O’Malley Signs Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Bills

Maryland legislators passed an effective medical marijuana bill and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (David Stuck)

Maryland legislators passed an effective medical marijuana bill and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (David Stuck)

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a new medical marijuana bill and a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Maryland General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine, and a bill that allows doctors to prescribe marijuana and dispensaries to fill prescriptions for patients.

“We have a workable bill. I think it’s responsible, I think it’s safe,” said Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11), a longtime advocate for medical marijuana and sponsor of the bill that passed. “It’s just like any other medicine, it should be another tool in the toolbox.”

Doctors will have to apply to Maryland’s medical marijuana commission to become certified to prescribe the drug, and will be able to prescribe 30-day supplies of marijuana to patients they have on-going relationships with.

“The most important thing for us is that patients are actually able to access the medicine they need for their conditions, and having medical marijuana available through dispensaries is the most important component of that,” said Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Initially, there will be 15 dispensary licenses available. Growers can also operate as dispensaries, Morhaim said. The commission is expected to pass regulations governing how the new bill will be carried out by Sept. 15.

“I feel really good about where we are,” Morhaim said. “Last year’s bill didn’t work but it did set up a framework, it set up a commission, it set up a structure.”

House Bill 1101, signed into law by O’Malley last May, established the independent, 12-person Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission. The bill stipulated that a medical marijuana program would have to be under the direction of an academic medical center, defined as a hospital that operates a medical residency program and conducts research with human subjects overseen by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Although regulations for the academic medical centers had yet to be adopted, officials at the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University indicated to legislators they did not intend to participate in the program.

Under the new bill, any doctor certified by the commission will be able to prescribe a 30-day supply, the size of which will be determined by the doctor and dispensary, as well as the route of administration for the marijuana.

“There’s specific language that says that the commission is encouraged to be sure that there are appropriate different kinds of strains, shown to work with the different ways they’re processed,” Morhaim said, which could include tinctures and oils.

There is a large data collection component in the bill, which will allow the commission to track patient outcomes and other statistics, and help guide future decisions.

Morhaim expects dispensaries to open within three to six months after the commission passes its regulations in September. After a year, the commission will reevaluate the program and the number of dispensaries, taking into account geography and other factors.

“The key thing is to get medicine into the hands of patients under appropriate circumstances, learn from that and determine what will be the adjustments,” Morhaim said.

As for the decriminalization bill, Yeung did not have as much high praise, calling it one of the weakest bills in the country because of the low possession amount and the increasing fines.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” she said. “The question of a criminal market remaining in place came up during the floor debate in the house, and that’s still an important issue, which is why a system that would tax and regulate marijuana would be best.”

The decriminalization bill, which mirrors a bill Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced during last year’s session, would impose a $100 civil fine on possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana for a first offense, with fines increasing to $250 and $500 for the second and third offenses, respectively.

“It’s the right public policy,” Zirkin said. “All this bill is, is a recognition that this pseudo-criminalization is an ineffective policy.”

Zirkin said drug use and drugged driving has not increased in any of the 17 other states that have decriminalized marijuana.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Del. Heather Mizeur, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown all said they support decriminalization. And although Gov. Martin O’Malley was hesitant earlier in the session, he signed the bill Monday.

“I think he became aware that this was the politically smart move and, especially since he has national ambitions, it would have been career suicide to veto this bill,” said Yeung.


Kansas Gunman Unfortunately Nothing New

runyan_josh_otAny doubts as to the danger of anti-Semitism in the United States were unfortunately put to rest this week when a gunman’s bullets — smack dab in the middle of middle America — claimed the lives of three people at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kan.

We now know that the 73-year-old man from Aurora, Mo., police suspect of driving to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City before opening fire on a man and his grandson — and two others who were not injured — and then at an elderly woman at the Village Shalom retirement community nearby is something of a throwback to another era. What is believed to be his website paints a portrait of a rabid racist and anti-Semite, while the Southern Poverty Law Center said that in the 1980s, Frazier Glenn Miller was the “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; he reportedly later founded the White Patriot Party.

What Miller and his ilk advocate is not racial purity, as if such a thing were ever possible or much less desirable. No. What the shooter in Kansas instead stands for is the violent affirmation of such debunked “theories” as eugenics and racial superiority. People like him claim order as their rallying cry, but wish instead that anarchy prevailed. They have no place in a civilized society, much less one founded upon the ideals of life, liberty and the innate power of the individual.

That the Frazier Glenn Millers of the world have supported and perpetrated vast genocides, including the Holocaust, is nothing new. And as you’ll read in this week’s JT, today’s generation grapples with how exactly to transmit the collective memories of those who suffered through and survived the Shoah so many years ago.

What is sobering is that the Frazier Glenn Millers of the world not only continue to exist, but that many of them stand armed and ready to advance a worldview with hatred as its creed and bloodshed as its method. That two of the victims in last Sunday’s attack happened to be Christian makes no difference, for in the twisted minds of those who would open fire at a JCC and retirement center, anyone who doesn’t think like them might as well be Jewish. It’s the same baseless hatred that turned southern cities into killing zones and claimed the lives of civil rights workers in the 50s and 60s, the same vile, repugnant thought process that justified the Holocaust.

The question left for us is what to do about it. Confronting hatred takes courage and determination; it also takes love. The more the racists and bigots of the world teach their children to hate, the more we should teach them to embrace the beauty of mankind. The more they blame others for their lot in life, the more we should reach out to improve the lot of those around us. The more they wall themselves apart, the more we should bring people in.

The Jewish community in Kansas will recover, but none of us should think that normalcy has been reached until hatred is eradicated from our midst.


Legislative Look-Back

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/Wikimedia.com)

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/Wikimedia.com)

For many in Maryland’s Jewish communities, the recently-concluded 2014 legislative session was a success.

With a resolution to much of the state’s kosher wine problem, the passage of a bill expanding pre-kindergarten to more Maryland children and the inclusion of an amendment to the budget denouncing the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, in addition to inclusion of many Jewish-supported budget points, both the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Baltimore Jewish Council are pleased with what was accomplished in 2014.

“It was an incredibly successful session,” said Cailey Locklair, the BJC’s director of government relations and public policy.

In both Washington and Baltimore, Jewish social service agencies secured funding to continue their work.

The BJC’s budgetary priorities this year included funding for domestic violence medical training, health care for the uninsured and underinsured, an elder abuse center, the Hillel Center for Social Justice and the Maryland/Israel Development Center, among others. A $50,000 bond bill to help Jewish Community Services renovate housing for developmentally disabled adults was also introduced by Del. Dana Stein and passed. Among the BJC’s policy priorities that were approved were a minimum wage increase and increasing the selection of kosher wine available to Marylanders.

The BJC reached an agreement with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, Inc. and the Field Enforcement Division of the comptroller’s office to help increase the variety and accessibility of kosher wine, a longtime issue for both the BJC and the JCRC.

Under the agreement, the comptroller created a website that lists kosher wines obtainable in Maryland and the distributors that sell them; retailers will be educated on how to order the wines; the number of kosher wines available in Maryland will increase to 1,000 by 2015; and distributors will maintain lists of the kosher wines they sell.

“We are extremely pleased,” said Locklair.

JCRC executive director Ron Halber said that the settlement reached wasn’t perfect, but it has paved the way for further gains in the future.

Both groups spent time dealing with how to respond to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. A rift between the two Jewish community organizations on the issue became apparent in early March when they took opposite sides on proposed legislation that would have placed a financial penalty on state universities for funding faculty participation in ASA-sponsored events. The inclusion of language in the budget condemning academic boycotts satisfied both organizations, but committee hearings on March 5 and 6 made the divide public.

“It could have been handled better on all sides,” said Halber, noting that such a public disagreement between the two organizations threatens
legislators’ trust in both to present them with ideas supported by the Jewish community as a whole.

The boycott bill, he noted, was the one blemish on the Jewish community’s record. Each side, however, considered the final amendment a legislative win.

“It’s a huge victory for Maryland and for the Jewish community in Maryland that our state has taken such a strong stance on boycott, divestment and sanctions,” said Locklair. “The movement is only going to continue to grow and for our state to say, ‘We don’t support the BDS movement’ … we couldn’t be happier.”

One policy priority that didn’t survive the session was a bill that would have required a French rail company implicated in the transport of Jews
to concentration camps to pay reparations before it could bid on the suburban D.C. Purple Line commuter rail project.

The bill died in committee, but Locklair framed the fight as an opportunity to educate legislators about the Holocaust.

“It was a very good session,” surmised Halber. “Our priorities were passed, relations with legislators were strengthened.”

On pre-K expansion, which would allow Jewish day schools to receive state funding if they choose to participate in the state’s program, Halber said “it certainly has the potential to allow Jewish families of lower income to access a Jewish education.”

In February, members of the Orthodox Union joined with day school teachers and administrators to testify on behalf of the bill. Although the program could potentially result in day school pre-kindergarten’s functioning almost identically to public classrooms, those members of the Jewish community present said the potential good expanded access could do for local Jewish children would likely make any challenges well worth it.

The 2014 session, said Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11), saw a lot of compromise among legislators.

He pointed to the passage of bills dealing with marijuana and raising the minimum wage as evidence of a spirit of cooperation. Through changes and amendments, the General Assembly managed to come to enough agreement to pass them all.

“This was a less contentious year than other years,” said Stein.

Professor Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, called this legislative session one of the most boring in history.

“I don’t think there was a whole lot on the agenda, and I think that was probably intentional because this is an election year,” he said. “Delegates and senators don’t want their positions to come back and bite them when they run for office.”

Stein added that many hot -button issues had been dealt with in previous sessions.

Other than decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, passage of an effective medical marijuana bill and raising the minimum wage to $10.10, Norris argued that not much happened. And on the minimum wage, he wasn’t convinced the new rate is significant.

“The $10.10 minimum wage doesn’t kick in until 2018,” said Norris. “By then, four more years of purchasing power will have eroded through

With that in mind, he said Maryland legislators, generally known for being “deep blue liberal progressives,” didn’t do much for the poor. They
did a lot for the rich, he contended, including granting $15 million in tax breaks to movie producers.

With the session being Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last in office, Norris said he set himself up favorably if he decides to seek higher office.

“A number of these issues, such as minimum wage, marijuana, transgender discrimination and issues in prior years are all really good issues for Martin to use when he’s running for president, because those resonate with the democratic base,” he said.

House Minority Leader Del. Nicholaus Kipke (R-District 31) said his party was pleased with the passage of the medical marijuana bill and bills advancing election reform in the state, but he had hoped to see more work on taxes.

“We have a laser-like focus on tax reform in Maryland,” said Kipke. “Right now Maryland has a lot of assets, we have a good economy, but I think if we got our tax policy in a more competitive light, we would make our state so much more prosperous.”


Jewish Orgs. on Alert After Fatal Shootings in Kansas City

Kansas’ tight-knit Jewish community was rocked just one day before the beginning of Passover as an alleged gunman took the lives of three people in two attacks just minutes apart outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a local retirement village.

According to various news reports, at about 1 p.m., shots were reported outside the JCC’s theater entrance, where auditions were being held for a singing competition for area teenagers. One man was reportedly killed at the scene, while another died at a local hospital. The suspect – described later in the day by police officers who apprehended him as a bearded white male in his 70s – then fled to the Village Shalom community and opened fire, killing one woman before fleeing to a school, where he was arrested.

Two others were shot at, but not injured. Some reports said that the gunman asked people if they were Jewish before firing his weapon and that he shouted “Heil Hitler” about the time of his arrest.

A post on the JCC’s Facebook page says the institution will be closed tomorrow. As people in cities across the country finished their last-minute Passover preparations – the eight-day festival begins Monday night – JCCs, including those in the Owings Mills and Park Heights areas in and around Baltimore, benefited from a beefed-up police presence.

While the FBI and local police have not officially called the violence a hate crime, many national organizations are not waiting for confirmation to denounce the shootings.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time there has been a shooting at a Jewish Community Center,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith International. “Comments attributed to the shooter after police had him in custody demonstrate a blind hatred toward Jews.”

The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, noted that just a week before, it released a security bulletin to communal institutions warning of the increased potential for violence around Passover and the April 20 birthday of Adolf Hitler. That day “has historically been marked by extremist acts of violence and terrorism, including the violence at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing,” read the statement.

“We mourn the tragic loss of life in today’s shootings in the Overland Park, Kan., Jewish community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Information about the perpetrator is still being uncovered, but early reports indicate that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. If so, it is a tragic reminder, this day before Jews around the world observe Passover, of the hatred that continues to plague our world.

“It is also yet another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives,” continued Saperstein. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today’s shootings. May the memories of those lost be forever a blessing.”

The JT’s former editor-in-chief, Maayan Jaffe, works as director of philanthropy at the Overland Park JCC. She and her family were unharmed.

Giving Our Children a Chance

runyan_josh_otEvery now and then, events and timing conspire to offer opportunities for reflection. Looking back at what transpired on the world stage the past week and a half, it’s hard not to wonder: How, when, why did things get so bad?

The collapse of the so-called “peace talks” between the Israelis and the Palestinians was at once so predictable and so tragic. Last-minute breakdowns between negotiators in Jerusalem, Washington, D.C., and Ramallah have become so commonplace, in fact, that the failure of this latest last-ditch effort was taken as a foregone conclusion by most people outside of the protective bubble known as international diplomacy.

That it happened amid the backdrop of a resurgent Russia bearing down on a weak Eastern Europe — evoking memories of the Cold War in the process — only added to the perception that for all the talk of peace, ours is a world enmeshed in conflict.

Some would say that part of the problem is a failure of assumptions. Russia will always be Russia, whether led by a czar, a Communist or a former KGB officer turned reformer turned strongman, and to assume otherwise is to ignore the lessons of history. By the same token, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back centuries, if not millennia, not decades. It’s a conflict as old as the region, pitting the fervent desires of a biblical people against a world that from time immemorial has held it in suspicion.

And the world continues to turn.

But while such a view is realistic, it isn’t very hopeful. Change is actually possible, but to achieve it requires going deeper.

Several people this week have commented that too few people, whether here locally or on a broader global scale, appreciate the responsibility thrust upon them by the presence of children. If the world’s problems are really going to be solved, it will be the up-and-coming generation — and the generations after that one — who will solve them. Shall those younger than us continue in our footsteps? Or shall we allow them to eventually lead the way?

One way we can do that is by recognizing education for what it is — an opportunity to inculcate values, not, as typified by the type of indoctrination being alleged at UNRWA-funded schools in Gaza, an imperative to create unthinking automatons. But education needn’t only be criticized abroad, as there is still plenty of work here to do at home.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear of community/school partnerships like the one that resulted in a refurbished library at Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore or of the examples being set by the Jewish leaders shaving their heads to raise awareness about childhood cancer. Children need to see, hear about and experience the selfless acts of those older and “wiser.” And then they need to be given the opportunity to ask questions and formulate their own views.

After all, as demonstrated by the Four Children of the Passover Seder, isn’t that what the Festival of Freedom is all about?

A kosher un freilichen Pesach!


Kerry Warns ‘It’s Reality Check Time’

Secretary of State John Kerry has made 11 trips to the Middle East since July to facilitate Israeli-Arab peace talks. Last week, it looked as though his efforts were thwarted, when President Mahmoud Abbas applied for membership in international bodies — a move considered off limits by the American-brokered negotiation terms. In response, Israel canceled a prisoner release scheduled for March 29.

Kerry is still urging “the leaders to lead” and to work through the differences, though for now it seems that negotiations have stalled. Israel claims it canceled the prisoner release due to the international membership applications, but the Palestinian leadership said it submitted applications because Israel defaulted on prisoner release terms. And so it goes.

“I have to hope that they’re going to work out a way that they’ll continue negotiations,” said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. “It’s no guarantee that negotiations will lead to peace, and yet if you’re not negotiating, you’re not closer to peace.”

At a news conference in Rabat, Morocco, Kerry warned: “There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward.”

Neither party has called off the negotiations, said Kerry, “but we’re not going to sit there indefinitely.”

Local reaction to the stalled peace talks is hopeful, realistic and impassioned. Community members who spoke with the JT did so on his or her own behalf, not on behalf of the organizations with which they are associated.

“If you stop and think of the whole turmoil in the Middle East, what is the island of stability?” questioned Ellen Plant, a member of the Israel Coalition and Baltimore Zionist District. “The island of stability is Israel. Let’s never forget that Israel has been committed to peace since 1948. It has been circumvented year in and year out, and what Abbas did was another step in circumventing the peace process.”

Bill Fox sits on the national council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and is a member of the national board of Friends of Israel Defense Forces. He believes it is not just Palestinians who are the point of contention.

“It’s not a Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but an Arab-Israeli conflict,” explained Fox. “The Arab League voted that they will never recognize Israel as a state. How can there be a peace process if the Arabs … do not want a Jewish state in their midst?”

Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation considered the stalled peace talks in a larger context.

“It feels to me as if our world is losing the art of compromising for a greater good,” said Starr. “We can see it in many different arenas — in the Middle East for a long time but even in our own country, in Washington.”

Brian Sacks is a past president of Baltimore Zionist District and currently co-chairs the Baltimore-Israel Coalition. He said it is unfortunate peace can’t be reached, but he looks at other markers as a move in the right direction.

“Peace treaties, the peace process, hasn’t worked,” said Sacks. “It’s led to quiet in some places, rockets in others.

“Quiet is a good temporary solution,” he added. “Maybe the goal instead of peace should be quiet. Quiet is a good thing.”

Kerry’s seemingly hopeful but realistic approach to broker peace is echoed in some of the local sentiments as well.

“There’s always hope,” said Fox. “I’ve always been hopeful that some accord, some accommodation, consistent with what Israel must have security, recognition, an end to terrorism and an end to incitement [can be reached]. That’s what Israel has to have.”

Plant is hopeful that one day the Israelis and Palestinians can work out an agreement, and she believes that “the day that Abbas and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the road to peace will be much shorter.”

See related story, “Back to the Drawing Board.”


Meant to Be

For Hannah Rodewald, the whole idea is to put books into children’s hands. (David Stuck)

For Hannah Rodewald, the whole idea is to put books into children’s hands. (David Stuck)

Whether you call it “divine providence,” as Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore’s Language Arts department chairwoman Sara Arno did, or “kismet,” as Wee Chic children’s apparel storeowner Bridget Quinn Stickline did, it must have been fate that Stickline and Arno met in Greenspring Station in Timonium.

“I was there [at Greenspring Station] to take a child to a doctor,” Arno said of last month’s meeting. “And I was in the wrong building. I walked by the store [formerly the home of The Pleasure of Your Company, a stationary store, and soon to be the new home of Wee Chic], and it was dark, but I could see two people in there and also some empty bookcases.”

The bookcases seemed perfect for the library that Arno had always wanted to create at her girls’ school. So Arno went in and asked Stickline what she was planning to do with them.

“We’re giving them away tomorrow,” Stickline said, according to Arno’s recollection. “But you can call Hannah [Rodewald] right away, and maybe she’ll give them to you.”

Rodewald offered four, but Arno would have to pick them up the very next day. And as luck would have it, Rodewald was passionate about literacy issues.

“I do a lot of volunteering for the United Way,” said Rodewald. “A few years ago, I chaired the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, and we started a program called ‘Read, Learn and Succeed.’ I found out that it is so important for kids to be reading at grade level by the fourth grade. I’m no longer chairing, but since then, my husband, Lynn, and I have moved forward with literacy issues. We’re still involved with putting books into children’s hands.”

Though Arno said the school does have a library, it “wasn’t the kind of library that would make a child fall in love with reading. I was putting it together on a shoestring budget.”

“The books were old and yellowed,” she added.

Bnos Yisroel was founded 14 years ago, and Arno said that until recently, the school had “only ancient bookshelves and ancient books.” Two years ago, the school benefited from the generosity of Edward Whitfill, co-owner of Ukazoo Books in Towson.

“He gave us about $1,000 dollars’ worth of books, and I only spent $200 on them,” noted Arno. “Do you know how good that made me feel?”

When Arno returned to the future Wee Chic with a U-Haul truck to take the bookshelves, Stickline and Rodewald offered additional furniture.

“These were beautiful custom cabinets, things that would have cost thousands [of dollars]. And now that we have the furniture, we have more of a budget for new books,” said Arno. “The students are so excited about this. I want them to hold a book and say,  ‘A book is a wonderful thing.’

“What’s surprised me most is the kindness of the business community,” she added. “All these people just came into our lives because I was at the wrong place at the right time!”


Ready to Roll

041114_bikes1This spring a lively group of women bike riders plan to hit the road for friendship and fun.

Parkton resident Cathy Myrowitz has organized a new group called the “Annie ‘Londonderry’ Jewish Women and Friends Bicycle Circle.”

It’s “AL’s Gals” for short.

The name was inspired by the achievements of Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky, a Jewish mother of three from Boston who, in 1895, biked around the world.

Myrowitz has a couple of goals for herself and the group.

First, in November, she’s flying to Israel to take part in the Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. She undertook the five-day, 350-mile journey once before and is eager to try it again. She’s got a lot of training ahead of her and wants companionship for her rides.

Second, she hopes to encourage more women to hop on their bikes and set off to explore the world, or at least the byways of northern Baltimore County, where Myrowitz believes her fellow riders will be as entranced by the rolling hills and scenic vistas as she is.

“It’s like right out of ‘Downton Abbey,’” she said. “It’s so beautiful  there.”

Judging from turnout at her initial meeting on March 23 at Reisterstown’s Pearlstone Conference Center, interest is strong. Close to 20 people gathered to hear about the group, to learn about Annie Londonderry and get bicycle safety tips from a representative of Bike Maryland.

Towson resident Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann is looking forward to the outings. Years ago, she rode all the time and wants to get back into it.

“I still have all my gear,” she said. “I grew up riding. … I didn’t get a car until I was 25.”

Reisterstown resident Victoria Eisner skis in the winter and is looking for an off-season activity.

“I live on one of Baltimore’s scenic bike routes, but I don’t bike on it because it’s kind of hilly and dangerous, so I thought this would expand my horizons, show me some different places in Baltimore and hopefully Baltimore County that I can cycle,” she said.

Annie Londonderry is a little-known figure. That’s changing, however, thanks to a book about her life, (“Around the World on Two Wheels,” by Peter Zheutlin, Citadel Press, 2007) and a new documentary by Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Gillian Willman, who screened “The New Woman” for the group.

Members of AL’s Gals learn bicycle safety at a recent meeting. (Photos provided)

Members of AL’s Gals learn bicycle safety at a recent meeting. (Photos provided)

“Hearing about someone who was so ahead of her time, who was just lost to history, who, had she been remembered, probably would have been world famous,” said Willman. “Even cycling enthusiasts didn’t know about her.”

While there were numerous newspaper reports about Annie’s exploits, she left no diaries or personal papers. She started her trip in long skirts, riding a 42-pound bike but soon switched to bloomers and a lighter-weight model. A $100 sponsorship from the Londonderry Spring Water Company earned her the nickname “Londonderry.”

Willman spent seven years on “The New Woman,” which has been screened at about 15 film festivals. Now, she hopes the half-hour documentary will have a long life, with showings in museums and for bike clubs, women’s groups and Jewish organizations.

Safety is top priority for AL’s Gals, and the inaugural meeting featured a talk from Bike Maryland program coordinator Marla Streb, who noted that the more cyclists on the road the better. It’s good for the environment, and with more bikes on the road, motorists just get in the habit of watching out for them.

Streb urged the group to safety check their tires, brakes and chains before every ride and to gear up in eye-popping orange or green so drivers will see them.

“You notice that  construction workers aren’t wearing camo,” she said.

As for motorists who forget that cyclists also have a right to the road, Streb noted that “a nice wave and eye contract” go a long way toward reducing driver hostility.

In addition, Streb reviewed the details of Maryland’s 2010 law, which requires motorists to give cyclists three feet when passing.

AL’s Gals is open to all women riders from Baltimore and D.C. While most of the women at the Sunday meeting were in their 50s and 60s, it’s open to women of all ages. Wyrowitz says the group will start out with 10 a.m. Sunday morning rides on the NCR trail in Ashland (officially, the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail) and then make the transition to road trips. That way, her dream of a Jewish women’s bike circle, for women of all ages and athletic ability, will really get rolling.

The New Woman: Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky (a documentary trailer) from Gillian Willman on Vimeo.

For information on AL’s Gals, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/ALsGalsBicycleClub.

Organic Inspiration

Seth Goldman, “TeaEO” at Honest Tea, speaks to Jewish professionals about running a mission-driven business. (Marc Shapiro)

Seth Goldman, “TeaEO” at Honest Tea, speaks to Jewish professionals about running a mission-driven business.
(Marc Shapiro)

When Seth Goldman started making tea is his kitchen in 1998, he couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams how much Honest Tea would blossom.

“If you had told me 16 years ago that I’d be running an organization that was involved in helping to eliminate millions of calories from the American diet, helping to promote the spread of organic agriculture and helping to support fair trade labor standards in the developing world, I would have said, ‘Oh, that sounds like an amazing nonprofit,’” said Goldman. “I never would have guessed that it could be a beverage company, let alone one that today is owned by the Coca-Cola Company.”

The Honest Tea “TeaEO” spoke about the growth of his company and running a mission-driven business at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Business and Professional Affinities’ spring event on April 2. His tea company, which is fair trade, organic and kosher, is the U.S.’s top-selling bottled organic tea.

Goldman spoke about the formation of the company, how it keeps true to its ideals and how it has expanded into kids drinks and soda. Before Coca-Cola invested, Honest Tea bought 800,000 pounds of organic ingredients in one year. Last year, the company bought more than 5 million pounds, and this year, Honest Tea is on track to buy more than 8 million pounds of organic ingredients, said Goldman.

Approximately 100 people attended the lunch to network, catch up with friends and hear Goldman speak. But at least one person in the audience was hoping to be the next Seth Goldman.

Blake Wollman, 36, started selling his all-natural hummus at area farmers markets in 2011. He first made hummus in the kitchen of his Mount Washington restaurant, The Desert Café, and the demand was high. But he was bothered by the healthy reputation hummus had gained, considering that the country’s most popular hummus company, Sabra, has preservatives in its hummus.

“So I decided that I needed to look and find out how fattening mine was, and it was one-fifth the fat [compared to Sabra], not to mention all natural,” he said. “I’ve pursed that, and that’s been my mission really — to make an all-natural, low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium product that tastes good.”

His company’s motto, “Take a walk on the wide side of hummus,” fits with its flavors, which include cinnamon raisin, honey sesame and black truffle, in addition to traditional flavors. The Wild Pea hummus is now being sold at Whole Foods locations in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Wegmans in Maryland and at area famers markets and stores.

Wollman already seemed to be following Goldman’s advice. When Honest Tea released its Honest Kids line of organic juice drinks, Goldman realized it cost more than twice the price of Capri Sun.

“We’ve got to sell this on the merits of the product,” said Goldman. “Don’t compete on price; just make the product dramatically different and better.”

And much like Goldman invested in technology to expand his capacity, Wollman invested the right space to make his hummus since The Desert Cafés kitchen wasn’t cutting it.

“It was a small little 10-by-10 kitchen, and the most important thing about hummus is making it cold, keeping it cold, getting it cold, and I had everything against me there,” said Wollman. “So I knew if I was going to take this to the next level I needed to get a better facility.”

He moved into his Baltimore County facility in June 2012 and has refined his practices. On a recent Monday he made 2,400 pounds of hummus, which “seems like a lot, but it’s really not,” he said. And he’s ready for more business.

“We’ve gotten so good at it, we need to get busier now, because now we can get everything done that would have taken us days in [one day],” he said.

Wollman wasn’t the only one fired up by Goldman. Representatives of the Pearlstone Center — where the farm and animals are cared for in sustainable, environmentally conscious ways according to Jewish law — thought the story of Honest Tea fit perfectly with their work.

“Just to see that you can do sustainable and environmentally conscious and socially conscious … it fits along with everything we’re trying to do,” said P.J. Pearlstone, first vice president of Pearlstone’s board of directors.

Jakir Manela, executive director at Pearlstone, said it was a statement in itself that The Associated brought in Goldman to speak to Jewish professionals, and they came out in large numbers. Goldman exemplifies what Manela has seen in recent years, he said: sustainability, organic practices and environmentalism becoming mainstream.

“People still need to be educated, but … we’ve passed that tipping point, and it’s just becoming part of basic consciousness,” he said. “This is how the world works now; we all need to be responsible. It’s a part of business just as much as it’s part of the nonprofit world and it’s part of the Jewish community.”

“The question is,” added Manela, “how long will it take for the ideas to turn into practices?”


MIDC Salutes Poliakoff

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Abba David Poliakoff share a laugh at a reception honoring Poliakoff’s seven years as chairman of the Maryland/Israel Development Center. (Marc Shapiro)

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Abba David Poliakoff share a laugh at a reception honoring Poliakoff’s seven years as chairman of the Maryland/Israel Development Center. (Marc Shapiro)

Abba David Poliakoff has a catch phrase about the Maryland/Israel Development Center that he’s practically known for.

“The mission of the MIDC is to facilitate the soft landing of the Israeli company in the U.S. through Maryland,” he said. “And we implement this mission by utilizing what we call our ‘instant infrastructure.’”

Poliakoff, 62, is referring to the MIDC’s network of high-tech companies throughout Maryland that serve as ambassadors to Israeli businesses by offering their expertise and connecting them with potential customers, vendors and collaborators. This system has vastly expanded and flourished under Poliakoff, who is retiring from his position as the MIDC’s chairman after seven years.

The MIDC now has more than 300 members, an active Southern Maryland branch, academic collaborations between Israeli companies and the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University and its own venture capital fund, while about 30 Israeli companies have opened American offices in Maryland.

“I think I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to change this from a project and a grant-based program to a real live organization with people, with a mission, with goals and with accomplishments, and I think we’ve done that,” said Poliakoff.

Poliakoff was honored at a reception at the Woodholme Country Club on Thursday, April 3, which was attended by representatives of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, local elected officials and Gov. Martin O’Malley. The governor, who has gone on three missions to Israel, including two as governor, with Poliakoff, spoke at the reception about the work of MIDC and its outgoing chair.

“Your work on the Maryland/Israel Development [Center] has really shone the light on what is possible if our communities who call Maryland home realize that they are also able to provide  entré to Maryland businesses and entrepreneurs in places all around the world, and in our case the great state of Israel,” O’Malley said at the reception.

Israel is Maryland’s 19th largest trading partner with $114 million in exports in 2013, the governor said, representing an increase of more than $73 million since 2009.

Last year, Roboteam, which manufactures unmanned vehicles and controllers for law enforcement, defense and public safety, opened its U.S. headquarters in Bethesda, and Shekel Scales, which makes scales for retail sales, opened in Owings Mills. The company that makes Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, ELTA North America, has called Howard County home since 2012.

Poliakoff, chairman of law firm Gordon Feinblatt LLC’s securities practice and Israel practice groups, was first tapped by MIDC executive director Barry Bogage to head a strategic planning committee to determine the future of the MIDC. When the plan was approved, Poliakoff was told to implement it by chairing the organization.

Under his leadership, the organization has grown to five employees, one of whom is in Israel, and started a venture capital fund, a nontypical and somewhat difficult undertaking for a nonprofit.

“Abba knew that the best way to support Israel, to support the start-up nation and the future of Israel was to create a structure and provide that early funding to the youngest of companies,” Bogage said at the reception.

While it was tough to find investors for a fund with no track record, the Maryland/Israel Trendlines Fund is now fully invested in 12 Israeli companies.

Members of the MIDC in Maryland find great value in the organization.

Sage Growth Partners helps make growing companies “bigger and better,” said vice president of research and planning Chris DeMarco.

“Our organization is health care, information technology and marketing,” he said. “And we have a venture arm, which helps get other companies established. So [MIDC] fits right in with our mission.”

Steven Brooks, the company’s chief innovation officer, said his unpaid internship with MIDC redefined his career path. Through Poliakoff and the MIDC, Brooks learned about high-tech start-ups, and found a job with Sage that allows him to help these kinds of companies.

Michael Rosen, senior vice president of new business development for Forest City, has gone on mission trips to Israel to learn about how his company can better structure activities with Israeli companies. Forest City is building a science and technology park at Johns Hopkins, and Rosen hopes Israeli companies looking to work with Hopkins will move to the new space.

“Israel is as good as it gets for innovation, especially medical innovation, but the market is tiny,” said Rosen.

With so many moving parts to the MIDC, the organization’s new chair is someone who has been involved for a decade and knows the organization’s ins and outs. Rob Frier, president of electronic product testing lab MET Laboratories, speaks Hebrew, was in the Israel Defense Forces and has Israeli customers.

“I want to build on the solid foundation that Abba has started,” he said.