Fond Farewell to Frankle

For Rick Frankle, pictured here with his wife Pam, Camp Airy has been “a blessing.” (David Stuck)

For Rick Frankle, pictured here with his wife Pam, Camp Airy has been “a blessing.” (David Stuck)

It only takes five minutes with Rick Frankle to know that he is a mensch. And Frankle has spent the better part of three decades at Camp Airy, teaching boys and younger men to become menschen too. Frankle, 57, who has served as the camp’s director since 2002, will retire at the end of this summer, but colleagues say his influence will be felt long after he leaves the post.

Frankle’s relationship with Camp Airy began during the summer when he was 12. He and his older brother went to the camp with their mother, who had taken a position as the camp nurse. As the legend goes, early on, Frankle told his mother, Reva, a World War II-era camper at Camp Louise, Airy’s sister camp, that he would one day run Camp Airy.

While Frankle’s brother attended camp for that first summer, Frankle kept coming back.

“The love of camp is something my mother and I share,” he said recently.

After four years as a camper, Frankle became a counselor-in-training, spent three years as a counselor and was a unit leader for another year. Afterward, he served as director of the pool, a position he held for close to 20 years. In the days before his job at Camp Airy became a year-round position, Frankle taught middle school in the Howard County Public Schools, even getting a master’s degree in technology, the subject he taught for 14 years.

“There’s no better life than the life of a teacher,” he said of his former career.

In the mid-1980s, Frankle said he became assistant camp director while continuing to run the Camp Airy pool. In 1995, he and his wife, Pam, a former Louise camper who also worked as a camp nurse, and their children, Hilary and Seth, both Airy and Louise alums and staff members took several years off to do some traveling and focus on their family. At the end of the summer in 2001, former director Mike Schneider called.

“He said, ‘Don’t you want to come back?’” Frankle recalled. “I’ve been here ever since.”

Frankle has seen great changes in the world of Jewish camping since he was a boy and even in the past decade.

“Jewish camping has come so far,” he said. “There is such more of a focus on Jewish education. We have become more intentional in our Jewish teaching.”

For example, the camp has brought in more Israeli staff while also training American staff to be more fluent in Israeli culture, he pointed out. “We’ve become a camp that sings. Now there is lots of singing in the dining hall and on Friday nights, and many of the songs we sing have Jewish themes. It’s been a blessing to experience that transition.”

Frankle said Camp Airy’s program have also evolved in other ways.

“In my day as a camper, there was softball and basketball, and we played all day, and every once in a while we might wander into the art room. Now, the program is so much more sophisticated,” he explained. “We have taken camp to a whole new level.”

Today’s Camp Airy offers extreme sports such as mountain biking, remote go-cars, skate boarding and paint ball. Airy also has full outdoor adventure and arts programs. A culinary arts program known as “Culin-Airy” takes place in a professional kitchen, where kids learn from professional chefs. Frankle has been known to teach the boys cake decorating, one of his hobbies.

This summer, the camp purchased a “fixer-upper” car and started an activity called Nuts and Bolts.

“We hired local mechanics, and the kids have been learning to fix the car. Our goal is to get the car to inspection standards and then find a family who needs it. When we do mitzvah projects here, they have to be real,” said Frankle. “When the kids fix a car and donate it to a family they know, or when our CITs work with kids with special needs, the mitzvah is real for them.”

The desire to teach campers to perform mitzvot is one expression of the kindness that Frankle’s wife, Pam, has witnessed in her husband at camp and elsewhere for so many years.

“I think Rick’s kindness to kids and staff is one thing that has made him such a good director,” she said. “He is all about making sure people are happy.”

Last fall, the Frankles were honored with a Lifetime Passion Award from the camp’s Order of the Leaf fellowship. Sybil Modispacher, who now heads up Camp Airy’s swim program and was Frankle’s assistant beginning in the mid-1980s, said the award couldn’t have gone to a worthier couple.

“They have lived the three pillars of the Order of the Leaf: friendship, loyalty and service,” she said.

Modispacher said she is extremely sad about their departure.

“They have always been such good friends,” said Modispacher. “Rick has done so many incredible things here. He started so many traditions, and his creativity can be seen all over camp. He has taught me everything I know.

“I’m just hoping that everything he has done and all the people he has trained have created a really strong base,” she added. “Rick will never be gone as long as there are people here to carry on the ‘Rickisms’ and hold him in their hearts.”

As they prepare to leave Camp Airy, the Frankles are excited to begin a new part of their lives.

“Camp is life lessons in microcosm. It has given me the right balance,” said Frankle. “I’m sad and it’s a little scary, but then again, it’s just one part of my life. There are times when you keep reaching, trying to accomplish. And there are times when you scale back and look at your blessings. My greatest joy has been getting to know people — kids, families in good times and bad — being part of that. Camp has given me the chance to make this [the camp experience] happen for kids. It’s miraculous to see them grow up.

“It’s been a blessing that I’ve had the opportunity to do this for so long,” he added. “But I’ve accomplished what I’ve wanted to do. The organization is healthy, and there is joy in being able to begin a new chapter.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Living with the Land

Photos Alisha Rovner

Photos by Alisha Rovner

At Bet Yeladim’s new Jewish teaching garden — Gan Ellen in Columbia — preschool students learn Jewish values in a hands-on environment.

“The best way to teach children is to get their hands dirty,” said Bet Yeladim’s executive director, Jodi Fishman. “By having an educational garden in our school, we are able to provide Jewish education in a fun, innovative way.”

The garden features bird feeders, butterfly gardens, digging areas, relaxation zones and four planting boxes — Shabbat, Havdalah, Chagim and Tikun Olam — that allow students to physically connect Jewish ideas with foliage. Hebrew signs on plot sections and seasonal crops corresponding with Jewish holidays teach the students language and culture.

“We focus on the Jewish value, shomrei adamah, which means keepers and guardians of the earth,” said Fishman.

There are flowers grown in the Shabbat planting box and spices in the Havdalah box. Three mitzvot have been created, related to the garden, to encourage Jewish values in a positive space.

“I’m also proud that we grow fruits and vegetables for charities like Grassroots Crisis Intervention,” added Fishman. “We want to teach students the value of giving back and helping out the community.”

Unlike the Garden of Eden, Gan Ellen took more than seven days to create. During three years of planning and two years of fundraising, Bet Yeladim formed a gardening committee, interviewed landscapers and held fundraisers and annual fund campaigns, and then the garden committee met with Kayam Farm in Baltimore to brainstorm its vision a year and a half ago.

Finally dedicated in May, the new garden is named after Bet Yeladim’s former executive director, Ellen Rappoport. Created as a gift to honor Rappoport’s seven years of service, the inspiration for a garden draws from her strong, lasting impact on the school.

The garden, Gan Ellen, has become part of the preschool’s curriculum.

The garden, Gan Ellen, has become part of the preschool’s curriculum.

“At that time, it was difficult to imagine a verdant garden in place of the hill of dirt lining the playground,” said Alisha Rovner, Bet Yeladim board president and gardening committee member at the dedication ceremony.  The task seemed daunting at first but ended in a “magical transformation,” she added. “Nevertheless, we were fortunate to find wonderful people to work with who were able to make our vision into a reality and create this amazing garden for our children to learn from and enjoy.”

Students and staff of the year-round preschool have quickly embraced the new garden. Teachers incorporate Gan Ellen into their curriculum by assigning different classes to water the plants, feed the birds and perform science experiments.

“Since the garden is in such close proximity to the playground, it is so interesting to watch students share the space,” said Rovner. “The garden allows students to touch things, feel things and even taste what they grew. I’ve watched students dig in the soil and read books in the makom shel shalom – place of peace – during breaks.”

Bet Yeladim looks forward to watching its garden continue to blossom.

“I have to say, Gan Ellen has already been the highlight of everyone’s year at Bet Yeladim,” said Fishman. “We had a clear vision of what we wanted, and we ended up getting even more.”

Missing Pikesville Woman Found Dead

After more than a week missing, an 88-year-old Pikesville woman who disappeared while going for a walk around Reisterstown Road Plaza was found dead in Pikesville.

Irene Kuperstein, who had been living with her daughter in the 6900 block of Marsue Avenue at the time of her disappearance, was recorded on surveillance video leaving the Giant grocery store at 9:21 p.m. and did not appear harmed, according to an initial police statement. Family members told police she had gone for a walk around the plaza.

Kuperstein, at 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 80 pounds, was identified by the police department as a critical missing person. The police statement disclosed that Kuperstein was hard of hearing and spoke only Polish.

The department made a “significant effort” to find Kuperstein, said Cpl. John Wachter, with officers on the street every day talking to people and searching for clues about where Kuperstein could have gone.

Just after 7 p.m. on Monday, police received a call from a homeowner in the 300 block of Church Lane in Pikesville, more than two miles from where Kuperstein was last seen, who had just returned from vacation. When police arrived on the scene, they found the body of an adult female later identified as Kuperstein.

Wachter said the department believes she was on foot and is waiting on autopsy results to determine the official cause of death, but there are no signs of foul play.

U.S. Senators Condemn UN, Pass Pro-Israel Resolution

Ben Cardin (File Photo)

Ben Cardin (File Photo)

U.S. Senators wrote two letters condemning the actions of United Nations agencies and passed a resolution in support of Israel.

On July 31, 35 senators, including Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing disappointment in the Human Rights Council’s inquiry into Israel’s actions during the conflict.

“The fact that there was no call for an investigation into actions by Hamas – including indiscriminate and deliberate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and intentionally putting Palestinians in harm’s way – is clearly irresponsible,” the letter said.

The letter called out U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for saying Israel’s actions could amount to war crimes without acknowledging “violations of international humanitarian law by Hamas for recklessly endangering the safety of Palestinian men, women and children.”

In a separate letter written to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 5, Cardin and U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio urged the State Department to launch an investigation into the incidents in which rockets were found at United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools.

UNRWA admitted to finding rockets belonging to Hamas in its schools and condemned these incidents and said they were turned over to local authorities or have gone missing. Cardin, Kirk and Rubio, the letter said, are concerned this could mean Hamas has the rockets again.

“As you know, the United States is the largest donor to UNRWA and has contributed almost $5 billion to the organization since 1950,” the letter said. “The United States taxpayers deserve to know if UNRWA is fulfilling its mission or taking side in this tragic conflict.”

The U.S. Senate also passed a resolution “supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas,” which Cardin co-sponsored, on July 29.

The resolution called attention to Israel’s efforts to protect Palestinian civilians while it works to destroy tunnels, Hamas’ terrorist designation, rocket attacks and use of civilians as human shields and Israel’s Iron Dome protecting civilians and reducing casualties. The resolution condemned Hamas’ actions and the U.N. Human Rights Council’s resolution to investigate Israel and supported Israel’s right to defend itself, U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire and additional funding to replenish Iron Dome missiles.

Navigating Toward A Healthy Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor received a failing grade this year for its lack of water quality, and the resources needed to improve it are as complex a network as the myriad waterways that comprise its watershed, draining 134 square miles within Baltimore City and County, an area equal to 64,856 football fields.

But for Baltimore’s tourism industry, the harbor is crucial, says Sam Rogers, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Visit Baltimore. “The No. 1 draw is the Inner Harbor.”

According to Rogers’ office, nearly 24 million tourists visited the site last year, pumping more than $5 billion into the local economy. Local businessman Dan Naor worries that if the harbor remains dirty, such impressive numbers will quickly decline.

“We smell the water, we see the floating trash, we get the warnings from the Coast Guard: Don’t swim, don’t [scuba] dive,” says Naor, an Israeli-American and chief operating officer of Baltimore Marine Centers, which rents approximately 1,200 slips within the Inner Harbor.

Naor has even lost annual renters who are “fed up with the trash,” he says. “We see it every day. It’s a huge problem; it’s unacceptable. There’s no reason why in 2014 we have such dirty water in the Baltimore harbor; there’s no excuse for it.”

Enter Healthy Harbor 2020, the plan launched by Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Inc. and its president, Laurie Schwartz, who with a coalition of government agencies, environmental groups, businesses and community organizations pledge to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. Sensitive to concerns such as Naor’s and aware of warnings to avoid contact with the contaminated waters of Baltimore’s biggest tourist attraction, their strategy is to combat and correct the scourge of sewage, trash and polluted storm water that have been identified as chief sources to the harbor’s pollution. But even they admit that to complete the job by 2020 is an ambitious goal.

“It was far enough out that it seemed possible,” says Schwartz, “but close enough that people might live to see it.”

Waterfront Partnership “started out focused on the basics of clean, safe and attractive” in the harbor area,  she explains.

Then about four years ago, Waterfront Partnership chair and Brown Advisory CEO Michael Hankin approached the board members and said the job was only half complete, Schwartz recalls, “if we were only focused on the land side and had our backs to the water. … It was because of the view, because of the great asset of the harbor and because of the water” that so many businesses and residents were located there.

At the time, says Schwartz, people weren’t sure how exactly to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by the next decade.

Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Blue Water Baltimore, a local nonprofit water monitoring and advocacy group, all supplied input to the Healthy Harbor plan, and two local environmental engineering firms, Biohabitats and the Center for Watershed Protection, researched and analyzed its methods and goals. Bill Stack, the deputy director of the Center for Watershed Protection, has 30 years of experience in surface-water management from his time at the Baltimore City Department of Public Works.

Stack says his years with the city allowed him extra insight to the challenges and that he “could develop a plan that was uncensored … based on what I would have done had I had power in Baltimore City and the political support.”

The resulting plan is a progressive multidisciplinary approach, he says, aiming to reduce and eliminate trash on streets that could eventually end up in the waterways, repair or replace the aging sewer system, restore degraded streams to function properly and reduce impervious surfaces so there is more land for water absorption.

The plan includes monitored progress reports, measured through regular checks of harbor water and its watershed streams for five water-quality indicators: chlorophyll a, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, total nitrogen and total phosphorus, the substance contributing to the algae bloom in Lake Erie that is being blamed for contaminating Toledo, Ohio’s water supply. One human-health indicator, bacterial contamination, is also monitored in Baltimore.

Each year, Eco-Check — a partnership between the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — issues an assessment report card. Earlier this year, the harbor received an F.

“We’re not where we want to be or need to be; however, progress is being made,” says Schwartz. “It may seem like a fine line, but to us it’s real progress that, within that F grade, the percentage of times that the harbor met certain standards increased over the last year and over previous years. And so it’s within sight that we will get to a D and then we believe a C.”

SEWAGE SEEPAGE

“There’s actually a tremendous amount of sewage contamination that’s entering our streams, rivers and harbor on a daily basis, [even] during dry weather, through the storm-water infrastructure,” says David Flores, the Baltimore harbor water keeper with Blue Water Baltimore.

Flores, who holds an environmental science degree from Bard College and is a part-time evening student at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, explains that his role as water keeper is concerned foremost with monitoring and legal advocacy, drawing upon the 1972 Clean Water Act to protect rivers and streams. Blue Water Baltimore conducts water-quality studies and advocates for compliance of laws, even lodging lawsuits when needed to protect waterways. The organization has been monitoring pollutants and working to improve water quality since 2010, and it began partnering with Healthy Harbor in 2011.

Sewage contamination of streams happens, explains Flores, because much of the sewer and storm infrastructure in Baltimore is outdated — almost 100 years in some locations; typically, Flores says, systems are built to last about 75 years. The systems are gravity driven, so pipes are laid underground close to existing streams, where the land grade naturally runs downhill.

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‘Campaign of Retaliation’

Jay Jalisi surprised many when he won a Top 2 slot in June’s House of Delegates primary election. The District 10 general election candidate defeated three officially supported candidates, losing only to incumbent Del. Adrienne Jones when all votes were totaled.

Three days after the election, on June 27, Jalisi, together with his Friends of Jay Jalisi campaign committee, sued two former staffers and a former contractor for more than $200,000 and filed for a temporary restraining order against all three, accusing the group of violating their contracts and distributing false and harmful statements about the candidate. The restraining order request has since been denied, but the decision on the injunction remains open.

Additionally, on April 8, HMJ Asset Management Company, Jalisi’s real estate company, filed a petition to collect money from one of the former staffers in a landlord-tenant claim. Later, on May 1, Jalisi successfully obtained a restraining order against that same employee.

The June 27 lawsuit stems from a video that spread on YouTube days before the primary election. The video, which accused Jalisi of lying about his age, nationality and occupation, among other things, was attributed to the group “Citizens of District Ten,” but Jalisi accuses the former staffers, whom the suit says were terminated and reacted “by instituting a campaign of retaliation and negative accusation,” of producing and promoting the clip.

“The video contained false and disparaging statements about Dr. Jalisi and included confidential information, as defined in the [contracts],” filings read. Additionally, the documents say, the video violates Maryland election law by omitting any information about the name and address of the treasurer of the campaign finance entity responsible for the material.

“As a result, Plaintiff Jalisi cannot properly address his detractors and risks losing potential votes each passing day,” the suit says. It does not identify what of the information is false and what was confidential. The $200,000 figure, the documents say, does less damage to the former staffers than the continued distribution of the video would do to Jalisi and his campaign.

Jalisi also alleges in the suit that the group conspired to post an advertisement titled “Room for Rent” with Jalisi’s personal cell phone number on Craigslist in the days before the election in an effort to tie up his phone on the most critical days of the campaign.

The suit is one of more than 50 lawsuits in which Jalisi has been a party, either individually or via his property management company. In several of the cases in which Jalisi is listed as a defendant, the plaintiff has had difficulty finding a physical address to deliver a summons. A traffic violation lists Jalisi’s address as 10807 Falls Road, #632, Brooklandville, but that address leads to a P.O. box at the post office in the Greenspring Professional Building, something the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration does not allow be used as an address on a state-issued ID.

Four days before the June 24 primary election, Jalisi garnered attention when multiple local politicians, including Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond and State Delegates Dan Morhaim and Dana Stein, sent statements to local news outlets clarifying that they had not endorsed Jalisi in the District 10 race but rather had endorsed three of his opponents instead. The move was in response to an email blast and website post from the Jalisi campaign that featured supportive messages from the politicians. Jalisi’s campaign later countered with their own statement insisting that he had not sought their endorsements, and the statements featured in his blast were in support of his work with the community.

Despite the statements made by Almond, Morhaim and Stein and the video at the heart of the suit, Jalisi managed to comfortably win a spot on the November ballot, somethinga memorandum from the defense pointed to as a potential reason to support dismissing the claim.

On July 29, two of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

The response to the suit asserts that Jalisi’s memorandum in support of the motion “is replete with bad accusations and vague assertations of improper activity which lack factual support.” Additionally, the defense claims, Friends of Jalisi, Inc. had forfeited its corporate charter and was not in good standing at the time all contracts were signed and therefore cannot hold any of the three former staffers to it. The charter was not reincorporated until April 2, 2014.

As of press time, the video at the center of the suit had been removed from video hosting sites.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

‘He Will Kill Himself’

Alan Gross, the contractor from Potomac currently imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has taken a major turn for the worse, according to Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the family.

Gross, 65, “has said that he will kill himself if he is in prison much longer,” Zuckman said.

During a permitted visit this past July between Gross, wife Judy and daughter Nina, Gross was “saying goodbye,” said Judy Gross. “It was gut wrenching.”

Gross was a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet when he was arrested as he was leaving Cuba. He is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”

In an interview with Washington Jewish Week, Judy Gross said: “I think he is hopeless.” During last month’s visit, she recalled that Gross said he no longer wanted any visitors.

“I’m hoping to talk to him about that,” she said. “You know it’s really up to him.

“He is depressed. I think he is hopeless,” she continued. “I think he thinks the State Department … is useless in terms of information. He gets nothing. He is very frustrated that no one is telling him anything.”

In a previous visit, she said, her husband still seemed hopeful about his release. But after Gross’ mother died this summer and his health deteriorated, “it’s not a pretty picture.” He is in chronic pain, has lost more than 100 pounds, has arthritis, a mass on his shoulder and has lost vision in his right eye, said his wife.

On Friday, Aug. 1, some 300 rabbis from across the Jewish denominations sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take immediate action to secure Gross’ release. Baltimore-area signatories included Rabbis Avram Israel Reisner, Michael Meyerstein, Dr. Tsvi G. Schur, Amy Scheinerman, Donald R. Berlin and John Franken.

“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government,” the rabbis wrote. “His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative.

“Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest,” the letter continued. “We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.”

Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release “remains a top priority of the United States, and his continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship between the United States and Cuba,” National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said when asked to respond to the rabbis’ letter, adding that Gross should be “released now.”

“We have urged governments around the world and prominent figures traveling to Cuba, including religious leaders, to press for Mr. Gross’ immediate release,” said Ventrell. “This includes President Obama asking Uruguayan President [Jose] Mujica to use any opportunity he might have to raise Alan Gross’ case directly with President [Raul] Castro.”

Ventrell concluded: “Alan Gross is an international development worker. He has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities … for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the Internet.”

spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com
dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Sharfstein Joins Hopkins School of Public Health

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and  Mental Hygiene, will join the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training in January. (Provided)

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene, will join the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training in January. (Provided)

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will be stepping down from his current position and joining the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as its new associated dean for public health practice and training.

The move is effective Jan. 1, 2015. Sharfstein will also hold a faculty position in the school’s department of health policy and management.

“I think it’s a good time and a great opportunity that will allow me to get involved more deeply in a number of issues I care about, help train future public heath leaders and also keep me involved in issues in the city and state,” Sharfstein said.

While he doesn’t have specifics yet, Sharfstein said he’ll be teaching classes on health policy at Hopkins. Come January, he plans to meet with other Hopkins faculty to discuss his new job and the opportunities it offers.

“Josh Sharfstein has had a distinguished career in public health practice and policy, and we are delighted that he is joining the faculty of the Bloomberg School,” Dean Michael J. Klag said in a statement. “Josh will bring a wealth of experience and insights that will strengthen the practice, teaching and research opportunities available to our faculty and students.”

Sharfstein, a Maryland native, graduated from Harvard Medical School and is a trained pediatrician. He served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, was deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and chairs the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange in his current capacity. While the exchange has been the subject of much public scrutiny due to the troubled rollout of Maryland’s health exchange website, Sharfstein sounded hopeful
for the reopening of the exchange in November.

“One reason that I’m staying on through the end of the year is to see the exchange get to a much better place,” he said. “It’s going to be radically different.”

In a previous interview, Sharfstein counted among his biggest accomplishments organizing coalitions around public health outcomes, strengthening primary care, reorienting hospital incentives to support prevention and integrating mental health and substance-abuse treatment more into medical care.

“As a pediatrician and as a public servant, Josh Sharfstein has been committed to children, families and improving people’s lives,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “As the secretary of health and mental hygiene, he’s led the way as we have invested in public health and prevention, aligned the health care system to the vision of better health at lower cost and expanded health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders. As a Marylander, I’m thrilled that he’s going to Johns Hopkins.”

O’Malley appointed Sharfstein to secretary of health and mental hygiene in January 2011. In his previous position, as an FDA deputy commissioner appointed by President Barack Obama, he worked to make the agency more transparent and took on food safety and tobacco use.

As Baltimore health commissioner, Sharfstein campaigned to warn parents about over-the-counter cough and cold medicines after the deaths of four Baltimore toddlers, worked with doctors to reduce overdose deaths in the city and spearheaded new community health data.

At Hopkins, Sharfstein will succeed Thomas Burke, who is Obama’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. Burke is currently director of the school’s risk sciences and public policy institute and a professor of health policy and management and environmental health sciences.

Among the issues Sharfstein believes his successor — who will chair the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange as stipulated by the law — will have to handle is drug overdoses, with heroin use making some resurgence. Other challenges ahead may be unknown, as the health care system is in transition, but Sharfstein thinks the public is up for the discussions.

“The fact that health is really at the center of a lot of discussion in Maryland is a great thing,” he said. “Now, I think there’s a very strong recognition on Maryland [that] our health care system, even our economy, is dependent on public health.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

End of a Long Commute

Rabbi Jordan Hersh is Beth Sholom Congregation’s new full-time rabbi. (Provided)

Rabbi Jordan Hersh is Beth Sholom Congregation’s new full-time rabbi. (Provided)

Rabbi Jordan Hersh can finally have a rest from his twice-monthly commute from New York City to Frederick. After one year of leading services, teaching and counseling part time at Beth Sholom Congregation, he has been named the congregation’s full-time rabbi.

Hersh, 32, had been working at the 150-member synagogue as a Gladstein Fellow, a program designed to give students from the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary intensive experiences in both being a rabbi and a community developer.

The synagogue has been without a full-time rabbi for several years and has undergone much change during that time. The congregation had been unaffiliated with any of the major Jewish denominations but joined the Conservative movement roughly two years ago, Hersh said.

The Frederick synagogue had always been unaffiliated, but its previously rabbis were Orthodox, he explained.

Hersh’s goal is to continue paving the way for Beth Sholom to operate fully as an egalitarian Conservative community, he said.

Frederick already is home to both a Reform and a Chabad synagogue. Hersh said he plans to work closely with his fellow rabbis there to build a “thriving” and “vibrant” Jewish community.

Hersh said Frederick’s isn’t the only Jewish community on his mind lately.  He has just returned from a four day-long trip to Israel with fellow rabbis.  There he got an up close and personal view of the war, visiting Israeli “children who are spending their summer in shelters.”

Hersh is no stranger to Israel, having lived there for two years. While doing so, he served as a rabbinic intern at a Masorti congregation in Be’ersheva. He also participated in the Shalom Hartman Rabbinical Students Seminar, a yearlong program that brings together rabbinical students from all Jewish denominations.

Additionally, he has held a rabbinical student fellowship with the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership’s Rabbis Without Borders. He also has served as a hospice chaplain at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Hersh grew up in upstate New York and received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is married to Shulie Hersh, who is in her last year as a cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion.

She will be joining her husband part time at the synagogue, leading High Holiday services, developing and conducting a music program for the Early Childhood Center preschool students and holding a leadership role with the congregation’s Tot Shabbat and Junior Congregation services.

When not involved in their synagogue responsibilities, the Hershes enjoy playing music together (he’s on guitar) and hiking. He also is a cycling enthusiast and has participated in long-distance bike rides.

Hersh said he is looking forward to getting to know his congregants and the area better and is “really excited to be here in the Greater Washington and Baltimore communities.”

spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com

Baltimoreans Rally Over Gaza

When Raquel Minka heard about a rally taking place in downtown Baltimore protesting Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, she had to do something.

“They’ve been having so many,” she said of the pro-Palestinian demonstration. “We also need a chance to speak up.”

Minka took to Facebook to organize her own demonstration — one in support of Israel and its military offensive — and on July 30,  hundreds of Baltimoreans turned out to stand with her, waving flags, singing and dancing outside Penn Station.

The rally was a response to another rally organized by Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace that was scheduled to take place at the same time in the same spot. The Hopkins group held another protest the previous week, but the addition of the counter protest made Wednesday’s event far larger than any other Gaza-related rally in Baltimore to date, even drawing a police presence complete with metal barriers and helicopters.

Malika, a Baltimore native dressed in a headscarf and long sleeves, attended the rally with her husband and young daughter. Even though she stood on the Palestinian side of the makeshift police barriers, she found herself unable to fully commit to one side or the other.

She came to the rally with the intention of supporting Palestinians and other oppressed populations around the world but didn’t want to bring a sign and open herself and her daughter up to heckling from other protestors. As she watched the scene unfolding in front of her — crowds beginning to form around the barriers while each side shouted slogans at the other — her resolution wavered slightly.

“I’m so moved right now I want to cry,” she said as she watched rally attendees shout back and forth across the no-man’s land occupied primarily by reporters and photographers: a brief stand-off in a largely tame event. “I just wish it was about humans” instead of one group pitted against the other, she said.

Nicholas, a Baltimore native, attended the rally with a sign protesting the use of border barriers along both the Israel-Gaza and U.S.-Mexico
borders. He said he felt a moral obligation to attend the rally and described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “a powerful government against a pretty powerless people.”

For Kfir, who stationed himself comfortably on the pro-Israel side of the block, the issue is equally easy to decipher. He moved to the U.S. from Israel six years ago but updates from his friends and family living overseas keep the situation in Israel in the back of his mind at all times.

“It’s pretty tough, but you learn to live with it,” Kfir, who also would not give his last name, said of growing up amid constant Israeli-Palestinian tension. Now a U.S. resident, he has found himself spending a lot of time lately defending Israel to co-workers and friends.

When people hear about the disproportionate casualty counts in the most recent military offensives, he said, he struggles to try to justify the actions of the Israel Defense Forces.

“At the end of the day, numbers talk,” said Kfir, who added that the force used by the IDF is justified by the history of the situation. “It’s very hard to convince somebody.”

Within two hours, the Baltimore Zionist District-funded buses had reloaded their passengers, and the pro-Palestinian crowd had reconvened at Red Emma’s, a few blocks down the road. There, a like-minded group packed into the café to listen to political scholar and author Norman Finkelstein discuss Israel’s role in  the situation in Gaza.

Finkelstein, who has raised the hackles of national Jewish groups for embracing the Palestinian narrative of events in the Middle East, told the crowd, which poured out of the door and into North Avenue, about a set of three “gifts” that fell into the lap of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in order to allow for the current situation to fall into place.

First, Finkelstein said, was the June kidnapping and subsequent murder of the three Israeli teens. The fallout from the search and discovery of the bodies of the teens allowed for Netanyahu to rally hostility toward Hamas, which was blamed for the kidnappings.

“Now Netanyahu had a pretext,” said Finklestein. “He saw an opportunity.”

The second gift, he said, was the Tony Blair-backed, Egyptian-proposed cease-fire. According to Finkelstein, the conditions would have handed Hamas a total loss, and the group had no choice but to reject the proposal.

Thirdly, he said, was the downing of the Malaysian airliner. The uproar surrounding that event, he said, provided the perfect distraction for Israel to begin its offensive in Gaza.

Finkelstein ended his talk with an anecdote.

Imagine Dan is suffocating James, he told the crowd. James struggles and reaches his hand up and scratches Dan and Dan retaliates by walloping James, claiming he is justified because he was defending himself.

“If he doesn’t want James to scratch him, all he has to do is stop suffocating him,” he concluded.

Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), called Finkelstein’s analysis an attempt to make unconnected circumstances fit a pre-existing belief.

“The idea that any of these are gifts is a little obscene by itself,” Rozenman said. “Finkelstein’s whole approach is to blow the micro, or the minor, into the major.”

He added that Finkelstein lacks a big-picture view, noting that around 10,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

“This is not about reaching some accommodation between Israel and Hamas like it’s a labor management dispute,” Rozenman said. “One side wants to destroy the other. A compromise that gives them something they demand gives them strength to fight another day.”

Staff reporter Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com