Community Protests Murderer’s Appeal

Members of the Jewish community wait in a security line prior to the hearing. Approximately 250 people attended. (Melissa Gerr)

Members of the Jewish community wait in a security line prior to the hearing. Approximately 250 people attended. (Melissa Gerr)

Approximately 250 people, primarily from Baltimore’s Jewish community, traveled by bus, car and subway train to protest the appeal trial of Wayne Stephen Young, who was convicted of killing 11-year-old Esther Lebovitz in September 1969.

A fifth-grade student of the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Lebovitz was last seen alive on her way home from school when she stopped by a tropical fish store, which Young owned, in the 5500 block of Park Heights Avenue. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home.

The courtroom, almost stiflingly hot, was beyond capacity Thursday, March 20 with spectators filling the benches, aisles and perimeter. The lawyers were even permitted to fill the 13 juror chairs to make more room.  On the buses and in the courtroom, many people silently read from prayer books. Lebovitz’s immediate family, who moved to Israel shortly after the incident, was not in attendance.

Young, who was 24 at the time of the murder and has been denied parole 12 times, requested appeal of his conviction based on a recent ruling by Maryland’s appellate court. Known as the Unger ruling, it cites incorrect jury instructions administered in Maryland courtrooms that may have led to unfair trials. More than a dozen Maryland prisoners convicted before 1980, when the jury instructions were amended, have had their convictions retried and have been released. The state reviews these appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Now 68, gray and balding, Young was dressed in a Department of Corrections-issue blue shirt and pants and sat silently next to his defense attorney, Erika J. Suter. He seemed relaxed and appeared to be following the lawyers’ testimony. Suter gave the opening statement requesting to reopen the conviction for a retrial based on the Unger ruling.

“It is not in the interest of justice to reopen this trial,” began assistant state prosecuting attorney Antonio Gioia, who spoke for more than 20 minutes. He read from transcripts detailing the heinous crime, including autopsy results of Lebovitz being beaten with a blunt instrument at least 17 times and of sexual molestation.

Gioia also read a statement made by the officer who administered a polygraph test to Young, who had pleaded temporary insanity at the time of his trial.

“I did this,” the officer testified that Young told him. “I killed that little girl.”

Frank Storch, 56, was 12 when Lebovitz was murdered. Storch, whose father was president of Bais Yaakov at the time, said of the murder that he “remembers it like it was yesterday.” He organized transportation to leave from the Seven Mile Market so that community members could show their support in the courtroom.

“In silence our community gathered,” Storch said after the hearing, “and spoke millions of words.”

Neil Schachter has been president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol since 2000. He explained that when someone comes up for parole he is typically notified far in advance. Because Young’s appeal was not parole-based this time, Schachter heard about the hearing only days before from Abba Poliakoff, a cousin of the Lebovitz family. His organization got the word out via Facebook, websites and letters to community rabbis.

“[Poliakoff] got a phone call last week,” related Schachter. “He called me and said we need to do something. … We didn’t have much time to put this together to garner this support.”

Schachter was thankful and impressed with the number of people who came out.

“But I can tell you, if needed we could have gotten thousands of people,” he added. “We could have gotten even more than the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Rabbi Yaakov Menken was one of the throngs of people who took time off in the afternoon to attend.

“It’s important to stand as a community when something so horrible has happened that affects the entire community,” he said.

Debbie Lowenstein, from Pikesville, patiently waited in a long line outside the courthouse as each person was shuttled through security.

“I’m here because as soon as I heard that story [as a young girl] it affected me greatly … because it was so close to home,” she said. “And any Jewish girl is like a sister — it’s like family, and you think how could this happen and they cannot let this man go.”

Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hardagon did not make an immediate decision. He explained he must review records and would issue a written statement at a later date, but he acknowledged the enormous show of protest by the community when he spoke to those in the courtroom.

“It does not go unnoticed how many people are here,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Dr. Bert Miller of Park Heights, a retired teacher from Bais Yaakov, said Lebovitz would have been in his 11th-grade class had she not been killed. He added it wasn’t just Lebovitz who was murdered that day but her future children and even grandchildren.

“We have a saying,” he said. “One who takes one life kills the whole world.”

Crime a Trend or Random Uptick?

032814_crimeThe Northern Park Heights community has seen peaks and valleys of criminal activity over the years, but recent incidents have some concerned they’re seeing a new normal.

A March 4 home invasion in which a man and his daughter were tied up and had their home robbed was one of several incidents that sent shockwaves through the community. An attempted carjacking, burglaries and auto thefts likewise have some on edge.

“I don’t remember for quite some time a crime wave of this magnitude, nor the brazenness of it,” said Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross Country Improvement Association. “It reminds me of the times almost back in 1979, 1980. There was terrible crime [then], and you couldn’t walk on Park Heights Avenue at nighttime.”

Others in the area are concerned but not feeling as alarmed. Sandy Johnson, president of the Fallstaff Improvement Association who has lived in the area since 1978, said crime often comes in waves; arrests are then made, and the amount of incidents slows down.

“I think we probably are a lot better off than a lot of parts of Baltimore City,” she said. “I like this area because there’s less crime than in other parts of Baltimore City.”

Burglaries and robberies in the Northwest District, and citywide, have decreased compared with last year, according to statistics provided by Baltimore City police. A year-to-date comparison to 2013 shows that robberies are down 43 percent and burglaries down 3 percent in the Northwest District. Citywide, robberies are down 15 percent and burglaries are down 8 percent.

Betsy Gardner, the neighborhood liaison for the Jewish community in the 5th, 6th and 7th Baltimore districts for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the Northern Park Heights area is lucky because it has two dedicated police officers – Ken Dickstein, the police department’s citywide liaison to the Jewish community, and Sam Bennett, liaison to Northwest Citizens Patrol.

“We have confidence in our Northwest District,” said Gardner.

Baltimore County police have changed things around in response to recent incidents.

“We are aware of the concern in the community about the recent home invasions, and the operations of Precinct 4 personnel have been adjusted in response,” said Capt. John McGann, commander of the Pikesville Precinct. “Detectives are actively investigating these cases to identify those persons responsible and bring them to justice.”

Area resident Frank Storch said he hasn’t seen a wave of incidents like the recent crimes since 1981, when he helped form the Northwest Citizens Patrol. During that time, there were muggings, car thefts, bicycle thefts and other small incidents happening on a regular basis, he said. His family helped pay for CB radios for the group.

“It was important that the community would know that there is a group that’s going to be proactive and try to make sure that we stop the amount of incidents that were happening,” he said, “and work with the police department on trying to make the entire neighborhood safer.”

Storch said the area experienced “a major decrease in crime” after NWCP formed.

Neil Schachter, president of NWCP, likened the recent incidents to an uptick in burglaries and break-ins the area experienced eight years ago, around the time Shomrim of Baltimore formed. Back then, community leaders got together with police and other officials, and through community and police work, culprits from three groups committing the crimes were caught.

A similar meeting between religious leaders and county and city police took place in December, said Schachter, adding that he saw increased patrols following that meeting. By his count, five arrests have been made between the county and city, and burglaries and break-ins have slowed down.

“This is Baltimore, and unfortunately we have crime all the time,” explained Schachter. “The beginning of that [wave] was surprising. When it kept on coming, that shows it was something unusual. … We’re hoping that it’s over.”

Shomrim spokesman Nathan Willner said people are keeping a close watch on suspicious activity and being proactive in the neighborhood, as evidenced by an increase in calls to the neighborhood group. While he acknowledged that crime is going down in the city overall, he said statistics offer little comfort to people who are victims or know victims of crimes.

“I think the main thing is not to cause panic but really make sure people are cognizant of what can happen,” said Willner. “You can’t make it inviting for a would-be criminal to target your house.”

In addition to the overall neighborhood campaign to make sure people lock their cars, lock front doors and windows and don’t answer the door for strangers, city police gave Shomrim a packet that explains other things residents can do to be proactive. The packet includes some of that same advice but also recommended keeping lights on at night, getting a dog, installing alarms and locking sheds and garages. It also advised how to catalog a home in case items are stolen.

Some are taking the police’s advice and getting alarms and even security cameras installed, according to Sauer, who owns the M. Sauer Company — Security Unlimited. His firm has been inundated with requests to update security systems, installing alarms as well as camera systems and wireless cameras, he said.

“People do not feel safe the way they once did,” said Sauer. “They’re concerned for themselves, their families. That’s the fear that’s out there.”

Some are going beyond that, he said, adding that he knows about a dozen people who said they’re going to buy guns for protection.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes Pikesville, said she understands that people are concerned but does not think recent incidents are indicative of a long-term problem.

“I don’t think that’s our future. I think [the home invasion] was a freak thing that happened,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the beginning of a trend.”

Rabbis at some congregations in the area said they haven’t heard anything from their congregants about crime.

“No congregants have brought it to my attention, so it’s not a serious issue, obviously, from my point of view,” said Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Andrew Busch said that while he’s heard about the incidents, no congregants have brought them to his attention either.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rikki Spector said that while she has seen great cooperation from volunteer groups and police in the neighborhood, there is a shortage of police manpower. Additionally, criminals seem to move around when police activity is stepped up, she said.

“It’s been my understanding that the crime isn’t going away. When you beef it up somewhere, it just moves,” said Spector. “They’ve beefed it up around the areas surrounding Park Heights, so the bums move.”

And while she maintained it’s a wonderful neighborhood to be in, she has seen some new kinds of incidents that the area hasn’t seen before, citing the arrest of a 15-year-old at Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue who had a gun and was driving a stolen car.

“There is a difference,” she admitted, “and you have to be careful.”

Regardless of the incidents, said residents, no one is packing up and leaving, as the community is determined to be proactive in keeping Northern Park Heights a family friendly area.

“The community, instead, has come together and resolved that they’re not going to let this take over their lives,” said Sauer. “No one is going anywhere.”

Brochin Bids Farewell to Pikesville

Sen. Jim Brochin (File)

Sen. Jim Brochin (File)

After 12 years of representing Pikesville, state Sen. Jim Brochin’s 42nd District will no longer include the area due to redistricting.

Brochin, who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review and the Senate Special Committee on Substance Abuse, was first elected in 2002 and joined the Maryland General Assembly in 2003.

“I knocked on 15,000 doors and raised $250,000. As a Democrat, I was trying the impossible — to be the first Democrat to represent Towson in the Maryland Senate since the 1950s,” he said in a letter to constituents. “When the votes were counted, it was my Pikesville precincts at Summit Park and Pikesville High, my alma mater, which put me over the top.”

In his letter, he highlighted his being a key vote in favor of authorizing stem cell research, same-sex marriage and medical marijuana. He has sponsored legislation to give gun offenders tougher sentences, eliminate fees collected by speed camera operators and create a hybrid school board in Baltimore County that would include elected and appointed members and a student.

His district, which included parts of Towson and Pikesville, will now include areas of Northern Baltimore County that border Pennsylvania.

“No Democrat has ever won up there, but perhaps we’ll prove them wrong again,” Brochin said in his letter.

He faces Dundalk native and former Delegate Connie DeJuliis in the primary; the winner will face Republican Tim Robinson, who is running unopposed in the primary.

With a big race coming up and an uncertain legislative future, Brochin wants to wish his soon-to-be former constituents well.

“I wanted to say thank you for your confidence, support and votes that made me a senator,” his letter said. “I haven’t squandered the opportunity you gave me, and from the bottom of my heart, I’m forever grateful.”

To Your Health

Magic of Life Gala co-chairs Laura B. Black and Brian J. Gibbons, along with LifeBridge Health president and CEO Neil Meltzer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame headliner Jackson Browne, are making sure that, as Browne might say, the health care organization never “runs on empty.” The April 5 biannual gala, which benefits the entire LifeBridge Health system, has raised a total of $20 million since it began in 1998. This year’s goal is $3.1 million, a sum Gibbons said he is confident the organization will meet.

“The community that supports LifeBridge is very philanthropic,” said Gibbons, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Greenberg and Gibbons, an Owings Mills-based real estate development company, and a board of directors member of both Sinai Hospital and Hospice of the Chesapeake Inc. “LifeBridge Health’s doctors, nurses and support staff play an integral role in our community.”

Black, whose three children were born at Sinai Hospital, agreed.

“No one wants to ask or to take. If you have the ability to give it’s a gift and incumbent to set an example,” she said. “Health care is important to our community, and LifeBridge is our community health care provider. I’m acutely aware that when we’re at our most vulnerable, LifeBridge is there.

“LifeBridge has been there for the myriad of medical procedures that our families have required through the years,” added Black, president of LCB Ventures, LLC and a member of Sinai’s board of directors and the LifeBridge Health Strategic Planning Committee. “Now it’s time for us to give back.”

Meltzer said that the gala committee chose Browne to headline the 2014 Magic of Life event because he is a musician who appeals to most people and also because of his good works. Browne is known for his commitment to issues of human rights, the environment and arts education, he said.

The Morgan State University Choir will also perform at the gala, said Meltzer. More than 1,500 guests are expected to attend the event at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

LifeBridge Health continues to expand its services, said Meltzer. The corporation recently launched a new cardiovascular institute and is expanding its emergency department.

“What’s nice is that we now have approximately 200 community physicians, and that number is growing,” he said. “In preparation for the Affordable Care Act, we are focusing on [helping members of the] community maintain their health.

“Our hats go off to the volunteers who do fundraising,” he added. “We really have extraordinary leaders, and we couldn’t pull off something like this without them.”

For more information and to purchase tickets visit

In Sickness And In Health

Jan Schein was just 39 when her husband, Dr. Jay Schein, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although the Northwest Baltimore OB/GYN functioned well for some years after the diagnosis, in 2002, he was forced to retire because he could no longer perform surgery.

“There was a gradual decline,” recalled his wife. “First, we made the decision he couldn’t drive, then he couldn’t grasp knives. This man who used to tie one-handed surgical knots couldn’t tie his shoes.”

The doctor’s life wasn’t the only one that changed dramatically. His wife became his full-time caregiver.

According to the Well Spouse Association, an organization that provides peer-based emotional support to husbands, wives and partners of people with chronic illnesses and/or long-term disabilities, the United States is home to an estimated seven million spousal caregivers. Known among themselves as “well-spouses,” they live lives they never would have imagined and, in most cases, would not have chosen. But many soldier on, aided by an immense well of inner strength and a handful of support organizations, some of them based in the Jewish community.

After Hershal Cutler’s stroke 12 years ago, his wife, Carol Cohen, felt overwhelmed and unprepared.

After Hershal Cutler’s stroke 12 years ago, his wife, Carol Cohen, felt overwhelmed and unprepared.

At the time of her husband’s stroke 12 years ago, things were on the upswing for Carol Cohen of Columbia. Having become deaf at 22, she had recently completed her doctorate in social work and had received a cochlear implant that enabled her to hear for the first time in decades.

“I was looking forward to my new life,” recalled Cohen.

But before she was able to enjoy her newfound freedoms, her husband, Herschel Cutler, suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. Cutler recovered some faculties later, but immediately following the stroke, Cohen felt entirely unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead of her.

“When your spouse has a stroke, you feel its shock waves. Stroke is often terrifying, and you may feel unprepared to cope with its immediate effects or its long-term consequences,” wrote Sara Palmer, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey B. Palmer of Johns Hopkins Medicine, in their 2011 book, “When Your Spouse Has a Stroke: Caring for Your Partner, Yourself and Your Relationship.” “But despite your lack of experience or preparation, you are likely to be the first one called upon to respond, make decisions and provide for your spouse’s care. You will probably assume the role of primary caregiver and begin a course of on-the-job training.”

That was the experience of Judi Snyder, whose husband, Howard, had a stroke in 1999, when she was 39 and he was 47. Their three children, two boys and one girl, were 12, 9 and 4.

“Everything happened very quickly,” said Snyder. “I didn’t know what questions to ask. I had never been here before.”

A second stroke shortly after the first took a further toll on Snyder’s husband. Today, 15 years and countless therapy sessions later, he is able to walk with a cane but suffers from aphasia, a brain injury that makes it difficult for sufferers to express themselves verbally and sometimes to understand written or spoken language.

What spouses such as Snyder experience, especially when there are children living at home, is that in addition to advocates and caregivers, they may also become the bread winners in the family or have to relinquish or delay long-term career and educational goals. Most well-spouses experience financial strains due to exorbitant medical expenses and loss of income from a spouse who can no longer handle a job.

Absorbed in all of their responsibilities — merely coping, chief among them — well-spouses can easily feel alone, said Joe Honsberger, senior manager of therapy services at Jewish Community Services. There are resources available in many cases, and people should know that social workers are willing to help.

“It’s always important to talk with someone one-on-one when something like this occurs,” explained Honsberger. “[Talk with a counselor about] what life was like before, what’s it like now, and what does it look like going forward.”

Having someone such as a counselor to talk with is especially valuable once a caregiver is over the initial shock of a spouse’s illness or disability.

Ben Dubin has felt more and more isolated as his wife Esther’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease has progressed.

Ben Dubin has felt more and more isolated as his wife Esther’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease has progressed.

“The effect on me is that I’m socially isolated,” said Ben Dubin, whose wife, Esther, has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Esther’s decline has been rapid; she hasn’t spoken for the past two years, said Dubin. For the past five years, Esther has required in-home care 12 hours a day, seven days a week. She can’t manage any of the activities of daily life, can’t stand up and has lost half her body weight. She is mostly unresponsive.

Dubin is grateful Esther’s sister and niece and a group of his wife’s friends continue to visit her every week.

“They try to make themselves known, by repeating old stories, but it’s getting harder and harder,” said Dubin. Otherwise, “it’s a lonely life.”

Snyder said she and her husband categorize people as “B.S.” (before stroke) and “A.S.” (after stroke).

“Friends from before the stroke are still around, but they’re not in our daily lives,” she said. “I did feel hurt and angry at first, but it’s difficult. They just can’t handle it. I’m not angry anymore.”

Jan Schein described going through the traditional stages of grief, even though her husband is very much alive.

“If I were a widow, I’d have closure,” she explained. “But in this case, there’s an extended grief period with no end in sight. When you get past 10 or 12 [years], it really wears you down. You have to let go of the dreams of what will be and the memories of what was. You have to realize this is a different person. And when it’s your spouse, you’ve lost your partner. Yet, he’s still there.”

These days, Jay Schein uses a walker and has braces on both legs. He has limited use of his left arm and increasing cognitive difficulties including a decline of his executive functioning skills. He is still able to handle his own self-care so he doesn’t qualify for home health care. However, his wife doesn’t leave him alone for more than a few hours because she is afraid he may have an accident.

“I try to come up with activities when he is home because it is important for his health that Jay keeps his brain and legs moving,” said Jan Schein. “Yesterday he went to day care and came home and told me that he made an art project by cutting up leaves. It’s like having your kid come home from day camp. It’s like the whole house revolves around his illness.”

“You have to accept that the person you married is here, but not here,” added one 56-year-old spouse married to a stroke victim who requested anonymity to protect the identity of his family. “My wife has done an amazing job of rehabbing, and to look at her you might not think there’s much wrong with her. But cognitively, she’s like a child. I miss communication the most — all the things a typical couple shares.

“You take one day at a time getting to know and love this new person,” he continued. “We were looking forward to being empty nesters, going on vacations, traveling. That’s gone. It wasn’t in the cards. My kids ask me ‘Why don’t you go on a cruise?’ I don’t know if I want to go on a cruise watching all of the healthy spouses having a good time.”

Speakers Bring Middle East Realities to HoCo

Avi Melamed discusses Middle East history and the Arab Spring as part of the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s series, “Israel: Reality, Hopes and Dreams.” (Marc Shapiro)

Avi Melamed discusses Middle East history and the Arab Spring as part of the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s series, “Israel: Reality, Hopes and Dreams.” (Marc Shapiro)

It’s nearly impossible to boil the Middle East’s recent history down to an hour-long presentation, but if there is anyone up for the challenge, it’s intelligence analyst Avi Melamed.

The former Israeli senior official on Arab affairs painted a sobering, comprehensive picture of the tumultuous region through discussion of political and radical Muslim groups and their movements, governments and agendas, Iran’s role in the region and regional sources of instability, but he offered a glimmer of hope when looking at the post-Arab Spring world. He also contextualized Israel, the U.S. and events that happened within the 48 hours prior to his talk last week at the Meeting House in Columbia.

Surveying the strategic landscape, his message was simple: “We have to be painfully realistic,” he said.

The March 13 talk was the first of three presentations in the “Israel: Reality, Hopes and Dreams” series, an effort by the Jewish Federation of Howard County to develop closer connections between county residents and Israel while showcasing information and perspectives that go beyond the headlines in order to paint a complete picture of Israel and its neighbors.

“[The goal is] to realize what Israel’s facing and not get caught up in BDS and all these things that are great distractions,” Jane Zweig, chair of the speaker series, explained, referencing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that has labeled Israel as the aggressor in its dealings with the Palestinians. The series is the first of its kind for the federation, and Zweig envisions future programs focusing on more Israel-centric themes, including technology and innovation.

The federation has an Israeli shlicha, emissary, working to connect the Howard County Jewish community to Israel. Gal Perlmoter, one of about 250 shlichim working in the U.S., began her year-long job at the end of August and is working with the area’s religious institutions, community organizations and schools to strengthen their bonds with the Jewish state.

“This is the first year there is a shlicha in Howard County, and that is why we have these events,” said Perlmoter. “We really want to let people have the knowledge about what’s going on in Israel, but not just to talk about the conflict; we really want to give a variety of topics.”

The second session, “Israel in 2023: What We Might Expect,” will be presented by Yoram Peri, director of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, on March 27. He will discuss his predictions for Israel’s future.

The final session, on April 10, is “Banks, Bombs and Sanctions: How Rogue Regimes Abuse the International Financial Sector.” It will be presented by Avi Jorisch, senior fellow for counterterrorism at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Perlmoter said the intention of the series is to give attendees a bigger picture of what’s going on in Israel and in the region. To that end, Melamed laid out an in-depth but accessible modern history of the Middle East up to the present day.

“The Arab Spring is the outcry of Arab societies for a future, for a dignified future. This is the essence,” explained Melamed. “The message of the Arab Spring is, ‘We don’t want to die. We want a future. We want hope.’”

But these progressive voices — whose wishes focus on employment, education, infrastructure and government stability — have to break through groups of political and radical Islamists. The political Islamists, said Melamed, envision a political structure with a global kingdom based on religious law and an uncompromising animosity to Israel. Militant radical groups, meanwhile, hold that individual lives are not important; the glory of Allah is the greater purpose.

“These are major players in the region,” said Melamed. “They are not going anywhere.”

He traced the origins and migrations of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist sect within Sunni Islam, Hamas and Hezbollah and explained the various conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis and how the regimes in Iran, Egypt, Syria and other countries play a major role in the region’s continuing upheaval. On the topic of Israel’s place in the region, Melamed spoke about how Islamist Jihad, in addition to Hamas, operates in the Gaza Strip and how Iran has supported their fight against the Jewish state.

“[Iran has] sophisticatedly built challenges against Israel for the last generation,” he said.

But the annihilation of Israel isn’t at the top of many of these groups’ agendas, claimed Melamed. They are occupied in other countries’ conflicts, fighting other groups, fighting for power and pushing their agendas.

Melamed, however, offered some hope. He sees a lot of power and empowerment in the spread of social media throughout the Middle East. Internet use is rising, he pointed out, with 35 percent of the Iranian population online, and government attempts to control the Internet have failed so far. Recent research identifies Saudi Arabia with the world’s highest per-capita use of Twitter and YouTube, a statistic Melamed doesn’t take lightly.

“The power is not with any one [person],” he said.

“It sows the seeds of something that was never in Arab society — a real, civil society.”

Fulton resident Irene Saunders Goldstein thought Melamed was a fabulous choice for the first presentation.

“I think the complexity is far greater than anybody thinks about,” she said.

Columbia resident George Groman, who volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel and still has many friends there, said the talk left him “sobered, but hopeful.”

“When there’s instability in a region like that … I think there is probably a more moderate Islam that can find a way to forge a common interest, or at least an understanding, with Israel,” he said. “It might be naive, but it’s my hope.”

Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, said that while there are a diversity of views on Israel in Howard County, she wanted to make sure people are armed with knowledge in order to make their own judgments.

“I think people really need to hear this,” she said.

For more information on the series, visit

Pearlstone Celebrates New Eco-Friendly Cabin

032114_cabin1On a recent Sunday afternoon, six young adults discussed which homemade mezuzah should hang on the doors to their new rooms. But these were no store-bought mezuzahs — the bright-colored covers were made from recycled materials.

And this is no ordinary home. The “high-efficiency, four-season cabin,” as its designer and builder described it, married sustainability with conventional building techniques. Although the roof is metal, the walls are made of clay plaster, the windows are reused, and a lot of other building materials were locally sourced.

“People are coming here to live healthy lives and participate in healthy living, and we wanted to create a home for them to do that work,” said Aitan Mizrahi, who designed and built the cabin at the Pearlstone Center.

For the next eight months, the cabin will house eight farm apprentices. Six of them moved in on March 12, and two more will join in the spring.

Before and after: Aitan Mizrahi (left) designed and built an eco-friendly cabin to house the Pearlstone Center’s apprentices. Right photo (from left): Adam Gillman, Lila Rosenbloom, Rachelle Lansky, Rachel Baltuch, Aaron Schneider and Benjamin Swartout stand by their new home on their first day. (Marc Shapiro )

Before and after: Aitan Mizrahi (top) designed and built an eco-friendly cabin to house the Pearlstone Center’s apprentices. Above (from left): Adam Gillman, Lila Rosenbloom, Rachelle Lansky, Rachel Baltuch, Aaron Schneider and Benjamin Swartout stand by their new home on their first day. (Marc Shapiro )

The apprentices will work on the farm, which includes gardens, annual and perennial crops, goats and hens, all farmed using sustainable, environmentally friendly methods. These practices are also Torah-based, said organizers, with specific agricultural skills based in ancient Jewish wisdom and social justice concepts infused in the program. Some of the food produced on the farm will be donated to area food banks and shelters.

“The major thing is just to show how relevant and how alive Torah truly is to things we care so much about here,” said apprenticeship coordinator Regina Mosenkis.

Former apprentice Elisheva Stark is now Pearlstone’s community garden coordinator.

“The apprenticeship strengthened my ideas of Judaism in this regard in terms of sustainability and agriculture,” she said. “I really enjoy those connections, and it’s a connection I really want to help others see.”

The apprentices are not only working on the farm, but also engaging in Jewish spiritual practice each morning, as well as teaching and learning environmental practices as part of the apprenticeship, Pearlstone director Jakir Manela said.

“To have a space that so embodies what the program is all about is really exciting,” said Manela. “There is no Jewish farm apprenticeship that has such a special space associated with it. It’s a living building.”

With a green builder now on staff at Pearlstone, lessons learned from the cabin will be applied to future green building.

The building was the first project of its kind for Mizrahi, 36. From 2004 to 2012, he worked at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, where he launched a goat dairy, managed a barnyard and worked on other agricultural projects. Manela met Mizrahi there and would later tap him for this project.

“He knew that I was studying natural building and design, and it’s something that’s pretty fundamental to the values here, and [I could] integrate sustainable building practices into their structure,” Mizrahi said.

He moved to Reisterstown in December 2012 to begin the design process and broke ground on the building in August 2013.

He considers the building a hybrid of natural and conventional building techniques. A lot of materials came from local sources and were not highly processed, including clay from Perryville and straw and manure from Reisterstown. The building has a tight assembly so heat won’t escape, but baseboard oil-filled heaters were placed in the bedrooms so people could stay in the cabin during the winter months.

Apprentice Adam Gillman said the new space is comfortable and inviting, and he likes knowing it was made from elements of the earth.

“We have a special opportunity to make an impact,” he said, “and this place certainly gives us the space to do that.”

What’s App?

Nachshon Fertel shows off his Frum Finder app. (David Stuck)

Nachshon Fertel shows off his Frum Finder app. (David Stuck)

Not many 13-year-old boys have created their own apps. But Nachshon Fertel isn’t just any 13-year-old boy.

The Park Heights resident, one of five children born to Ari and Mort Fertel, has been creating his own businesses since he was 8, when he sold used electronics on Amazon. Now, he’s launched Frum Finder, an app available for download on Apple and Android platforms that helps people find resources in Baltimore’s Jewish community.

Fertel, who is home schooled and belongs to B’nai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, explained that he first came upon the idea for the app when he was looking up something in the Eruv List directory.

“I wondered why the book was still only available in hard copy. Everything is digital now,” said Fertel. “So I looked into it and found that no one else in Baltimore was doing an app like this. I had no competitors.”

Fertel said it took him about eight months to complete the app, which provides users with names, addresses and landline phone numbers for households, restaurants, businesses, synagogues, schools and hospitals as well as emergency and government contacts.

“I couldn’t include cell phone and email addresses because that’s illegal, but there is a way that people can type in that information by themselves,” said Fertel, who has taken several courses in computer programming at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

The most challenging part of the project was figuring out how to get all of the information into the app without typing it in, he recalled. He can’t explain how he did it, though. That’s his secret.

The app first went live in mid-February, and Fertel said it is really catching on this month. While the app is free, he eventually plans to sell advertising to make a profit.

“I plan to give 10 percent of the money to tzedakah,” he said.

His mother said her son has always been interested in technology and business.

“From an early age he always wanted to understand the language of technology,” said Ari Fertel. “If there’s ever an issue with the computer at home, everyone says, ‘Where’s Nachshon?’

“I’m most proud of the fact that he is helping and enhancing Jewish Baltimore,” she continued. “He gives back, and I think that’s a very important lesson.”

Cash for Candy

Dr. Einbinder offered children money in exchange for their Purim candy. (David Stuck)

Dr. Einbinder offered children money in exchange for their Purim candy. (David Stuck)

Elliott Einbinder wants your candy. He’ll even pay you for it.

That’s the proposition Einbinder, a local dentist, had for Baltimore’s youngest Jews, although, with no takers by Tuesday afternoon, it appeared the kids preferred the candy to the cash.

After hearing about a trend involving dentists trading money for Halloween candy, Einbinder decided to apply the same concept to Purim.

“I thought it would make a nice parallel at Purim time,” he said.

A post on the Facebook page of Einbinder’s Wellwood Family Dentistry Facebook page reads:

“The meal is over/All the wine has been drunk/Time to figure out/What to do with all the junk … Wellwood Family Dentistry/Can handle your stash/In exchange for something useful/Like cold hard CASH.”

Beginning the day after Purim and running through March 20, he opened his office to the candy trade.

Children under 13 years old were encouraged to bring their sweets to his Greenspring Shopping Center office to collect $1 for every pound of candy or trade for a $3 donation to the Ahavas Yisrael charity fund. Drinks and baked goods were not part of the collection, and there was a 5-pound limit per family.

Einbinder hopes the initiative pays off in more ways than one.

Along with donating to the local charity, he hopes to help protect children’s teeth.

Sugary candies harm teeth at any age, he said. The bacteria present in mouths consume sugar, producing acid that can wear away teeth.

While adults may be careful to avoid consuming sugary, acidic foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, children, said Einbinder, “have almost no free will when it comes to candy.”

Though he knows his battle is uphill, he said the response has been positive, although it hasn’t translated into many trades. His Facebook announcement garnered dozens of likes, and one patient even donated money to the cause ahead of the holiday.

Not letting the lack of participants discourage him, Einbinder said he hopes this will be the start of a tradition he carries on for years.

Eyes on Ukraine



The increasing political and economic unrest in Ukraine has prompted The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to launch the Ukraine Assistance Fund in order to provide urgent funds needed for the care and security for more than 300,000 Jews in Ukraine.

According to The Associated, Ukraine is home to some of the world’s poorest Jews, particularly the elderly. Odessa, Baltimore’s sister city, as well as communities all over the country will receive 100 percent of funds raised to ensure deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel as well as provide live-saving care and security personnel.

Marina Moldavanskaya, The Associated’s Baltimore-Odessa Partnership coordinator, explained via email that the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, both supported by The Associated, ensure that the most vulnerable elderly receive services at home so they do not risk their lives to get basic necessities. JDC and JAFI have deployed emergency mobile units to deliver food, medicine and other critical supplies. They have
increased security as needed and provided uninterrupted daily home care services for the frailest of the elderly, with some home-care workers spending nights with the elderly in their apartments.

“The [JDC and JAFI] action strategy changes all the time … depending on the situation and needs of the Jewish community,” wrote Moldavanskaya.

Michael Hoffman, vice president of Community Planning and Allocations at The Associated, said that the current situation in Ukraine epitomizes why the sister city relationship with Odessa is so important, because it enables organizations to raise money in support of these relief campaigns. Hoffman said The Associated has been receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in requests from JDC, JCCs, synagogues and orphanages since November 2013. The need for assistance, he pointed out, has not increased solely from the most recent events in Crimea.

“We are also recognizing this is a very fluid situation,” said Hoffman. “[We are] in contact with partners on a daily basis. Every day you turn on the news, you see a new development. … We’re trying to be as proactive as possible and at the same time we’re responding to the facts on the ground.”

Many who fled Ukraine in past decades have created a large community in Baltimore. Yelena Gelfen, 50, of Reisterstown, left Kiev in 1989, and her husband Alexander left in 1979. They met in the United States. Gelfen’s aunt, Brony Factorovech, 68, still lives in Kiev. Gelfen is in close contact with her aunt and regularly sends money to help her out.

“During the problems in Kiev, we sent her money more often because the banks were closed,” said Gelfen. “She [was] afraid to go out. … People started to buy nonperishable items, and they panicked.”

Vladimir Volinsky, 44, also came to the U.S. from Ukraine. He still has relatives in Kiev, and his mother communicates with them regularly. Volinksy has been associated with a Jewish assistance organization in his hometown of Belaya Tzerkov, just south of Kiev, a town where the Jewish population has dwindled to about 1,500.

“We’re trying to [help out the Ukranians],” said Volinsky, “been trying since before the revolution started.”

In absence of a crisis, about $1 million per year supports a variety of needs and services in Odessa, said Hoffman. So far, about $100,000 has been sent in relief funds, combined from The Associated’s allocations as well as from donations to its Ukraine Assistance Fund, which were sent in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America and distributed to partners on the ground in Ukraine.

“There is the hope that things get quiet and we can focus on core business,” said Hoffman, “but I’m always amazed by the strength of our community.”

To donate to the Ukraine Assistance Fund go to, or send a check to:

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
101 W. Mount Royal Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21201
Attn: “Ukraine Relief”

For more information or questions, call The Associated Donor Center at 410-369-9300.