AVAM Mosaic Nears Completion

The American Visionary Art Museum’s western wall, which faces Federal Hill, displays a rendering of the aurora borealis.

The American Visionary Art Museum’s western wall, which faces Federal Hill, displays a rendering of the aurora borealis.


The American Visionary Art Museum exterior mosaic is nearing completion, with the western wall facing Federal Hill now adorned with a rendering of the aurora borealis.

The LeRoy E. Hoffberger Shining Youth/Shining Walls program was started in 2001 to be built by at-risk youth.

“It’s a living social justice and physical beauty project,” said Rebecca Hoffberger, who co-founded the museum with then-husband LeRoy.

The project first had students from nearby Southern High School — now Digital Harbor School —create the three-story mosaic that faces east toward Key Highway. Since then, the museum has worked with juveniles from the William Donald Schaefer House, transitional housing for young men in the Baltimore City penal system.

Those youth apprentices, who learned masonry and a variety of other hands-on construction and art skills, completed the café balcony surface in 2006, which features a sunset, moonrise and “planets” created by the young men. Phase III, which was expected to be completed on Oct. 17, was a multiyear project to decorate the wall of the main building that faces Federal Hill with an iridescent green and purple rendering of the northern lights.

The new section of the mosaic will be dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m. The dedication is open to the public.“I made the design, but within my design are round spheres and planets. Those are designed entirely by the young men,” said Mari Gardner, the artist who has worked with the youth apprentices on the project since the café phase of the mosaic. “They’re not tough, bad guys like everybody likes to put labels on. They’re human beings; they have hearts; they want to express themselves.”

The last piece of the mosaic, to be completed in 2015, will cover the building’s top concrete crown in mosaics and crystals that will be visible from the other side of the harbor.


The Jewish Vote

101714_coverOn Tuesday, Nov. 4, Marylanders will head to the voting booths to decide who will be the state’s next chief executive.

While the Baltimore Jewish community is generally concerned about many of the same issues as others in the state, there are some areas Jewish locals are following closely.

Judging by interviews and anecdotal evidence, specific budget items, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the economy and Maryland-Israel relations are weighing more heavily in some Jewish voters’ and advocates’ minds.

As a whole, Baltimore-area voters appear most concerned about the economy and jobs heading into the general election, according to a poll released by Goucher College on Oct. 7.

Twenty-five percent of respondents told pollsters that the most important issue facing the state today is jobs and the economy. Another 18 percent said taxes, followed by education, crime and the

Thirty-one percent of respondents described their current financial situation as worse than it was a year ago. That number is up from two years ago, when only 24 percent said their finances had gotten worse, and 34 percent reported being in a better financial situation than they had been in the year prior. In both 2012 and 2014, the highest number of those polled — 41 percent — reported no change.

The results bode well for real estate executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, who has built his insurgent campaign on fiscal issues. Although overall, Hogan was trailing Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by 7 percentage points in a recent Baltimore Sun poll — a Washington Post poll put the Republican 9 points back in the same time period — his narrowing of Brown’s lead in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 is impressive.

Another question in the Goucher poll asked Marylanders which party — Republicans or Democrats — is most apt to deal with each of the issues facing Maryland residents. Respondents were split evenly on which party they had confidence in when the issue was taxes and economic development; crime saw the Democrats ahead by only a slim margin.

Baltimorean Sherlynn Matesky has been following the gubernatorial campaign closely but said she thinks Anthony Brown is a shoe-in, something she doesn’t mind.

Matesky said she is most concerned with global terrorism. While she said she knows the governor’s office does not have power over foreign policy, she said she wants the state’s next leading executive to be vocal in his opposition to terrorism, and she is encouraged by Brown’s record of military service.

“We’re just a stone’s throw from D.C.” she said, adding that she wants a governor who will work to influence Congress.

Sonia Schindler, a Democrat, said she wants change in Annapolis after two terms under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. She said she intends to vote for Hogan because of his focus on the economy.

The Democrat:  Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (File photo)

The Democrat: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (File photo)

“People are disgusted with O’Malley, but Brown is going to do the same thing,” said Schindler, adding that she is tired of tax hikes in the name of schools. “Democrats spend money on schools, but then they say they don’t have money for schools.”

Eddie Steinberg, owner of J.S. Edwards men’s clothing store in Baltimore, has been keeping a close eye on the issues that most affect his business.

“When taxes go up, people think twice about buying,” said Steinberg. In talks with other business owners around the country, he said he has noticed that Maryland’s recovery from the Recession has lagged a little behind that of other states.

“It’s better, but during the recession [business] dropped, customers dropped,” he said. “It has come back, but I don’t think it’s as good as other states around the country.”

However, Steinberg doesn’t think the new governor, no matter which candidate voters pick, will have an immediate impact on the business climate. He said he has focused his attention on determining which candidate will be best for business in the long run.

The politically involved members of the Jewish community have a set of issues on which they tend to focus each year. For the Baltimore Jewish Council, eyes are always on the governor’s budget.

“The budget, I would say, is the No. 1 concern for the community,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director at the BJC. “Our agencies are providers to Maryland at large in a variety of different ways.”

Funding for agencies and their programs, as well as capital projects, is at the top of BJC’s agenda each year, and it’s essential to have a governor receptive to the council’s needs, she emphasized.

“We really depend on the governor, his views, what he supports and his support for the Jewish community,” echoed BJC president Lainy LeBow-Sachs.

Budget issues and capital projects on the BJC’s agenda have included the Sinai Family Violence Prevention Program; the domestic violence program at Northwest Hospital, which trains medical staff on how to identify victims; the Hillel Center for Social Justice at the University of Maryland; the Medical Home Extender Plan, which helps the uninsured and underinsured; the Elder Abuse Center; the Supportive Community Network, which helps seniors stay in their homes; and the Maryland/Israel Development Center.

The council has also been a major proponent of the Maryland Education Credit, which would provide a tax credit to businesses that donate to nonpublic schools.

Both LeBow-Sachs and Tolle said Israel, anti-Semitism and the BDS movement are also at the forefront of the issues the BJC is watching.

The Republican: Larry Hogan (Marc Shapiro)

The Republican: Larry Hogan (Marc Shapiro)

Although LeBow-Sachs said she’s not sure what anybody can really do about anti-Semitism, having officials who vociferously denounce it is important.

Through the BJC’s advocacy, Tolle pointed out, the budget passed by the General Assembly this year included language denouncing the BDS movement.

“It was the only language of its kind in the entire country that was passed,” Tolle said.

When BJC officials spoke with Brown about the BDS issue, Tolle said, “he dropped everything and picked up the phone and started working on the issue.”

She is confident that both Brown and Hogan would be advocates for the Jewish community, referring to meetings she’s had with both candidates.

“[Hogan] sat down with us on multiple occasions to talk about our priorities … and he said, ‘Unequivocally, I’m here with you,’” she said.

In addition to the BJC’s priorities, Abba David Poliakoff, first vice president, said issues such as the economy, crime and education have their own effects on the Jewish community.

“The one thing that was made poignantly clear by a number of governors, including Gov. O’Malley, is that the infrastructure in the Jewish community provides resources for community members that would other- wise be a burden that would have to be borne by the state,” Poliakoff said. “I want to see that infrastructure
remain strong.”

That means he wants to see opportunities for high-skilled jobs and Baltimore City’s help to promote the creation of those jobs.

“I have to wonder what the future’s going to be like,” said Poliakoff, whose family has been in Baltimore for six generations. “We’re not a manufacturing town, we’re not a financial services town, we’re not a corporate headquarters town. What are we? The industry here in Baltimore is
basically life sciences and high tech.”

While he’s seen the state help out these industries, he would like to see more of that emphasis in Baltimore City. And he would like to see the city better deal with crime so companies can recruit workers to a safe city. He alluded to what some in the Jewish community call “massaging statistics,” accusing police of under-reporting or downgrading certain incidents in reports.

“It really is a city issue, but the city affects the state, and it would reallybehoove the state to ensure that its biggest city is a safe place for residents,” Poliakoff said.

On Israel, as the former chair of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, Poliakoff said he’s confident the next governor will be a good partner for the organization. A good partner, Poliakoff said, would promote and facilitate business development between Maryland and Israel “so that Maryland companies can do business in Israel, and notably Israeli companies and Israeli technologies can find their way into the United States through Maryland.”

O’Malley was active with the MIDC, he said, and went on several trade missions to Israel.

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue said his congregants are very politically engaged, and many have been following the election for governor closely, some even volunteering on campaigns.

“It’s a very diverse place, as all congregations are,” said Burg of the Reservoir Hill synagogue. “I suspect that it skews left in the way that the Jewish community broadly tends
to skew left, especially on social issues. But when it comes to more fiscal policy, I’m not sure.”

Over the past few years, Burg has been active in advocating for social change in the state when he sees a connection between an issue and his Jewish values. But with legislation now in place for tightening gun control, raising the minimum wage and outlawing the death penalty, immigration is the only topic that still must be settled, he said, although Maryland has done a good job so far.

Additionally, he said he has heard a lot of discussion about taxes, but that is not something he discusses with congregants in his role as rabbi.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation said issues such as the economy, taxation, the business climate, gun control and birth control have come up in conversations at his synagogue. Politically, his congregants are diverse.

“There are some who feel that their tax dollars are certainly being used effectively to fund things like education, and we have a top-notch education,” he said. “And then there are others who feel we have too much of a heavy tax burden. It’s split.”

While political and social issues are sometimes discussed during Torah study because a passage will remind someone of a contemporary issue, Sharff said he doesn’t advocate for candidates or political positions but will add a Jewish voice to the conversation when relevant.

“I’ll talk about collective responsibility but not tax policy,” he said. “I will never publicly endorse candidates, but I’ll tackle issues as I perceive them through a Jewish lens.”

Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that recently expanded to Baltimore, highlighted several issues on the legislative docket this coming year. JUFJ, which works for social, racial and economic justice, supports paid sick leave benefits for “everyone who works,” the HOME act, which would prevent income-based housing discrimination, and the Trust Act, which would prevent local public safety resources from being used to implement discriminatory federal deportation programs, the group said in a statement.

The group also hopes the next governor will take on issues such as criminal justice reform and environmental justice.

“We are alarmed and outraged by discriminatory policing and policies that put stumbling blocks in the way of citizens returning from incarceration,” the statement said. “Finally, we hope the new governor will listen to the voices of citizens and communities — rather than moneyed corporate interests — when considering issues impacting the environment and our climate.”

Early voting begins Oct. 23 and continues through Oct. 30.


Conversations in a Sukkah

Fourth-grade students from Cross Country  Elementary School visit the Trout family's sukkah as part of Community Conversations.

Fourth-grade students from Cross Country
Elementary School visit the Trout family’s sukkah as part of Community Conversations.

Community Conversations, an organization that works to improve communication and understanding between the Orthodox Jewish population and the African-American population in the Glen, Falstaff, Cheswolde, Cross Country and Mount Washington communities, took 20 fourth-graders from Cross Country Elementary School through the neighborhood this week to gain an appreciation for the holiday of Sukkot.

The Sukkah Hop amounted to the latest event sponsored by Community Conversations, which operates under the direction of Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI), The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and a core team of 17 neighbors.

“When you get to know someone you realize how much you’re more alike than different,” said Phyllis Ajayi, the group’s co-chair with Nathan Willner. Both attended the Oct. 13 sukkah tour.

“A lot of things happen because people don’t take the time, and they go on their own assumptions or what their mother said or what their friend told them,” said Ajayi. “But when you take the time to get to know people for yourself, then it opens up a whole new world.”

Four Jewish families invited students to learn about the “little huts” the children noticed on their way to school.

As they prepared to leave, principal Curtis Durham reminded the group they were ambassadors for the school and were helping to “stretch the cultural boundaries.” He added, “You’re showing other people that African-American students as well as our Jewish community can coexist and live together in harmony.”

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin explains the  significance of the etrog and lulav to students visiting his home.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin explains the
significance of the etrog and lulav to students visiting his home.

Teacher Rhonda Lewis, CHAI Neighborhood Involvement director Joann Levey and Michelle Shaivitz, director of the agency’s school and community partnerships, also attended the event. At their first stop, the group entered the sukkah and listened intently — over the hard rain pelting the tarp-covered roof — while William Lerner and wife Marcia briefly told the story of Passover and the Exodus before explaining that Jews “build temporary houses because God commanded us to do so, in order to remember when He brought us out of Egypt.”

But usually when you have a guest to your home, you seat them at a proper table and use silverware, said Akiva Trout, who hosted the next sukkah stop with his wife, Miriam, and their children.

“What?!” he said incredulously, arms open wide with a sweeping gesture at the outdoor rustic space they crowded into. “Here we have [you as] guests and we put [you] outside?! Is that nice?!”

The group laughed and answered, “No!”

Trout described that a significance of Sukkot was to dwell outside as the Jewish nation did for 40 years in the desert. He added playfully, “But who would want a roof with holes?” He became more somber and added, “The idea is that we’re protected by not just the roof, but also by God.”

At the final stop, Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, who welcomed the group with his wife, Pessi, and their children, showed how the shape of an etrog resembles the heart, a lulav resembles a spine, willow leaves resemble lips, and myrtle leaves are shaped like eyes. Then he demonstrated how to shake the four species in all directions.

“So when we use [these], we use our entire body” in reverence to God, he said. Back in the classroom, as they digested their treats and all that they heard during the morning, Willner and Levey asked the students what they had learned.

One child answered, “They walked for 40 years.” Another said, “They made little huts in the desert … [and] they were celebrating because they were thanking God for what he did.”

Willner asked if anyone noticed similarities with the families they met, and a girl responded that Jews and African-Americans “had both been slaves.”

“An event like this, I think, is a tremendous success when you have kids [who] have never had the chance to interact,” said Sadwin, “even though they live within close proximity of their neighbors, who live in a completely different culture.”

He added, “The fact that they can come into my home and into my sukkah and are interested in hearing and learning and experiencing what we do, that’s a great thing.”

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Holocaust Refugee Shares His ‘Small Slice of History’

A local book club examined the life of Si Kalderon, whose story is among many mentioned in “Haven,” Ruth Gruber’s account of rescuing 982 refugees from 18 countries as World War II raged.

Kalderon, who was just 9 years old when he fled the Holocaust aboard the troop transport Henry Gibbins and sailed for Ellis Island, addressed the Sept. 30 gathering of the Lonsmen ladies, a group of wives whose husbands are part of the Lonsmen Motorcycle Club.

A native of Trávníček, Serbia, Kalderon told the women of his experience at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, N.Y., the only refugee camp in the U.S. Gruber, who at the time was a special assistant to the secretary of the interior, quotes Kalderon in her book.

“We were so lucky to be a part of that group,” said Kalderon. “We were in the right place at the right time. Now, Ruth Gruber is 102 years old, and I feel like a native Baltimorean.”

At Fort Ontario, rescued families were not allowed to leave — their immigration statuses were not resolved until 1946 — but residents did their best to create a close-knit community.

“The children went to school, the men worked, and the women cooked and cleaned,” said Kalderon. “When we were finally released, we decided to go to Baltimore, and I have lived here ever since.”

This summer, the Lonsmen, a predominately Jewish biker club in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, attended the Ride to Remember at the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center in Oswego to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Henry Gibbins voyage.

Lonsmen lady Irene Gellar ran into Kalderon at the event and knew she wanted more people to hear his story.

“I couldn’t believe I ran into someone from Pikesville out of all the hundreds of people,” said Gellar, a teacher at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville. “After talking with him, I convinced him to come speak at our book club. We all read the book, and we wanted to speak with him in person about his experiences.”

Bringing maps, pictures and books to Gellar’s Pikesville home, Kalderon gladly shared his story.

“This is a great group of ladies, and I am honored to discuss my small slice of history with them,” said Kalderon.


New Mediterranean Restaurant Coming to Owings Mills

From left: Eli Hershko, Ronen Barokas and Sam Hilel plan to open Mediterranean restaurant Cilantro in Owings Mills later this month. (Provided)

From left: Eli Hershko, Ronen Barokas and Sam Hilel plan to open Mediterranean restaurant Cilantro in Owings Mills later this month. (Provided)

Although Ronen Barokas went to culinary school in Israel and worked as a chef there and in New York City before coming to Baltimore two years ago, he still asks the rhetorical question, “What is Israeli food?”

“We take it from all over the world, and we make it better” is his answer.

The Israeli native hopes to drive that point home, when Cilantro opens its doors later this month in Owings Mills.

The fast-casual restaurant will open in the 1,700-square-foot space that used to house Quinzo’s at Brookside Commons in Owings Mills New Town. Barokas and partners Sam Hilel and Eli Hershko, also Israeli natives, hope to bring the flavors of their home country and their heritages to the restaurant. With Barokas’ parents coming from Turkey, Hilel’s from Bulgaria and Hershko’s from Romania, the food will be a fusion of Mediterranean tastes.

“Israel, because it’s so small, there’s so much variety,” Barokas said.

In addition to traditional-style falafel, for example, the menu will include spicy, smoked roasted red pepper and white bean falafel. The restaurant will also serve chicken, ground beef and lamb shwarma sandwiches, a variety of salads and kids’ meals.

“The flavored falafel,” Hilel said, “I think only in Israel I saw this.”

The restaurant owners are being specific with their suppliers, including using an Israeli baker, to make sure they have fresh ingredients, much like Israel. The restaurant will not carry any kosher certification.

Hilel and Hershko were introduced to Barokas through a mutual friend. Although the two of them come from a retail background, Hilel said they wanted to start a business they could really put their hearts into.

Hilel said that Israelis and Jewish people in the community often talk to him about how there aren’t many places to get authentic Israeli cuisine.

“There are places in Pikesville, but in Owings Mills, not really,” Hershko said.

Cilantro will be a neighbor of the Hummus Corner, also located on Lakeside Boulevard on the other side of Owings Mills Boulevard. That restaurant also features falafel and shwarma and draws on recipes from the owners’ home country of Lebanon. Hilel is confident the two restaurants can co-exist.

“We bring our own style,” he said, “the Israeli flavor.”


Baltimore City College Celebrates 175 years

Baltimore City College will commemorate its 175th anniversary on Oct. 25. (Melissa Gerr)

Baltimore City College will commemorate its 175th anniversary on Oct. 25. (Melissa Gerr)

Baltimore City College in northeast Baltimore, Maryland’s oldest public high school and third oldest in the nation, celebrates 175 years this month with a series of events culminating with a black-tie gala on Oct. 25.

The kick-off event outside the school’s second home — “the castle on the hill” that was erected in 1939 — included statements from some of the institution’s notable alumni, including Sen. Ben Cardin, Class of 1960, and local entrepreneur and BCC Hall of Fame member Martin “Marty” Resnick, Class of 1949. Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clarke and Shanaysha Sauls, chair of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, were also in attendance, and local artist Greg Otto, Class of 1961, unveiled his original artwork for the commemorative poster.

The school’s original location was at Centre and Eutaw streets and opened in 1839 with 46 students.

The building in northeast Baltimore closed in 1976 because of much-needed costly repairs and was almost lost to demolition for then-nearby Memorial Stadium parking. Clarke recalled civic and community efforts to repair the school and said, “We added the requirement that when we reopen it [in 1978], girls will be admitted,” inciting loud applause from the crowd.

Cardin added that BCC can “brag that three members of Congress are City alumni.” In addition to himself, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger attended City College.

Principal Cindy Harcum, Class of 1988, recounted comments from graduates who return to visit after starting college.

Their professors ask them, “Who taught you to write like that, to research, to read critically?” Harcum said. “University is not a shock for our students because they know how to learn.”

The school’s 175th gala celebration will take place Oct. 25 at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley.


Beyond the Stutter

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Despite all of his accomplishments, Ben Goldstein of Baltimore still finds it difficult to order a cup of coffee.

Since early childhood, Goldstein, 24, has had a stutter. Despite his speech impediment, he spent a year in Israel teaching English, graduated with almost a 4.0 grade point average from college and received a full scholarship to a Top 25 law school. Trading in his law aspirations for a career in speech pathology, Goldstein is determined to help others reach their full potential.

“When I was younger, I spent my whole day thinking about stuttering,” said Goldstein. “I would plan my day around it. I would go to a grocery store and try to avoid speaking as much as possible. Now, I realize stuttering is just one small part of me.”

According to the Stuttering Foundation, more than 68 million people worldwide stutter, 3 million in the United States. Stuttering affects males four times as much as females. While there is no cure for stuttering, patients can alleviate symptoms through therapy.

“Stuttering is a neurological and genetic disorder and is not caused by psychological factors,” said University of Maryland clinical professor and speech-language pathologist Vivian Sisskin. “However, therapy aims to change the way stutterers think and potentially lessen the stutter. Many people try to hide their stutter through avoidance. Paradoxically, avoidance intensifies the stutter. Instead, we teach them to advertise it. That reduces fear.”

Growing up in Finksburg, Goldstein attended Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s elementary and middle school and the Park School for high school. On top of normal grade-school pressures, he experienced an added layer of anxiety due to his stuttering.

“I used to avoid answering questions in class or ordering certain foods at restaurants with my friends,” said Goldstein. “For much of my life, I thought I was the only person in the world who stutters. Therapy was my turning point.”

Once Goldstein began his undergraduate career at the University of Maryland, he started working with Sisskin and joined an adult therapy group. A regular in the group, Goldstein now serves as a mentor for new members.

“Ben is a leader in the stuttering community,” said Sisskin. “He developed a joy of communicating and is very open about his stutter. Ben is able to define many of his own problems with stuttering and has become his own clinician.”

Through therapy, Goldstein has learned how to live with stuttering. Comparing stuttering to asthma, he explains that stuttering can reach high or low points depending on the context and conditions of the situation.

“If you run a marathon, your asthma may increase. If I get up and speak in front of a large crowd, my stuttering may increase. The worst that can happen is that I’ll get embarrassed. And no one has died of embarrassment yet,” he said.

Taking a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, he opted for 10 months abroad as an Israel Service Fellow through Masa Israel Journey. Living in the mixed city of Acre, a northern Israel town that is 70 percent Jewish and 30 percent Arab, Goldstein taught students English in an underprivileged school along with 16 other American Jews.  As well as stuttering, Goldstein also had to conquer a language barrier.

“My first day of school, I learned how to say ‘I stutter’ in Hebrew,” said Goldstein. “At one point, I had trouble getting some words out and felt blocked. One of my first-grade students came up to me and gave me a hug. I wish everyone had a reaction like that.”

Using creative techniques such as singing to his students and using a stuttering puppet to entertain the children, Goldstein confidently led his class. Goldstein recalled that one of his scariest experiences was presenting a speech in front of 600 people at a Masa event.

“I was asked to present on behalf of my program,” he said. “I went up there and stuttered continuously. However, I did it. Many people asked me if I was scared to go to Israel with my stutter. I had challenges there, but so did everyone else. I’m not going to let one part of my life define me.”

Now studying to be a speech pathologist, Goldstein assists four students as part of his course load.

“I work with teenagers right now to help them tackle everyday problems,” said Goldstein. “One of my kids is a 12-year-old nonverbal student on the autism spectrum. We are working with him on making sounds and one day say basic words. Years ago, I walked into the University of Maryland as a speech client. Now, I am working as a student clinician. It is hard to believe.”

As both his teacher and his speech pathologist, Sisskin believes that Goldstein has a bright future in speech pathology.

“Due to the fact that Ben has experienced speech problems himself, his clients will look up to him,” said Sisskin. “Younger students will see that Ben is a cool guy who happens to stutter. They will model themselves after him.”

Seeing speech pathology as his calling, he aims to change lives through therapy.

“Vivian (Sisskin) changed my life, and I want to be that influence for someone else,” said Goldstein. “Going through life with a stutter is not easy, but if I can provide support, I will feel fulfilled.”


Betting on Baltimore

101014_cover1Many of the more than 25,000 Baltimoreans who live in the area of Northwest Baltimore north of Northern Parkway but within city limits are relatively immune to the traffic, crime and poverty linked to the Pimlico Race Course, but they benefit from their proximity to the track nonetheless.

The five neighborhoods north of Pimlico are eligible to receive about $1 million in impact funds annually from the state to spend on improvements to safety, infrastructure and recreation spaces in the area. The money comes from revenue generated by slot machines at Maryland’s five casinos.

Some residents see themselves as put in an awkward situation: They watch money from an activity they oppose make improvements in their own community.

Rabbi Mark Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses Montefiore Anshe Amunah Congregation recognizes the ethical dilemma that casinos pose for much
of the community. Nothing in Judaism, he said, explicitly prohibits recreational gambling, but gamblers are forbidden from bearing witness in Jewish courts. Like many, Shapiro interprets “gamblers” to mean those who make a living off of betting, and he noted that both the congregation’s sisterhood and brotherhood have taken recreational trips to casinos in the past.

But Shapiro said he is well aware of the potential gambling has to negatively affect lives when a recreational hobby becomes an addiction. But in this case, he added, the good the casinos do in jobs and funds for education almost outweighs the risk.

“If there is improvement being made, God bless it, because that’s what Baltimore needs,” said Shapiro. “I always say, there’s nothing we can really do about ISIS, being here in Baltimore, but we have a lot of suffering and misery going on right down Park Heights.

“If playing some slots helps build that community and give it a little more hope, then I’m happy the casinos are open,” he continued.

The state of Maryland has raked in as much as $460,717,200 in additional funds each year since the casinos began opening in 2012. That money has gone to fund education, to the agency that oversees gambling in the state, to grants for small minority- and women-owned businesses and to grants for local communities.

Improvements to Hatzalah of Baltimore’s facilities and services have been complicated by the delay of impact funds from the mayor’s office. (Heather Norris)

Improvements to Hatzalah of Baltimore’s facilities and services have been complicated by the delay of impact funds from the mayor’s office. (Heather Norris)

Under the 2008 law legalizing slot machines in the state, officials determined that 5.5 percent of revenue would go toward maintaining and improving communities adjacent to casinos. Those neighborhoods, legislators argued, are at a high risk of being negatively impacted by such casino-linked problems as lower property values and increases in crime, poverty and traffic.

The area surrounding Pimlico was, at first, left off the list of communities receiving funds. The state’s most iconic race track does not host any slot machines, and the original plan specified communities impacted by slots gaming. State Sen. Lisa Gladden and Dels. Sandy Rosenberg, Jill Carter and Nathaniel Oaks, all of whom represent the city’s northwest neighborhoods, worked to get the Park Heights area included.

The five neighborhoods within the district but outside the immediate Pimlico perimeter — Cheswolde, Mount Washington, Glen, Liberty Heights and Cross Country — were later added as recipients of 25 percent of the funds after more lobbying by local legislators. The other 75 percent of the impact money is supposed to go to the Park Heights Master Plan, a city-developed initiative that aims to rebuild the Park Heights community by improving neighborhood leadership, resident safety, the local economy and citizen involvement.

“For many years now, Pimlico’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods has been mainly felt during Preakness week, when tens of thousands descend on the track for the second jewel of the Triple Crown,” said Tom Stosur, director of  planning for the city. “Generally speaking, much of the property is underutilized for most of the year.”

While Pimlico Race Course does not house any slots, its presence makes the city’s northwest eligible for slot-generated impact funds. (Heather Norris)

While Pimlico Race Course does not house any slots, its presence makes the city’s northwest eligible for slot-generated impact funds. (Heather Norris)

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation was a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis when the group published its position in opposition to expanding gambling in Maryland. For him and the other rabbis on the board, the potential for good fell short of outweighing the negatives of more gambling in the state.

Gambling, said Sharff, “tends to take money from people who can least afford it.”

Sharff fears that Baltimore will follow the path of Atlantic City, which, after more than three decades of success, has seen its local economy freefall; crime rates have increased, and once-prosperous casinos are shutting down in quick succession.

“It’s probably not going to be as effective as people think,” said Sharff.

For the presidents of the five neighborhood associations that receive the quarter of Pimlico-area impact funds, the problems have already begun. The associations are balancing a wait list of projects two years long as they try to plan for 2015.

Ronnie Rosenbluth, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, has yet to see the city’s new Horseshoe Casino and said he’s given it no thought, but his neighborhood is set to benefit directly if revenue is as good as expected.

In 2013, Hatzalah of Baltimore broke ground on its new training facility on Taney Road, near Western Run in Cheswolde. The facility was helped by a $315,000 grant derived from the impact funds, but Rosenbluth said the project went ahead after the funds were tied up at the city level on the notion that the money would be reimbursed. More than a year later, the community is still waiting, he said.

“We were told two years ago to have shovel-ready programs, and we were told that as of July 2, 2013, ‘the check will be in the mail,’ and the check wasn’t in the mail,” said Rosenbluth. “After two years, you have a lot of frustration.”

The delay, he said, is because of the City of Baltimore. When the state collects revenue from the casinos to distribute to the various grants and projects, Park Heights’ impact funding goes to the city to dole out. Since 2012, much of the money has been held up at City Hall while officials determine how to distribute the money to the neighborhoods and make sure that hundreds of thousands of dollars is all accounted for at the end of the year.

Casino Money Destinations

Casino Money Destinations

“Everyone’s been very frustrated,” said Derrick Lennon, president of Glen’s neighborhood improvement association.

Although the association, which has been around for more than a decade, receives other money to help fund its projects, the money from the impact fund dwarfs all other sources of revenue. So the wait has been especially grueling.

In July, Healthy Neighborhoods, a local nonprofit that works with the city, was tasked with administering the funds. While each neighborhood association agreed that the inclusion of Healthy Neighborhoods is a good thing and should speed the process of fund dispersal, it comes at a cost. Healthy Neighborhoods now takes an administrative cut out of the impact money before it is sent along for neighborhood projects. For Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014, this amounted to $150,000, according to the planning department, and in Fiscal Year 2015, the fee will be 10 percent of the funds managed.

“It’s worth it,” said Sandy Johnson, president of the Fallstaff Neighborhood Improvement Association. Her organization has been slowly making progress toward the opening of a bilingual resource center since the project was first approved by the board of five presidents in 2013.

“You can’t really go out and hire somebody on a wing and a prayer that you’ll have the money,” she said. The association is waiting on Fiscal Year 2014 funding to hire the bilingual counselor needed run the resource program and for the funding to start a street-sweeping arrangement with Chimes, a local organization that offers employment to those with disabilities. The organization’s fiscal year ended in July.

The majority of the funds the five neighborhoods have seen so far have gone to park and public space improvements in the Mount Washington neighborhood, where the extension of the Jones Falls Trail provided an opportunity to combine work with some of the construction already slated to take place in Northwest Park this spring.

Other improvements in the area have been in Luckman Park, where renovations were made with some of the funding from the first two years of the impact funds. But the project took longer than expected, said Bryce Butler, president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association, when funds were tied up as the city determined how to disburse them.

“They said, ‘Well, the funds are here,’ Well, where are they? ‘Oh, the housing department.’ Oh, so when are we going to see them?” Butler said of the wait for the money. “It took them a long time to realize we need a fiscal agent like Healthy Neighborhoods.”

Since his neighborhood received the lion’s share of the impact money in the past two years, Butler said he will not ask for funds in the upcoming years. It is part of a system the five neighborhood associations have worked out. When the presidents meet quarterly, they determine which neighborhoods can use the funds most effectively at that time and divide the promised money accordingly.

“I think one of the benefits is that the five neighborhood presidents are talking collectively about the improvement to the whole area, not being so myopic or provincial that it’s just Fallstaff or Mount Washington. They’re being better neighbors to each other,” said City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents the city’s northwest and makes a point to attend each meeting. “They’ve stabilized that whole area because of that understanding and that communication.”

Added Spector: “The unintended consequences are even better than the intended consequences.”


‘Man Up!’

Andrew Walen is quick to point out that conditions related to eating disorders can be deadly. (Provided)

Andrew Walen is quick to point out that conditions related to eating disorders can be deadly. (Provided)

After a 20-year-long battle with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and shame about being overweight, a fateful encounter with a large plate of chicken wings finally convinced fourth-generation Baltimorean Andrew Walen that he was suffering from an eating disorder. It happened one night that February 2004, when Walen, who was especially stressed, tired and irritable, joined some friends for their regular poker game.

“I had lost $80 in about 45 minutes and was feeling really anxious,” he recalled. “So I went into the kitchen and started eating wings. I was in a dissociative haze and lost all sense of time. There were about 100 wings on the plate, and I ate all but six of them. I looked down and saw those six wings sitting in this congealed fat and I felt all the food that was filling me up to my sternum.

“This voice kept saying, ‘Eat another one … eat another one.’ I was crying because I could not stop the motion of picking up the wings and bringing them to my mouth,” continued Walen. “After that, I went home and confessed all to [my wife] Jenn. That night I went online and researched eating-disorder treatments and got some help.”

Now a psychotherapist and founder and executive director of the Body Image Therapy Center in Columbia, Walen, 41, a licensed clinical social worker, treats others, especially boys and men, with eating disorders. His new book, “Man Up to Eating Disorders,” is both a memoir and self-help book for men struggling with such issues as body image, self-esteem and shame.

Walen, who lives with his wife and 12-year-old son George in Stevenson, wrote the book because during his own recovery from binge eating disorder (BED), he found only two books written for men with the condition and related illnesses. Walen believes the lack of literature on male eating disorders is due to the fact that most people, even mental health professionals and doctors, aren’t aware of the extent of the problem. Walen said that despite seeing several therapists over the years, his eating disorder went unrecognized until he diagnosed himself after that poker game 10 years ago.

“There is no language for eating disorders in men. The self tests [used to identify eating disorders] ask questions like, ‘Do you feel your thighs are too big?’ and, ‘Are you obsessed by the number on the scale?’ Guys are worried about having six-pack abs, being cut, being muscular,” he explained. “Those questions don’t resonate for them.”

Like most people, Walen had previously understood that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia were diseases that only affected girls and young women. To make matters worse, BED was not even recognized as an eating disorder by the psychiatric community until 2013, when it was finally included in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, males make up about 10 percent of eating- disorder cases. But another study in 2007 by the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders concluded that the actual figure is more like 25 percent.

“Throw in binge eating, and that number is closer to 40 percent,” said Walen.

One reason why he thinks that male eating disorders are so infrequently diagnosed is because of the shame associated with having what’s considered a “female disease” or a disease that only affects men who are gay.

“We have to be able to discard the shame and guilt of being a boy or man with an eating disorder and bring those who suffer out of the darkness,” he writes in his new book. “We have to be able to say this does not make you weird, you are not intrinsically flawed and you’re not alone.”

As is usually the case among men who suffer from eating disorders, Walen was biologically and environmentally predisposed to the disease, he explained. His mother had an eating disorder and also suffered from depression. She and the rest of his family members all placed a premium on being thin and attractive. They made it clear that his body was unacceptable and pressured him constantly about his need to lose weight.

Only when starvation diets and excessive amounts of exercising resulted in short-lived periods of weight losses did his parents show him love and encouragement, he said. So desperate was Walen to gain the acceptance of his family and to live up to society’s standards of attractiveness that he starved himself and exercised to the point where he caused permanent damage to his hip and tore both rotator cuffs, requiring complete reconstructive surgery in both shoulders. He suffers with chronic pain to this day.

Walen wants people to know that there is hope for men like him.

“If you have an eating disorder, you have to take both the psychological and the nutritional issues very seriously,” he said. “If there is an underlying psychiatric condition [such as depression or anxiety], you must see a psychiatrist. There is a lot of misinformation about nutrition that also needs to be addressed.” Walen discourages fad diets as “not legitimate ways of eating.” In addition to advocating individual, couples, family and group therapies, Walen said that working with a nutritionist is a vital part of recovery.

His Body Image Therapy Center offers different levels of treatment, from once weekly individual and group therapy sessions to an intensive outpatient program that includes nine hours of group therapy, one hour of individual therapy and 30 minutes of nutritional counseling each week. Depending upon their needs, patients attend the program anywhere from four to 16 weeks.

For those who don’t seek treatment for eating disorders, the costs are great, said Walen. “About 1,000 people die every year from [conditions related to] eating disorders, making it the deadliest mental illness there is.

“My hope,” he added, “is that men will begin ‘manning up’ by expressing their emotions and living honestly.”


A Sukkah of Joy

Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah, which now resides in Baltimore with their daughter-in-law Wendy and her family, tells a story of resilience. Photos by Amy Hefter

Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah, which now resides in Baltimore with their daughter-in-law Wendy and her family, tells a story of resilience. Photos by Amy Hefter

Forty years ago, Ruth and Sy Hefter built a one-of-a-kind sukkah. Four decades later, their temporary holiday hut has lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.

“My sukkah is inspired from a sukkah at the Jewish Museum in Jerusalem,” said Sy Hefter. “In that sukkah, all the walls were made out of wood, whereas my sukkah is made out of panels and canvases. If you look at it, you will see a mural.”

Still working as a social worker, Sy, 87, brought designs from Israeli artists to life in decorating his sukkah, which was recently raised at the Pikesville home of his daughter-in-law, Wendy Hefter, in time for the holiday of Sukkot that begins on the night of Oct. 15.

“I saw a postage stamp by a famous Israeli artist and decided to enlarge it,” said Sy. “You have honestly never seen a sukkah like this. It is so unique and brings joy to so many people.”

101014_sukkah2Living in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., at the time, the Hefter family entertained friends and family in the sukkah every year. In June 1972, Hurricane Agnes hit their hometown. While the flood filled their apartment, their sukkah, which had been disassembled, survived the storm.

“I used waterproof paint to create the panels,” said Sy. “All I had to do was hang the sukkah up to dry, and it was perfect again.”

Moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., and then the Belle Harbor section of Queens, their sukkah was put on display for everyone to see.

It was “well known as the first stop on their shul’s annual Sukkah Hop,” says Wendy Hefter in a written history of the sukkah. “Everyone marveled at the beauty within the sukkah while Ruth and Sy retold the background of each design to their guests — young and old — and then offered them some home-baked goodies and a lollipop.”

If one flood was not enough, the resilient sukkah took on another hurricane. Almost 40 years after Hurricane Agnes, Hurricane Sandy ripped the East Coast in November 2012.

“First, it was Agnes, and then, it was Sandy,” said Sy. “Mother Nature is no match for our sukkah.”

According to the family, the Hefters remained in their home despite warnings to leave. Staying on the second floor in their landlord’s house, the Hefters watched the first floor of their home flood. Living in the “disaster area” of Sandy’s footprint, they lost nearly all of their belongings, including their car and a prized bicycle.

Driving up to salvage any leftover belongings, their son, David, went to the apartment to see what possessions were left. After processing the shock of the flood, the Hefters, writes Wendy, recovered “valuable papers, artwork from the walls, two 1950s Eames molded fiberglass chairs that had survived Agnes, and … the sukkah panels!”

Moving the sukkah to its third and final home, David and Wendy Hefter and their daughter, Amy, adopted the hut.

“As the sun shone onto [the panels], I was in awe of their beauty and brilliance, even with their new ‘Sandy’ stains,” writes Wendy. “I had only seen them in photographs since we always spent Sukkot in our own sukkah.”

Ruth and Sy now look forward to coming to Baltimore to celebrate.

Sy said, “I love creative people, and I invite everyone to come see the sukkah, eat in the sukkah and give me ideas on how to I make the sukkah better.”