100 Years, 100 (Thousand) Stories Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program celebrates its centennial

coverrotatorDo the math and there is a glimpse into the impact of the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program in Baltimore — tens of thousands of lives (perhaps even more) meaningfully, personally changed over 100 years.

But this isn’t a numbers story. It’s a human one. From the forging of lifelong friendships to the inspiring of generations to be involved as adults, the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program is as much a collection of feel-good stories as it is a long-running community service organization.

“It doesn’t get any better than [those stories] for me, personally or professionally” said Beth Hecht, senior manager for the program, which has been housed under the umbrella of Jewish Community Services of Baltimore for eight years. “Almost daily I hear a success story. It’s really knowing you’ve made a difference.”

The Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program celebrated its 100th year in 2016. And though it is now known as a mentorship program for young people, it started out, perhaps surprisingly, through prison visitation. In 1914, a few enterprising local Jews took it upon themselves to visit Jewish inmates in prison and stem the tide of “delinquency or delinquent tendency” in young Jewish boys, according to an article from the old weekly community magazine the “Jewish Comment” that was quoted in “The History of Jewish Big Brother League, Inc.” by Joseph F. Hecht, a book that chronicles the first 50 years of the organizations in impressive — and occasionally mind-numbing — detail.

“Already it has become manifest that there are many Jewish boys being weakened by street associations, who would,
if surrounded by proper influence, develop into self-respecting men,” the article goes on to say in what feels like a slightly hyperbolic manner.

By 1916, the group had incorporated with a board of wide-ranging active community members. The board included
a playwright, the executive director of the Federated Jewish Charities (one precursor to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore), a federal judge, a milliner and the eventual vice president of a dry goods wholesale operation, among others.

bbbs-b-w-articles-photos(The organization, apparently realizing girls, too, could come under the sway of “street associations,” started mentoring girls on an ad hoc basis starting in the early 1930s. Demand steadily increased until the program recognized a need to sustainably include services for girls about 30 years later. Incidentally, Rose Zetzer, the first woman to be admitted to the Maryland State Bar, added another “first” to her list as the first official Big Sister
in 1934.)

Young David Cooper

A young David Cooper

These days, the organization is less focused on the potential for delinquency or “street associations” and more on providing a steady source of support and guidance for any child in the program. However, the main component of the program has changed very little over the years — matching an adult volunteer, the “Big,” with a child aged 7 to 17 (the average age is about 10 to 12) of a single parent or otherwise needing of some outside direction, the “Little,” based on common interests, background, hobbies or a certain je ne sais quoi that makes program staff
believe two would be compatible.

The Big and Little get together two or three times per month for a couple hours, and this relationship can span anywhere from one to two years to lifetimes, although the Littles age out officially once they’ve graduated high school.

Gary Katz, native Baltimorean and current Canadian, was about 12 when he met his Big, then 22-year-old David Cooper. Sheryl Cooper, David’s daughter, had only recently been born and remembers Katz growing up with the family.


David Cooper, left, with his Little Brother, Gary Katz, and his daughter, Sheryl.

“He was my father’s Little Brother, but he was sort of like a big brother in my family,” she said, recalling Katz coming over regularly and joining the family for day trips and holidays.

For Katz, Cooper was a friend, a confidante, a brother/father/adult male figure he could look up to. The transition from the Big-Little relationship to an adult friendship evolved naturally and came easily, he said.

“Dave was truly an amazing human being — very, very warm, very compassionate. Dave made me very much a part of his family,” Katz said. “He also was a major help in finding my roots in Judaism. I was always invited to his parents’ home for Passover and different Jewish holidays, which was wonderful for me.”

From trips to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore during their Big-Little time to visiting each other’s families for weeklong vacations as adults, Cooper and Katz never went too long without communicating. And when healthy, vibrant 81-year-old David Cooper was in an accident while visiting his daughter in California this past September, Gary Katz joined Cooper’s two daughters at his deathbed.

“I would say that Gary is just as distressed over my father’s death as my sister and I are,” Sheryl Cooper said.

A letter to Gary Katz on his 50th birthday from his once Big Brother David Cooper.

A letter to Gary Katz on his 50th birthday from his once Big Brother David Cooper.

So much did David Cooper love his experience as a Big Brother that Sheryl and her sister included the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program as one of the two organizations they asked people to donate money to in lieu of gifts. So far, more than $500 has been raised in his name.

So, while David Cooper can’t speak to the impact being a Big Brother had on his life, it is apparent through photos, the testaments of his family and even his own words.

“Reflecting on the many years I’ve known you,” he says in a letter he wrote to his once Little Brother on his 50th birthday (Katz is 69 now), “I can believe nothing more strongly than that you and I were meant to meet and to mean a great deal to each other.”

But, as it turns out, the Big Brother program was to gift Katz with not just one best friend, but two. Inspired by his time with David Cooper, he signed up to be a Big Brother himself in his current home of Windsor, Ontario. There wasn’t a Jewish-specific version of the program there, so he signed up with the main local Big Brother organization, who then paired him with his Little Brother. And, thus, another David, David Morand, entered his life.

David Cooper, right, with his Little Brother's Little Brother, David Morand.

David Cooper, right, with his Little Brother’s Little Brother, David Morand.

Like the David before him, David Morand and Gary Katz became more than just Big and Little Brothers. In fact, they had spoken on the phone just the day before Katz spoke with the Jewish Times. And, completing the circle, David Cooper and David Morand became good friends themselves.

Again, inspired by those who came before him, David Morand was also a Big Brother, playing out an extended ripple effect. From one stone, David Cooper, came the ripples of three beneficiaries then creating ripples of their own — four generations of involvement.

Amazingly, this is not an uncommon story. Or, at least the part where a Little is inspired to become a Big isn’t. Robin Arnold, now an accounting manager at Constellation Energy Baltimore, moved to the area with her mother when she was about 8 years old. A new city and new school — she was enrolled in Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School — can be an overwhelming prospect for a child, so her mother, a single parent, signed her up for the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program.

“It was just really nice to have someone who was an adult who was interested in me but wasn’t trying to parent me,” Arnold said. “It’s a different dynamic.”

Robin Arnold with her Little Sister in 2012.

Robin Arnold with her Little Sister in 2012.

She felt like having her Big Sister made her special, and she valued having someone to look to for support who wasn’t her mother or her peers. By early high school, she knew she wanted to be a Big Sister herself someday, a promise she fulfilled once she moved back to the area.

Today, her Little is in college, but they are still in touch and try to see each other whenever they are in the same place.

“It really was one of those experiences where I got just as much out of it as I think she did,” Arnold said.

And the fact that it is specifically Jewish is part of what made it so special for many, including both Katz and Arnold.

“It’s important to me to be connected to my Jewish roots — Jewish Big Brother Big Sister has played a big part in that,” she said.

The program has had such staying power over the years for just this reason, says Howard Gartner, once a Big Brother and later a board member and president back when it was the League and, more recently, for JCS.

Young Gary Katz with his Big Brother, David Cooper's, daughter Sheryl.

Young Gary Katz with his Big Brother, David Cooper’s, daughter Sheryl.

“It’s a tried-and-true program,” he said. “There’s never going to stop being a need for young boys and girls to have strong mentors in their lives.”

This is exactly the same sentiment Hecht expressed. Mentoring is all the rage now, she says, but the Big Brother Big
Sister program has been doing it for a century.

“I really think it’s the power of mentoring,” she said. “Kids need role models and, over the course of years, that endures.”

Although, for Gary Katz, it’s even simpler than that.

“Well, you might laugh at this, but the first word that came to my mind was love — love over a period of time,” he said. “On the one-to-one basis, I think eventually if that kind of growth and love and caring develops over time, how can you not have a successful organization?”

For more information on how to become a Big Brother or Big Sister or enroll your child, go to jcsbaltimore.org.


Hillel Gives Awards, Receives Record Gift

Three Hillel campus centers in Maryland and Washington, D.C., were among the recipients of awards from Hillel International, presented at the organization’s annual Global Assembly in Orlando, Fla., this month.

Goucher College Hillel won the Israel Education and Engagement Award; University of Maryland Hillel received the Phillip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Outstanding Campus Award; and Hillel at the George Washington University won the Joseph Meyerhoff Award for Jewish Educational Vision.

Melissa Kansky, director of Jewish engagement at Hillel at the University of Virginia, received the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award.

Meanwhile, Hillel International received its largest gift ever, $38 million from a foundation established by the co-founder of Home Depot.

The Marcus Foundation, established by Bernard Marcus and his wife, Billi, said it would make the multiyear donation to a new Hillel staffing initiative, Talent Grants.

The initiative seeks to “recruit, train and retain talented professionals who will inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel,” according to a prepared statement.


13-Year-Old Talmudical Academy Student Killed in Crash Tuesday

Moshe Moskowitz, left, with his brother during Bike4Chai.

Moshe Moskowitz, left, with his brother during Bike4Chai (Courtesy of Chai Lifeline).

Baltimore 13-year-old Moshe Simcha Moskowitz, son of Rabbi Doniel Moskowitz, was killed in a four-vehicle collision on northbound I-95 near Route 200 around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

His mother, Tamara Moskowitz, 45, was in critical condition at a MedStar facility in Washington, D.C., as of Thursday morning.

The Moskowitz’s Dodge Caravan was slowing down as it approached a disabled black Honda Pilot on the roadway when an 18-wheel tractor-trailer struck the rear of the Dodge van, essentially crushing it between the two vehicles, according to Sgt. John Pietanza of the Maryland State Police College Park Barrack. A white Volkswagon was also struck by the tractor-trailer as it veered to the left in the initial collision.

Moshe was flown to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police. The driver of the Honda, Maria Chryssos, 58 of Corpus Christi, Texas, and its passenger, Anastacia Chryssos, 35, of Perry Hall, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were transported to Prince George’s Hospital Center. Linda Perline, 53, of Glenwood, the driver of the Volkswagon, was not injured.

There is no indication of impairment from any drivers at this time, Pietanza said. The investigation into the incident is ongoing and police ask anyone with information to contact the College Park Barrack.

Moshe was an 8th grader at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore where his father has also taught for nearly three decades.

“What is there to say?” said Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, the Academy’s executive director. “It’s devastating for our whole school community. Rabbi Moskowitz has been teaching here for 30 years — his family is our family.”

Outpourings of support and condolences on Facebook paint Moshe as a dedicated and thoughtful young man. A Facebook post from Chai Lifeline, a Jewish service organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses, said that Moshe was one of the youngest Bike4Chai riders. Moshe and his brother, Naftali, raised $12,475 for the charity this year.

Misaskim, a group that helps to ensure Jewish rites are protected during emergencies and tragedies, was called Tuesday night to work with the Washington, D.C., medical examiner so that the body was released in a timely manner, said Rabbi Jack Meyer with the organization.

The funeral service was held for Moshe at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Levinson Chapel and attracted mourners numbering in the hundreds — the chapel, which seats 500-600 people, overflowed to fill a large part of the entryway and a side chapel. Moshe’s classmates arrived to the service by school bus.

“A tragedy like this befalls a family and a community,” said Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, who was officiating the service. “[It’s] so difficult to understand and so difficult to make sense of.”

He went on to say that through faith, the community can endure and take hope.

“It’s a pain and it hurts, but we will never lose our faith,” he said. “We will persevere.”

The rabbi was followed by Moshe’s father and two of his brothers, all of whom spoke emotionally and tearfully about how much Moshe meant to them.

“There’s really nothing I can say today that will do justice to Moshe,” his father, Doniel Moskowitz, said, voice breaking. “Simcha was his second name, but it’s what he was.”

Moshe was described a kind, generous, gentle boy who had a passion for learning and strong determination to do what was right. All spoke about his ready smile and ability to take on any challenge with a positive attitude.

“Moshe, you were my teacher, you were my rebbe,” Doniel Moskowitz said of his son. “…Now, you are a rebbe for everyone.”


How To Speak for the President Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on identity politics, the Middle East and Jewish-American pride


(Courtesy of The Associated)

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is proud to be a Jew.

While giving the address at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Keynote Event on Thursday, Dec. 8 to a packed room in the lavish Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor ballroom, Fleischer declared that he’s also proud to be an American.

He additionally takes great pride in having been the voice of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003 — an especially tumultuous time in the nation’s history.

This after having spent a year in Austin, Texas as spokesman for Bush’s initial presidential campaign and being asked  by one local if his name is “R-period, E-period.” And the gentle ribbing by Bush, who Fleischer acknowledged “occasionally has some trouble with the English language,” (endearingly) dubbing his press secretary “Ari Bob.”

Fleischer illuminated what it was to be tied to his own heritage — as the son of a Hungarian immigrant mother who was one of the last Jews to  escape Europe during the Holocaust — in Bush’s White House, which was largely “Evangelical Christian.”

The challenge was that it is essential for the press secretary to leave aside his or her own perspective when presenting daily briefings to the world press, Fleischer said. It is his or her job to speak on behalf of the president and express those views only with fervent, heartfelt pragmatism.

And yet, Fleischer is proudest still that a person with a Hebrew name — Jewish-American and child of an  immigrant — spoke for the president in this way during the time he was at the White House, be it for the nation’s media or broadcast via outlets such as (he was sure to note) Al Jazeera.

Fleischer wears no rosy-colored glasses when it comes to the “rapidly deteriorating” state of the Middle East, as he put it, vying as he does for the  protection the Jewish people in Israel.

“These are tough times in the Middle East,” Fleischer said. “When is it not?”

Fleischer was pessimistic about the notion for peace  between Israel and the Palestinians, which he referred to as “a quaint and nostalgic thing.”

He is disheartened by the prospect that whereas “every nation that ever sought to make peace with Israel found a willing, ready and able partner for peace” — citing the ilk  of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and Jordan’s King  Hussein bin Talal — there is, in Fleischer’s opinion, currently an alarming lack of such a partner for Israel in a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians.

For context, Fleischer pointed out that there are roads, schools summer camps and other memorials in the Palestinian city of Ramallah — where there was joyous dancing on 9/11, he reminded the audience — named after the most destructive suicide bombers or “martyrs” that ever struck at Israel and the U.S.

It was a sobering, latter half of his speech in which Fleischer said, “There’s no higher call for the Jewish people than a call for peace … but Israel can’t negotiate with ‘no one’ … and so far, the Palestinians have been unable to deliver such a person.”

A reality, Fleischer fears, that was laid bare after Israel pulled out of Gaza. With full sovereignty over their land, one of the first acts by the Palestinians in that area was to destroy the area synagogues.

There is some flicker of light at the end of the dark tunnel for Fleischer, who revealed a “movement” happening “behind the scenes” in the Middle East, as various nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are beginning to focus their hostility less on Israel and more on Iran as the potential threat to regional solidarity.

Fleischer’s wish is that “President-elect Trump will recognize that we are on the verge of an unusual strategic realignment and that the United States should actively work for this realignment and support it.

“It’s in Israel’s interest, it’s in America’s interest and it’s in the interest of the Arab moderates for whom we have to place hope for the future in the Middle East.”

When asked by the JT about his thoughts on so-called “identity politics,” the notion that a person’s association with a larger group (race/religion/ gender/sexuality) profoundly informs his or her worldview, the high-profile policy wonk and media consultant was characteristically self-assured in responding.

“I’m tremendously proud of what this country has done in terms of its melting pot,” Fleischer said. “That we can love our heritage, be true to our heritage … I love that part of the United States. It’s who we are.”

Where Fleischer is concerned is when identity politics becomes more important than an individual’s connection to the nation in which she or he lives.

Fleischer envisions a stronger “national unity,” which he  believes can lead to more  national policies that might  alleviate terra firma problems that affect us all, regardless of personal affiliation, such as “doing the most we can to lift people out of poverty, which is really what we need.”

The confusion many are  experiencing in reconciling their individual, diverse heritage with that of a unified community is something Fleischer  understands all too well.

“What I’ve learned through my government service, particularly at the White House, is how the fabric of the nation still so deeply connects all of us,” he said.

Fleischer recounted a harrowing story in which, three days after 9/11, he faced the decision of whether to go to work that day and speak to the nation for the president … or observe Rosh Hashanah.

After consulting with his staff and rabbi, he decided to attend services in the morning and work the rest of the day. But at a briefing with the press later that day, he was asked a question about a meeting in the oval office that had earlier taken place and was able to  respond that he was unable to answer, as he was in synagogue that morning.

“It felt so good to say that on national television,” Fleischer beamed.


Pearlstone Receives National Honor

 Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Pearlstone Retreat & Conference Center, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, was the recipient of the Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom in the “Local” category on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

As one of 200 applicants  nationwide, the honor was  bestowed upon representatives of Pearlstone at the Jewish  Futures Conference in New York City.

A component of its celebratory 50th anniversary, this was the first time the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah presented its auspicious new award that included an $18,000 prize for its winners in each of six categories.

The foundation supports and promotes “Judaism as a powerful, evolving wellspring of accumulating wisdom and sensibilities that enriches people’s lives and helps create a better world,” according to its news release.

It has worked toward this goal by means of “a strategic portfolio of grantmaking, thought-partnerships and other collaborative actions.”

Pearlstone executive director Jakir Manela and board president Rachel Steinberg Warschawski received the award on behalf of the center that has existed as a bucolic conference/retreat haven on the outskirts of Baltimore for the past 15 years and as an organic farm for the past 10.

“We really bring to life the Jewish calendar and Jewish ethics around land stewardship,” Manela said, “How we treat animals, how we treat the earth in a very tactile way.”

Manela believes that Pearlstone’s experiential education programs — a means of teaching about harvesting, tithing and what he calls “food justice” in giving back both to the land harvested and to needful charities in the community — is “an application of Jewish wisdom that’s unfortunately very rare but really important to help us understand the depth, power and relevance of our heritage.”

Revealing that the prize money will largely go toward continuing to “bring the message of Jewish education to the community in a more public and accessible way,” Manela said he hopes that Pearlstone will also be able to bolster its invitation toward all members of the area, Jew or gentile, to experience the 165-acre estate’s bounties.

“We’re just getting started, and we have a lot more to come,” Manela said. “We’re really excited to continue this great work.”


Perry Leaving Sinai, Interim President Named

Amy Perry named new Sinai president. Photo Provided

Amy Perry
(Photo Provided)

Sinai Hospital president Amy Perry is leaving her post in January after nearly four years to take an executive position with a New Jersey health company.

Perry, who is also executive vice president of LifeBridge Health, the parent company of Sinai, will become CEO of the hospital division and senior vice president of integrated care delivery at Atlantic Health. Her last day with Sinai will be Jan. 20.

Dr. Jonathan Ringo, LifeBridge Health’s chief medical information officer and vice president of clinical transformation, will lead Sinai on an interim basis until a permanent successor is named.

“Amy Perry has accomplished much during her time with us,” LifeBridge Health CEO Neil Meltzer said in a prepared statement. “Amy has overseen many advances in the recent history of our system’s oldest hospital and championed our mission to improve health in the communities we serve. We wish her well in her new role.”

During her tenure as president, Perry helped to promote partnerships with many community organizations such as Park Heights Renaissance and the Safe Streets Program.

She was also instrumental in Sinai maintaining its place among some of the top hospitals on both the local and national scale. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks Sinai as the No. 3 hospital in Maryland, and this year, the magazine rated Sinai’s neurology and neurosurgery programs No. 36 nationally.

Perry came to Sinai in March 2013 from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., where she served as senior vice president and chief operating officer.


Kamenetz Elected MACo President

Kevin Kamenetz

Kevin Kamenetz

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will become the longest-serving member of the Maryland Association of Counties when he assumes the association’s presidency next year.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, was elected president during MACo’s winter conference in Cambridge on Dec. 8 after serving as second vice president in 2016. He will succeed Washington County commissioner John Barr.

In a prepared statement, Kamenetz said he would spend his one-year term promoting education, infrastructure, public health, the environment, workforce development and fiscal responsibility.

“I am both proud and humbled to become president of MACo,” Kamenetz said. “MACo also provides a productive forum to exchange best-practice ideas.”

Kamenetz has been a member of MACo since 1994, when he was first voted to the Baltimore County Council.

As president, Kamenetz will represent leaders from the state’s 23 counties and Baltimore City during the 90-day Maryland General Assembly session, advocating key issues on their behalf.

Kamenetz is the fifth Baltimore County Executive to serve as MACo president, following Christian Kahl (1962), Dale Anderson (1970), Dutch Ruppersberger (1996) and Jim Smith (2008).

In addition, this role puts Kamenetz at the forefront in Annapolis, as he prepares for a potential gubernatorial run in 2018 against incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan.


Goldberg’s Sees Drop in Business Following Trump Outrage


Two Trump supporters make their case outside of Goldberg’s Bagels in October.

The recent backlash against Goldberg’s New York Bagels owner Stanley Drebin’s support of President-elect Donald Trump has shown that political allegiances can come with costs.

Drebin said his business is down 15 percent and has seen a 20 percent dip in foot traffic.

It all started in late October, one week before Trump’s upset victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, when a pickup truck decorated with several Trump signs and signs of other Republican candidates parked outside the Pikesville establishment.

Six people dressed in Trump masks scattered around the vehicle and allegedly made their way into the shop, where Noah Bers previously told the JT that one of the supporters said, “Wouldn’t it be great if nobody was on welfare?” to a black woman.

At around the same time, a woman from inside the store allegedly went outside to confront some of the Trump supporters, shouting that Trump was a “racist” and “Nazi.”

That incident sparked patrons on both sides of the political aisle to show their support and displeasure with Drebin, a Trump supporter.

Drebin recently told the JT emphatically that neither he nor his employees saw the masked Trump supporters enter the store, and one of the masked supporters told the JT she also didn’t see them enter the store.

In a previous interview with the JT, however, Drebin said he was “in the store, walking around the front, in [his] office in the back and many other places” at the time of the alleged activities.

On Nov. 16, Goldberg’s took to Facebook to clear the air, writing, “There are so many people [who] can hate just because a person supports a candidate [Trump] they did not vote for. … Now that my political feelings have been revealed that I supported Trump, I am being attacked by the left with reviews that have nothing to do with the quality of my bagel and my store.”

Goldberg’s also pleaded to customers “who truly enjoy my bagels to review Goldberg’s on Facebook, Google and Yelp to counteract the negative reviews we are getting due to nothing that has anything to do with Goldberg’s.”

Rumors on Facebook of Goldberg’s employees offering discounts to those who voted for Trump also have been a point of contention because federal law prohibits businesses from offering election-day deals.

Some concerned individuals flooded the Goldberg’s Facebook page in search of answers from Goldberg’s on the matter.

“By the way, it was reported that Goldberg’s was giving discounts to customers who supported Trump,” Jack Zagger wrote on the Goldberg’s Facebook post thread. “Is that true?”

Goldberg’s replied: “No, it was a bad joke by my cashier. It never happened. … I might have different [beliefs from] some of my customers, but I have always respected them when they don’t offend other customers.”

Regardless of political ties, some have expressed a willingness to look past all those factors in search of what they feel is a quality product.

“The bagels are the best in Baltimore,” a user named Ian B. wrote in a Dec. 4 Yelp review of Goldberg’s. “The store is owned by a Trump supporter who calls people who disagree with his political views racist anti-Americans. Do with those facts what you will.”


Hogan to Double Nonpublic School Scholarship Program Governor makes announcement at Bais Yaakov


Gov. Larry Hogan poses for photos with Bais Yaakov students. (Justin Silberman)

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced the state is doubling down on a program that helps students pay for nonpublic school tuition during a visit to Bais Yaakov School for Girls.

The state-funded program, Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST), would gradually see its funding increase from $5 million to $10 million by 2020 under Hogan’s plan, he told hundreds of students, faculty and parents.

BOOST, which was signed into law by Hogan during the 2016 legislative session, provides scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools in areas with under-performing public schools.

Hogan said this latest initiative shows that his administration continues to make education a top priority, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd. In his speech, Hogan pointed out that no governor in state history has spent more on K-12 education.

“We’re working hard to ensure every single child in the state of Maryland is given the chance to get a great education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said. “We owe it to our children to find new and innovative ways and solutions to make sure everyone gets those opportunities.”

This past year, nearly $5 million in scholarship funds were provided to more than 200 nonpublic and private schools.

In the Jewish community alone, more than 700 students from nine Jewish day schools, including 209 at Bais Yakkov, were awarded scholarships that exceeded $1 million.

Hogan said the Jewish day school community “led a very aggressive campaign, suggesting families take advantage of the opportunity.”

All told, more than 5,000 applications were submitted.

Before making the announcement, Hogan paid a visit to Chana Kagan’s 11th grade Advanced Placement history class to test students on their knowledge of state government-related issues.

Daniella Friedman, 16, posed a question to the governor regarding his decision to push back the start of the public school year to after Labor Day and was left impressed by his candor.

“He showed that he was really passionate about what he was saying,” Friedman said. “He’s a great governor, and it was really nice to have him in our school. He just has a way of bringing everyone together.”

Kagan, meanwhile, prepared her students a week in advance with lessons on the responsibilities of state governors to ensure they were well prepared for anything Hogan threw their way.

In her 25-plus years teaching at Bais Yaakov, Kagan said she has had numerous guest speakers for her classes but no one of Hogan’s stature.

“A lot of politicians kiss babies, but there is a feeling I get from him that he really cares,” Kagan said. “He’s a man of principle, and I think other people recognize that. It’s a very attractive quality in a politician and good to know he has it.”

Read next week’s JT for a feature on the BOOST program.


Local Activists Host Day of #JewishResistance

About two dozen people showed up at Red Emma’s on Nov. 30 to write letters to local Jewish organizations, mostly concerning the spike in hate crimes.

About two dozen people showed up at Red Emma’s on Nov. 30 to write letters to local Jewish organizations, mostly concerning the spike in hate crimes.

President Elect Donald Trump has not yet taken office, but he is already stirring discontent — and activist action — among a subset of the local Jewish community.

A group of five friends and organizers, all involved in both local activist groups and the Jewish community, felt they could use an outlet for their concerns regarding the incoming administration. So they set up a Facebook event to coincide with an event on Nov. 30 called Day of #JewishResistance created by the national Jewish activist organization IfNotNow and happening in more than 30 cities across the country. The group does not have a Baltimore chapter.

Because the friends set up the event only a few days before it was set to happen, they originally figured it would be a small group of friends and fellow activists discussing issues and writing letters to local Jewish organizations to ask them to take public stances. In just a couple days, however, the event had garnered nearly 100 interested attendees, many of whom couldn’t come on short notice, but who were interested in future opportunities to be involved.

“I feel like if we’d put [the event] out even a week earlier, we’d have more than 100 people here,” said Jodie Zisow-McClean, one of the organizers of the event, which was hosted at Red Emma’s Bookstore and attracted about two dozen attendees over the course of the night. “People are hungry for spaces to resist and especially Jewish spaces.”

Though both the organizers and attendees were frustrated by the election of Donald Trump in general, their letter-writing energy was mostly focused on asking local Jewish organizations — in particular The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Baltimore Jewish Council — to speak out against the rise in hate crimes and appointment of Steve Bannon. The recently appointed White House chief strategist is former editor of Brietbart News, a site known for attracting white nationalist supporters. (On Nov. 14, the Baltimore Jewish Council issued a news alert that said the organization is monitoring the recent spike in hate crimes in Maryland and across the country).

“I think the Jewish community should signal early what side it’s on, and I hope it’s the side of support, optimism and hope,” said attendee Sarah Pinsker, 39, who works with people with developmental disabilities.

This was a sentiment shared by many attendees — the idea that the Jewish community understands what it is like to be oppressed and should take a public stand against the oppression of others.

“I also felt it was very important that the Jewish community speak out not just on anti-Semitism, but on other strains of white supremacy,” said 18-year-old attendee Evan Drukker-Schardl.

The crowd skewed young — mostly 20-somethings — but also included a few older adults and even a couple with their baby. Red Emma’s backroom filled up quickly, so some people migrated out into the coffee shop area to continue writing. According to Zisow-McClean, they sent 10 letters the next day, and many others grabbed envelopes and stamps to send themselves once they’d finished their letter.
“I’m one of the co-presidents of the J Street U chapter at Hopkins, and I think our work kind of coincides with actions like this,” said Johns Hopkins University junior Marty Feuerstein-Mendik.
The event ended with both a call to action and ritual of hope, based on Rosh Chodesh. After a few people read aloud short sections of their letters, the organizers gave a shout-out to other organizations such as Jews United for Justice.

To close out the evening, the organizers asked everyone to write down one thing currently giving them hope on a slip of paper. Zisow-McClean mixed up the slips and handed them back out so people could read aloud someone else’s.

There were several variations of “this event of collective action,” along with responses ranging from the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and looking to Jewish history to the story of Chanukah and everyday thoughtful humans.

“We’re just refusing to stay silent,” said Zisow-McClean.