American Craft Show Returns to Baltimore

Lori Gottlieb (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

The American Craft Show, the nation’s largest juried indoor craft show, will be returning to Baltimore from Friday to Sunday at the Convention Center. The event also marks the 75th anniversary of the American Craft Council.

Lori Gottlieb, a local artist and member of Beth Tfiloh, will be one of more than 650 of the country’s top contemporary craft artists showcasing work at the show.

Gottlieb, 58, was a surgeon at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Sinai Hospital for 15 years before returning to her love for crafts, which she enjoyed in high school and college. She now works exclusively on creating jewelry after hyperthyroidism and vision problems forced her to leave the surgical field.

“I couldn’t operate anymore,” she said. “I had done art my whole life, and I had been taking classes at MICA just for fun. I started doing jewelry again because I still wanted to be able to say that at the end of the day I had accomplished something. It brings people a lot of joy and utilizes the skills of a surgeon in terms of using [my] hands. But nobody gets hurt if I mess up. It’s not life or death.”

Gottlieb’s jewelry is largely inspired by nature. An avid biker, she is outside and moving all the time. She finds inspiration for her art in everything from textures to shadows to curves in the road.

“My jewelry is organic and bold,” she said. “I use a lot of oxidized silver and gold, rough-surfaced stones, natural materials with a little bit of glitter to them. It is extremely wearable, meant for the intellectual, independent person who appreciates nature.”

Gottlieb has been participating in American Craft Council shows since 2005, two years after she started her business, LoriMeg Designs, out of her Owings Mills home. While she has jewelry in galleries across the country, the large craft shows, such as the one in Baltimore, appeal to her because they provide consumers with the opportunity to actually meet the artists.

“Customers who love my jewelry come back and back and back,” she said, “which is really a wonderful thing. You make friends and develop relationships with people, which I really like. You also hear people talk at these shows, good and bad; they don’t know that you are there. It’s very enlightening to hear how other people view your work.”

Building for the Future Talmudical Academy Turns 100, Starts Its Expansion

Talmudical Academy starts its expansion. (Photo by David Stuck)

“In rural history, 100 years is not long, but in American Jewish history, it is an incredibly long time,” Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, executive director of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim — Talmudical Academy (TA), proclaimed proudly. “To have a Jewish day school around for 100 years is historic.”

Cohen cannot stop raving about the monumental anniversary that one of Baltimore’s staple schools for Torah learning is celebrating this year.

Talmudical Academy is marking its centennial with a much-needed expansion of its campus, which remains largely unchanged since it was first built. The buildings were meant to serve a population of 450 students. Today, however, that space and more than a dozen portable trailers house more than 1,000 students.

Although construction has started, the school will hold a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 10:15 a.m. at its campus, 4445 Old Court Road.

Founded in 1917 by Rabbi Avraham Nachman Schwartz, Talmudical Academy was only the third Jewish day school in the United States and the first outside of New York City. The school has been located on Old Court Road since 1967 after a devastating 1964 fire eventually caused the school to move from its Cottage Avenue campus. One hundred years ago, Schwartz’s Hebrew Parochial School was housed in a Baltimore City apartment, and the school had just four students in that first year.

“We have a tremendous number of proud alumni,” said Cohen. “The legacy is what people are so proud of. We have over 50 students documented who are third-generation TA, some students who are fourth generation. That just doesn’t happen in other schools. You have families that are a part of the Baltimore community and just intricately woven into the history of TA, families that have watched us grow and flourish and have been a part of it.”

The expansion will grow the campus from 9½ acres to 11½ acres and will include new buildings for an early childhood center and a high school building, adding a total of 70,000 square feet of educational space. The expansion will provide the school with a total of 70 classrooms, doubling available learning space.

Digital rendering of the new campus (Provided)

According to the school’s building campaign, the expanded space will feature state-of-the-art facilities including a beit midrash, a large cafeteria, multipurpose rooms, “technological aids in every classroom,” therapy and resource rooms, new playgrounds and fields and a new gymnasium.

Currently, preschoolers and kindergarteners share a building with the elementary school, while the middle and high schools share a separate space. The expansion will provide each division of the school with its own building.

“An alumnus told me the other day [that] normally when you make an addition to a building it is more of a luxury, something nice,” said Rabbi Yaakov Lefkovitz, TA’s director of development. “This is not a luxury. This is a necessity to build. We were cramped when we were here, and future generations shouldn’t have to be like that.”

The $22 million campaign has been in the works for about five years.

“I think it’s really cool,” said seventh-grader Eli Friedman. “A long time ago, they said they would do it, but everybody in the school wasn’t certain if it was going to happen. It’s going to look really good.”

The groundbreaking ceremony is primarily for the community, which has strongly supported TA since its move to the Scott’s Hill neighborhood.

From left: Rabbi Yaakov Lefkovitz, Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz and Rabbi Yaacov Cohen (Photo by Rabbi Elchanan Ciment)

“As we have been preparing [to expand], we have seen a demonstration of pure love and support for our school,” said Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz, who is celebrating his 30th year as president of TA. “People have not even begun to see the development, yet we have been successful in raising substantial dollars toward this campaign. The Scott’s Hill community at large, the neighbors that we have here are very supportive. We want to express our sincere appreciation. We really want this to be an opportunity where we can say, ‘Thank you.’”

In celebration of the expansion, the Krupp and Ray families are dedicating a new Torah scroll as a part of the project. The first word of the new scroll will be written at the groundbreaking.

The idea was proposed by Ari and Shoshana Krupp, Talmudical Academy parents and active members of the school community. Ari is a former chairman of the TA executive board, and Shoshana is a former co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association. The couple first had the idea of producing a new Torah scroll to celebrate the school’s milestone at the 99th anniversary dinner last year.

“We were excited to participate in the physical building of the next 100 years while also participating in the next 100 years of spiritual Torah learning for the yeshiva as well,” said Ari. “A Jewish education is the fundamental component of the future of the Jewish people. It is our responsibility to give our children the best education possible. It is something that we consider personally to be very meaningful. Ultimately, that is what the school does. We are teaching the Torah, and to participate in this way with the physical growth of the school is awesome.”

The Ray family, Shoshana’s parents, have taken part in the writing of several Torahs in the last decade, according to Ari. The new scroll for Talmudical will be written by a sofer, Rabbi Heshy Pincus.

“We are starting to write the new scroll with the construction of the building, and we will finish it and bring it in as the new building is completed,” said Cohen. “It’s the essence of what the whole school is about. It revolves around Torah study.”

“There is a beautiful connection,” affirmed Yehuda Lefkovitz. “We are building these buildings to celebrate our role in teaching Torah for 100 years in this community, so that linkage is wonderful.”

As an additional element of the centennial celebration, Rabbi Yechiel Spero, an eighth-grade teacher at TA, is authoring a book — to be presented at this year’s annual banquet — that will tell the history of the school and share stories from alumni.

“We would love for people to come back and tell their stories,” said Cohen. “There are alumni all over Baltimore who we don’t know about. Many of them are elderly. This is the year we need them back. We want them to meet our kids. Imagine if someone who was here in the 1930s or ’40s came and told their stories to these kids. We want to find these people.”

TA students catch a glimpse of construction. (Photo by David Stuck)

Rabbi Tali Strum, a parent of TA students and a member of the school’s executive board, explained that he can’t go a few weeks without bumping into someone with a connection to Talmudical Academy. He said that although TA primarily serves the Orthodox community, he runs into alumni in nearly all of his interactions, “be it academic, Jewish and local leadership, legal, medical, academia.”

“It is uncanny the reach of the school,” Strum added. “Understanding a little history and how much the world in general and Baltimore itself have changed, it is incredible to realize that this institution has managed to change and grow and stay crucial and relevant to these new generations.”

Strum says TA’s mission is “to produce boys who are not only motivated and driven, but equipped to exhibit and expect excellence from themselves in three areas: religious study and observance; secular studies and involvement in the professional and business world; and a commitment to personal growth and interpersonal relationships.”

Although for now, students learn in classes the size of closets, Strum says “the boys are still happy and smiling and learning, but it is not as comfortable as it should be.”

Students already are feeling the excitement.

“People are eager to see what is going on outside,” said eighth-grader Mordechai Michael, “but it hasn’t interrupted our daily schedules.”

Jonathan Biss’ ‘Late Style’ Comes to Shriver

(Benjamin Ealovega)

Jonathan Biss, a renowned Jewish-American pianist, will perform his latest series, “Late Style,” with the Brentano String Quartet at the Baltimore Shriver Hall Concert Series on Saturday.

Biss, 36, is set to honor the late works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Benjamin Britten, Ludwig van Beethoven and György Kurtág (Jewish-Hungarian), offering audience members a chance to compare the iconic composers’ late arrangements.

The repertoire reflects Biss’ widespread tastes, encompassing the idea of mortality and its impact on the creative process.

“It was kind of an interesting idea to me,” Biss said of the series. “Time is short when composers become aware that they don’t have long. I just thought it would be interesting to hear these pieces in close proximity to one another.”

A Bloomington, Ind., native, Biss is no stranger to the Charm City classical musical scene. He made his Shriver debut in 2002 with a solo recital and has returned to the series three times, most recently in 2011. Biss also has played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a concerto soloist.

Catherine Cochran, executive director of Shriver, describes Biss as one of the most “intellectual” and “thoughtful” artists she has seen, prompting his long-awaited return to Shriver.

“He really does a wonderful dive into his repertoire,” Cochran said. “Not only does he think deeply about repertoire and the composers, but on particular topics, he considers all the contextual information.”

In addition to presenting “Late Style” around the country in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Biss will release a Kindle Single on the topic later this month.

For more information and tickets, visit

Sale of Randallstown Walmart Sparks Speculation, Concern

The possible sale of the Walmart Supercenter at the Liberty Plaza in Randallstown has residents and businesses concerned. (Justin Silberman)

A few miles north of Randallstown, the Owings Mills Mall site is marked by plenty of grave markers — chained fences, piles of rubble and dust and construction equipment.

Demolition of the mall was completed last month even as the property’s owner, Kimco Realty Corp., remains mum on future development plans for the once-sprawling shopping destination.

While Kimco has offered few specifics, concerned residents, business owners, county officials and retail experts see the fate of the mall site and Liberty Plaza on Liberty Road in Randallstown — separated by about three miles — intrinsically linked.

“Whatever goes on over in Randallstown and whatever goes on at the mall is going to have some crossover and impact on one another,” said Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat whose 4th District includes the Liberty Plaza and mall site. “I’ve been hearing from a lot of concerned constituents telling me to do this or to do that. I only have so much control.”

Brixmor Property Group Inc., owner of the vibrant 220,000-square-foot Liberty Plaza retail shopping center in Randallstown, is taking an active approach to market its property to prospective buyers while Kimco continues mulling over its options.

A little more than a month ago, Brixmor listed its Walmart Supercenter at 8730 Liberty Road for sale, fueling speculation that a Walmart Supercenter could be coming to the nearby vacant mall site.

Jones said developers he sought advice from told him property owners with a Walmart as an anchor tenant looking to sell should raise a “red flag.”

“What I’ve been told by others, who have a little more knowledge, is that they would be fearful if a Walmart was being put up for sale because properties are worth a lot more with a Walmart than without one,” Jones said. “I don’t put too much stock into that right now, because we just don’t know the plans of Brixmor and Kimco at this point.”

Brixmor, a New York City-based real estate investment trust, has offered few specifics regarding the sale, including the price of the property.

Kristen Moore, a spokeswoman for Brixmor, said, “I can confirm that we are currently marketing Liberty Plaza for sale. However, we don’t share details regarding dispositions.”

According to the sale listing, Walmart is operating under a 20-year single-tenant net-lease term with limited responsibilities and offers six five-year options for the 160,908-square-foot retail space. Oklahoma-based Stan Johnson Company, the largest net-lease team in the commercial real estate industry, is handling the sale and offering full ownership to prospective buyers.

Officials from Walmart and Stan Johnson Company could not be reached for comment.

Jones, a frequent patron of Liberty Plaza, said losing Walmart would be a “major blow to attract businesses” to Randallstown and the immediate surrounding communities he oversees.

“It’s so tough to get things going on Liberty Road that you don’t want to take a step backward,” Jones said. “Losing Walmart would be a major step backward. If [Walmart] were to leave, it would send a bad message. When tenants like Walmart show up, smaller tenants show up.”

Kimco, the nation’s largest owner of open-air retail centers, mailed surveys last month to local residents asking what they want to see built at the Owings Mills Mall site. A rendering of an open-air retail center with ample parking and connected, pedestrian-friendly walkaways was also included.

“Kimco is committed to being an engaged and responsive member of the Owings Mills community, and we’ll use the input as we work through what we plan to be an interactive process with significant community input. As Kimco’s plans and tenancy for Owings Mills become more clear, we will provide an update,” Jennifer Maisch, a spokeswoman for Kimco, said in a prepared statement.

Sidney Snyder, 29, of Owings Mills, said she doesn’t think a Walmart-type store is the answer for Owings Mills, especially with a Walmart Supercenter nearby.

“Putting a Walmart Supercenter at the mall will just create the same problem for Randallstown as we are having here in Owings Mills,” Snyder said. “That sounds pretty counterproductive to me.”

Stephanie Cegielski, spokeswoman at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said it is difficult to ponder with any certainty what the long-term effects on other tenants would be without knowing specific plans for the Liberty Plaza Walmart.

If the property is sold and the lease is broken, she said, the space could serve many purposes. She noted another big-box store, redevelopment for other retail or entertainment, office space or mixed-use development as the most likely and attractive options.

“Foot traffic may or may not drop depending on the types of stores left at the property and what the community needs are,” Cegielski said. “If those other stores meet specific needs of the community, they might not feel the effect of the closure. As for rents, those are negotiated in contracts, so any change would be dependent upon the expiration and renegotiation of the contract.”

Ahn Young 53, of Ellicott City, has owned and operated his dry-cleaning business, Black Tie Cleaners, at Liberty Plaza for the last 14 years and was unaware of the pending Walmart sale.

If Walmart were see to its business dip as a result of the sale or close altogether, he feared Brixmor could raise his rent as high as 40 percent, or roughly $5,000 per month, after his current lease ends.

“I think that might be too steep and too much for me to pay right now,” Young said. “Without Walmart there or another business, I am afraid other, smaller businesses here will have to pick up the bill.”

A manager at Elite Wine & Spirits, who wished to remain anonymous, said many of the liquor store’s customers often carry Walmart bags with them. The manager estimated Elite Winer & Spirits could experience a significant decrease in sales, falling off as much as 50 percent.

“It would really put a big dent into our numbers, because we attract many of the same customers,” the manager said. “I don’t think people will just be coming here to come here. Walmart is usually what brings them here in the first place, then they happen to come over to our store.”

End-of-Life Hearing in Md. General Assembly Draws Passionate Testimony

Doug Tsitouris and Ellen Dinerman make their case for the End-of-Life Option Act. (Justin Silberman)

Doug Tsitouris suffers from advanced emphysema and says with certainty that he isn’t afraid to die. But when the time arises, he wants to go out on his own terms.

Tsitouris, 68, of Cape St. Claire in Anne Arundel County, was diagnosed with his terminal illness about seven years ago. But an oxygen tank with plastic tubes running through his nose to help him breathe led to him living longer than his doctors expected. Eventually, he said, his condition will get to the point where he wants “some measure of dignity” and comfort in how he will die.

That’s why Tsitouris backs the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer End-of-Life Option Act, which would grant terminally ill Marylanders with six months or less to live the opportunity to request lethal medication to end their lives.

“I think we should treat ourselves with as much dignity and compassion as we treat our pets,” Tsitouris said. “For me, it’s all about quality of life. As an adult, I think the person doing the dying should have the last word if they are terminally ill.”

Members from the House Health and Government Operations Committee listened to hours of gut-wrenching testimony from those who both support and oppose the act in a hearing that drew more than 300 people to Annapolis on Feb. 16.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-District 13) and Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-District 13), would require two doctors — including the patient’s primary care physician — to confirm that a patient meets all the requirements of the measure. A doctor would have to decide whether the patient has six months or less to live, has the mental capacity to make a sound medical decision and could administer the medication on his or her own.

“This is about personal autonomy,” said Pendergrass, a Jewish delegate from Howard County. “People should have the right to have a say over their bodies without any interference from the government. No one knows my own destiny better than me.”

This marked the third consecutive year the House has held a hearing for the measure, which remains one of the most polarizing issues in the Jewish community. In each of the two past years, previous versions of the bill failed to generate enough support to make it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

While proponents affirmed that sufficient protections would be carefully outlined for elderly, disabled and otherwise vulnerable patients, not everyone was persuaded patients couldn’t be coerced or manipulated into making a decision against their wishes.

Sheryl Grossman, 41, of Pikesville, has Bloom syndrome, also known as Bloom-Torre-Machacek syndrome, a rare autosomal recessive disorder characterized by short stature and predisposition to the development of cancer.

Grossman has beaten nine different forms of cancer and said she fears that if the bill were signed into law, she wouldn’t be alive today.

“As a disabled person, this bill scares me even more because I know the societal barriers, stigma and discrimination that [disabled people] face. Our lives are often seen as being the worse quality of life and less worthy than others,” said Grossman, who added that doctors told her parents she wouldn’t live past the age of 2. “It is far too easy to coerce someone into thinking of themselves as a burden to medical care staff or family members.”

Rabbis who have witnessed the painful death of loved ones say they think the bill could provide suitable closure for terminally ill patients.

George Driesen, an adjunct rabbi at Bethesda-based Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, said Jewish tradition clearly states that people are not obliged to suffer.

“People can’t take over God’s role and limitations of what they can do, but it is clear that suffering and Judaism is not a virtue, whereas among other faiths, it’s a sin,” Driesen said.

Tsitouris, who is of Greek descent, said he doesn’t consider himself a very religious person. But if he were, he said he would identify as Jewish because of the freedom he feels the religion allows for individuals to make their own choices, which he thinks the bill accomplishes.

“To Jews, what is important is that you lead a good, moral life, and that makes clear and complete sense to me,” Tsitouris said. “In evey respect, this bill allows for people to do what’s right for them.”

Some rabbis took issue with the bill on religious grounds, citing Halachah. They also believe the legislation could lead to the premature deaths of individuals who have longer to live.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, said he had doubts if any of the Jewish legislators supporting the bill took religious beliefs or values into account.

“We’ve never tried to influence public policy, because we feel that the way of Judaism should be accepted by the state. It’s pretty insulting to go ahead and say someone who is accepting their faith by God is considered to have a lack of dignity,” said Sadwin, who testified for the third time in as many years. “The greater dignity is when you go ahead and accept the fate that has been handed to you, even if it’s not easy. So to go ahead and hit the restart button and say ‘I can’t hack it anymore’ is insulting.”

In a letter of opposition, the Baltimore Jewish Council asserted “all life is sacred and that we are all created in the image of God. Suicide is a violation of Jewish law, as is assisting in a suicide.”

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41), one of the bill’s 55 co-sponsors in the House, urged critics to keep an open mind.

“No one would be forcing anyone to take advantage of this law,” Rosenberg said. “In my mind, the individual choice takes precedent. The value of giving an individual the choice is a positive, not a negative.”

The practice is legally permitted in six states — Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont, Montana and Colorado — and Rosenberg said it’s Maryland’s turn to join them.

Dr. Michael Strauss, 63, of Montgomery County, is a retired internist and current health policy consultant who said there is greater optimism for passage this year.

He pointed to a Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi) poll that found 65 percent of Maryland voters support end-of-life measures and 60 percent of physicians either support it or are neutral.

“This is a decision that should be between a doctor and a patient, and we have seen that the majority have expressed those sentiments,” Strauss said. “For the small minority of patients who suffer with physical pain, why should they be denied this option?”

The Marrying Kind in Jewish Maryland Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

A wedding at Baltimore’s Har Sinai around 1970 (photo provided)

From arranged marriages to modern same-sex marriages, the Jewish wedding has evolved over the years, but still with many of its traditions intact.

It’s that evolution that is at the center of an upcoming Jewish Museum of Maryland exhibit — and its curator wants the help of the community.

Along with the exhibit, “Just Married! Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland,” the museum has an initiative called “Marrying Maryland,” which seeks photos, invites or other memorabilia of those in the Maryland Jewish community.

Joanna Church, the curator for this exhibit, said they’ve had a good response so far from people sending in artifacts from their weddings or those of their parents, grandparents, relatives or friends. This memorabilia will be featured on the museum blog as new submissions come in.

They’re taking pieces from all kinds of weddings, Church said, as long as it has a Maryland connection — all levels of religious observance, interfaith, same-sex, in a synagogue or at the courthouse.

Ida Hurwitz and Mendel Glaser on their wedding day in Baltimore in 1894 (photo provided)

“It has been a topic and area that has been of concern to the Jewish community for a long time,” Church said.

The exhibit will open on June 18. Both Church and exhibit project manager Tracie Guy-Decker, the associate director for projects, planning and finance at the museum, talked of the layers within it.

Along with being an exhibit with beautiful dresses and wedding artifacts to interest any casual viewer, both Church and Guy-Decker see it as a rumination on the competing forces Jews face when planning their weddings.

“For me, much bigger and deeper than just ‘Oh, pretty dresses!’ is the idea of how American Jews are Jewish — and American,” Guy-Decker said.

From the turn of the early 1800s to now, American Jews have had to balance these forces. What traditions do they include? Do they want to be married by a rabbi? Which parts of their identity do they represent?

“It’s complicated to have multiple identities,” Guy-Decker said, “which we all do, and there are moments in our lives when we have to decide which elements of our identities to highlight, and the wedding is one of them.”

Ketubah of Menachem, son of Shmuel, and Yoelle, daughter of Pinchas, who were married in Baltimore in 1838 (photo provided)

That’s not to say the dresses aren’t fantastic — they definitely are, Church said.

“I must admit, I am a big fan of dresses, and we have them all throughout the exhibit, so that’s great for me,” she said.

The exhibit is nearly complete (though Church says they’re always willing to take in more dresses and artifacts if people have them to donate), but the “Marrying Maryland” initiative will be underway through the opening of the exhibit.

Ideally, Church wants this exhibit and accompanying initiative to have a positive, fun vibe for all who attend, donate or view it.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a really cheerful, optimistic exhibit,” she said.

Any in the Jewish community who wish to share some of their wedding memorabilia can scan it and fax or email it to the museum or send the items in the mail. There is also a short form to fill out.

For more information or to start the submission process, visit

Artists, City Look to the Future Post-Artist Space Closures

Members of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society work and rehearse at their space in the Bell Foundry prior to its Dec. 5 closure. (Photo provided)

First it was the Bell Foundry being closed on Dec. 5. Then it was Studio 14 a month ago. Now, some are worried for the future of affordable artist spaces in Baltimore.

Both the Bell Foundry, located in Station North, and Studio 14, located on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore, were closed due to fire code violations and lack of a proper permit, displacing a number of local artists and musicians.

These closures come after the devastating fire of a warehouse-turned-artist space in Oakland, Calif., called The Ghost Ship. The building caught fire the night of Dec. 2, killing 36 people, many of whom were young artists and musicians.

The Facebook page for Baltimore Band Rehearsals, the company operating Studio 14, said that the space was undergoing major renovations and that permit applications would be filed this week. One musician affected by the closure, Asa Kurland of the band Slow Lights, said he sees the Baltimore music scene as bigger and stronger than ever, thanks in large part to spaces such as Studio 14.

“It’s like turning the lights out on your business,” he said about the closure. “[Studio 14] is a great place. It’s the best, and I can’t wait for it to come back again.”

Despite the closure, Kurland and other musicians he knows have been able to migrate and find some other temporary spaces. Looking on the bright side, he said it’s actually forced him out into the community a bit more than before. And it certainly hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for performing. The Slow Lights album release party is slated for March 25 at The 8×10.

One group in particular was hit especially hard, being displaced to some extent by both closures — the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. The DIY theater nonprofit had its main rehearsal and workshop space on the first floor of the Bell Foundry, and the BROS band practiced at Studio 14. Rubbing salt in the wound, its space at the Bell Foundry was robbed, losing an estimated $2,000 worth of tools, according to a recent Baltimore Sun story.

“[The closure] happened very suddenly,” said Aran Keating, the group’s artistic director. “I got a call from one of the upstairs residents who basically said, ‘This isn’t good. You might want to come down here.’ And I hurried over.”

Upon arrival, Keating saw the Baltimore City Fire Department on the scene.

“Everyone had this sort of grim air,” he went on. “It was pretty clear they came with the intention to close the space down.”

Compared with the more severe violations on the second floor of the space, the first floor had relatively few issues.

“We were basically collateral damage of shutting down the upstairs,” said Scott Brenner, a volunteer with the BROS.

Since the Bell Foundry closing, the BROS have had limited access to the space. Their lease goes through 2017, and the immediate focus is on getting the first floor space reopened to finish out that lease. The landlords/owners of the space, Joe McNeely and Jeremy Landsman (who the JT profiled in 2008 prior to the revelation of his involvement in a federal marijuana conspiracy case in 2012), said they anticipate the lower floor opening back up in a couple weeks, once the final inspection and permit comes through.

McNeely, speaking on behalf of both of he and Landsman, said they are looking at all their options for what to do with the site once the current lease is up. He didn’t rule out keeping some sort of artist spaces as part of the building’s future development but said it takes a lot of investment to get old buildings up to code, which then means rents are less affordable.

“The city thrives on its reputation for emerging art and music and by its nature emerging art and music is underground,” he said. “So, the question is how do cities keep these kinds of spaces in a way they’re safe and affordable?”

That’s the exact question new Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Artist Spaces Task Force will attempt to answer. The task force has held three meetings so far and is hoping to have recommendations for how the city can facilitate these spaces within six months, according to the task force’s co-chair, Jon Laria, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr specializing in real estate and land use work within the city.

The group’s meetings so far, he said, have included a number of those from the artist community who are not officially in the task force.

“I think the fact that we’ve had meetings that have been very open and kind of free-wheeling, frankly, has been very helpful,” Laria said.

There was also a public comment period from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the War Memorial as well as the plan to create a website, where people can submit further comments and concerns, Laria said.

The task force has broken up into three small groups to look at key areas: understanding what artists need; looking at the state of affairs with the city codes (and ways to ease those without sacrificing safety); and finding avenues of financing available or that must be invented.

“It’s an important part of any modern city to have a vibrant arts community,” he said.

In the meantime, while the BROS are hopeful for the task force to succeed, they are not taking chances with their future. Erica Patoka, musical director for the group’s upcoming September show, “The Terrible Secret of Lunastus,” said it’s certainly not the first time spaces in Baltimore have not been up to code, and not even the first time for the BROS. In the past eight years of the group’s existence, they’ve had numerous different spaces for show rehearsals, band practice and performing. The goal now? A forever home.

The group has already raised more than $20,000 of a $75,000 Crowdrise goal to get them started. And they’re putting almost all the money made in fundraising performances into the campaign. In fact, there’s a Valentine’s Day fundraiser event on Feb. 11 at Maryland Art Space called Bro K Cupid (pun intended).

“A permanent space would mean we would have so much more time to put our energy into the creative process itself,” she said.

For a city that prides itself on a thriving arts community, now is the make or break time. And the artists are watching.

To donate to the BROS fundraising campaign, go to

Naale Gives Students an Elite (and Free) Israeli Education

Chaim Meyers (kneeling) poses with a group of international Naale students. (Provided)

For many families in the United States, a private education is financially beyond reach. Jewish day schools in particular can be notoriously expensive, although many do offer scholarships.

But through a program called the Naale Elite Academy, Jewish students from around the world are provided a free high school education, provided they are willing to attend public boarding school in Israel.

“Our main obstacle is that most of the Jewish communities around North America are not aware of the program; they don’t know that it exists,” said Chaim Meyers, director of Naale’s Western World Region. “That is what we are trying to do. As my boss likes to say, ‘Let my people know.’”

Meyers and other Naale officials visited the JT office on Feb. 6. During their North American trip, they visited current families, prospective families and Jewish communal leaders in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Miami, as well as Canadian cities Calgary and Edmonton.

The program started in 1992, when Israeli officials were trying to educate students from the former Soviet Union whose families weren’t able to make aliyah. Sending teachers there did not work, so it was decided that bringing students to Israel to be educated would be more prudent. Naale stands for “noar oleh lifney horim” meaning “children immigrate before their parents.”

Today, Naale is geared toward Jewish children from around the world, with students from about 50 countries enrolled. The program has approximately 1,700 students and more than 17,000 graduates to date. It also boasts a 90 percent retention rate of students who successfully earn their Israeli matriculation certificate, which is recognized at universities worldwide.

“The opportunity that Naale offers almost borders on the outrageous,” said Simeon Pollock, who serves as the Naale ambassador in Maryland and has two children in the program. “It’s that amazing. I thought, ‘It can’t be true, free high school? And for a religious kid?’ They mentioned something on the website about Orthodox schools; they have three for religious children. It was something we had to talk about because it was religious and free, compared with the cost of a religious education in America.”

While the religious schools appealed to the Pollock family, Naale is not exclusively religious. Rather, it serves as an umbrella program and partners with 25 different schools around Israel. There are schools that cater to a variety of different languages, including six for native English speakers. There are schools geared toward religious and nonreligious children and different programs for students who wish to focus their studies in science and or the arts.

Every year, the school reaches out to new communities. Smaller communities often have a bigger demand for Naale’s services because of a lack of Jewish schools or infrastructure.

“People are surprised that this program exists and ask why there aren’t more advertisements,” said Dikla Sity-Meir, regional director for Naale in Pennsylvania. “Our budget for advertising is limited, so that is our main job. The leaders of the community are our best allies. They identify the families that would be well suited for us.”

A student can apply in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade. The only fees are a registration fee and an acceptance fee, costing $600 each. Potential students and at least one parent then attend a special screening day that entails academic and psychological examinations to ensure that students are suited for the program.

“We aren’t necessarily looking for A-plus students, but we are looking for motivated students who can deal with coming to a new country alone, all the academics and 20 hours a week studying Hebrew,” said Sity-Meir. “Social skills and maturity level are a main component. The downside of this project is that parents and kids are separated, which is hard because it is a young age.”

If a student is accepted, the only thing a parent must pay for is if their child wants to fly home for vacation. Beyond that, all expenses are covered. This includes the flight to Israel, pocket money, extracurricular activities, school trips, school uniforms and school books.

Students do not need to know Hebrew before attending a Naale school — ulpan is a part of the core program in a student’s first year. Additionally, students come to Israel on a student visa, so they have no obligation to make aliyah or join the army following graduation. While the Israeli matriculation certificate is recognized at universities worldwide, many students choose to stay in Israel.

“People say, ‘If students don’t stay in Israel, what is the point? You’ve failed,” explained Meyers. “However, we say the opposite. Any student who goes home brings their experiences to their community. They are the best ambassadors for Israel that we could possibly have.”

Anti-Semitic Fliers Found in Bel Air

(Photo provided)

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Feb. 15, deputies of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office found several anti-Semitic fliers with the swastika symbol and the Web address of a known white supremacist news and commentary site on them, the Daily Stormer, in the Fountain Glen neighborhood of Bel Air.

The JT was sent a photo of the flier, which reads in all caps, “White man, are you sick and tired of the Jews destroying your country through mass immigration and degeneracy? Join us in the struggle for global white supremacy at the Daily Stormer,” followed by the site’s domain.

Rabbi Gila Ruskin, spiritual leader for Temple Adas Shalom in neighboring Havre de Grace, said she was horrified
by the flier and also troubled by the growing instances of anti-Semitism.

“There have been a few isolated incidents, but I think because of the words [of the flier], this was more upsetting in some ways,” she added. “I think it has to be seen as part of a trend. People feel they have permission to put their hate on the outside.”

One of the other Jewish leaders in Harford County, Harford Chabad’s Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, used to live in the targeted neighborhood and said he was remarkably saddened by the whole event. He said he has never experienced an anti-Semitic event like this in the community. Smaller incidents, like someone shouting an ill-advised comment out of a car, he chalked up more to ignorance than anti-Semitism.

“In general, the Harford County Jewish community is about educating people,” he said. “Saying to our neighbors, ‘We’re just like you and we’re not like you, and that’s OK.’”

Deputies canvassed the area where the fliers were distributed, but no witnesses or suspects were found, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. Cristie Kahler, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said they have not heard of any similar incidents in recent months. Without witnesses or further information, it is hard to follow up any further on the matter, she said, but also urged residents to be vigilant.

“It goes back to ‘see something, say something,’” she added. “The neighborhood watches are really our best bet in something like this.”

The Baltimore Jewish Council condemned the act of “hate and divisiveness” in a statement and urged law enforcement to “thoroughly investigate.”
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman also condemned the act.

“I absolutely reject any kind of hateful and discriminatory messages directed against our Jewish community, law enforcement or any citizens of Harford County,” he said in a prepared statement. “We cherish all of our residents and want them to know they are welcome here, and these disgraceful fliers have no place in our home.”

This incident comes after the several waves of called-in bomb threats to dozens of JCCs across the country in January and February, most recently on Feb. 20, Presidents Day. The JCC in Park Heights was evacuated after the calls on both Jan. 9 and 18.

Since the campaign and election of President Donald Trump, multiple outlets have been reporting a rise in hate speech and white supremacist activity, particularly from the so-called “alt-right,” a far-right faction centered on white nationalist ideas. Trump has disavowed his white supremacist supporters.

The Daily Stormer is named for the German Nazi Party tabloid Der Stürmer and was launched in 2013.

Ruskin was on her way to meet with the imam of the local mosque and clergy of the local African Methodist Episcopal church when the JT reached her. The strong alliances the congregations are forming have felt even more important these days, Ruskin said.

“It’s frightening [that the hate] has been there all along,” she went on to say. “But maybe now that it’s out there, we can deal with it. I don’t know. I don’t know the best way to deal with all these things, except dialogue.”

For Now, Howard’s Sanctuary Bill Is Denied

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoes the county’s sanctuary bill. (Courtesy of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman via Twitter)

On the evening of Feb. 9, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoed CB-9, a bill introduced to the County Council with the intent of declaring Howard County a “sanctuary” for immigrants and refugees. Only after the word “sanctuary,” the primary foundation for the bill, was removed did the council vote to pass the bill 3-2 before this veto.

The veto can be overturned if a fourth member of the council votes in favor of the bill when it is readdressed at a meeting on March 6.

While many feel the intentions behind the bill — which would prevent police and other county employees from enforcing federal immigration law or inquiring about immigration status — are good, it garnered dissent from politicians and prominent members of the community, being derided as rushed out and incomplete.

“One of my bigger concerns is that the sponsors didn’t do much investigation,” said Kittelman. “They did not contact stakeholders such as the police chief or the corrections department director, nor did they contact major advocates for the foreign-born community such as FIRN (the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network).

“Had they reached out, they would have found there was not a problem [in Howard County],” he continued. “If this bill is filed, it gives the impression that police are supporting [federal] immigration laws when they are not.”

Kittleman cited Hector Garcia, a leading immigrant advocate who has worked in Howard County for 17 years and who testified at the council meeting where the bill was reviewed; Garcia said that he had not heard one instance of complaint from people about how police act toward immigration status.

The legislators who introduced the bill, however, do believe there is cause for concern.

“I was saddened by the county executive’s veto and disheartened that, in his response, he indicated that he didn’t even believe we had a problem,” said Councilman Calvin Ball (D-District 2), one of the councilmembers who introduced the bill, “especially after hearing from so many people about their concerns and knowing that with each passing day, the concern grows.”

Ball felt that the bill was necessary to officially reaffirm the county’s commitment to an inclusive community. He feels that introduction of the bill into legislature would codify a large part of existing policies, which are currently not a part of the law officially.

“This bill will improve the relationship between police and immigrants because it will prevent [police] from changing their policy to uphold the federal immigration law,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa (D-District 3), who also helped to introduce the bill.

“When we initially filed the bill, the county executive said that this won’t change anything, that the county police already don’t ask and don’t enforce federal immigration policies,” she said. “But as we all move forward, there is no written policy, so this makes a written policy that immigrants can rely on. If it changes, it will be public; there will have to be a hearing. Unlike a policy, it wouldn’t be able to be changed tomorrow if it is in the legislature.”

Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-District 1), who represents Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover, was one of the two naysayers for the bill. He outlined his contention of the bill in a statement that said key stakeholders were not consulted and not enough time or research were put into its writing.

“The bill, even as it was amended and passed, didn’t really do anything but affirm practices already instated. However, it complicates the sensitive relationship between police and immigrants by making it law,” he said in the statement. “Howard County, for all intents and purposes, is akin to a sanctuary. Police and government here would never ask people about immigration policy.”

Weinstein further expounded on this point, explaining that in situations where police become aware of an undocumented person, they currently can assist that person in getting a visa. However, by putting it into law, officers will be limited in when and how they can use information about someone’s immigration status.

The big problem with the bill is that it does nothing to actually change how an undocumented immigrant would be treated, asserted Kittleman — in Weinstein’s statement, the bill is referred to as “purely symbolic.”

“The limitations it would place on public safety officers would make it more difficult for law enforcement to act on other activities such as gang activity and sex trafficking,” said Kittleman.

The community as a whole largely supports having Howard County declared a sanctuary, however. People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) is a nonpartisan, multifaith and multiracial organization composed of communities and congregations around the county.

“Given the national climate around immigration and the president’s threats to undocumented people, this bill provided an opportunity for our county to stand up and unequivocally declare that it stands behind its residents,” said Jake Cohen, a lead organizer of PATH. “Does the bill solve all of the problems? Of course not. Was it a good first step toward starting a larger conversation? Yes.”

Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia is a member of PATH. She asserts that the Howard County Board of Rabbis is supportive of sanctuary measures to “support the Jewish value of protecting strangers.”

“The bill is not perfect, but it is a good message to send and shows support for the community, especially in this time of political uncertainty for all types of immigrants in our country,” said Grossman. “I know that the effort to have that bill was to respond to concerns voiced. I hope that there is an opportunity for the parties to sit down together, look at the concerns and come up with appropriate wording or amendments so we can pass a sanctuary bill.”