Shabbat Across America

Rabbi Shmuel Silber (Justin Tsucalas)

Rabbi Shmuel Silber (Justin Tsucalas)

For the seventh year in a row, Suburban Orthodox Congregation will play host to Shabbat Across America, a multidenominational celebration of Shabbat set to take place March 7.

“The goal really is a very simple one,” said Suburban’s Rabbi Shmuel Silber, “to achieve a togetherness within our community.”

The event will kick off just after 5 p.m. with a candle lighting followed by prayers and a Shabbat dinner featuring prime rib and chicken, in addition to more traditional options.

“I think one of the greatest challenges that we face as a people is there are so many issues that divide us, [we] also have a preoccupation with labels,” explained Silber. “The truth is, the one unifying experience is Shabbos. We may celebrate it differently, we may observe it differently, but we all try to expand upon the beauty that it is to our lives.”

Although the event is free, organizers request that those who wish to attend register ahead of time. Space at the synagogue is limited, and attendance usually reaches maximum capacity, said Silber. In addition to a cross section of the Baltimore Jewish community, in the past the event has also attracted people from places as far as Gaithersburg and Frederick.

The event is part of the larger Shabbat Across America and Canada organized by the National Jewish Outreach Program. When the candles are lit on March 7 at Suburban, attendees will join thousands of other Jews from every denomination celebrating Shabbat together across North America.

At Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Rabbi Susan Grossman is preparing for a guest appearance by Jewish musician Neshama Carlebach, who will participate in the service and give a presentation about “finding light in the darkness.” On March 8, Carlebach will lead the congregation in prayers, offer a d’var Torah and perform in a concert that night.

“When she sings she brings a bit of heaven down to earth,” said Grossman. The synagogue will also offer parallel tot Shabbat services and programs for older children that same night.

This is Beth Shalom Congregation’s 16th Shabbat Across America. For Grossman, the event represents the Jewish sense of unity.

“Here we’re identifying across communities and across borders, recognizing what we share,” she said. “One of the most beautiful things we share is Shabbat.”

Other local congregations participating in the event include Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah in Baltimore and Columbia Jewish Congregation. The NJOP also encourages those who cannot attend a community Shabbat to join in at home by visiting and following the instructions provided by the organization.
Ian Zelaya contributed to this report.

Enjoy the Jewish experience

runyan_josh_otTom Steyer, it seems, is making a play for the libertarian and politically active Koch brothers. Speaking to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” earlier this week, the California billionaire investor spoke of his plans to invest $100 million to influence the debate surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada’s Tar Sands region to America’s Gulf Coast, and thereby scuttle the project.

Back when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberated on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, people were worried about the influence of unfettered corporate money on political discourse. Now, the worry among many observers concerns the influence of unfettered personal largesse on America’s political processes. Without commenting on the merits of Steyer’s contribution to public service or his politics — it should be noted that no less than a former head of the U.S. Geological Survey recently came out in favor of the Keystone pipeline in the pages of Science — it’s worthwhile to draw from the issue a lesson for how the Jewish community tackles its own dilemmas.

In the wake of the Pew Research Center’s analysis of American Jewry some months ago, communal professionals almost uniformly declared intermarriage to be the No. 1 problem. But as you’ll read in the pages of this week’s JT, young Jewish adults — exactly those for whom the idea of intermarriage poses a very real and potentially personal phenomenon — waver on the issue. Some agree that current demographic trends portend doom, others are optimistic, and still others remain apathetic.

As it did in the wake of World War II and in response to the needs of Israel for worldwide support, the global Jewish community has marshaled its collective resources in the war against intermarriage; over the past few years, gobs of money have been spent in a top-down fashion to solve the current crisis. While there have been successes, the approach hasn’t worked.

What many today realize is that if the problem of intermarriage is to be solved, it’s going to be the youth who will solve it. And so we have student-led programming at Hillels across the country; one-on-one learning sessions at Chabad Houses; organizations such as Charm City Tribe that bring a Jewish flavor to the downtown Baltimore bar scene — in effect, a smorgasbord of Jewish options from which today’s young adults can sample, taste, explore and digest, and, most importantly, to which each is expected to contribute.

What will ultimately win in the “numbers game” of Jewish affiliation is Jewish content. But, as the community has learned, Judaism’s truths mustn’t be shoved down unwilling throats. At the most basic level, what matters is the personal one-on-one connection — between rabbi and congregant, teacher and student, parent and child, friend and friend.

Once that is established, the community must let the currently unaffiliated and under-affiliated take the ball of Jewish identity and run with it. We must let each wandering soul be a Tom Steyer, as it were, making a positive choice as to how to contribute. It’s a process that has gone on for millennia, and thanks to the blessings of the Almighty, we’re still around today.

Next Friday night, thousands of Jews across the continent, unaffiliated and affiliated alike, will flock to synagogues in celebration of Shabbat Across America and Canada. But people shouldn’t feel like they have to wait to enjoy the Jewish experience; wherever and whenever you find yourself, do something Jewish today.

$390K Theft Discovered

The just departed executive director of Washington, D.C.’s Adas Israel Congregation has admitted to intentionally stealing at least $390,000, deceptive record keeping and the illegal transferring of funds from a California synagogue during the time he was executive director there.

Eric S. Levine, who was asked to resign on Tuesday from Adas Israel after being executive director for about a month, “apologized and did not deny any of the accusations,” Sonia Israel, president of the Beth El Congregation in La Jolla, Calif., announced in a letter sent to congregants Feb. 12.

Levine, of Bethesda, allegedly stole the money over a five-year period, beginning in 2008, Israel noted. He likely will face time in jail if the California congregation decides to press charges and Levine is found guilty.

Adas Israel’s president also sent a letter to members of his congregation.

“While there is no indication of any improprieties during Eric’s short time at Adas, we have nonetheless commenced a thorough review of our financial and administrative records,” wrote Arnie Podgorksy.

Right now, Adas Israel is satisfied that no money has been taken from its synagogue, as there were no irregularities found during the audit, a source close to the synagogue said.

After being confronted by the leadership at Beth El, Levine not only admitted what he had done, but he also informed the leadership of Adas Israel of the theft. Adas Israel is not contemplating legal action as the synagogue has not been harmed, the source said.

However, the leadership at Congregation Beth El is considering pressing charges.

“We are consulting with experts in the appropriate areas of law to determine how to proceed with the authorities,” Israel wrote. The synagogue also is investigating how to recover the money from Levine, if possible.

In an effort to keep congregants informed, a town hall meeting has been set for Feb. 26.

Solomon Wisenberg, a partner at the D.C. law firm of Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough LLP who specializes in white collar criminal defense, said that Levine is likely to face federal charges.

Wisenberg is not familiar with the case, but when told the details, he said that it probably would be a federal case, as embezzling almost always involves interstate bank, mail or wire fraud.

“That’s serious,” he said. “He’ll probably do some time” in jail unless the synagogue decides to keep the matter quiet. But considering the entire congregation has been informed and a meeting is planned, Wisenberg said it didn’t sound like that is what Beth El had in mind.

In cases like this, a judge must follow guidelines but is allowed leeway. The final amount of money stolen and the number of people harmed play a role in the sentencing, he explained.

“Presumably if you are stealing from a congregation, you are stealing from all the members who contribute,” said Wisenberg.

Under federal guidelines, a loss of less than $400,000, combined with the harming of more than 250 people, could translate to a sentence of between 21 months to 63 months. A source close to Adas Israel, however, said on Feb. 12 that Levine’s alleged theft could be closer to $500,000.

Considering that Levine confessed right away and assuming he cooperates with any law enforcement investigation, said Wisenberg, his sentence may be lighter.

According to Beth El’s president, Levine’s financial irregularities “came to light” at the end of January, about 45 days after he stopped working there. Then, in a phone call on Feb. 9, Levine was confronted by synagogue officials.

“He admitted that the deceptive record keeping and illegal transfer of funds was intentional. He then apologized and did not deny any of the accusations,” Israel wrote in the letter to congregants.

While not everything is known, Israel noted that “Eric was budgeting for improperly used funds. Therefore, we anticipate that our current cash balance and projected receipts for the rest of the year will cover our operating expenses.

“It is never easy to learn that someone you trusted has violated that trust,” continued Beth El’s president. “It is never easy to learn that someone you relied on to guide and protect an institution’s financial security has instead stolen funds for personal use and then covered up his misdeeds. When the institution is a religious organization, a community held together in part by moral and ethical bonds, such a betrayal is even more painful.”

Rabbi Philip Graubart also sent a message to Beth El congregants, questioning how a community recovers from betrayal and calling the time since he learned of Levine’s misdeeds “a dark several weeks for me personally.”

“We made serious mistakes in trusting Eric,” wrote Graubart. “We were victimized by a skilled liar. We will carry the brokenness with us for a long time.”

Prior to working at the California synagogue, Levine was associate director/director of planning and allocations at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County from April 2005 to July 2007.

When asked about Levine, Michael Sonduck, president and CEO of the Federation in San Diego, told the Washington Jewish Week, “I am not going to have any comment at all regarding this matter.”

Calls and emails to Graubart, Israel and others on the rabbinical and staff leadership at Congregation Beth El were not returned.

Levine started working at Adas Israel last month; he had been executive director at Congregation Beth El from July 2007 until December 2013.

Levine is married with young children.

Route to Recovery

Sam Bierman (left) and Zach Snitzer have a unique approach to substance-abuse treatment. (David Stuck)

Sam Bierman (left) and Zach Snitzer have a unique approach to substance-abuse treatment. (David Stuck)

The death of revered actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this month has refocused the attention of the nation on the epidemic of drug addiction.

Hoffman, who reportedly died from a heroin overdose, was discovered alone in his New York City apartment with a hypodermic needle in his arm on Feb. 2. Although heroin is widely viewed as the province of the lower classes, Hoffman’s death, say local recovery advocates Zach Snitzer and Sam Bierman, drove home the truth of the matter: Drug addiction is an equal opportunity illness; it does not discriminate.

Snitzer and Bierman, founders of the new Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, are living proof of this fact. Snitzer, 34, grew up in a Jewish family in Owings Mills and began using drugs at the age of 12; he was addicted to heroin but finally got sober at age 27. Bierman, 30, a native of the affluent Long Island community of Roslyn, N.Y., also began using drugs at the age of 12 and found sobriety when he was 23. The two men, along with Snitzer’s wife, Aura Arslanian, also a recovering addict, met after undergoing drug rehabilitation in Florida.

After all three had been sober for approximately a year, they found employment in the addictions field. “We used to sit around and talk about how great it would be to go up North and start our own substance abuse treatment center there,” said Bierman. At the time, he said, it was only a dream.

After Arslanian became pregnant, she and Snitzer decided they wanted to raise their child closer to family. At first, they moved to New York City, where Arslanian grew up, but about a year later, they decided to relocate to Baltimore. With Bierman, they began to look into what Baltimore had to offer in terms of substance-abuse treatment.

“The first thing we noticed was that no one was providing the level of treatment we wanted to provide,” said Bierman. “We wanted to focus on long-term treatment centered on the underlying issues that caused the addiction. We also believe in providing treatment to the addict’s family as well as the addict.”

“And we saw kids being shipped [from Baltimore] down to Florida [for treatment],” added Snitzer. “It doesn’t have to be like that. Families don’t have to be separated.”

Soon, Snitzer and Arslanian succeeded in luring Bierman away from his job at Caron Renaissance, a rehabilitation center in Boca Raton, Fla. They found funding through a private investor who believed in their mission and opened MARC several months ago.

Snitzer and Bierman believe the treatment model they offer at MARC is unique to private addiction care in Maryland.

“A lot of treatment programs look at a heroin addict and they think heroin is the problem,” said Bierman. “If you separate the person from the drug, everything will be OK. But that’s not true. It’s the underlying pain the addict feels that is causing the problems. Ninety percent of our population is suffering from some sort of trauma, loss, physical or sexual abuse, adoption, divorce. These issues take time to address. There’s this 28-day model that’s caught on, but 28 days isn’t long enough. It’s just waiting for the sleeping giant to awake.”

“One thing we looked at in our research about Baltimore was that [programs] spent very little time focusing on the addict’s family,” noted Snitzer. “Addiction is a family disease. Typically, families misunderstand addiction. They’ll say, ‘Here’s my son or daughter; fix them, and we’ll pick them up in 28 days.’ People don’t realize the importance of reaching out to the family. They [the families] also feel alone and ashamed.”

MARC offers medically supervised detox, partial hospitalization programs for adolescents and adults, individual therapy, therapeutic groups such as relapse prevention and anger management, interventions and family counseling. Also provided are vocational counseling and an education and prevention program for DWI and DUI offenders.

“Our programs have a 90-day minimum, but it doesn’t always turn out that way,” said Snitzer. MARC’S outpatient treatment program for adolescents takes place three days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and a similar program for adults operates four days a week from 9 a.m. to noon.

“We have an alumni engagement program. If you stay clean and sober for 90 days, you can attend group therapy for free as long as you want,” said Bierman. “Studies show that the longer an addict engages in treatment, the better they do.”

In addition to the treatment provided at MARC, Snitzer and Bierman also encourage attendance in 12-step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous.

“We owe our lives to AA,” said Snitzer. “All of us are involved in 12-step programs, and they are great in collaboration with what we do. We do treatment here, and AA is what addicts should do outside.”

Bierman said that he and Snitzer are trying to establish relationships with local high schools and colleges.

“A lot of drug use starts at those ages, and the schools aren’t really equipped to deal with it,” he explained. “We say, ‘Look, you don’t want to expel students [who are using drugs]. Let us treat them. We’ll work around their school schedules and make it possible for them to stay in school.’”

Snitzer pointed out that when someone well known such as Hoffman dies, it serves as a reminder that addiction doesn’t only happen to poor, indigent people from the inner cities.

“People like to think, ‘That’s not me.’ There is so much shame and stigma,” said Bierman. “We like to put a face on addiction. It’s a chronic progressive illness, not a moral failing. There are resources out there that can help.”

For more information about the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which is located at 110 West Road in Towson, Suite 410, visit

Candidates Game for Decriminalization

(Photo David Stuck)

(Photo David Stuck)

Maryland gubernatorial candidates have voiced their support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Democrat from Montgomery County, introduced House Bill 879, which would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $100. Individuals under 21 caught with marijuana would be required to take drug education classes.

Fellow Democratic candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler have both voiced their support for decriminalizing marijuana, but neither responded to Mizeur’s invitation to testify in Annapolis in support of the bill.

“Attorney General Gansler supports working with law enforcement to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts,” Gansler spokeswoman Katie Hill said via email. “He believes any discussion of complete legalization should include Maryland’s health professionals, law enforcement and community organizations.”

Brown wrote Mizeur a letter that cited racial disparities in Maryland marijuana possession arrest rates and the economic toll on law enforcement. In 2010, African-Americans were almost three times more likely to be arrested for possession than Caucasians, he wrote. Four years ago, Brown’s letter said, Maryland spent $55.3 million in police costs to enforce the current law.

“Decriminalization isn’t about encouraging drug use; it’s about putting our resources in the places where they’ll do the most good,” wrote Brown. “It’s about helping young people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana find a better way forward instead of putting them through the revolving door of our justice system.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Vaeth, a former Baltimore City firefighter, also supports decriminalization. The house bill’s co-sponsors include attorney general candidates Delegates Aisha Braveboy, Bill Frick and Jon Cardin, Gansler’s running mate, Delegate Jolene Ivey, and Delegate Dan Morhaim, a physician and longtime medical marijuana proponent.

“This session, we have an opportunity to change policies that have ruined lives, made our communities less safe and wasted valuable law enforcement resources,” Mizeur’s wrote in her letter to Brown and Gansler.

The bill mirrors legislation Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced last year, which passed the Senate but did not pass the House. SB 364, which Zirkin and Sen. Allan Kittleman introduced this session, will come up for a hearing on Feb. 25. It would make possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine and would allow judges to order juveniles caught with small amounts to perform community service or attend drug treatment and drug education classes.

“This is not some radical proposition,” stated Zirkin. “This is something that has been done in many states across the country.”

He said it’s not surprising that gubernatorial candidates support decriminalization, since potential problems such as increased drug use, the gateway drug effect and driving under the influence have not increased in states that have gone the decriminalized route.

“With every bill you look at the positives and negatives,” said Zirkin. “The negatives just don’t exist.”

Some of those watching the race for governor don’t think the decriminalization debate will play much of a role.

“I don’t think voters are paying attention to the General Assembly in terms of the gubernatorial race,” said political columnist Laslo Boyd, managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors. He added that he didn’t think the legislation would pass.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said he wouldn’t support legalization, is “not much in favor” of decriminalizing marijuana, he said on the Marc Steiner radio show.

“We’ll continue to watch implementation of new laws in Colorado and Washington along with the impact of those laws on public health and safety,” O’Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said via email. “We’ll also await further guidance from the federal government on enforcement.”

Building Blocks

Aleph Learning Institute founder and director Rochelle Kaplan (Kirsten Beckermann)

Aleph Learning Institute founder and director Rochelle Kaplan (Kirsten Beckermann)

Flitting around the Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland building with the busy energy of a hummingbird, Rochelle Kaplan, founder and director of the Aleph Learning Institute, set out warm drinks on a very cold day in anticipation of her students. The latest snowfall and frigid weather did not deter her, as the full-day program of Aleph Wednesdays — The Power of One was about to begin, somewhat surprisingly, with a yoga and Pilates class led by certified fitness trainer Malkie Raskas.

“We have to be strong, we have to be healthy,” said Kaplan. “You have to exercise and strengthen the body to be able to serve God, because it removes illness, it prevents illness. [Aleph Wednesdays] is a well-balanced program.”

Aleph Wednesdays is the latest offering developed by Kaplan, and it is a special feature of the Aleph Learning Institute, which she launched in 2011. An amalgam of one-on-one and group study courses, lectures, cooking classes and self-help workshops, the institute offers a smorgasbord of topics open to all who are interested. Customized learning and an unconventional approach are also hallmarks of the program.

Aleph Wednesdays asks that attendees commit one entire day each week to study. The program was designed to incorporate “heart, mind, space and spirit.” It was developed, in part, because Kaplan saw her personal need to devote more time to Torah and study.

“It’s not making time for me. It’s making time for God,” she explained. “We all are here for a purpose. We get so busy with earning a living, just being able to live. We’re so consumed, we don’t even have a focus or direction. And as a Jewish person, we have a soul purpose.”

Kaplan’s intense dedication has helped make her a driving force in the Jewish community since she arrived. Kaplan and her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, lead Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland and have been in the Baltimore area almost 40 years. The center also offers a prescribed set of courses that are based on a curriculum created by the Jewish Learning Institute, the international adult education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. Those courses are developed separate from, but incorporated into, the Aleph Learning Institute curriculum.

One difference at the Aleph Learning Institute, said Kaplan, is the personalization and customization of studies. The institute accommodates individuals, friends and family members on any topic and for any type of class; anything is feasible, she said. “We really want to extend ourselves to the community and make ourselves available.”

One of the most popular offerings is Aleph Partners, which consists of one-on-one study with Kaplan.

Hillary Wohl, 58, has studied one on one with Kaplan and is a student of the Aleph Learning Institute. A speech and language pathologist, Wohl is an adjunct professor at Loyola University Maryland and serves on the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. She and her husband, Joel, are members of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

“Chabad takes you wherever you are,” said Wohl, who has known Kaplan for many years and has studied more formally with her for the past five years. “You don’t have to know anything. The fact that you’re a Jew is all that matters. People have lost sight of what Judaism is and the gift of it. … I think Chabad is teaching people the gift of Judaism.”

The courses and workshops offered by the Aleph Learning Institute are all based upon Jewish concepts and law but cover a wide range of topics. Money Matters and Personal Investments, the Kabbalah of Food, Bride and Groom the Jewish Way, Nature’s Wealth and Study of the Book of Tanya are a few course titles.

Rachel Gutman, 32, is enrolled in Aleph Wednesdays — The Power of One. Gutman, a member of the Chabad congregation in Pikesville, works part time and takes care of her two children. She makes time in her schedule to attend yoga and Pilates, Kabbalah classes and a Torah Studies class for women.

“The power of one means many things,” said Gutman. “I take it as the power of one decision, one person to grow their spiritual well-being, that’s enough to change them internally. To be open to it — the power within yourself to learn and connect to Hashem.”

The Aleph Learning Institute isn’t Kaplan’s first grand effort. In 2009, she created an annual event called the Jewish Victims of Terror Project; she also raised funds and assembled the design team needed to build a mikvah at the Chabad Center that is open to the whole community. The center recently celebrated the mikvah’s 10-year anniversary.

“After that project and [other] things were underway, I wanted to get into adult education,” said Kaplan. Getting Jews to be more aware of their Judaism is core to Kaplan’s, and Chabad’s, work. Her energy is contagious, and she takes any opportunity to connect with another Jew.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m a campaigner — you know on the road, in the store, anywhere,” she said with a laugh. “That’s me. I’m for the people, with the people, and I also feel like I’m learning from everyone else. … And you have to understand, my husband and I dedicate our lives to educating Jewish people.”

Kaplan’s long-range plans for the Aleph Learning Institute ultimately include an additional building to be erected behind the current synagogue that will house the institute on the second floor. But the courses and events offered now are an effort to cultivate more Jewish learning in the community and work toward that bigger goal.

“It’s the building before the building, meaning if two Jews meet and they think about Torah, this is a big accomplishment,” explained Kaplan, whose gestures and voice accelerate when talking about the institute’s future. “You never know the ripple effect.”

Read about Upcoming Programs at the Aleph Learning Institute.

Preserving Our Jewish Family

runyan_josh_otYou have to hand it to the sisterhood of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Greengate Jewish Center in Baltimore. The Tuesday afternoon meeting was billed as a chance to meet the JT’s new editor, but in the space of about an hour, the group of about 40 women — and one man — cut to the heart of the dilemma facing Jewish communal life.

Do we want to be inclusive or do we want to preserve tradition?

Their question, of course, was specifically directed toward the challenges faced by publishers in the Jewish press, but it speaks of a larger issue facing each and every one of us. If the conclusions of the oft-discussed Pew Research Center’s recent study of Jewish American life are correct — if the American Jewish community is losing its members to a rising tide of assimilation, intermarriage and religious apathy — shouldn’t the response be to strengthen our numbers?

Some have indeed endorsed that approach, sometimes seeming to embrace a whatever-the-cost strategy in widening the Jewish communal tent.

Still others, though, have apparently circled the wagons, adopting what some pejoratively have termed a “ghettoized” approach and whose adherents call protecting tradition.

Such an environment certainly amplifies the crossroads at which American Jewry finds itself. But since when are inclusivity and tradition mutually exclusive ideals?

This might be a revolutionary statement, but I would venture that Jewish youth, who have always been searching for truth, have migrated out of the fold not because our traditions need updating, but because we as a community haven’t been doing a good enough job of communicating those traditions’ essential core. The Jewish people aren’t unified because each of us calls himself or herself “Jewish”; Jewish unity instead resides in the shared experience of being Jewish. So to the extent that vast swaths of the Jewish community are searching — and they are — at least they’re doing a quintessentially Jewish thing: They’re looking for truth.

Now comes the task of providing it, and doing so can take an inclusive approach.

For years, the social sciences focused on how individuals responded to various conditions, from physical handicaps to learning disabilities. Now, however, psychologists, therapists and social workers — some of whom you’ll read about in our cover story about siblings of children with special needs and in an article about a new addiction treatment center — talk about how a family collectively copes with a challenge.

“Families need to step back and look at their schedules,” Owings Mills-based psychologist Eve Band advises those who have children with and without special needs. “Make arrangements to spend time alone with the other siblings, even if it’s just for a Sunday morning bagel run.”

The same advice can be applied to larger communal issues. As members of the global Jewish community, each one of us has special needs, whether they be financial, familial, spiritual or physical. Above all, each of us has a need to belong.

In meeting those challenges, it would be easy to forget how each part of the community works as part of the whole. So let’s collectively take a step back; instead of throwing our communal net wider or letting those departing fend for themselves, let’s think of ways we can preserve that which makes us a Jewish family.

Rising to the Challenge

runyan_josh_otFor someone who’s spent the past three years in sunny southern Florida, this winter has been quite the eye-opener. But ask those who’ve lived in Baltimore most of their lives, even this season’s ice and snow — which, according to the State Highway Administration, has already caused Maryland to expend more than $80 million, far in excess of the $46 million budgeted — pales in comparison with years past.

What is truly remarkable, though, is how small crises such as power outages and school cancellations can bring people together.

Up in suburban Philadelphia last weekend, whole swaths of that state’s Montgomery County were in the dark following the ice storm at the beginning of the month. Some people were told by their utility company that, despite the fact that crews from all over the region — trucks from Baltimore Gas and Electric could be seen traveling north on I-95 in Delaware — were mobilized to get the power flowing again, it would take more than a week to restore service.

In the Jewish community there, families responded by welcoming their neighbors into their homes. And here in Baltimore, the atmosphere was the same. Whether responding to natural disaster or inconvenience, ours is a community that rises to the challenge; doors are flung open, figuratively and literally, to welcome strangers in need.

In an act you’ll read about in the pages of this week’s JT, the JCC eased its membership restrictions late last week to allow those without hot water the chance to enjoy a shower and relax. Beyond that, it was not unheard of for local families to cook hot food for their friends and neighbors or put them up for several days.

With even more wintry precipitation forecast for the foreseeable future, it’s comforting to know that there’s always a helping hand willing to house, feed and, when the need arises, help a new arrival open a van’s iced-up door.

Such concern for another, though, is not uniquely expressed when responding to the short-term inconveniences of life in the northern United States. In the Jewish community, it frequently becomes the underpinning of everything that is done.

From initiatives that allow senior citizens to age in place to organizations that allow deaf Jews to experience the beauty of Jewish ritual, from gatherings in the state capital that advocate on behalf of hardworking families trying to afford Jewish education for their children to those making the painful sacrifice of donating their kidneys, the local Jewish community is remarkable for its caring outlook and determined resolve.

When marshaled effectively, when the collective goodwill of tens of thousands of individuals is strengthened by the philanthropic heft of the more fiscally fortunate among us — as evidenced by the contributions of the late Whiting-Turner CEO Willard Hackerman, of blessed memory, who passed away Monday — great work can be done to improve not only our corner of Maryland, but also the wider world around us.

It’s exciting to be a part of a revolution that can pierce through the dark and cold of winter and bring warmth to the world.

Community Weathers Storm

(Melissa Gerr)

(Melissa Gerr)

Like so many communities across the country, Baltimore is still reeling from the effects of the most recent storm to hit the East Coast. While some were merely inconvenienced, others suffered the loss of heat and hot water, downed trees and childcare problems caused by school closings and late openings.

According to David Buck, spokes-man for the Maryland State Highway Administration, last week’s weather event marked the 27th time since early December the SHA activated its operations center.

“It’s been almost every three days since Dec. 1,” said Buck. “All our crews do is prepare for storms, fight the storms and clean up after the storms. It’s been hard for crew members to get more than five hours of continuous sleep.”

Buck said that in the last five years, the SHA has spent about $70 million annually for winter operations in Maryland. So far this year, he said, it has already spent $80 million. The budget allotment for this winter, meanwhile, stands at only $46 million. Buck said the budget will be raised by $5 million per year until it reaches a dollar amount closer to what is actually being spent.

“We spend as much as we need to get the job done,” he stated.

Ilene Dackman-Alon of Pikesville said her family’s troubles began Thursday morning when they lost cable and Internet service. By that afternoon, they had lost all power. Her husband, Shay, who works from home and needed Wi-Fi, spent the day at a Panera restaurant in Pikesville. Dackman-Alon and their daughter, Rose, joined him for dinner. “We stayed there until 9 p.m. when they kicked us out. Then we went home and hunkered down with lots of blankets,” she said. “I was wearing three sweatshirts.”

At one point, Shay Alon was so desperate for a warm drink, he took the coffee pot outside and heated water on the grill. All told, the Alons were without power until Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

“We just stayed in bed until the heat came back on,” said Dackman-Alon.

In Reisterstown, Jessica Normington and her family were also among the many Baltimoreans who were without power. Normington said they lost power on Wednesday morning.

“We couldn’t find any flashlights,” she noted. “Since the kids were off and my husband, Scott, works from home, they just stayed in the house with a fire in the fireplace. I went to work.”

After she returned home, still without power, the family headed to the JCC in Owings Mills, where they stayed until bedtime. Then they went to her parents’ house to sleep. For the next two nights, the family, including their dog and guinea pig, would spend much of their time between those two places.

The JCC was a haven for many families during the mass power outages, said its marketing director, Robin Rose-Samuels. “We had power because we have a generator on-site. We have the generator because we are a designated emergency shelter for the state of Maryland.”

In addition to providing members with a comfortable place to weather the storm, the JCC also welcomed nonmembers who needed a place to shower.

Normington said that her children, ages 3 and 7, enjoyed the adventure brought by the storm, but as far as she was concerned it was “a pain in the neck.” Yet, she noted that they have been lucky in the past.

“In the five years we have lived in our house, we’ve never lost power for more than a couple of hours at a time,” said Normington. “During the derecho [in July 2012], we were probably the only street that had power. I felt like it was kind of our turn.”

20 Years of Hope

Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.

Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.
(David Stuck)

When her husband, Ed, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2006, Elise Ziv knew her family needed more than medical attention to cope with the crisis. Fortunately, someone told her about Hopewell Cancer Support. Ed and Elise Ziv and their two boys, Caleb and Coby, then 5 and 7 years old, all received free services from licensed professionals there and, above all, found a community of people who understood what they were up against.

“My husband joined a brain tumor support group, and that helped him to realize he wasn’t the only one going through the illness,” said Ziv, 48. “I joined another group for caregivers of people with cancer. That gave me a place to talk about what I was feeling. I wanted to protect my husband from that.

“The boys went to the Kids Circle,” she continued, “which they loved immediately.”

After her husband passed away in 2011 at the age of 48, the Zivs continued to find comfort at Hopewell. Caleb and Cory attended a grief support group for children, where they were able to share their feelings with other youngsters dealing with the loss of a parent from cancer.

“The facilitators were great,” said their mother. “They gave the kids the words to talk about their grief no matter what they were feeling.”

Ziv still attends a group for “only parents,” those who have lost spouses and still have kids living at home.

“We have a unique situation,” she said. “When you walk into Hopewell, you don’t have to explain yourself. Everybody knows. You can get right to the heart of what’s going on. It’s really been a lifeline for us. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

When it opened 20 years ago, Hopewell was known as the Wellness Community of Baltimore. A local affiliate of a national organization, the Wellness Community was, according to co-founder Suzanne Brace, the first of its kind on the East Coast. A decade ago, the organization split off from the Wellness Community and became Hopewell, an independent entity.

“I had cancer when I was 32 — more than half my life ago — and I was living in California at the time. I looked around for support, and there was nothing for me,” recalled Brace. After recovering, she went to graduate school, became a mental health counselor and eventually moved to Baltimore. “It was pure serendipity. I knew someone who knew I had always wanted to start a wellness community. She suggested we start one in Baltimore.”

For several years, Brace volunteered there and then became its executive director.

Hopewell, which sits on eight acres in a restored farmhouse in Lutherville, offers 125 different programs each month and serves 1,000 people a year, said Brace. In addition to the groups Ziv and her family have attended, Hopewell also offers mind/body healing classes such as yoga, qigong, Nia technique and meditation, expressive arts classes and support groups for specific types of cancer. There are also educational programs and social events.

Brace said that 40 percent of those who receive services at Hopewell are family members of someone with cancer, while 60 percent are people diagnosed with the illness. All of the services are free, and all funding is raised through philanthropy. Hopewell has an annual budget of $1 million.

One of the chief differences between Hopewell and other cancer organizations is that it isn’t a medical setting, said Brace. “We set a tone that says there’s another part of you besides your body that we value. We believe if your mind, soul and spirit can be nurtured you’ll be in a better position to deal with anything that arises.”

Ziv echoed Brace’s sentiments: “People dealing with cancer see too many hospitals. One thing I like about Hopewell is it is so anti-institutional. The minute you drive up to the house there’s this transformation that happens. There’s a feeling of warmth and home and peace. Sometimes I just like to go there and walk around the grounds.”

Brace said that there are no rules or expectations with regard to attendance at Hopewell.

“Some people come once a week; some people come three times a week. Some people don’t come until 10 years after they’re diagnosed,” she said. “There are no limits on how much they attend. It depends on what they need. We meet you on your path and help you through your journey. That’s our philosophy.”

Despite the free services Hopewell provides, Brace realizes that people may be hesitant to reach out for help.

“A lot of people don’t come because they think we will be depressing. But then they walk in and feel right at home,” she said. “The fact is, we see much more laughter than tears. We’re just about the friendliest place in town.”

John Miller discovered Hopewell when he was diagnosed with melanoma 12 years ago. Before Hopewell moved to its current location, the organization rented space in the building where Miller worked.

“I used to see people coming and going with yoga mats and [meditation] pillows. I figured they weren’t going to see their accountant,” the 48-year-old Owings Mill native remarked. “When I got my diagnosis, I strolled upstairs and without knowing what it was, I met the staff and Suzanne Brace. We chatted for a long time about the organization, and I really took to it. I thought, ‘This is a special place.’ So I started fundraising, and they asked me to join the board.”

When his friend, Jim Wolf of Pikesville, was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, Miller reached out and encouraged him to get involved with Hopewell too. For the past eight years, the two, both avid music lovers, have been chairing Hopewell’s annual fundraiser, Concert for Hope, together.

“We have a lot of friends who play in bands for fun, so they performed; we sold tickets and had an auction,” Miller said. “The last couple of years, the event has grown and we decided to expand.

“In 2013, we paid for talent for the first time,” he added. “This year, we’re having [local rock band] The Bridge headlining. It’s even more special to Jim and me since we’ve been seeing them for years; they’re sort of friends, they’re talented and have a nice local following.”

This year’s concert will take place on Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. at Baltimore Soundstage. In addition to The Bridge, the concert will also feature the music of the Hippy Sheiks.

“It’s really geared to music lovers,” said Miller, “and it’s a way to go out for a casual night and support local musicians and a great cause.”

For additional information and to purchase tickets to the Concert for Hope, go to