Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Greater Baltimore/Washington area events

Feb. 4 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
•  Inclusion Works: Guiding the Way to an Inclusive Community at Weinberg Park Heights JCC; Shelly Christensen, founder/executive director of Inclusion Innovations and co-founder of JDAM, will facilitate; Stan Goldman will be the featured speaker.
• For information, contact Renee Dain at 410-369-9235 or; for registration, visit

Feb. 6 at 8:30 a.m.
• Jewish Disability Day on Capitol Hill.
• For information, contact

Feb 7 at 6:15 p.m.
• Even Moses Needed a Voice: Jewish Community Inclusion of People with Disabilities at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation; Shelly Christensen, founder and executive director of Inclusion Innovations and co-founder of JDAM, will be the featured speaker.
• For information, visit

Feb 8 at 10 a.m.
• Lighting the Way: Inclusion Within Our Community at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation; Shelly Christensen, founder and executive director of Inclusion Innovations and co-founder of JDAM, will be the featured speaker.
• For information, visit

Feb. 9 at 10 a.m.
• Rethinking Dyslexia: The Big Picture; a film at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC presented by the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance and Shemesh.
• For information and registration, contact or 410-843-7588.

Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
• Center for Jewish Education at Weinberg Park Heights JCC will host JDAM Reads, a book club focusing on a title chosen by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium.
• For more information, contact or 410-735-5022.

Feb. 22, call for time
• Adat Shalom in Bethesda will feature Liz Weintraub, self-advocacy project specialist at the Association of University Centers on Disability.
• For information, contact or 301-767-3333.

Feb.18 at noon
• will feature a webinar about inclusion in businesses and organizations.
• For information, visit

Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
• Jewish Disability Awareness Month Shabbat; Lise Hamlin, director of public policy, Hearing Loss Association of America, will be the featured speaker.
• For information, visit

For information on programs as they are added throughout Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, go to or

Website to Bring Sacred Writings Together

013114_mosaic2It’s increasingly easy to access a Jewish text online or read a commentary on a smartphone. But what if you’re curious about what Christian tradition says about a particular Jewish concept? Or what if a Muslim wants to know the biblical source of a verse in the Quran?

Mosaicverse, an online project in development by two area Jews, aims to interconnect texts and commentaries from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions and create social space for users to discuss them.

“Sacred writings didn’t develop in isolation from each other but in conversation with each other,” said Rabbi Doug Heifetz of Oseh Shalom in Laurel, Md., who founded Mosaicverse with Baltimore native George Wielechowski. They want to re-create that conversation “so people can grow in faith and wisdom together.”

The pair’s approach is ecumenical and liberal.

“There’s a dearth of resources for pluralistic scriptural exploration by theme, by character, by keyword,” said Wielechowski, a fifth-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and communications director for the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore.

Mosaicverse, which has not gone live, has received 13,000 likes on Facebook. Heifetz and Wielechowski are building the technology to run the site and are gathering a team of experts representing the three monotheistic religions. The two spent a year researching open-source texts to which the site can link.

They’re also raising funds from philanthropists and entrepreneurs.

“It takes time to find angels who have a passion for advancing the interreligious community,” said Wielechowski.

Through crowd funding, they’ve raised about $5,000 toward a $12,000 goal. Heifetz said Mosaicverse has a potential market of $67 million, from advertising, affiliate marketing, subscription fees and other revenue streams.

A sample Web page illustrates how a search for a word, phrase, name, event or idea can lead to a discussion with other users. The page shows the results of a search for “Jacob wrestling with the angel” — not a term that the Torah uses, Wielechowski pointed out. “It’s a trope, something that our culture has created in our minds.”

Mosaicverse provides the biblical text, in this case Genesis 32:24-27. Click on a verse, and a page opens that includes related texts from Muslim and Christian sources.

Heifetz and Wielechowski want the site to be approachable to the lay visitor.

“People are intimidated by scripture, so we added a layer of commentary from folks we know who have had uncommon success” writing for lay audiences, including Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, and former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said Wielechowski.

Finally, the site features a social component: study groups and a “human-powered knowledge base” built by user comments.

013114_mosaicHeifetz said there are advantages to learning about traditions other than one’s own.

“We see our own religious traditions much better by seeing how they’re reflected in other faiths,” he said.

Take the story of the binding of Isaac — Genesis 22:1-19 — in which God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son and the patriarch obeys, an event that has puzzled and disturbed Jews through the ages.

“In the Jewish reading of the story, Abraham seems so painfully obedient,” said Heifetz.

The Quran tells the story too. But in reading the Muslim version, Heifetz pointed out, “our Abraham seems hesitant in comparison. His tension becomes more clear.”

Wielechowski said he would like to see religious texts become more like common property than the sole possession of a single faith.

“The barriers between faiths are conventions, like most barriers we build — barriers between religious and secular and between religious faiths,” he said. “Hopefully there will be a day when it’s just called wisdom.”

Medical Marijuana Laws for Maryland’s Neighbors

Delaware: The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act took effect on July 1, 2012, allowing doctors to authorize marijuana use for patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, the physical manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder and conditions that cause severe, debilitating pain, wasting syndrome, intractable nausea and seizures. The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services began fielding proposals to open a pilot nonprofit “compassion center” in late 2013 and will issue a permit to a compassion center to begin growing medical marijuana on July 1, 2014. The center will be allowed to cultivate up to 150 marijuana plants and keep up to 1,500 ounces of marijuana on premises. The law allows each county to operate one compassion center, and patients will be allowed to possess up to six ounces of marijuana purchased from a center at a time.

New Jersey: Physicians must register with the state’s medical marijuana program. They can recommend medical marijuana to patients they’ve seen at least four times and for at least a year who are suffering from cancer, glaucoma, seizures and spasticity disorders including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease and any terminal disease with a prognosis of less than 12 months of life. Three dispensaries are open, and three more are in the process of getting certified. Patients must go through an application process through the New Jersey Department of Health. Possession is limited to two ounces per month, and patients cannot grow their own marijuana.

Washington, D.C.: Patients must obtain a doctor’s recommendation and register with the city’s department of health to be eligible for medical marijuana. Patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, muscle spasticity and cancer can qualify for the program. There are three dispensaries open in the city, although the law allows for more. Patients can possess two ounces of marijuana at once and cannot grow their own.

Judaism, Israel and Medical Marijuana

Many consider Israel to be among the most progressive countries when it comes to medical marijuana. There are about 14,000 patients with medical marijuana prescriptions that they acquired from one of 20 doctors allowed to prescribe it, according to a December Haaretz report.

“I’d say Israel is an example of a country that is doing what’s right, with the government behind opening up the program,” said David Borden, executive director of, an organization working to end drug prohibition around the world. He noted that the country is also moving forward with marijuana research.

Israeli patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Tourette syndrome, other terminal illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder have been prescribed marijuana. Israel’s Health Ministry is hoping to certify 10 more doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in the first half of 2014, according to Haaretz. The number of patients is expected to grow to 40,000 by 2018, the newspaper said.

With concerns in the medical community about regulations of a drug some feel needs to be studied more, a bill was introduced that would replace distribution centers supplied by local growers, where patients currently get their marijuana, with distribution at pharmacies only, according to Haaretz.

While there is debate in the medical community, several rabbis have deemed medical marijuana “kosher,” including Orthodox Israeli Rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich in Mazkeret Batia, who said distribution and smoking for medical purposes is kosher, according to The Huffington Post.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, owner of a Washington, D.C., dispensary, said taking care of one’s health takes precedence over other Jewish laws, noting that one is not required to fast on Yom Kippur if sick.

“Relieving suffering, bringing healing to the sick — that’s an incredible mitzvah and one that counteracts and overrides many, many others,” he explained.

Some even think the plant may be mentioned in the Bible. Yosef Glassman, a Boston-area doctor, mohel and former Israel Defense Forces lieutenant, claims to have found several biblical references to cannabis.

“It does say that it was used extensively in clothes making, which makes sense because the fiber itself is very useful for fabrics,” he said.

Glassman determined that it was forbidden to be eaten on Passover by Ashkenazi Jews (the seed is a good source of protein).

“If they mentioned it can’t be used for that, it must have been used for something,” he stated.

Numerous other references point to “keneh bosem,” which translates to sweet cane, which Glassman and others think might be cannabis.

“I think the main thing that this can open for the Jewish community, maybe the community in general, is it’s not something that should be stigmatized,” he said. “I think it’s really overblown in terms of the stigma.”

Legalization, Decriminalization in Maryland

As Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Commission works on its regulations, other Maryland lawmakers are pushing for all-out legalization of the drug.

Dels. Curt Anderson and Sheila Hixson and Sen. Jamie Raskin discussed their bill to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in a news conference on Jan. 16. Gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County delegate, has also made marijuana legalization a focus of her campaign.

Fifty-three percent of Maryland voters support regulating and taxing marijuana, and 38 percent oppose it, according to a 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling.

If passed, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014 would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three of which can be mature) at home, would create a system of regulating and taxing marijuana, would allow for cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp and would direct Maryland’s comptroller to develop regulations and licensing for retailers, marijuana product makers, growers and testing facilities. The legislation also calls for recreational dispensaries in each of Maryland’s counties.

The Maryland Policy Coalition of Maryland, which supports the bill, includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches among others.

“Our experiment with marijuana prohibition has failed,” Raskin said in a statement. “We got ourselves out of alcohol prohibition by regulating and taxing the product, and we should employ the same exit strategy with marijuana. If we can regulate alcohol, we can regulate marijuana.”

Sen. Bobby Zirkin also plans to introduce a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession this session.

“You’re going to see increasing public pressure to get this done,” he said.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill that established the Maryland commission, said he supports decriminalization and legalization, in that order.

“I don’t see us legalizing,” he said. “I think what is more likely to happen this session is decriminalization, and I think legalization is something in the future.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake both have expressed their opposition to legalizing marijuana in Maryland.

Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The State of Caregivers in Baltimore’s Jewish Community

As in the greater community, Baltimore’s elderly population has grown substantially in the past decade. In fact, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study found that Jews over the age of 65 make up at least 19 percent of Baltimore’s Jewish community, an increase of 3,500 people since The Associated’s last study in 1999. In 2010, The Associated found that 3,900 seniors in the Jewish community were at least 85 years old, an increase of 160 percent from 1999. The study also reported that 40 percent of seniors who live alone in their own homes are in poor to fair health and that 22 percent of them need help with daily activities.

The State of Caregivers in the United States

A 2009 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving in the United States, in collaboration with AARP, found that in any given year, 65 million people, 29 percent of the population, are caregivers for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member.

The study shows that the typical caregiver is a 49-year-old woman (66 percent of caregivers are women) caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother. She is married and employed.

On average, caregivers spend 20 hours a week providing care. Of those who have provided care for five years or more, 23 percent reported their own health was fair to poor; a 2003 study of elderly people caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease, directed by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, showed that these caregivers had a 63 percent higher death rate than the study’s control group.

Kiecolt-Glaser’s study found four times the amount of Interleukin 6, an immune system protein, in caregivers’ blood as compared with the amounts detected in the study’s control group. According to the researcher and her team, over time, high levels of the protein are associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, viral infections, intestinal, stomach and colon disorders, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, various cancers and autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Alzheimer’s, dementia, nerve damage and mental problems — the incidence of depression is about eight times higher among caregivers — are also linked to IL-6.

Aging in Place

Most seniors prefer to remain in their own homes if at all possible. When making decisions about the practicality of this option, it is important to know that Medicare will not cover nonmedical home services. Those who have purchased long-term health insurance or have veterans benefits may be eligible for services. Keep in mind that long-term insurance must be  purchased early, before the individual is experiencing health problems.

Seniors needing in-home medical care may be eligible for Medicare Part A if the following criteria are met:

• A physician must decide the individual requires medical care at home and must make a plan for the home care.

• The individual must require at least one of the following services: intermittent skilled nursing care, physical therapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy.

• The individual must be homebound. Being homebound means that it is very difficult for the patient to leave his or her home without assistance and that he or she only goes out for short trips to doctor’s visits, haircuts,
religious services or adult day care.

• The home health-care agency from which the patient receives services must be Medicare approved.

Communal Resources for Caregivers

Jewish Community Services offers a range of services for adult children and spouses who need caregiving support and education.

Services include:
• Family consultation with clinicians with expertise in geriatrics
• Care management in which certified care managers provide comprehensive assessments focusing on medical status, cognitive function, environmental safety and emotional needs
• Counseling and therapy for seniors and family members
• Service coordination and assistance with accessing benefits
• Career services for seniors seeking employment or volunteer work
• Legal services for seniors on fixed incomes
• Services for Holocaust survivors

Taco Soup (From “Soup Night”)

(Pareve Or Meat)

2 pounds ground beef, optional
3  15-ounce cans stewed tomatoes
1  15-ounce can each of black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1  16-ounce bag frozen corn
4 celery stalks, chopped small
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 packets taco seasoning
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
2  15-ounce cans beef broth, regular or pareve
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Brown the ground beef in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Stir until thoroughly cooked, draining any fat. If leaving out meat, add 1 can petite diced tomatoes. Add any tomatoes, all the beans, corn, celery, onions, taco seasoning, garlic and chili powder and broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In bowls, place garnishes: tortilla chips, lightly crushed, sliced scallions and sliced black olives. Makes 6 to 8 servings.