All In The Family

The seven children of Rose and Isaac Resnekov, from left: Zelda (Jenny), Yetta, Abraham, Sarah, Louis, Mary and William. (Provided)

The seven children of Rose and Isaac Resnekov, from left: Zelda (Jenny), Yetta, Abraham, Sarah, Louis, Mary and William. (Provided)

It all started in 2007 with a sick dog named Fonzie.

When the Feigelson family dog had surgery in Tennessee, Baltimore resident Margy Resnick Feigelson seized the opportunity to meet her extended family in Knoxville for the first time. Feigelson, who had pored over genealogy websites to trace her family’s roots, immediately connected with her grandfather’s sister, Yetta Resnick Burnett, and her Burnett cousins. Her quest to find her extended family ignited a spark in her newfound cousin, Michael Burnett. Soon after her initial visit, he began tracking down the rest of the Resenkov/Resnick clan. Seven years later, 116 Resenkov/Resnick descendants from 10 states packed the Park Heights Jewish Community Center on Sunday, June 22 for their largest-ever family reunion.

“Driving down to Tennessee all those years ago, I never would have dreamed it would lead to a major family reunion. I started the genealogy, but Michael took over and found so many long-lost relatives,” said Feigelson. “This beautiful family began with one brave couple, my great-grandparents, restarting their lives in Baltimore. My grandfather was one of seven children. Look at how much our family has grown.”

Between 1906 and 1910, Rose and Isaac Resnekov (changed to Resnick) immigrated from Haisyn, Ukraine in search of a better life. Escaping the hardships and pogroms of Eastern Europe, they brought their six children — Zelda “Jenny,” Sarah, Abraham, William, Louis and Mary — to the United States. Their seventh and youngest child, Yetta, was born in Baltimore. Blessed with longevity, Burnett’s mother, Yetta, passed away in January at the age of 101.

Burnett’s desire to fill in the branches of her family tree grew even stronger with the loss of her mother — the last surviving child of Rose and Isaac.

“After my mother passed away, I wanted to see her whole family. All of the guests today are descendants of my mom’s parents, Rose and Issac Resnick,” said Burnett. “When I planned a Baltimore reunion, I expected 20 people to attend. I had been working on the genealogy for a long time, and I was able to contact many people. Through multiple emails, phone calls and simple word of mouth, the event grew and grew and grew. The majority of family members are meeting each other for the first time, just like I met Margy all those years ago.”

Family members flocked to Baltimore from Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland, Florida, Connecticut, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina for the lively afternoon affair. Through sips of coffee and bites of chocolate cake, they got to know each other and pieced together
how they are related. The family’s rich history was on full display at the reunion via slide shows, old photographs, immigration papers, personal letters, certificates of achievement and newspaper clips. In addition, Burnett handed out copies of the most updated Resnkov/Resnick family tree for every guest.

“One of the best features is the article on my great-great grandmother Bessie Snyder,” said Feigelson, holding up a newspaper clip on Snyder at the White House. “Everyone has a story about Bubbie Snyder. She was Rose’s mother and adored by everyone. Although we didn’t know her exact age, she lived to be 109 to 115. She even went to the White House to meet the president when she turned 100.”

Since many members of the Resnick family live in Baltimore, Burnett hopes that the relationships forged will extend far beyond last Sunday’s reunion. Before meeting each other on Sunday, some of the relatives traveled in similar circles without realizing they were related. Prior to the reunion, for example, Barbara Goldman discovered she worked with one of her cousins, Lisa Greenberg, at Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville.

“After taking a job as a para-educator at Woodholme Elementary, I ran into my cousin Rozzie Seiden at the store,” said Goldman. “She informed me that our cousin, Lisa, worked there as a guidance counselor. Unaware of the family connection, I realized I had been working for several months with a cousin of mine, and I did not even know it.”

“It was very emotional once we discovered we were cousins,” added Greenberg. “I brought in family photos of our grandparents. We had an immediate bond. It was the family bond.”

That centrality of family was the overarching theme at Sunday’s reunion.

“This reunion amazed me,” said Burnett. “I had everyone write down their contact information on clipboards. I want to keep in touch and try to find more of the family. At the end, it all comes down to the importance of family. I guess now I’ll have to come to Baltimore more often.”

Allie Freedman is an area freelance writer.

Shanghai’s Jews

The city of Shanghai was home to some 20,000 Jews in the years  during and immediately following World War II. (Provided)

The city of Shanghai was home to some 20,000 Jews in the years during and immediately following World War II. (Provided)

The Jewish refugee history of Shanghai will be the topic of choice at the eighth annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration on Sunday, May 18.

“We always think West,” said Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. “We don’t think of Jews being in Bombay or Shanghai.”

Tokayer, who spent two years living in Tokyo and leading the Jewish community east of Siberia, will be the featured presenter at the program. In the years since he returned to the United States in the 1970s, educating people about the Jewish history in Asia has been a major part of his life.

The first wave of Jewish immigration into Shanghai began in the late 1840s, when the country’s eastern coast opened to foreign traders, according to Chabad’s Shanghai Jewish Center. By 1938, the city had become a refuge for Jews escaping war-torn Europe.

“Shanghai was the pits,” said Tokayer. Penniless Jewish refugees came to the run-down metropolis by the thousands. A loophole that allowed immigrants to enter the city without a visa resulted in some 20,000 European Jews taking refuge in Shanghai from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, when the growing popularity of Communism resulted in emigration of Jews to places like Israel, Australia and the United States.

Frank Risch, who founded the program in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Maryland as a tribute in his parents’ memory, first met Tokayer when he and his wife took part in a tour of parts of Asia through the Jewish Museum. The juxtaposition of the terrible reputation of the Japanese military during World War II and the Japanese people’s willingness to take in Europe’s Jewish refugees fascinated him from the very start.

“It’s a tremendous story,” said Risch. “Most people just have no idea.”

While past programs have spread the focus to tales of immigration from all walks of life, this year’s focus is far more specific, dealing with the path of the Jews who were able to escape Europe for the East.

It’s about “how did you get here and what did you have to do to get here?” he said.

Though Risch’s family did not head east from Europe, escaping, instead, to America in 1938, he has a special fondness for this year’s program.

Risch’s own parents were members of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and his cousin, Martha Weiman, is the congregation’s current president.

“We’re very excited,” he said. Though Risch and his wife now live in Texas, they journey back to Baltimore every year from the program. This year’s, he said, promises to be especially interesting.

“We’re all descended from an immigrant experience,” he said. “Most of our knowledge as American Jews tends to focus on Eastern Europe and Western Europe and the various ways of immigration to the United States. Very few of us have been focused on the Asian experience and [Tokayer] has really made that his life’s work.”

Tokayer describes his time in Japan as a great learning experience. While anti-Semitism has been a problem woven throughout much of Jewish history, places like China, India and Japan have been all but immune to it.

The relationship between the Jewish community and the local community in most parts of Asia, he said, is a “mutually respected relationship.”

“We’re blinded by the West,” said Tokayer. But “the future is in China, India, Japan, Vietnam.”

He continued: “We have to learn from our history.”

Program Details
The Eighth Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration will take place on Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m. at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave. Admission is free.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Jewish Orgs. on Alert After Fatal Shootings in Kansas City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Protests Murderer’s Appeal

Poster for support eventApproximately 250 people from Baltimore’s Jewish community traveled by bus, car and subway train to protest the appeal trial of then 24-year-old Wayne Stephen Young, who was convicted of killing 11-year-old Esther Lebovitz in 1969.

A student of the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, she was last seen in Pikesville after being dropped off at the end of a school day at a local drugstore. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home.

The courtroom, almost stiflingly hot, was beyond capacity Thursday, with spectators filling the benches, aisles and perimeter. The lawyers in attendance were even permitted to fill the 13 juror chairs to make more room.  On the buses and in the courtroom, many people silently read from prayer books. Lebovitz’s immediate family, who moved to Israel shortly after the incident, was not in attendance.

Young, who has been denied parole 12 times, requested appeal of his conviction based on a recent ruling by Maryland’s appellate court. Known as the Unger ruling, it cites incorrect jury instructions administered in Maryland courtrooms that may have led to unfair trials. More than a dozen Maryland prisoners convicted before 1980, when the jury instructions were amended, have had their convictions retried and have been released. The state reviews these appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Now 68, gray and balding, Young was dressed in Department of Corrections issue blue shirt and pants and sat silently next to defense attorney Erika J. Suter. He seemed relaxed and appeared to be following the two lawyers’ testimony. Suter gave the opening statement requesting to reopen the conviction for a retrial based on the Unger ruling.

“It is not in the interest of justice to reopen this trial,” began assistant state prosecuting attorney Antonio Gioia, who spoke for more than 20 minutes. He read from transcripts detailing the heinous crime, including autopsy results of Lebovitz being beaten with a blunt instrument at least 17 times and sexual molestation.

Gioia also read a statement made by the officer who administered a polygraph test to Young, who had pled temporary insanity at the time of his original trial.

“I did this,” the officer testified that Young told him. “I killed that little girl.”

Frank Storch, 56, was 12 when Lebovitz was murdered. Storch, whose father was president of Bais Yaakov at the time, said of the murder that he “remembers it like it was yesterday.” He organized transportation to leave from the Seven Mile Market so that community members could show their support in the courtroom.

“In silence our community gathered,” Storch said after the hearing, “and spoke millions of words.”

Bus full of supporters wait to leave from Seven Mile MarketNeil Schachter has been president of the Northwest Citizen’s Patrol since 2000. He explained that when someone comes up for parole he is typically notified far in advance. Because Young’s appeal was not parole-based this time, Schachter heard about the hearing only days before from Abba Poliakoff, a cousin of the Lebovitz family. His organization got the word out via Facebook, websites and letters to community rabbis.

“[Poliakoff] got a phone call last week,” related Schachter. “He called me and said we need to do something. … We didn’t have much time to put this together to garner this support.”

Schachter was thankful and impressed with the number of people who came out.

“But I can tell you, if needed we could have gotten thousands of people,” he added. “We could have gotten even more than the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Rabbi Yaakov Menken was one of the throngs of people who took time off in the afternoon to attend.

“It’s important to stand as a community when something so horrible has happened that affects the entire community,” he said.

Debbie Lowenstein, from Pikesville, patiently waited in a long line outside the courthouse as each person was shuttled through security.

“I’m here because as soon as I heard that story [as a young girl] it affected me greatly … because it was so close to home,” she explained. “And any Jewish girl is like a sister – it’s like family and you think how could this happen and they cannot let this man go.”

Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hardagon did not make an immediate decision. He explained that he must review records and would issue a written statement at a later date, but acknowledged the enormous show of protest by the community when he spoke to the courtroom.

“It does not go unnoticed how many people are here,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

supporters wait for buses outside courthouseOutside the courthouse after the hearing, Dr. Bert Miller of Park Heights, a retired teacher from Bais Yaakov, said Lebovitz would have eventually been in his 11th grade class if she hadn’t been killed. He added that it wasn’t just Lebovitz that was murdered that day, but her future children and even grandchildren.

“We have a saying,” he said, “one who takes one life, kills the whole world.”

Southern Park Heights Welcomes Renaissance

The grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens brought out an enthusiastic audience. (David Stuck)

The grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens brought out an enthusiastic audience. (David Stuck)

Frigid temperatures did not deter the standing-room-only crowd that gathered to celebrate the Jan. 28 grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens, a new residential community for seniors in Southern Park Heights. Joining the approximately 200 guests were Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young and Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton as well as clergy and community leaders from both the African American and Jewish communities.

The new 60-unit income-restricted community for adults 62 years old and older is the result of a partnership between CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, and Park Heights Renaissance, Inc. The Associated also sponsored
the project.

PHR was founded about five years ago with a mandate to implement the Baltimore City Park Heights Master Plan, said Julius “Julio” Colon, the organization’s president and CEO. The plan called for the transformation of the neighborhood through land and economic development, alongside human services development.

One area of concern was the lack of safe, affordable housing for the neighborhood’s seniors. Colon’s predecessor reached out to Ken Gelula, former executive director of CHAI, to propose a joint development project that would create a new residence for the seniors of Southern Park Heights. Gelula agreed to collaborate.

“CHAI’s mission is to develop and support thriving, stable communities in neighborhoods with a substantial Jewish population,” said CHAI’s current executive director, Mitch Posner. “Although Southern Park Heights doesn’t have a significant Jewish population, it is important to CHAI that our neighboring communities are also stable and thriving.”

Renaissance Gardens, which is 80 percent occupied, is built on a site once known as The Ranch that was widely known for the drug trade and gun-related crime. The new building has 60 one-bedroom units, multiple common spaces and amenities such as a beauty parlor, wellness suite, library/computer room and game room and a part-time social services coordinator. Residents are also eligible to receive services through partner organizations LifeBridge Heath
Network, the Park West Health System, the Zeta Center for Healthy Aging and the Delta Center.

Ellen Jarrett, CHAI’s director of housing and planning and development, led the project, acquiring the property, overseeing every phase of development, working with architects and contractors, obtaining permits and closing the finances with lenders. She also submitted funding applications that reaped approximately $9 million in grants to pay for the project.

“We made a business decision to help other small developers in adjacent communities,” said Jarrett, who echoed Posner’s philosophy about the need to help surrounding neighborhoods flourish.

Jarrett explained that if other developers see CHAI and PHR building in Southern Park Heights, they may be encouraged to build there as well. With new building, she said, will come positive change in the neighborhood.

Each of the 12 speakers at the grand opening referenced the important role that collaboration played in the success of the project. While many agencies were involved, it was the partnership between the Jewish and African-American communities that loomed large in the minds of officials.

“The Associated is proud to be a sponsor,” said Howard E. Friedman, the federation’s chairman of the board. “Renaissance Gardens beautifully illustrates our commitment to making a difference in the world … that we value innovation; and perhaps most importantly, this project reflects the value of collaboration and partnership between two communities and between CHAI and Park Heights Renaissance. It is my fervent hope that this will be the first of many partnerships in Park Heights.”

Both Rev. Glenna Huber of the Church of the Holy Nativity and Rabbi Moshe Hauer, leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob Shaarei Zion, gave blessings for the occasion. Huber blessed the “house and its residents,” and Hauer spoke about the need for the Jewish and African-American communities to continue to come together.

“God didn’t create a whole number of people. He created one man and one woman — Adam and Eve,” said the rabbi. “We ultimately share the same father and mother, so we are brothers and sisters.”

“I think there is a perception that the two communities can’t come to an understanding,” said Colon. “It’s a false interpretation. But in order to enter into an arrangement, there must be mutual respect of each other’s cultures. When I was hired, I was asked to cross that invisible line of Northern Parkway, and we’ve been doing that.”

“It’s been a pretty good honeymoon; now we’re into the marriage,” he continued. “No hiccups so far. With this project, both communities attempted to say, ‘We can live together, we can work together, and we can do business together.’ ”

While this is the largest collaboration between Southern and Northern Park Heights, it is not the first, stated Posner. “Last year, [PHR] opened a new food pantry right around the time when we do the [Passover] chametz-burning. So we alerted people and asked them to bring food they were giving away. People did it, and we helped to stock the shelves of the food pantry.”

Rawlings-Blake also struck an upbeat tone.

“I am so excited to be here,” said the mayor. “This community deserves a renaissance, and it is having a renaissance.”

Perhaps the most moving message of all came from Renaissance Garden’s first resident, Bernard Wells: “I’ve been in a few buildings but none can compete with this one. This is the Taj Mahal!”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

24 Hours Under The Radar

[slideshow id=”24 Hours Under The Radar”]

On Nov. 21, 2013, the staff of the Baltimore Jewish Times sought out, photographed and engaged with Jewish Baltimore. Twenty-four hours. Three teams. One city. An impressive and diverse cross section of the area’s Jewish people.

What comprises Jewish Baltimore? A lot of very different people, places, traditions and organizations, to be sure.

“24 Hours Under the Radar” is a glimpse into the ordinary — and therefore, extraordinary — behind-the-scenes lives of Jewish Baltimoreans. These are people who infuse some of the Jewish into Jewish Baltimore because of what they do, how they act, what they believe and, in some cases, simply because they’re Jewish. And each adds to the unique flavor of the city.

The following profiles are just a glimpse into that deep well of Jewish identity, culture and pride found here in Baltimore.

There is much more to uncover.

Read the, “Reporter’s Blog” by Melissa Gerr. >>

Photographers: David Stuck, Melissa Gerr, Marc Shapiro
Writers: Simone Ellin, Melissa Gerr, Maayan Jaffe, Heather Norris, Marc Shapiro

Health Fix

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the O’Malley administration is moving  forward with all hands on deck to fix the state’s health-care website  and enroll more Marylanders in insurance plans. (Marc Shapiro)

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the O’Malley administration is moving forward with all hands on deck to fix the state’s health-care website and enroll more Marylanders in insurance plans. (Marc Shapiro)

State officials say fixing Maryland’s flawed heath-care website and increasing enrollment is their No. 1 priority.

“I am frustrated and disappointed with how the launch of the website has gone,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said at a recent news conference.

He and Gov. Martin O’Malley announced a variety of steps Monday to boost enrollment and fix the site. Brown also promised an investigation into what went wrong with the site launch “once the exchange is running at full capacity.”

“The decision to launch was a good one notwithstanding that the launch was not a success,” Brown said.

O’Malley and Brown announced Tuesday that the deadline for Marylanders to enroll in health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act in order to have coverage on Jan. 1 has been extended to Dec. 27. Open enrollment lasts until March 31, 2014.

Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the governor’s Office of Health Care Reform, was named interim director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE). Her appointment comes after Rebecca Pearce resigned on Dec. 6; she was facing questions about taking a vacation to the Cayman Islands while there were technical issues with the website.

Two other states, Hawaii and Oregon, have had to replace their state exchange heads amid technical issues.

The MHBE brought in Columbia-based Optum/QSSI, a health-care IT company and general contractor that the government hired to improve HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange.

Isabel FitzGerald, secretary of the Maryland Department of Information Technology, is leading the IT effort and has since addressed nine technical issues O’Malley outlined in time for the mid-December deadline the governor promised.

At a news conference on Dec. 10, Brown reported that nearly 22,000 Maryland residents were on track to obtain coverage, 5,200 having enrolled in private insurance plans and 17,000 in Medicaid. That week, the state experienced its highest enrollment numbers, with 1,400 private insurance enrollments and 3,200 Medicaid enrollments.

The first weekend in December, the exchange converted 87,000 people enrolled in the state’s Primary Adult Care program for low-income uninsured adults without children to Medicaid.

Brown said the state’s original goal of enrolling 150,000 people in private insurance plans by the March deadline remains. Maryland’s uninsured population is estimated to be 800,000 people, about 14 percent of its 5.8 million residents.

Larry Burgee, chair and associate professor at Stevenson University’s Department of Information Systems, said regardless of the technical issues and fixes, people have lost trust in the website.

“People are worried they’re going to put all this personal information in and it’s going to get lost in the vacuum somewhere,” he said. “If you don’t establish trust up front … people are going to run for the hills and run for the competition, and unfortunately here, there’s no competition.”

Laslo Boyd, managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors and a political columnist, said the technical glitches, while disheartening to those seeking insurance, might not permanently turn people off.

“People who are discouraged [now] but discover the website is working easily have every incentive to come back to it,” he said.

To increase enrollment, Brown announced additional call center hours and outreach to those who have begun the application process but not completed it through emails, regular mail and robocalls, in addition to the December deadline extension.

Burgee said the push now needs to be on a non-political marketing effort, as well as addressing the technical issues.

“You’ve got to get people to buy back into it,” Burgee said. “Everybody keeps being told that all the stuff is going to be better, and yet, you had a lot of people who weren’t complaining about [insurance] they had.”

The extra resources follow a variety of issues that preceded and followed the launch.

Two carriers, Aetna and a subsidiary, Coventry Health, withdrew from the exchange in August when rates were set to be lower than what Aetna requested.

When the site launched on Oct. 1, Marylanders looking to sign up for insurance found a slow website, had trouble enrolling in plans and were dismayed at the amount of personal information they had to enter in order to get quotes.

Brown said he had indications that there would be problems with volume, as well as unique cases such as Native American families and larger families seeking insurance, but those problems were “nothing that amounted to what we saw on Oct. 1,” he said.

Marylanders were dealt another blow in November when the Maryland Insurance Administration was notified by carriers that 73,000 residents will lose their current insurance plans due to new federal requirements for comprehensive coverage.

While President Barack Obama promised a one-year extension on plans that were to be dropped, experts say he and Congress might not have the power to enforce that, and it is mostly in the hands of the insurance companies.

Experts such as Burgee hope the website gets fixed, and uninsured Marylanders get the coverage they need, but they aren’t feeling optimistic about the numbers.

“I really hope it works, but I am very skeptical,” Burgee said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Analysis: Race for Maryland Governor

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Although it is still early, the race for governor of Maryland is already shaping up to be a competitive one.

With nine candidates saying they plan on running, the field ranges from seasoned politicians to experienced businessmen and even to a Baltimore-area teacher, all of whom want to succeed the still-popular Gov. Martin O’Malley.

So far, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur and Baltimore resident Ralph Jaffe have thrown their hats in the ring for the Democratic nomination in the June 24 primary.

On the Republican side, the field consists of Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Anne Arundel Delegate Ron George, Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, former Baltimore City firefighter Brian Vaeth and Anne Arundel County resident Larry Hogan, who served as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s appointment secretary.

Although only one Republican has managed to win a Maryland gubernatorial election during the past 48 years (Ehrlich, who defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002), the Maryland Republican Party feels good about 2014.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Joe Cluster, the party’s executive director, adding that he and his associates see a lot of similarities between 2014 and 2002, when underdog Ehrlich defeated Townsend, who had easily won the Democratic nomination on the back of her status within then-Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration.

Predicting that 2014 will be a good year for Republicans across the country, Cluster added that the Democratic candidates face a tough battle among each other in June, something that could leave the candidates with more than a few primary bruises.

However, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, all indicators suggest the race will be decided by the Democratic primary.

In terms of name recognition, Democrats have a clear upper hand. October 2013 polls showed that Brown has the most name recognition — 62 percent — among the candidates. Gansler follows with 58 percent. Baltimore’s Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2), who recently said he is leaning toward not running, leads Republicans Craig, Lollar, George and fellow Democrat Mizeur in name recognition.

Although it is not impossible, “it’s hard to see Maryland as a state where a Republican is going to win a statewide election,” said Laslo Boyd, political columnist and managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors. “If a Republican candidate comes with the Tea Party baggage of being anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion [and] strongly against the gun regulations, that’s not going to play well in Maryland.”

On the other hand, many Marylanders have grown increasingly wary of the state’s high taxes. According to 2010 Census data, Baltimore ranks above the national average for cost of transportation, utilities, housing and food. In Washington, D.C., the situation is even worse with the overall cost of living 40 percent higher than the national average.

If the Republicans focus their efforts on fiscal issues and concede some of the social issues popular along the party line, Boyd said their chances of victory could be much higher.

“It’s going to take a candidate who can appeal to those issues that are frustrating to people — perhaps taxes, perhaps the cost of government — without falling prey to the divisive social issues that play well in other states,” said Boyd.

In the meantime, much of the attention has been focusing on Democrats Gansler and Brown.

For Gansler, who has served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center for Greater Washington and has been involved with the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the biggest hurdle could be overcoming the mishandling of some of the stories that surfaced earlier this year involving a teen beach party and disgruntled state police aides. While the stories have died down, they easily could be rekindled by opponents.

For Brown, who has collected endorsements from U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.-5) and two former Maryland attorneys general, one of his proudest and most touted accomplishments could prove to be a pitfall. His website boasts that he “led the nation in implementing the Affordable Care Act,” but with many people still frustrated with the new policy, it remains to be seen whether this will work for or against his campaign.

“There has been some political discussion that if the health-care exchanges are not working well, that could hurt him,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, an advocacy organization that lobbies for government accountability.

The Brown-[Ken] Ulman ticket looks like the frontrunner right now, said Bevan-Dangel, but that can easily change. While candidates who serve in the Maryland General Assembly are not permitted to fund raise while they are in session, both Brown and running mate Ulman, county executive of Howard County, are free to keep adding to their treasure chest.

“Historically in Maryland, we’ve seen a pretty straight-line correlation between fundraising and success of the campaign,” said Bevan-Dangel. “It’s simply a mechanism of how much you can afford to get your name out.”

See related articles, “By The Numbers.

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter
hnorris@jewishtimes.com

‘Dirty, Smelly Jew’

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.
(David Stuck)

Dr. Bert Miller taught math in Baltimore County for almost 40 years. He holds master’s, associate’s and doctorate degrees in mathematics education, has earned two National Science Foundation fellowships, has published software for math teachers, and he even discovered a new theorem in 2009. In his second year of teaching in the county in 1974, the office of the state superintendent personally contacted him to apply for Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Yet, in June 2010, Miller retired under protest as he was facing termination for incompetence. The termination followed two years of unsatisfactory teacher evaluations, during which he was denied contractually mandated appeals. He believes, and a colleague’s deposition showed, that anti-Semitism among members of his appraisal team played a major role.

“It was a conspiracy, there’s no question,” Miller, a 66-year-old Orthodox Jew, said. His suit against the Baltimore County Board of Education is set for a five-day civil jury trial in May in the Circuit Court.

Miller started teaching at New Town High School in Owings Mills in 2005 after more than three decades of a successful teaching career. It wasn’t long before he started to clash with his superiors.

The most substantial evidence of anti-Semitism came to light later, when a colleague of Miller’s was deposed by the Baltimore County Board of Education. She claimed that his immediate supervisor, who was a member of his appraisal team, regularly referred to Miller as a “dirty, smelly Jew,” bribed volleyball players with starting positions to get their parents to complain about Miller to the principal and placed a lemon with pins in it on Miller’s keyboard, a witchcraft ritual that brings bad luck.

“This is Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation in one of the bluest counties in the state,” said Kevin Joyce, Miller’s attorney. “From Dr. Miller’s perspective, it’s appalling and I’m inclined to agree with him. ‘Dirty, smelly Jew’ — there’s no other way to interpret that.”

The Jewish Times confirmed the colleague’s testimony in regards to the ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ comment and the lemon incident via court documents.

Miller ran afoul of administration early in his time at New Town High, he said. The first thing he picked up was in 2007, when he needed two days off during state exams to observe Shavuot. He claims that a member of his appraisal team, who has a master’s degree in theology, said there’s no such holiday. Miller was criticized for being behind the pace of the curriculum in a trigonometry class when he was absent for five of the previous 23 days observing Rosh Hashanah, two days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The school was closed for Yom Kippur and the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“If there is a fact to be understood in a way most harmful to me, that’s the way the appraisal team would choose to understand the fact,” Miller said. “‘Students have low grades? Well, it’s obvious you’re a bad teacher. What other explanation could there be?’”

Baltimore County Public Schools, the law firm representing Baltimore County and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County declined to comment on the case. Baltimore County school spokesman Mychael Dickerson said the school system’s insurance policy is paying for representation from Towson firm Pessin Katz Law.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the global Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it’s an unfortunate reality that anti-Semitism is alive and well.

“It’s our obligation when we confront or see that something that smells like it represents hatred and bigotry — that’s a wake-up call that we should do something about it,” he said. “You can’t prevent them because evil exists and anti-Semitism exists, but you have to fight against it and make a big stink about it,” he said.

A new Anti-Defamation League survey shows that 12 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic views, a 3 percent decline from the ADL’s 2011 poll. Fourteen percent said Jews have too much power in the U.S. and 26 percent blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

While Miller feels there were some more blatant instances of prejudice, he also noticed some unorthodox evaluation practices. Once, he was observed on the fourth day of school, when he claims he was still learning all the students’ names. Another member of the appraisal team once observed him for only 20 minutes. Another observation, which ended with 10 out of 10 students getting 100 percent on a quiz, was rated unsatisfactory.

In the second semester of the 2008 to 2009 school year, he was only given one observation when he was supposed to have two due to his previous unsatisfactory ratings. Even though the semester started Jan. 24, his Jan. 10 observation was counted, he said.

“This is well beyond intellectual dishonesty,” Miller said. “When you put all that together, with ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ and the Wiccan intimidation with pins in the lemon and the administration knowing about it and not doing anything and criticizing me for being behind the curriculum pace when I was absent five days in the previous 23, I think I’m beginning to see a pattern in the data.”

Miller was also made into a trouble maker when he pointed out academic inconsistencies as exemplified by a college algebra class that did not have proper preparation for the course and teachers getting less preparation time than contracts mandate. While the complaint about teacher prep time was made anonymously, the administration wanted to know and found out who made the complaint, Miller said.

A friend of his who taught at a neighboring high school told Miller that the math department chair at that school said that New Town High was trying to get rid of Miller. The comment was made a day after there was a county meeting of administrative personnel, Miller said.

When a teacher is given an unsatisfactory evaluation, there is a three-level appeal process. The first appeal is with the assistant superintendent, the second with the superintendent’s designee and the third with an arbitrator paid by the Board of Education. Miller never received his third-level appeals for his four unsatisfactory evaluations, one for each semester. His breach of contract suit is over the denial of third-level appeals.

After two years of unsatisfactory evaluations, Miller retired in protest in June 2010 prior to a termination date of June 30, in order to maintain retirement benefits he had earned.

“We’re confident that if an appeal does take place, [anti-Semitism] will be part of an appeal, and I’m confident we’ll win,” Joyce said. He expects the case to last until 2015 or longer with the appeals the Board of Education is expected to file after court judgments.

“You could see this thing stretched out for another four years,” he said.

A story Miller likes to tell about his teaching record is that of a female African-American student who won a trip to Atlanta to present a prize-winning essay at a national conference. The topic? How Miller, her demanding math teacher, helped her turn her life around by expressing his admiration for her work and behavior and saying he respected her for acting like a lady.

“Dr. Miller has no idea those are words I will take to my grave,” the student wrote. “They are words that get me through some of my darkest moments.”

While the suit is seeking monetary damages, settlement offers of $2,000 and $10,000 were declined. Joyce thinks Miller’s main concern is having his name cleared, the ability to work again and someone taking the responsibility for the events that led to his early retirement.

“They effectively ended my career,” Miller said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

A Sense Of Awe

2013 Veterans Day will be observed on Nov. 11 (Provided)

2013 Veterans Day will be observed on Nov. 11 (Provided)

For Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanski, director of the Assessment Division of the U.S. Navy staff, sharing his Judaism with both those in uniform and civilians is a part of his service to his country and to God. On Nov. 9, the Shabbat before Veterans Day, he will be able to do both.

Throughout the year, many congregations pray for the United States government, the State of Israel and the soldiers serving in the Israeli
Defense Forces. On this Shabbat, Jewish American veterans will be blessed and honored at the 5th annual Veterans Day Shabbat hosted by Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation. It will also feature as a guest speaker, Rear Adm. Shilanski.

“I think it’s good for Jews in general to know that there are sailors in the Navy who are Jewish,” said Shilanski. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them a sense of what is going on in today’s world, in current events and maybe a little history.”

The Shabbat program usually tributes 30 to 40 veterans who are synagogue members, as well as any other veteran of the U.S. military who wishes to attend, throughout the service with aliyot to the Torah. The event culminates with a special Kiddush in honor of the veterans for their service. The community is invited.

“Honoring our congregational veterans was not just a duty, but a privilege,” said Rabbi Emeritus Elan Adler. “So many of our members either knew someone who fought for America and came home or someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we cherish.”

Shilanski has been in the service since 1980 and is descended of Lithuanian Jews. According to JCC.org, he is also a supporter of Torah for Our Troops and the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council initiative to commission special lightweight Torahs for chaplains to use in the field, as they move from ship to ship. But his career highlights only tell a part of the story.

“The great thing is that throughout my career there were many people who I met who had never met a Jew,” Shilanski said. “They were just ignorant. It was great for me to show them celebrations. … When you’re in the middle of a Stage 3 hurricane and you’re lighting Chanukah candles on an aircraft carrier or asking the chef to save a piece of chicken because they were serving pork that night …”

Shilanski said he enjoyed sharing his Judaism and religious practice with his crew and officers. During his career, he also presided over a Passover Seder with 120 guests on an aircraft carrier and was able to procure two Holocaust sefer Torah’s for the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Harry Truman.

For Shelanski, military service and Judaism are inextricably linked.

“I always thought about serving my country, and that really goes back to my Jewish education,” he said. “Knowing about the Holocaust, knowing that the U.S. is a place unique in the world that allows for freedom and religious freedom for Jews in the world — it was part of being Jewish that led to joining the Navy in the first place.”

For Shilanski, one of his defining moments as a Jew and a soldier was when a drill sergeant in the Marines called out for any Jews in the line of soldiers in training for a special assignment. Shilanksi was not sure whether or not to reveal his Judaism in this instance.

“There are moments in your life, do you step forward or do you not step forward? I stepped forward, and I was the only one in line,” he said.

He got the special assignment, and it was his first step toward a career of stepping forward.

According to Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of MMAE, the Shabbat tribute is about gratitude.

“It’s important that we should be in awe of people who’ve risked their lives for our country,” Rabbi Shapiro said. “It’s basic gratitude to the members of our own congregational family who have served on our behalf to a country that benefits all of us.”

5th Annual Veteran’s Day
Shabbat Honoring U.S. Veterans
All are welcome

Saturday, Nov. 9
Morning prayers at 8:45 a.m.

Featuring an address by Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanksi, director of the Assessment Division, United States Navy

Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation
7000 Rockland Hills Drive
Baltimore
410-653-SHUL (7485)

Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.