What is the Presidents’ Conference?

President Barack Obama meets with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the White House in 2011.    (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the White House in 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last week’s vote against admitting the dovish pro-Israel group J Street into the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations may not have surprised many. J Street, with its adamant call for a two-state solution and its criticism of the Israeli government’s settlement policy, puts it to the left of most of the 50 organizations that constitute the Conference of Presidents.

But while J Street is well known in the organized Jewish world — people either love it or hate it — the identity of the group that rejected it is less understood. So even though the vote settled the question of J Street, for now at least, it raised two others: What is the Conference of Presidents, and what does it do?

“The Conference serves as the coordinating body for major American Jewish organizations,” the New York-based organization offers online, “speaking and acting on the basis of consensus, to maximize resources of the Jewish community as an effective advocate of the community.”

That’s the New York-based organization’s description of itself. The Presidents’ Conference is an umbrella group that strives to give a single voice to the varying membership of its constituent organizations. Just as important, it is considered the Jewish spokesman by governments here and abroad.

Its primary, although not sole, concern is Israel. On Monday, it took out full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today, in which it reproduced Israel’s Declaration of Independence in celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The conference, though, is actually two legal entities. One takes dues from its constituent organizations; the other raises money from donations. Tax documents show that Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice chairman, receives about $600,000 a year in salary and other compensation.

Deputy Director and COO Carolyn Green receives $300,000. While she provided WJW with the conference’s mission statement, she did not respond to requests to discuss the organization for this article.

Member organizations have one vote, regardless of size. This has led over the years to tensions between large organizations, which feel the conference is weighted against them, and smaller organizations, eager to protect their influence.

That tension erupted again after the April 30 J Street vote, in which 22 member groups opposed admitting J Street; 17 voted in favor, three registered abstentions, and eight were not present.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the largest group in the conference, the Union of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that the Presidents’ Conference “is captive of a large number of small organizations that do not represent the diversity of views in our community.” He hinted that after due consideration, the group may decide to leave the conference.

URJ is part of the conference’s liberal wing that, like J Street, is dovish on Israeli issues. That wing wasn’t big enough to hold the day. Jacobs contended that was because the conference’s voting and membership procedures “all but dictated the result.”

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, a hawkish group that voted against J Street’s membership, disagrees with the argument that J Street is part of the Jewish mainstream.

“They bring to campuses and their conferences speakers who promote BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions], who defame and delegitimize Israel by falsely claiming that Israel commits atrocities and war crimes against Palestinians,” he told JTA.

ZOA campaigned hard against J Street. So if the Conference of Presidents is so unwelcoming to groups on the left, why bother joining?

“Because it serves as the recognized forum for pro-Israel activity,” said Ori Nir, spokesman for the dovish Americans for Peace Now, which voted in favor of J Street. “We feel we should be there.”

APN’s platform is similar to J Street’s. It was admitted to the Conference in 1993 but not without a battle similar to the one J Street faced.

But it was still easier to join in those days. Despite strong opposition from Klein and others, APN won a majority of votes, the necessary minimum at the time. But in the lead-up to the vote, the ZOA pushed through a rules change. In the future, organizations would need a two-thirds vote of all members for admission.

APN board chairman James Klutznick calls that a “high hurdle. I’m not sure how many could make it through today. Certainly not from the progressive end.”

Klutznick’s father, B’nai B’rith leader Philip Klutznick, helped found the Presidents’ Conference in 1954.

At that time, “President Eisenhower and [Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles wanted to have a place where they could address the Jewish community,” James Klutznick said.

That need for a central address for a rapidly expanding Jewish community was matched by Jewish organizations’ desire for access to U.S. leaders. At the same time, the young State of Israel was looking for support from both the U.S. government and American Jews. The Conference of Presidents became that central address, and although the Jewish community has changed, it retains the prestige of a central address.

Initiatives to restructure the organization have gone nowhere. Anticipating Jacobs, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in 2003 “suggested creating a standing executive committee ‘with the largest organizations serving as permanent members and smaller organizations serving rotating terms,’” according to the “American Jewish Year Book.”

The Anti-Defamation League and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supported the idea while Orthodox groups opposed it. This was the same lineup as in the J Street vote.

After the 2003 vote Theodore Mann, according to the “American Jewish Year Book,” a former Presidents’ Conference chairman, called for the dissolution of the conference because it was “an undemocratic institution and not worthy of our great Jewish community.”

Nir of APN wouldn’t go that far.

“The White House turns to the Presidents’ Conference,” he said. “When the administration wants to brief the organized Jewish community in an organized way, they go through the Presidents’ Conference.”

Even today, if the Conference of Presidents didn’t exist, say some, it would need to be created.


Innovation Gives Us the Edge

runyan_josh_otThe people at the BASF Corporation — “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better” — were really on to something when they came up with their tagline. In two sentences, not only did they sum up their business, but they tapped into a powerful truism: Innovations, from the mundane to the revolutionary, make the world a more interesting place to call home.

Just ask Adam Gladstone.

The Pikesville native and former baseball umpire now is a member of the newest profession to hit the sport: Major League Baseball instant replay adviser. That’s not his exact title of course; the position is so innovative, it doesn’t even have a name yet.

As you’ll read in the pages of this week’s JT, there was Gladstone — on employ with the Orioles — at Boston’s Fenway Park on April 19, when O’s right fielder Nelson Cruz was called out at first base after hitting a groundball to third. Gladstone, however, saw things a little bit differently and in the space of less than a minute had advised manager Buck Showalter to challenge the ump’s call. The call was reversed, Cruz stayed on base, and the Orioles scored a run.

Were it not for the foresight of baseball execs to institute this innovation to the game — for years, coaches in the National Football League have been able to challenge the judgment of officials on the field — America’s favorite pastime would’ve remained in what some would say is an unfair world.

Innovation is also at play in the budding career of 9-year-old swimming star Alan Cherches, the subject of our cover story. It seems that the Owings Mills JCC prodigy, who has broken many of local Olympian Michael Phelps’ 8-and-under records, began life in the water deathly afraid of it. His immigrant parents persisted in introducing their then-toddler son to the sport, but a grandfather had the foresight to bribe the young lad. The offer of pizza apparently worked, and today, Cherches employs an innovation of his own: Whenever he swims, he imagines that a shark is after him. That little bit of intentional misdirection, he says, can be credited with at least one recent victory.

But innovation needn’t be appreciated on the level of a singular person or even in the realm of something as inconsequential as a baseball game. This week, Jewish communities around the world commemorated what 66 years ago was little more than an innovation. At its founding, the young State of Israel was an aberration, a country so small but with a mission so large — it would be, its founders hoped, the modern-day homeland for Jewish people the world over — that most rational people were confident of its impending failure.

Today, Israel is still around, remaining an aberration, whether in terms of the special standard the rest of the world holds it to or to which its own citizens hold themselves. It is by no means perfect, standing far from the ideal that Zionists of both the religious and secular camps attached to it. But still, the country remains.

Ultimately, the power to innovate is what makes us human. Innovation is the Almighty’s way of stacking the deck, so to speak, in our favor. For Jews who differ on how to approach the modern Israeli state, at the very least it’s fitting to be grateful that it’s there.


Fallen Heroes Remembered

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County  Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County
Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

A year after her little brother’s death, Shelly Brezicki said her family still thinks about Gene Kirchner every single day.

“We had Gene’s unveiling yesterday,” Brezicki said on April 28. “Every day, we remember that Gene’s not here.”

Her brother, a member of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company, was just 25 when he died eight days after being critically injured while trying to rescue someone from a house fire. A resident of the Reisterstown house, Steven Starr, also died in the fire.

Kirchner joined the company as a junior firefighter at 14, and his twin brother, Will, and Brezicki also volunteer there.

For the fire company, Brezicki said, her brother’s death was a sobering reminder of the vulnerable situations in which firefighters instinctively place themselves.

“We, as firefighters, don’t think about the risks that we take when we’re out on calls,” she said. “I think when something like this happens it’s sort of a reality check about the dangers we face on every single call we go out on.”

Kirchner and three others — Perryville firefighter Capt. David Barr Jr., Prince George’s County marine fire rescue volunteer Lt. James D. Brooks Sr. and Baltimore County police officer Jason Schneider — were honored at the 29th annual Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on May 2, exactly one year after Kirchner’s death.

“They wouldn’t give a second thought to their acts of bravery,” said Laurie DeYoung, WPOC radio host and the event’s keynote speaker. “The ultimate act of love is someone who’s willing to lay down their life for another.”

Also speaking at the event was Gladys Falkenhan, widow of Lutherville volunteer firefighter Mark Falkenhan, who was the first Baltimore County firefighter to die in the line of duty in more than 25 years in 2011. He left behind Gladys and their two sons, now 9 and 18.

While she said it has not been easy, she found support in the firefighter community and is training to be a counselor to families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.

“Our family has learned to live its new life,” said Falkenhan.

Speaking to that subject was Karmen Walker Brown, the wife of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost her first husband, Sgt. Anthony Walker of the Prince George’s County Police Department, in 2003.

“Losing someone you love, no matter how you lose them, it changes your life forever,” said Brown. “None of us could choose what happened to our loved ones, but we can choose how to remember them, and we can choose to live our lives to the fullest.”

And Brezicki hopes others will choose to remember her brother for what he did.

“Our biggest hope is that people remember that Gene ran into a burning building to save a stranger, and there is nothing much more heroic than that,” she said. “He ran into a building fully knowing the risk that was involved to save someone he didn’t know.”

Kirchner, a graduate of Owings Mills High School, was remembered as a dedicated firefighter who was either at the fire station, with family or at his job as a dispatch controller with Butler Medical Transport. The Reisterstown fire company posthumously awarded him its Medal of Honor, but Brezicki remembers another gesture that meant the world to her and her family.

The day of Kirchner’s funeral, not only did other fire companies step up to take calls in the Reisterstown company’s area so the department could mourn, but the streets were lined with people, from the station’s Main Street firehouse to Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Lutherville-Timonium.

Brezicki has an even fonder, more vivid memory, of the day her brother and his twin, Will, were born and how it changed the family dynamic.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m no longer the baby, there’s now someone else to be the baby,’” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to be the big sister, and I just loved that role.”


Group Protests Animal Shelter Conditions


(David Stuck)

More than 100 protestors lined the sidewalk in front of the Baltimore County Council’s offices on Washington Avenue in Towson, holding signs with pictures of dogs and cats and shouting call-and-response chants.

“Who kills our dogs and cats?” a woman shouted, to which the crowd answered, “Baltimore County bureaucrats!”

The April 21 protest was organized by a group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services, which is calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the shelter’s kill rate, better facility conditions and veterinary care and an increased volunteer force.

“People have been trying to bring about change at this place for the last couple of years and have been met with resistance from the county,” said Lynn Greene, spokeswoman for the organization. “They are still functioning like a 1940s shelter.”

But Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health, said there is “no merit” to the group’s complaints.

“A lot of things they’re talking about are unfounded,” he said. “All the animals are actively adopted, and we try to work with different rescues and adopt them out to the public as quickly as we can.”

The Baltimore County Division of Animal Services’ shelter is located in Baldwin, a point of contention among Reform BCAS since it’s on the far northeast side of the county, on the border with Harford County.

Branch said the shelter takes in about 2,800 cats and 1,800 dogs per year. Approximately 23 percent of the dogs and 59 percent of the cats are euthanized, he said, a procedure used for sick animals and at owners’ requests.

“If a dog is adoptable or [can be rescued], we will not euthanize that animal unless we have no space,” said Branch.

While Branch disputes the group’s accusations, local activists, animal rescue workers and former volunteers tell horror stories about neglected animals, dirty animal cages and a staff that fired volunteers for questioning the shelter’s conditions.

“I saw things that were so unsanitary, just the spread of disease and sick animals, and I thought I had to let these people know there were ways to do this more effectively, and they didn’t appreciate that at all,” said Kathy Soul, a former kennel owner and dog walker who volunteered from March to July 2013. She said she was “fired” from that position.

“They didn’t seem very receptive to my ideas or suggestions,” added Soul, “and we’re talking about things like, ‘Why don’t you clean out feces at the end of the day? Why don’t you clean out the water bucket between dogs?’”

There are about 50 registered volunteers with the Baltimore County shelter, according to Branch. Protesters contend that number is staggeringly low compared to other shelters. The Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, for example, has about 250 volunteers, at least 125 of whom volunteer in any given month, said executive director Jen Swanson.

Branch acknowledged in a statement that the 30-year-old shelter is inadequate in design and size to meet the shelter’s demand, and he expects that problem to be remedied with a new shelter that will be built on the 14 acres where the current shelter is located.

“We’re going to have a new, state-of-the-art $6 million facility,” he said. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”

The new facility, expected to open in August 2015, will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, a surgical site, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room.

The county also hired two full-time veterinarians in April and introduced public spay-and-neuter services.

But Jody Rasoff, a member of Reform BCAS who works with several rescues, isn’t convinced a new facility will solve what she sees as systemic issues.

“These things can get changed without spending the $6 million on a new shelter,” she said.


A Golden Opportunity

For the first time since the event was founded in 2000, the Greater Baltimore JCC played host to more than 700 middle school athletes, their families and their coaches for last Sunday’s Junior Maccabi Games. The young athletes, ages 10 to 12, competed in baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis and table tennis at the Owings Mills JCC, McDonogh School, Stevenson University, Owings Mills High School, New Town High School and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

The all-day event, which kicked off Saturday night with a pregame party and Havdalah service, was chaired by Larry Plant and Ben Zager and organized by Paul Lurie, senior program director and Junior Maccabi director, and Brad Kerxton, director of middle school services.

“Everyone is here to represent a Jewish community, and all of us are coming together at the games,” said Barak Hermann, president of the JCC, on the day of the event. “It gives us another reason to be proud and to celebrate our Jewish heritage.”

Dan Kurtz of Bucks County, Pa., the father of 11-year-old Olivia, who competed in girls’ soccer for the second year in a row, said the Games were a great experience.

“It was well organized, and they have great facilities. It’s always nice to see a lot of Jewish kids together,” he said. “The games were competitive and honored the spirit of competition, but there was a different feeling than a regular soccer game.”

Stephanie and Marc Cramer of Newtown, Pa., were at the JCC with their 11-year-old son, Ben, a first-time Junior Maccabi basketball player.

“Ben had a great time, meeting kids from other communities,” said Stephanie Cramer. “It was wonderful to see kids playing the games they love with other Jewish kids.

“This facility is amazing,” she added. “We don’t even have a JCC where we live. We have to drive 25 minutes to get to the Princeton/Mercer/Bucks County JCC. Our kids don’t get to be around other Jewish kids like this except at summer camp.”

The Cramers hope their son will participate in the teen Maccabi games when he is old enough.

Cory Rosen’s son, Drew, a 12-year-old Beth Tfiloh student who competed in the basketball competition, plans to participate in the teen Maccabi games next year. Drew plays for his school team and in the Reisterstown recreation league. Rosen, who spends a lot of her time driving her son to his games, was happy that the Junior Maccabi Games took place so close to home.

“Here’s what’s unbelievable,” said Emily Goren, a past Maccabi chair. “When I came in [to work on the Maccabi games] there were 200 kids; [this year] there were almost 800.”

Lurie was equally enthusiastic about the growth of the event.

“At first, the games were more regional. Now we get a great cross-section of participants,” he said. “We have a fantastic steering committee, who had been working to bring this off since January.”

Concession stand volunteer Mark Hotz was happy the weather held up.

“Everyone had a good time, and this really shows off Baltimore and our JCC,” he said.

“We hope they’ll all be inspired to participate in the senior games,” said Hermann. “It’s another experience [for the youngsters] to add to their Jewish memory bank.”

Many Baltimore Athletes Took Home Medals

Table Tennis
Avi Goldman — gold
Noah Brenner — gold
Eliav Hamburger — bronze

Boys’ Soccer
Baltimore’s gold soccer team — bronze

Emily Freeman — bronze
Jordan Osterweil — silver
Ethan Silverstein — silver
Vladislav Sergiev — bronze
Brendan Stein — silver
Sydney Huber — silver
Ronen Segal — bronze

Jensen Friedman — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Julia Shpigel — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Jensen Friedman, Julia Shpigel, Danella Indenbaum, Elyana Fine — gold for girls’ relay


Postmarked Jesus

050214_messianicIsrael Restoration Ministries, the same California-based Messianic Jewish organization that distributed postcards in the fall displaying the logos of numerous local Jewish organizations, is back at it.

Postcards with the headline, “Seder without a Passover or Seder with a Passover?” arrived in mailboxes across some of Baltimore’s most densely Jewish neighborhoods just in time for the end of the Passover holiday. While these cards lacked the logos that caused a stir months ago — none of the local Jewish organizations had consented to the use of their logo, and all spoke out against it — many community members were annoyed nonetheless, said Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism.

To the many people who have called Jews for Judaism to express their frustration with receiving yet another proselytizing mailing, Guggenheim said the best advice she has is to throw it away.

Better yet, she said, this most recent effort by the Messianic Jewish community can be transformed into an opening for Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“We should use this as an opportunity to raise awareness [about what we as Jews do believe],” she said. The average Jew won’t be converted by a postcard or a video distributed online, she added, but parents and rabbis can use these efforts as a way to teach children about why they believe what they believe and strengthen their own faith.

“What we’re seeing is another effort by Tom Cantor and Israel Restoration Ministries to try to demonstrate to the Baltimore Jewish community that they should be considered as Jews,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. The Council passed a resolution in January denouncing deceptive proselytizing by Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Christian organizations.

The resolution reads: “Jewish people who accept Jesus as their savior, calling themselves ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians,’ actually have adopted a religion that is not Judaism and have removed themselves from the Jewish community. … It is disconcerting that these ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians’ have created a false and misleading setting that purports to allow Jews to retain their Jewish identity while at the same time embracing Jesus.”

The organization is making another effort to prove that it is “Jewish,” said Abramson, “and again, it fails.”

For the time being, though, it doesn’t seem organizations such as Jews for Jesus, Israel Restoration Ministries or Chosen People will stop targeting Jewish populations any time soon.

Eric Rader, a member of Israel Restoration Ministries, said his organization purposefully sends their materials and volunteers to ZIP codes with large Jewish populations in an effort to reach Jews who, in their opinion, have been “indoctrinated” by rabbis and other Jewish leaders over the course of history. This mailing, he said, went out to ZIP codes in 18 different cities across the country.

“If it’s real and it’s the truth, why wouldn’t we tell people?” he asked, comparing spreading the message of Jesus to telling neighbors or friends about a new and improved vacuum. “It’s like presenting some new something-or-other.”


Remembering in Howard County

In sharp contrast to the spring-like weather and bright skies this past Sunday, a standing-room-only crowd filled Howard County’s Oakland Mills Interfaith Center to commemorate what most believe is the darkest period in modern history. This year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration was dedicated to the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, said Rabbi Seth L. Bernstein of Columbia’s Bet Aviv Congregation, who chaired this year’s event.

It was Bernstein’s idea to build the commemorative service around a performance of “Cantata: Childhood Memories,” written by Cantor Stephen Freedman and adapted, produced and directed by Toby Orenstein of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Cantor Jan Morrison of Columbia Jewish Congregation and Stephanie Gurwitz Zurier. The rabbi first heard the cantata in 1990, when it was performed in Worcester, Mass.

“People still talked about it 15 years later,” said Bernstein, who explained that the cantata was a means of honoring Holocaust child victims, while it also exposed the young people of Howard County’s Jewish community to the horrific events that fellow Jews underwent. The afternoon program also included prayers, performances by the cantors of Howard County’s Jewish Community and a Yom Hashoah candle-lighting service.

Amy Steinhorn, 13, and her sister Julie, 14, were among the 24 young vocalists who performed along with actors Robert Biederman, Susan Porter and Lilly Ulman. Amy, Julie, their 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, and their cousin, Rachel Steinhorn Raful, accompanied their 85-year-old grandmother, Harriet Steinhorn-Roth, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, as she lit candles during the commemorative service for those who perished in the Holocaust.

Amy Steinhorn said that being part of the children’s choir was especially meaningful to her because of her grandmother’s history.

“My grandmother and her mother and some of their cousins survived, but her two sisters and father didn’t make it,” she said. “I felt I was honoring them.”

The girls’ father, Mark Steinhorn of Highland, Md., was a member of the Howard County Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Committee.

“My mother was born in Lodz, Poland in 1929,” he said. “She was 10 years old when the war began.”

At that point, he said, the family was forced to move to Poland’s Skarzysko Ghetto. Three years later, Steinhorn-Roth was separated from her family and sent to a series of forced-labor concentration camps.

“[In Bergen-Belsen] she was 14 years old and very sick. The Nazis used to move all the sick to the infamous Barrack 9. [Because they were sick] they weren’t useful to the Germans, so every week Barrack 9 was emptied, and all of the inmates were taken out, shot and put in mass graves,” said Steinhorn.

Steinhorn-Roth, who now lives in Silver Spring, escaped death because of her sister, Lita, who managed to sneak out of the ghetto and came to the fence of the camp to give Steinhorn-Roth a pillow, a stack of photographs and a letter from their parents. A Jewish guard at the fence coveted the pillow so Steinhorn- Roth’s sister made a deal, said Steinhorn.

“She told him, ‘I’ll bring you a pillow if you promise to take care of my sister.’ A man and a woman came to Barrack 9, covered my mother with a blanket and brought her to the men’s barracks, where they nursed her back to health. When she was leaving the barrack, all the sick people were yelling to her, ‘Tell them what happened here!’ Watching my mother, 71 years later, lighting the candle surrounded by her granddaughters today, I was thinking back to all those sick people,” said Steinhorn.

Steinhorn said his mother had always felt compelled to tell her story, even writing a book of plays for children called “Shadows of the Holocaust” based upon her memories. Steinhorn-Roth also taught religious school at Shaare Tefila Congregation in Silver Spring.

As part of the commemoration, some individuals lent Holocaust-related artifacts for a lobby display. The Steinhorn family lent a photo of Pinchas Feldman, father of Harriet Steinhorn-Roth, grandfather of Mark Steinhorn and great-grandfather of Alyssa, Julie and Amy Steinhorn, that was taken in the Skarzysko Ghetto in 1940.

Maly Moses, 85, lent a jacket worn by a concentration camp victim that her late husband, Salomon Moses, who survived Mauthausen, brought with him after the camp was liberated when he was 22.

“He was 35 pounds when he was saved. They brought him out on a stretcher and put him in an Army hospital,” said Moses, a survivor of a labor camp in Siberia, where she and her family lived from 1939 to 1945. After the war, Moses’ family returned to Poland. She met her husband when he also returned to Poland, hoping to find someone from his family.

“One day I was going to school and a handsome man came toward me,” recalled Moses. “He wanted to know if the town had a Jewish community. I said, ‘Yes,’ I’ll take you there. He said, ‘You’re Jewish?’ I thought you were a shiksa!’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m Jewish.’

“So I brought him to my house, and we gave him chicken soup and all kinds of Jewish food and he fell in love — not with me but with my mother and father. I believe in beshert. If I hadn’t been on that street corner and he hadn’t walked by, we would never have met.”

Turning to the event, Moses exclaimed, “The kids should know about this. We’re dying!”

Yom Hashoah was also commemorated in Baltimore at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s annual program held at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in its Dahan Sanctuary. Approximately 550 people turned out for the Sunday event, which included a tribute to Leo Bretholz, who passed away on March 8. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) presented Bretholz’s family with the final pen Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley used to sign railway legislation in 2011 that passed unanimously. The legislation requires all rail companies applying to work in Maryland to disclose any involvement with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The program included a candle-lighting ceremony in memory of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Candles were lit by Hermien Hamburger, Bertha Schwarz, Harold Weiss, Adam Block, Frania Block, Nancy Kutler and Tracy Paliath. Special recognition was given to the memory of Inge Weinberger, who passed away in August 2013.

The keynote address was presented by Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

At the ceremony, the Ponczak-Greenblatt Families Holocaust Endowment Fund awarded three students with Israel bonds for their winning essays that answered the questions, “What are the most important lessons of the Holocaust?” and “Why must they be taught to every generation?” Carley Bynion of The John Carroll School won first place, second place went to Alisha Zaveri of Perry Hall High School and third place went to Mason Bernstein of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

“As more survivors are leaving us, it is essential that we, as a community, honor their memory and the memory of those that remain,” said Erika Schon, chair of the Holocaust Remembrance Commission.


Hackerman-Patz House Celebrates Decade

Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, joins Chandler Crews,  a Hackerman-Patz House resident who goes to Sinai Hospital for limb lengthening, at a reception honoring the building’s 10th anniversary. (Provided)

Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, joins Chandler Crews,a Hackerman-Patz House resident who goes to Sinai Hospital for limb lengthening, at a reception honoring the building’s 10th anniversary. (Provided)

For the last decade, more than 30,000 people from 8,000 families from all over the United States and the world have had a second home at the Sinai Hospital campus.

The Hackerman-Patz House has served as a place to rest and make new friends for patients undergoing a variety of extended treatments and their families.

“Whenever we come here, it feels like coming home,” said Chandler Crews, 20, who has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. She has been traveling from Little Rock, Ark., to Sinai since she was 16 for limb lengthening and has gained a total of 14 inches in height from the treatment.

The house was a gift from Willard Hackerman, the former CEO of Whiting-Turner Contracting Company and renowned philanthropist who died earlier this year, and his wife, Lillian Patz Hackerman. It sits directly across the street from the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics, where limb lengthening, hip and knee replacements and other specialized procedures take place.

The 10th anniversary was marked on Thursday, April 24, with a reception that featured speeches from members of the Hackerman family and officials from LifeBridge Health, which operates the hospital.

“If Mr. Hackerman were here, he’d tell you the best Hackerman-Patz House he ever built was here at Sinai,” said Gwenn Eisenberg, coordinator of patient and family activities at the house and Willard Hackerman’s niece. “To him, a bridge was a bridge. What was meaningful to him was to build things that helped other people.”

There are six other Hackerman-Patz houses on hospital campuses such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, Saint Agnes Hospital and the St. Joseph Medical Center.

In attendance at the reception were current residents of the Hackerman-Patz House, who hail from all over the continental U.S., as well as Alaska, India and Saudi Arabia.

When the building opened in 2004, there were 10 rooms. Due to high demand, the house expanded to 18 rooms in 2006, where families from all 50 states and 43 countries have stayed.

Everything at the house, including toiletries and the canned food in the pantries, is donated. An extensive DVD and VHS collection, video-game systems and computers were all donated. While there used to be a coin-operated laundry, a fundraiser paid for new, free washers and dryers. Young children staying at the house have tutors sent by Baltimore City schools.

A family in the furniture business donated beds and Blockbuster donated enough Nintendo GameCubes for each room to have one; even the landscaping around the patio area was donated.

Other than a stove, the Hackerman-Patz House has just about everything to make patients feel at home: kitchenettes in each room, a playroom, a common area kitchen with various appliances and a projector in a common area for movies and sports.

Bill Turner, the director of the house since it opened, said he tries to create a tranquil environment for families who are otherwise under a lot of stress.

“We just try to have as relaxed an atmosphere as you can,” he said. “A lot of families come in here and will say they feel like they’re at home.”

Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, noted Turner’s unwavering commitment to the Hackerman-Patz House by shoveling snow in the wintertime so patients wouldn’t have icy commutes or arrivals to the hospital.

“He truly cares for these families like they’re his own,” said Meltzer.

Hackerman was a good friend of Meltzer’s, they shared a love of maps and would dine together at Miss Shirley’s Café. Meltzer said that once he explained the need for housing for patients traveling from afar, it was a no-brainer for Hackerman to donate the building to Sinai.

“This is a very special place,” Meltzer said, adding that the Hackerman-Patz Houses are the only buildings Willard Hackerman put his name on.

Crews and her family can attest to that, having spent a Christmas at the house and having forged lasting friendships with families in Brazil and Norway.

“I really can’t imagine doing what we do without this place,” said Cathy Crews, Chandler’s mother. “When we got off the plane, we said we feel like we’re coming home.”


Now is the time for empowerment

runyan_josh_otPassover in a new home and a new city had gone smoothly enough, the joy of celebrating freedom alongside thousands of fellow Jews in such a densely populated space drowning out all of the last-minute stresses that had led into the holiday. By the end of the eight-day festival, the picture outside was one of serene bliss; the flowers were in bloom, the sun was shining and the kids were enjoying jacketless walks between house and shul.

But then the giant white postcard emerged ominously from the mailbox. Even without removing it, you could tell what it was: a missionary screed that, playing on Jewish themes and addressed only to “Resident,” was clearly meant to a targeted audience — Baltimore’s close-knit Jewish community.

The fact that in today’s day and age, the battle continues for the soul of the Jew is nothing new, even as those who stand behind such efforts try to claim the mantle of Jewish identity. (And to be sure, there are bona fide Jews, according to halachah, among the ranks of the “Messianic Jews.”) What makes this latest salvo from a group calling itself Israel Restoration Ministries so disturbing is that those behind it, as you’ll read about in this week’s JT, see nothing wrong with attempting to claim another group’s truths as their own, and in the basest of advertising strategies: If you want to reach Jews, an interview with one of the ministry’s officials admitted, target the ZIP codes with the most Cohens and Rosenbergs.

Thankfully, this campaign is so blatantly devious that few will be swayed by the postcard’s message. But that might not be true in all households or in all cities. Ruth Guggenheim of Jews for Judaism is right to be concerned and is correct in her advice that we all use this incident as an opportunity to educate our children and each other.

A mind, so goes the dictum, is a terrible thing to waste. A lack of education in general directly correlates to a poor economic future, and a lack of Judaic education in particular leaves a child in the precarious position of potentially not being able to resist the sometimes persuasive arguments of the non-Jewish world.

In most cases, communities such as ours get this fundamental truth, that education is the greatest guarantor of future success. That’s why, on the Judaic side of the equation, we have vibrant yeshivas, strong community day schools and growing religious schools. And on the secular side, we have schools such as Pikesville High, which at the close of its 50th year, is making investments in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math and is working to make sure that its building becomes a more-conducive place for exceptional learning.

But what about the exceptionally brilliant students who, by virtue of family background or location, aren’t privileged to enjoy the benefits of Jewish study? And what about the diligent bochurim whose brilliance in the realm of Talmudic analysis is without question but are regarded by society as having to choose between extremes?

In the end, every child will become an adult. And to provide for their own children, today’s youth will one day be forced to make their own decisions. Now is the time to empower them with the best tools at our disposal to ensure that they are not only able to lead families, but that they are able to do so as Jews.


Convicted Murderer of Orthodox Girl Will Not Get New Trial

Poster for support eventA man who was found guilty of killing an 11-year-old Orthodox girl in 1969 was denied a new trial Thursday, according to reports.

Wayne Stephen Young will continue to serve jail time for the murder of Esther Lebowitz after Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Edward Hargadon made his decision Thursday.

The possibility of a new trial came about because of what is known as the “Unger ruling,” which cites that incorrect jury instructions administered in Maryland courtrooms may have led to unfair trials. Young, now 68, has been denied parole 12 times.

Hargadon wrote in her decision that instructions were “crisp and constitutionally sound,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

About 250 members of the Baltimore Jewish community packed a March hearing in protest of the possible new trial. People traveled by bus, car and subway to attend the hearing, and many silently read from prayer books.

Lebowitz, who was a student at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, was last seen in Pikesville after being dropped off at a drugstore after school. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home.

Digital media editor and senior reporter Melissa Gerr contributed to this report.