O’Malley Signs Bill to Curb Scam Charities

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill last week that will help the state identify bad charities and give them enforcement power over charities that aim to scam Maryland residents.

“I became aware of it from constituents who said ‘I got burned,’” said District 11 Delegate Dan Morhaim, who sponsored House Bill 1352. “And when they get burned, they don’t want to give again.” District 10 Sen. Delores Kelley cross-filed companion Senate Bill 0964.

The bill coordinates Maryland’s attorney general and secretary of state offices to identify and regulate bad charities, and shut them down if necessary. It also raises money for an updated charity database that Morhaim and advocates hope will eventually make 990s, the IRS forms nonprofits file, searchable.

“It deals with the resource problem by raising fees on charities that collect over half a million dollars a year,” said Henry Bogdan, director of public policy at the Maryland Nonprofits Association, referring to the limited resources the Maryland Secretary of State’s Office can devote to combing through 990s. “Charities say it’s worth it to have a searchable system.”

It is estimated that Marylanders give $1.5 billion to charity each year, said Morhaim, who is a member of the boards of the Baltimore Humane Society, Unified Community Connections and Health Care for the Homeless. Computerized filing will be easier for nonprofits and will help the state identify bad nonprofits, he added.

Morhaim cited a 2013 report by the Tampa Bay Times called “America’s Worst Charities,” which listed 50 charities that spent from no money to 11.1 percent of donations on the designated cause. The nonprofits had names such as Kids Wish Network, National Veterans Service Fund and National Caregiving Foundation.

“They sound good, and their websites are good, and people are nice on the phone when they call,” Morhaim said. “It sounds very legitimate, and people give money, and maybe they know that 90 percent or 99 percent of it doesn’t go to the designated cause.”

A work group consisting of stakeholders from the IRS, the nonprofit world and the state is being formed to monitor this issue and improve the system in coming years, Bogdan said.

“It’s important for charities that the public has trust in them,” he said. “It’s a difficult environment; we have to make sure we have the capacity to deal with it.”


Songs from the Heart

From left: Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble singers Neta Barzilai, Adar Hayat, Ohad Sabagi and Zlil Halaf performed for approximately 400 attendees of the FIDF event at Beth El Congregation’s Offit auditorium. (Melissa Gerr)

From left: Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble singers Neta Barzilai, Adar Hayat, Ohad Sabagi and Tslil Halaf performed for approximately 400 attendees of the FIDF event at Beth El Congregation’s Offit auditorium.
(Melissa Gerr)

Four singing privates first class of the Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble had the audience clapping, singing and even dancing to the spirited and soulful songs they performed for the approximately 400 attendees in Beth El Congregation’s Offit Auditorium.

The event, presented by Friends of the IDF and Beth El Congregation, honored Charlie Levine, founder of the Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Midatlantic FIDF chapters, who was described in his introduction as “the spark that started it all … and kept it going.” The event also recognized Noah Abrams, son of Cheryl and Tim Abrams, for his bar mitzvah project Buckets for FIDF, a basketball tournament that raised more than $1,100 for FIDF. Also recognized and honored were the 65 lone soldiers and their families in Maryland.

“These soldiers are laying their lives down for Israel and every Jew worldwide,” said event co-chair Shirley Cohen. “We help them every way we can. If Israel is lost, we’re all gone.”

Vickie and Eugene Meyer also co-chaired the event, which raises awareness of and funds for the FIDF and the Lone Soldier program. Israel’s lone soldiers are those who choose to leave their countries of origin to serve in Israel’s military and whose families live abroad.

Approximately 950 lone soldiers join the army each year. An interviewee in a video shown that evening explained the program’s mission succinctly: When one thinks of Israeli soldiers, it conjures images of brave men and women in uniform. The FIDF addresses the needs of “the person in the uniform.”

FIDF supports the Israel Defense Forces in many ways such as assistance for widows and orphans, scholarships after service, host family support and other social needs of the soldiers. As the FIDF tagline says: “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.”

An emotional point of the evening occurred when Jo Ellen and Zachary Chattler of Baltimore spoke about their lone soldier son, Daniel, now on duty in Israel. When Daniel was a child, he was in awe of men and women in uniform and said they were his heroes, his father told the audience. This feeling and image stayed with Daniel as he grew older and participated in trips such as Taglit Birthright. His love for and dedication to Israel grew as well, his father explained.

Chattler read from one of his son’s emails, which detailed a story of how he unintentionally ended up riding a public bus while still in uniform. Seated across from him, a small boy watched Daniel closely for a while and the boy ultimately smiled at him. “At that moment,” read Daniel’s father, voice quavering, “I knew I was his hero.”

The naval ensemble’s energy, enthusiasm and melodic voices filled the auditorium for two 30-minute sets. Neta Barzilai, who served as emcee, added her powerful, gospel-like voice to the performance. Eyal Bor, director of education of Beth El schools, played clarinet with the group for one of its songs.

For singers Ohad Sabagi, Tslil Halaf, Neta Barzilai and Adar Hayat, and sound engineer Dor Laniado, all in their early 20s, it was their first time in the U.S., and they had expectations of the visit. Images of big cities, tall buildings and urban spaces such as New York filled their imaginations. They were pleasantly surprised to see how clean and green Baltimore and its suburbs are, how tightly knit and welcoming the Jewish community felt to them and that there are two JCCs in one city. Halaf enjoyed the Inner Harbor visit and mentioned it felt a little different than what she is used to — while there are tourists and shops in Israeli harbors too, there are also Navy ships and soldiers with guns.

Commander and deputy head of personnel for his unit, Avraham Gaon, 46, has served in the Israeli army for 29 years. Gaon came along as “the responsible adult” with the naval ensemble. He has traveled all over the world, but this was also his first visit to the U.S. The group spent three days in Baltimore before heading to Atlanta. Gaon’s visit with the Jewish community of Baltimore gave him a lasting impression.

“For the first time just yesterday, I understand, that all of us are one nation,” Gaon said.

Gaon said that he had always wondered, why would Jews live somewhere other than Israel? He imagined he might not feel the connection to Jews he met in the U.S. Maybe they feel Jewish, he explained, but do not feel for the State of Israel.

“Yesterday, all of them — the children, the host family, the people from FIDF — for first time in my life I understand, it doesn’t matter why they are here … all the Jewish people are one nation,” he said “Yesterday, it was eureka. It made me feel that we are friends, family, that we are strong together.”

Friends of the IDF
Washington, D.C. Chapter’s Third Annual Gala

From Holocaust to Independence
Honoring Rosemary Schindler
(Family of Oskar Schindler)

Thursday May 29 at 6:30 p.m. (reception); program starts at 7:30 p.m.

Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road in Bethesda

For more information and tickets, contact 301-960-3531 or midatlantic@fidf.org.


Never Too Late

Ava Barron-Shusho taught adult students to “tame their inner gremlins” at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on May 18. (Provided)

Ava Barron-Shasho taught adult students to “tame their inner gremlins” at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on May 18. (Provided)

Middle school students saw the tables turned when they ushered their parents and other adults to their assigned classrooms as part of Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on Sunday, May 18.

“I think it’s interesting for people who have been out of school so long to come here and get a sense of what it’s like,” said Hannah Wahlberg, a sixth-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.

She, along with fellow KSDS students Charlie Hallock, Tal Boger and Ezra Suldan and Pikesville Middle School student Alex Hellman, took part in the event as ushers.

“It’s just good to get people in the community together and get them talking,” said Ezra Suldan, an eighth-grader.

It was not a coincidence that Chizuk Amuno held its inaugural learning festival on Sunday. As director of congregational life, Rabbi Paul Schneider explained that May 18 is Lag B’Omer, a traditionally somber time that coincided with the deaths of thousands of students of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva. According to tradtion, the plague that claimed their lives stopped on Lag B’Omer. So on the the 33rd day, Jews are given a reprieve from their solemnity and are free to enjoy themselves. Lag B’Omer is traditionally a time for picnics, barbeques and learning.

In coming up with the topics for more than 25 workshops, Schneider said he and co-chairs Marsha Manekin and Howard Cohen chose to provide a broad range of learning opportunities in Jewish and secular subjects.

“We decided to model the festival loosely after Ted Talks,” said Manekin, “by giving short presentations covering a lot of different subjects. People can get a taste of learning about technology, Wall Street, advance directives, Maimonides [and] archaeology.”

Participants chose up to three 30-minute sessions including one from co-chair Cohen, who taught contemporary art glass.

“What’s really amazing is that all presentations are given by school parents and synagogue members,” said Manekin. “None of the synagogue’s staff or administrators are teaching. It’s all lay people.”

052314_luv2learnAva Barron-Shasho, a parent of one KSDS alum and one eighth- grader, taught “Identify the Voice of Your Inner Gremlin and Learn How to Tame it.” Barron-Shasho, a life coach, said the course was meant to “teach people what’s going on in their heads.”

“The gremlin is that inner critic. It’s that voice, either very loud or subtle, that tells us we can’t do what we want to do,” she said. “We give it a lot of credence, but really it’s not logical. It keeps you from moving forward.”

Audrey Polt, who taught a class called “Album-Making as a Legacy: Connections to Our Past, Present, and Future,” had trouble selecting courses to take because of the diverse options. “All of the topics are very interesting. I hope they have this again,” said Polt, who decided to attend the course on advance directives. In another classroom, 10 or so couples were practicing salsa dancing in “You Can Dance at Any Age.”

The learning sessions were followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.

“When we reached out to people in our congregation, we realized what a magnificent community with such a wide range of talent and knowledge we have,” said Schneider. “Luv2Learn is a great opportunity for people who are reluctant to commit to many weeks to have an educational experience by committing to only one afternoon.  It’s a great way to spend Lag B’Omer.”


The Family They Chose

Members bring many strengths to the Chavurah. Top row, from left: Dick Goldman, Glenna Ross, Susan Coleman, Allan Pristoop, Shoshana Harris, Shirley Blumenfeld, Miriam Gerstenblith.  Bottom row, from left: Carol Pristoop, Shlomo Alima, Gail Lipsitz, Ann Andorsky and Meital Andorsky. (David Stuck)

Members bring many strengths to the Chavurah.
Top row, from left: Dick Goldman, Glenna Ross, Susan Coleman, Allan Pristoop, Shoshana Harris, Shirley Blumenfeld, Miriam Gerstenblith. Bottom row, from left: Carol Pristoop, Shlomo Alima, Gail Lipsitz, Ann Andorsky and Meital Andorsky. (David Stuck)

In the nearly 40 years he has been a member of the Baltimore Chavurah, Dick Goldman has often thought the group would make a terrific model for the entire Jewish community. And though Shoshana Harris, one of the Chavurah’s founding members, said there is no magic formula to the group’s longevity, it is evident that there is something magical about the tightknit, interdenominational community its members have created over the years. The Chavurah meets six times every three months for Jewish learning, holiday observance and prayer, and levels of observance among its members run the gamut from Orthodox to Reconstructionist.

Founded in 1974 by Aliya Cheskis- Cotel, the Baltimore Chavurah started with a group of eight Jews in their 20s and early 30s. Harris is the only member who has been involved since the group’s inception.

“If my memory is correct, she [Cheskis-Cotel] learned about the Boston-area Chavurah movement that wanted to move away from institutionalized Judaism to a more personalized, living one,” said Harris.

In general, she explained, “the 1970s were percolating with lots of creative ways to be Jewish, and young Jews wanted to create their own Jewish environment and develop new rituals. It was an exciting time of experimentation, innovation and connection to the essence of Judaism.”

Some of the group’s current members, including Goldman and his wife, Roz, and Shlomo and Louise Alima, joined in 1976; Gail Lipsitz joined in 1977.

“I was single and had just moved to Baltimore,” recalled Lipsitz. “Another single woman told me about the Chavurah, and I had kind of been floating around, and I needed something.”

When she heard about the Chavurah, Lipsitz was interested.

“Really, we were hoping to meet men, but all of the people in the group had different last names. That was the way in the ’70s  so it was hard to tell who was married and who was single,” she said. Nevertheless, Lipsitz welcomed the opportunity to learn with others who were well versed in Jewish history and religion.

At the time, she noted, belonging to the group was somewhat controversial, since almost none of the members belonged to a synagogue.

“Joining a synagogue and trying to fit into its existing structure seemed much less attractive than, for example, building one’s own sukkah and davening with women and men who developed their own services and prayer materials,” Harris pointed out. “It was a liberating and spiritual experience to break out of the synagogue mold and create a unique and personal Jewish experience.”

“We had our own services, our own holidays, even our own Sunday school,” said Alima. “Once we had kids, we started affiliating.” Yet, synagogue memberships or not, they kept attending meetings of the Chavurah. And as members married and started families, they brought their children with them.

“At the early meetings, some of the women used to nurse their babies. Now we’re having grandchildren,” said Goldman. In fact, said Carol Pristoop, “at the last meeting we learned that there were six daughters [of Chavurah members] pregnant with seven babies!”

When Pristoop and her husband, Allan Pristoop, were first asked to join, she felt intimidated by the Jewish IQs of the other group members, and he thought it was too much of a commitment. In fact, the Pristoops turned down the invitations more than once.

“Then we went to [fellow Chavurah member] Miriam Gerstenblith’s wedding and saw the ruach, and we had to join,” said Allan Pristoop.

“If you want ruach, you invite the Chavurah,” pronounced Glenna Ross, the newest member of the group, who joined in 1993. “I think a lot of the strength of the group comes from the fact that so many people in it were Jewish communal professionals.”

A sizable number of Chavurah members are Jewish educators, mental health professionals, klezmer musicians and scout leaders. While some members came to the group already in the field, that wasn’t the case for everyone. Carol Pristoop, former executive director at the Pearlstone Retreat Center, earned a master’s degree in Jewish communal service after joining the Chavurah.

“It was such an eye-opening experience,” she said. “It was kind of like an incubator for me to become comfortable with the Jewish experience.”

Susan Coleman and her husband, Jeff, had little Jewish education when they joined, but Coleman said the group was so accepting, that they soon felt comfortable.

“Some people want to present textual study and others want to do something less academic,” she explained. “Everyone has their strengths.”

Over the years, the Chavurah has found a rhythm that works for them. Every three months, four people take on the responsibility for planning programs for the quarter. Since the group began, Goldman said there have been 500 different programs. Group presentations have included talks on topics such as famous chazzanim to Jewish comedians to the Litvak-Galistsianer Wars, to activities such as helping to build the JCC playground, and Purim spiels.

“The beauty for me is that almost all the resources come from the people designing the programs. It’s so inspiring,” said Gerstenblith. “Before the Chavurah, I had never experienced that spirituality and I find it at the Chavurah, not all the time, but sometimes. The other night when Shlomo led a Yom Hazikeron service, it just ripped me apart.”

In 1977, said Goldman, the group decided to put guidelines for membership in writing. Early on, they tackled some serious questions.

“We had many discussions about who was a Jew, and who could join,” said Goldman. “We decided that [for the purposes of the Chavurah] anyone who identified as Jewish was Jewish. We would respect every person’s observation.”

There are no leaders and everything is decided by consensus. Money is collected only as needed, except for tzedakah, and there is rarely a need for it. In the last 20 years, said Goldman, the rules have stayed mostly the same.

It has taken sensitivity and compromise to make the Chavurah work for people with so many different religious perspectives, and group members admit that this is especially challenging when they hold religious services.

“Some of the Orthodox men don’t come when we’re having services. Some don’t say the prayers,” said Ross, who is Orthodox. “On Friday nights, people can’t always make it to meetings, but we try to accommodate them by having the Chavurah close to their homes.”

“Some don’t keep kosher, so maybe they will bring a cold dish with special utensils,” said Goldman. “We have a list of different homes and the different levels of kosher.”

“Things come up, but we are part of the group,” said Ross. “We have made a decision to be here and that outweighs other things.”

And the group has been together through thick and thin.

“It’s amazing how close the second generation is,” said Lipsitz.

“When Dick [Goldman] was very sick, his son had so much support from the kids in the Chavurah,” offered Carol Pristoop.

“It goes both ways,” added Allan Pristoop. “When our son was having some issues, he got support from the other kids too.”

“My daughter is studying in Israel now, and it’s amazing how many Chavurah members have taken her out to dinner when they are visiting,” said Gerstenblith.

Lipsitz recalled bringing her newly adopted son to a Chavurah New Year’s Eve party straight from the airport on the day he first arrived in the U.S. She also remembered the support she received from the Chavurah when her husband Allan passed away in 2007.

“It was a very sudden, shocking loss. I would never have gotten through it without the Chavurah,” said Lipsitz.

“We like to say the Chavurah is the family we’ve chosen. Being together is more important than doing it ‘my way,’” added Goldman. “We’ve found ways to work things out.”


Jewish Trainer Has High Hopes For Preakness


Art Sherman has been involved in horse racing for more than six decades.

Long before he trained the horse that won the famed Kentucky Derby earlier this month and became one of the most popular men at this year’s Preakness Stakes, Art Sherman was just another student at Hebrew school in suburban Los Angeles.

“It was a little different in that era,” said Sherman, 77, who dropped out before his bar mitzvah after a case of mistaken identity resulted in his getting whacked on the head with a ruler by the morah.

“I got up and never did go back,” laughed Sherman.

Today, what began more than 60 years ago as a half-joking suggestion that Sherman try out jockeying has landed him in the history books as the oldest trainer to ever saddle the winner of the Derby.

“I was always on the small side,” said Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, the clear favorite to take the top spot on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. Horse races were always on the TVs at his father’s barbershop, said Sherman, and some of the clients told him, “Gee, you’re little enough to be a jockey.” So Sherman decided to give it a shot.

“It was great,” he said of his first experiences riding at a ranch in Ontario, Calif., where he worked as a stable hand before becoming an exercise rider.

After spending some time breaking in young horses Sherman, a native of Brooklyn, eventually moved up to racing.

“[Racing] is a different ballgame,” he said. He had to learn to get along with the much more high-strung horses, many of which weighed 1,200 or more pounds.

He jockeyed for 23 years, during which time he won some races but said he existed pretty “under the radar.” He retired from jockeying with a win in his last race and, after winning his very first race as a trainer, became hooked on prepping the horses for the track.

Whether or not California Chrome wins at Pimlico, which would propel it to just one win away from claiming the Triple Crown, Sherman said he plans to enjoy his time in Baltimore. Though he loves traditional Jewish food — “I call it soul food,” he said — he is especially looking forward to eating some of the local delicacies.

Shanghai’s Jews

The city of Shanghai was home to some 20,000 Jews in the years  during and immediately following World War II. (Provided)

The city of Shanghai was home to some 20,000 Jews in the years during and immediately following World War II. (Provided)

The Jewish refugee history of Shanghai will be the topic of choice at the eighth annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration on Sunday, May 18.

“We always think West,” said Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. “We don’t think of Jews being in Bombay or Shanghai.”

Tokayer, who spent two years living in Tokyo and leading the Jewish community east of Siberia, will be the featured presenter at the program. In the years since he returned to the United States in the 1970s, educating people about the Jewish history in Asia has been a major part of his life.

The first wave of Jewish immigration into Shanghai began in the late 1840s, when the country’s eastern coast opened to foreign traders, according to Chabad’s Shanghai Jewish Center. By 1938, the city had become a refuge for Jews escaping war-torn Europe.

“Shanghai was the pits,” said Tokayer. Penniless Jewish refugees came to the run-down metropolis by the thousands. A loophole that allowed immigrants to enter the city without a visa resulted in some 20,000 European Jews taking refuge in Shanghai from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, when the growing popularity of Communism resulted in emigration of Jews to places like Israel, Australia and the United States.

Frank Risch, who founded the program in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Maryland as a tribute in his parents’ memory, first met Tokayer when he and his wife took part in a tour of parts of Asia through the Jewish Museum. The juxtaposition of the terrible reputation of the Japanese military during World War II and the Japanese people’s willingness to take in Europe’s Jewish refugees fascinated him from the very start.

“It’s a tremendous story,” said Risch. “Most people just have no idea.”

While past programs have spread the focus to tales of immigration from all walks of life, this year’s focus is far more specific, dealing with the path of the Jews who were able to escape Europe for the East.

It’s about “how did you get here and what did you have to do to get here?” he said.

Though Risch’s family did not head east from Europe, escaping, instead, to America in 1938, he has a special fondness for this year’s program.

Risch’s own parents were members of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and his cousin, Martha Weiman, is the congregation’s current president.

“We’re very excited,” he said. Though Risch and his wife now live in Texas, they journey back to Baltimore every year from the program. This year’s, he said, promises to be especially interesting.

“We’re all descended from an immigrant experience,” he said. “Most of our knowledge as American Jews tends to focus on Eastern Europe and Western Europe and the various ways of immigration to the United States. Very few of us have been focused on the Asian experience and [Tokayer] has really made that his life’s work.”

Tokayer describes his time in Japan as a great learning experience. While anti-Semitism has been a problem woven throughout much of Jewish history, places like China, India and Japan have been all but immune to it.

The relationship between the Jewish community and the local community in most parts of Asia, he said, is a “mutually respected relationship.”

“We’re blinded by the West,” said Tokayer. But “the future is in China, India, Japan, Vietnam.”

He continued: “We have to learn from our history.”

Program Details
The Eighth Annual Herbert H. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration will take place on Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m. at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave. Admission is free.


Ambassador Sounds Alarm

Ambassador Samantha Power calls for an end to “every assault on personal dignity.” (Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA.com/Newscom)

Ambassador Samantha Power calls for an end to “every assault on personal dignity.” (Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA.com/Newscom)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power used a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to call for Americans to confront injustice and genocide throughout the world.

“We must confront the problem at its roots by taking a stand against all crimes of hate, all violations of human rights and every assault on personal dignity,” said Power. “It doesn’t matter whether the victim of persecution is a Christian in Egypt, a Roma in Europe, a Muslim in Burma, a gay or lesbian in Uganda or even a visitor to a Jewish community center in Kansas.”

Power was the keynote speaker at the museum’s National Tribute benefit dinner on April 30. The dinner’s theme focused on taking lessons from the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s and using them to prevent further mass killings. But there was an acknowledgement that the world is far from eradicating genocide.

During her speech, Power mentioned the Syrian civil war and the killing of civilians by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“President Assad is deliberately targeting his own people, using indiscriminate air attacks, introducing the world to barrel bombs, denying civilians food in starvation campaigns and practicing systematic industrial torture — all this to force the Syrian people to submit to his will,” said Power. “It is no secret that the international community’s efforts have fallen short, but we must not give up on pushing for a resolution of this crisis and an end to this killing.”

Power said that President Barack Obama had made “prevention of mass atrocities a core national security priority” and urged other nations to take make a commitment to take the same “practical action that the U.S. has undertaken.”

“We must stress accountability that is neither collective nor delayed, but individual and certain,” said Power. “Our goal should be to persuade anyone plotting to commit mass atrocities that the result of pursuing that path would not be the destruction of the other, but instead will be the denial of his own life’s ambitions.”

Power presented the museum’s Elie Wiesel Award to retired Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Rwanda from 1993 to 1994. With a small force of several hundred ill-equipped troops, mostly from Tunisia and Ghana, Dallaire managed to secure an area from Hutu extremist militias massacring the Tutsi ethnic group, saving 32,000 Rwandans. In total, nearly one million men, women and children, mostly Tutsi, were massacred within 100 days.

Dallaire acted in defiance of multiple orders from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan to pull out due to warnings that they too would be targeted by the militias.

After receiving his award, Dallaire challenged the world to back up its support for human rights with action.

“Are we not nurturing sometimes a hypocritical position of human rights meaning all humans are human and equal?” Dallaire asked.

He said there is a de facto hierarchy that places the lives of sub-Saharan Africans below those who live elsewhere. He also pointed to instances, including Rwanda, when the West turned a blind eye.

“Maybe [human rights is] a tool that we can refer to, but do we truly believe in it?” Dallaire continued. “Are we prepared for the tears and the sweat and sometimes even the blood of our youth to engage in not only stopping these catastrophes but even attempting to prevent them?”

“Like the Holocaust, [the Rwandan genocide] was preventable,” said William Levine, national co-chair of the museum’s Never Again: What You Do Matters campaign. “It marked yet another failure of the international community to respond.”

JNS.org contributed to this report.

A Higher Level of Business

JWE president and founder Chaya Appel Fishman welcomed more than 400 attendees at the recent conference in Parsippany, N.J. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

JWE president and founder Chaya Appel Fishman welcomed more than 400 attendees at the recent conference in Parsippany, N.J. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Welcoming a group of more than 400 Orthodox female business owners, Jewish Woman Entrepreneur president and founder Chaya Appel Fishman urged the crowd, “You can kvetch, or you can get creative” at the organization’s second annual conference in Parsippany, N.J., this month. She went on to say, “We know there’s a bigger force behind us. We know we have God as a business partner.”

Though JWE is less than 2 years old, the concept had been brewing in Fishman’s mind for years. When she was 16, Fishman ran a conglomerate of summer arts programs in her hometown of Cleveland that had 17 employees and 120 students. That experience exposed her to other businesswomen in her community, and she noticed there were many resources geared to female entrepreneurs but none specific to Orthodox women with their special needs and religious guidelines. She thought someday she should do something about that gap in support.

Now 25, she is a mother and wife in Baltimore and has a degree in business finance. She worked as a financial analyst for two years and just completed her third year of evening law school at the University of Maryland School of Law.

“I had two children in my first year [of law school]. I gave birth to my son and to JWE,” said Fishman, laughing.

Initially JWE was launched as a website when Fishman “had a couple of months before law school,” an example of what has come to define her jump-in and-do-it attitude. The site featured various professionals’ writings on business topics and an informal mentoring program. Very quickly Fishman found she hit a nerve.

“I had spent time putting [the website] together but didn’t really do any research,” she said. “Without advertising or anything, I was swarmed with applications from people who wanted to be mentored.”

Fishman obtained help to set up JWE as a nonprofit and believed there should also be a forum for religious businesswomen to come together face to face.

“I made this bet with God,” she said at this year’s conference, recalling the birth of the first event last year. “Let’s see if I can pull this off and it will happen. If I can get all [the invited speakers] to come within a week, I’ll take it as a sign.”

The first conference was held in Monsey, N.Y., with about 200 attendees.

Many Orthodox women choose to run businesses because of the flexibility, explained Fishman. They are often are busy with large families, and many do not gain access to higher education so job options can be limited. Entrepreneurship allows women to create their own hours and enable them to address the multitude of family and holiday obligations and often make more money than they could working for an employer. In addition, as with many other large families, it is often necessary to bring in a second income.

Since last year’s conference, JWE now has a board of directors and is soon to launch a sophisticated online learning platform that will enable members to take classes and gain appropriate skills at their own pace and even get evaluated as they progress. It will be offering a formal mentoring program and hopes to move into educating Jewish day school girls in business skills as well.

“I’m 25, and I have a really strong group of responsible adults behind me,” said Fishman. “I’m grateful that there are so many successful, brilliant women who have guided me in this initiative. It’s all about the team.”

The head of that team is Shelli Weisz, chairman of the JWE board. She has known Fishman’s family for years and is a successful businesswoman in her own right. Weisz is past co-owner and vice president of TMW Systems, Inc., the largest software developer for the truckload carrier industry and is currently managing director at Weiszco, LLC, a business consulting and angel investing firm.

“I work in tandem with Chaya for strategic planning and evaluating new programs,” she said. “We have had to monitor our growth because the need is so tremendous. We realize we can’t be all things to everybody.”

Referring to the view that traditional Judaism mandates gender-specific roles that could preclude the possibility of a woman running a business, Weisz took a nuanced approach.

“We’re not here to answer that question; it is an individual’s; they must answer for themselves,” she said.

Many times throughout the conference when ethical or religious-based questions were raised, attendees were advised to consult their local rabbi.

When women in the religious community do decide to work, there is a specific set of needs that are not addressed by the general business support community, Weisz explained, noting that JWE provides that support. Women face a host of issues, she pointed out, such as deciding whether or not to close for business early on Fridays, to shake a man’s hand at a networking event or to wear a head covering at all times. At the far right of the religious spectrum, there are those who avoid technology and will not use a computer. The JWE provides resources for those members too, such as audio-recorded phone programs in business-skills instruction.

“They love coming to this conference because it is all women, it’s a sisterhood,” said Weisz. “They are able to partner with like-minded people.”

Another component of JWE is the local chapter initiative. There are currently six city chapters, and six more are rolling out next year. Miriam Gittel Rosenblatt and Devorah Baron are the Baltimore chapter city leaders.

Baron, 32, is owner of Little Bo Peep prenatal 3D ultrasound and has had her business for more than eight years. It could have been longer than that, but an accountant first talked her out of starting her own business, advising her to buy a house instead.

“I didn’t feel like there was an acceptance in the community of women owning a business,” said Baron. “I decided to let it simmer, and the creativity and need to have a business was bursting out of me.”

At the time she embarked on her business career, there were no resources for religious women entrepreneurs, she added, but since then she has learned a lot from working with both Fishman and her city chapter co-chair Rosenblatt.

Rosenblatt and her husband, Mendel, run a printing and graphics business that recently expanded and relocated from Pikesville to Randallstown. Thanks to the business guidance of fellow JWE members, the company now offers more services and has grown to include more employees. Rosenblatt and her co-chair Baron met when carpooling to the first JWE conference.

“Meeting Devorah is the point of JWE,” said Rosenblatt. “It’s to connect women who are in the business world, to learn from each other and give to each other, and our co-leadership is like the poster child of success.”

Another poster child of success, according to JWE founder Fishman, is Rena Levin of Pikesville.

Levin, 53, is mother of five children ages 12 to 27. She is the owner/practitioner of Serenity Healing Solutions, where she draws upon traditional coaching techniques and holistic health and energy medicine methods to treat her clients. She began exploring the healing field because of a mysterious condition her son developed and from which he has since found relief. Serenity Healing Solutions has been in business since 2006 and Levin recently added a monthly visit to New York, when she travels to see clients. Her husband helps in the marketing end of the business.

A New Approach

Fred Katz speaks with college students at CCBC Catonsville on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week. (Provided)

Fred Katz speaks with college students at CCBC Catonsville on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week. (Provided)

Every year, as part of Sociology 230, “The Holocaust and Global Racisim,” Michael Sanow, a professor at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville, commemorates Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a special program. His students attend, and students and professors from other classes are also invited. This year, Sanow asked Fred Katz, a sociologist, teacher, author and Holocaust survivor who escaped Nazi Germany through the Kindertransport to speak to his class.

The Kindertransport was a rescue initiative that brought thousands of Jewish children from Central Europe to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940. When he was 11, Katz’s parents, who saw it would be impossible for the whole family to escape, arranged to send him to England, where he was placed in a refugee school. He never saw his parents and brother again.

But as compelling and instructive as his story is, Katz did not wish to dwell on it during his talk. Instead, he said, he was interested in “taking a new approach” to the Holocaust.

As he has addressed directly in his books “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil” and “Confronting Evil: Two Journals,” and more globally in books such as “Immediacy: How Our World Confronts Us & How We Confront Our World,” Katz contends that remembering the Holocaust so that it “never happens again” is not only an inadequate response, but also a response that fails to take into account the genocides that have been and continue to be perpetuated around the world.

“Yes, we should remember, but don’t assume that remembering will prevent mass horrors,” Katz told the class. “All of this [study and remembrance] raises a central issue about the Holocaust being unique. It was unique in its scope, yes, but what is the price we pay by focusing on its uniqueness? It prevents us from learning and gaining the tools we need to prevent holocausts. The Holocaust mustn’t be remembered as unique. We can discover elements from our ordinary human ways that can explain evil.”

In “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil” Katz drew upon Hannah Arendt’s controversial theory of the banality of evil, which she first introduced in her editorial coverage of the Adolph Eichmann trial for The New Yorker in 1961. In essence, Katz told the class, “She [Arendt] pointed out that this man [Eichmann] who had committed these atrocities seemed so ordinary. She brought the message that ordinary human beings are capable of evil.”

Katz went on to give examples of how easily human beings can — unwittingly at first — become engaged in evil. For example, said Katz, “take the hypothesis of a German lawyer who needs a job and finds the only job available is in the legal department of the Nazis in Berlin. This guy isn’t a Nazi. He tells himself that he will do his job without being part of the Nazi stuff. After a while, his wife tells him they need more money. What can he do to make more money? He can formulate anti-Semitic laws. He has become an active participant in the Nazi horrors.”

In another example, Katz cited the role that group dynamics or “informal cultures” can play in the evolution of evil.

“In the benign culture of factory workers, where the assumption is that everyone is just working the assembly line, workers often develop a rich culture,” said Katz. “Each individual creates a distinctive reputation for himself within the crew. One person is the prankster, another is the chronic victim. … Each person is celebrated for their reputation.”

This was also the case among the prison guards at Auschwitz, Katz contended. “In the informal culture of Auschwitz, each guard developed a specialty. One guard liked torture, another liked to hit people in the face and break their noses. One guard liked to shoot people, and another, a medical orderly, would inject phenol into their hearts to kill them.”

Finally, Katz pointed to his theory of “closed moral universes.” In this situation, human beings maintain elements of the values with which they were raised — such as loyalty and respect for authority — but with a “moral mutation.”

In one experiment, said Katz, “nice, ordinary Americans were willing to inflict electric shocks to innocent people when they were told it was contributing to science and were directed to do so by an authority figure. A new moral reality was created, and they believed they were carrying out justice. Mass extermination was based on the same thing. In closed moral worlds, mutations can open the floodgates, and people will believe they are acting morally.”

Katz believes that “unless we get our house in order, we [humans] may not make it.” By taking a “cold, dispassionate look” at the capacity for evil, he believes humanity may find clues that will help determine what makes human beings capable of perpetrating cruel acts such as genocides and how to prevent them.

Ultimately, Katz said that the path to preventing our demise will come through “better science.”

“The state of human science is where physics was 1,200 years ago,” he said. “Understanding the science of social space is crucial for our survival.”

Following Katz’s talk, students and professors had many questions. They asked for his opinions on Middle East relations, the situation in the Ukraine and present-day genocides. Danielle Taylor, an African-American student who attended the program on the advice of her English teacher, said, “It was really powerful and insightful. I am so grateful he was here. I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust. I’ve read Eli Wiesel, and I don’t want to minimize the Holocaust. But there are atrocities we need to address going on all over the world. Education is the key to unlocking hate. Hate is all about anger and fear. I like to say, ‘Don’t be bitter, be better.’”


In It Together

Commissioner Anthony Batts responds to a question from a community member at the May 5 Public Safety Forum in the city’s Northwest District. (Heather Norris)

Commissioner Anthony Batts responds to a question from a community member at the May 5 Public Safety Forum in the city’s Northwest District. (Heather Norris)

The Park Heights Jewish Community Center was, at times, full of tension last Monday night when Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts hosted their fourth of five forums on public safety.

“We don’t have enough time in the night for me to satisfy you,” Rawlings-Blake said in response to one community member who criticized the mayor’s decision to close multiple youth centers across the city. “I’m not going to placate you,” Rawlings-Blake continued, adding that many of the open centers she inherited when she took office were unfit for use and closing them was necessary to plan for better centers in the future.

“I believe my record speaks for itself,” she said.

The cleanliness of the city was one of the more talked-about topics of the night. A new citywide street sweeping program expanded cleaning to about 90 percent of the city this spring, but multiple community members pointed to a need for cleaning and containing vacant lots and houses and educating school children about good habits.

“People act as though it’s Martians coming down, throwing the trash,” said Rawlings-Blake, citing a need for accountability on a person-to-person basis. “It’s us.”

Marc Partee, commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s Northwest District, sympathized with one atten-dee who voiced frustration over the abundance and boldness of drug trafficking south of Pimlico Race Course.

“We’re cleaning up that area,” Partee said, noting that the more southern neighborhood needs mainstay businesses and attractions besides the liquor stores that dot many blocks.

Creating a partnership between the police and the community was another popular topic. Batts, who received a notably warm welcome from the crowd, cited a statistic that claimed only 19 percent of all city police officers feel that they’re appreciated by the community, and Rawlings-Blake mentioned hearing from many city residents who, she said, are sick of “feeling like they’re the enemy.”

Twice Batts mentioned his willingness to “call balls and strikes,” promising the crowd that he would not let his department be ruled by politics and wouldn’t hesitate to remove officers guilty of misconduct.

“We’re trying to change our image,” Batts said. Part of his strategy to do so will involve officers taking vans of toys and sports equipment out to some of the neighborhoods they patrol and interacting with the kids they see every day in the hopes of establishing positive relationships with Baltimore City’s youngest residents.

Batts and Partee said they hope the increased involvement in the community will benefit some of the less crime-ridden neighborhoods as well.

When Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross Country Improvement Association, told the commissioner that he and other residents of his neighborhood sometimes feel overlooked, lacking effective crime-tracking data and waiting extended periods of time between calling the police and seeing an officer, both Batts and Partee told him that the department’s response time is a work in progress. Getting officers invested in the communities they patrol, added Partee, will create a force more motivated report to calls as soon as possible.

Pamela Curtis Massey, who attended the forum with her husband and two young sons, was especially affected when a young woman spoke about telling a pair of officers at a different meeting that she had been raped only to never hear from the police department again.

“I feel her pain,” Massey said, adding that she admired the woman’s courage to speak up. Many of the meetings Massey, a community activist with a regular radio program on WFBR, said she attends are often homogenous in attendance. She was happy to see members from all parts of the Northwest community in attendance at the forum.

“It doesn’t matter what race, what religion you are,” she said. “Crime will hit you.”