O’Riley Fuses Classical Piano with Modern Sounds

When Christopher O’Riley takes the stage at the Gordon Center on Saturday, Dec. 6 (8 p.m.), attendees will hear a few tunes they might not expect from a musician of his kind.

“As a classical pianist, I came to a point where there was lots of other music I wanted to incorporate into my concerts,” O’Riley said.

About 10 years ago, he started “Out of My Hands,” which has him performing classical pieces alongside some of his modern favorites. The Gordon Center show will feature songs by Radiohead, Elliott Smith, jazz trio The Bad Plus as well as “Lazuli” by internationally renowned Baltimore musicians Beach House.

The second part of his show features two pieces by Russian composers, both written in 1913 —  Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9 and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2.

Much of O’Riley’s career focuses on breaking down musical barriers. As the host of NPR’s “From The Top,” he features pre-collegiate classical composers. He has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin and Bela Fleck and performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the National Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony.

“I think you can pare it down to two elements that I find most appealing about any music that I play. One that I’m always compelled by is an interesting harmonic sort of chord change that makes your skin tingle,” he said. “The other thing is texture. I think I’m much more drawn to music that isn’t just melody and harmony, where you have this interweaving of different voices.”

Randi Benesch, managing director of the Gordon Center, said O’Riley is “an artist of the highest capability who tests boundaries both within and beyond musical genres.”

For more information and tickets, visit bit.ly/11z7lMy.

Downtown Tribe

At the Downtown JCC, families with young children can take advantage of open play every weekday morning. (David Stuck)

Jewish life is experiencing a renaissance downtown, and the Jewish establishments uptown are taking notice in a big way, investing in programming and renting spaces to cater to the lives of this new breed of city pioneers, culminating in the opening of a Jewish preschool.

According to the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study conducted by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, there are 4,500 Jewish persons downtown. By all accounts, that number is growing with couples with young children choosing to stay downtown longer, an influx of empty nesters and a revolving door of students and young professionals.

Nine years ago, Liz Simon- Higgs came to Baltimore to teach. Now, she and her husband, Stephen Higgs, live just south of Federal Hill by Riverside Park with their two sons, 5 and 21⁄2. Seeking to build a Jewish community, Simon-Higgs took on administering the 160-member Downtown Baltimore Jewish Family Network about a year ago.

The goal of the DBJFN is to create more intimate connections among the growing number of young Jewish and interfaith families in downtown Baltimore.

“I think the number of people living downtown has gone up and the number of Jews living downtown has gone up,” said Simon-Higgs. “My goal for the year is to meet with a good number of those folks face-to-face and to find out Jewishly where they are on their journey, why do they choose to live downtown away from the mother ship of Pikesville? What do they want, what do they need Jewishly to make their family and life experience and Jewish experience whole?”

To accommodate these young families, a number of institutions and programming has been brought downtown.

Beth El Congregation, which operates a satellite Hebrew school downtown, signed a lease last week to open a Jewish preschool on the premises of Salem Lutheran Church on Battery Avenue near Riverside Park. The preschool will build upon the same foundation as the school on the main Pikesville Beth El campus — the first Jewish preschool accredited by the state. Preschool director Ilene Vogelstein spent two years searching for the perfect location with the help of downtown parents.

“It’s good for the community overall that a congregation cares about Jews, even those not in their immediate geographic area. It’s good for those who feel disconnected,” said Vogelstein.

The new preschool classrooms will undergo renovations this winter and open with an expected 15 families this June and for full day-care services for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds next fall. Dr. Eyal Bor, director of education, and Rabbi Steven Schwartz, emphasized that Beth El will be a stakeholder in this new community, with regular visits from clergy and interfaith programming with Pastor Jacob Simpson.

The Downtown Jewish Community Center was opened on Light Street in Federal Hill in February 2013. During the week, families with young children can drop in from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for open play. Tot Shabbat, Shabbat Family Happy Hour and Babies and Bagels — a Sunday morning program where parents can hear from specialists while enjoying a nosh — are popular offerings.

The DBJCC has approximately 100 member families and attracts 60 families to regular classes, not all of whom are members, according to Sharon Seigel, senior program director.

Congregation Beit Tikvah, a Reconstructionist congregation located in Roland Park, is utilizing the DBJCC on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month for its brand-new Kesher School program “Young Family Shabbat Experience” geared to downtown families with infants and preschoolers seeking some Shabbat structure.

“We believe that there are Jewish families downtown who don’t want to leave downtown to have a Jewish education,” said Kesher principal Debbie Rosenberg.

“We want to develop a cohort of Jewish families where the children grow up together, develop a community of families who are dedicated, a group of families where the children grow up as friends.”

Simon-Higgs concedes that there are a large number of families who will move uptown when their children reach school age, but she is hopeful for the future.

“I think there are a couple of trends — certainly there are lots of Jewish baby boomers who are moving downtown, which will help anchor the community,” said Simon-Higgs. “I think between the perception that the schools are improving and incoming baby boomers, I think the Jewish community’s future downtown is solid, even if there is more mobility than other places.”

Dr. Jonathan Heiliczer and his wife, Rebecca, are among the empty nesters making a reverse migration. In March of this year, they left their home in Potomac and moved to the Inner Harbor, just below Federal Hill off Key Highway. With their last child now off at college, it was time for the Heiliczers to enjoy city life again.

Also read, Lloyd Street Synagogue Celebrates Rededication.

“When you’re young it’s about shul and school. My youngest is in college so now we just needed a shul,” said Heiliczer. “In our complex here of townhouses, we’ve met other people who have moved down from suburban parts of Baltimore like Owings Mills for the similar reasons that we did.” Namely, to take advantage of the downtown atmosphere — farmers’ markets, theater, musicals and sports.

The Heiliczers joined B’nai Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue on Lloyd Street headed by Rabbi Etan Mintz, touted on its website as “The Downtown Synagogue.” The synagogue serves as the center of their Jewish lives, where they mix and mingle with people of all ages and Jewish backgrounds.

Mintz welcomes these urban and “synagogue pioneers” and strives to make B’nai Israel a welcoming communal place for all Baltimore Jews.

“Everybody is looking for meaningful connections, for a sense of community, for a sense of spirituality and yearning, for helping to improve the community. For some it’s social justice, for some it’s Jewish education, but most of all, people want to feel that they’re a part of something,” said Mintz.

“We try to be proactive and not just wait for people to come to the synagogue. We try to engage the whole downtown Jewish community.”

When she was first married, Ilene Cohen and her husband lived downtown. When they moved to Owings Mills they vowed that they would someday return to the city. Like the Heiliczers, when the Cohens’ youngest child was a junior in college, they moved to the Inner Harbor.

“We can walk to almost anywhere we want to get to. We have season tickets to the Ravens, so we walk there. If we feel like it we can walk over to [Camden Yards] and get tickets on a whim.”

B’nai Israel, which calls itself “The Downtown Synagogue,” holds a morning minyan. (Provided)

B’nai Israel, which calls itself “The Downtown Synagogue,” holds a morning minyan. (Provided)

Cohen volunteers with the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Lloyd Street so she knew where to find Jewish learning downtown, but she found that it was harder to find everyday friends. She called up Hadassah to find a local chapter, and finding none, she started the Charm City Hadassah chapter with Roberta Greenstein. Their charter was signed by 22 women in September 2014.

Charm City Hadassah hosts Shabbat dinners, a book club and even allows husbands along for various events. They’re hoping to add Sunday morning rabbi talks with the downtown rabbis Mintz, Druk, Gross, and Beth Am’s Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg.

Cohen expects that more people will be joining her downtown. “The mayor is banking on it” she said in reference to new high rise residential developments.

A recent opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun noted that Baltimore is a beneficiary of college-educated young people moving to the nation’s cities. Shockingly, the article noted, “Baltimore’s rate of growth in young professionals was higher than in places such as Portland [Ore.], Austin, Boston and San Francisco …”

Nadine Simpson, 27, who holds three advanced degrees and is a registered nurse at Sinai Hospital, moved to West Baltimore near the Inner Harbor over a year ago to take advantage of life downtown.

“Our parents had this dream of a house in the suburbs with the dog and the kids, but we want to move downtown,” said Simpson. “I love that there’s always something for me to do.”

An acquaintance told her about Beth Am and B’nai Israel, and she soon became an active member of the B’nai Israel Young Adults group.

“I really like the community downtown. I also go to events in Pikesville, but the community in Pikesville is homogenous, and I like that there are so many different people downtown,” said Simpson.

Vadim Kashtelyan, 25, a full-time microbiology student at Maryland and a resident of Moishe House, echoed Simpson’s sentiments. Like many young city dwellers, he grew up in the county — his parents still live in Owings Mills — and wanted to experience city life.

“There are a lot of people who grew up in the county but aren’t ready to settle down with kids in the county. They want a different Baltimore experience.”

Moishe House, a gravitational pull for young Jews in metropolitan areas across the U.S., opened its doors in Federal Hill in August 2010.

Mickey Rubin, director of education and engagement for Bolton Street Synagogue, was one of the three founders of Baltimore’s Moishe House, originally pitched to him as a Jewish version of the popular MTV show “The Real World.”

“We started with a few friends, and soon we were getting 25 to 40 people for Shabbat dinners,” said Rubin. “We did a lot of happy hours, and we did Jewish learning — we ran the gamut as far as events.”

The attendees, past and present, tend to be young people in graduate school, medical school, and law school. About half the participants, Rubin said, were new to the area and looking to meet people and build a Jewish community.

BAYITT, an egalitarian community for young Jewish 20- and 30- year-olds affiliated with Beth Am Synagogue of the Conservative movement, attracts young professionals to Shabbat services and caters dinners the second Friday of each month, with potlucks and holiday gatherings scattered throughout the year.

The group’s members hail from all over the city, including the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus and the Reservoir Hill, Hampden and Canton neighborhoods, according to BAYITT committee member Steve Segal.

Chabad Lubavitch of Downtown Baltimore, on South High Street, opened in 2008. Rabbi Levi Druk and his wife, Chani, cater to the revolving door of Jews through Shabbat dinners, holiday programs and Torah programs.

“The downtown community is very transient,” said Druk. “People are here for a few months, to get a graduate degree, an internship. They may start a family but then leave when their kids are 2 or 3. Even empty nesters might want to retire permanently elsewhere. There are new faces all the time.”

Still, Druk estimates that Chabad has a core group of 100 to 200 regular attendees.

Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe embraces the transient nature and short-term cycles of young Jews downtown with her take-it-to-the-streets brand of Judaism.

“We are a people who have always been able to thrive without spaces,” said Gross. “We need to lift [our Judaism and Jewish traditions] up to the 50 percent of people who don’t identify with places but who feel proudly, deeply about being a Jew.”

Instead of wasting time and resources on building committees, rent and professional staffs, the Jewish community should focus its money and talent into developing content that can be put into practice anywhere, she added.

“There are models in Jewish tradition where this happens and it resonates with people who live downtown. It’s an experiment. We don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” said Gross.

Though not as populous as the tens of thousands of Jews who lived in tight-knit immigrant neighborhoods downtown in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, the Jewish population downtown today is thriving.

Just last month during Simchat Torah, a boisterous crowd of Jews, young and old, danced their way through the last hakafot in the street outside B’nai Israel.

Said Mintz: “Who would imagine that in 2014 on Simchat Torah night there would be Jews dancing with the Torah on Lloyd Street? These synagogue walls are rejoicing again.”


‘Coming of Age’

Fourteen area rabbis were featured at Howard Community College for the Global Day of Jewish Learning. (Melissa Apter)

Fourteen area rabbis were featured at Howard Community College for the Global Day of Jewish Learning.
(Melissa Apter)

The Jewish Federation of Howard County and the Howard County Board of Rabbis played host to 150 members of the county’s Jewish community who came together Nov. 16 at Howard Community College to participate in the Global Day of Jewish Learning.

Attendees were treated to presentations by 14 area rabbis who expanded on the theme, “Heroes, Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book.” The gathering marked the first time the community as a whole participated in the worldwide event, joining more than 500 communities in 40 countries participating in the fifth annual day of learning.

“[This is a] very important program for us as a community to come together. It’s something that has been missing in Howard County that people wanted to come together,” said Jessica Zellweger, marketing and communications associate at the federation.

Divided into two one-hour sessions, with a snack break in between, attendees chose from lectures with titles such as “Moses: Extraordinary Prophet or Just Your Average Mo?” presented by Rabbi Morris Zimbalist; “Modern Poetry, Contemporary Midrash — Drawing Inspiration for the People of the Book,” presented by Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation; and “Resurrection — Biblically Speaking,” presented by Rabbi Mendel Abrams of Beth Torah Congregation.

Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia was among the clergy who participated in the first session with her take on “Heroines, Prophetesses and Queens — The Women of the Book.”

“On one hand, it means that the Jewish community in Howard County is coming of age,” said Grossman. “It’s thrilling to see the growth of community in this way and that the study of the Bible can be at the heart of the Jewish people — affiliated and unaffiliated.”

Betsy Singer Marcus of Columbia relished the opportunity to hear from other clergy from Howard County and to mingle with people from other congregations.

“It enhances our Jewishness to share our experience with people from other congregations and denominations,” she said.

Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, education director at Beth Shalom Congregation, presented “King David: Sinner or Saint?” describing the ancient ruler as a fascinating character and one of the most complex in the Bible. For Plotkin, communal learning is paramount to the transmission of Jewish knowledge to the younger generations.

“The goal is to encourage education as a lifelong pursuit,” said Plotkin. “For me, as a youth educator, it makes it easier for me to teach kids when there is an educated parent at home. When kids see parents and grandparents participate in Jewish learning they see that Jewish education is important.”

Board of Rabbis president Rabbi Craig H. Axler of Temple Isaiah in Fulton was thrilled with the outcome of this event.

“This idea of doing something as a community and exposing our groups to each other is a wonderful thing to do,” he said. “To have 14 rabbis with no friction … that encourages me on what we can yet do as a community.”


Rabbis Unite!

From left: Towson/Goucher Chabad Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, Dr. Jon Griner of Owings Mills Chabad, Eli Shoykhet of Owings Mills Chabad, Natalio Pincever of Owings Mills Chabad, Rabbi Levi Druk of Chabad of Downtown Baltimore, Gabbi Glushakow of Owings Mills Chabad (standing above), Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen of Owings Mills Chabad, Rabbi Sholly Cohen of Chabad of Carroll County, Felix Goldovsky of Owings Mills Chabad (seated), Brian Levin of Owings Mills Chabad and Jon Welfeld of Owings Mills Chabad at the banquet that concluded the 31st annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Ask just about any shliach at the recent conference of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis about what they get out of spending five days with their fellow rabbis and he will say “recharging the batteries.”

“The shluchim conference is like the Rosh Hashanah of our outreach,” Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, director of Chabad of Owings Mills, said, using the Yiddish-inflected Hebrew word for emissaries. “It’s when we derive inspiration, recharge and are empowered to fulfill our mission to reach every single Jew in the community.”

Katsenelenbogen, better known by his supporters, students and congregants as Rabbi K, was one of a reported 4,200 rabbis from 81 countries and territories who attended the 31st annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in Brooklyn, N.Y. The five-day conference wrapped up Sunday night with a banquet attended by almost 5,000 people — supporters and other lay leaders joined the rabbis — that included speeches from international Chabad administrators and Israel’s Speaker of the Knesset, a lot of time to socialize and, of course, dancing.

The conference was a chance for the shluchim to share best practices, study together and revisit the teachings of the movement’s late leader, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who took Chabad-Lubavitch into the modern age by sending emissaries to college campuses and far-flung Jewish communities around the globe. In the 20 years since Schneerson’s passing, Chabad has seen a 236 percent increase in its emissary corps, with an average of more than two couples joining per week. These emissaries run Jewish centers, preschools, synagogues, yeshivas, drug treatment programs, prison visitation programs and other projects charged with bringing Jews closer to their heritage and tradition.

Just before the conference, the movement announced the establishment of a Chabad House in Mississippi, leaving just South Dakota as the only state without a full-time Chabad presence.

“The Rebbe’s dedication to outreach was so powerful, so intense, that as generations go on, there are new people that need to hear that message and there’s a new way to share that message,” said Chabad of Park Heights director Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, who is also director the Cheder Chabad day school in Baltimore. “We need to come together and say, ‘How do we do that this year?’”

For Lisbon, that meant networking with other day school leaders to talk about what’s working in different communities and continuing to share that information after the conference.

Rockville-based Rabbi Levi Raskin, who runs the JCrafts program, had a chance to learn about other ways he can make Judaism fun when he goes into schools in the Washington, D.C.-area. JCraft programs include making shofars with students before Rosh Hashanah, making olive oil using a press around Chanukah and teaching how a Torah is made.

“By getting together, we create more ideas and implement them,” Raskin said of the conference. To that end, he plans to bring a kosher chocolate factory idea back home with him so that students can learn about kosher animals and then make chocolate using molds of those animals.

For campus rabbis such as Rabbi Eli Backman from the University of Maryland Chabad in College Park, it was a chance to discuss the unique challenges of running a Chabad House in a continually changing community.

“My congregation is always 18 to 22,” Backman said. “You’re working with a crowd going through a very different time period in life. They’re not going to be there a long time.”

“There’s a lot of competing things for their attention and focus,” added Rabbi Mendy Rivkin of the Towson University and Goucher College Chabad. He said it can be somewhat isolating in the community when dealing with the struggle of helping reinforce people’s Jewish identities in a transient environment like a college campus. But the conference is a reminder that he is not the only one dealing with those issues.

“It allows us to refocus on the beautiful things that do happen and let the struggles fall by the wayside,” Rivkin said.

Campus rabbis also networked with representatives of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi to exchange ideas.

Rabbi Levi Druk of Chabad-Lubavitch of Downtown Baltimore also deals with a population that is very transient, so he works to keep those connections beyond Baltimore.

“You get to know people and they’re gone very quickly,” he said of the young professional population he caters to. “I put a lot of effort into staying in touch with friends, and I hope that the effect my relationship had on them while they were here continues, their growth in Judaism continues.”

One such person Druk has kept in touch with is Ron Reitman, who first joined the Chabad movement when he was 20 and got involved in the downtown Chabad House when he lived in Baltimore after college. Reitman, now 38, lives in Riverdale in the Bronx, N.Y., and is active in a Chabad community there. His children were named at the local Chabad synagogue, and his son attends its day school.

“I’m so into it now. I love going to shul. My son loves going to shul,” he said. “I can’t put into words the impact Chabad shluchim have had on my life and my children.”

That impact was reinforced by the banquet’s speakers, including Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the director of the conference and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s educational arm.

“The Rebbe wasn’t looking for complacency, he was looking for radical change,” Kotlarsky told the crowd. “We see on a daily basis how the world has changed.”

He cited public menorah lightings and the fact that there are shluchim in cities with only 500 Jews as ways this vision has come to light.

“The future will be bright … because of the unity of the Jewish people,” added Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset.

For Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland, it all goes back to Schneerson — his legacy, his teachings and his ideas.

“That’s what regenerates us to keep on driving to accomplish what we want to do, which is to reach every single Jew, educate every single Jew and to give them a chance to become acquainted with their heritage that they own,” he said. “We’re not selling them our wares; we’re trying to give them what their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents all the way back to Abraham and Moses left them.”


Lloyd Street Synagogue Celebrates Rededication

The Lloyd Street Synagogue has a rich history, dating to 1845. (Provided)

The Lloyd Street Synagogue has a rich history, dating to 1845. (Provided)

Baltimore’s historic Lloyd Street Synagogue celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rededication of its downtown Greek Revival building.

Dubbed Synagogue Night, the Nov. 6 event drew 40 community members to a presentation given by Gary Zolah, executive director of the American Jewish Archives, titled “Profiles in American Jewish Courage.”

In 1959, the city made plans to demolish the decaying building on Lloyd Street and put in its place a parking lot. Determined to save the oldest synagogue in Maryland, the Jewish community banded together to rescue and restore the historic building.

The newly restored synagogue opened to public view on Nov. 8, 1964. Today, it stands as a cornerstone of the Jewish Museum of Maryland with the popular “The Synagogue Speaks” exhibit.

Anniversary festivities continued the following Sunday with the debut of a new tour titled “Technology in the Temple.” The tour, available Mondays and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June, touches on the technological innovations that swept the city when the synagogue was built in 1845 and expanded in 1860.

Ilene Dackman-Alon, the museum’s director of education, led a group of 20 people through the basement displays and mikvah area of the synagogue, then up into the sanctuary, pointing to the wooden pews, women’s balcony and iconic stained-glass windows the former Jewish Historical Society of Maryland had restored.

Standing before the ark, a reproduction of the original, Dackman-Alon quoted E.B. Hirsch, who wrote of the restoration project, “The holes where the colored stained glass windows fit had been boarded up. They despaired of knowing exactly what the colors would be. But in cleaning out the building they found a bushel basket full of broken glass. And they pieced all of it together, and then they could have it restored.”

Dr. Gary Zola addresses the crowd in the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue (Photos courtesy of Jewish Museum of Maryland)

Dr. Gary Zola addresses the crowd in the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue (Photos courtesy of Jewish Museum of Maryland)

Because the rededication anniversary coincided with Kristallnacht, the museum invited artist Marty Levin to display his meticulously crafted miniature facades of former European synagogues. Added to the collection was a miniature Lloyd Street Synagogue and its neighbor down the block, B’nai Israel.

As for the future of the building, museum executive director Marvin Pinkert said increased accessibility, additional audio aids and an expansion of virtual technology experiences were on the horizon.

“If I look 50 years ahead, I think this will remain a hallowed space,” said Pinkert. “There’s a continuity here … a time capsule of Jewish Baltimore history, from the earliest German Jewish immigrants to 1950s life downtown to the formation of the historic society to now. It’s a long chain.”


Step Right Up!

Roboteam CEO Shahar Abuhazira shows off one of his company’s robots at the MIDC showcase in Silver Spring. (Photo by Suzanne Pollak)

At first glimpse, it looked like a Lego toy, but the robot demonstrated at last week’s Showcase of Maryland-Israel Business in Silver Spring was the same one that swept the Gaza tunnels for explosives during this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. And like so many of Israel’s hi-tech and national security inventions, this robot has ties to Montgomery County.

Israeli companies that are involved in Iron Dome’s radar system; apps to get emergency workers to the scene of an emergency more quickly; scales to weigh wounded patients who can’t get out of bed; devices to make sure a premise is secured; and equipment to detect illegal drugs right on the scene were on display Nov. 18 at the Silver Spring Civic Center Building in an event sponsored by the Maryland-Israel Development Center (MIDC).

While the ideation and construction of these products take place in Israel, these companies have offices in Bethesda, Rockville or Gaithersburg, where efforts are made to sell the product in the United States, provide customer support or obtain funding.

Montgomery County is a hotbed of Israeli business due to what Barry Bogage, executive director of the MIDC, calls the four Cs. The area surrounding Washington, D.C., is where the customers are, where many of America’s chief executive officers can be found and where many Israelis have families, or cousins, Bogage said. The fourth C refers to capital and is why other Israeli companies turn to the Silicon Valley, Bogage said.

Israeli companies also set up base in Montgomery County because “we spread the word that the market is here,” Bogage said.

For the past 22 years, the MIDC has been working on bilateral economic development between Israel and Maryland, with offices in Rockville, Baltimore and Tel Aviv. While working to bring Israeli companies to the state, MIDC also helps match Maryland companies with businesses in Israel.

MIDC operates on a budget of $275,000 from the Maryland Department of Economic Development, $40,000 from the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and $150,000 from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

It also receives money from membership dues.

The event in Silver Spring was MIDC’s fourth annual showcase and the first one ever to be held in Montgomery County. A crowd of people — most of them under 40 years old — mingled and viewed the products while nibbling on hors d’oeuvres of chicken and Israeli dips and sipping Israeli wines.

Close to 25 companies displayed their wares, including Roboteam, the company that created the robot that crawled through the tunnels that terrorists in Gaza used to smuggle weapons and to launch attacks. The company has an office in Bethesda, where it provides training and customer support for its unmanned systems.

The robots it creates can climb stairs and utilize up to seven cameras for a 360-degree view, said CEO Shahar Abuhazira.

Also attending last week’s event were representatives from Medispec, a company that offers shock-wave therapy used in various medical procedures. Its office in Gaithersburg distributes the machines that were made in Israel.

Equivo is an Israeli company that takes large quantities of computer text and analyzes it for large corporations, picking out what a particular company deemsimportant without a human needing to search large amounts of data. Its customer support center is
located in Rockville.

Also attending the event were representatives from Elta, which operates in Fulton and is a subsidiary of the Israeli company that designed and produced the radar system used by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Another company featured was Jedvice, which operates in Baltimore, and utilizes sensors to ensure an area is secure.

During the two-hour showcase, speaker Jeremy Bash, a former senior adviser to Leon Panetta at both the CIA and Department of Defense, spoke about his work. Currently, Bash is founder and managing director at Beacon Global Strategies.

America continues to support Israel with money and weapons, and “MIDC is part of that strategic alliance,” Bash said.


No Place Like JTown

JTown gives young children the experience of a miniature Jewish community. (Provided)

JTown gives young children the experience of a miniature Jewish community.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and the mercury dropping to below freezing on some nights, the season for outdoor playdates is dwindling. But starting Dec. 1, parents with infants and young children can breathe a sigh of relief.

According to officials at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, JTown, a new child-sized play space on the first floor, is the perfect cure for cabin fever.

Designed by Jen Byrnes of Little Main Street Playhouses and built by master carpenter Chris Maclay and assistant Fletcher Daniel, JTown is a miniature Jewish community, where children and their parents can read, play, perform and pretend in a colorful, warm, safe environment. JTown includes a miniature home, a grocer, a veterinarian office, a bagel shop, a combination synagogue/theater and a real lending library. The space even contains a “baby garden” built with cushioned floors and walls and enclosed with a white picket fence, where infants can play without being trampled by older children.

“Jen is a creative genius,” said Sharon Seigel, director of parenting education and engagement for the JCC. “For every one idea someone else has, she has 10. The attention to detail [in JTown] is remarkable.”

For example, she noted, the house has a front porch, where a sukkah can be built during Sukkot; there is a working stoplight, street signs, a fire hydrant and even a sign reminding JTown residents to pick up after their dogs. In the synagogue/theater space, children can dress up like their favorite “neighborhood helpers.” There is a plush miniature Torah and even a teddy-bear rabbi. JTown’s grocer sells Jewish products such as challah and matzah, and there are separate sections for meat and milk products.

“We imagine that children can go to the grocer and purchase food and then come home to prepare Shabbat dinner,” said Seigel.

The space will be decorated for all Jewish holidays, she said. JTown is fully accessible, and doorways are built to accommodate children in wheelchairs.
One of the most exciting features of JTown, said Seigel, is the fact that it is built around a real PJ Library. A program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sponsored in partnership with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Macks Center for Jewish Education, PJ Library engages Jewish families with children from 6 months to 61/2 years by sending a free Jewish-themed book or CD to their homes every month. While PJ library programs now exist in Jewish communities across North America, JTown includes the first actual library in the program’s history, said Amiam Frost Kelemer, chief operating officer at the CJE.

Kelemer detailed when the idea for the library was originally conceived.

“Sometimes, good ideas come from heaven,” said Kelemer. “At Mitzvah Day last year, we set up a little nook with bean-bag chairs and all the PJ Library books. One little boy looked in and said, ‘Wow, it’s the real PJ Library!’ The boy’s idea got staff members thinking: Why not have a PJ Library on-site, where children and their families can meet up, play, listen to stories and even check out books?”

Kelemer and others at the CJE knew that the JCC was considering ways to utilize the large space near the entrance that was formerly a gallery, so agency representatives came together to brainstorm.

“We are over the moon,” said Kelemer of the project. “We are having so much fun thinking of the Jewish educational possibilities. There is nothing else like this.”

Kelemer said that the JCC and the CJE will share the space, and each agency will provide its own programming. Programs will include story times and Tot Shabbats, but at other times, the space will be available for free play, socializing and birthday parties.

“We’ve been fortunate that several people fell in love with the idea right from the start,” said Seigel. “We are very appreciative for the supporters who made this possible. The potential for the future of JTown is limitless.”


Black Friday Watch

Somewhere between turkey and stuffing and pie and ice cream, many retailers hope you and your family find the time to shop for some televisions, tablets or toys.

The ever-growing Black Friday phenomenon of price-slashing sales expanded in 2012 for the first time ever into Thanksgiving Day when Wal-Mart announced that it would be opening its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. This year, Wal-Mart and others will move that time even earlier with a 6 p.m. start.

For many stores, Black Friday signals the start of the most prosperous part of the year. In 2013, an estimated 92 million people shopped on Black Friday, according to USA Today. And Cyber Monday, Black Friday’s digital counterpart, saw even more spending, with 131 million people taking advantage of deals online. For stores, those figures translate to large profits; stores raked in $12.3 billion in sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday last year.

For Lynn Fram, co-owner of Bare Necessities in Lutherville-Timonium, the intimate apparel store’s location in a plaza rather than a shopping mall requires a unique approach to the retail holiday.

“We try to do a different thing each year,” she said. This year the store will feature discounts on many items and a gift card deal that rewards the purchase of a Bare Necessities gift card with another free gift card. In the past, Fram said she and the ownership have tried opening the store earlier than usual but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle in the end.

“People come in around lunchtime instead of at 10 o’clock,” she said. “We are expecting it to be extremely busy.”

And after more than a decade of participating in Black Friday sales, Fram has learned that the busy-ness just keeps coming for Bare Necessities after Black Friday is over. Although she couldn’t recall the exact breakdown, she said Black Friday weekend sales, including those from Small Business Saturday, account for a large portion of her yearly profits.

“As years have gone on we’ve been busier with it,” she said, adding that she and other store management typically begin formulating their Black Friday plan about three to four months in advance. On Nov. 21, she was charting a schedule for increased staff. On Nov. 26, her mailers and email notices will arrive in potential customers’ mailboxes.

Luckily for her, Fram said, her customer base is less sales driven than that of many other area retailers. Even when the sales are over, she sees a steady flow of business that continues even past Christmas and Chanukah, as people shop for special items for New Year’s.


Synagogues Rally for Alzheimer’s Awareness

At recent Shabbat services, Baltimore-area congregations joined more than 125 churches in observance of the Purple Sabbath.

It wasn’t for the Ravens, though, and instead raised Alzheimer’s awareness, purple being the signature color of the Alzheimer’s Association. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Temple Oheb Shalom, Beth El Congregation and Temple Emanuel of Baltimore encouraged members to attend services wearing purple and provided resources to learn about the disease and get involved with organizations working to find a cure.

Rabbi Rhoda Silverman of Temple Emanuel gave a Saturday morning sermon relating the story of Adam and Eve to the value of human brains and their functions. “Imagine if those processes slowly disappeared: the ability to remember even simple details, the ability to reason through a problem or dilemma, the ability to navigate in familiar surroundings — even in one’s own home, the ability to remember the histories of beloved family and friends, the ability to take care of basic personal needs,” she told congregants. “Having tasted knowledge, I can assure you, it wouldn’t be a return to Eden. And it isn’t for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“The facts are stark. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive — currently incurable — brain disease that, according to the NIH, is the most common cause of dementia in older adults,” she continued. “It not only impacts the individual suffering from the disease, but it brings with it extraordinary consequences and conditions for caregivers who most often are also immediate family members who are simultaneously dealing with the slow and progressive loss of their loved one.”

Silverman offered more information in the synagogue’s lobby and directed people to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, alz.org/maryland.

Cass Naugle, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Maryland Chapter, said such events allow the association to connect with caregivers.

“When a caregiver learns about the Alzheimer’s Association, they learn that they are not alone,” Naugle said in statement. “The programs and services that we offer provide support through all stages of the disease, and for those who aren’t affected, teach them about risk factors that could contribute to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

BMA Gets Ready to Reopen Merrick Entrance

112114_museum-briefThe Baltimore Museum of Art is set to reopen its grand Merrick Historic Entrance after more than 30 years and also premiere its renovated Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing on Sunday, Nov. 23.

The reinstalled wing will display approximately 850 works of American art, some of which have not been exhibited in many years, said David Park Curry, the museum’s senior curator of decorative arts and American painting and sculpture. He is inviting visitors to “lots of choices on how to see and experience” the 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century galleries, a textile gallery, decorative arts showcases and the Maryland gallery — unique in its salon-style display of paintings and their strong connection to Maryland artists and collectors.

“There was an openness to new” by Maryland collectors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, said Curry. They made their fortunes in mercantile and the railroads so they were considered “new-money” families. But they “were visionary and cutting edge in their tastes, and …they liked lots of stuff.”

The entrance and wing are part of a $28 million renovation. The final phase will be the reinstallation of the African and Asian art collections in April 2015. “Reopening the historic entrance will be an extraordinary moment during the BMA’s centennial celebration,” said the museum’s director, Doreen Bolger. “We are looking forward to throwing open the doors and welcoming visitors to a beautiful new presentation of our renowned American collection.”