Rabbi Delivers State of the City Invocation

Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum delivered the invocation Monday at Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s State of the City address, which focused on making Baltimore a safer place for residents following 2014’s violent start.

“Almighty G-d, grant these public servants wisdom and understanding in their noble pursuit of justice and equality,” said Tenenbaum, as he led city and state officials gathered at City Hall in prayer. “Give them guidance so that they will always be conscious of Your presence and will strive to enact laws with honesty and integrity — in accordance with Your will.”

Tenenbaum, who serves as chaplain for the Maryland Defense Force, received the invitation to open the mayor’s speech from Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, whom Tenenbaum met in November when the two traveled 35 feet into the air on a lift to light the city’s Inner Harbor menorah.

Before the address, Tenenbaum attended the council’s luncheon, during which he spoke with council members about Jewish laws and customs for a sensitivity training session for those who may not be familiar with Jewish culture.

In addition to discussing Shabbat laws and kosher foods — he explained to council members who thought that kosher food was simply blessed by a rabbi that dietary law is more elaborate — he spoke about the Seven Noahide Laws.

“One of the Seven Noahide Laws is to create a peaceful and moral society governed by law,” he said. “And these public servants are messengers of that.”

It is important for elected officials to take the time to learn about the different subsets of their community, said Tenenbaum, adding that “it brings them closer to the community.”


Centering On Care

The Reisterstown Road storefront of Renaissance Adult Medical Center is unremarkable, but pass through the secure entrance and you enter a vibrant world. The energy is palpable inside the walls of this spacious facility: The singing, card playing and lively debate from its senior citizens provide a window into how an adult day center can provide a sense of community for its clients.

Lazar Khodorkovskiy, 80, from Baku, Azerbaijan, has been attending the center for three years.

“I have many friends here,” said Khodorkovskiy, who lives in an apartment building on Park Heights Avenue. “I talk with people … because I’m alone at home. This is my life.”

Catering primarily to Jewish clientele from Russian-speaking countries, the Renaissance Center is part of the decades-long evolution of senior care. Centers like it began as merely an alternative to nursing homes or in-home elder care, but as aging in place has become an attractive option for mobility-challenged seniors and their families, adult day centers have expanded to provide specialized services, allowing seniors the opportunity to stay active, maintain a level of independence, receive the medical care they need and still reside with loved ones.

In Maryland, where regulations govern everything from staff to client ratios and standards of care, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital launched one of the state’s first such centers in the late 1970s, said Michelle Mills, the institution’s director of adult day services. “They had some elders who kept coming every day and didn’t need the nursing home but needed some level of care. So [Levindale] worked with the state, got the regulations and got started that way.”

In addition to its hospital, Levindale, a part of LifeBridge Health that operates as an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, runs two adult day centers and a partial hospitalization program at its complex off of Northern Parkway.

Mills, a 20-year veteran in the senior-care industry, has witnessed adult day centers evolve from ad hoc programs into full-fledged facilities. She said that the overall goal remains for “people to either delay or prevent nursing home placement.”

According to Mills, two factors have helped fuel the growth of adult day care. With advances in medical care, patients in general are living longer but often with chronic, manageable illness. Adult day centers, she said, are able to provide needed care and — because ancillary costs such as living expenses are either nonexistent or much lower — at a cost far lower than that of nursing homes.

In addition, noted Mills, adult day centers are able to answer the challenges faced by hospitals, whose government-imposed reimbursement rules establish penalties whenever patients are readmitted for treatment within 30 days of discharge. If an elderly patient is sent home, for instance, he might not take medications correctly and become unwell again or suffer an accident, necessitating a return to the hospital. An adult day center, said Mills, could prevent that scenario from unfolding.

“When you walk into an adult day center you see all the activities; you see cooking classes and bingo and discussion groups,” she said. “But what’s really going on behind the scenes is all the nursing coordination and reaching out to community doctors.”

Culture Club
At the Renaissance Center, in addition to the medical treatment rooms, several other components fill the enormous former furniture showroom. Sporting a high ceiling and filled with long communal tables and dozens of chairs, the main hall functions as a dining area, performance space, chat area and game room. There is a billiard and dominoes area, and in warmer weather double doors open outside to tables and a patio. Members can take a chair-yoga class, learn computer and English-language skills and visit a small screening room with overstuffed chairs. There is a small library, a medical office, a visiting manicurist and barber and a chess area that Donna Tatro, activities director at the center for four years, said is constantly occupied.

“We’re a mini-city,” said Marina Sokolin, program director at the center.

According to Yelena Gelfen, 51, whose parents Dora, 77, and Gregory Solomyenik, 85, have attended Renaissance for about five years, the program provides peace of mind.

“Oh my God yes, that center is like my savior,” she said. “They’re open seven days a week including holidays.”

Gelfen and her husband work full time and cannot provide the daily medical care and transportation needed for her parents. The Solomyeniks were self-sufficient until several years ago, when Gelfen’s father developed macular degeneration and could no longer see well enough to drive; her mother has had three major surgeries and now needs extra assistance because of severe back problems. Gelfen mentioned a Renaissance driver named Avto, who is so attentive to her mother’s needs that she talks about him as if he were her own son.

Gelfen’s story echoes that of Alexandra Rakhman, 50, who, in addition to her husband, children and brother, works full time and cannot provide the care needed for her mother, Odessa, Ukraine-native Lia Ayzenberg, 87.

Ayzenberg lives at Weinberg Senior Living and has attended Renaissance for two-and-a-half years. Fluent in English and Russian, she worked in the United States after her arrival in 1979. Rakhman explained that it’s not as much the language needs but the cultural comforts that really make the difference at Renaissance.

“The older you get, the more that native culture comes out,” said Rakhman. “The food is more familiar; she still does think in Russian.”

Rakhman pointed out that her mother, like other Russian seniors who have lived in the U.S. for decades, would gladly eat sushi and Chinese food when dining out, but when dining in, she prefers the comfort foods of her native home. Rakhman talks to her mother a couple of times a day and sees her regularly along with the rest of the family, but she admits that her mother needs more than that.

“The level of socialization and care there is amazing,” she said. “It makes me feel nice and cozy while I’m working, and I don’t have to worry.”

Baltimore Community Goes to Annapolis

Many Baltimore residents came to Annapolis on Feb. 5 with the Baltimore Jewish Council to discuss ideas and bills with their district legislators. (David Stuck)

Many Baltimore residents came to Annapolis on Feb. 5 with the Baltimore Jewish Council to discuss ideas and bills with their district legislators. (David Stuck)

More than 100 local community members made their way to Annapolis Feb. 5 to participate in the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Advocacy Day, during which they met with state officials to discuss issues important to the city’s Jewish population.

Among the agenda items for the group were the following: allowing the shipment of kosher wine into Maryland; prohibiting public universities from participating in boycotts of universities in countries with which Maryland has a partnership; increasing financial support of nonpublic schools; helping low- and moderate-income families with covering the cost of utilities; reassessing the state’s Stormwater Management Program; and expediting services for the developmentally disabled.

“The Jewish community does three things that are of vital need,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “They vote, they express themselves about the issues that concern them, and … they tend to support candidates who support their issues. And that works for an environment in which the candidates tend to pay close attention to their constituents and the constituents pay close attention to their candidates.”

Abramson said he was pleased with the event, adding that attendees seemed to be surprised by how much time state senators and delegates spent with the group.

“The more individuals you can get engaged in the process of communicating with their elected representatives, the more effective you can be on certain issues,” said Abramson.

The day began with a briefing by group leaders, after which six groups of advocates traveled to the offices of legislators in six different districts: Districts 10, 11, 41, 42, 43 and 46.

One group began its evening in the boardroom of Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-District 43). After brief introductions, the talk turned to kosher wine.

“I’m into wine,” said McIntosh smiling, as the group told her about its desire to be able to ship wines from online retailers to local stores for pickup.

“I think this will be easier than you think,” McIntosh told the group. “I think we thought we already took care of this.”

(The General Assembly passed a law in 2011 that allowed direct shipments of wine, but a last-minute amendment prevented the inclusion of kosher wine shipments.)

Abba Poliakoff, treasurer of the BJC, brought up the issue of state universities backing various boycotts of Israeli universities.

“There are a lot of universities that have publicly condemned this and even withdrawn their membership,” Poliakoff said of the American Studies Association’s December vote to boycott higher-education institutions. However, with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County still paying membership dues to the organization, the BJC and other Advocacy Day attendees wanted the state to reduce the university’s budget.

“I’m not on those committees [that determine funding for public universities],” said McIntosh, “but, absolutely, you have my support.”

When one group met with Del. Stephen Lafferty (D-District 42), the conversation quickly turned to financial assistance for nonpublic schools.

For many people, “a religious education is essential to having a religious lifestyle,” said Elizabeth Green, who is on the BJC’s board of directors. But many local families cannot afford to provide the kind of education they want for their children. To help, Green said, she and other community members would like to see the state provide a 75 percent tax credit to businesses that donate to public and nonpublic schools.

Lafferty told Green and the other half-dozen participants gathered in his office that finding businesses that would donate to these schools if the credit is approved to advocate on their behalf would give their cause a needed boost. That in itself could be a challenge.

“If people are willing to give money now, do they really need the tax credit to do it?” Green asked the group, adding that they need to find a way to show legislators that approving a tax credit would make a detectible difference.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, grant corporate tax credits for contributions to school tuition organizations.

Other legislators, such as Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11), told visitors about what was on their own agendas, seeking support from the Baltimore Jewish community on issues such as end-of-life care.

Morhaim asked the council representatives and other Advocacy Day participants to help him spread the word about directives that outline an individual’s wishes in advance of illness or injury that might render a patient unable to express himself.


Harry Gets a Kidney


Yossi Burstyn (left) donated a kidney to his cousin, Harry, in December 2013.

Five years ago, Harry Burstyn suffered from kidney failure. Although he beat it and got his kidney functioning again, he wound up on dialysis a year-and-a-half later. He needed a donor kidney.

“They said the wait’s five to eight years, or come back, bring us a donor, and we can do your surgery tomorrow,” said the 50-year-old. “I’m a salesman. I’m proactive. This five to eight years, to me, wasn’t going to work.”

In his search for a donor, Burstyn reached out to the community through a Facebook page, local media, his synagogue, Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Congregation and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where his son is a student. The response was overwhelming.

Within the first week, a stranger from Hagerstown offered to get tested, and the months that followed would see offers from all over the country and around the world.

“It showed there are a lot of good people in the world,” said his wife, Linda Burstyn, who although she was a possible donor, was unable to contribute her kidney.

Burstyn decided to ask his cousin, Yossi Burstyn, whom he considers a nephew, if he would get a blood test. That one test led to months of appointments, more tests and evaluations.

“Test after test after test, I never thought I’d be picked,” said the cousin. It never truly hit him that he might be giving up an organ.

After months of testing, which started in August 2013, a surgery was set for Dec. 3. That’s when the enormity of the situation struck Yossi Burstyn.

All is well for both the recipient and donor after surgery. (Photos Provided)

All is well for both the recipient and donor after surgery. (Photos Provided)

“I kind of do things and think about them later,” he remarked. “Once I had a hard surgery day and I had certain restrictions of eating and stuff before the surgery and pre-op … I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is pretty legit.’”

More than two months later, Harry Burstyn, by his own admission, is on his way to “100 percent.” His wife said he’s watching his diet, exercising and sticking to his medication regime. Burstyn went from being constantly lethargic to newly energized and excited about life.

“Imagine you have a burned-out flashlight and put in brand new batteries and turned on the high beams,” she said. “It’s been really great watching him get better before my very eyes. He’s just gotten so much happier.”

Positive Outcomes
More than 500 kidney transplants were performed in Maryland in 2013, according to available statistics. Johns Hopkins Hospital performed 232 of the procedures, according to Brigitte Sullivan, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center; the University of Maryland Medical System performed 284, according to spokeswoman Meghan Scalea. At Hopkins, 92 kidneys came from living donors; at the University of Maryland, 104.

Although Sinai Hospital does not perform transplants, its staff can perform the necessary tests to determine if a donor is a match and can remove kidneys from donors. Last year, six kidneys were recovered from three deceased donors, said Helene King, a spokeswoman for LifeBridge Health, which operates the hospital.

“Overall, I’d say the outcomes are very good,” said Dr. David Leeser, chief of kidney and pancreas transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “If you look at living donor transplants, the one-year survival rate is greater than 95 percent.”

The half-life of a living donor kidney is about 17 years; the figure falls to 13 to 14 years for a kidney from a deceased donor, and five to seven years for “expanded criteria” kidneys — those donated from older patients or patients with high blood pressure, explained Leeser. Despite the success, it’s not uncommon for someone to need another transplant down the road; some patients have been known to receive up to three transplants.

Waiting times depend on a patient’s blood type: Those with type A blood can expect to wait one to three years; those with type B can wait two to four years; type O translates to a three-to-five year wait; and those lucky enough to have type AB blood can wait as little as six months, according to Leeser. Some patients on dialysis do die while waiting for a transplant, although the health of patients on waiting lists is monitored to inform transplant priorities. Not everyone needing a kidney requires dialysis.

“There are patients whose renal function is poor enough that they can qualify for a transplant but not bad enough to need dialysis,” said Leeser. “Some are lucky to get a transplant right before they need dialysis.”

Medical history shows that the human body can live without one kidney, and donors are tested for renal failure risk prior to surgery, noted the doctor. Less than 1 percent of donors develop renal failure, and donors get priority if they need another kidney.

With a shortage of donors, some organizations work to connect potential matches with those who need transplants. Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Renewal serves as a connector and resource for Jewish kidney donors and recipients and works with several hospitals in New York and New Jersey that perform transplants that are set up through the organization. The group helps expedite appointments, takes donors to hospitals, spends days with them to help navigate the various tests and even connects past donors with future donors.

“The big thing that Renewal does is take the person who is thinking about donating a kidney and getting them to the finish line,” said Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, director of Renewal.

About 50 transplants were performed through Renewal in 2013. The group even had a kidney lined up for Burstyn that wound up going to someone else who needed one.

Another Baltimore resident, Elisheva Rabinowitz, did donate a kidney through Renewal. As she got closer to her surgery date, she had some misgivings but with the help from a couple of rabbis and Renewal, she donated to a Staten Island rabbi in 2007.

She initially saw an advertisement for a needed kidney and felt that she could be a match for the man. Although she went through a lot of pain after the procedure, she said she would do it again.

“I went by the person’s room whom I donated my kidney to [after surgery] and I saw him learning Torah,” she said. “I said to myself it was all worth it, all the pain, everything I went through. … It was all worth it.”

Although she didn’t know her recipient at the time, their families have since gotten together, and he writes to her every once in a while. She wasn’t bothered by the fact that her recipient was neither a family member nor a close friend.

“I really feel like all Jews are connected,” she said, “so it didn’t feel like he was a stranger.”

For Yossi Burstyn, kidney donation was a no-brainer.

“I think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something like this,” he said. “I always wondered, if you could give up a kidney and you could live, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Leeser and Steinmetz both said arranged kidney swaps are helping get kidneys to more recipients. Swaps take groups of potential donors and recipients and pair them up, allowing more patients to receive the kidneys they need.

“It won’t solve the donor shortage, but every transplant we do makes it a little better,” said Leeser. “So, we’re just trying to make incremental progress.”

Those looking for help and advice on kidney donation can contact Harry Burstyn at kidneyforharry@gmail.com.


Willard Hackerman

021414_hackermanWillard Hackerman, president and chief executive officer of the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, died Feb.10 of natural causes at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 95.

Born Oct. 6, 1918, Hackerman grew up in Baltimore’s Forest Park neighborhood. At the age of 16 his parents moved to Hanover, Pa., but he stayed behind in order to complete high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He then attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated from its School of Engineering.

In 1938, at the age of 19 and just out of college, Hackerman was hired as superintendent at Whiting-Turner. He was appointed to the board of directors in 1946 and named president in 1955, only the second in the company’s history. Hackerman served with the company for 75 years until 2013.

Under his leadership, Whiting-Turner rose to become the fourth-largest domestic general builder in the United States with headquarters in Baltimore and 33 regional offices across the country. Locally, the company’s projects include several well-known Baltimore landmarks such as the National Aquarium, M&T Bank Stadium, the Joseph P. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the new University of Baltimore Law School.

“There is no way to overstate what Willard Hackerman has meant to Whiting-Turner,” said the company’s executive vice president, Tim Regan, who has been with the firm for 34 years. “He always played down his own contributions and gave all of the credit to Mr. Whiting and to our employees.

“He is universally and unconditionally loved by everyone in the company,” added Regan. “Thanks to Mr. Hackerman’s vision and foresight, his beloved Whiting-Turner will be strong and independent for generations to come.”

Hackerman’s philanthropy was of great personal importance, extending to many cultural, educational and religious causes in Baltimore.

“His motto was God, then family, then Whiting-Turner,” said his daughter, Nancy Lois Hackerman of Pikesville.

Committed to his Jewish faith and identity, Hackerman supported the local community, serving as general co-chairman of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund’s annual fund drive in 1975 and president of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund from 1981 to 1983. In 1983, he received the Follow Me award by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also was an officer and board member of the former Beth Jacob Congregation and a member of the Board of Jewish Education.

“I’ve never known anyone like him,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated. “He was larger than life, a giant in industry, in philanthropy and in love of family and community. Everyone and everything that came in contact with Willard Hackerman was better because of him. He was principled, a man of conviction, compassion and resolve. Our community suffers a huge loss today.”

Hackerman also served on advisory boards and committees of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, the Baltimore Housing Partnership, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Mayor’s Business Advisory Council. He was known as a creative, civic problem solver, and he held a special interest in the plight of homeless women and children.

“Ours is a healthier, more educated state because of Mr. Hackerman’s generous contributions and will continue to be so for years to come,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement.

Hackerman’s philanthropic connection to Johns Hopkins University remained strong throughout his lifetime as well. He was head of an ad hoc trustee committee that eventually led to the opening of the first named school at Johns Hopkins, the Whiting School of Engineering, named for Willard’s mentor, G.W.C. Whiting. He also created a scholarship program to foster future generations of engineers.

“When, in 2010, we carved his name on Hackerman Hall, it was just one more recognition of the rich influence he had exerted across our School of Engineering,” said Ronald J. Daniels, Johns Hopkins University president. “On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for the friendship, advice and counsel that he extended to me from the time I arrived in Baltimore. I will sorely miss his extraordinary kindness, his large heart and visionary leadership. He represented the best of Hopkins.”

Hackerman and his wife of 72 years, Lillian Patz Hackerman, who met on the steps of the Enoch Pratt Library when they were teenagers, together endowed the Willard and Lillian Hackerman Chair in Radiation Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and created the Hackerman-Patz Patient and Family Pavilion at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, a home away from home for patients to stay comfortably with friends or family. There is also a Hackerman-Patz House at the Anne Arundel Medical Center and at Sinai Hospital of LifeBridge Health.

Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, remembered Hackerman as “modest and private; he didn’t like the spotlight, he gave truly out of the goodness of his heart.”

Meltzer continued: “He’s been involved in every main campaign for our organization. He saw himself as an important part of the Jewish community and saw himself as someone to rely on. He’s been an incredible force for us.”

Hackerman and his wife also purchased a 19th-century Mount Vernon Place mansion and donated it to The Walters Museum. Now called The Hackerman House, it is home to the museum’s collection of Asian art.

Willard Hackerman is survived by his wife, Lillian Patz Hackerman, son Steven Alan Mordecai, daughter Nancy Lois, five grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born the evening Hackerman died.

Community Weathers Storm

(Melissa Gerr)

(Melissa Gerr)

Like so many communities across the country, Baltimore is still reeling from the effects of the most recent storm to hit the East Coast. While some were merely inconvenienced, others suffered the loss of heat and hot water, downed trees and childcare problems caused by school closings and late openings.

According to David Buck, spokes-man for the Maryland State Highway Administration, last week’s weather event marked the 27th time since early December the SHA activated its operations center.

“It’s been almost every three days since Dec. 1,” said Buck. “All our crews do is prepare for storms, fight the storms and clean up after the storms. It’s been hard for crew members to get more than five hours of continuous sleep.”

Buck said that in the last five years, the SHA has spent about $70 million annually for winter operations in Maryland. So far this year, he said, it has already spent $80 million. The budget allotment for this winter, meanwhile, stands at only $46 million. Buck said the budget will be raised by $5 million per year until it reaches a dollar amount closer to what is actually being spent.

“We spend as much as we need to get the job done,” he stated.

Ilene Dackman-Alon of Pikesville said her family’s troubles began Thursday morning when they lost cable and Internet service. By that afternoon, they had lost all power. Her husband, Shay, who works from home and needed Wi-Fi, spent the day at a Panera restaurant in Pikesville. Dackman-Alon and their daughter, Rose, joined him for dinner. “We stayed there until 9 p.m. when they kicked us out. Then we went home and hunkered down with lots of blankets,” she said. “I was wearing three sweatshirts.”

At one point, Shay Alon was so desperate for a warm drink, he took the coffee pot outside and heated water on the grill. All told, the Alons were without power until Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

“We just stayed in bed until the heat came back on,” said Dackman-Alon.

In Reisterstown, Jessica Normington and her family were also among the many Baltimoreans who were without power. Normington said they lost power on Wednesday morning.

“We couldn’t find any flashlights,” she noted. “Since the kids were off and my husband, Scott, works from home, they just stayed in the house with a fire in the fireplace. I went to work.”

After she returned home, still without power, the family headed to the JCC in Owings Mills, where they stayed until bedtime. Then they went to her parents’ house to sleep. For the next two nights, the family, including their dog and guinea pig, would spend much of their time between those two places.

The JCC was a haven for many families during the mass power outages, said its marketing director, Robin Rose-Samuels. “We had power because we have a generator on-site. We have the generator because we are a designated emergency shelter for the state of Maryland.”

In addition to providing members with a comfortable place to weather the storm, the JCC also welcomed nonmembers who needed a place to shower.

Normington said that her children, ages 3 and 7, enjoyed the adventure brought by the storm, but as far as she was concerned it was “a pain in the neck.” Yet, she noted that they have been lucky in the past.

“In the five years we have lived in our house, we’ve never lost power for more than a couple of hours at a time,” said Normington. “During the derecho [in July 2012], we were probably the only street that had power. I felt like it was kind of our turn.”


20 Years of Hope

Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.

Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.
(David Stuck)

When her husband, Ed, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2006, Elise Ziv knew her family needed more than medical attention to cope with the crisis. Fortunately, someone told her about Hopewell Cancer Support. Ed and Elise Ziv and their two boys, Caleb and Coby, then 5 and 7 years old, all received free services from licensed professionals there and, above all, found a community of people who understood what they were up against.

“My husband joined a brain tumor support group, and that helped him to realize he wasn’t the only one going through the illness,” said Ziv, 48. “I joined another group for caregivers of people with cancer. That gave me a place to talk about what I was feeling. I wanted to protect my husband from that.

“The boys went to the Kids Circle,” she continued, “which they loved immediately.”

After her husband passed away in 2011 at the age of 48, the Zivs continued to find comfort at Hopewell. Caleb and Cory attended a grief support group for children, where they were able to share their feelings with other youngsters dealing with the loss of a parent from cancer.

“The facilitators were great,” said their mother. “They gave the kids the words to talk about their grief no matter what they were feeling.”

Ziv still attends a group for “only parents,” those who have lost spouses and still have kids living at home.

“We have a unique situation,” she said. “When you walk into Hopewell, you don’t have to explain yourself. Everybody knows. You can get right to the heart of what’s going on. It’s really been a lifeline for us. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

When it opened 20 years ago, Hopewell was known as the Wellness Community of Baltimore. A local affiliate of a national organization, the Wellness Community was, according to co-founder Suzanne Brace, the first of its kind on the East Coast. A decade ago, the organization split off from the Wellness Community and became Hopewell, an independent entity.

“I had cancer when I was 32 — more than half my life ago — and I was living in California at the time. I looked around for support, and there was nothing for me,” recalled Brace. After recovering, she went to graduate school, became a mental health counselor and eventually moved to Baltimore. “It was pure serendipity. I knew someone who knew I had always wanted to start a wellness community. She suggested we start one in Baltimore.”

For several years, Brace volunteered there and then became its executive director.

Hopewell, which sits on eight acres in a restored farmhouse in Lutherville, offers 125 different programs each month and serves 1,000 people a year, said Brace. In addition to the groups Ziv and her family have attended, Hopewell also offers mind/body healing classes such as yoga, qigong, Nia technique and meditation, expressive arts classes and support groups for specific types of cancer. There are also educational programs and social events.

Brace said that 40 percent of those who receive services at Hopewell are family members of someone with cancer, while 60 percent are people diagnosed with the illness. All of the services are free, and all funding is raised through philanthropy. Hopewell has an annual budget of $1 million.

One of the chief differences between Hopewell and other cancer organizations is that it isn’t a medical setting, said Brace. “We set a tone that says there’s another part of you besides your body that we value. We believe if your mind, soul and spirit can be nurtured you’ll be in a better position to deal with anything that arises.”

Ziv echoed Brace’s sentiments: “People dealing with cancer see too many hospitals. One thing I like about Hopewell is it is so anti-institutional. The minute you drive up to the house there’s this transformation that happens. There’s a feeling of warmth and home and peace. Sometimes I just like to go there and walk around the grounds.”

Brace said that there are no rules or expectations with regard to attendance at Hopewell.

“Some people come once a week; some people come three times a week. Some people don’t come until 10 years after they’re diagnosed,” she said. “There are no limits on how much they attend. It depends on what they need. We meet you on your path and help you through your journey. That’s our philosophy.”

Despite the free services Hopewell provides, Brace realizes that people may be hesitant to reach out for help.

“A lot of people don’t come because they think we will be depressing. But then they walk in and feel right at home,” she said. “The fact is, we see much more laughter than tears. We’re just about the friendliest place in town.”

John Miller discovered Hopewell when he was diagnosed with melanoma 12 years ago. Before Hopewell moved to its current location, the organization rented space in the building where Miller worked.

“I used to see people coming and going with yoga mats and [meditation] pillows. I figured they weren’t going to see their accountant,” the 48-year-old Owings Mill native remarked. “When I got my diagnosis, I strolled upstairs and without knowing what it was, I met the staff and Suzanne Brace. We chatted for a long time about the organization, and I really took to it. I thought, ‘This is a special place.’ So I started fundraising, and they asked me to join the board.”

When his friend, Jim Wolf of Pikesville, was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, Miller reached out and encouraged him to get involved with Hopewell too. For the past eight years, the two, both avid music lovers, have been chairing Hopewell’s annual fundraiser, Concert for Hope, together.

“We have a lot of friends who play in bands for fun, so they performed; we sold tickets and had an auction,” Miller said. “The last couple of years, the event has grown and we decided to expand.

“In 2013, we paid for talent for the first time,” he added. “This year, we’re having [local rock band] The Bridge headlining. It’s even more special to Jim and me since we’ve been seeing them for years; they’re sort of friends, they’re talented and have a nice local following.”

This year’s concert will take place on Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. at Baltimore Soundstage. In addition to The Bridge, the concert will also feature the music of the Hippy Sheiks.

“It’s really geared to music lovers,” said Miller, “and it’s a way to go out for a casual night and support local musicians and a great cause.”

For additional information and to purchase tickets to the Concert for Hope, go to hopewellcancersupport.org/Events.


Czech Torahs Recovered After Holocaust to Reunite

Paula Farbman holds a Torah from the Czech town Divisov that she and her late husband, Leonard, acquired for Temple Oheb Shalom. The scroll is one of 1,564 from Czechoslovakia recovered after the Holocaust. (Marc Shapiro)

Paula Farbman holds a Torah from the Czech town Divisov that she and her late husband, Leonard, acquired for Temple Oheb Shalom. The scroll is one of 1,564 from Czechoslovakia recovered after the Holocaust. (Marc Shapiro)

On Thursday, Feb. 6, Paula Farbman boarded a plane to London with a treasure sitting on her lap. Inside a zipped clothing travel bag and encased in bubble wrap was a Torah scroll that dated to the 1700s and was used in a small Czech town that was decimated by the Holocaust.

The scroll is one of 1,564 Torahs that make up the Memorial Scrolls Trust, which is based at the Westminster Synagogue in London. On Sunday, the trust will commemorate its 50th anniversary in a celebration that will reunite many of these scrolls, which have been loaned to congregations around the world.

“Even though the Nazis tried to destroy the Jewish people, they failed, and this is a living testament to the vitality and vibrancy of the Jewish people,” said Temple Oheb Shalom’s Rabbi Steven Fink, whose painted portrait features the Torah in the background.

While synagogues throughout industrial and commercial towns in the Sudetenland — the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia — were mostly destroyed, others in the country, including in Prague, were not. After mass deportations removed most of the Czech Jewish population by early 1943, those remaining, which included half-Jews and those from mixed marriages, were tasked with liquidating Jewish property in those towns. The scrolls and many other artifacts were sent to Prague, and the remaining Jews were eventually deported in 1943 and 1944. Few survived.

Many of the synagogue’s scrolls wound up at the Michle Synagogue in Prague and were stored in damp conditions. An American art dealer, Eric Estorick, who was living in London and traveled to Prague frequently in the early 1960s, saw the scrolls and was upset by their condition. He contacted a rabbi at the Westminster Synagogue, and a congregant named Ralph Yablon later bought the scrolls for the equivalent of $30,000. The scrolls arrived at the Westminster Synagogue on Feb. 7, 1964.

The trust was established to refurbish the Torahs and loan them to congregations throughout the world. More than 1,000 scrolls were loaned to American congregations, with Baltimore City being home to at least 10 scrolls at one point.

Farbman and her late husband, Leonard, acquired one of the Torahs for Oheb Shalom in 1990.

“We were fortunate enough not to have to live through those times in those places, but I had many of my relatives die,” said Farbman. “It’s just the fact that this was available, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

According to a letter written to Oheb Shalom in 1988 by the late Frank Steiner, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Florida and helped original trust chair Ruth Shaffer, Farbman’s Torah is from a small community named Divisov, which is located in the Czech province of Bohemia about 32 miles southwest of Prague. According to the letter, Jews lived in Divisov before 1685. The Jewish community established a cemetery in 1776, and it had a synagogue with a religious school and a mikvah. After 1893, the congregation could no longer afford a rabbi and joined the Jewish community in the nearby city of Benesov; it only used the Divisov building on High Holy Days. At the time of the writing, the building was a barber shop, Steiner wrote.

Farbman, whose grandchildren comprise the fifth generation of Oheb Shalom membership, is flying to London with her four children and their spouses. She said neighbors and friends have been moved to tears upon hearing the story.

“This is such a wonderful thing; everyone I’ve spoken to, their eyes fill up,” she said, noting that a non-Jewish neighbor cried when Farbman explained to her the Torah’s significance.

Fink said Oheb Shalom uses the Torah on Erev Yom Kippur, and one of Farbman’s sons holds the Torah at the service.

Rabbi emeritus Donald Berlin was at the congregation when the Torah was acquired. He was familiar with the Czech scrolls since he was rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Roanoke, Va., in the 1960s, when it acquired one of the Torahs.

“This is a way of maintaining an aliveness of both Torah and Judaism and of those people [from Divisov] all at once,” he said.

Baltimore’s connection to Jews from Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia goes deeper than these scrolls, said Berlin. As a thriving entry port to the United States for German Jews in the 1800s and then again for Jews fleeing Europe in the 1930s, Baltimore had a large German-Jewish community.

“Oheb Shalom was one of the congregations where many of them identified,” explained Berlin. “But almost all of the people had relatives that were murdered in the war.”

Oheb Shalom even had its own survival story: Two sisters were reunited when one came to Baltimore after surviving the Holocaust, joining her sister who fled before the war.

These connections are exactly what the Memorial Scrolls Trust hopes to foster. With the scrolls distributed around the world, those from the trust want them to be recognized for the treasures that they are.

“Now, we’re trying to stimulate conversations to use these scrolls to tell the story of the Holocaust,” said Susan Boyer, the U.S. director of the trust. “This mission has changed, and now it’s to make that connection [within the congregations] and to not let these scrolls become forgotten survivors.”

Boyer said many congregations have made connections with the villages their scrolls are from, and she has even attended a bat mitzvah in Moravia, where a scroll was brought back to the village that it came from.

Part of Boyer’s job, a volunteer position, is to keep track of the scrolls, quite a task in recent years with a number of American congregations closing and merging with others.

“They’re very, very precious and very important, and their importance grows with each year,” she said.

Evelyn Friedlander, chair of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, said that a couple hundred scrolls have been lost.

“We’re constantly doing detective work,” she said.

Friedlander planned the commemoration, which she expects to bring more than 200 people to the Westminster Synagogue. Guests are bringing more than 40 Torahs with them.

“What’s so special about [the scrolls] is the fact that they’re alive; they’re used,” said Friedlander said. “Congregations that these Torahs came from are no more. Very few Jews survived from all of these small towns. Only scrolls are such a potent memorial to these people.”

The Czech Torah Scrolls from Nora de Angelli (Nora Anghelescu on Vimeo.


Tackling A ‘Challenging Point’

Sen. Roger Manno (left) and Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III (right), president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, discuss the ASA boycott. (Melissa Gerr)

Sen. Roger Manno (left) and Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III (right), president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, discuss the ASA boycott. (Melissa Gerr)

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Greg Simmons, vice president, testified at a hearing of the budget and taxation subcommittee on education in Annapolis. The testimony, which was met with general praise, included plans of innovative course redesign, use of data analytics and collaboration with educational institutions.

Most questions posed by committee members directly related to the testimony except for Sen. Roger Manno (D-District 19) of Montgomery County. Though not directly related to the testimony, Manno’s statement was intimately linked to the future UMBC budget.

“I’m hoping we can continue our conversation about the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I hope we can resolve this,” Manno said to Hrabowski at the hearing.

Manno was referring to “intense but productive” conversations he had with Hrabowski prior to the hearing.

Many academic institutions nationwide — including UMBC — posted a public statement denouncing the ASA’s boycott last month.  However, several institutions still have American Studies departments that hold a membership in the ASA, and UMBC is one of them.

Hrabowski’s official UMBC statement reads: “We oppose academic boycotts because they are inconsistent with the tenets of academic freedom and open scholarly inquiry. We agree … that such boycotts are antithetical to academic freedom. We are committed to protecting the rights of our faculty and students to express freely their beliefs and to engage in debate as they examine complex issues. That position also is consistent with our legal obligation, as a public university, to respect First Amendment rights to freedom of association and speech.”

Hrabowski explained to the Senate committee that there are five faculty members in the UMBC American Studies department, and they don’t all agree. He said some believe they should just pull out of ASA membership completely, and some do not, instead believing the issue warrants more discussion and debate.

“But that point is a sticky point right there,” said Hrabowski. “And right now, it is a challenging point.

“The No. 1 point I want to make is this,” he continued. “We — the university — are against the boycott, we think that the American Studies Association is wrong, and, equally important, we are working very collaboratively with a number of Israeli universities.”

“But I want to say that I appreciate not only you bringing it to my attention, but the very respectful way in which you’ve been working with me on it,” Hrabowski said to Manno.

In an interview after the hearing Manno explained, “My responsibility as a lawmaker and as a member of the Senate budget and taxation committee, which writes that check, is to ensure that the dollars are spent wisely and that it reflects the values of our community. … And we don’t support [the boycott that the ASA is supporting].”

The cost of ASA Institutional membership is $170, according to the organization’s website.

“It’s not the dollar amount. It’s the principle,” said Manno, who praised Hrabowski for his many successes and explained that the disagreement is not personal. It’s a larger issue of public policy. “I imagine we’re going to find a way to deal with this, what should be a very simple line item in the budget. If not — we’re not going to rule anything out.”


Ohr Chadash Setting New Roots

Second-grade teacher Mary Sue Rubenstein uses a globe for a geography lesson. Students point out countries they have been to and where the equator goes, and learn about North and South America. (David Stuck)

Second-grade teacher Mary Sue Rubenstein uses a globe for a geography lesson. Students point out countries they have been to and where the equator goes, and learn about North and South America. (David Stuck)

Ohr Chadash Academy will be moving to a new space for the 2014-2015 school year to accommodate its growing size.

The K-8 Orthodox day school will be moving to the second floor of Temple Oheb Shalom, the former home of the Shoshana S. Cardin School, which closed in 2013. Ohr Chadash, which has been open since 2011, currently operates out of the JCC on Park Heights Avenue.

“The fact that we’re able to move is really proof that Ohr Chadash is a thriving school,” said board member Terri Rosen, the school’s marketing chair. “By moving, it will allow us to expand our educational and recreational programming, which will make our school even more attractive to parents.”

The new space is about 15,000 square feet and could accommodate around 20 classrooms, depending on how much space is used for administrative offices and other needs, said Ken Davidson, executive director of Oheb Shalom. With movable walls, the space offers flexibility in configurations.

“The thought process behind it being built that way is schools change and need change,” explained Davidson. “It was designed and was always conceived as educational space.”

With the space vacant since last June, Oheb Shalom has been able to renovate and clean up the space, Davidson said.

While Oheb Shalom is a Reform congregation and Ohr Chadash an Orthodox school, both organizations see the partnership as a positive development.

“Each of [our boards] came up with the same thought independently, that rather than be a conflict, this could be an opportunity for us to create relationships and hopefully improve relationships,” said Davidson.

Ohr Chadash will also offer a pre-kindergarten class through Oheb Shalom’s Learning Ladder program, giving students and parents opportunities to interact with each other.

The new space will allow Ohr Chadash to have a computer lab with more than 20 computers, a science lab and more administrative office space, as well as access to outdoor fields and courts for soccer, football, basketball and tennis, said Rabbi Moshe Margolese, the school’s acting principal.

Margolese attributed the school’s growth to its educational approach and its intimate atmosphere, with classes of about 20 students or less.

“Ohr Chadash prides itself on excellence in education in both Hebrew subjects and general education subjects and a balanced approach on meeting each kid’s needs but still having that community feel,” he said. “I think people like the balance that we have, and I think people like the realness that you feel when you come here.”

Rena Einbinder said her daughter, who is in the second grade at Ohr Chadash, loves the school, and as a parent, she appreciates the educational

“The teachers try to find the holiness in general studies as well as [in] Judaic studies,” she said. “They approach everything from a Jewish point of view.”

“There’s a warmth here,” said Becky Reeves, school coordinator. Her youngest son attends the school, and while he once dreaded going to school, he now comes home happy, looking forward to the next school day.

A recent fundraiser raised almost $80,000 thanks to a matching donation.

“It was a huge energy builder for our school,” said Rosen. “All that fundraising, obviously, is really going to help us make the program more excellent.”