Each week Rosendorff’s Bakery transforms 7,500 pounds of flour into challah and challah rolls. At its kosher baking facility in Pikesville, the aroma of dozens of breads and rolls is hard to adequately describe, as is the effect of Gary Rosendorff’s lilting South African accent and his bubbling infectious laugh. (Have a listen below.)

“Even as a child, I loved to bake bread,” said a smiling Rosendorff, patriarch of the family-owned and operated bakery. “You take these things that are kind of inedible — flour and oil and eggs, none of these things are appetizing — you mix them together and you put some yeast into it, and it turns into something completely different. It’s always been a magical thing for me.”

Many Jewish families in the greater Baltimore-Washington area have torn into a loaf of Rosendorff’s tender, slightly sweet bread at the start of a Shabbat meal. According to the longtime baker, a lot goes into each loaf, from high-quality ingredients and a rich history to hard work and loving care.

Rosendorff, 58, was born in the small town of Bloemfontein, where the Jewish community was about 400 families, but Jewish education more or less ended with a bar or bat mitzvah. As he got older, the “nonreligious Jewish life” was not enough for him, so in his mid-20s, Rosendorff went to study in Israel. It was there that he met Sara, from Providence, R.I., who became his wife. They started a family, and he needed to provide for them.

Rosendorff admits he has always gravitated toward work that required physical creation — not art, but craft, in the utilitarian sense. He chose to become a ritual scribe, creating scrolls for mezuzahs and tefillin while living in Israel. In 1995, after moving his family to Baltimore, he worked at a matzah factory, but it was seasonal work; the job ended the week before Passover.

As fate would have it, his first “business” career would begin while standing in line at Liebes Deli waiting for chopped liver. Rosendorff struck up a conversation with the man behind him, told him his story and that he was new to Baltimore. The man told Rosendorff to come and interview at his company; a few days later, Rosendorff began working at the man’s wholesale electronics business.

“Everything I know about business I learned from these people,” said Rosendorff. “You think there’s no connection between baking and electronics, but you’ve got to buy your product, you’ve got to sell it, and you’ve got to collect your money; it’s much the same kind of thing. You’ve got to bake the bread, you’ve got to find the customers, you’ve got to sell it, and you’ve got to collect the money.”

It was another seemingly random conversation that sparked the idea to sell challah. Rosendorff and his wife baked challah regularly, giving it away to family and friends. But in 1996 while doing taxes, his accountant warned him that he wasn’t making enough money and suggested selling challah from his home to perhaps make a few thousand dollars a year. Rosendorff was shocked at the suggestion that he might make that much selling challah.

“That’s how we started selling,” said Rosendorff, still displaying some disbelief. “We could only put four challahs in the oven at a time, and you had to flip the challahs, so I spent most of Thursday night making four challahs at a time. Maybe the first week we made 10 or 12 challahs. There were a lot of late nights and early mornings and stress. We did that for a few years.”

Then Rosendorff lost his “day job.” He took stock of his situation and believed that, at his age, he couldn’t possibly look for a job where he would be working for someone else.

“I’m not a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer,” he explained. “I [couldn’t] go around looking for another job. “ I was just kind of thrown into it. Oh, I can’t believe how fortunate I was.”

In 2000, Rosendorff’s Bakery moved into a wholesale space in Menlo Park. About 18 months ago it moved to the larger Pikesville facility,
dispensing products at 28 locations in the Baltimore/ D.C./New Jersey area. Three of his seven children — Yossi, Baruch and Esty — work in the business.

“You’re constantly working with a product that’s moving,” said Yossi Rosendorff, the second eldest son, who has been helping since high school and has worked full time for about 10 years. “You’re starting with scratch in the beginning of the day and you’re ending with product at the end of the day, so it’s a very unique business and a business that requires a lot of love and attention, and blood, sweat and tears.”

The son explains that bread ingredients combined don’t taste like much on their own, and that it is fermentation that creates bread’s flavor; he compares it to making good wine or beer. Rosendorff’s challah ferments between 24 to 48 hours.

“It’s something that you do by taste, by smell and by feel,” continued the son. “Bread is kind of finicky, and it’s not something that’s easy to produce.  Everybody can make bread, but hoping to get a good tasting, well balanced bread is not that easy.”

His father said the most amazing experience he’s had with people since moving to America is that people have wanted to see him succeed. Many have gone out of their way to take him on as a supplier or offer him solid business advice. In the past year, Rosendorff’s has continued to grow with the addition of rye, multigrain and whole wheat breads, as well as a limited amount of cakes, cookies and pastries.

“I can’t say the world is a better place because I bake challah,” Rosendorff said with a laugh, “but maybe it’s a little bit better.”

Jewish Organizations Face Off

BJC Executive Director Arthur Abramson: “We believe that you should not be using public  dollars to discriminate.” (File Photo)

BJC Executive Director Arthur Abramson: “We believe that you should not be using public dollars to discriminate.” (File Photo)

On its surface, legislation being discussed in Annapolis is an effort on the part of the state to stand up to those who would boycott Israel. But the inclusion of financial penalties and ambiguous wording now pits two Jewish communal advocacy organizations on opposite sides, with the Baltimore Jewish Council facing off against the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington over what the measure’s backers say is a solid pro-Israel bill.

Similar bills in the state Senate and House of Delegates, if adopted, would prohibit public universities from paying for its employees to attend conferences or use public funds in any way that would directly or indirectly support academic boycotts of countries that have a declaration of cooperation with Maryland.

Legislators are being asked to support the bill as “a strong way to attack those who are trying to delegitimize Israel,” according to Arthur Abramson, executive director of the BJC; conversely, lawmakers are being lobbied to oppose the effort as “over reaching,” with the possible result of stifling a pro-Israeli voice at those conferences, according to Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC.

While not stated in the legislation under consideration, the idea behind the language stems from the American Studies Association’s boycott of academic institutions in Israel. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is a dues-paying member of the ASA.

Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. (D-District 18), a member of the budget and taxation committee that will hold a hearing on the Senate bill March 5, said this is not the first time he has been lobbied in opposite ways by the Jewish community. He pointed to LGBT and same-sex marriage issues, in with the JCRC in suburban Washington spoke out in support, while the Baltimore Jewish Council stayed silent.

As for the proposed legislation, Madaleno said, “I think both want the same goal, to make sure they realize the boycott movement is wrong and should be stopped.” He added, “The strategy is different, but the end goal is the same.”

He said that while he understands the JCRC’s fear of unintended consequences, “on the other hand, it doesn’t make sense for an American or a Maryland institution to try to boycott an Israeli institution.

“We are not talking about a North Korea or a Syrian institution,” he continued. “The Israeli higher education facilities operate much like ours do. Why would I want to boycott them?”

Del. Benjamin Kramer (D-District 19) introduced the House bill, which  lists 51 co-sponsors. He said the BJC “has been very, very actively involved in supporting our bill. They have been spending a good [amount of] time in Annapolis.”

He has not spoken directly with the JCRC but said, “I have the impression that they are not going to support it, which to me is astonishing.

“If that is the case,” he continued, “they are playing right into the hands of Palestinian sympathizers. I am just astonished. I think that is just absolutely shameful.”

Halber said that while he is opposed to the bill “in its current form,” he would rather come up with a resolution both sides could get behind.

Many universities, including the 12 institutions that comprise the University System of Maryland, have already come out strongly against the ASA boycott, leading Halber to ask of the legislative front, “What are we trying to accomplish?”

If passed, the legislation would prohibit the use of public funds at institutions involved in boycotts and would reduce by 3 percent the amount the university would receive the following year.

There are “very robust ties between Maryland universities and Israel,” explained Halber. But if the bill becomes law, that could change, he said.

“We want professors to go to that conference. Why would we do anything to prevent pro-Israel discussion?” he questioned, calling that against JCRC policy. “There is a point where you go too far and you overreach. We’ve now reached that point.”

If the legislators want to go on record against the ASA boycott, a resolution condemning it would be appropriate, suggested Halber. “We despised what ASA called for. We had an action alert against it.”

“Sometimes you have to realize when you actually won and not beat it to death,” he said.

But Abramson disagreed.

“We feel that the bill that Delegate Kramer and Sen. [Joan Carter] Conway (D-District 43) have submitted is a strong means to attack those who are trying to delegitimize Israel,” he said. “The whole bottom line of all of this is this is not all about the Arab-Israel war. What this is, is very, very fair. … We believe that you should not be using public dollars to discriminate. That’s what this bill is all about.”

According to Abramson, the original idea for the bill’s language, which was based on a similar bill proposed in New York, risked not making it to the hearings stage. The scope was too broad, and portions hedged close to being unconstitutional. With this in mind, the BJC worked with legislators to draft a version that singled out countries or countries with academic institutions with which the state of Maryland has a declaration of cooperation. A provision was also inserted that ensures that public university employees are free to join an organization like the ASA using their own funds, an addition Abramson said protects free speech.

Abramson believes that the fact that the current bill lacks JCRC support could hurt the effort in the long run.

“Their not being behind it certainly doesn’t help,” he said.

Kramer agreed.

“Quite frankly,” he said, “I am confident if this bill does not pass, all of Israel’s enemies that are supporting the boycott will be popping the corks off the champagne bottles and toasting the JCRC.”

He questioned how the JCRC can be against a law because it includes a penalty.

“Why have a law if there are no sanctions, no penalties? Penalties are what cause people to abide by the law,” argued Kramer. “The penalty will mean nothing unless a university decides to violate the law.”

The JCRC isn’t the only organization coming out against the bill. The 12 presidents from the University System of Maryland “stand united against ASA’s call to boycott Israeli academic institutions” and also “stand opposed to Senate Bill 647/House Bill 998,” they announced in a Feb. 24 letter to members of the General Assembly. “This well-meaning but ultimately misguided response to ASA’s actions would only serve to undermine academic freedom further.”

In a phone interview, Patrick J. Hogan, vice chancellor of government relations with the University System of Maryland, said the bills were too broad and could penalize a university for following a boycott that actually makes sense, like what happened with the apartheid movement in South Africa.

“We feel it does impinge upon academic freedom,” said Hogan. “We are worried about the unforeseen circumstances.”

In late January, a bill passed the New York Senate that would prohibit the use of state funds to pay for membership in academic institutions participating in a boycott of a country or academic institutions in a country chartered by the state’s Board of Regents. Both the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League took positions against the legislation.

The Assembly version of the New York bill was held up when one of the sponsors removed it from consideration. A similar, revised version is expected to be reintroduced.

In Congress, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced the Protect Academic Freedom Act, which, according to Roskam’s press office, would “block federal funding for American universities engaging in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom.”

Suzanne Pollak is senior writer at Washington Jewish Week. Heather Norris is staff reporter at Baltimore Jewish Times.

All In The Family

It’s been almost 14 years since Emily Hecht and Owings Mills-based psychologist Eve Band published “Autism Through a Sister’s Eyes: A Young Girl’s View of Her Brother’s Autism.” Nowadays, Hecht, who grew up in Pikesville, is a 23-year-old graduate student at Washington University in Indiana. Recently, she recalled what it was like for her as she began to sense that her brother, Daniel, wasn’t like her friends’ older siblings.

“I started to notice he was different,” she shared. “He liked different kinds of TV and movies, babyish stuff, and he was two years older than me. I got embarrassed by his expressions and mannerisms because they weren’t age appropriate. So my parents took me to see Dr. Band to talk about it.”

The Hechts are far from alone. While they sought help from a private clinician, the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study found that 54 percent of those surveyed had sought assistance from a Jewish community agency for a family member with a physical or developmental disability, 50 percent for a child with a learning disability and 30 percent for treatment of an emotional problem such as depression or anxiety.

The study did not address the issue of siblings of children with special needs, but anecdotally at least, even with organizations that offer programming catering to the whole family, siblings can easily get short shrift when so much attention is paid to patients coping with a host of conditions.

When Emily came to her office, Band wanted to recommend a book for siblings of children with special needs, but to her surprise she found that little had been written on the topic.

“So we decided I would write my feelings and thoughts as a therapeutic exercise,” related Hecht, “and after a while, Dr. Band said, ‘We really have something here. It could be helpful not just for you, but for other kids too.’ “

As it turns out, Band treats many siblings of children with special needs.

“There are lots of emotional issues that are challenging, and it’s important for them to h ave a voice,” said the psychologist. “I appreciate that more and more.”

Stacy Israel, special needs coordinator for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, has personal experience with the phenomenon. She grew up with three siblings with, as she likes to say, “varying abilities.” Like Band, Israel believes that it is important that siblings of children with special needs have opportunities to express their feelings.

“My message to siblings is, ‘Don’t be afraid of your feelings,’ “ she explained. “In some situations, having a sibling with varying abilities can be confusing or embarrassing. Your feelings may swing back and forth between embarrassment and protectiveness. Realize that this is normal, and don’t feel guilty.”

Parents, said Band, need to do their part by listening to their child’s feelings of resentment, fear and pain even when they are hard to hear. At the same time, they need to be attuned to what their children may not be saying but may be feeling.

“Young children need to know they will be taken care of — that they are safe. And some children may be afraid the disability is contagious,” said Band, stressing that parents should avoid letting siblings take on caretaking roles and shouldn’t expect perfect behavior.

Talking to children about a sibling’s special needs, continued Band, can be fraught with challenges. There’s the child’s own age and development level to contend with, as well as the nature of the sibling’s needs. Some children might want to know why a brother or a sister does particular things, while others might have known for some time that “their sibling is different,” she said.

That was the case for Evan and Drew Taubenfeld.

When their sister was about 2 or 3 years old “and I was about 10, she needed all these surgeries,” related Evan Taubenfeld, 30. “They had nothing to do with her autism, but as a kid, it kind of all mixes together in your mind. After that, it seemed like something was always wrong.

“My parents intuitively knew something wasn’t right, but this was before everyone was aware of autism,” he continued. “I watched my parents being worried, and I just wanted my sister to be happy and healthy. We started going to see all these specialists. It would be kind of like group therapy, but we wouldn’t talk about anything; we just were supposed to play with Annie in front of these people.”

Their mother, Ami Taubenfeld, is the cofounder and executive director of Itineris, a program for adults with autism. She talks with her sons about this time in their lives often.

“Annie was misdiagnosed for a long time, so my husband and I were very much consumed with our research,” said Taubenfeld. “But at the same time, we were both working and the boys were in middle school. They had homework and baseball games. It was very stressful.

“Annie has a pleasant personality, but she didn’t have language [skills] until she was 5 or 6, so it was hard for her to tell us what she needed,” added the mother.

Even though Taubenfeld and her husband, Mark Taubenfeld, tried to shelter their sons from their daughter’s condition, event-ually the boys “felt strongly that this was a family issue,” she said. “And they never wanted to treat Annie like she was special. They just treated her like one of the team.”

Taubenfeld sometimes asks her sons if they had an “awful” childhood, but, she said, “they always say they had the best childhood ever.”

To be sure, things aren’t always so easy for other families. Therapists, counselors and psychologists point out that much hinges on a child’s particular conditions and a family’s specific situation.

For one Baltimore family, whose members chose to remain anonymous given the nature of their experiences, rarely is there a reprieve from the crises that are symptomatic of their son’s mental illness. His 11-year-old sister is naturally affected by the constant upheaval.

At an early age, the family’s older child, now 19, transgender and living as a woman, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. The child has since carried multiple diagnoses, the most recent of which is borderline personality disorder.

The child’s mother remembered the time several years ago when she sat down her younger daughter to explain that her brother “had some problems.”

Purple Line Under Scrutiny

Purple Line Preferred Alternative map (Provided)

Purple Line Preferred Alternative map (Provided)

One of the four teams invited to submit a bid to operate Maryland’s proposed Purple Line will be prohibited from winning the contract under a bill introduced in the state’s General Assembly unless its parent company pays reparations to those it transported to Nazi death camps during World War II.

Keolis America, a U.S. affiliate of the French rail company Society Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF), is part of Maryland Purple Line Partners, which hopes to be awarded the 35-year, $6 billion contract to operate the proposed 16-mile transit line between New Carrollton and Bethesda. SCNF has a 70 percent stake in Keolis, according to a 2012 news release.

According to the bill, a public entity would not be considered a qualified bidder unless it disclosed its involvement in transporting Nazi prisoners and paid reparations to them or their families. The Senate version of the bill will have a hearing March 7 before the Budget and Taxation Committee. The House version will be heard March 10 before the Ways and Means Committee.

SNCF transported 76,000 Jews and thousands of others to the death camps, according to Baltimore resident Leo Bretholz, who worked for days to free himself and jump out a train window before ending up in Auschwitz. These trains traveled from the suburbs of Paris to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 to 1944. SCNF was paid per person per kilometer to provide the trains, cars and manpower.

However, a spokesman for SNCF denied that his company acted on its own, calling the allegations “patently false and misleading.”

According to a statement from SCNF, “On July 24, 1940, senior Nazi Col. Werner Goeritz seized control of SNCF operations and facilities and posted a grave notice to all employees in work sites across occupied France that all SNCF employees were subject to the Nazi laws of war. Execution was ordered for anyone deemed in ‘non-compliance’ with requests by the Third Reich. More than 800 SNCF employees who resisted Nazi orders were executed — by axe — and more than 1,200 additional SNCF railroaders were sent off to death camps and murdered.

“SNCF employees who operated deportee trains in occupied France did so under the orders of Nazi Col. Goeritz and under the guard of an average of 41 Nazi SS soldiers, knowing that any disobedience would result in the murder of themselves and their families,” according to the company statement.

However, Delegate Kirill Reznik of Montgomery County disagreed, stating, “The reality is this company was responsible for transporting 72,000 people. They took the property off them. They made the decision on their own to use cattle cars.”

The Nazis didn’t dictate how the transport was to be done, said Reznik.

“The money [SNCF] made laid the way for them to grow” into the large company it is now, argued Reznik, who along with state Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore, introduced the bill. Maryland residents should not have to pay taxes or tolls to this company, he stressed.

“It was 70 years ago, but they were very much complicit in the Holocaust,” he said. “All we are asking for is a little compensation from a company that has benefited greatly from the Holocaust.”

Conway added: “SNCF’s continued refusal to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust remains insulting to its victims and deeply troubling.”

Two members of Congress last month sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation, urging it “to take into consideration the relationship between Keolis and SNCF as it reviews finalists for the Purple Line and to not ignore its moral obligation to the Holocaust survivors who proudly call Maryland home.”

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wrote in their letter that “if awarded, the state of Maryland’s contract with SNCF for the Purple Line may be paid out of the very pockets of taxpayers who the company once willingly transported to the death camps. While we look forward to the innovative Purple Line, we do not believe that it should be done through the partnership of Keolis as an entity of SNCF until its victims are awarded their long overdue justice.”

Bretholz, who is 92 years old, posted a petition on asking for help to “hold SNCF accountable and support justice for myself and hundreds of similarly situated Holocaust survivors.” As of Tuesday, more than 106,000 had signed the online petition.

Bretholz was 21 when he was forced into a crowded train that had only one small bucket to be used as a common toilet. He and a friend painstakingly worked at the two bars across a small opening until they broke away. Then they jumped from the moving train, he recalled.

While he worked at those two bars, most of the people in the train “tried to talk us out of it. They said, ‘Don’t do it. They will punish us,’ “ Bretholz said in April 2013 as he spoke on Capitol Hill in favor of a federal Holocaust Rail Justice Act that currently sits in committee with no vote scheduled.

In 2012, Keolis was in line to be awarded a $200 million state contract for passenger railroad service on the Camden and Brunswick lines of the MARC commuter rail system. The state passed a similar law in 2011 to hold SCNF accountable. But Keolis was not the lowest bidder and did not obtain the contract.

If enough funding is provided through a combination of federal, state, local and private funds, construction on the Purple Line is expected to begin in 2015; the line would begin running in 2020.

Route to Recovery

Sam Bierman (left) and Zach Snitzer have a unique approach to substance-abuse treatment. (David Stuck)

Sam Bierman (left) and Zach Snitzer have a unique approach to substance-abuse treatment. (David Stuck)

The death of revered actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this month has refocused the attention of the nation on the epidemic of drug addiction.

Hoffman, who reportedly died from a heroin overdose, was discovered alone in his New York City apartment with a hypodermic needle in his arm on Feb. 2. Although heroin is widely viewed as the province of the lower classes, Hoffman’s death, say local recovery advocates Zach Snitzer and Sam Bierman, drove home the truth of the matter: Drug addiction is an equal opportunity illness; it does not discriminate.

Snitzer and Bierman, founders of the new Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, are living proof of this fact. Snitzer, 34, grew up in a Jewish family in Owings Mills and began using drugs at the age of 12; he was addicted to heroin but finally got sober at age 27. Bierman, 30, a native of the affluent Long Island community of Roslyn, N.Y., also began using drugs at the age of 12 and found sobriety when he was 23. The two men, along with Snitzer’s wife, Aura Arslanian, also a recovering addict, met after undergoing drug rehabilitation in Florida.

After all three had been sober for approximately a year, they found employment in the addictions field. “We used to sit around and talk about how great it would be to go up North and start our own substance abuse treatment center there,” said Bierman. At the time, he said, it was only a dream.

After Arslanian became pregnant, she and Snitzer decided they wanted to raise their child closer to family. At first, they moved to New York City, where Arslanian grew up, but about a year later, they decided to relocate to Baltimore. With Bierman, they began to look into what Baltimore had to offer in terms of substance-abuse treatment.

“The first thing we noticed was that no one was providing the level of treatment we wanted to provide,” said Bierman. “We wanted to focus on long-term treatment centered on the underlying issues that caused the addiction. We also believe in providing treatment to the addict’s family as well as the addict.”

“And we saw kids being shipped [from Baltimore] down to Florida [for treatment],” added Snitzer. “It doesn’t have to be like that. Families don’t have to be separated.”

Soon, Snitzer and Arslanian succeeded in luring Bierman away from his job at Caron Renaissance, a rehabilitation center in Boca Raton, Fla. They found funding through a private investor who believed in their mission and opened MARC several months ago.

Snitzer and Bierman believe the treatment model they offer at MARC is unique to private addiction care in Maryland.

“A lot of treatment programs look at a heroin addict and they think heroin is the problem,” said Bierman. “If you separate the person from the drug, everything will be OK. But that’s not true. It’s the underlying pain the addict feels that is causing the problems. Ninety percent of our population is suffering from some sort of trauma, loss, physical or sexual abuse, adoption, divorce. These issues take time to address. There’s this 28-day model that’s caught on, but 28 days isn’t long enough. It’s just waiting for the sleeping giant to awake.”

“One thing we looked at in our research about Baltimore was that [programs] spent very little time focusing on the addict’s family,” noted Snitzer. “Addiction is a family disease. Typically, families misunderstand addiction. They’ll say, ‘Here’s my son or daughter; fix them, and we’ll pick them up in 28 days.’ People don’t realize the importance of reaching out to the family. They [the families] also feel alone and ashamed.”

MARC offers medically supervised detox, partial hospitalization programs for adolescents and adults, individual therapy, therapeutic groups such as relapse prevention and anger management, interventions and family counseling. Also provided are vocational counseling and an education and prevention program for DWI and DUI offenders.

“Our programs have a 90-day minimum, but it doesn’t always turn out that way,” said Snitzer. MARC’S outpatient treatment program for adolescents takes place three days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and a similar program for adults operates four days a week from 9 a.m. to noon.

“We have an alumni engagement program. If you stay clean and sober for 90 days, you can attend group therapy for free as long as you want,” said Bierman. “Studies show that the longer an addict engages in treatment, the better they do.”

In addition to the treatment provided at MARC, Snitzer and Bierman also encourage attendance in 12-step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous.

“We owe our lives to AA,” said Snitzer. “All of us are involved in 12-step programs, and they are great in collaboration with what we do. We do treatment here, and AA is what addicts should do outside.”

Bierman said that he and Snitzer are trying to establish relationships with local high schools and colleges.

“A lot of drug use starts at those ages, and the schools aren’t really equipped to deal with it,” he explained. “We say, ‘Look, you don’t want to expel students [who are using drugs]. Let us treat them. We’ll work around their school schedules and make it possible for them to stay in school.’”

Snitzer pointed out that when someone well known such as Hoffman dies, it serves as a reminder that addiction doesn’t only happen to poor, indigent people from the inner cities.

“People like to think, ‘That’s not me.’ There is so much shame and stigma,” said Bierman. “We like to put a face on addiction. It’s a chronic progressive illness, not a moral failing. There are resources out there that can help.”

For more information about the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which is located at 110 West Road in Towson, Suite 410, visit

Candidates Game for Decriminalization

(Photo David Stuck)

(Photo David Stuck)

Maryland gubernatorial candidates have voiced their support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Democrat from Montgomery County, introduced House Bill 879, which would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $100. Individuals under 21 caught with marijuana would be required to take drug education classes.

Fellow Democratic candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler have both voiced their support for decriminalizing marijuana, but neither responded to Mizeur’s invitation to testify in Annapolis in support of the bill.

“Attorney General Gansler supports working with law enforcement to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts,” Gansler spokeswoman Katie Hill said via email. “He believes any discussion of complete legalization should include Maryland’s health professionals, law enforcement and community organizations.”

Brown wrote Mizeur a letter that cited racial disparities in Maryland marijuana possession arrest rates and the economic toll on law enforcement. In 2010, African-Americans were almost three times more likely to be arrested for possession than Caucasians, he wrote. Four years ago, Brown’s letter said, Maryland spent $55.3 million in police costs to enforce the current law.

“Decriminalization isn’t about encouraging drug use; it’s about putting our resources in the places where they’ll do the most good,” wrote Brown. “It’s about helping young people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana find a better way forward instead of putting them through the revolving door of our justice system.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Vaeth, a former Baltimore City firefighter, also supports decriminalization. The house bill’s co-sponsors include attorney general candidates Delegates Aisha Braveboy, Bill Frick and Jon Cardin, Gansler’s running mate, Delegate Jolene Ivey, and Delegate Dan Morhaim, a physician and longtime medical marijuana proponent.

“This session, we have an opportunity to change policies that have ruined lives, made our communities less safe and wasted valuable law enforcement resources,” Mizeur’s wrote in her letter to Brown and Gansler.

The bill mirrors legislation Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced last year, which passed the Senate but did not pass the House. SB 364, which Zirkin and Sen. Allan Kittleman introduced this session, will come up for a hearing on Feb. 25. It would make possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine and would allow judges to order juveniles caught with small amounts to perform community service or attend drug treatment and drug education classes.

“This is not some radical proposition,” stated Zirkin. “This is something that has been done in many states across the country.”

He said it’s not surprising that gubernatorial candidates support decriminalization, since potential problems such as increased drug use, the gateway drug effect and driving under the influence have not increased in states that have gone the decriminalized route.

“With every bill you look at the positives and negatives,” said Zirkin. “The negatives just don’t exist.”

Some of those watching the race for governor don’t think the decriminalization debate will play much of a role.

“I don’t think voters are paying attention to the General Assembly in terms of the gubernatorial race,” said political columnist Laslo Boyd, managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors. He added that he didn’t think the legislation would pass.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said he wouldn’t support legalization, is “not much in favor” of decriminalizing marijuana, he said on the Marc Steiner radio show.

“We’ll continue to watch implementation of new laws in Colorado and Washington along with the impact of those laws on public health and safety,” O’Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said via email. “We’ll also await further guidance from the federal government on enforcement.”

Building Blocks

Aleph Learning Institute founder and director Rochelle Kaplan (Kirsten Beckermann)

Aleph Learning Institute founder and director Rochelle Kaplan (Kirsten Beckermann)

Flitting around the Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland building with the busy energy of a hummingbird, Rochelle Kaplan, founder and director of the Aleph Learning Institute, set out warm drinks on a very cold day in anticipation of her students. The latest snowfall and frigid weather did not deter her, as the full-day program of Aleph Wednesdays — The Power of One was about to begin, somewhat surprisingly, with a yoga and Pilates class led by certified fitness trainer Malkie Raskas.

“We have to be strong, we have to be healthy,” said Kaplan. “You have to exercise and strengthen the body to be able to serve God, because it removes illness, it prevents illness. [Aleph Wednesdays] is a well-balanced program.”

Aleph Wednesdays is the latest offering developed by Kaplan, and it is a special feature of the Aleph Learning Institute, which she launched in 2011. An amalgam of one-on-one and group study courses, lectures, cooking classes and self-help workshops, the institute offers a smorgasbord of topics open to all who are interested. Customized learning and an unconventional approach are also hallmarks of the program.

Aleph Wednesdays asks that attendees commit one entire day each week to study. The program was designed to incorporate “heart, mind, space and spirit.” It was developed, in part, because Kaplan saw her personal need to devote more time to Torah and study.

“It’s not making time for me. It’s making time for God,” she explained. “We all are here for a purpose. We get so busy with earning a living, just being able to live. We’re so consumed, we don’t even have a focus or direction. And as a Jewish person, we have a soul purpose.”

Kaplan’s intense dedication has helped make her a driving force in the Jewish community since she arrived. Kaplan and her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, lead Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland and have been in the Baltimore area almost 40 years. The center also offers a prescribed set of courses that are based on a curriculum created by the Jewish Learning Institute, the international adult education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. Those courses are developed separate from, but incorporated into, the Aleph Learning Institute curriculum.

One difference at the Aleph Learning Institute, said Kaplan, is the personalization and customization of studies. The institute accommodates individuals, friends and family members on any topic and for any type of class; anything is feasible, she said. “We really want to extend ourselves to the community and make ourselves available.”

One of the most popular offerings is Aleph Partners, which consists of one-on-one study with Kaplan.

Hillary Wohl, 58, has studied one on one with Kaplan and is a student of the Aleph Learning Institute. A speech and language pathologist, Wohl is an adjunct professor at Loyola University Maryland and serves on the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. She and her husband, Joel, are members of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

“Chabad takes you wherever you are,” said Wohl, who has known Kaplan for many years and has studied more formally with her for the past five years. “You don’t have to know anything. The fact that you’re a Jew is all that matters. People have lost sight of what Judaism is and the gift of it. … I think Chabad is teaching people the gift of Judaism.”

The courses and workshops offered by the Aleph Learning Institute are all based upon Jewish concepts and law but cover a wide range of topics. Money Matters and Personal Investments, the Kabbalah of Food, Bride and Groom the Jewish Way, Nature’s Wealth and Study of the Book of Tanya are a few course titles.

Rachel Gutman, 32, is enrolled in Aleph Wednesdays — The Power of One. Gutman, a member of the Chabad congregation in Pikesville, works part time and takes care of her two children. She makes time in her schedule to attend yoga and Pilates, Kabbalah classes and a Torah Studies class for women.

“The power of one means many things,” said Gutman. “I take it as the power of one decision, one person to grow their spiritual well-being, that’s enough to change them internally. To be open to it — the power within yourself to learn and connect to Hashem.”

The Aleph Learning Institute isn’t Kaplan’s first grand effort. In 2009, she created an annual event called the Jewish Victims of Terror Project; she also raised funds and assembled the design team needed to build a mikvah at the Chabad Center that is open to the whole community. The center recently celebrated the mikvah’s 10-year anniversary.

“After that project and [other] things were underway, I wanted to get into adult education,” said Kaplan. Getting Jews to be more aware of their Judaism is core to Kaplan’s, and Chabad’s, work. Her energy is contagious, and she takes any opportunity to connect with another Jew.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m a campaigner — you know on the road, in the store, anywhere,” she said with a laugh. “That’s me. I’m for the people, with the people, and I also feel like I’m learning from everyone else. … And you have to understand, my husband and I dedicate our lives to educating Jewish people.”

Kaplan’s long-range plans for the Aleph Learning Institute ultimately include an additional building to be erected behind the current synagogue that will house the institute on the second floor. But the courses and events offered now are an effort to cultivate more Jewish learning in the community and work toward that bigger goal.

“It’s the building before the building, meaning if two Jews meet and they think about Torah, this is a big accomplishment,” explained Kaplan, whose gestures and voice accelerate when talking about the institute’s future. “You never know the ripple effect.”

Read about Upcoming Programs at the Aleph Learning Institute.

Double-Edged Sword

As the idea of expanding prekindergarten in Maryland becomes more and more popular on both sides of the political aisle, the details involved in just how to implement the different programs are still a work in progress.

State officials heard from panels of advocates Feb. 12, when discussion began on Senate Bill 332 and House Bill 297, the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014. The bill calls for an extension of prekindergarten services to 4-year-olds from families with maximum incomes of 300 percent of the poverty line, a move the O’Malley administration has said it hopes will help about 1,600 more Maryland children access a pre-K education.

“There is a difference between a child who starts kindergarten with a 3,000-word vocabulary and an 8,000-word vocabulary,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told the House Ways and Means and the Senate Budget and Taxation committees. “And that difference is pre-K.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration has put aside $4.3 million in the 2015 budget for the establishment of a competitive grant program that would award funding to public and private prekindergarten programs that meet state standards. The idea, panelists said last week, would be to establish a geographically diverse system of pilot programs across the state.

“Early childhood education is a good investment,” said Brown.

Two of Brown’s opponents in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), have also proposed plans to expand the state’s pre-K program.

For Jewish preschools, the reaction to the bill is “disappointed but hopeful,” said Karen Barall, Mid-Atlantic director for the Orthodox Union, who testified in support of the bill.

The disappointment, she explained, stems from the fact that state funds come with strings attached. Programs awarded funding must have the right accreditation and teach to curriculum standards set by the state. The section of the community that likely would be most affected — large families with small incomes that are often the most observant — are probably the families that would be least interested in enrolling their children in a school that follows state-mandated curriculums. Even more issues arise when religious instruction enters the mix.

“The basic core for the accreditation,” said Barall, “won’t vary so much from what they currently do.”

But when Delegate Andrew Serafini (R-Washington County) asked Barall about whether she worries that state regulations will water down, and potentially even eliminate, the unique qualities that Jewish programs offer students, Barall said that is an issue the community is working through. She proposed a solution in which half of each day would follow the basic outline of any public school program and the other half, which would not be covered by state funds but rather by parents or private grants, would cover the religious aspects.

In the end, she said, there is a still a lot of unknown. But the potential good it could do for the community gives her and many others hope.

When you raise the limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, a lot of people now receiving scholarships from private preschools will meet that criteria, said Barall. “So that would relieve a burden.”

With some of the burden lifted, synagogues and JCCs could redirect funds previously allocated for scholarships to helping even more families, investing in more classroom supplies and making capital improvements.

At Beth Israel’s Joseph & Corinne Schwartz Preschool, director Rachael Schwartz said the school is in the process of getting accreditation so that, if the bill is passed, it can be in the running for state funds.

Schwartz hopes that professional and creative instructors can find a way to incorporate any state-regulated curriculum into the Jewish learning that already takes place.

“For example, I can teach patterns while teaching a Jewish holiday,” she said. “When we’re teaching a holiday such as Passover and we’re talking about the pyramids, I can bring geometry into that.”

The early years of a child’s education are critical, said Schwartz, and Beth Israel aims to employ instructors who can teach in an interdisciplinary fashion.

“I would hope that we could find a way to make both work,” she said. But, “the bottom line is, we are who we are and we are a Jewish preschool.”

The current pre-K system in Maryland serves children from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty mark — $27,142.50 for a two-person family and $41,212.50 for a family of four. Under the Prekindergarten Expansion Act, that cutoff would be raised to 300 percent of the mark — $46,530 for a single parent of one and $70,650 for a four-person family.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown: Supports raising the cutoff to 300 percent of the poverty rate in line with the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014.

Del. Heather Mizeur: Proposes a four-phased plan that would eventually cover full-day pre-K for all 4-year-olds regardless of income and half-day pre-K for 3-year-olds from families with incomes at or below 300 percent of the poverty line.

Attorney Gen. Doug Gansler: Calls for expanding the current half-day program to a full day for children from families at or below the 300-percent marker.

Stevenson Student Connects with Panamanian Jewry

Congregacion Kol Shearith Israel in Costa del Este, Panama. (Provided)

Congregacion Kol Shearith Israel in Costa del Este, Panama. (Provided)

When Stevenson University senior Avi Miller decided to take a winter class on international marketing in Panama, he knew he wanted to seek out the country’s Jewish community.

Miller, who went to Krieger Schechter Day School and the Shoshana S. Cardin School, wound up having a brief but fulfilling visit to a Reform congregation just outside of Panama City.

“I’ve never had an empanada in a synagogue before,” he remarked after his return.

Miller was part of a 14-student group organized by Stevenson professor Larry Burgee that journeyed to the country as part of a 300-level international marketing class. They interacted with nine Panamanian companies and learned about the global market in a country that sees ships from 180 countries pass through the Panama Canal, said Burgee.

With the help of the class’s group leader, Miller found himself at Congregacion Kol Shearith Israel just northeast of Panama City in Costa del Este. Although he, the group leader and a classmate didn’t get there until after Friday night Shabbat services, he was still able to speak with a past president and the rabbi.

“I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was extremely similar to what I see here in Baltimore,” he said. “I’ve always learned that you can find Jews around the world and they’ll always welcome you, and it was a neat reminder.”

Miller explored the sanctuary and was given a siddur to take home when congregants noticed he was intrigued by it containing Hebrew, English and Spanish. He’s fluent in Hebrew and English and knows a good amount of Spanish as well; the trip was his first opportunity to put his Spanish skills to the test.

Said Miller: “Seeing new places is eye-opening.”

History Lesson

Rubin Sztajer tells Boys’ Latin students and staff that surviving the Nazi concentration camps was “the greatest miracle in the world.” (Heather Norris)

Rubin Sztajer tells Boys’ Latin students and staff that surviving the Nazi concentration camps was “the greatest miracle in the world.” (Heather Norris)

Dozens of boys packed into the school theater at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland last week to listen to Holocaust survivor Rubin Sztajer’s story.

“You people are the future of this country,” Sztajer, an 88-year-old native of Poland, told the standing-room-only crowd assembled in front of him. “You go home to your parents, tell them how you feel about them, how lucky you are to have parents, grandparents, siblings.”

The Feb. 11 talk was hosted by the school’s Jewish Awareness Club in conjunction with The Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education’s Teens Can Identify program. What began as 15 kids interested in hosting a Holocaust talk quickly grew to around 60, said the CJE’s Zack Pomerantz.

Sztajer began by describing the events that led up to his being taken from his family.

It was on a Friday at the start of the war, he said, when his family decided to leave Poland on foot. They walked all day until sunset, when they stopped at a field to rest and eat. The next day, they ran into a soldier who told them that they had been liberated and that they could return to their home. They believed him.

“Monday morning the Holocaust really began for us,” he said.

Torah scrolls were taken from the synagogues and burned, and new laws were enacted that restricted Sztajer’s freedom to even walk on the same sidewalk as a soldier.

In the spring of 1940, he and his family of eight were relocated to a small one-bedroom apartment in a Polish ghetto.

“At 14 I had to grow up; I had to be a man,” he said, as he described to the boys how, with no access to stores, factories, jobs or transportation, he and his brother had to smuggle food from local farms to feed their family.

“April 12, 1942 is one day I will never forget,” said Sztajer. That was the day soldiers arrived to take him to a camp. His mother fought with the soldiers to hold on to her son, but she was overpowered. It was the last time he ever saw most of his family.

“I don’t know what happened to them,” he said of the mother, father, brother and two young sisters he lost in the Holocaust. “I don’t even have a grave to go to.

“They took my family, they took my freedom,” he continued. “They even took my name.”

At the first of six camps Sztajer was sent to, he officially became No. 25685.

He told students how, for the three years and three days he spent in concentration camps, he and the other prisoners were forced to work long days in the freezing cold and oppressive heat. They were given wooden-soled shoes and spent hours on end shoveling dirt from one place to another, and given little to eat.

“How any of us survived, it’s got to be the greatest miracle in the world,” he said.

In 1944 he was moved to another camp. He and the other prisoners were forced to walk through the snow to a train stop, where they were packed so tightly into a car they could hardly move.

“If there is a hell, I’ve been there,” he said, describing how every time someone died during the three days and three nights he spent in the car, the body would be put into a pyramid with the other dead so that there was more space for the living.

When Sztajer finished his story of survival, the students were silent. Some of the staff members who had gathered to hear him speak asked Stzajer about his two remaining family members — a sister in New York and a brother in Florida, neither of whom give public talks about their experience — and his relationship with other survivors. Another person asked whether he would ever consider writing a book about his life.

No, he said. “I don’t want to make any money on six million lives.” Besides, he added, “the story is not mine, it’s theirs.”

As the boys headed out the door to go to their final class of the day, some stopping to thank him for his talk, Sztajer shouted after them, “Don’tforget your parents when you get home!”