three evenings per week, and the center is beginning to schedule fitness classes in that time slot as well.

The Myerberg Center’s summer program lineup reflects the changing needs and varied interests of its members.

Sadovnik said the program kicked off on June 2 with a program called, “Down Memory Lane with Camp Louise.” Former campers saw a slide show with photos from Camp Louise from its earliest days to today and shared a traditional camp lunch.

“We served sticky buns with cottage cheese,” a treat Sadovnik, a 1990s-era Louise camper, said was once a camp tradition. “The women saw photos of themselves and their mothers! It was really a great day.”

On June 8, the Myerberg hosted its annual Grace Schnitzer summer art show, and on July 25, members will have lunch and be treated to a performance by the Tzofim Israel Scouts.

Other new and expanding programs include the Bagel Boys men’s club, technology workshops and classes such as introduction to poetry, Tai Chi, digital photography and conversational Yiddish.

The Myerberg’s Dorothy Orfus Stein art program is already well known for its high quality. The center has also formed partnerships with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Baltimore Zionist District and the Creative Alliance, enabling innovative programs that include the museum’s salon series, Creative Alliance’s intergenerational lantern-making workshop and a series called “Israel Promise and Politics” taught by Israeli scholars and AIPAC and BZD members.  There will also be an expanded music program, a genealogy course and a World War II program taught by a survivor of the Japanese occupation.

The Myerberg Center’s state-of-the-art fitness center, built in 2008, may be the best deal in town. The 2400-square-foot facility features strength-training equipment, cardio machines and free weights. For $30 per hour, members can work with one of the center’s personal trainers. The cost for membership at the Myerberg Center is $42 per year, and membership at the fitness center costs $315 per year. Fitness classes include aerobics, circuit training, Zumba and yoga. And although much of the center’s new programs are geared toward the “younger” set, the Myerberg Center hasn’t forgotten its older and frailer population. They also offer chair Zumba, chair Pilates, seniorcize and a new miniseries called Exercise for Strong Bones. “That program has really taken off,” Sadovnik noted. “Sometimes women who haven’t worked out before think they can’t do it. But that shouldn’t stop them. Everyone who signed up for the strong bones series ended up registering for aerobics. Not only do we see people living longer, they are living better.”

Other area senior centers are also offering new and innovative programs for the summer months. At Pikesville Senior Center, July programs include wellness-themed programs such as a lunch and learn program on reflexology, a brain fitness presentation and a Salad Extravaganza on July 9. For the politically minded, the center will sponsor a Q&A session with Sue Cohen, a representative for Congressman Michael Sarbanes, on July 8. On July 14, members can attend a Jewish history discussion with Rabbi Dovid Lefkowitz, director of senior Jewish learning at the Etz Chaim Center. The Pikesville Senior Center also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, where classes in Zumba and yoga are offered.

Area community colleges waive tuition for adult learners over 60 years old. Offerings include arts courses such as painting and drawing, computer literacy courses in social media and Adobe photoshop, history and politics. With campuses located in Hunt Valley, Catonsville and Owings Mills, as well as online, the courses are easy to access.

And don’t forget the JCC. Both locations offer group fitness, acquatics and ceramics classes specifically geared toward older adults, said Melissa Berman. In addition, the JCC presents its Warm Houses programs, which “are designed to develop connections among seniors to create a support system and connected community,” said Berman. “Groups gather weekly in their homes, in their own comfort zones, [and seniors have a chance] to participate in conversational activities and educational activities. Participants also gather monthly for large-scale special programs with featured presenters and opportunities to interact in a larger group setting.”

Warm Houses programs take place at Weinberg Village and other residential facilities along the Park Heights Avenue corridor.

For more information, about summer programs for seniors, contact the Edward A. Myerberg Center ( at 410-358-6856; the Pikesville Senior Center (baltimore at 410-887-1245; and the JCC ( at 410-356-5200.

No Vacation from Bigotry, Hate

runyan_josh_otIn the current economy, the concept of a vacation, especially for the working poor among us, is something of a luxury. And even among those for whom a vacation is a given, financial realities have made “staycations” a common feature of American life.

That’s why it’s great to live in a place like Baltimore, where historic sites, cultural offerings, entertainment and exotic walks — many of them free — beckon those looking to unwind. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, ours is a region bursting with life, giving plenty of options to young singles, blossoming families and senior citizens alike. Taking a personal day? You can follow in the footsteps of the neighbors quoted in our cover story and explore the city’s famous Shot Tower or embark on a local adventure of your own. And we’d love to hear about it.

But the freedom to explore one’s own town is, unfortunately, a luxury that is quickly disappearing from Jews living in one of the world’s most culturally rich locales: France. Researchers from the Anti-Defamation League have discovered that the Western European nation harbors the greatest concentration — at 37 percent of the populace — of anti-Semitic views as any on that continent. What’s worse, attacks on the Jewish community are increasing, leaving its members with little choice short of emigrating to Israel or the United States.

Those choosing to live in Israel are quite happy with their choice, for there truly isn’t anything like living in the Holy Land. But there are those elsewhere in the world, such as Rev. Larry Grimm of the Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church in Colorado, who feel that of all the places in the world Jews don’t belong, it’s Israel.

As reported in Tablet magazine, in the days leading up to his movement’s historic vote last week to divest itself from investments in companies doing business with Israel’s security forces, Grimm took to Facebook to tell Israelis that they were living on land that didn’t belong to them.

“Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends,” he wrote. “Stop it. Come home to America!”

The comment, which bore resemblance to former White House correspondent Helen Thomas’ rant that the Jews didn’t belong in the Jewish homeland, would have been a curious side note were it not for the fact that in the end the Presbyterian Church (USA) endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement seeking to delegitimize Israel.

In the minds of these critics, Jewish suffering — such as the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, who have yet to be found — isn’t just a non-concern. In their warped view of reality, any harm befalling Jewish people necessarily follows from their being Jewish. It’s all part of the same anti-Semitic sickness that has plagued the world since time immemorial.

The best answer to such threats, even here in the peace and tranquility of Baltimore, is greater Jewish identity. Only by standing up and seeing the plight of those in France and Israel as our own will we be able to drown out the voices of hate.


Making Moves

Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Homes has been operating in the Baltimore area for more than 110 years. (Provided)

Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Homes has been operating in the Baltimore area for more than 110 years. (Provided)

For more than four decades, members of Howard County’s Jewish community had to travel upward of 20 miles to make funeral arrangements for loved ones. Next week, that will change.

Pikesville-based Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. Funeral Home will open a new office in the heart of Columbia on June 15. In addition to marking the first time the family-owned funeral home has operated out of more than one office, it will also be the only Jewish funeral home in Howard County.

“The Jewish community is looking forward to Sol Levinson’s presence in Howard County,” said Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County. “Having the Levinson family recognize the need for an office in Columbia further underscores our growing community and its needs.”

The new office, at 5560 Sterrett Place, Suite 204, across from the Mall in Columbia, will offer Howard County residents access to a bereavement library with books on topics ranging from mourning to Jewish customs, space for bereavement support groups and chances to meet personally with one of Levinson’s eight funeral directors who can assist in pre-planning or the making of funeral arrangements. Clients can stop by the office to go over cemetery options, write a death notice and pick a rabbi to lead a service, among other details.

Although the funeral home has been working closely with Howard County residents for years, Matt Levinson, general manager at Sol Levinson & Bros., said the addition of the Columbia office “will address the lack of a physical presence” in the area. He estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of the company’s clients reside in Howard County.

While arrangements can be made through Levinson’s office in Columbia, the funeral home does not have plans to build a chapel for services at the new location. Services arranged through Levinson may be conducted at interfaith centers, meeting houses, synagogues, cemeteries or one of Levinson’s two chapels at its Pikesville location.

As a family-owned business, Sol Levinson & Bros. is one of the few independently owned Jewish funeral homes in the region. The Federal Trade Commission intervened in 2013 when a merger between the nation’s two largest funeral home companies threatened a monopoly on Jewish funeral home competition in Washington, D.C. In Baltimore, Levinson’s has operated as the go-to resource for Jewish community members looking for help when a loved one passes. November 4, 1993 was even declared “Levinson Family Day” by Gov. William Donald Shaefer.

The Levinson family opened their first Jewish funeral home in 1892 on High Street in Baltimore. For three generations, Levinson’s funeral home has served the Jewish community of Baltimore. In addition to assistance in funeral planning, Levinson’s also hosts an annual Howard County Lecture Series, which features presentations from local and national experts in the field of death and mourning.

Fun for All

The JCC held its first community block party at the Weinberg Owings Mills JCC on Sunday, June 8. Approximately 4,000 people attended, 110 faces were painted by Sophia Rosman, about 300 hot dogs and sausages and 250 hamburgers were served, four bands performed while a DJ entertained on the baseball field. Community members interacted with 80 vendors and 60 program partners, and 1,000 people attended the after-party in the Rec park.
— Photos by Marc Shapiro

A Political Breakfast

Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner said that private school transportation is an urgent priority for some of his constituents. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner said that private school transportation is an urgent priority for some of his constituents. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Some 500 religious Jews crowded into a Potomac synagogue Sunday morning for kosher deli food and the opportunity to schmooze with 50 local elected officials and candidates — only two weeks before Maryland’s June 24 primaries.

The inaugural OU Advocacy-MD Legislative Breakfast, organized by the public policy arm of the New York-based Orthodox Union, took place at Potomac’s Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah. At the top of OU’s agenda: educational affordability and parity for nonpublic school students.

Maury Litwack, the organization’s director of state political affairs and outreach, said the No. 1 issue for his members is Jewish education. More than 3,000 children attend Jewish day schools in the D.C.-metro area, while more than 5,500 do so in Baltimore.

Other issues of importance to OU-Advocacy include transportation, universal pre-K education, special-needs funding, safety and security for Maryland’s Jewish day schools and synagogues through Department of Homeland Security grants, funding for secular textbooks for all nonpublic schools and passage of Maryland’s education tax-credit bill.

“This is an opportunity for elected officials to understand issues that we care about, and for community members to understand that the politicians are open to hearing about these issues,” Litwack told Washington Jewish Week.

Litwack said the OU has no problem with public funds going to senior-citizen homes or other social services. But some voters get offended by the concept of public assistance to private religious schools — if only to defray transportation costs for parents whose taxes support public schools even though their children don’t attend them.

“Vouchers are a four-letter word for most politicians,” he said. “If an elected official is not informed and we don’t do our due diligence, they will automatically jump to the conclusion that any form of funding to the Jewish community is vouchers. So you’ve got to start small.”

Last month, Montgomery County officials conducted a trial for the final two weeks of school at Rockville’s Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, during which 207 students rode yellow county school buses. That took about 100 cars and minivans off the road.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said he wants to expand that trial into “a full-scale system that is right for our parents and our schools.”

Leggett, who received a loud round of applause upon his introduction, said that in his native Louisiana, parishes — which are equivalent to counties — already do many of these things.

“And that’s what we should be doing here. Think about the impact to families,” he said. “This is about fairness. It’s long overdue, and I’m glad we have over 50 elected officials to hear this.

“Many others feel the same way,” he continued. “Hopefully you will continue your advocacy and move beyond a pilot to something we can be proud of, and put this issue behind us once and for all.”

Silver Spring resident Sam Melamed, a lay leader with OU Advocacy-MD Leadership, said the average Jewish private school tuition in Montgomery County runs $15,000 to $20,000 per child — a huge expense for middle-class families like his own.

“It’s important that we have a chance to convey to these politicians the pain that families feel,” he explained.

Other speakers at the Potomac breakfast included Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy; local delegate Anne Kaiser, chair of the Montgomery County House Delegation; and Craig Rice, president of the Montgomery County Council. U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, was scheduled to speak but canceled for personal reasons.

Roger Berliner, a member of the Montgomery County Council who’s running for re-election, told Washington Jewish Week following the breakfast that private school transportation is an urgent priority for a number of his Jewish constituents.

“It’s not an inconsequential issue,” said the politician, whose District 1 covers Bethesda, Garrett Park and Chevy Chase. “About a year ago, I met with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community. That community has said to me, ‘We’d be prepared to change our school hours if we could have a surplus bus from the school system.’ I think we can build off that pilot program. It will change peoples’ lives.”

Six months ago, he said, the OU gave its Maryland chapter seed money to hire Karen Paikin Barall as the advocacy group’s mid-Atlantic regional director.

“When Karen goes to Rockville and Annapolis to lobby on our behalf and advocate for our schools, we want every legislator to see not only this sea of 500 faces behind her, but also the thousands of other people who were not able to make this event,” said Melamed.

Larry Luxner is a Washington-based freelance writer.

A Lack of Human Respect

runyan_josh_otAs JT reporter Simone Ellin was putting the finishing touches on this week’s cover story — an examination of the battle to make the American college campus a safer one for its students — news broke of yet another school shooting, purportedly the 74th nationwide since 2012’s Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut.

This time, a gunman reportedly walked into the Reynolds High School outside of Portland, Ore., and felled a student with his rifle. Authorities later found the suspect dead in a school bathroom. Tuesday’s shooting follows an incident last week at Seattle Pacific University in Washington and the murder of six University of California, Santa Barbara students two weeks ago.

Wherever you stand on the debate surrounding the Second Amendment and the rights of Americans to own and carry guns, it’s hard not to acknowledge that something is clearly wrong with society. And as you’ll see in this week’s cover story, the challenges to campus safety aren’t merely of the firearm variety. Especially threatening to the young women who go to college, our institutions of higher learning are also the repositories of our basest behaviors.

To be sure, there are programs coast to coast, quite a few of them Jewish, that are combatting the dangers prevalent on campus. But as the rash of shootings has shown, where not even an increase in gun-control laws and a sea change in public opinion has helped to make students safer, to fix any problem, you have to get to the root of it.

So what could possibly be behind all of these ills that seem to be either claiming the lives of our young ones at an ever-increasing rate or completely scarring the ones who survive? In short, it all boils down to a lack of human respect. The Germany of the 1920s and 1930s, arguably the most advanced society of the time in the realm of philosophy and the sciences, fell so quickly into the abyss of hatred — culminating in the Holocaust — through a warped logic that dehumanized the Jewish people.

Today, by inculcating in the young the fallacious notion that what truly matters is personal accomplishment, by maximizing the value of the “me” and the “I,” our society has now fundamentally devalued the worth of the other. It is in this vacuum that weapons, alcohol and drugs can become the agents of destruction.

Thousands of years ago, the great sage Rabbi Akiva hailed as the fundamental precept of the Torah: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Typically understood as the positive reflection of the Golden Rule, this precept actually goes much deeper than not doing harm. If you define yourself by your own accomplishments, it will be impossible to ever truly identify with those around you. But if you recognize that what makes you human goes far beyond what your hands will ever create — if you identify yourself as a human being, first and foremost — then you can’t help but see yourself as a part of humanity.

To create a better future for our children, we must teach them that, like different parts of the same body, harm to one of us affects us all.


Breaking Ground


Groundbreaking for the new Chabad Student Center is the first step in a $3 million building that will include a synagogue and guest suites. (Provided)

On Sunday, June 1, the Chabad Jewish Student Center at Towson and Goucher celebrated the official groundbreaking for the organization’s new building. The new location will allow the expansion of programs at a time when both Towson University’s and Goucher College’s Jewish student populations are growing, according to Rabbi Mendy and Sheiny Rivkin, who currently operate the center from their two-story home in Towson.

The Rivkins, who moved to the area in 2008 to offer a welcoming Jewish experience for college students, have always felt strongly about Jewish youth and the need to strengthen their Jewish ties.

“We want to give students the opportunity to explore, to figure out who they are as Jews,” said Mendy Rivkin. “It’s their journey of self-discovery, and we want them to own it.”

At the decidedly rustic and airy outdoor ceremony, a video documented student and alumni reflections of the Chabad House. Speakers included academic and political officials and donors, including Baltimore County Councilman David Marks and Towson University vice president Gary Rubin.

“It’s a wonderful development,” Rubin said of the expansion. “Towson is a very diverse and cultural campus. It’s very important to understand all religious beliefs.”

Sharing in the celebration was a longtime friend of Rivkin’s from rabbinical school, Rabbi Yudi Steiner of Chabad GW.

“Jewish life will grow in places that no one expects,” said the fellow campus rabbi. “All you have to do is answer the call.”

Towson alumna Danielle Gold, who was co-president for a year-and-a-half at Chabad House, spoke highly of the warm environment that the Rivkins cultivate. From Sheiny’s delicious Shabbat dinners to a menorah lighting in town, Gold learned that there was always room for one more at the center, she said.

Above all, “I learned how to be a leader and delegate,” she said. “Having never considered myself a religious person, I learned more about Judaism, what it meant and what it means to be a Jewish woman.”

She added that she has used her Judaic knowledge to lead the best and most informational Passover Seder her family has ever celebrated.

Parents also attended.

“[The Chabad House] is a place to go as a home away from home — that’s really how they make you feel,” said Robyn Barnett, whose daughter recently graduated.

Mendy Rivkin recalled that even from his first years in the area, Shabbat dinners routinely drew a crowd. It became so popular, he said, that students worried they would lose their seats if they stood up.

And with three young children and another on the way, the expansion, his wife noted, is coming at the right time for his own family.

“As our family is growing and with the new Chabad House, it will allow for more programs at varying times,” said Sheiny Rivkin. “We want to work very hard to keep the [student] family atmosphere.”

The new building will have three floors and will include a library and conference room for in-depth research and debates, a synagogue, a large dining room that can accommodate more than 120 students, a professional kitchen, a student lounge and guest suites for visitors and parents.

“I’m very happy to see this come to fruition,” said Rabbi Joshua Snyder, director of Hillel at Goucher College. “The more resources the better.”

Donors have covered 60 to 70 percent of the total cost for expansion, approximately $3 million, according to the Rivkins. Construction is expected to start as soon as possible and is estimated to take six to eight months.

The Chabad House offers a variety of programs, including inter-student education, social events, Birthright trips to Israel and a Shabbaton in New York City. Of the students he serves, Mendy Rivkin said, “We challenge them.”

For more information, visit or call 410-825-0779.

Lauren Root is a local freelance writer.

Aspire to Educate

runyan_josh_otLooking back at the just-concluded holiday of Shavuot, it’s hard not to remain in awe at the magnitude of the event it commemorates. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is remarkable not just because it embodies a link between the physical and supernal realms.

What stands out when contemplating this seminal moment in the Jewish psyche is how it unfolds. There stands an entire people — 600,000 men, their children and wives — at the foot of the mountain. Not only do these newly freed slaves group themselves according to their 12 tribes, but they represent a host of leadership roles and functions. In addition to Moses, there’s his brother Aaron, the leaders of each tribe and lesser officers and administrators. But only one, Moses himself, ascends the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.

Had the entire people joined Moses at the top, one could have argued that Jewish strength lies in the individuality of the Jewish person. The presence of a leader, however, indicates that true Jewish strength lies in being able to remain an individual — tradition teaches that although Moses received the two tablets, all of the people heard the voice of the Almighty communicate the first two commandments to him — and yet unite behind a common goal.

So there we have the dueling forces of the human condition: the innate need to assert one’s unique thoughts, drives and desires on the one hand, tempered by the necessity to achieve the greater good on the other. This dynamic continues today at home, in the synagogue, on the street, in public debate and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. This conflict — in the Jewish world, it can be found most glaringly in how people approach events in the Middle East — manifests itself when any person declares his own personal view to trump the rights of anyone else to draw her own conclusions, or similarly when people supposedly speaking for “the group” call any other opinion contrary to their own out of bounds.

At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint, not by virtue of American democracy, but by virtue of the fact that he or she was created with a brain. This right to individuality can be seen in the idea that every member of the Jewish people received the Torah more than 3,000 years ago.

Ultimately, however, such individuality should be directed to a higher purpose; in a Jewish context, this means using one’s talents to make the world a fitting receptacle for Godliness.

This is where education comes in. Education doesn’t typically happen in the letters to the editor section; it happens in the home first and in the school second. Rubin Sztajer, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, was able to raise educated children and grandchildren, but even at the age of 88, receiving his high school diploma has become a crucial moment in a life scarred by the Holocaust.

We all must do more to ensure that education, especially Jewish education, is made available to all. Community institutions, such as the Bais Yaakov School for Girls and Cheder Chabad — where, in the spirit of full disclosure, my children attend — are deserving of increased support. On Tuesday, June 10, the cheder will attempt to raise $40,000 in a single day. I urge you to go to and participate.

Opening the Tent

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen said Jewish leaders need to think outside the synagogue. (Kirsten Beckerman)

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen said Jewish leaders need to think outside the synagogue. (Kirsten Beckerman)

By now, almost everyone who pays attention to Jewish American trends has heard — many times over — about the Pew Research Center’s recent survey on the state of the American Jewish community. The results of the survey, which show soaring levels of intermarriage, declining levels of synagogue affiliation and low birthrates among non-Orthodox Jews have had Jewish leaders at a loss for how exactly to respond, with some believing that welcoming unaffiliated Jews, non-Jewish spouses and children of the intermarried into their communities will weaken Jews’ ties to Judaism.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, whose Big Tent Judaism movement and Jewish Outreach Institute has been training Jewish communal professionals for six years, is not among those forecasting doom, instead embracing non-traditional families.

This month, six Jewish communal professionals from Maryland completed training through JOI to become Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates. Part of JOI’s sixth North American cohort were: Rachel Petroff Kessler, family educator at Temple Isaiah in Howard County; Adam Kruger, youth director and family programmer at Beth Shalom Congregation in Howard County; Dena Cohen and Erica Bloom from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; Ken Davidson, executive director at Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville; and Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen and program director Andy Wayne of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville.

Amanda Kaletsky, one of JOI’s field staff managers, said the training teaches professionals to take Jewish programming into public spaces,
to encourage participation in Jewish programs and to build relationships with Jews and Jewish families who are not already engaged with the community.

Petroff Kessler said she has been familiar with the JOI’s philosophy for some time.

“It speaks to me,” she said, adding that Temple Isaiah has already begun “dipping its toes in the water,” when it comes to Big Tent Judaism. Kaletsky said that Big Tent Judaism and its emphasis on providing Jewish engagement in public spaces differs from conventional Jewish engagement models because instead of planning programs based on the needs of the congregation and the assumptions of clergy and professionals, planning is driven by the needs of the public.

Petroff Kessler said Temple Isaiah has already sponsored several small-scale community programs based on the model.

“We moved our family Rosh Hashanah service out to a park in Howard County, partnered with Greenberries, a great baby and maternity store for Chanukah, and with Robinson Nature Center to provide a seed planning to celebrate Tu B’Shevat,” she explained.

Petroff Kessler said that all of the activities were well received. This year, she said the congregation hopes to partner with JOI for a hands-on Chanukah program.

Arguably, one of the best examples of public-space Judaism is Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars, a free service that takes place outdoors at Oregon Ridge Park and typically draws thousands of Jewish families of all stripes, many of whom are not affiliated with BHC or any other synagogue.

“Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars is probably our biggest and most public expression of the philosophy of the JOI,” said Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. “But long before Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars started we were having conversations about keruv, bringing people in. We find ourselves at a point in history where people feel excluded, and we are thinking about how those of us inside can open the doors.”

In the last couple of decades, she added, “we’ve become more open to difference — people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, interfaith marriages, people with addictions … anyone who doesn’t appear to be the norm as the Jewish community has understood itself. And we are not just tolerating diversity, [we are] being diverse.”

Although she still believes there is a place in contemporary Judaism for brick-and-mortar institutions, Sachs-Kohen said we can no longer limit Jewish community to the walls of our synagogue buildings.

“I believe the future of Jewish community has many levels, and buildings are one of those levels,” she said. “We need them for certain occasions. But if we allow buildings to be the boundaries for Jewish life, we will not survive.”

An Israeli Olympic equestrian?

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games. (Ben Sales)

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.
(Ben Sales)

YAGUR, Israel — The crowd was sparse and admission was free. Pop music from 10 years ago blared from loudspeakers. A few families sat on bleachers near the athletes, who hopped over a low fence when it was time to compete.

The Israeli Equestrian Championships wasn’t the most obvious place to look for an accomplished athlete with Olympic aspirations. But Danielle Goldstein, an American who speaks little Hebrew and spends most of the year in Florida, is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestrian show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.

“It’s important to have a presence here,” said Goldstein, 29, as she surveyed the competition two weeks ago. “I’m excited to be at the championships, [excited to be] in the community.”

A native of New York’s Upper East Side, Goldstein fell in love with horses at an early age and later focused on show jumping, a discipline in which riders traverse a course of obstacles. In high school, she was active in jumping competitions across the United States but felt drawn to the prospect of representing Israel after traveling there on a bat mitzvah trip.

So her decision to apply for Israeli citizenship after going pro in 2010 came naturally to her, but it surprised the Israel Equestrian Federation.

“It’s not something that was like, ‘Yeah, great,’ “ Goldstein said. “It was very much like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’”

Goldstein says joining Israel’s horse riding scene has been “a little of an initiation,” but she feels welcomed. Since immigrating, she has qualified for this year’s International Equestrian Federation World Games, putting her on the verge of qualifying for Rio.

But she isn’t content with carrying Israel alone on horseback. Goldstein and another New Yorker, Deborah Schultz, are working together to promote horse riding in Israel, both by getting more people in the saddle and by teaching skills to more experienced riders.

Schultz’s nonprofit, The Equine Athletic Mission Israel (or TEAM Israel), organizes riding clinics hosted by Goldstein and other Israeli riders and works to coordinate teams for international equestrian events. With the support of TEAM Israel, which was founded last year, Israel fielded a show jumping team in the 2014 FEI Nations’ Cup for the first time.

“The more we do this, the more people who ride are popping out of the woodwork,” Schultz said. “Every time you bring a new sport to Israel, they’re typical Israelis, [saying] ‘Eh, no.’ But then it happens.”

Immigrants have played a large role in boosting Israeli athletics over the years. Soviet immigration in the 1990s helped broaden Israel’s presence at the Winter Olympics, while North Americans have helped expand the state’s athletic repertoire beyond mainstays such as soccer and basketball. Associations promoting Israeli baseball, American-style football, lacrosse and even curling have been launched at the initiative of immigrants.

But unlike those sports, Goldstein has a long tradition to draw upon in helping to push competitive horse riding to a higher level. The Israel Equestrian Federation, the organizer of the recent event, has promoted riding in Israel for 50 years, but the sport remains a niche interest.

Federation committee member Noam Zered said the quality of Israeli riding has picked up in recent years, as riders gained more access to the sport’s centers in Europe and the United States.

“More of the young generation saw the world and want to have high quality,” Zered said. “People come back here with expectations. We’re building now.”

One up-and-coming Israeli show jumper, Eyal Gat, moved from Israel to the United States at 16 and has lived for the past year in Holland, which has better access to top horses. Israeli riders have formed a community in Europe, he said, joining last month for a Passover seder in Belgium.

“It’s impossible to advance without being there,” Gat said. “It’s clearly difficult to live alone in a country that’s not yours, but that’s part of the deal.”

While a few Israeli riders lamented that the sport’s popularity is constrained by the high costs of accessing a horse, some Israelis are finding an alternative to the saddle through therapeutic riding, which uses exercises on horseback to improve various conditions. Therapeutic riding is subsidized by the Israeli health system, making it more accessible than recreational riding for those who need it.

Yonatan Dresler, who was born with cerebral palsy, said therapeutic riding has helped him improve his balance and develop a relationship with his horse. Now 27, Dresler rode for Israel in the 2012 London Paralympics and is ranked 10th worldwide in paralympic dressage, another equestrian discipline.

“The connection with the horse makes you feel like you have responsibility over another being,” Dresler said. “Whether the competition is paralympic or [regular] dressage, you need the same abilities.”

Schultz’s goal is to make Israel a place riders can stay if they want to advance. Raised in a religious household in Brooklyn, N.Y., with little exposure to the sport, Schultz insists “the horse thing is in my DNA.”

Now a high-tech consultant, Schultz comes to Israel occasionally to advise Tel Aviv technology companies and wants to bring her startup mentality to equestrian.

“It’s not part of the myth of Israel,” Schultz said. “But there’s a lot about horses that’s similar to Israel. They’re independent, spirited. This country is ripe for that. I want to get them hooked on horses.”