Nagel Brings Expertise to Beth Shalom

Louis Nagel (Photo provided)

Louis Nagel (Photo provided)

Louis Nagel was born in Philadelphia but has been living in Baltimore since he was 5 years old. Growing up, he attended religious school and worked as a madrich at the Orthodox shul B’nai Jacob. Additionally, he worked as a counselor at Camp Milldale.

Nagel, 59, graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in early childhood education before teaching preschool locally. In 2009, he received his master’s degree from Baltimore Hebrew College. He is the new director of education at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, and prior to that, he served as director of education at B’nai Israel Congregation in North Bethesda.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Nagel to Beth Shalom,” said Beth Shalom Rabbi Susan Grossman. “He is incredibly talented and kind and engaging. He understands different learning styles and is able to translate, in a meaningful way, the Jewish system of values. We couldn’t be more excited to have one of the top educators in the country coming on board.”

The Jewish Times sat down with Nagel to learn about his  career.

Tell us about your career.

The process of getting my Ph.D. opened me up to seeing the  potential for Jewish education. I was studying a lot of philosophy and also studying epistemology, the study of being. A lot of what I was reading mirrored what we are teaching in Jewish schools — to find meaning in life. All of what we are learning in Torah and tefillah is really an exploration of being, of discovering who we are and what our purpose is in the world. After getting my Ph.D., I started doing a lot more work on pedagogy.

For the children, I want  Judaism to be meaningful to them. I want them to live lives informed by Jewish values.” — Louis Nagel

Is there any particular  aspect of pedagogy on which you focus?

I definitely focus on the pursuit of better education, but the main thing is getting away from teacher-centered study to student-centered classes, a lot more of teachers introducing material and then turning it over to the children to look for what text means to them personally. Hebrew teachers can easily focus on “I’m going to teach you how to confidently chant ‘Adon Olam.’” A lot of what I saw, that was the be all and end all. What you get is children and teens and adults who know how to daven, but they don’t know what any of it means.

Why did you come to Beth Shalom from B’nai Israel?

I have lived in this community for more than 20 years. I have been coming to this synagogue for a lot of that time. I very much like Rabbi Susan Grossman and the cantor, Richard Walters, and the community as a whole.

Do you have any particular plans or goals for the  program?

For the children, I want Judaism to be meaningful to them. I want them to have an understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm for Jewish ethics and values, mikdot. I would say that is one of the highest priorities of mine. I want them to live lives informed by Jewish values.

In 2015, you received the  lifetime achievement award from the Jewish  Educators Assembly.  Was there any particular accomplishment for which you were being recognized?

If there is anything in particular that I am known for professionally, it is teacher/educator professional development. I have worked for Volunteer, it’s a professional organization. Much of my work in the Jewish Educators Assembly has been connected with educator professional development. I was on the conference committee a couple of times, and I chaired for six years the professional development committee. I hosted webinars almost every month, usually nine to 10 times a year.

Is it odd moving to a smaller community?

This synagogue has about 15 teachers and about 120 children, a little over 300 families. One of my friends a long time ago, Gloria Eisman, said so many things don’t matter if you’re in a big congregation and a big school or a small congregation and a small school. You still have to develop a program for those kindergarteners, first- and second-graders and on up. You still have to have a curriculum in place for each of those grades. And it is connecting to those individual children, those individual families. Those are some of my priorities. I am looking forward to that very much.

What other Jewish  organizations are you  involved in?

I am the president of Jewish Educators Assembly. I am  developing an affinity for AIPAC, I went to the Policy Conference this year. I have already attended a Jewish Federation event, so I am expecting to be much more engaged with the Howard County Jewish Federation — we don’t have a JCC here. I have long been involved in the wider Jewish community of educators where there is not much unity of purpose, so I am looking forward to working with those colleagues and starting to create a community of educators.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Schools, Programs Offer Personalized Special Needs Education

Special-needsEducation is rarely a one-size-fits-all discipline, especially among the special needs population. Luckily for individuals with disabilities, the Baltimore area has a variety of schools, agencies and programs that offer education, training and other help that can be tailored toward specific needs.

One such program is Friendship Circle run by Rabbi Chaya Sufrin out of Chabad of Clarksville. With more than 79 locations worldwide, the program boasts 5,000 children and close to 11,000 volunteers. Its approach brings  together teenage volunteers with children with special needs, primarily those with autism.

The organization’s largest program is called Friends at Home. Each child enrolled in the program is matched with a pair of teenage volunteers. These teens visit and play with the children at their homes or take them out to participate in fun activities within the community.

“The teens themselves go in thinking that they’re giving,”  according to Rabbi Sufrin, “but they don’t think about how much they gain in return. They get to go with a friend and end up seeing the bigger picture.” Volunteers appreciate the program as much as  participants, Sufrin said.

Local schools also do their part to cater to the needs of specific students. For example, the Jemicy School and the Odyssey School, located in Owings Mills and Stevenson, respectively, both focus on the needs of students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties.

According to Jemicy’s mission statement, “the school utilizes creative, multisensory and research-based programs and techniques to develop reading, writing, spelling and organization skills.” In a similar vein, the educators at Odyssey “work as a team to understand the specific language and learning needs of the individual child and to tailor a personalized program to meet those needs.”

As the largest provider of mental health care in Maryland, the Sheppard Pratt Health System is actively involved in special education. The Health System includes 12 schools with a total of 17 special education programs. Its website claims to serve nearly 700 students with special needs, more than 50 percent of whom have been diagnosed with autism.

The more  personalized  curriculums  offered through special needs programs result in churning out graduates who are prepared for the work force.

 

Jim Truscello is director of day school programming for the Health System’s special education services. “We enact a transition plan in eighth grade so they are job ready,” he explained. “The hardest thing is to get them to pass the tests necessary to graduate from high school.” These tests are based on measures such as mathematical ability, reading comprehension and writing ability.

“Their learning style just doesn’t match how the public schools teach,” Jim said. This mindset in regard to the style of teaching is prevalent in the world of special education. Earlier this year, Melanie Hood-Wilson, director of special populations at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), shared that “we teach our courses in a way that is less traditional, less paper-pencil work, fewer lectures … we make sure [students] are getting all the rigor that’s necessary, but we deliver it in a way that’s accessible.”

CCBC further expands upon the basic skill sets, which these students develop throughout middle and high school with its Single Step program. The program is geared to engage adults with disabilities in both academic and general studies with the goal being to prepare individuals for independent living and employment.

The Single Step program features several tracks of study that students can follow. One option is for individuals to choose a career certification track, which will allow them to emerge from the school system with tailored skills aimed at a specific industry. There are preparatory tracks for jobs as a child care assistant, technician, security guard and animal care worker to name a few.

Other students are working toward their associate’s degree or are simply taking classes for enjoyment, learning skills that interest them or are necessary real-world skills such as computer programming and personal finance.

The more personalized curriculums offered through special needs programs result in churning out graduates who are prepared for the work force, which many enter with the aid of free vocational services offered by local health systems.

For example, the Sheppard Pratt Health System — through Mosaic Community Services — assists clients with finding employment based on the interests of the employee as opposed to specialized  experience.

Sinai Hospital and LifeBridge Health provide a range of services to clients, offering a general vocational services program. Additionally, the system provides explicitly Jewish vocational services through Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, where volunteers with special needs come regularly in the company of coaches to help with tasks around the hospital.

The Arc Baltimore is partnered with LifeBridge Health and Northwest Hospital. The organization’s website states, “The Arc [provides] employment training and support, day and residential services, family support and education, treatment foster care, respite care, public policy advocacy and information and referrals,” all aimed at individuals with  intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Jewish Community Services (JCS), an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, also offers career advising and training. Sherri Sacks, a career coach at JCS, explained that their main goal is to “tailor placement to what a person needs,” be it transitioning from high school to college or seeking employment in the real world.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Flashback Ellen Olson

Ellen Olson (provided)

Ellen Olson (provided)

For most of her working life, Ellen Olson’s passion has been to provide young children with a solid educational foundation. A Philadelphia native, Olson, 60, relocated to Baltimore from Richmond, Va., 30 years ago to take over as associate director of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s early childhood program. During that time, thousands of kids have come through program, including her two own daughters and now two grandchildren.

You have been at the JCC since 1986. What’s it been like?

It’s been amazing. I always say I’m like Cal Ripken, but that’s the beauty of the longevity —children who were 3 years old when I started are now bringing their 3-year-old children. That is so exciting, because you  remember them as a 3-year-olds, and now here are their families, which all makes it really worthwhile. I get to see them grow up and see what fabulous parents they are, but it’s also great to see that the “J” meant something to them.

How did the job affect the way you raised your own children?

The way I did things raising children is different than the way it is now. It doesn’t mean it is better or worse, but it’s just different. Now that I’m a bubbie, many people have said to me here, “You know, we’re happy a bubbie is helping run this school.” They like the fact that bubbies are running this school, because we have been there and done that. We can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Raising my two kids — luckily they have been successful — I’m able to bring that experience to new parents. I think they like and just feel I have that experience.

Ellen Olson (provided)

Ellen Olson (provided)

Are there any memories that stick out in particular?

I lived in this community for most of my working life, so there are many things that come to mind. [Somebody will] holler “Mrs. Ellen” or “Ellen,” and my friends will say, “Ah, another friend of Ellen’s.” The JCC is so far-reaching that I have 1,000 memories of being somewhere and being able to re-meet a child who went to school here, who’s now being bar and bat mitzvahed, who’s now off to college, who’s now getting married or having children.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Homeschooling on the Rise

(©iStockphoto.com/didecs)

(©iStockphoto.com/didecs)

All parents want the best education for their children. Sometimes, that means the local public school and other times it’s a private institution or nearby charter school. But, for some families, the best choice comes in homeschooling.

More than 27,500 students were homeschooled in Maryland last school year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationally, U.S. Department of Education statistics show homeschooling accounts for about 3.4 percent of students as of 2012, up from 2.2 percent a decade ago.

Homeschooling regulations vary from state to state. In Maryland, parents must fill out a form declaring their intent to homeschool each year. The state does require some proof of learning — either in the form of supervision from the local public school system or from a state Department of Education-approved umbrella program, often through a place of worship or homeschooling cooperative.

Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton homeschool their son,  8-year-old Kendi, and plan to do the same for their youngest,  1-year-old Aman.

Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton homeschool their son, 8-year-old Kendi, and plan to do the same for their youngest, 1-year-old Aman.

The reasons vary for families on why they decided on homeschooling, but usually one theme pops up more than once: the idea that their children would benefit outside the perceived “one-size-fits-all” education of traditional schools.

For Nechama and Shaya Cox, it was something of a family tradition. Shaya had been homeschooled himself growing up and thought their own kids — they now have seven — could benefit. Living in London at the time, Nechama was convinced after talking to a teacher who told her, “I get the kids for the good hours.”

“And I thought, ‘huh?’ I would like them for those good hours,” said Nechama Cox, who has now been homeschooling for 15 years, and living in Baltimore for 11.

Homeschooling also allows them to ensure their kids have a full Jewish education, along with a full secular education. Now homeschooling her sixth child, Cox has been using the Calvert School for a number of years, which provides curriculum as well as tests and report cards that function as sufficient oversight for the state.

Homeschool_Braxton2The methods of homeschooling range widely from family to family, but for the Coxes, structure wins out. Their approach is very traditional. They have a room set aside as the classroom, and all the kids wear uniforms — including a tie, which they earn once they learn to read. (The youngest of school age, Eliaz, 5, recently won his tie, which he wears proudly, “just like his older brothers,” said Cox.)

Of their four oldest, ranging in age from 13 to 20, two are in college, one attends a local school and the last is at the Gilman School. All four were homeschooled through elementary school but allowed to choose whether to homeschool or attend a brick-and-mortar building for high school, and, so far, all have chosen the latter.

In a break from the norm, the Coxes actually send the kids to a play school during the day when they are young, so they can focus on the home  education of the older ones. Right now, the youngest, at age 3, is doing that, while the other two young ones study at home.

“The thing that was surprising was how much I enjoyed it,” said Nechama Cox. Now, she can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Shai, Eliaz and Kalev — three of the seven Cox children —are homeschooled by their parents.

Shai, Eliaz and Kalev — three of the seven Cox children —are homeschooled by their parents.

Though there are other Jewish families who choose to homeschool, the majority of religious families who homeschool are Christian.

The Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators has a membership of more than 4,500 families, according to its website, and many of the state Department of Education- approved umbrella organizations are churches or other ministry education.

Nationally, as of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education found that, of those families choosing to homeschool, about two-thirds (64 percent) were doing it for religious reasons. An even higher percentage (77 percent) said they chose homeschooling to provide a “moral instruction.” The majority of these families are Christian but, as the Coxes show, certainly not exclusively.

Ja’Near Garrus, the director of Greater Baltimore Christian Homeschoolers, has been homeschooling her children since her oldest, now 8, was in preschool. Her son, Ryan, started at a private Christian school, but the family realized quickly — within the first month — that it wasn’t a good fit, Garrus said.

Now both Ryan and her other son, Azariah, 5, are homeschooled, and she will be starting preschool activities with her daughter, Hillary, 3, this year. For the first year, Garrus chose a curriculum that mirrored what her son’s private Christian school would have taught, A beka — a Christian curriculum that teaches from a Bible literalist perspective. In the years since, she has moved away from any one curriculum and instead uses a variety of different resources depending on what she thinks will work well with her children — different textbooks, library books, online resources, etc.

“The religious benefits were just an added bonus to the academic benefits,” she said of her family’s decision to homeschool.

Ja’Neer Garrus (pictured above with her family) took her oldest son, Ryan, now 8, out of a local Christian preschool within the first month to homeschool. She now also homeschools her other son, Azariah, 5, and will her daughter, Hillary, 3.

Ja’Neer Garrus (pictured above with her family) took her oldest son, Ryan, now 8, out of a local Christian preschool within the first month to homeschool. She now also homeschools her other son, Azariah, 5, and will her daughter, Hillary, 3.

For the state-required check-ins, Garrus chose a Christian umbrella organization, the Conowingo Rising Sun Christian School. The GBC Homeschoolers group acts as a place for socializing and enrichment activities with other families who share their Christian values. Homeschooling has helped in embracing and teaching those values, Garrus says. As a family, they can do things like read the Bible, pray and talk about current events through the lens of their faith.

“I do hope to [homeschool] for the long term,” she said. “I’ve seen [my children] grow academically and as people.”

Outside of religious reasons, there is a growing group of families choosing “un-schooling” — a nontraditional education approach that emphasizes the child’s interests and de-emphasizes structured lessons. This is what Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton, both Baltimore born and raised, use for their son, Kendi, 8. They just sort of fell into homeschooling, Simmons said. Braxton works in Washington, D.C., and Simmons was staying home with Kendi when he was young, as well as providing home daycare for friends.

While staying home with Kendi and the other kids, Simmons was providing early education along with play. They enrolled Kendi in kindergarten but found he was ahead of many of his classmates, both academically and physically. Kendi, now 8, is the size of a healthy 12-year-old, his doctor has told Simmons. It provided unique challenges in identifying with his peer group and also with teachers thinking he was older than he was. The schedule, too, was proving to be hard on the family.

“It took maybe three months before we realized it didn’t work for us,” she said.

So, Simmons brought him home. She uses the state education standards as her guide but takes a more un-schooling approach overall. She ensures that he covers all the ground he needs to for the grade level he’s in — currently, most of Kendi’s academic work is about a fifth-grade level — but otherwise  allows his interests to direct his learning.

She and her husband have also appreciated that homeschooling gives them the opportunity to talk to their son about current events in the world — including recent racial violence and tensions — and address any questions he may have in their own terms.

So far, it’s been working well, and Simmons will likely also homeschool her youngest son, Aman, who turned 1 in May.

Whatever the reason for each family, homeschooling has been on a fairly steady rise since the Department of Education started keeping track of homeschooled kids in the ’90s. Cox, Simmons and Garrus all felt Maryland had done a good job of balancing the state’s desire for regulation with parents’ desire to dictate the education of their children. As it hits the mainstream, more families are opting for the flexibility and control over what their children are learning.

Homeschooling, it seems, is just hitting its stride.

The Jewel of Mount Washington

Athena Hoffberger (left) and Julie Lilienfeld started Wishbone Reserve in 2014 after the two entrepreneurs met and shared their vision  of opening a consignment store with unique, well-made merchandise. (Daniel Schere)

Athena Hoffberger (left) and Julie Lilienfeld started Wishbone Reserve in 2014 after the two entrepreneurs met and shared their vision of opening a consignment store with unique, well-made merchandise. (Daniel Schere)

The vast selection of oriental rugs, vintage dresses, crafts and even a moose’s head that adorn Wishbone Reserve in Mount Washington are enough to give even the casual customer a topic of conversation for the dinner table. But it is co-owners Julie Lilienfeld, 33, and Athena Hoffberger, 37, who turned a conversation three years ago into a life’s ambition.

The seeds of the consignment shop at 5730 Falls Road, were born in 2013 when Lilienfeld, with the purpose of buying a bar cart, walked into a store Hoffberger was managing and the two clicked instantly.

“We both wanted to be small business owners,” Lilienfeld said. “I had a background in antiques and jewelry, so I needed that person, which was Athena, to kind of foster that.”

As it turns out, the women’s families had crossed paths before when Lilienfeld’s parents bought the house in which Hoffberger had grown up.

“My mother had met Julie and had thought so kindly of her through the sale of the house, so we sort of put two and two together and I knew that she was  a peer who was really passionate about antiques, etc. …” Hoffberger said. “And it’s more unusual to find someone in our age group who has that interest and who’s had that life experience.”

When she was ready, Lilienfeld was the first and only person she thought of. “I called her, we met for coffee, and the rest is history.”

Lilienfeld is no stranger to the antiques profession, having worked with several family members in the auction business going back to her teenage years.

“I always loved jewelry, so I was in charge of that department for a long (time,” she said. “It’s just an interest that I’ve always had. I don’t know anything different. So this is just a continuum of something I’ve always done.”

(Daniel Schere)

(Daniel Schere)

Hoffberger, the daughter of American Visionary Art Museum founder and  director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, credits her parents as the driving force behind her creative spirit.

“My parents are pretty amazing people,” she said. “They were pretty influential in what they exposed us to at a very young age with art and culture and the importance of human rights.”

Hoffberger and Lilienfeld both grew up attending Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, although they didn’t know each other at the time. Lilienfeld studied art history at Towson University while Hoffberger took a slightly different path in finding her niche, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York for a time.

“I loved Shakespeare, that was my big draw, and then I realized I was way too sensitive for that industry, so that was the end of the acting bug,” she said.

Lilienfeld and Hoffberger don’t shy away from talking to their customers or sharing laughs, and based on the gregarious nature of the way they interact, you would think they had known each other from birth. But perhaps the gabbing is a testament to the sister-like but professional relationship they have as business partners.

“I don’t think this could have happened without us putting all of ourselves into it,” Lilienfeld said. “All of our body, all of our spirit.”

Wishbone Reserve, in many ways, as Lilienfeld explains, is the final product of their belief that authentic, handmade merchandise is what people truly want when they go shopping.

“I knew I wanted to have a vintage store and I love nice things, and I can’t stand elitism,” she said. “So I sort of had this vision of something loosely represented here that was very global with well-made items with really  approachable price points. So Wishbone for me was about tradition and things that are passed along. And the craftsmanship of things used to be so superior to what’s produced today. So the process sort of has that sense of hopefulness and looking forward to the future.”

The best way to describe the merchandise of Wishbone Reserve might be “a little bit of everything.” Hoffberger said they now have 150 consigners and have even sold repurposed microscopes that middle school students made recently in Arbutus.

“I think a big thing that sets us apart in this industry is how hands-on and caring we are in this industry,” she said. “We love hearing the life stories about what was happening on these different adventures when they were cultivating objects and really trying to treat them with the utmost respect, whereas a lot of people in this business are just profit-oriented.”

Since the store’s opening in late 2014, word about the store has been getting around with only the benefit of free advertising on social media.

“We promised ourselves that we wouldn’t pay for any advertising for at least a year, so it’s been all word of mouth,” Hoffberger said. “For that I feel very proud that we’ve been able to not only meet our bottom line, we’ve increased sales a little bit every month.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Movers and Shapers

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger (Courtesy of the American Visionary Arts Museum)

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger (Courtesy of the American Visionary Arts Museum)

Baltimore has long been celebrated for its thriving arts scene, but far less commonly honored are those behind the scenes: the directors, curators and coordinators responsible for bringing the art to life. Though not sharing as directly in the glamour and glory of shows as artists or performers, their impact is arguably more immediate in the shaping of Baltimore’s artistic landscape.

Three such tastemakers are Johanna Gruenhut, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger and Amanda Kodeck, Jewish women who bring both considerable talent and a unique perspective to three of the city’s major arts  organizations.

“I always come from a place of being a Jewish woman,” said Gruenhut, artistic associate at the Everyman Theatre. “In ‘The Roommate’ by Jen Silverman, which I will be directing in the fall, one of the characters goes through a period of mourning and rebirth. The text says she slept for a week, and I remember immediately thinking of shiva. I’ve had that experience — both cocooning yourself and waking up from that moment of quietude.”

Identity plays a large part in shaping all of Gruenhut’s work at Everyman, including her status as a woman in the arts. She currently helms the theater’s inaugural salon series, ‘Women’s Voices in American Theatre,’ which focuses on female playwrights and female directors.

“I was raised in a modern Orthodox home, and I went to Jewish school, but I’m also a wife and a mother of three,” she said. “All the little bits that make up your life shape the way you experience art.”

A former off-Broadway actress, Gruenhut moved to Baltimore seven years ago and hopes to infuse the city with her distinct viewpoint.

Johanna Gruenhut (Gail Hadani)

Johanna Gruenhut (Gail Hadani)

“It’s really nice to have an artistic home at Everyman,” she said. “It’s important to me to make art in the place where I live because I want the cultural landscape of my city to resonate with my life.”

Art historian Amanda Kodeck too plays a considerable part in shaping the arts in Baltimore. As the Ruth R. Marder director of education and public programs at the Walters Art Museum, Kodeck is responsible for bringing art to the community in a meaningful way.

“We want to change the way that people feel they can use the museum,” she said. “We want it to be seen as somewhere that members of the community can not only learn about history but can hang out, have fun and be creative.”

For Kodeck, who started at the Walters as an intern during graduate school, that means working with a talented team of teachers to come up with the best ways to communicate the museum’s message.

“When I first started, the most rewarding part of my job was seeing the children’s faces light up when they truly understood a concept or connected with the art. And while fostering that connection is still something that really resonates with me, I now consider building a team of educators who are so smart and so passionate as the greatest reward.”

That connection to people is equally important to Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, the founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum.

 Amanda Kodeck (Walters Art Museum)

Amanda Kodeck (Walters Art Museum)

“I have to say that I’m not interested in the arts, per se, at all,” Hoffberger said. “Instead, I’m interested in fresh thoughts. My passion is for people who evolve, who are understanding of and better our life with creative acts of social justice, with scientific and medical breakthroughs and works of art that deepen our understanding of our humanity.”

Her eye for such innovations often draws upon interpretations of traditional teachings, including her own faith and culture.

“I always joke that in every exhibition that I’ve curated I do ‘Torah by stealth,” she said. “I’ve done exhibitions that are directly inspired by teachings like the Pirkei Avot, but I also did a show with Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu and Rosie O’Donnell called ‘Race, Class & Gender: Three things that contribute zero to character, because being a schmuck is an equal opportunity for everyone!’”

Hoffberger says that this combination of “humor and wisdom” is essential in bringing the beauty of different traditions to the forefront.

“There are so many perspectives worthy of being shared,” she said. “We have to do what we can to bring them out.”

kuslin@midatlanticmedia.com

Yoga, Flexible In More Ways Than One

Alyson Greenberg (Provided)

Alyson Greenberg (Provided)

For Alyson Greenberg, who suffers from scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine, yoga isn’t just a form of exercise, it’s become an alternative to surgery.

“I had lower back pain and wanted to do something about it besides medicine. Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you try yoga?’” Greenberg said.

After her first class, it wasn’t long before she was hooked; that was in 2011. Several years later, she has more than 200 hours logged as a registered  instructor and no longer suffers from back pain.

The practice of yoga, which originated from India, can play different roles in a person’s life depending on one’s situation. For Greenberg, it was a medicinal purpose, for Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen, at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, it’s just a part of staying healthy.

“I’m not a sports person, [and] I was looking for something that I could do that was physical and healthy but not competitive and sports-oriented,” said Sachs-Kohen, who has practiced yoga for 10 years.

Sachs-Kohen was most interested in the focus on breathing. When her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer eight years ago, she helped organize a yoga marathon for Free to Breathe, a nonprofit organization of lung cancer survivors, advocates, researchers, health care professionals and industry leaders who host a variety of fundraisers to help find a cure.

“I love the concentration on breath that is a part of yoga practice,” Sachs-Kohen said. “I think we live in a loud and chaotic world, and it can be very helpful for me.”

You can be a  beginner or an  advanced practitioner. As long as you come  with an open mind and willingness to try  something new, it can be scaled to your level.” — Alyson Greenberg, instructor at M. Power Yoga

 

While the physical benefits of yoga range from activating one’s metabolism, assisting digestion and increasing flexibility, some practitioners, such as Edith Raphael Brotman, embrace it for its spirituality.

“One of the benefits of yoga is that it allows you to access parts of your life through the body that you don’t normally have access to,” said Brotman, author of “Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul.”

For Brotman, who practices at Yoga Works in Pikesville and Towson, yoga has become a way to stay more mindful of her own behavior and actions. She said yoga in general can help one be more aware, but with Mussar yoga, “you’re turning that microscope to a particular [action]. What specifically do I want to be alert to?”

She compared the moments of rest at the end of a yoga class to the concept of Shabbat.

“One of the projects [that I’m] developing is a Shabbat program for people who are not Orthodox or don’t observe Shabbat in a traditional way,” Brotman said. “We’re trying to create our own coven-antal experience of Shabbat.”

Brotman added that while yoga can be spiritual, it’s not a religion of its own. She cited a founder of modern yoga, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, more commonly known as B.K.S. Iyengar, who said yoga is a philosophy and encouraged students to use it to study their own religion more profoundly.

Greenberg, who teaches yoga at M. Power Yoga in Baltimore, hears people claim they can’t do yoga because they lack flexibility, but they are perfect candidates to try it. She said yoga is a practice, and people shouldn’t be put off by pictures seen on social media.

“You can be a beginner or an advanced practitioner,” said Greenberg. “As long as you come with an open mind and willingness to try something new, it can be scaled to your level.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Zika Virus Sparks Conversation About Pre- and Neo-Natal Health

Mollie Churchill and Zeke (Heartlove Photography)

Mollie Churchill and Zeke (Heartlove Photography)

Earlier this year, the international media erupted with reports of a worldwide outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. First found primarily in South America, the virus has since been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization, with confirmed cases in more than 35 countries, with 17 in Maryland as of press time.

Zika’s growing prevalence has sparked conversation about disease prevention, particularly among women. While Zika disease is minor for most, causing only fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis, the virus can have devastating effects on pregnant women. Infection may cause birth defects such as hearing loss, impaired growth and most significantly microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s brain does not develop correctly, causing his or her head to be smaller than normal.

“What the Centers for Disease Control is predicting is that as people start traveling more in the summertime, the virus might become more prevalent in the United States,” said Dr. Alison Falck of the University of Maryland Medical System. “The main recommendation at this point is to avoid travel if you are considering becoming pregnant.”

It should also be noted that Zika can also be sexually transmitted, but it is as yet indeterminate whether the virus can be passed from contact, such as the common cold.

For some local moms, fear of infection has been an unexpected consideration.

Dr. Carla Weisman (LifeBridge Health)

Dr. Carla Weisman (LifeBridge Health)

“I’m not worried about my son [contracting the virus],” said Mollie Churchill, whose child, Zeke, is a year and a half. “But how it could play out in any subsequent pregnancies is certainly a question for me. I’m not pregnant right now, but I do have concerns. If I was planning to become pregnant, for example, I’d probably be more conscious of using insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants, as well as be more careful where I’m sitting outside.”

For others, the Zika scare brings back memories of other concerns during pregnancy.

Some of the diseases that had been abolished are coming back because people aren’t being vaccinated. We ask that people really understand the risks before making the decision not to vaccinate their children.” —Dr. Alison Falck,  University of Maryland Medical System

 

“I wasn’t worried about Zika because it hadn’t been an issue then, but I was really nervous about chicken pox,” said Mandee Heinl, mother of two toddlers. “Because it’s a disease that a baby can contract in-utero, they test you while you’re pregnant to see if you’re immune — and I wasn’t. I was really nuts about it.”

In fact, there are all sorts of infections a fetus can contract during pregnancy. According  to Dr. Falck, infections like  cytomegalovirus (CMV) are virtually everywhere in our environment — though there’s no need to panic.

“The best way to look out for these infections is to make sure you have great prenatal care and surveillance,” said Dr. Falck. “CMV, for example, can be detected if the baby isn’t growing very well.”

Dr. Carla Weisman of LifeBridge Health concurred, adding that prenatal testing is incredibly important, particularly for members of the Jewish community. Though actual prevention is often impossible, as with genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs and the ‘Jewish Panel,’ evaluation and testing even before pregnancy can be very effective.

Dr. Alison Falck (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

Dr. Alison Falck (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

“Screening for genetic diseases can avoid unnecessary risk,” she said. “If you are a carrier, your partner can be tested, and we can refer you to a genetic specialist if need be. Regular visits to make sure weight, alcohol intake, blood pressure and other factors are in control before conception can also make a considerable difference.”

Of course, mothers-to-be take their own precautions during pregnancy, too. Both Churchill and Heinl were sure to take prenatal vitamins, stay active and be aware of the  effects of certain foods — though Heinl admitted to loosening her strict regime during her second pregnancy.

What the Centers for Disease Control is predicting is that as people start traveling more in the summertime, the virus might  become more prevalent in the United States.”  — Dr. Alison Falck, University of Maryland Medical System

 

“With my first, I didn’t eat lunch meat because I heard there could be bacteria, but with the second pregnancy I had no problem with it. I wasn’t going to go get a turkey sandwich from a gas station, but I definitely relaxed.”

For Mandee Heinl, her family lives “as healthily and cleanly as we can.” (Sarah Schwartz, Evie Claire Photography)

For Mandee Heinl, her family lives “as healthily and cleanly as we can.” (Sarah Schwartz, Evie Claire Photography)

As for keeping kids safe post-pregnancy, the doctors  assured that it was largely common sense — washing hands and surfaces frequently, keeping children away from those with evident illness or infection and avoiding crowds for the first few weeks while the infant’s immune system is weak.

Dr. Falck stressed, too, the importance of following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for vaccinations.

“Some of the diseases that had been abolished are coming back because people aren’t being vaccinated,” she said. “We ask that people really understand the risks before making the decision not to vaccinate their children.”

Otherwise, the health of both parents and their children is a matter of simply doing one’s best.

As Heinl said, “sometimes illness is unavoidable, but we try to live as healthily and cleanly as we can.”

kuslin@midatlanticmedia.com

Money, Social Media, Memories Rule Matrimony Trends

(©iStockphoto.com/SStajic)

(©iStockphoto.com/SStajic)

A wedding is one of the most important days of a person’s life. And like many other things today, the hottest trends in weddings are dominated by technology and its ability to capture the moment and how to keep costs down to avoid many of dreaded bills that can follow.

“I think that with the internet, people see what’s out there more,” said Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director of Innovative Party Planners, an Owings Mills-based special events planning company. “They aren’t just opening a magazine. Now you see all these crazy [options for] lighting, draping, flowers, caterers. … You can get carried away.”

In addition, celebrity nuptials and their planners have plastered social media with only the finest shots of their special days. This means for most people who roam their favorite A-lister’s Pinterest page, they are in awe of the beautiful photos — but not so much by the price tag.

“We have a budget conversation with anyone who is charge of contributing money,” said Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi, a Towson-based full-service event planning company. “We tell them, ‘If this is the look you like, this is the cost. If this is the band you like, this is what it costs.’ Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you have to have it up front and get it over with.”

Hiller echoed Venditto’s comments and added that few of her clients have a realistic budget in mind when they first approach her about planning their wedding. Despite how costly photographers can be, Hiller said photography is one of the first things she thinks about when it comes to trends.

Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you  have to have it up front  and get it over with.”  — Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi

 

“Who brides pick as a photographer is a huge a decision for them,” said Hiller who explained that people no longer want posed photographs in front of solid-colored backgrounds. Instead many couples are looking for “wedding moments,” where photographers capture the small, intimate interactions between the couple and their guests that made their special day just a little bit more memorable.

Some couples let their guests compile photos for them.

“A lot of people are using hashtags for their weddings and [putting them] on print materials like invitations or menus,” said Sandy Sanders, who works for Mount Vernon-based Feats, an educational, social and corporate event production company. After the event, the couple can use the hashtags as a tool to find all the moments their guests captured throughout the day.

Then there is the complete opposite approach. Some couples ask their guests to enjoy the moment for what it is, which means cellphones should be turned off or left in the car.

“Some people don’t want their wedding all over Facebook,” said Hiller.

While it might fly in the face of the incessantly social, technology-obsessed millennial, there is also a practicality to asking guests to leave photography to the professionals. It’s not uncommon for an overeager photo-taking guest to ruin a professional’s perfect shot simply by getting in the way.

The Knot, a website that surveys brides and grooms every year on the cost of their weddings, found that Baltimore and Washington, D.C., wedding photographers on  average charge between $2,500 and $3,000 per event.

“Intimate” is a trend that extends beyond the photographer. Venditto said she encourages couples to “take the time to write a personal note or a memory they have” with each guest as a way to make large-scale weddings feel more personal.

Regardless of all the small details and how they come  together, Hiller said the key to a wedding is “it’s not about what goes wrong, it’s how you deal with it.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Saying Yes to the Dress and more

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(©istockphoto.com/ONimages)

(©istockphoto.com/ONimages)

Before the “to have and to hold,” there is usually the “to plan and to chart.” Planning a wedding is no easy task, and what’s popular can change as quickly as your Pinterest board.

Thankfully, there are a few current trends to provide some wedding guidance. The one overarching theme: vintage. Traditional, classic looks and ideas are back in style. So, moms, dust off that old wedding dress for your daughters — it might be exactly what she’s looking for.

Everyone already knows that it can be a lengthy process in finding the perfect wedding dress (unless it’s Mother’s Vintage), but there’s another type of dress that requires time and effort — the mothers’ dresses. The mothers of both bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) are important parts of any wedding, and they don’t have it quite as easy the fathers, who are putting on their best suit or renting a tux.

Jan’s Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J., specializes in exactly this type  of dress. It has an inventory of more than 10,000 dresses in sizes 000 to 34, making it a hub for people in the surrounding areas, including  Baltimore.

When it comes to mothers’ dresses, classic and sophisticated is the name of the game in recent years, said Paul Virilli, one of Jan’s owners. “We’re seeing a lot more [dresses] that are clean — no rhinestones, no embellishments,” he said.

People frequently underestimate the amount of time it takes to get a dress. It’s likely the store will have the exact style with the exact color with the exact size, so there needs to be plenty of time to order and have any alterations made.

Virilli’s best advice? “It’s never too early to start shopping.”

The throwback to the classics is true not only with dresses, but also with catering.

“People are going back to traditional, which is so interesting,” said Nancy Sachs, the director of catering for Simply Elegant in Pikesville. “If you stay in the business long enough, you see things come back around.”

More couples are renting vintage furniture, such as old farm tables or purposefully worn-looking chairs, and serving from them.

In terms of food, food stations are very popular, Sachs said. This could include anything from a raw bar or mac-and-cheese bar to a mini-station (with mini-sirloin and Portobello burgers) to a coffee station.

Candy stations, often collected in a brightly colored piece of vintage furniture, make for a live uniqueness to a lot of spaces, Sachs said. Couples are looking to put their own signature on a venue and the wedding itself, she added.

“Most of the time these days, it’s really the bride and groom driving the train,” she said, as opposed to previous years when it was often parents who had a lot of say.

When it comes to choosing the venue, there are many  options. Outdoor weddings, or those hosted in large barns, are very popular among couples. Bars, hotels and country clubs offer other popular choices.

A growing trend, however, is choosing places for those events leading up to the wedding such as engagement parties, bridal showers, the pre-wedding hair and makeup for the bride and bridesmaids and “first-look” photography.

Lisa Gardner, director of sales and marketing at the  recently opened Ivy Hotel in Baltimore, said she’s seen a number of brides use the Ivy for the pre-wedding getting ready, since it includes a  spacious spa.

Additionally, “first-look” photography — when the groom sees the bride for the first time — is definitely on the increase, Gardner said, with numerous couples using the Ivy’s location for that moment.

Planning a wedding is stressful, but keeping in mind some of the recent trends can take some of the burden off in idea-generating, making it easier to get from the “to plan and to chart” stage to the final desired “to have and to hold.”