Jewish groups criticize Supreme Court ruling

Several Jewish organizations condemned this week’s Supreme Court decision that allows local governments to begin their meetings with a religious prayer as long as no one is coerced into participating.

“An individual’s belief — or non-belief — ought not be a prerequisite to accessing the political process,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The ruling “undermines the fundamental American principle of equal participation in government, regardless of the faith of the individual.”

In the case, The Town of Greece v. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, the justices decided by a 5-4 vote that a town can begin its meetings with religious prayers, even when those prayers consistently favor one religion. That New York town subjected those in attendance to mostly Christian prayer, according to the two women who filed the suit.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the ruling eroded the Bill of Rights. “We are concerned that this could mark a turn toward more religion in the public arena, which could discourage the participation of minority groups,” noted JCPA chair Susan Turnbull.

The National Council of Jewish Women said the ruling was a step back for religious freedom. “This ruling leaves us deeply concerned for the fate of the principle of separation of religion and state in the next court case that will surely come,” said CEO Nancy Kaufman.

However, the Orthodox Union saw a bright side to the ruling, applauding the Court’s perspective “that religion has a place in America’s public square” but that government “should be mindful of our pluralism.”

Fallen Heroes Remembered

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County  Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County
Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

A year after her little brother’s death, Shelly Brezicki said her family still thinks about Gene Kirchner every single day.

“We had Gene’s unveiling yesterday,” Brezicki said on April 28. “Every day, we remember that Gene’s not here.”

Her brother, a member of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company, was just 25 when he died eight days after being critically injured while trying to rescue someone from a house fire. A resident of the Reisterstown house, Steven Starr, also died in the fire.

Kirchner joined the company as a junior firefighter at 14, and his twin brother, Will, and Brezicki also volunteer there.

For the fire company, Brezicki said, her brother’s death was a sobering reminder of the vulnerable situations in which firefighters instinctively place themselves.

“We, as firefighters, don’t think about the risks that we take when we’re out on calls,” she said. “I think when something like this happens it’s sort of a reality check about the dangers we face on every single call we go out on.”

Kirchner and three others — Perryville firefighter Capt. David Barr Jr., Prince George’s County marine fire rescue volunteer Lt. James D. Brooks Sr. and Baltimore County police officer Jason Schneider — were honored at the 29th annual Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on May 2, exactly one year after Kirchner’s death.

“They wouldn’t give a second thought to their acts of bravery,” said Laurie DeYoung, WPOC radio host and the event’s keynote speaker. “The ultimate act of love is someone who’s willing to lay down their life for another.”

Also speaking at the event was Gladys Falkenhan, widow of Lutherville volunteer firefighter Mark Falkenhan, who was the first Baltimore County firefighter to die in the line of duty in more than 25 years in 2011. He left behind Gladys and their two sons, now 9 and 18.

While she said it has not been easy, she found support in the firefighter community and is training to be a counselor to families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.

“Our family has learned to live its new life,” said Falkenhan.

Speaking to that subject was Karmen Walker Brown, the wife of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost her first husband, Sgt. Anthony Walker of the Prince George’s County Police Department, in 2003.

“Losing someone you love, no matter how you lose them, it changes your life forever,” said Brown. “None of us could choose what happened to our loved ones, but we can choose how to remember them, and we can choose to live our lives to the fullest.”

And Brezicki hopes others will choose to remember her brother for what he did.

“Our biggest hope is that people remember that Gene ran into a burning building to save a stranger, and there is nothing much more heroic than that,” she said. “He ran into a building fully knowing the risk that was involved to save someone he didn’t know.”

Kirchner, a graduate of Owings Mills High School, was remembered as a dedicated firefighter who was either at the fire station, with family or at his job as a dispatch controller with Butler Medical Transport. The Reisterstown fire company posthumously awarded him its Medal of Honor, but Brezicki remembers another gesture that meant the world to her and her family.

The day of Kirchner’s funeral, not only did other fire companies step up to take calls in the Reisterstown company’s area so the department could mourn, but the streets were lined with people, from the station’s Main Street firehouse to Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Lutherville-Timonium.

Brezicki has an even fonder, more vivid memory, of the day her brother and his twin, Will, were born and how it changed the family dynamic.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m no longer the baby, there’s now someone else to be the baby,’” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to be the big sister, and I just loved that role.”

Group Protests Animal Shelter Conditions


(David Stuck)

More than 100 protestors lined the sidewalk in front of the Baltimore County Council’s offices on Washington Avenue in Towson, holding signs with pictures of dogs and cats and shouting call-and-response chants.

“Who kills our dogs and cats?” a woman shouted, to which the crowd answered, “Baltimore County bureaucrats!”

The April 21 protest was organized by a group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services, which is calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the shelter’s kill rate, better facility conditions and veterinary care and an increased volunteer force.

“People have been trying to bring about change at this place for the last couple of years and have been met with resistance from the county,” said Lynn Greene, spokeswoman for the organization. “They are still functioning like a 1940s shelter.”

But Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health, said there is “no merit” to the group’s complaints.

“A lot of things they’re talking about are unfounded,” he said. “All the animals are actively adopted, and we try to work with different rescues and adopt them out to the public as quickly as we can.”

The Baltimore County Division of Animal Services’ shelter is located in Baldwin, a point of contention among Reform BCAS since it’s on the far northeast side of the county, on the border with Harford County.

Branch said the shelter takes in about 2,800 cats and 1,800 dogs per year. Approximately 23 percent of the dogs and 59 percent of the cats are euthanized, he said, a procedure used for sick animals and at owners’ requests.

“If a dog is adoptable or [can be rescued], we will not euthanize that animal unless we have no space,” said Branch.

While Branch disputes the group’s accusations, local activists, animal rescue workers and former volunteers tell horror stories about neglected animals, dirty animal cages and a staff that fired volunteers for questioning the shelter’s conditions.

“I saw things that were so unsanitary, just the spread of disease and sick animals, and I thought I had to let these people know there were ways to do this more effectively, and they didn’t appreciate that at all,” said Kathy Soul, a former kennel owner and dog walker who volunteered from March to July 2013. She said she was “fired” from that position.

“They didn’t seem very receptive to my ideas or suggestions,” added Soul, “and we’re talking about things like, ‘Why don’t you clean out feces at the end of the day? Why don’t you clean out the water bucket between dogs?’”

There are about 50 registered volunteers with the Baltimore County shelter, according to Branch. Protesters contend that number is staggeringly low compared to other shelters. The Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, for example, has about 250 volunteers, at least 125 of whom volunteer in any given month, said executive director Jen Swanson.

Branch acknowledged in a statement that the 30-year-old shelter is inadequate in design and size to meet the shelter’s demand, and he expects that problem to be remedied with a new shelter that will be built on the 14 acres where the current shelter is located.

“We’re going to have a new, state-of-the-art $6 million facility,” he said. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”

The new facility, expected to open in August 2015, will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, a surgical site, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room.

The county also hired two full-time veterinarians in April and introduced public spay-and-neuter services.

But Jody Rasoff, a member of Reform BCAS who works with several rescues, isn’t convinced a new facility will solve what she sees as systemic issues.

“These things can get changed without spending the $6 million on a new shelter,” she said.

A Golden Opportunity

For the first time since the event was founded in 2000, the Greater Baltimore JCC played host to more than 700 middle school athletes, their families and their coaches for last Sunday’s Junior Maccabi Games. The young athletes, ages 10 to 12, competed in baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis and table tennis at the Owings Mills JCC, McDonogh School, Stevenson University, Owings Mills High School, New Town High School and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

The all-day event, which kicked off Saturday night with a pregame party and Havdalah service, was chaired by Larry Plant and Ben Zager and organized by Paul Lurie, senior program director and Junior Maccabi director, and Brad Kerxton, director of middle school services.

“Everyone is here to represent a Jewish community, and all of us are coming together at the games,” said Barak Hermann, president of the JCC, on the day of the event. “It gives us another reason to be proud and to celebrate our Jewish heritage.”

Dan Kurtz of Bucks County, Pa., the father of 11-year-old Olivia, who competed in girls’ soccer for the second year in a row, said the Games were a great experience.

“It was well organized, and they have great facilities. It’s always nice to see a lot of Jewish kids together,” he said. “The games were competitive and honored the spirit of competition, but there was a different feeling than a regular soccer game.”

Stephanie and Marc Cramer of Newtown, Pa., were at the JCC with their 11-year-old son, Ben, a first-time Junior Maccabi basketball player.

“Ben had a great time, meeting kids from other communities,” said Stephanie Cramer. “It was wonderful to see kids playing the games they love with other Jewish kids.

“This facility is amazing,” she added. “We don’t even have a JCC where we live. We have to drive 25 minutes to get to the Princeton/Mercer/Bucks County JCC. Our kids don’t get to be around other Jewish kids like this except at summer camp.”

The Cramers hope their son will participate in the teen Maccabi games when he is old enough.

Cory Rosen’s son, Drew, a 12-year-old Beth Tfiloh student who competed in the basketball competition, plans to participate in the teen Maccabi games next year. Drew plays for his school team and in the Reisterstown recreation league. Rosen, who spends a lot of her time driving her son to his games, was happy that the Junior Maccabi Games took place so close to home.

“Here’s what’s unbelievable,” said Emily Goren, a past Maccabi chair. “When I came in [to work on the Maccabi games] there were 200 kids; [this year] there were almost 800.”

Lurie was equally enthusiastic about the growth of the event.

“At first, the games were more regional. Now we get a great cross-section of participants,” he said. “We have a fantastic steering committee, who had been working to bring this off since January.”

Concession stand volunteer Mark Hotz was happy the weather held up.

“Everyone had a good time, and this really shows off Baltimore and our JCC,” he said.

“We hope they’ll all be inspired to participate in the senior games,” said Hermann. “It’s another experience [for the youngsters] to add to their Jewish memory bank.”

Many Baltimore Athletes Took Home Medals

Table Tennis
Avi Goldman — gold
Noah Brenner — gold
Eliav Hamburger — bronze

Boys’ Soccer
Baltimore’s gold soccer team — bronze

Emily Freeman — bronze
Jordan Osterweil — silver
Ethan Silverstein — silver
Vladislav Sergiev — bronze
Brendan Stein — silver
Sydney Huber — silver
Ronen Segal — bronze

Jensen Friedman — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Julia Shpigel — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Jensen Friedman, Julia Shpigel, Danella Indenbaum, Elyana Fine — gold for girls’ relay

FIDF to Host Spring Fundraiser

Baltimore’s chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces will play host to the IDF’s Naval Ensemble next week as part of its mission to raise funds to support Israeli troops.

“We want a warm, wonderful Baltimore welcome [for the soldiers],” said Shelly Lohmann, the organization’s director of development. For each of the singing soldiers, it will be their first visit to the United States, and Baltimore is the group’s first stop before it heads to Atlanta for another FIDF event.

“It’s raising money and it’s raising awareness,” Lohmann said of the event. Having only been founded in 2008, the Baltimore chapter of the FIDF is, in many ways, “the newest kid on the block.”

This is the first time since 2010 that the FIDF in Baltimore has hosted an Israeli military singing ensemble.

The Baltimore fundraiser, in addition to featuring the performance by the Israeli Navy singers, will honor founding Mid-Atlantic FIDF executive director Charlie Levine, who left his position last year. Noah Abrams, who for his bar mitzvah hosted a basketball tournament over the winter to benefit the FIDF, will also be recognized along with local families of lone soldiers.

The organization’s hope for the evening, said Lohmann, is not only to raise money for the scholarships and other support mechanisms it funds, but also to provide families of local soldiers serving overseas with a network of other families who are going through the same experience.

The event, which organizers expect to attract between 400 and 500 people, will take place at Beth El Congregation’s Offit Auditorium on Tuesday, May 13. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets start at $36 per person.

Questioning The Calls

Pikesville native Adam Gladstone mans the Orioles’ instant replay position, in which he can challenge questionable calls by umpires. ( David Stuck)

Pikesville native Adam Gladstone mans the Orioles’ instant replay position, in which he can challenge questionable calls by umpires. (David Stuck)

Adam Gladstone can’t take a single pitch off during Orioles games.

“If at any point Buck [Showalter] ever asks, ‘Listen, what’s the count and how did we get there?’ then I can recite exactly how we got to that count,” Gladstone said of the O’s manager.

The Pikesville native, 42, is the first person to man the Orioles’ instant replay role. This is the first season Major League Baseball has a system in which managers can challenge plays, and teams around the league have added positions such as Gladstone’s.

It’s his job to recommend which calls the team should challenge by finding camera angles that show umpiring errors.

“We need clear and concise — those are the buzzwords — clear and concise evidence to show that the call was incorrect,” explained Gladstone.

While he watches every pitch, tracks hits, outs and where runners are, he’s also looking for visual cues from players and coaches. That’s what helped him score his first victory in his first challenge on April 19 at Fenway Park in Boston. When right fielder Nelson Cruz was called out at first base after hitting a groundball to third, Gladstone saw the reactions from Cruz and first-base coach Wayne Kirby.

Gladstone found the right camera angle and called Orioles bench coach John Russell, who relayed to Showalter that the call warranted a challenge. It took less than a minute, Gladstone said, for umpires at the game to contact MLB’s replay center in New York and review the play. The Orioles won the challenge and scored a run because there were runners on first and third when Cruz was at bat.

Through two television monitors, Gladstone has access to all of the camera angles from whichever networks are broadcasting the game, as well as one stationary camera from the Orioles that shows the entire stadium.

The lifelong Orioles fan, who spent time as a minor league umpire and worked in baseball operations for Israel’s World Baseball Classic team, vividly remembers the first time he set foot in Memorial Stadium. It was 1977, he was 5 years old, and he went to the game with his father, their next-door neighbor and his daughter.

“That was the first time I ever walked into a major league stadium, and for me, it was something special,” said Gladstone. “I learned at that point that I wanted to know more about the game.”

He grew up playing baseball in Pikesville’s recreational league and played four years of varsity baseball at Boys’ Latin. After college, he knew his career was not going to be as a player. It seemed to work out for him.

“Umpiring took me to a level that I would have never reached as a player,” he said.

He umpired for four years in independent minor leagues, managed teams in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League and worked in player procurement, helping assemble teams in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs.

Throughout his career, he connected with members of the tribe, having coached the Maccabi baseball team in 1993, 1994 and 1995. In 2012, his network of Jewish major league managers expanded when he ran baseball operations for Israel’s WBC team. He made sure the team was set up with everything it needed when it arrived in the U.S. that fall.

“That was truly something for me, to be able to give back to my religion through baseball,” said Gladstone. “The real reason why there was an
Israeli World Baseball Classic team was because it was really used as a platform to help grow the game of baseball in Israel.”

In Baltimore, he maintains ties to the Jewish community as a member of Temple Oheb Shalom. His children attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and the Learning Ladder at Oheb.

“I have not been to Israel, even though the [Israel Association of Baseball] continues to ask me to come over,” he said. “I’ve told them I’m a little busy right now.”

His diverse experience, especially the umpiring, is what helped him land his new position with the Orioles.

“I’ve always followed the Orioles. That being said, Buck wanted someone who was going to do the job objectively, who always had the Orioles’ best interests at hand,” said Gladstone.

And the opportunity to be on the ground level of a new addition to Major League Baseball, in addition to the sacrifices his family has had to make, is not something he takes lightly.

“I know that there’s no guarantee there’s a tomorrow in this game,” he said. “So the fact that I’m able to be here now and do it is not something that’s lost on me.”

Chabad Launches Paradigm Shift Course



As the movement approaches the 20th anniversary of the passing of its Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Chabad-Lubavitch’s adult education initiative is spearheading a course that focuses on key elements of the leader’s teachings.

The new course from the Rohr-Jewish Learning Institute — Paradigm Shift — will be offered at Chabad centers throughout the region, including at Chabad of Park Heights. Instead of the movement dwindling in the two decades since Schneerson’s passing, noted Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon of the Park Heights center, “his teachings and words have taken on a life of their own.”

Chabad-Lubavitch had already emerged as a growing force in American and international Jewish life when Schneerson passed away on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz in 1994, but over the years, thousands more of the movement’s representatives have taken up positions in established and far-flung communities the world over.

Chabad “has changed only in the sense that the outreach has changed in enormous proportions,” explained Lisbon.

The new course begins May 14 and runs once a week for six weeks. Dedicated to Schneerson’s memory, it will focus on six key areas, with each week’s lesson centering on a new area. The first week will focus on the opportunity and goodness that exist under life’s surface. Another week will discuss each person’s personal relationship with God.

As of the second week of May, close to 35 people had signed up for the classes. Lisbon expects at least 20 more to take part.

At the end of the series, Lisbon hopes participants will walk away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Schneerson’s message. He wants students to understand “how they can change their world and the world around them in a good way,” he said.

As for the success of the movement, which is one of the largest and most recognizable Hasidic organizations in the world, Lisbon attributes it to Chabad’s spirituality.

“I think people today are looking for something of true substance,” he said.

Classes, which begin at 7:30 p.m. and run for 90 minutes, will be held at Chabad of Park Heights. The course will also be offered at Chabad ARIEL, Chabad of Owings Mills and Harford Community College. For more information, visit

Facelift at Fifty


(All photos by David Stuck)

Nearly 50 years after its opening, the Pikesville High School community has much more to celebrate than an anniversary.

Following a communitywide effort that involved students, parents, school officials and area politicians, the school will undergo a long-awaited, $40 million renovation, which will bring the institution on Labyrinth Road air conditioning, updated technology, new science and math wings, an updated auditorium, new classroom space and a number of other modernized amenities. The renovations begin this summer, just after graduates from the school’s 50th class depart.

Two celebrations will commemorate the half-century milestone, one for the entire school community this weekend and one for the first two graduating classes in September.

A senior at the school, Alex Jerome, served as a catalyst for the renovations by actually taking temperature and humidity measurements after having gone through some “outrageously” hot days.

Jerome saw students who were weary-eyed and dehydrated and found it hard to concentrate, just wanting to rest their heads on their desks at the end of some school days. Even teachers complained about the 100-plus-degree temperatures, he said.

“I came home one day [and] one of my papers was drenched in sweat,” recalled Jerome. “I got home and my dad asked, ‘What happened?’”

“[It] looked like he dropped it in water,” said his father, Jeff Jerome. “He said, ‘I don’t think I can take four more years of this,’ so I encouraged him to figured out if there was something that he could do.”

Alex took a digital thermometer to school and found temperatures of up to 110 degrees. He also recorded humidity levels above 60 percent, he said. He took the findings to the school board, who in turn launched their own investigation into the building’s microclimate.

What they determined was that with black doors, exterior panels and double-paned windows, the school’s design actually attracts heat.

“It felt like being in an oversized greenhouse being cooked,” said Alex Jerome.

In the end, school administrators, local elected officials and community representatives in Pikesville all rallied for better air conditioning. But because the 50-year-old building doesn’t have the infrastructure to support retrofitting for air conditioning, a complete renovation is necessary, said assistant principal Kevin Whatley.

“It is a full school renovation,” said Whatley, who has been at Pikesville for 16 years.

Major components of the renovation include the demolition of the school’s two ramps and science wing, which will be replaced by new science and math wings. The science wing will get a new greenhouse, and new spaces will accommodate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs such as Project Lead the Way, which is in its third year at Pikesville. The school’s courtyard will be become instructional space and will include a new career and counseling center, computer labs and an interactive multimedia production facility with a television studio.

The school’s weight room will expand, and locker rooms will be renovated. The cafeteria will be bigger, and the school’s auditorium will be updated for better acoustics and get new lights and a new sound system.

The school will be updated for ADA accessibility as well, with elevators to take students to the second floor and down to the locker rooms. Chair lifts will also be installed.

Although the school won’t have a dance program, a dance studio will be built during the renovations to conform to regulations mandating such studios in new school buildings.

The front office suite will also be designed so that visitors must enter the school directly through the office during school hours.

Principal Ed Mitzel says the renovation process has been both collaborative and empowering.

Principal Ed Mitzel says the renovation process has been both collaborative and empowering.

Principal Ed Mitzel said the school has been involved throughout the process, with Whatley meeting with architects and soliciting input from the school’s department heads when necessary.

“It’s been a very collaborative process and very empowering as two school leaders to be brought in early on as part of the discussion,” he said.

While the renovations may force the removal of the school’s murals — each graduating class has added its own touch to the collective history of the school by painting a mural — plans call for digitizing the artwork and displaying it in some form in an area that will dedicated to the old school.

The renovations are scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Two Chances to Celebrate

With the school approaching its 50th anniversary in the fall, members of the newly formed alumni association decided to hold an all-class reunion to say goodbye to the old Pikesville High School.

The free event, which runs Sunday, May 4, from noon to 4:30 p.m., features class meet-up areas, food trucks, old yearbooks and 50th anniversary T-shirts for sale, various displays, walks through the building, a slideshow, recognition of distinguished alumni, a performance by the Pikesville Alumni Choir and a preview of the new school with state and county political leaders.

“I think the event will put an exclamation point on what a fabulous 50 years Pikesville has had,” said Jeff Jerome, describing his time at Pikesville as “almost a movie high school experience” with great music, dances and academics.

“For me, it was just what high school should have been,” he said.

Party Time

050214_israel-dayIsrael is turning 66, and you are invited to the party.

From feasting on falafel to bopping to Israeli beats, Jewish organizations across the area want you to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day in style at Yom Ha’atzmaut events next week.

Fells Point’s contemporary bar, Vale Tudo, will be decked out in blue and white on Monday, May 5 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for Israel@66, the third annual Yom Ha’atzmaut Party sponsored by Bnei Israel Young Adults. Located at 702 S. Broadway, the party will feature Israeli music, happy-hour specials and lite Mediterranean fare. The event has a $5 cover charge with all proceeds donated to a charity of the attendees’ choice.

“The primary goal of the event is to engage Jewish young professionals downtown to celebrate Israel’s birthday,” said BIYA president Sara Brandenburg. “We aim for the event to be a nonpolitical way for young adults to come together to celebrate Israel.”

Joined by partnering organizations Beyond Birthright, Moishe House Baltimore, Charm City Tribe and the Baltimore Zionist District, the party will bring together young Jewish adults from all over the city to commemorate Israel’s birthday, said Brandenburg. “Every year, we hope that our partnerships will grow and develop. The event is a downtown communal effort to engage Jewish young adults and remind people about Yom Ha’atzmaut. We also hope it will lead to discussion and a desire to seek a way to connect to Israel that is right for them.”

Charm City Tribe program associate and Beyond Birthright committee member Ellie Brown played a major role in setting up the event. With strong ties to two participating organizations, she has promoted the event to the larger Baltimore community.

“By throwing this party and combining different Jewish organizations together for one night, you build a strong Jewish community,” said Brown. “You are introduced to different Jewish organizations that are committed to creating a space for you to engage more deeply in Jewish life as a young adult.”

Moishe House, a hub for young Jewish life internationally, is encouraging its Baltimore branch members to attend the event and expand their circles within the Jewish community.

“Yom Ha’atzmaut is an important day for Jews to celebrate,” said Moishe House member Vadim Kashtelyan. “It is great to get the entire spectrum of
Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — to rejoice together and celebrate Israel.”

On Tuesday, May 6, Ohr Chadash Academy is hosting an evening of Israeli songs, dances, plays and flag throwing. Located at the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights, the 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. event will feature presentations from every grade at the academy. Focusing on the development of Zionism, the celebration will feature music, a short play, a stomp by middle school boys and a performance by the Daglanut middle school girls’ flag corps. With last year’s event topping 350 guests, this year’s theme showcases the birth of Israel from the state’s beginnings to modern times.

“Ohr Chadash believes in the religious significance of the modern State of Israel and encourages our students to build a relationship with the people in Eretz Yisrael and with the land,” said media marketing committee chair and board member Terri Rosen. “At school, the day is filled with learning about Israel’s history, culture, people and food.”

The Yom Ha’atzmaut event, she said, is “a wonderful, fun way” to get the students excited about celebrating Israel’s birthday.

“They spend weeks preparing for Yom Ha’atzmaut, learning the songs and dances, and they look forward to presenting [them] to the community.”

Postmarked Jesus

050214_messianicIsrael Restoration Ministries, the same California-based Messianic Jewish organization that distributed postcards in the fall displaying the logos of numerous local Jewish organizations, is back at it.

Postcards with the headline, “Seder without a Passover or Seder with a Passover?” arrived in mailboxes across some of Baltimore’s most densely Jewish neighborhoods just in time for the end of the Passover holiday. While these cards lacked the logos that caused a stir months ago — none of the local Jewish organizations had consented to the use of their logo, and all spoke out against it — many community members were annoyed nonetheless, said Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism.

To the many people who have called Jews for Judaism to express their frustration with receiving yet another proselytizing mailing, Guggenheim said the best advice she has is to throw it away.

Better yet, she said, this most recent effort by the Messianic Jewish community can be transformed into an opening for Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“We should use this as an opportunity to raise awareness [about what we as Jews do believe],” she said. The average Jew won’t be converted by a postcard or a video distributed online, she added, but parents and rabbis can use these efforts as a way to teach children about why they believe what they believe and strengthen their own faith.

“What we’re seeing is another effort by Tom Cantor and Israel Restoration Ministries to try to demonstrate to the Baltimore Jewish community that they should be considered as Jews,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. The Council passed a resolution in January denouncing deceptive proselytizing by Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Christian organizations.

The resolution reads: “Jewish people who accept Jesus as their savior, calling themselves ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians,’ actually have adopted a religion that is not Judaism and have removed themselves from the Jewish community. … It is disconcerting that these ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians’ have created a false and misleading setting that purports to allow Jews to retain their Jewish identity while at the same time embracing Jesus.”

The organization is making another effort to prove that it is “Jewish,” said Abramson, “and again, it fails.”

For the time being, though, it doesn’t seem organizations such as Jews for Jesus, Israel Restoration Ministries or Chosen People will stop targeting Jewish populations any time soon.

Eric Rader, a member of Israel Restoration Ministries, said his organization purposefully sends their materials and volunteers to ZIP codes with large Jewish populations in an effort to reach Jews who, in their opinion, have been “indoctrinated” by rabbis and other Jewish leaders over the course of history. This mailing, he said, went out to ZIP codes in 18 different cities across the country.

“If it’s real and it’s the truth, why wouldn’t we tell people?” he asked, comparing spreading the message of Jesus to telling neighbors or friends about a new and improved vacuum. “It’s like presenting some new something-or-other.”