Pikeville’s Bravest Hold Fundraiser

The Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company enjoyed great weather, great participation and great fun at its fourth annual golf tournament at the Suburban Club on July 21, said its president Allen Roody.

“The golf tournament is the fire company’s single biggest fundraiser other than our honorary membership fundraiser,” he noted.

Pikesville’s Volunteer Fire Company’s history dates to 1897, when it was founded by a group of local residents. It is the second-oldest volunteer fire department in Baltimore County and the only one in the county able to provide a full range of safety services, including emergency medical services, to the community.

Those not personally involved with the department or in firefighting may be unaware that volunteer firemen receive the same type of training as career firefighters, said Roody, a career firefighter who began volunteering when he was 14.

“Anyone over 16 can join,” he said. After passing a background check, drug screening, an interview and a basic agility test, the department sends volunteers for training. Some go on for training as paramedics.

In Baltimore County, he noted, there is a “combination system” where career firefighters and volunteer firefighters work interchangeably depending upon the location of the fire or emergency.

“Most people who volunteer do it because they want to help others,” Roody said. “We are always looking for new members.”

The PVFC is also looking for donations.

“We are short on space and would like to enlarge our building,” he said. “We also have to replace our ladder truck.”

For more information, call 410-486-2668.


Jewish Education Center to Open in Capital

Congregation Kneseth Israel

Congregation Kneseth Israel

Changes are afoot at Congregation Kneseth Israel, a 107-year-old synagogue in Annapolis. This fall, the historic synagogue will be home to the new Jewish Education Center of Anne Arundel County.

The school, founded by Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum and directed by veteran Jewish educator Ellyn Kaufman, will welcome Jewish children of every denomination, offering religious school for students in kindergarten through seventh grade and youth group programs for students in grades 8 through 12. The JEC curriculum will include Jewish holidays and customs, Hebrew language, the study of Israel, Torah, Jewish values, traditions and b’nai mitzvah instruction.

Prior to the opening of the JEC, Weisblum was providing individualized Jewish education to young members in addition to all of his other responsibilities as congregational rabbi.

“He was overwhelmed,” said Kaufman, who explained that when the rabbi first approached her about directing the fledgling religious school, she was surprised.

“I told him, ‘but I’m not Orthodox,’ and he said, ‘you don’t have to be. We are unaffiliated.’ The more we talked, the more I understood that although Kneseth Israel was once Orthodox, that is no longer the case,” she explained.

Nowadays, said Kaufman, the synagogue offers services for people of all Jewish backgrounds. For example, she said, the synagogue has a separate seating area for men and women who wish to sit separately, and a co-ed seating area for men and women who wish to sit together.

“I think he has done a great job of appeasing everyone,” said Kaufman.

Kaufman comes to the school from a local Reform congregation’s religious school, where she was principal for the past 12 years. She has another 25 years of prior experience as a Jewish educator.

“We are offering free synagogue membership for a year to families who enroll their child in the JEC,” she said.

In addition to attracting new families to the school, Kaufman and Weisblum also hope to build the synagogue’s membership base.

“We want to bring Judaism in Anne Arundel County back to life,” she said.

A family Shabbat celebration on Friday, Aug. 1, at 6 p.m. will serve as a welcome for the school, said Kaufman.

For additional information, visit knesethisrael.org.


Vested Interests: Raising Funds to Purchase Bulletproof Vests

About a week ago, Rabbi Leonard Oberstein, director of the Teacher’s Institute at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, received a call from Rabbi Yissocher Dov Eichenstein of Mercaz Torah and Tefillah regarding Eichenstein’s desire to “do something for our soldiers, specifically that they go into battle with the right safety gear.”

As explained in a Facebook post from Oberstein dated July 26, the Ner Israel rabbi’s son Yoni is a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces. Yoni, whose unit retrieves combatants’ bodies in order to provide proper burial, said that he and his fellow soldiers “desperately need modern ceramic bulletproof vests, that they had only a very few old Vietnam-era vests and that they could use 80 of the better vests that can withstand modern warfare.”

Baltimore’s Jewish community, and particularly the Orthodox community, responded quickly to a grassroots effort to fulfill the request begun by Congregation Ohel Moshe.

“They have delivered 80 vests to Yoni’s unit, and we have received pictures of our boys wearing them,” Oberstein said in his Facebook post. Research is being done to identify additional units that need more safety equipment, because, according to Ohel Moshe’s site, the response to donate has continued beyond the amount originally requested. Each bulletproof vest costs about $1,500 and has been purchased from a certified IDF provider.

For more information, go to ohelmoshebaltimore.com/vest.


Aliyah During Wartime

JERUSALEM — David and Helaine Brenner had a real Israeli welcome last week, as they prepared to leave Ben-Gurion International Airport to embark on their new lives as Israeli citizens. They ducked for cover and fled from an approaching rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.

Fresh off the special El Al flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh that brought 228 new immigrants from North America to the Jewish state, the couple and their two young boys — who have spent the last several years living in Baltimore — were loading up the free cab provided by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption when the air-raid siren’s high-pitched wail pierced the calm, morning air.

“Our kids didn’t even hear it,” Helaine Brenner, 45, said with a smile of her children, Lior, 13, and Tovia, 11. “We just ushered them to the shelter with everybody else and waited out the attack.”

The rocket, likely intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, came as part of a morning barrage July 22 that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, responding to another rocket that exploded in the town of Yehud just one mile away, to ban all flights by American operators either arriving to or departing from Israel’s central airport for little more than a day.

But two days later, as she sat with her husband and children to receive their Israeli identity cards at a Nefesh B’Nefesh ceremony at Jerusalem’s international convention center, Brenner took the whole experience in stride.

“Our second siren was the next day when we were in the rental car planning to grab something to eat,” the preschool teacher at the former Yeshivat Rambam day school said. “We pulled over, walked into a shoe store, and the staff there helped us into the shelter.”

That Brenner, who until this week belonged to Suburban Orthodox Congregation, could rattle off such details so matter-of-factly, might have appeared remarkable were it not for the similar experiences of so many others on that Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, the organization’s 51st such charter. William and Tanya Mann, a mid-50s African-American couple who converted to Judaism before deciding to make aliyah, told of scurrying to shelter the minute they arrived in their new hometown of Beersheba in Israel’s south.

“There were two rockets, and we had maybe 45 seconds. We didn’t even make it” to the bunker, said William Mann, formerly of Riverdale, N.Y. “We heard the boom” of the Iron Dome missiles intercepting the weaponry.

Before they left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last week, members of the immigrant group acknowledged the risk of making aliyah during a time of war. But according to Nefesh B’Nefesh founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, not a single person chose to cancel or even delay his or her plans after Israel embarked on its Operation Protective Edge to stop attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The last time the private organization, which contracts with the Israeli government to coordinate all immigration from North America, brought a flight of immigrants during wartime was in 2006 during the second Lebanon war, said Fass. When the rockets from Gaza started falling, “we anticipated the extra jitters and that [the immigrants] would be bombarded [by family and friends] with extra questions, extra scrutiny; so proactively, we reached out to provide more strength and encouragement to them.”

Also read, Economic Impact.

The Brenners didn’t feel any pressure to change their minds in the days and weeks leading up to their move, said David Brenner.

Making aliyah, he stressed, was a lifelong dream, one reinforced during the 14 years of his marriage. A layoff three years ago gave him the opportunity to go into business for himself, and a trip last summer to Jerusalem convinced him that he could continue his work from abroad.

“We made the firm decision about a year ago,” he related. “After that, everything fell into place.”

The family had no trouble selling their home, and a fortuitous connection pointed them in the direction of a rental home in Alon Shvut that was priced “exactly according to our budget,” said Helaine Brenner.

Divine providence, they both agreed, made everything possible, but it was their Zionist beliefs that provided the drive.

“Within our family, the reason [to move] is to leave a life for our children, [a life] we hope will have meaning,” said Helaine Brenner. “But well beyond that, we feel like the State of Israel is vital to the Jewish people, and we feel like it’s our present and it’s our future.”

Rabbi Shmuel Jablon similarly said he and his wife, Becky, moved their family from Philadelphia to Efrat for their five children, ages 8 months to 17 years, as much as to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“After so many years of us speaking Hebrew to the kids, we figured that 2,000 years of exile is enough,” said Jablon. “It’s time to come home.”

His 9-year-old son, Akiva, was less philosophical, saying that he was looking forward to the Little League baseball in Efrat — a community of more than 9,000 people in the Judean Mountains of the West Bank. But he looked up from his iPad game (also baseball) to admit that he was “very excited.”

His eldest sister, Leah, said that she saw in her family’s move a message to Jewish people everywhere.

“If there’s something holding them back” from making aliyah, “if they’re nervous about missing out on opportunities in America,” she said, “they should know that Israel really is the land of opportunities.”

Turning to the security situation, their father was defiant.

“We had no intention of giving Hamas a victory by delaying aliyah for even a day,” said the rabbi, an educator who used to work for Torah Academy in suburban Philadelphia. “It’s our land, our state, and we’re not changing our plans for terrorists.

Working Together

Jewish Community Services Director Barbara Gradet was one of about 50 faith leaders who met with Gov. Martin O’Malley to discuss treatment of young migrants from Central America. (Richard Lippenholz )

Jewish Community Services Director Barbara Gradet was one of about 50 faith leaders who met with Gov. Martin O’Malley to discuss treatment of young migrants from Central America. (Richard Lippenholz )

While uncertainty continues over how to quell the rush of young migrants crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. illegally and what to do with the children awaiting trials that will determine their fate, one thing is assured in Maryland: local faith leaders will have a large role in any upcoming action.

“Texas shares the borders, but we all share the concern and the passion for the children,” said Barbara Gradet, who attended a meeting between Gov. Martin O’Malley and faith leaders from around the state. Gradet attended on behalf of the Baltimore Jewish Council and Jewish Community Services, of which she is the executive director. Already, she said, she has received phone calls from Jewish community members as far away as Bethesda wanting to get involved.

The meeting, which was followed up by another similar meeting on Monday, was closed to the press, but Gradet said discussion focused on options for housing the children and other ways to help the young migrants.

Many children entering the country illegally travel to family members already living in the U.S. when they are released from Border Patrol custody. The fate of the thousands of children who do not have family to be reunited with is in limbo, however, as officials all over the U.S. grapple with how and where to house the children while they await their immigration trial.

“This is a humanitarian crisis that really belongs to our whole community,” said Gradet. “If we all pitched in and we harnessed the resources that we all can offer, then we can get these kids the main care and treatment that they need while they’re waiting for the federal process to happen.”

From what Gradet could tell, all of the 50 or so attendees were in agreement on the need to prevent the children from being sent back. They also agreed that, while the kids await their trials to determine whether they will be permitted to stay in the U.S., they need to be housed in a comfortable environment.

The group talked about placing an emphasis on the existent foster care system rather than repurposing old warehouses or recreation centers to house the kids. O’Malley has been vocal in his opposition to both sending the children back to their home countries and housing them in large temporary shelters.

While Catholic Charities, which was present at the event, has offered the use of one of its buildings in Timonium to house the children, Gradet said the focus of last week’s meeting was on fostering and the use of small group homes as a last resort.

“We need open arms and caring families,” she said. “People of faith have that very strong passion of caring.”

For many attendees, the issue is personal. O’Malley discussed his own great-grandfather’s immigration to America and Gradet said she couldn’t help but think of her great-grandmother escaping persecution by hiding under the false bottom of a hay cart to travel undetected out of her home country.

Each attendee was encouraged to start a discussion among their own faith community about volunteering to foster the Central American children, but not all communities are equally capable.

While some communities, such as the Catholics, have a large population of Spanish speakers, making them a better option for children who don’t know any English, other communities with few Spanish speakers are finding other ways to help. For JCS, Gradet said this might involve vetting potential foster parents — something the organization has experience with — or establishing a network of available babysitters to help those who  do house the children, in addition to collecting clothing and supplies children might need.

Gradet said she realizes the Jewish community has a lot on its plate right now, but insisted people find the time to think about the situation in the southwest as well.

“What an opportunity for them to see what this country is about and who we are,” she said of the young migrants.


Israeli Teen Speaks to the World


Ashkelon, in southern Israel, has been subject to rocket attacks from Hamas. (Vladimir Blinov )

While home by herself, Anat Suissa, 17, of Ashkelon heard the all-too-familiar sound of sirens signaling rockets from the Gaza Strip destined for the Israeli seaside city. As she waited in the bomb shelter around 2:15 p.m. on July 16, she heard and felt a huge explosion.

“This time was different,” she thought, trying to compose herself.

She did not sustain any injuries. Unfortunately, her house did.

She was alone and frightened, she recalled. She was overwrought with exploding emotions but plowed forward with the incredible opportunity, despite poor circumstances, to speak to the scores of national and international media that was gathering outside her house waiting to unravel the latest breaking news.

“When I spoke to the media, it was the first time I left my house, and I was shocked at how quickly the media arrived,” said Suissa, whose hometown is a sister city of Baltimore.

Turning to the situation that has plunged much of southern Israel into chaos, Suissa sounded frustrated.

“This is not a normal reality that people have 30, sometimes 15, seconds to save their lives,” she said.

To the news crews, which included Israeli and international stations from Australia, Germany and the United States, she told of her and her neighbors’ fear. She also urged every Israeli to run to a bomb shelter as soon as a siren is heard instead of running outside to see the rocket itself.

After they saw Suissa’s bravery on television, Israel’s economic and foreign affairs ministers, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, respectively, paid a visit to the Suissa home.

Sigel Ariely, the Ashkelon-based director of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, could not contain her excitement, as she spoke of the next generation coming forth and leading, not just in front of the Ashkelon or Baltimore communities, but in front of the Jewish state and the wider world.

“Our teens are our future as a community, as a partnership and as a country here in Israel,” said Ariely, “and I think by watching Anat turn a horrible situation into an impactful situation shows just how bright that future is.”

Michael Hoffman, chief planning and strategy officer at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said that The Associated sponsors an array of teen leadership programs, both in Baltimore and Ashkelon, all with the overarching goal of creating “advocates and ambassadors who can promote the cause of Jewish life.”

“We have seen how she has represented the State and people of Israel,” Hoffman said of Suissa, “and in moments like these, we are seeing the fruits of our collective investments.”

“It makes us stronger when we hear about rallies in support of Israel like the recent rally at the JCC in Baltimore,” Suissa said, recounting the people and community she became so connected to through her Diller Teen Fellows experience. She urged Baltimoreans to “speak for us and tell our stories because it’s your story too.”

Justin Hayet is an area freelance writer.

Media Bias? Depends Who You Ask

Photo by Melissa Gerr

Photo by Melissa Gerr

With virtually every media outlet in the world covering the current fighting between Israel and Hamas, consumers, media savvy or not, are inevitably barraged with a variety of news reports, articles and photos that may paint very different pictures.

Has media coverage been fair, truthful and balanced? That depends on who you ask.

Some say reports lack context and an understanding of history, some say the media sympathizes with Palestinians because of the tragic visuals from Gaza and others say the Palestinian side is underreported.

“Both British and American media appear to be either confused by or ignorant of both facts and context, both nuance and history,” Kenneth Lasson, a writer and professor of law at the University of Baltimore, said via email. “There is a general lack of fairness and balance.”

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the electronic media rarely talks about context, which presents a problem as consumers are provided with more detail and more perspectives.

“I think that more coverage is focused on Gaza, and that has presented Israel with a problem that it’s learning to deal with,” Abramson said. “It’s not as balanced as it should be. It’s hard to understand what Israel’s been going through in the 66 years of its existence.”

Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland College Park who covered the Middle East during his reporting career, said he doesn’t see any ideological bias in the media. He suggests that the American media may be more sympathetic to Israel because of more cultural affinity with Israelis than Palestinians.

“I feel like the news media in the U.S. at least has kind of presented both of those sides, has presented Israeli officials, Hamas deliberately embedding families to create a propaganda victory, and they give voice to the people of Hamas who are making the case that it’s civilian massacres,” Feldstein, who once worked on a kibbutz in Israel, said.

But Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), said equal camera time doesn’t mean good coverage.

“Fairness doesn’t mean you give 50 percent of the quotes to Hamas, fairness means fairness to the subject matter being covered,” he said. “Balance or objectivity is substantive. Did you get to the heart of the matter? Because in the end, the question was accuracy, or truthfulness.”

There are many factors at work shaping the current situation and the media coverage, some acknowledged and some not acknowledged by the media, sources said.

With Israel being a democratic state with a free press, there are “hundreds, or thousands,” of press, Rozenman said, leading to a saturation in coverage the public doesn’t get with “arguably more important world conflicts,” he said, such as the situations in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. But recent media coverage of other conflicts, especially the situation in Ukraine and Russia, may have overshadowed coverage of the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict prior to Operation Protective Edge, Feldstein said.

“Gaza is the latest wrinkle, but the sort of back and forth between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on for so long,” he said. “I think most Americans are confused and ignorant about it.”

There are also reports of the press being intimidated by Hamas while covering Gaza, with the Times of Israel reporting that journalists have been questioned and threatened after witnessing Hamas gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from civilian structures and fighting in civilian clothing.

When that coverage gets out, Rozenman said, there a few things that would help put stories in context.

“Israel is not occupying Gaza. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza nine years ago and that’s when the rockets started. It was the Palestinian public who elected Hamas in 2006,” he said.

While there are significantly higher numbers of Palestinian casualties, Rozenman said those numbers aren’t often framed by the fact the Palestinians don’t have bomb shelters, red alerts, the Iron Dome anti-missile system or tanks, partly because Hamas used its concrete building materials for tunnels into Israel.

“Israel looks like the invader if you have a two-dimensional framework,” he said.

But Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that does information research and advocacy to promote human rights in the Palestinian territories, takes a different view, at least of Israeli news media.

“The Israeli media doesn’t really report the damage that our own side is causing the civilian population in Gaza,” she said. “It’s bad news journalism because Israelis are constantly being fed a false reality that leads Israelis to believe nothing is wrong with our actions. And then Israelis are shocked at the response of the international community to our actions.”

But Rozenman said those numbers are skewed by Hamas, who told Palestinians on social media to refer to all casualties as civilians and gave other instructions on how to shape the media environment. He doesn’t trust the numbers of civilian casualties provided by Gaza health officials, and said most casualties have been males who are combatants between ages 16 and 60, and even more so between 40 and 60. If Israel was indiscriminately shelling the Gaza civilians, he said, the casualties would be more representative of the Gaza population.

The imbalance in Israeli and Palestinian casualties poses a problem that can affect what some news outlets focus on, Feldstein said.

“You have two warring factions here. [The media is] covering both sides, but on the Israeli side Iron Dome is pretty much protecting the Israelis and there are much less casualties,” he said. “It isn’t as visual and compelling, where on the Gaza side you have very visual carnage.”

Regardless of the context, the visuals may win the public attention in the end.

“If Hamas is willing to sacrifice innocent families to score a propaganda victory, then even if news media gives that argument to the Israelis, it’s going to be drowned out by the emotion of grieving, crying, funerals and burials,” Feldstein said.

Lasson would like to see journalists ask “tough but thoughtful questions,” he said, such as what critics of Israel envision as a more appropriate response to rocket attacks, why hasn’t the United Nations and other international entities expressed similar distress at killing women and children elsewhere in the world, and are there Palestinians protesting Hamas, among others.

“This is very much a war of good versus evil in a civilized word, much as it was in World War II between the Allies and Nazi Germany,” he said via email. “There is little, if any, moral equivalency here. Journalistic integrity should be able to penetrate the truth, and not be consumed by the fear of being ‘politically incorrect.’”


Ground Incursion Hits Home


Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke
inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.

The human cost of Israel’s ground incursion in the Gaza Strip hit close to home in the United States this week, with a Beth Tfiloh graduate hospitalized and Jewish communities in Los Angeles and South Texas losing members in the fighting.

Among the wounded was Baltimore native Jordan Low, a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his company escape from a burning building.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 25 soldiers have been killed since July 17 as of publication. On Monday morning, five IDF soldiers were in serious or critical condition, 15 were in stable condition, and 40 were seeking treatment for injuries, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Palestinian death toll had reached 565 by press time Monday since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, according to Gaza health officials.

In Baltimore, the Beth Tfiloh community has rallied behind Low with phone calls, prayers and volunteers to visit him, according to Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s director of education.

“He was quite the hero according to his dad,” Schorr said. “Until everyone escaped from this burning building that was hit by Hamas, he held the ladder until every single guy got out safely, which is why he was so affected by the fumes.”

Jeffrey Low, Jordan’s father, was flying out to see Jordan with his younger son, Josh, 15, on Monday evening. Low spoke to his son’s doctor Monday morning, who said his blood pressure and other health indicators were good.

Jordan Low’s company, Golani Brigade’s Unit 51, was searching for arms on the second story of a Hamas building in Northern Gaza when Hamas fired two rockets at the building and it burst into flames, Low said. All 15 soldiers, four of whom received serious injuries, were airlifted to a Tel Aviv hospital, he said.

“Jordan going into the IDF … I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Low said. “He’s in Israel and doesn’t have to be there. Being a chayal boded [lone soldier] is highly coveted, and I think those things show the kind of young man Jordan is.”

Two American soldiers and members of the Golani Brigade, Max Steinberg, 24, of Beersheba and Los Angeles, and Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana and South Padre Island, Texas, were killed Sunday. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood.

Israel’s stated objectives in the ground invasion are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a July 17 statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that announced the invasion, “restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza — its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to transport arms and personnel. The invasion started after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire.

President Obama told Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

On Monday, Israeli troops killed 10 terrorists who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza.

The terrorists emerged from the tunnel Monday morning into Southern Israel between two kibbutzes near the border with Gaza, the IDF reported. The IDF said its radar captured the infiltration.

One cell of infiltrators was struck by Israeli airstrikes, the IDF said, and a second cell was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops.

Residents of the two kibbutzes, Erez and Nir Am, and some surrounding southern Israeli towns were ordered to remain in their homes with the doors locked for several hours on Monday morning as the IDF searched for more possible infiltrators.

State Highway Administration Repairing Beltway Bridge

Motorists traveling on Park Heights Avenue should prepare for temporary and long-term lane closures until fall 2015, as the Maryland State Highway Administration makes repairs to the bridge that carries the street over I-695.

The $5.6 million repair includes removing and replacing the riding surface and concrete sidewalks, replacing a steel beam that was damaged by trucks, replacing the overhead bridge lighting with light poles, rehabilitating the concrete supports and abutments at each end of the bridge, cleaning and painting the steel and reconstructing the pavement on the approaches to the bridge, according to an SHA news release.

The project should be completed by fall 2015, weather permitting.

The bridge will remain open to vehicles and pedestrians throughout the project, which began last week. Crews began single-lane closures on the bridge last week between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, with closures ending the following morning. Single-lane closures on I-695 under the bridge will occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday.

Nighttime single- and double-lane closures on I-695 will occur between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, with closures ending the following morning.

Beginning this fall, one lane in each direction will be closed 24 hours a day until the project is finished.

“SHA encourages drivers to plan ahead for extra commuting time on Park Heights Avenue and drive with caution in the I-695 interchange work zone,” SHA district engineer David Peake said in a statement. “Pedestrians should also look ahead for changing traffic patterns in the work zone and stay within the designated crossing area on the bridge.”

For questions about the project, contact SHA’s District 4 Office, Construction Division at 410-229-2420, 866-998-0367 or shadistrict4@sha.state.md.us.

And, the Price is Right

Meat lovers rejoice, because there’s a new kosher game in town that rivals in both price and quality the wood-paneled, white-tableclothed varieties that have for years plied their trade in offering decidedly treif hunks of juicy steak.

The brainchild of Accents Grill and Cocoaccinos owners Lara and Larry Franks, Serengeti aims to do for Baltimore kosher cuisine what such establishments as Ruth’s Chris and Capital Grille have done for everybody else; its mission is to be no less than the final authority when it comes to competitively priced, high-quality dining that, while offering gourmet flavors, focuses on, as Lara Franks said in her South African lilt, “giving diners a healthy portion of protein at a good value.”

With a décor heavy on earth tones and angular designs and metal antelope heads hung on the walls, Serengeti evokes the spirit of an African hunting lodge or a rustic cabin. On a recent Wednesday evening, the place was packed, and a hurried Franks, who serves as hostess, revealed that the indoor location — the OU-supervised restaurant sits behind Accents in the Atrium mall at the Greenspring Shopping Center off of Smith Avenue — has had steady dinner and lunch crowds ever since a soft opening in late June. Reservations, she said, are highly recommended.

That the restaurant gets by essentially on word of mouth — Serengeti is just now beginning an advertising campaign — is a testament to the niche its owners identified several years ago, said Phil Rosenfeld, who manages the front of the house. “The idea is a classy steakhouse, something that was missing from the Baltimore kosher scene.”

Appetizers run from $7.50 for the soup of the day — it happened to be beef brisket split pea this particular night — to $17 for what Rosenfeld said is the restaurant’s most popular dish, a plate of sweet and spicy bourbon-braised short ribs served over creamy grits and topped with crispy onions. The meat, offering a substantial dose of smokiness with a hint of spice against a background of peppercorn, falls off the bone, while a tuna ceviche tower ($12) presents alternating layers of diced raw fish on “crackers” of tortilla chips and dollops of avocado cream.

For the main course, the Franks, along with Chef Daniel Neuman — a returnee to Baltimore after stints in New York kosher catering outfits — are taking an all-encompassing approach. Their menu leans heavy on steaks to be sure — grilled rib eyes can be ordered on the bone or boneless in both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cuts, spice rubbed or accompanied by one of three house sauces — but diners can also choose from braised lamb shank with red wine reduction ($27), a fish dish, two chicken entrées ($18), a vegan lentil shepherd’s pie ($18) or four entrée-sized salads ($15-$25). The chili-rubbed seared steak tournedos with peppercorn sauce ($42 for 16 ounces/$32 for 12 ounces) comes as thick as any chophouse filet and just as tender, while the grilled honey chipotle marinated rib eye steak ($32 for 16 ounces/$25 for 12 ounces) evokes images of Texas ranch hands enjoying a meal of well-deserved barbecued sustenance after a hard day’s work.

Eight different sides can be ordered al a carte and sandwiches include lamb burgers, hamburgers, grilled chicken and veggie varieties. Desserts run between $6 and $9.

A prix fixe option, at $50 per person, includes an appetizer, salad or soup, entrée with a side and desert.

For his part, Neuman relishes the chance to interact with his diners one on one, although he admitted that the cooking arrangement has taken some getting used to as both Accents and Serengeti share the kitchen.

“I’ve got two lines here going on simultaneously!” he shouted as assistants and wait staff scurried to and fro. When he was reminded that hotels and cruise ships frequently have multiple restaurants using central cooking facilities, he laughed: “Cruise ships! They have bigger kitchens!”

Franks, who got her start in the restaurant industry by running corporate lunch counters and catering kitchens in Southern California, said her foray into kosher dining and move to Baltimore a decade ago has been interesting. She and her husband preside over an ever-expanding empire of restaurants and, judging from the mix of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, patronizing their newest establishment, they seem to be answering a need. Less than a month since opening, some patrons have already become regulars and order without the help of the menu.

“When we designed this, we made sure that we were comparable and competitive to the non-kosher steakhouses in the area,” said Franks. “We know what the standard is on the open market and we’re going to deliver that same quality.”

Serengeti is located at 2839m Smith Ave. in Baltimore. For reservations, call 410-413-6080.

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