Love, Acceptance: Our Neighborly Pledge

From left: Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim; Rabbi Robert Tobin of Temple B’nai Shalom in West Orange, N.J.; Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom; Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue; and Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation, who moderated the discussion. (Photo by Gail Lipsitz)

From left: Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim; Rabbi Robert Tobin of Temple B’nai Shalom in West Orange, N.J.; Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom; Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue; and Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation, who moderated the discussion. (Photo by Gail Lipsitz)

V’ahavta l’reiacha Kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a basic tenet of Judaism. Nearly every Jewish child is sure to have heard the story of Hillel teaching a gentile the entire Torah as he stood on one foot.

On Nov. 20, Beth El Congregation invited an interdenominational panel of rabbis to come together for a symposium about what it means to love one’s neighbor.

“It is really beautiful, even if you learn absolutely nothing from this morning, that such an event took place and that we got together in an attempt to learn about loving one another,” began Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim. “Even if we leave not loving one another at all. That is not the goal. At the end of the day, it is amazing to see that we really do agree on many things, especially those things that are fundamental to our Judaism and our identity.”

The central text for the discussion was Leviticus 19:18: “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your own people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Silber first addressed the passage in terms of how two famous teachers, Shammai and Hillel, taught the passage to disciples, citing that many disciples came to Shammai with ridiculous requests, including one from a gentile who asked Shammai to teach him the Torah while the prospective convert stood on one foot. Shammai chased this man away, but Hillel, who accepted the request, told the man the simple ideal which we all know of today, to treat others the way you wish to be treated.

“Part of the beauty of our religion is that we are all a work in progress, there is no expectation of perfection because perfection is unattainable,” said Silber. “Real Judaism is all about perpetual growth and that’s all that God wants from us. If you can’t love people, you can’t love God for the simple reason that people are tangible. If I can’t relate to that what is in front of me, how can I love and relate to something so amorphous and esoteric and unknown as God?”

“This command is not asking you to feel good,” said Rabbi Robert Tobin of Conservative synagogue B’nai Shalom in West Orange, N.J. “It is not asking about your convenience or personal motivation; it is more in the category for the command for tzedakah. I don’t care how you feel about the person — the person needs help, it’s the right thing to do, you’re going to give to them. That’s why it is tzedakah, not charity. It has nothing to do with pity, it is about justice.”

Tobin went on to explain that from a legal lens, the Torah is very concerned about actions: Somebody has to do something to somebody else. There are commands to love in Leviticus and the Shema and then a command to love strangers as yourself. In order for that to occur, Tobin asserted that one must have an honest relationship of trust, rebuke, love and growth with God. He cited the passage, “For you were strangers in the realm of Egypt, you shall love the stranger because you were the stranger,” as reason enough to follow this commandment.

Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom looked at the passage in terms of those in the community who are mentally ill or are physically ailing.

“In 2016, you rarely encounter mentally ill people in a hospital,” she said. “They are in the world, either in prison or out in the world. However, those of us in the Jewish world encounter mentally ill people all of the time. But do we apply loving your neighbor as yourself to those in our community who are struggling with depression, addiction, psychosis, speaking disorders? Do we greet them with love and acceptance?”

She introduced the audience to a prayer that is meant to be recited when one sees someone who appears to be different and asked the audience what they thought about the concept of saying that prayer.

“To me, that is our challenge, making it something positive. The other challenge is saying it. Watching a mother pull her children away from someone who is a dwarf or an amputee or is speaking to themselves, what if she taught her children the bracha instead?” Ruskin asked. “What if our approach was to celebrate the diversity of human creation and the different kinds of people? It should be something that we rejoice and celebrate rather than saying ‘that poor thing’ and having pity.”

“Don’t be dismissive of any person just because they don’t look like you or practice like you or believe like you,” said Silber. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t have their place or their image of God. Myself and my fellow panelists, we have some serious disagreements. But that’s OK, because the goal is not to convince or proselytize, the goal is to love. Until the day that comes that we all love each other, the goal is to respect, to agree to disagree with dignity and recognize that my views are not superior or inferior to yours, to try and somehow find out that which we have in common than focusing on that which divides.”

Rabbi Geoff Basik of Reconstructionist synagogue Kol Halev wrapped up the symposium admirably, concluding, “The way to God is through each other.”

He chose to lead the attendees in a kavanah introduced by kabbalists on Safed, which translates, “I stand here, ready in body and mind, to take upon myself the mitzvah, ‘You shall love your fellow human being as yourself,’ and by this merit may I open up my mouth.” According to commentary on the kavanah, “only by accepting ourselves are we allowed to enter the human community of prayer.”

A Labor of Love Beth Israel Congregation, rabbi celebrate 'joyful' milestones


Rabbi Jay and Cindy Goldstein.

Sixty years ago, 10 young Jewish families gathered to create their own community and place of worship and study. That was 38 years before the 1994 opening of the current $2.7 million building on Mitzvah Lane that is home to Beth Israel Congregation.

What started out in the home of one of the founding members as a place for close friends to observe their religion has grown into a thriving congregation that remains a cornerstone of the Northwest Baltimore Jewish community.

Earlier this month, Beth Israel members and clergy joyfully paid tribute to six decades of an evolving Jewish community in grand fashion with a family weekend celebration at the synagogue on Crondall Lane in Owings Mills.

With several hundred guests pouring in to share what Beth Israel has meant to them, the diamond anniversary event also recognized Rabbi Jay Goldstein for his 20 years of service to the synagogue.

“There’s a certain wonderful blessing when you are able to come together and celebrate 60 years of a synagogue and the blessing that I’ve had spending 20 years at Beth Israel,” Goldstein said. “So, as we look back on six decades and to our future, we must continue to do all what we can here at Beth Israel to involve and entice those who, for whatever reason, have become distant from our warm, meaning laden and accessible tradition.”


Beth Israel congregants pack the shul’s 400-plus-seat sanctuary to hear Rabbi Jay Goldstein and others speak at the congregation’s 60th anniversary celebration.

As it moves into its seventh decade, Beth Israel continues to distinguish itself as a hub for attracting young families, offering a top-notch Hebrew school and connecting members of all ages to the larger Jewish world through outreach and programming.

“This is like our second home,” said Ellie Cohen, who has belonged to the congregation for about 35 years. “Beth Israel is like our family. It’s had a very special place in my heart for so many years.”

More than a year-and-a-half of meticulous planning culminated with a weekend of special Shabbat services, a special dinner honoring Goldstein, a time-capsule burial and the completion of a mosaic.

Longtime Beth Israel members Howard and Sandy Bernheim and Allen and Ellie Cohen, co-chairs of the 60th anniversary committee, were tasked with all the details, spending countless hours stressing over the details of how to put such an event together.

Their goal throughout the planning process, they said, simply was to put together a joyous occasion that would appeal to the entire congregation and have members talking for years to come.

“It was a lot of work but a labor love,” said Allen Cohen, who was president of Beth Israel’s Brotherhood from 1997 to 1999. “This was an opportunity to get people together for a sichma and happy things.”

At one of the Shabbat services, for instance, Goldstein gracefully shared the pulpit with seven members who were selected from each of the congregation’s six decades, including the 1950s, to speak on their memories of the synagogue.

“I’m still energized by the opportunities and challenges each and every day.”
— Rabbi Jay Goldstein

Goldstein and his wife, Cindy, were also presented with a mosaic that members put together, including preschoolers and learning lab students, as well as an artist in Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon. It featured a Shabbat table, the Goldsteins and their three kids dancing on a talis and the Hebrew phrase “Shalom, shalom, larachoke v’lakorov,” which means “peace, peace be upon those that are far and close.”

“I don’t even know where to really start,” said Sandy Bernheim, who was president of Beth Israel from 2007 to 2009. “That’s why this is so important, because it marks us recognizing the passage of time and accomplishments of Beth Israel.”

By Baltimore standards, Beth Israel is still considered a relatively young congregation. Nonetheless, the mark it has left on the Greater Baltimore Jewish community stretches well beyond the walls of the 87,000-square-foot building that houses the synagogue.

“There’s a lot of history here,” said Beth Israel president Randi Buergenthal, who joined the congregation in 1997. “Everything Beth Israel is and stands for really is a wonderful statement to who we are as a congregation and who Jay and Cindy are to the community.”

Although the mission of Beth Israel remains the same — to bring families and individuals together for the purpose of worship, study and community — a lot has changed through the years.

In those early days, the Conservative synagogue existed only in the hearts of a dedicated few. Alvin Sandler and his wife led the tiny congregation, which held its first public meeting of what was then known as the Liberty Road Conservative Congregation at the Randallstown Community Hall.

In 1957, the congregation was officially renamed Beth Israel and became affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. During the next several decades, the congregation experienced rapid growth, ascending to one of the three largest Conservative congregations in Baltimore.


Beth Israel members and clergy break ground at the congregation’s then-new home on Liberty Road in Randallstown, which served the synagogue from 1968 to 1994.

Beth Israel remained a fixture in the Randallstown area for 38 years, peaking with a membership of 1,100 families in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But when droves of Jewish families started relocating to the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor from Randallstown, Beth Israel found itself at a crossroad. Membership numbers started to dip, and the congregation enlisted the help of the clergy and some longtime members to search for answers.

Howard Gartner, a Beth Israel member of more than 40 years, was tapped by Sandler, serving in his second stint as Beth Israel’s president in 1993, to head up a committee to find a new location for the synagogue.

Gartner, 67, who works in real estate management and property management, helped broker a deal after intense negotiations to sell Beth Israel’s property on Liberty Road to Randallstown’s Colonial Baptist Church. Beth Israel then parlayed that sum to purchase a vacant factory on Crondall Lane from Mine Safety Appliances, a Pittsburgh company that made hearing aid and pacemakers as well as breathing apparatuses for miners.

For Gartner, the chance to revel in the glory inside the current location of the synagogue he was such a big part in making a reality was an especially meaningful and nostalgic moment.

“We’ve always tried to be forward looking and have always had strategic planning going on to try to see where we will be years into the future,” Gartner said. “It’s a challenge to adapt to the changing affiliations, but I think [Beth Israel] has always handled anything thrown [its] way by having great people and decision-makers.”

Indeed, these are just some of the challenges that attracted Goldstein to Beth Israel when he arrived at the congregation as rabbi in August 1996, less than two years after its then new home opened.

“This is like our second home. Beth Israel is like our family. It’s had a very special place in my heart for so many years.”
— Ellie Cohen

Prior to joining Beth Israel, Goldstein was already a well-established member of the Jewish clergy with more than two decades of experience. He served as rabbi for 12 years at Temple B’nai Abraham in Meriden, Conn.

A native of Chicago, Goldstein earned his undergraduate degree in Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He completed his master’s degree in theology, received his honorary doctorate of divinity and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

Goldstein, 58, a past president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, said he was drawn to Beth Israel in part because of its older members with a history of involvement in Jewish life. He was also energized by Beth Israel’s emphasis on attracting young people into the mix.

Perhaps most importantly, Goldstein and his wife, Cindy, 56, sought to provide their three children, David, 29, Josh, 26, and Shira, 23, with a rich Jewish lifestyle in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. Cindy Goldstein is also an active member of the Jewish community, having worked at the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center since 1998. She is  the organization’s executive director.


The Goldstein family, from left: David and his wife Laura, Shira, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Cindy Goldstein, Cindy’s parents Chuck and Ellen Donen and Josh.

“Really, it was the right time and right opportunity for us to give our children the experience in a broader Jewish community,” Goldstein said. “It also gave me the opportunity to work with a large growing congregation and to help mold and shape a congregation in a changing environment, both in the community and Jewish world.”

In its Owings Mills neighborhood, at the center of an area of high growth for the Jewish community, Beth Israel has found a way to attract young couples.

Marc and Randi Hertzberg, both 49, joined Beth Israel about 15 years ago in part because of the proximity to their Owings Mills residence and the emphasis placed on getting lifelong commitments from unaffiliated young couples and families.

“At the time, there were a lot of young families joining, and we wanted to join somewhere where we could be with people with younger kids,” said Marc Hertzberg, who is set to take over as Beth Israel’s next president in May.

Randi Hertzberg, a native of New Jersey, was drawn to the synagogue because of the family-friendly atmosphere she believes Beth Israel promotes.

“I think there has been a lot of innovative programing with the religious school and other aspects of the congregation,” Randi Hertzberg said. “Beth Israel is doing a really good job of accommodating today’s families. I think the future is very bright.”

Just last year, Beth Israel made a big boost to broaden its offerings of the Joseph and Corinne Schwartz Preschool at Beth Israel.

The program was accredited by the Maryland State Department of Education in June 2015, making it the second accredited Jewish preschool in the Greater Baltimore area and the only one in the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor.

“It’s about going above and beyond your licensing standards and requirements,” preschool director Rachael Schwartz told the JT in December 2015. “[Accreditation standards] represent the highest quality, and they also reflect research-based best practices for early childhood.”


Rabbi Jay Goldstein speaks before members at Beth Israel.

It’s initiatives like these that Goldstein plans to remain actively involved with as he continues pushing Beth Israel for what he hopes is a prosperous future. Under his steady guidance, Beth Israel maintains a membership of 650 to 700 households.

He said he is just as passionate about his work at Beth Israel as he has ever been and doesn’t see himself giving up his place on the pulpit anytime soon.

“I’m still energized by the opportunities and challenges each and every day,” Goldstein said. “I think if that wasn’t the case — and I think a lot of my colleagues would agree with this — then we wouldn’t stay in what can be a very challenging profession.”

Bernie Is Back Bernie Sanders reflects on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and lessons of 2016 Election

With his victory in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders is the first Jewish American to win a primary. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images))

U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images))

“I am not a liberal, I am a progressive,” pronounced Sen. Bernie Sanders during a student-submitted Q&A conducted by Johns Hopkins University president Ronald Daniels.

What became something of an open, periodically funny and altogether forthright conversation between Sanders and Daniels followed the former presidential hopeful’s hour-long speech about his recently published book, “Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In.”

As a stop on his ongoing cross-country book tour as hosted by Hopkins’ Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium in partnership with the school’s Foreign Affairs Symposium, Sanders’ speaking engagement on Thursday, Nov. 17 in Shriver Hall was introduced as part of “a forum for the free exchange of ideas.”

Sanders, an Independent, has represented his state of Vermont as senator since 2007 and was narrowly denied the honor of becoming the Democrat nominee for president and later the first Jewish person to hold that office in American history.

He used his global stage as a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nominee to articulate the primal rage felt by many working class and poverty-stricken Americans largely neglected by the mainstream media, which Sanders has been highly critical of in the past and continued to excoriate at the Hopkins event.

Sanders is a kind of latter-day incarnation of popular irascible 1977 Academy Award-winning film “Network” character Howard Beale who spouted out those immemorial lines, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” to a rapt national audience.

Speculation for Sanders’ loss in the primary election to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ranges from a putative “media blackout” or outright mockery of his grassroots, anti-establishment campaign to allegations of subterfuge perpetrated by the Democratic National Committee that may have favored Clinton.

Speaking out on such issues — particularly his profoundly negative take on the manipulative power of the media to siphon and filter the news inappropriately — Sanders suggested that, ironically, it may have been Donald Trump’s tapping into the same entrenched economic frustration and sense of being ignored Sanders expressed that allowed the former to reign triumphant in the 2016 presidential election.

A packed house awaits U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at Johns Hopkins University symposium on Nov. 17. (Photo by Mathew Klickstein)

A packed house awaits U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at a Johns Hopkins University symposium on Nov. 17. (Photo by Mathew Klickstein)

“There’s a beautiful world out there that the media ignores,” Sanders declared with his characteristic impassioned contrarianism that has made for a beloved pop culture image a la comedian Larry David’s portrayal of the senator on a series of immemorial “Saturday Night Live” sketches.

This was the crux of Sanders’ message to the audience of mostly Hopkins students — the notion of the power of manipulation and control the media has over not only how critical issues are presented to the populace, but, indeed, which “critical” issues are presented in the first place.

It’s an important thread in his book, as well, and a frightening proposition considering Sanders’ educated opinion that the recent presidential election became fodder for the media’s (and, by osmosis, the electorate’s) growing obsession with what he called “gossip” and the personalities of Trump and Clinton rather than the issues that needed to be illuminated and properly deliberated.

“Politics is not about the candidates,” Sanders said. “It is about the needs of the people.”

Sanders went on to say that he discusses this crucial point throughout his book and the idea that “we need to discuss the real issues in an intelligent and respectful way.”

“The message” is, in fact, “the most important part of any campaign,” Sanders said. “What do you believe in? What will you fight for?”

What Sanders believes in is something he said he’s been fighting for his entire adult life: “The real pain of the people.”

As has become well-known over the course of Sanders’ precipitous rise in popularity, the senator is here speaking of those outside of the so-called “1 percent” or other elite circles he has decried for being an integral part of both Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns.

“A great nation is not judged by how many billionaires it has, but how it treats its most vulnerable people,” Sanders said, wrapping up the central theme of his book.

Representing “the most vulnerable people” has been a continuous touchstone of Sanders’ political tenure. He has recently criticized Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, who Sanders has referred to as “a racist individual,” as chief strategist for the white house.

“In a democratic society we can disagree all we want over issues, but racism and bigotry cannot be part of any public policy,” Sanders said according to a Nov. 17 report by JTA. “The appointment of Mr. Bannon by Mr. Trump must be rescinded.”

When asked about the obvious question of such implicit divisiveness in the country by Daniels during his Q&A, Sanders — again with his signature, mop-haired and disputatious aplomb — said he questions just how divided the country really is at this time.

Sanders placed much of the blame on the media and the so-called “billionaire class” for perpetuating the notion that the U.S. is as divided as has been claimed.

After having traveled around the country meeting countless constituents and their families as well as young children, when it comes to such topics as economics, gun control, abortion or LGBTQ rights, Sanders truly believes there is less contention about these concerns and, if anything, merely division on how to implement needful guidance in dealing with such concerns he knows are imperative to all Americans.

Indeed, it’s for this reason that Sanders self-qualifies as a progressive as opposed to a liberal (referring, for example, to Hillary Clinton as “a strong liberal”).

For Sanders, a liberal is interested in social reform and soi-disant “social justice.” In his mind, a progressive such as himself is interested in these points … but also does not want to forget the economic concerns of the country, something he believes was largely missed by Clinton’s campaign and, again, may have led to the resounding win for Trump.

Though there may not have been a major glass ceiling shattered in the 2016 presidential election — by either a woman or Jew — Sanders undeniably cracked it and established that it is indeed possible to arise to one of the highest political platforms in the nation without the need of corporate sponsors or direct ties to the political establishment.

And, further proving his chutzpah and personal connection to the people listening in Shriver Hall and across the nation, Sanders can have a little fun with it all as well.

When asked at the end of the Q&A by Daniels what Sanders thinks about David’s caricaturing him on “SNL”, Sanders was quick to respond: “Actually, I am Larry David.”

The JTA contributed to this article.

New Howard County Sheriff Appointed

James Fitzgerald (Screenshot:

James Fitzgerald stepped down after a report detailed alleged anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic remarks and threatening behavior. (Screenshot:

Gov. Larry Hogan on Nov. 10 announced the appointment of William McMahon to replace Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald, whose alleged anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic remarks and threatening behavior were detailed in a September report.

McMahon, 54, a Republican, most recently served as the acting executive director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions and director of its Leadership Development Institute after spending 28 years with the Howard County Police Department.

He was the county’s chief of police from 2006 to 2014, gaining recognition as the face of the department during the investigations of the fatal shootings at The Mall in Columbia two years ago before retiring from the force.

“Bill McMahon’s distinguished service and extensive law enforcement experience make him the best choice to serve and protect the citizens of Howard County,” Hogan said in a prepared statement. “Bill has a keen understanding of law enforcement at every level, and I am confident he will be a strong leader for Howard County. I offer him my sincere congratulations.”

The county’s Office of Human Rights released a 48-page report Sept. 1 that detailed Fitzgerald referring to former County Executive Ken Ulman as “little Kenny Jew-boy” as well as derogatory comments about African-Americans and women. Fitzgerald, a Democrat who was serving his third term, was also accused of retaliating against deputies who did not support his re-election in 2010.

In mid-October, Fitzgerald resigned from his post in the face of intensifying pressure from county and federal officials and residents calling for him to step aside.

Prior to Fitzgerald’s resignation, County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, asked the county’s representatives in Annapolis to explore whether the General Assembly could impeach Fitzgerald.

Kittleman threw his support behind Hogan’s selection in a prepared statement, saying, “I applaud the governor for moving quickly with this appointment and making such an appropriate and thoughtful choice. Bill McMahon has demonstrated he has the temperament, dedication and leadership qualities to lead the Sheriff’s Office and will help restore confidence to both that office and the residents of Howard County.”

McMahon, meanwhile, said he was “honored and humbled” by Hogan for the appointment.

“As a 30-year resident of the county, I am deeply committed to upholding our laws and working to ensure the safety of all citizens of our county and our great state,” McMahon said in a prepared statement.

County Schools to Remain Closed on Rosh Hashanah

The Baltimore County Public School Board approved its 2017-18 academic year calendar on Nov. 9 to comply with Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order that public schools open after Labor Day.

The approved calendar was the only one of the three options that complied with Hogan’s order while keeping schools closed on Rosh Hashanah.

“We appreciate that the members of the board heard our discussion about logistical and operational issues that would arise should schools remain open on Rosh Hashanah,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “We would like to thank them for making the right decision for the large population of Jewish students and teachers in the school system.”

The newly approved calendar’s one notable disadvantage is that it only plans for five inclement weather days as opposed to seven proposed in other versions of the calendar. In the case that the school system is forced to close for more days, additional days are planned to be added to the end of the school year as opposed to making spring or winter break shorter for students and staff.

Daniel Nozick

Ethiopian-Born Miss Israel Tells Students: ‘Take Every Chance You Get’

Titi Aynaw, shown meeting President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel in 2013, has embraced being Jewish “100 percent.” (Photo by Avi Ohayon)

Titi Aynaw, shown meeting President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel in 2013, has embraced being Jewish “100 percent.” (Photo by Avi Ohayon)

Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, an Israel advocate, television personality and the first Ethiopian-Israeli model to be crowned Miss Israel, visited two Maryland universities last week to give students a different point of view of the Jewish state — one from a woman who grew up sometimes hiding her Jewish identity in Ethiopia and who later was able to fully embrace her Judaism in Israel.

“The goal of my tour is to talk about my life story and about Israel from my point of view,” said Aynaw, 25. “The idea is to bring students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, together to learn about Israel from a point of view that they do not know.”

She spoke at the University of Maryland, College Park on Nov. 9 and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Nov. 10 as part of a collaboration with the Jewish National Fund and Media Watch International.

Aynaw was born in a small village in Ethiopia. As a child, her family had no electricity, and she walked around barefoot. Her father died before she was old enough to remember, and her mother passed away before she became a teenager. At the age of 12, she moved to Israel to live with her grandfather in Netanya.

“I grew up always knowing that I was Jewish,” said Aynaw, “but in Ethiopia, being Jewish was only OK part of the time. Sometimes, you had to be sure to hide it, but it was nothing like in Europe during the Holocaust.”

Aynaw, who was crowned Miss Israel in 2013, had to learn everything all over again when she moved to Israel. It took time for her to adapt to the culture. “Coming from the third world to the first world is such a change,” she said. “You know, I had to wear shoes every day in Israel, I had to get used to even these small things. The first time I was in a classroom was when I was 12.”

However, Aynaw learned Hebrew quickly and began to adapt. “To be Jewish in Ethiopia is not something that you yell on the streets; you keep it in your home. Coming to Israel, I became 100 percent Jewish. When we have holidays, the entire country celebrates, not just the Jews. There are synagogues everywhere. I do not need to hide the fact that I am a Jew, I feel confident and protected.”

In her time in the Israel Defense Forces, Aynaw became an officer, commanding 300 men and women.
“You need to keep dreaming and do your best,” Aynaw told students. “My life has not been easy at all. It is not easy growing up without parents, without support, without someone to tell you what to do. Sometimes, it is really lonely, but this is life, and you need to continue to chase your dreams.”

“My story is not about ‘to be Miss Israel, a black Miss Israel,’ it is about to dream and to take every chance that you get in your life, to take life into your own hands. This is my message,” she concluded.
These days, Aynaw is supporting her own project in Netanya. The Titi Project provides extracurricular activities and enrichment to 66 Ethiopian kids residing in Netanya who come from from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Aynaw wants to expand the project and help give other kids the educational opportunities that she lacked growing up. She hopes that her tour will help fundraise for her cause.

“In my community and my neighborhood, the project keeps these kids away from trouble,” she said. “They have too much free time — these children’s families work a lot so that they have enough money, leaving these kids unattended. The idea is to keep them busy. My kids have new skills now. If they were bad at math or the computer three years ago, today they are the best in their class. It is something that I am really proud of.”

For more information on The Titi Project, visit

Trialogue Series Brings Muslim, Jewish, Christian Communities Together

Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of Charm City Tribe, speaks about her organization, which aims to engage millennials in Jewish life outside of typical Jewish settings. (Photo by David Stuck)

Rabbi Jessy Gross is one of three clergy members hosting events as part of the Interfaith Trialogue. (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore residents will have the opportunity to learn more about their Muslim, Jewish and Christian neighbors over the next few months as part of an Interfaith Trialogue Series sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The BJC has partnered with the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, Church on the Square and JCC senior director of Jewish life Rabbi Jessy Gross for the three-part series, each part of which will take place in a different house of worship led by a clergy member. The series kicks off on Nov. 20 with Imam Tariq Najee-Ullah leading a discussion at the Muslim Community Cultural Center.

“We are really trying to target those members of our communities who are under 40 about their interests and involvement,” said Najee-Ullah. “We do not know everything about one another. One of our biggest motivations with this conversation is to get people to escape the bubbles of their own communities and branch out. That is why we are changing the house of worship for every discussion.”

Sunday’s event will provide attendees the opportunity to tour a mosque as well as listen to the imam give an overview of the tenets of Muslim faith. Additionally, the event includes a food drive for members of the local community.

“This is the time to ask any questions that you have about Muslims and Islam,” Najee-Ullah said. “The election results have made it clear how little we know about each other. We need to actively work to bring people together and eliminate ignorance within all of our communities, and the current political climate is all the more reason to unite.”

Gross will be leading a workshop in March at the Owings Mills JCC as the second part of the series. Her workshop will include a performance of “Stories from the Fringe,” a play about women who have become rabbis. “It will be a great opportunity to give people who come an insight into my own Judaism, which motivates my following of tradition,” she said.

“We have been meeting monthly for the past year and a half,” Gross added in explaining how the trialogue came together. “Back in May we held our first public gathering and invited participants to join the conversation that we were having with each other, which centered around how being a person of faith and religious traditions can help strengthen our ties to each other and instill our values in the next generation.”

Although it is a topic that they wish to keep discussing, the first meeting was difficult to lead — “none of us still think it is a good idea to bring together a group of 30 people who have never met and ask them to speak with and challenge each other on such a subject as religion,” she said.
However, it was obvious that everyone who showed up wanted an experience that they had not had before. Setting up the trialogue was the perfect opportunity to bring interested individuals together in a more controlled and constructive environment.

“We want to make it more common for people to interact in places of different faiths,” Gross said. “That way we can create an opportunity for people who do not know each other to come together and learn what the other is all about.”

“We want this to be a constructive conversation, not a lecture,” she added. “It gives us the opportunity to express what the particularities and interpretations there are in our different religions that make each so rich. We want to promote participation with other faiths.”

Najee-Ullah also expressed a desire to get the community actively involved in service work as well as discussions. “We want to do actual service and eliminate ignorance of one another.”

Najee-Ullah and the other faith leaders are currently in discussions about beginning a nonprofit organization in Baltimore solely for interfaith service work within local communities.

For more information on the Interfaith Trialogue, visit

A Divisive Result With domestic discontent and concern for Israel, Jewish community applauds and decries Trump's election

President-elect Donald Trump delivering his acceptance speech as Vice President-elect Mike Pence looks on at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, Nov. 9, 2016. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as Vice president-elect Mike Pence looks on during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump delivering his acceptance speech as Vice President-elect Mike Pence looks on at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, Nov. 9, 2016. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Donald Trump’s stunning victory in last week’s presidential election has stirred strong reactions from both those distressed and those enthused by the Republican candidate’s improbable win. And those reactions have struck on many issues that divide Jewish people the most.

Indvidudals and organizations that adovcate for Jewish social welfare programs, the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are worried about how Trump will handle those initiatives after he takes office. Many of Trump’s campaign promises have made both Democrats and Republicans feel uneasy.

The concerns are domestic too, arising from increasing anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric that has been linked with the Trump campaign throughout an extremely divisive election season.

“Sadly, the contentious tone from the 2016 election has translated into a moment of ripeness for the haters to deface properties across the country with some of the most unsettling anti-Semitic and racist imagery,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a prepared statement. “We must not let this troubling trend of hate define our society, which means that the onus is on our community leaders, religious clergy, elected officials and others to remain vigilant [and] report incidents when they surface.”

Jewish Republicans, though largely split on the president-elect, see an opportunity for Trump to build a strong pact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While the United States and Israel are longtime allies, relations were considered, at times, strained between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu because of their contrasting views on certain world issues.

Among the many promises Trump made in his campaign, he vowed to move the U.S. embassy from the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

Some organizations look forward to bipartisan cooperation on Israel.

“Despite their deep differences on a range of issues, both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates notably shared a common commitment to the U.S.-Israel alliance,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee wrote in a prepared statement. “Strong bipartisan support for the Jewish state is also reflected overwhelmingly in the incoming Congress. We look forward to working with the new Congress on key legislative initiatives to strengthen the relationship between our two democracies.”

For many, such as Jewish Pikesville resident Ruth Goetz, policy on Israel was one of the main focal points of the race.

Goetz, who sits on the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said with great certainty that Trump would do more for the Holy Land than any other president since Israel’s birth in 1948. She believes Trump will make good on his promise to eradicate ISIS, a shared common enemy of the United States and Israel, and potentially help Israel create an opportunity to abandon its commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“What I’ve seen from Trump, I think he is the most pro-Israel I have ever seen from a presidential adminstration,” Goetz said. “I’m looking forward to — and it’s nice to see — the capital of Israel [Jerusalem] is going to be acknowledged.”


Police estimate that 600 people took to the streets of Baltimore on Nov. 10 to demonstrate their outrage over the election of Donald Trump. (Photo by Mathew Klickstein)

Trump’s election ignited protests in Baltimore and several other major cities around the country. On Nov. 10, two days after Trump’s closely contested win, police said that an estimated 600 dismayed Baltimore residents took to the streets to show their displeasure of a Trump presidency.

Abby Becker, a Jewish protester, proudly marched from the Washington Monument to McKeldin Square, where demonstrators chanted “Not my president” and “2-4-6-8, no to Trump and no to hate.”

Becker, 28, a nonprofit employee and musician who resides in Baltimore, said she was “devastated but not surprised” when she learned Trump had been elected and added that she refuses to accept the result.

When asked if she would acknowledge Trump as president after he is inaugrated on Jan. 21, Becker paused, saying: “That’s a tough one. [Trump] does not speak for me. He does not represent what I think or believe about my country, and it’s my job to make that very clear to the rest of the world that’s looking to us.”

She added: “Trump is a manifestation of so much of the darkness that’s part of our country: supercapitalism, racism, egocentrism, white supremacy, corporate citizenship, the incarceration state, militarism and so much more. He’s fearful of people who are different from him.”

There were also walkouts in the past week at some universities around the state, including Towson University and the University of Maryland, College Park, during which students, staff and faculty expressed their disamy about Trump.

“Sadly, the contentious tone from the 2016 election has translated into a moment of ripeness for the haters to deface properties across the country with some of the most unsettling anti-Semitic and racist imagery.”

— Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation  League

Many, such as Becker, had hoped at the very least that Trump would surround himself  with a team of seasoned advisers and decision-makers.

His recent appointment of his campaign’s controversial CEO, Steve Bannon, as chief strategist and senior counsel has led to more crticism for Trump. Civil rights leaders, Democrats and some Republicans have said that Bannon, former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a website that has featured alt-right views, will bring an anti-Semitic, nationalist and racist point of view to the position.

In addition to Breitbart content, critics have cited that Bannon himself has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.

“At the end of the day, there was going to be extreme
opposition to either [Trump or Clinton] being elected. I just hope that America can overcome the extreme divivde and make this country a better place for all people.”

— David Kashan, 25, a third-year Jewish medical student from Owings Mills

Aaron Levin, chair of J Street Baltimore, said Trump’s attitude and language directed toward all minority groups should put everyone on alert.

“Obviously, I think there are a lot of disturbing things we have seen from Trump so far,” Levin said. “People from all different minority backgrounds, I think, have every reason to be fearful.”


A swastika was drawn next to an exit ramp of I-83 South. (Photo Provided)

While Baltimore hasn’t been rife with anti-Semitic incidents, a swastika with the words “white power” popped up on an Interstate 83 exit ramp, prompting residents to report the graffiti to the Anti-Defamation League.

Mount Washington resident Tara Marbach noticed the swastika on Nov. 12 on a metal panel on the exit ramp for East Northern Parkway off of I-83 South.

“For me, it’s frustrating,” Marbach said. “I’m not Jewish, I’m a white girl. It doesn’t scare me for me, but it breaks my heart because I know that it hurts so many people. It’s just frustrating that this is happening right now in our country.”

An image Marbach took circulated on a listserv for Mount Washington residents, which prompted sculptor and builder Marc Braun, a former Mount Washington resident who maintains clients in the area, to cover up the graffiti with spray paint.

While covering up the graffiti, which he said was written in magic marker, Braun learned from a black homeless man that a white homeless man had drawn the swastika because he was mad that the guy had taken his panhandling spot.

Braun, who grew up in Prince George’s County and became a bar mitzvah at Baltimore synagogue Shaarei Tfiloh, said spray-painting over the swastika was a “gut reaction.”

“I don’t say hide it, I say take a picture of it, report it, document it, but don’t let it hang around to terrorize everyone else, because it’s terrorism in my mind,” he said. “I went to Hebrew school. I got it drilled into me that concentration camps were real. … The reality of the Holocaust is still there; it’s not going away. The white supremacists and the Holocaust deniers, that’s all happening, and it’s getting stronger.”

He also called Bannon’s appointment “scary.” “Now we have the white nationalists and the KKK people getting a seat at the table,” he said. “That’s scary.”

In response to such incidents, the Baltimore Jewish Council is monitoring the recent spike in hate crimes around the state and country. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh took it a step further on Monday, according to The Baltimore Sun, encouraging victims of racial and religious hate speech to report the incidents.


Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

“Toward the end of [Trump’s] campaign, there was unfortunately a lot of rhetoric, particulary in campaign commercials, that certainly suggested anti-Semitic tones,” Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC, told the JT. “I think all of us in the community are hopeful that that does not continue into the president-elect’s adminstration and that [Trump] seeks to continue to build on the tolerance and diversity our nation is founded on.”

Trump, who received 35 percent of the vote in Maryland, also has changed the outlook of some staunch supporters, such as 37-year-old Towson lawyer Phil Kaplan, who is Jewish. He long felt dismissed by the political system but truly feels Trump has given a voice back to the people.

Kaplan, a Republican, called on all Americans, regardless of political affliations or ties, to back Trump and give the president-elect a chance to prove himself as the nation’s commander-in-chief.

“Not everyone may see things eye to eye,” Kaplan said. “The election clearly got ugly, but at this point, rather than dismissing all the people who voted Trump into office, we should all try to work together. We’re all in the same boat, because most of us are all ordinary human beings who are just trying to make it through.”


Phil Kaplan, a Trump supporter (Photo Provided)

As much as Kaplan said he disliked Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, he praised her for the way in which she handled herself after delivering her concession speech.

“I think she was very classy by the manner she handled everything,” Kaplan said. “If she wants to see everyone come together, I think her followers and supporters should get on board with that, considering the message is coming from the head of the Democratic Party.”

There are some who could not find significant policies that promised real change of any kind for the better but who were open to throw their support behind either Trump or Clinton.

David Kashan, 25, a third-year Jewish medical student from Owings Mills, said that while he found neither Clinton nor Trump particularly appealing before the election, he is content with Trump.

Kashan believes a lot of the anger he has witnessed directed at Trump supporters through social media and in person is misdirceted. He said labeling Republicans as racists, sexists, misogynsists, among other name-calling, only adds to the discord that is occuring around the nation.

“Trump has major flaws, but who is to say that he can’t do some good in office? It is a shame to see people on social media rooting for his demise,” Kashan said. “At the end of the day, there was going to be extreme opposition to either [Trump or Clinton] being elected. I just hope that America can overcome the extreme divivde and make this country a better place for all people.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

Shabbat Project One for All, All for One!

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

For the third year in a row, the Baltimore Shabbat Project brought together thousands of Jews from all over the region for Shabbat services, challah bakes, Havdalah and interdenominational celebrations.

An estimated one million people in 1,150 cities in 94 countries took part in the Shabbat Project, an international effort started by South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein.

“There is a real thirst worldwide for true Jewish unity and for a genuine connection to Judaism,” Goldstein said in a news release. “And people really resonate with the way Shabbat carves out a sacred space of tranquility and togetherness amidst the frenzy of modern life.”

Shabbat Through the Senses

Shabbat Through the Senses included a variety of hands-on activities for participants of all ages

Shabbat Through the Senses included a variety of hands-on activities for participants of all ages

Since moving to Baltimore a year ago, Arik Shalom and his family have been looking for ways to get actively involved in the Jewish community.

A native of Little Rock, Ark., Shalom, 41, and his wife, Samara, 32, moved to the area in part to provide their three children — Yocheved, 3, Naptali, 2, and Menachem, 6 months — with a rich cultural upbringing.

On Nov. 6, the Shaloms had a chance to do just that at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC with a hands-on afternoon filled with numerous activities as part of the Shabbat Through the Senses program.

“Once you get involved in a community, you get involved by working, meeting people, and these types of events are how you do it,” said Shalom, who was attending his first program of the Baltimore Shabbat Project, which kicked off with this event and culminated in a community Havdalah concert on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Shalom and his family were one of more than 200 from various backgrounds who took part in making challah dough, creating colorful Shabbat candlesticks, hearing Shabbat songs and joining in sing-alongs.

David Bloom, 37, and his sons, Micah, 5, and Noah, 3, especially enjoyed putting together their own Shabbat box, which included valuable resources such as a prayer book.

While Bloom said his family observe Shabbat occasionally, his hope is that the Shabbat Project provides his sons with inspiration to take part in the weekly observance on a more regular basis.

“I think it really makes all the kids feel like a part of Shabbat,” Bloom said. “Also, as the weather and time changes, I think it will be a little bit easier to do Shabbat.”

Jill Smulson, 35, a Howard County resident, said she attended in part to build a strong Jewish foundation for her 7-month-old son, Elliott. A big part of her attendance had to do with exposing Elliott son to the same Jewish values she gained growing up in the Reisterstown and Owings Mills communities.

When her son is old enough to understand the significance of the moment, Smulson has no doubt they will look back on the day together with fond memories of their shared experience.

“I’m always looking to get [my son] accustomed to Jewish life. We want to instill good values and raise him Jewish, so we have to start him early,” Smulson said with a smile.

— Justin Silberman

View photos from Shabbat Through the Senses:

Shabbat for the Senses 2016


The Great Baltimore and Howard County Challah Bakes

The Great Challah Bake drew 4,000 Jewish women to the Baltimore Convention Center (Photo by David Stuck)

The Great Challah Bake drew 4,000 Jewish women to the Baltimore Convention Center (Photo by David Stuck)

For attendees of the Great Challah Bake and the Howard County Challah Bake in the days following the election, the events greatly contrasted the contentious nationwide political debate and brought the Jewish community closer together.

The third annual Great Challah Bake took place at the Baltimore Convention Center on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 9. The event was packed with more than 4,000 Jewish women who had come to experience a sense of unity and learn how to bake challah.

“This is really a cross section of everyone,” said Phyllis Lederman, one of the event’s co-chairs. “There are members of the Orthodox community, conservative and reform Jews, even members of the community who are not normally involved with Judaism. It is really what we were striving for.”

Many women expressed how joyous it was to come together with peers for such an entertaining and engaging program. “It is just such a real, feel-good event,” said attendee Marcey Eisen.

“I came because it will be a spiritual evening,” said Sarah-Eta Shnier. “We all need a sense of unity now that the election has ended.”

Shira Bernstein, another attendee, added, “It is the calm after the storm.”

While the Great Challah Bake in Baltimore drew locals in droves, the second annual Challah Bake in Howard County grew by quite an impressive margin, more than doubling in size since the inaugural event last year.

“We are already talking about pushing the event farther into the sanctuary next year,” said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation, where the event was held. “Last year, we were forced to turn away people. This year, Beth Shalom agreed to host to provide more space, and even so, we have hit capacity tonight and are still accommodating more.”

“I think the purpose of the event is twofold,” she added. “People want connection to traditions and to each other. People desire connection, relief and healing, and a program like this does all of that. All of the different movements are represented in this room. There is a sense of unity in a time of divisiveness. For us to have that right now is incredibly healing.”

Last year, the event focused more around featured speakers who taught attendees about the challah and tradition. “We found that the women really wanted to get more into the actual baking piece of it as well as the socializing,” said Hedy Tanenholtz, who co-chaired the Challah Bake in Howard County this year and last. “With the election turmoil so close to this, it is nice to come together and leave everything behind.”

Beth Millstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, thought the event’s vision of unifying the community did indeed come true.

“It is really nice to see Jewish women coming together so happily,” she said. “The election is on everyone’s minds, and having events that continue to reinforce and empower women is really important, especially in this day and age.”

— Daniel Nozick

View photos from the Great Challah Bake:
Challah Bake 2016

Community Havdalah Concert with Matisyahu

Matisyahu headlines the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Matisyahu headlined the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Matthew “Matisyahu” Miller is no stranger to what many in his circle and he refer to as a circuitous and singular “journey.”

But the revelation is something to truly behold, considering the last few years in the life of this 37-year-old New Yorker (by way of West Chester, Pa.), whose protean reggae/hip-hop/world music hits, infused with his Jewish heritage, include 2005’s “King Without a Crown” and 2009’s “One Day.”

Take Saturday’s late-night interview with the JT, immediately following his two-hour-plus concert at Rams Head Live! as part of the local Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert.

Who else but the oft-contrarian Matisyahu — exhausted and bleary-eyed from his concert, all 6 feet, 4 inches of his Ichabod Crane body inches away from this reporter and sprawled out on the green room couch, signature trench coat and all — would suggest the interview be conducted while his band members and he watched the highly anticipated Dave Chappelle-hosted, post-election episode of “Saturday Night Live”?

“I’ve been coming to Baltimore for 10 years,” Matisyahu said while he affected a certain sleepiness, while noshing on some chocolate and asking for his coconut water.

“I’m in a particular place right now,” Matisyahu said about his rather roller-coaster, heuristic investigation of his Jewish identity and international, interdisciplinary search for his artistic and personal vision.

As far as the various controversies that have reared their heads throughout this digressive course toward such unfettered creative expression, Matisyahu said he “doesn’t really think about it too much; I’m keeping focus on the new record right now. We’re in the studio now making new songs.”

“For now,” he summed it all up, “the music is really the form I like to express myself.”

Lisa Bodziner, Havdalah concert co-chair, said, “We wanted to use this opportunity to bring in more people who don’t have Shabbat on their minds necessarily,” adding that her group sees such events — which also included a two-hour long DJ showcase, a participatory art installation next to the stage, a holiday card craft table and meet-and-greet with the singer himself — as a platform to more directly connect with community members who may not otherwise be as engaged.

Fervently believing that Matisyahu “represents plurality and diversity [which is what] the Shabbat Project’s all about,” Bodziner admitted that though the choice to bring in the at times controversial and provocative musician had resulted in some concern, “when we actually surveyed the 20s and 30s in the audience we were targeting, they said he was the only Jewish musician they would be interested in paying for.”

Considering Matisyahu’s stepping away from the more formal aspects of his religious convictions, there have been those in the Jewish community worldwide who have taken a similar step back from the artist himself.

“He’s not just a guy who grew peyos and can rap,” Bodziner rejoined. “He really is a talented artist.” She said people have questioned him for being on his own journey,“but this concert [wasn’t] just for the [Orthodox] Jewish community, and his character is still solid.”

“I believe that everybody is on a journey, and they should be able to express themselves as long as they’re respectful toward the Jewish community and Israel,” she said. “We do feel his music inspires people.”

One such person is 8-year-old Pikesville denizen Shelby Kirk, who with her parents and older brother, took part in the Matisyahu meet-and-greet before the show.

Kirk revealed it’s “the message” of his music that she so heartily finds endearing.

“He wants everyone to be free,” Kirk said about what she believes this message to ultimately be, adding that her friends are big fans of Matisyahu and that message as well.

“It was a powerful request to ask him to be a part of our Shabbat Project and to embrace who he is and where he’s coming from right now,” Bodziner said. “His voice and his honest approach to Judaism — his struggling with it — can be an inspiration to people who might be exploring similar things.”

— Mathew Klickstein

Trump Supporters at Goldberg’s Trouble Customers

A white pickup truck parked outside Goldberg’s stirred up emotions for customers. (Photos provided)

A white pickup truck parked outside Goldberg’s stirred up emotions for customers. (Photos provided)

Last week, ahead of the presidential election, Noah Bers was at Goldberg’s New York Bagels in Pikesville minding his own business and enjoying a meal when he started to feel a little uneasy about his surroundings.

Outside the establishment, a group of six people who were scattered around a white pickup truck decorated with several Donald Trump signs and signs of other Republican candidates gathered to express their support for the controversial GOP nominee.

Bers, a 33-year-old Baltimore resident, was caught off guard after a couple of the Trump enthusiasts, dressed in cardboard masks, made their way inside to voice their opinions in front of patrons.

“It was all really disconcerting,” Bers said, “because they were really aggressive with people. I watched a woman of color leave with her son, and I heard one of the Trump supporters say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if nobody was on welfare,’ which is a very antagonizing thing to say to a  person of color.”

Stanley Drebin, owner of Goldberg’s, said he was unaware of anyone entering the store with Trump masks attempting to intimidate customers. If he had noticed anything like that, Drebin added, he would have told them to remove the headwear as soon as possible to avoid any potential confrontations.

“They were in the parking lot,” Drebin said. “They can do whatever they want there. When I saw them, they were outside the store.”

goldbergs2In 2016, the difficulty with mixing business and politics with figures as polarizing as Trump is that business owners run the risk of alienating customers.

So it should come as almost no surprise that within a day of the incident, on Oct. 31, longtime customers of Goldberg’s launched a boycott — at least they declared as much on Facebook.

“I used to make bagels that were really great. I’m also broke. I also don’t support Trump,” Nate Yielding wrote on Facebook in response to Bers’ post calling on other others to boycott Goldberg’s. “Maybe this is a good time to start again. What is a reasonable price to charge?”

At the time the masked people supposedly entered the shop, Drebin said he was “in the store, walking around the front, in [his] office in the back and many other places.”

Ruth Goetz, a Pikesville native and one of the six Trump supporters, said her  unplanned appearance at the shop was met with some resistance and even hostility. She was simply there to plead her case for Trump, urging Jewish voters to back the business mogul-turned-politician based on his strong pro-Israel stance, among other factors.

Goetz, who also sits on the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, believes the majority of Jews voted for Trump in the general election despite some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has been associated with his campaign.

“We have seen a lot of positive feedback with the Republican ticket, especially Trump,” said Goetz, who campaigned in Pikesville on Nov. 6 with Mark Plaster, the Republican candidate for District 3’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I just wanted to let people know we were proud supporters of [Trump] and that we are completely behind him.”

For his part, Drebin, a Trump backer, said he has welcomed supporters of both Democratic and Republican candidates to his store in the past and will continue to do so.

In the future, however, Drebin hopes not to see as much hostility as he  witnessed this election season.

“There were lots of people who were screaming at [the Trump supporters], cursing them out,” Drebin said. “It wasn’t very nice to me, because they were doing nothing but showing their support.”

Still, some customers such as Bers are not convinced enough was done to maintain a peaceful environment.

Because of that, Bers is unsure if he will ever return to Goldberg’s even though he admits he is a strong proponent of supporting local businesses regardless of a store owner’s political ties.

“It’s tough,” Bers said, “but I don’t think I’m going to be going back [to Goldberg’s] myself. At the end of the day, my primary concern is people need to be able to go out and not feel threatened, especially in the Jewish community.”

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