DFI Honors Three Collaborative Programs

Michael Brandwein gives his keynote speech at DFI JPRO Day last month.

Michael Brandwein gives his keynote speech at DFI JPRO Day last month.he Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center (DFI) honored three collaborative community initiatives and programs at its annual JPRO Day in August.

The programs were chosen as the top three submissions to DFI’s “Challenge of Collaborations,” which had 18 community organizations submit.

The winning program, which received a $1,000 grant, was Jewish Community Gardening, the first runner-up was Four Rabbis, Five Opinions, and the second runner-up was the Center for Jewish Education’s Jewish Deaf-Blind Shabbaton.

Jewish Community Gardening, whose partner organizations include the Pearlstone Center, Beth El Congregation, Netivot Shalom, Weinberg Gardens, the Owings Mills JCC Early Childhood Education Center, the Harford Jewish Center, Hopkins Hillel, Temple Oheb Shalom, Needs to Grow and the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, built community gardens that fused outdoor environmental experiences with Jewish education. Four Rabbis, Five Opinions, started by Rabbis Josh Snyder, Etan Mintz, Daniel Burg and Jessy Gross, seeks to engage young adults in informal settings while having meaningful Jewish conversations. Deaf-Blind Shabbaton, with partner organizations Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education, OU Our Way and Towson University, is a weekend Shabbaton for deaf and blind Jewish people and their families.

“They really collaborated with unique organizations, not just the normal expected collaborative parties, so they really went outside the box,” said DFI Executive Director Cindy Goldstein. “Each of them were innovative, and each of them really engaged new audiences, new groups of people that had not been engaged previously in the community.”

The winners were presented at DFI’s JPRO day, which was attended by 150 Jewish professionals. The theme of the day was “communicate and collaborate: leadership of self and others to achieve collaboration and successfully meet your goals.”

“It was a perfect opportunity for professionals to hear about what was going on in the community and to be inspired to do their own collaborations,” Goldstein said.

Rochlin Named Camp Airy Director

After a decade as a public school administrator, Marty Rochlin is going back to camp as the new director of Camp Airy.

Rochlin, a former camper, assistant director and programming director at the camp, takes over the Jewish boys overnight camp following the retirement of Rick Frankle.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to play,” Rochlin said in a statement. “I’m very fortunate that camp has come full circle for me.”

Rochlin was a camper for eight years, beginning at age 10. In 1992, he became a counselor, worked as a unit leader and later became assistant director. In 2001, he left camp to work in the school system. Prior to his new post, he spent a decade an as assistant principal in middle and high schools in Frederick and Baltimore counties.

He is replacing Rick Frankle, who is retiring after serving as the camp’s director since 2002. Rochlin spent this past summer working with Frankle, who retired on Aug. 10.

Rochlin has a long family history at Camp Airy, dating back to the 1950s. His grandfather, Dr. Sol Smith, was once the camp doctor, his parents attended Camp Airy and Camp Louise (Airy’s sister camp) and his sister also attended Camp Louise. Rochlin’s wife, Pam, currently works at Camp Louise and his daughter, Lilly, 10, is a camper there.

Jonathan Gerstl, Camps Airy and Louise executive director, said the camp is grateful to have Rochlin returning.

“His teaching and administrative background gives him a solid foundation in the education arena and with his camp experience, he is the obvious choice to take the helm at Camp Airy,” Gerstl said in a statement. “We look forward to many fun-filled summers under Marty.”

Rochlin credits a counselor he had in his second summer at Airy, Tim “Smitty” Smith, for his interest in being a counselor. He recalls Smith’s enthusiasm and his efforts to include every camper in every activity.

Camp Airy offers a variety of programs, including extreme sports, outdoor adventures, arts and culinary programs.

Filmed in Baltimore

Courtesy of Rabinowitz Communications

Courtesy of Rabinowitz Communications

Academy Award-nominated and three-time Emmy Award-winning director Robert Gardner releases his latest masterpiece, “Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story” to the silver screen next week on PBS.

Airing Sept. 9, the Gardner Films and Unity Production Foundation docudrama shares the story of Noor Inayat Khan, a young Muslim woman who sacrificed her own life to join the Allied forces. Filmed in Baltimore and narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, the movie showcases the last undercover radio operator for Great Britain in Nazi-occupied Paris. Serving as a spy, Khan was eventually arrested and killed for her participation in the French Resistance.

“She is a forgotten story in history,” said Alex Kronemer, one of the film’s executive producers. “Khan was betrayed and shot because she fought the Nazis. She is a woman who opposed and confronted racial inequality and injustice. As a half-American, half-Indian Muslim woman, it is rare to find a story like hers. I am personally in awe her interfaith work and role in World War II.”

After drawing inspiration from the 2009 documentary “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Must Really Think,” the production team at Unity Production Foundation began searching for her story five years ago. Through his studies, Kronemer discovered that the largest volunteer army in World War II was from India. After scouring through tons of stories, they finally found Khan. Inviting a team of international scholars and two surviving members of Khan’s family to join the team, Khan proved to be the perfect centerpiece for the type of documentary they wanted to create.

“At first, it was hard to find anything at all,” said Michael Wolfe, the other executive producer. “After two years, we finally found Noor. She is a producer’s dream. In addition to being the perfect story, she was also a writer. She did dangerous work, and it was well documented. We have her voice, as well as the facts, to share her story.”

As the daughter of famed Muslim Indian spiritual leader Hazat Inayat Khan, she was raised to believe in interfaith equality. Through her father’s upbringing, she morally opposed the Nazis and wanted to fight for the oppressed, especially the Jewish people. By joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and training as a wireless operator in 1940, she eventually became a special operations executive for Great Britain.

“There is a direct connection between her and the Jewish people,” said Wolfe. “Her own people were oppressed in India, and she thought any oppression was wrong. Historically, Islam and Judaism have a long and productive history together in Europe. She had every reason to want to protect the Jews.”

Using Baltimore as his backdrop, Gardner recreates Khan’s world in Nazi-occupied France. Because Gardner’s independent production company, Gardner Films, has been located in Baltimore since 1996, the director is familiar with the terrain. Using a North Baltimore Mennonite Church for Paris prison cells, the mansion house at Cylburn Arboretum as the Gestapo headquarters and the retaining wall of a Hampden factory parking lot as the Dachau concentration camp, native Baltimoreans will see hometown sights double as European locations. Gardner even uses his own house in Roland Park as a set for Noor’s childhood home in Paris.

“There is a section in Baltimore, Mount Vernon Square, that was built in the 19th century by a French architect,” explained Wolfe. “Since it looks very European, it was the perfect backdrop as the streets of Paris. There are so many places in Baltimore that work seamlessly as 1930s Europe.”

In addition to filming in Baltimore, the entire cast and crew was also from Baltimore. The casting was completed by Pat Moran + Associates, the same company that worked on “The Wire” and is involved with “House of Cards.” In addition, Baltimore veterans on the production crew have worked on “Veep” and
several John Waters films.

Already available for streaming, the film has been shown online. As the 10th documentary in an award-winning documentary series, UFP is proud of its final product.

“After living her story, I feel like I know her,” said Kronemer. “When she’s captured and killed, I get choked up watching it. Her story is engaging, and she was a pioneer of her time.”

The documentary’s national debut is this Tuesday on PBS. Check local listings for the time.

afreedman@jewishtimes.com

Reisterstown Keeps Eye on Prize

Nearly four years after the Reisterstown Improvement Association (RIA) formed, the Northwest Baltimore County town is making headway on revitalizing its often-overlooked Main Street area.

With the help of a dedicated county employee, Amy Mantay, as town manager, the Main Street Committee formed and set up Reisterstown to apply for Maryland Main Street status, which the group did this past spring. As Mantay’s two-year term approaches its end this fall, the town appears to be in better shape than it was when she arrived.

This summer saw the second installment of the RIA’s Music on Main Street series, which draws hundreds to Franklin Middle School for summer concerts, a farmers’ market and the dedication of $2 million by the Maryland State Highway Administration to streetscape projects. This weekend marks the 29th annual Reisterstown Festival.

“We’re still working to get things accomplished,” said RIA President Glenn Barnes.

The most recent victory came in the form of $2 million in roadway and sidewalk improvements and community enhancements. The money was announced in May at a news conference with Delegate Adrienne Jones, the speaker pro tem for the Maryland House of Delegates, and Maryland Transportation Secretary Jim Smith; at the ceremony, the pair also announced $762,000 for improvements in the Liberty Road corridor.

“These transportation enhancements and upgrades will make the corridors along Liberty Road in Randallstown and Main Street in Reisterstown safer for drivers and pedestrians and will enhance the beauty and charm in these thriving communities,” Jones said in a statement.

Phase 1 focuses on Stocksdale Road to Woodley Avenue, which is the part of Main Street that curves just north of the Chartley Shopping Center. This part of the project includes pavement resurfacing and remarking, reconstruction of sidewalks, curbs, gutters and driveway ramps as well as new pedestrian lights similar to the lantern-style lamps farther north on Main Street. Construction will begin after the Reisterstown Festival.

Phase 2 will bring the same improvements from Woodley Avenue to Glyndon Avenue and should begin in spring 2015.

In June, the state highway authority painted new pavement markings on Main Street, starting at the south end at Woodley Avenue and ending on the north end at MD-30 (Hanover Pike), to separate the driving lanes from the on-street parking areas.

A sign welcoming travelers to historic Reisterstown will also be installed in the southern entrance to the area, Barnes said.

As roadway and pedestrian façade improvements are made, commercial revitalization remains at the top of the agenda for Main Street advocates. The town’s new “sustainable community” designation could translate to some help in the area. In June, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland Planning Department announced the designation for Reisterstown, which qualifies the town to apply for state funds on commercial revitalization, small business finance, business retention and attraction and home ownership encouragement.

More funding and resources could also come to Reisterstown in the near future via a Maryland Main Street designation. The program, which has a list of specific criteria Reisterstown has mostly met through the Main Street Committee, includes on-site visits and design assistance, commercial revitalization training and grants and loans education.

A hurdle to achieving that status, Barnes said, is that Reisterstown doesn’t have the required town manager, which many other Maryland Main Street locales have by virtue of being incorporated towns.

“We don’t think they’re going to allow that, so what we’re trying to do, we’ve sent letters out to large corporations and foundations hoping to get them to agree to sponsor our projects on Main Street and possibly our town manager,” he said. “There’s always a way if you look around.”

Barnes and his organization will be spreading the word about Main Street revitalization at this weekend’s Reisterstown Festival, which begins Saturday at 9 a.m. with the parade and runs through Sunday evening. The festival features more than 100 vendors, a large area for kids’ activities, a beer garden with a 6-foot TV that will be showing the Orioles game on Saturday and the Ravens game on Sunday, a car show, a stunt bicyclist and an eclectic variety of music including the Cris Jacobs Band, Carey Ziegler’s Expensive Hobby and Dean Drawford and the Dunn’s River Band.

Sherri Brogan, this year’s festival co-chair and a regular at Music on Main Street, sees the festival as a way for people to be with their community and get to know their neighbors.

“I think anytime you do an event like Music on Main Street, you’re bringing the community together,” she said. “I think that’s very special.”

With so much on the horizon for Reisterstown and all the nearby development in Owings Mills, Brogan and Barnes are feeling good about the town’s future.

“With the Metro Centre [at Owings Mills] expanding and Foundry Row and all that, there’s going to be a lot of people looking at this area; big restaurants and chain stores, they may want to be nearby, and we are nearby,” Barnes said.

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Marylanders Volunteer in Israeli Hospital

Scott Goldstein, first engine lieutenant at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company, treats a patient at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. (Photos provided)

Scott Goldstein, first engine lieutenant at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company, treats a patient at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. (Photos provided)

Hospital officials were showing Evan Feuer around the emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon when they heard tires screeching outside. A woman in the car was in cardiac arrest.

Within minutes, and before doctors had arrived, the woman was intubated, had an IV placed and was breathing thanks to Feuer, who managed the woman’s airway, and hospital paramedics and nurses. Within a half hour she was off to the intensive care unit.

“That was my welcome to Israel, my first patient,” said Feuer, a Silver Spring native and paramedic of more than 20 years.

Feuer, four Baltimore residents and a Texas nurse were deployed on a week-long volunteer mission to the hospital to assist medical personnel in various capacities. Barzilai, located miles from Gaza, was inundated with patients during Operation Protective Edge.

Joining Feuer on the mission were Scott Goldstein, first engine lieutenant at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company; Scott Weiner, an EMS lieutenant at the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company; and two members of Hatzalah of Baltimore, Jonathan Lerner and David Heyman. The Texas participant was Wendi Schambach.

They were deployed through the Emergency Volunteers Project, a volunteer-run, not-for-profit organization that recruits and trains emergency service workers to back up first responders in Israel. The need for EVP volunteers arises during conflicts, an EVP official said, when demand for medical services is high but manpower is reduced as Israeli EMTs in the reserves are called to the frontlines or serve in infantry. With no mutual aid agreements with its neighbors, Israel calls in outside help, in this case through EVP.

The organization, which started four years ago, works with 600 personnel in the U.S., and seeks people with years of experience in high-pressure environments. EVP raises money on an as-needed basis for the deployments and trainings, an official said.

This deployment was EVP’s second during Operation Protective Edge. The first sent firefighters to respond to rocket attacks along the Gaza border and elsewhere. Those volunteers extinguished a brush fire in a kibbutz’s field that was hit by a rocket.

Scott Goldstein (center) and Scott Weiner (right) discuss a surgery they assisted in with Emergency Volunteers Project CEO Adi Zahavi.

Scott Goldstein (center) and Scott Weiner (right) discuss a surgery they assisted in with Emergency Volunteers Project CEO Adi Zahavi.

The most recent deployment sent the six Americans to Barzilai, an almost 600-bed facility that has seen more than 1,500 patients during the latest military operations. Those who volunteered were called Sunday evening, Aug. 24, and were on planes to Israel within 48 hours. The deployment’s last day was Monday.

“It’s a way for me to step up and help my friends and family over here, and normally, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Goldstein, who had been to Israel twice prior to this deployment. “Hopefully, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Weiner, who had the support of his wife and kids, said going on the deployment was a no-brainer.

“I didn’t really think twice about it,” he said. “The reality of it is, it’s our homeland. That’s how I feel about it.”

His family’s foundation, the Roz and Marvin H. Weiner Family Foundation, was one of several organizations that sponsored the deployment. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Texas-based John Hagee Ministries also sponsored the trip.

For The Associated, devoting resources to EVP met its requirements of specific, meaningful and safe work.

“We wanted to support our sister city,” said Mary Haar, director of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas department. “They’re doing good work in Ashkelon.”

The six volunteers spent their time working in Barzilai’s emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit and helped with intake of patients
as well. In addition to the woman in cardiac arrest, patients they helped included a boy with severe burns from an at-home accident, a patient with a bad snakebite and a bicyclist critically injured in a car accident.

By the end of the deployment, hospital staff and EVP volunteers were working together seamlessly.

For Feuer, who spent 15 months in Iraq as a medic and a combat medical trainer, it was easy to see the need for EVP.

“They were getting overwhelmed with patients. This is a small, 18-bed ER [that] had to process 70 to 80 patients an hour,” said Feuer, who works part time as a paramedic in Trenton, N.J., and runs several businesses. “They were overwhelmed, their facility was overwhelmed, and their staff was overwhelmed, and our role was to ease some of that burden as much as we were able to.”

Before heading home, EVP volunteers were honored at a hospital ceremony, which was attended by American Embassy officials, and met with members of the Knesset.

Volunteers walked away from the experience with several impressions and ideas. Things at the hospital seem to be returning to normal, or “standard insanity,” Feuer said.

Goldstein and Weiner hope to start a Baltimore chapter of EVP to help with future recruits and training. But ultimately, they left feeling like they helped out in a conflict that can seem so far away from the U.S.

“I lived in Israel in the past,” Feuer said. “As an American Jew, looking at the news every day, seeing what’s going without being able to lay your hands down and affect any difference is difficult.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Bikur Cholim Hosts First Bike-A-Thon

Bikur Cholim of Baltimore expects to raise around $70,000 at its first bike-a-thon on Sunday, Sept. 7.

The organization, which provides services to Jewish patients with medical issues in hospitals and in the community, expects about 150 riders to participate in the ride through rural Baltimore County.

“It’s a good way to raise money and for people to have fun, and it certainly promotes a healthy lifestyle,” said Aron Katz, the group’s president. “Getting exercise fits into our mission, and at the same time [the event is] raising awareness and raising funds.”

Bikur Cholim provides transportation to medical appointments and delivery of fresh kosher meals and has two apartments for families from out of town who come to Baltimore for medical treatment, kosher pantries and hospitality suites at local hospitals Johns Hopkins, Sinai and University of Maryland. The organization has 350 volunteers, 40 of whom visit patients every week in various hospitals.

The bike-a-thon has 40-, 25- and 10-mile rides, all of which start and end at Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

When the ride is over, there will be a barbeque for riders and their families that features kids’ activities and a short program.

For more information, visit baltimorebikurcholim.org.

Federoff Approaches 200 State Fair Ribbons

Ellen Federoff with her 19 needlepoint works that won awards at this year’s Maryland State Fair.  (Provided)

Ellen Federoff with her 19 needlepoint works that won awards at this year’s Maryland State Fair. (Provided)

Three years after emerging from a coma, Randallstown resident Ellen Federoff continues to be recognized for the hobby that is keeping the largely bedridden woman active.

Federoff’s needlepoint work, as of this year’s Maryland State Fair contest, has earned her 199 ribbons in various contests.

“I’ve already started for next year, and I’m really into it right now,” she said. “I’m headed for 200.”

The needlepoint, in addition to being an avid reader and a dedicated, mother, grandmother and aunt, are what keep her going these days. Three years ago, her heart stopped and her kidneys failed, putting her in a coma. She survived but spends much of her time on bed rest while receiving IV fluids.

She has entered the state fair’s needlepoint competitions almost every year since 1996.

This year, 18 of the 19 pieces she submitted placed in the Top 4, and it’s possible the 19th piece placed or received an honorable mention.

Among the award-winning pieces this year were a birth announcement for her “great nephew” that incorporated stickers from his nursery theme, a pillow she made for a retired friend that says “Shh, retired person sleeping” and an old-fashioned poodle dress that used certain threads to make the hoop part of the dress look like a poodle’s hair.

“I personally feel that the stitch and textures, the difference in the textures make it much more exciting, much more visual,” she said.

For next year, she’s already completed two sweaters and is working on a 3-D piece that will look like a music store in memory of a grandparent who taught music.

“To be perfectly honest, if I didn’t have the needlepoint and if I wasn’t an avid reader, it would be horrendous for me,” Federoff said.

Jewish Patriots

As Baltimore and Maryland commemorate the American victory over the British in the War of 1812 and honor Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” — inspired by the sight of Fort McHenry’s tattered flag that “was still there” after the 1814 Battle of Baltimore — local institutions are shedding light on the contributions of Jewish patriots that helped secure the nation’s freedom.

Mendes Cohen (Portrait of Mendes Cohen, 1818 by Joseph Wood. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Mendes Cohen
(Portrait of Mendes Cohen, 1818 by Joseph Wood. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s new exhibit, “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, the Most Extraordinary Baltimorean You’ve Never Heard Of,” and the Levy Center and Jewish Chapel in Annapolis, in particular, are ensuring that these often-overlooked heroes and their stories are remembered.

Sometimes referred to as the second American Revolution, the War of 1812 permanently dissolved European strongholds on the United States and cemented the young nation as an entity in charge of its own destiny. In the years following it, a strong sense of American identity developed, and the flag became a powerful emblem of that identity.

The Jewish museum casts the story of Mendes Cohen as paralleling that development of a national psyche, said its director, Marvin Pinkert.

“Cohen is trying to answer for himself, ‘What does it mean to be American and Jewish?’ He is the first generation [of his family] to be born in the United States of America,” said Pinkert. “That’s what the core [of the exhibit] is about, the process of finding one’s identity and the ways in which people build their identity.”

Born in Richmond in 1796, Cohen died in Baltimore in 1879, living at the time a very long life. Of Sephardic descent, one facet of Cohen’s identity was that of soldier, and at the Battle of Baltimore — unlike Key, who viewed the engagement from a ship offshore — “Cohen wasn’t watching, he was in Fort McHenry,” said Pinkert. Cohen volunteered for Capt. Nicholson’s Baltimore Fencibles artillery unit (volunteers were not required to swear oath upon a New Testament Bible, something Cohen refused to do) and was one of three men who bravely retrieved the main supply of gunpowder from its storage inside the fort after a bomb had landed in the magazine.

Cohen and his fellow artillerymen saved the gunpowder supply — and the fort — from detonating.

While his life story strongly relates to the wider regional commemoration of the War of 1812, the museum sees Cohen’s biography as a jumping-off point. The new exhibit urges visitors to consider the events after the war through the lens of American identity and the “light it casts on the entire century that follows,” said Pinkert, who curated the museum experience with Deborah Cardin.

The physical exhibition space, designed as a spiral within a spiral, allows visitors to move through an outer loop that illustrates events in Cohen’s family life and that of his five brothers and a sister and an inner loop that displays simultaneous events in Baltimore and throughout the 19th-century Jewish world. Visitors can move back and forth between the storylines, which include hundreds of artifacts, letters and diaries from Cohen’s life, some on loan from the Maryland Historical Society and the Johns Hopkins University Archeological Museum.

Pinkert described Cohen’s “almost unbelievable” life experience as part “Forrest Gump” — he seemed to show up everywhere, including at London’s Westminster Abby for Queen Victoria’s 1838 coronation, at the Vatican for the installation of a new pope and even in Paris during the French Revolution. An adventurer, Cohen was also part “Indiana Jones,” said Pinkert with a laugh. Between 1829 and 1835, he visited England, Russia, Europe and Turkey, was the first American tourist in Jerusalem and even floated down the Nile River collecting Egyptian artifacts.

Cohen seemed to repeatedly try on different identities, Pinkert said, as a businessman in the banking, lottery and railroad industries, and he was also a philanthropist as member of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, forerunner of today’s The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. When Cohen returned from his travels, he became involved in politics and championed the Jew Bill, a law that dissolved the mandatory swearing-in upon a Christian Bible in order to take public office. He was a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly in 1847 and a delegate to the State Peace Convention during the Civil War. Cohen lived life as both a member of elite society as well as a persecuted minority.

“The idea is to use Cohen’s adventure experience to illustrate the global experience of Jews of the time as well,” explained Pinkert. “How did it happen that there was this tremendous transformation of life for Jews; the way the hope of equality and citizenship [arose] in both Europe and America?”

The Cohen exhibit is interactive, and visitors are welcomed by a multimedia “ghost” of Cohen that ushers them through the journey; they have the opportunity to re-create some of Cohen’s experiences, such as the rescue of gunpowder during the Battle of Baltimore.

But the message Pinkert hopes visitors come away with after seeing Cohen’s many incarnations unravel before them is to consider what comprises their own complex identity.

“We started with what many people would consider an obscure piece of history,” said Pinkert, “and we ended with something that is focused on what touches our lives.”

Uriah Levy (Provided)

Uriah Levy
(Provided)

‘Saving Monticello’
While Cohen was on land fighting for freedom at Fort McHenry, his naval counterpart, Uriah P. Levy, was at sea battling British forces.

There is no documentation that the two Jewish servicemen knew each other, noted journalist, historian and author Marc Leepson, but Levy’s story has also drawn local interest. Leepson himself decided to study the man because of a persistent uncle who shared a hunch for a good story.

On a return trip from visiting Jefferson’s Monticello home in Virginia, Leepson’s uncle asked, “Did you know that Jews owned Monticello? You should write a book about it.” Leepson shrugged it off, but his uncle kept harping on it, so “I said I’d write a magazine article and [Preservation Magazine] gave me the cover,” recalled the historian. “Sometimes the articles turn into books. I got so much response to that article, I wrote the book in 2001.”

Leepson’s book, “Saving Monticello,” is Uriah P. Levy’s story, beginning when he was born in Philadelphia in 1792 as a fifth-generation Sephardic Jewish American — unique for that time — from great-great-grandparents who escaped Lisbon during the Inquisition of 1733.

Levy was fiercely patriotic — growing up, his heroes were George Washington and John Paul Jones — and he ran away from home at age 10 to be a cabin boy on a ship, allegedly promising his parents he’d be home in time for his bar mitzvah, which he celebrated on time. Levy cultivated great skills as a sailor and also bought in as part owner of a merchant ship at age 19. Then in 1812 at age 20, Levy joined the Navy to help defend his country.

Very adept as a seaman, he became assistant sailing master on the USS Argus, the most feared U.S. ship during the War of 1812, having captured more than 20 British vessels. But Levy then became a prisoner of war, was held in Dartmoor, England for 16 months and returned to the United States in 1815.

Ultimately Levy served a 50-year career in the Navy, but like his imprisonment, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“For one thing, the Navy was noted as a hotbed of anti-Semitism,” said Leepson. “He was court-martialed five times and thrown out of the Navy twice, then reinstated by two presidents.”

Leepson said the incidents over which he was court-martialed were typically “someone calling him a dirty Jew and [Levy] punching him in the face.” He was tried, arrested, and to be fair, Leepson said, he had a temper.

“So he overcame a lot to keep that Navy career and become a commodore,” said Leepson.

Ravenous Ravens

090514_ravens1

The1974 Dodge Sportsman RV is tailgate central on game days; longtime fans (from left) Ian Sandler, Neil Feldman, Blake Green, and Mark Simone gather for a pre-game party. (Photos provided)

At the Ravens Roost tailgate lot at Ostend and Wicomico streets, in the shadow of M&T Bank Stadium, lies the epicenter of Baltimore’s kosher tailgating territory.

If spying the fully Ravens-painted and completely koshered 1974 Dodge Sportsman RV isn’t enough to help a newcomer find the right spot Sunday as the team opens its season against the Bengals, “we have an American, Israeli and Ravens flag, in that order” that fly high from a pole too long to completely pack into the RV, said Yudy Brody, 35, a tailgate ringleader and owner of Queen “B” Pest Services.

Brody and longtime friends Gershon Topas and Max Gunzberg searched online for a tailgating vehicle when things got serious and they no longer wanted “to use our personal cars and trash them all the time,” said Topas, 31, who describes himself and his friends as huge, avid, crazy Ravens fans.

The friends have tailgated together for years, and the party actually spans across three parking spots to make room for all their activities.

“We were the first ones to get a spot there, in 2006,” recalled Mark Simone, who, along with friends Michael Lentz, Blake Green, Ian Sandler and Joe Rakiec, originally purchased an annual permit of $360 then added another so the group could spread out more comfortably, making room for the extras.

090514_ravens2“They set up camping tents, chairs, a TV, grills, beer pong tables, and there are two generators between the three [spots] and also speaker mounts and music,” said longtime attendee and fan Ben Howarth, 28, of Pikesville who, like others, will kick in a “flat rate for the space, food and beer.”

Ravens Roost lots are run by the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts (formerly known as the Council of Colts Corrals), and is “Baltimore’s oldest and best-known football fan club supporting professional football in Baltimore since 1957,” according to the organization’s website. Proceeds collected from Ravens Roost tailgate lots are donated to local charities, and space is precious.

“The goal is to leave the house five hours before kickoff, to be set up by 8:30 a.m.,” said Simone, who explained that getting the same spot each week necessitates arriving early. He and his group divide duties for efficiency.

“As the entertainment manager,” he said, “I’m in charge of making the music playlist and making sure we have a megaphone.”

Simone added that Green is the food manager and coordinates with others about what to bring. There are kosher and nonkosher grills (the use of which is strictly adhered to and respected). In short, he makes sure it’s coordinated and that all the food shows up.

Often it’s the typical hot dogs and hamburgers, but sometimes they eat a heavy breakfast with all the fixings and maybe deep-fried wings — it can run the gamut, he said. For drinks they stick to basic beer and ask people to pitch in for food and drink, though it’s not required.

090514_ravens3“Equipment manager [Lentz] packs everything into his car: tents, tables, the most important thing — the beer pong table, chairs, stereo. His is the most important job,” Simone said. “If Mike didn’t go, the whole tailgate would be missed.”

For the other group — Brody, Topas and Gunzberg — prep is taken just as seriously and early, but roles are a bit less defined.

“I take care of the food, Max takes care of the beer, Yudy makes sure the [RV] is gassed up. But we all pitch in wherever is needed,” said Topas, 31, who is a personal chef by trade, including for some of the Ravens players, in addition to his full-time position at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where he is in charge of all internal catering and meals and cooking classes with 11th-grade students.

Topas likes to keep the menu simple most of the time, but on Thanksgiving he deep fries a kosher Turkey, and some other weeks he might do deep-fried wings. He’ll cater to vegetarians as well, and Topas and fellow Ravens fan Lee Graham also share their homemade special hot sauces that include serious heat like scorpion Trinidad peppers and ghost peppers.

“I’m Modern Orthodox, and there is Conservative, traditional, Reform,” said Topas. “We mingle together in the middle. It’s fantastic, it’s an open community.”

Regular tailgate attendee Chaim Finkelstein, 24, of Pikesville, said his friend “Yudy is more about the tailgating, and I’m more about the game.”

“I am the more serious fan,” he said emphatically. “I’m a diehard Ravens fan, I bleed purple.”

090514_ravens4Finkelstein, who knows several players from his job as a financial representative and his father’s Camp Shoresh, where some of the players visit and participate in activities with the campers, attends most of the games with his parents and friends. But many of the tailgaters don’t attend games and instead walk into the Federal Hill neighborhood to watch at a bar, or even go home after the tailgate. It’s all about the party.

“The beauty of our tailgate is that there are people from all walks of life: non-Jews, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, and nobody knows the difference,” said Brody. “The only denomination is, what jersey are you wearing?  And if you’re not wearing the right jersey, someone gets on the bullhorn and talks trash to them.”

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

How His Garden Grows

When Dr. Len Muller is not at the Bridge Club in Pikesville or visiting his grandchildren in Ellicott City, he can probably be found tending the flowerbeds he designed and planted at Bluestone Park near his condominium at Quarry Lake at Greenspring.

Since moving from his native South Africa to Baltimore eight years ago, the 72-year-old retired family physician and award-winning gardener and landscaper has been hard at work making his neighborhood beautiful.

Muller retired from medicine at 58 so he could dedicate himself to horticulture and landscaping. Much of what he knows about gardening he learned during his medical training.

“In South Africa, you do botany as part of the science curriculum in medical school,” he said. Muller’s dedication paid off. His gardens won Cape Town province’s gardening competitions for eight years straight and he earned top prize in the large garden category of South Africa’s national competition in 2007.

Despite his love of gardening, when Muller and his wife, Charmian, relocated to Baltimore to be near their children and grandchildren, they purchased a condominium with no outdoor space. Fortunately for Muller’s neighbors, his passion served as impetus for him to use his talent for the greater good.

At first, explained Muller, who is chairman of the condominium’s landscaping committee, he began doing some gardening on the grounds
surrounding his building. Soon, he discovered Bluestone Park.

“Almost everything that was planted previously had died. There was only a lawn and trees,” he said.

So Muller approached the homeowners’ association asking for its permission and funding to landscape the park on his own.

Before he began the project, Muller researched native American plants.

“The climate in South Africa is more Mediterranean, so this was all foreign to me,” he said. “I studied what grows here and brought in bees, birds and butterflies. This gets no irrigation. Everything survives because of the summer rain.”

Now the English country-style garden includes yellow, red, pink and white roses, rudbeckia, coreopsis, spider, altura, berberis and pennisitum as well as Russian sage, catmint and lavender. Appreciative neighborhood residents run, walk their dogs, birdwatch and push baby strollers through the lakeside park.

Muller weeds and maintains the park, adding new plants and flowers throughout the seasons. He does his best to keep deer and beetles at bay. He has also designed some of the area’s median strips.

“It’s my passion. I come every day to check on it and make sure it thrives,” he said. “Now, in the evenings, the park is full of people. Maybe it will inspire others to do this in public spaces. It’s a God-given gift to enjoy.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com