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.”

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

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
approach.

“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.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

BJC Denounces Deceptive Proselytizing

Arthur Abramson (Marc Shapiro)

Arthur Abramson (Marc Shapiro)

The Baltimore Jewish Council passed a policy statement at its Jan. 30 meeting condemning deceptive proselytizing.

“For centuries, attempts have been made to convert the Jewish people to Christianity, and the Jewish community has always resisted these attempts,” the statement said. “In that vein, it is disconcerting that these ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians’ have created a false and misleading setting that purports to allow Jews to retain their Jewish identity while at the same time embracing Jesus.”

The policy was prompted by two incidents in 2013 that involved a Messianic Jewish group called Israel Restoration Ministries.

“They had a number of well-dressed, well-mannered young people who would knock on doors in Jewish areas because they wanted to talk about Jesus,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “The line was [that] the fulfillment of your being Jewish is to accept Jesus into your life.”

In the fall, Jewish residents in Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Silver Spring received postcards that posed the question, “Is it possible to be both Jewish and Christian?” It featured the logos of Jews for Judaism, the BJC, ABC/Ch. 2, WMAR-TV and the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The BJC, Jews for Judaism and JT logos were used without permission. Beside the images was the Israel Restoration Ministries logo.

This past Chanukah, representatives of Chosen People Ministries, a group of Messianic Jews and Christians, gave out free latkes and sufganiyot outside of the student union building at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism, said the BJC’s stance helps raise awareness in faith communities about the issue.

“They’re doing something to help the community realize this is a growing issue,” she said. “It is on the agenda of other religions to use deception at times to proselytize to the Jewish people.”

Hogan Announces Candidacy in Annapolis

Larry Hogan (Marc Shapiro)

Larry Hogan (Marc Shapiro)

After months of rumors and one postponed announcement, Change Maryland founder and Annapolis real estate executive Larry Hogan formally declared his gubernatorial candidacy last week at an Annapolis crab shack.

“I didn’t make this decision to run for governor out of a desire to be something. I decided to run because I feel an obligation to do something,” said Hogan, a Republican who served as secretary of appointments in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, at his Jan. 29 campaign kickoff. “We simply cannot just sit back and accept status quo, politics as usual in Annapolis, knowing that — together — we can make a difference.”

Emphasizing his background in business rather than politics, Hogan said he has spent the past three years traveling the state and speaking with residents. The common theme he ran into again and again, he said, is frustration with the current government.

“We’re hostile to the job creators,” he said at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting the following day, pointing to the so-called “millionaire’s tax” and “rain tax.”

If he is elected, Hogan said he would require independent audits of every state agency in an effort to cut back on government spending.

Although Hogan’s announcement came months after other Republican opponents formally announced their candidacy, he made up for lost time by announcing his running mate, Boyd Rutherford, former secretary of the Department of General Services under the Ehrlich administration and former assistant secretary for administration for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Jan. 2014 Red Maryland Poll, which was released before Hogan announced his candidacy, showed him leading the field of Republican primary candidates with 31 percent of the vote. He will face a field that includes David Craig, Charles Lollar, Ron George and Brian Vaeth in a June Republican primary.

Richard Lansburgh

020714_Lansburgh-obitRichard M. Lansburgh, a retired clothier known for his dedication to philanthropic work, died on Jan. 28 at the age of 91, just a day before his 92nd birthday.

Lansburgh was born in 1922 to Sidney Lansburgh Sr., and the former Marian Epstein. He was also the grandson of renowned Baltimore entrepreneur and philanthropist Jacob Epstein, a founder of The Associated Jewish Charities, a founding trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art and proprietor of Baltimore Bargain House, a mail-order wholesale business that became the fourth-largest wholesaler in the county.

Lansburgh received his B.A. from Dartmouth College and served in the Navy during World War II as a lieutenant junior grade on amphibious support craft at Normandy and Okinawa. He returned to Baltimore and eventually became vice president of Raleigh Stores, Inc. He and wife Therese Weil raised two children, Randolph Wolff and Deborah Wolff Adler.

Lansburgh was passionate about carrying on his family’s legacy of philanthropic work. He served many roles within The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, including chairman of the Annual Campaign in 1990 and chairman of the organization from 1993 to 1995.  He was a leader in The Associated’s Passage to Freedom initiative and a co-chairman of Operation Exodus, American Jewry’s effort to rescue and resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union. In 1993, Lansburgh was elected chairman of The Associated’s board of directors.

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, recalled his first meeting with Lansburgh.

“Richard was the first volunteer leader I met,” said Terrill. “It was at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and I remember a kindhearted man with a stately presence. Over the decades, I became more and more fond of his authenticity and humanity. … Baltimore lost one of its great treasures, but his memory will endure forever.”

Lansburgh’s philanthropic involvement covered a wide spectrum. He served on the boards of Sinai Hospital, Temple Oheb Shalom and the Jewish Big Brother & Big Sister League. Beyond the Jewish community, he served on the boards of the League for the Handicapped, the Epilepsy Association of America, the Park School, the Schapiro Training and Employment Program and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Lansburgh was serving on the board of trustees at the BMA when Doreen Bolger, the museum’s current director, was hired in 1998. Bolger said Lansburgh was very involved during his role on the board, and he was an inspiration.

“He so understood the amazing gift of his grandparents, Jacob and Lena,” said Bolger, “that it’s a legacy that serves the city and the museum. He took a very active interest and role in furthering that legacy.”

Two of the BMA’s most important works are a part of the Jacob Epstein collection: van Dyck’s “Rinaldo and Armida” and Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Lansburgh and his wife also made several gifts to the museum, including two Rodin sculptures: a bust of writer Victor Hugo and a portrait sculpture of Rodin’s model Rose Beuret called “Mignon.”

Lansburgh’s father served as president of The Associated Jewish Charities in the 1920s and 1930s and the Jewish Welfare Fund in 1946. His uncle, A. Ray Katz, was a president of The Associated, and his brother, Sidney Lansburgh Jr., was chairman of The Associated’s 1971 Annual Campaign and its president from 1971 to 1973.

“The Associated was a major part of his life,” said Elizabeth Ferro, a longtime family friend and executive assistant. “Richard was terribly concerned to have his family remembered much more than his own personal acclaim.”

Lansburgh was father of Deborah Wolff Adler and the late Randolph Maurice Wolff; grandfather of Arthur and Andrew Adler; and great-grandfather of Drew, Ray and Mary Arthur Adler.

The Push For $10.10

*Note: States with no minimum wage or minimums lower than the federal standard default to the national $7.25 rate. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

How Minimum-wage laws compare in 2014
*Note: States with no minimum wage or minimums lower than the federal standard default to the national $7.25 rate. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

For Monique Tracy, raising Maryland’s minimum wage would be the difference between living paycheck to paycheck and having some money to spare.

“It would help me a lot,” said Tracy, 25, an employee at a Rite Aid in Pikesville.

Tracy has been working at the store for two years. Her $8-an-hour salary must pay her rent, cable and car payments, among other bills. By the end of the biweekly pay period, she has nothing left.

Recent cuts in hours have made life at the store even more difficult. She currently works about 30 hours a week but still finds herself having to put away half of every paycheck so she has money for the weeks she doesn’t get a check.

“I’m basically working just to pay my bills,” said Tracy, adding that an increase to $10.10, as advocated by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a cadre of legislators and even President Barack Obama, would allow her to have some money left over each week to spend beyond the bare necessities.

Next door, at the Dollar City party supply store, owner Kristy Kang said she and her husband, who co-owns the store, cannot afford to pay any employees as it is.

“Oh my God,” she said in response to the possible increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016. “Then I could hire nobody,” even seasonal help.

Over the course of the past year, the movement to increase the state minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour — a figure that returns the minimum wage to its 1960s value with adjustment made for inflation — has been steadily gaining steam. Not only has O’Malley’s administration identified it as one of its top priorities for 2014, the governor’s final year in office, but Obama even mentioned the figure in his State of the Union address last week. The president announced that he would unilaterally raise the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10 and encouraged state officials to follow suit.

“We’re going to forge consensus and increase the minimum wage,” O’Malley said on Jan. 20. “When workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers, and we’ll grow Maryland’s economy from the middle out.”

Though the federal minimum currently stands pat at $7.25 per hour, 21 states and Washington, D.C., have passed rates that are higher than the federal minimum wage. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties voted late last year to increase their minimum wage to $11.50 per hour.

Neither Virginia, West Virginia nor Pennsylvania have rates higher than the federal standard.

A March 2013 Gallup Poll showed that more than seven of every 10 Americans supported raising the minimum wage to $9. Among self-identified Republicans, a group typically suspicious of minimum-wage increases, one of every two supported the move.

Many in the Jewish community have been getting on board as well. Late last year Temple Emanuel in Kensington adopted a resolution in support of a higher minimum wage.

“We resolve that Temple Emanuel support efforts to increase the minimum wage — whether it is at the county, state or national level,” its membership announced. “We resolve to support an increase in the minimum wage that would allow workers to support themselves with greater dignity and independence — a true Jewish value. And we resolve to support linking the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index in order to ensure that the minimum wage will keep pace with increases in the cost of living.”

“It is a religious responsibility,” concluded Temple Emanuel’s membership, “to care for the needy of our society and safeguard a just minimum wage.”

The Baltimore Jewish Council has also been vocal in its support of the raise, calling for a higher state minimum wage in October and, more recently, endorsing the governor’s $10.10 plan early last week.

“It will reduce the income inequality,” asserted BJC executive director Arthur Abramson. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Woman Gets Five Years in Pikesville Harassment Case

Pictured is Noam and Leah Efron’s home on Northbrook Road, where police shot Stephanie Kamlot in May 2013 after she produced a replica gun. (David Stuck)

Pictured is Noam and Leah Efron’s home on Northbrook Road, where police shot Stephanie Kamlot in May 2013 after she produced a replica gun. (David Stuck)

A woman was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court for assaulting, stalking and burglarizing a Pikesville couple.

Stephanie Kamlot, 41, was given 10 years with all but five suspended by Judge John Turnbull II. She pleaded guilty Feb. 4 to second-degree assault, stalking and fourth-degree burglary. She must also pay $1,200 in restitution to the victims.

The case culminates what started almost two years ago in February 2012, when Noam and Leaf Efron first received prank calls at their Pickwick apartment. The various incidents that transpired between that time and May 2013 included razor blades being placed under the couple’s tires, a stroller being stolen and Kamlot assaulting Leah Efron at Seven Mile Market.

The last incident occurred in the early morning hours of May 12, 2013, when Kamlot threw a rock through the Efrons’ home in the 3100 block of Northbrook Road. When police arrived, she produced a semi-automatic handgun replica and was shot by police three times. The gun was determined to be a pellet gun. Kamlot was hospitalized and then incarcerated and has been in jail ever since.

“Keeping her incarcerated is really the only way at this point to keep the Efrons safe,” said Joe Dominick, the Baltimore County state’s attorney who prosecuted the case.

Noam Efron’s parents said it was a nightmare for the family.

“We were constantly looking over our shoulders,” Bracha Efron, Noam’s mother, said.

Noam Efron said he is one step closer to closure, but this is something that will take his family a while to recover from.

“We’ve moved on a little bit, but it’s something there isn’t really a resolution to because you don’t know why it happened,” he said. “Someone came to my house with a gun. That’s hard to live down.”

While Efron’s mother hoped for Kamlot to be completely rehabilitated, she had doubts about that possibility.

Kamlot’s lawyer, Marc Snyder, tried to enter a plea of not criminally responsible, hoping for a sentence involving treatment, but that plea was rejected after an evaluation showed Kamlot to be competent.

Kamlot addressed the court on Tuesday, saying she was “embarrassed” and “ashamed.”

“I would like to express deep regret for my actions,” she said. “No words can describe the remorse I feel.”

Snyder described Kamlot as a good person with a good heart who was the victim of abuse at the hands of her father and stepfather. She spent a few years working at Safeway, was a sales representative at Coca-Cola for almost 10 years and volunteered for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He said his client plans to move back home to Tennessee after she serves her time.

“I hope the Efrons can get on with their life and have some piece of mind, and my client is going to do everything she can do to see that she can live a productive life from this day forward,” stated Snyder.

Michael Meurer, who has known Kamlot since she was 19 and calls himself her best friend, said Kamlot is extremely regretful.

“She doesn’t know how this happened, why this happened, not to minimize what happened to the Efrons,” he said.

Meurer said Kamlot was trying to commit “suicide by police” the night she had that replica handgun. A hearing for a prior incident was scheduled for that following Monday, and she had a nervous breakdown, he said.

“Her intent was to be killed, to die,” said Meurer. “She had lost everything.”

Time served since May 11, 2013 will be credited to Kamlot’s five-year sentence.

“If all goes well, she should be looking at possible release in 18 months to two years,” said Snyder, explaining that good behavior could shorten her sentence.

In a previous interview, Noam Efron said Kamlot ruined his life for two years. For him, it’s hard to find satisfaction.

“I feel good about it that some justice was served,” he said. “It’s kind of weird, I feel like her sentence was a little shorter than I wanted it to be.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Southern Park Heights Welcomes Renaissance

The grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens brought out an enthusiastic audience. (David Stuck)

The grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens brought out an enthusiastic audience. (David Stuck)

Frigid temperatures did not deter the standing-room-only crowd that gathered to celebrate the Jan. 28 grand opening of the Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens, a new residential community for seniors in Southern Park Heights. Joining the approximately 200 guests were Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young and Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton as well as clergy and community leaders from both the African American and Jewish communities.

The new 60-unit income-restricted community for adults 62 years old and older is the result of a partnership between CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, and Park Heights Renaissance, Inc. The Associated also sponsored
the project.

PHR was founded about five years ago with a mandate to implement the Baltimore City Park Heights Master Plan, said Julius “Julio” Colon, the organization’s president and CEO. The plan called for the transformation of the neighborhood through land and economic development, alongside human services development.

One area of concern was the lack of safe, affordable housing for the neighborhood’s seniors. Colon’s predecessor reached out to Ken Gelula, former executive director of CHAI, to propose a joint development project that would create a new residence for the seniors of Southern Park Heights. Gelula agreed to collaborate.

“CHAI’s mission is to develop and support thriving, stable communities in neighborhoods with a substantial Jewish population,” said CHAI’s current executive director, Mitch Posner. “Although Southern Park Heights doesn’t have a significant Jewish population, it is important to CHAI that our neighboring communities are also stable and thriving.”

Renaissance Gardens, which is 80 percent occupied, is built on a site once known as The Ranch that was widely known for the drug trade and gun-related crime. The new building has 60 one-bedroom units, multiple common spaces and amenities such as a beauty parlor, wellness suite, library/computer room and game room and a part-time social services coordinator. Residents are also eligible to receive services through partner organizations LifeBridge Heath
Network, the Park West Health System, the Zeta Center for Healthy Aging and the Delta Center.

Ellen Jarrett, CHAI’s director of housing and planning and development, led the project, acquiring the property, overseeing every phase of development, working with architects and contractors, obtaining permits and closing the finances with lenders. She also submitted funding applications that reaped approximately $9 million in grants to pay for the project.

“We made a business decision to help other small developers in adjacent communities,” said Jarrett, who echoed Posner’s philosophy about the need to help surrounding neighborhoods flourish.

Jarrett explained that if other developers see CHAI and PHR building in Southern Park Heights, they may be encouraged to build there as well. With new building, she said, will come positive change in the neighborhood.

Each of the 12 speakers at the grand opening referenced the important role that collaboration played in the success of the project. While many agencies were involved, it was the partnership between the Jewish and African-American communities that loomed large in the minds of officials.

“The Associated is proud to be a sponsor,” said Howard E. Friedman, the federation’s chairman of the board. “Renaissance Gardens beautifully illustrates our commitment to making a difference in the world … that we value innovation; and perhaps most importantly, this project reflects the value of collaboration and partnership between two communities and between CHAI and Park Heights Renaissance. It is my fervent hope that this will be the first of many partnerships in Park Heights.”

Both Rev. Glenna Huber of the Church of the Holy Nativity and Rabbi Moshe Hauer, leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob Shaarei Zion, gave blessings for the occasion. Huber blessed the “house and its residents,” and Hauer spoke about the need for the Jewish and African-American communities to continue to come together.

“God didn’t create a whole number of people. He created one man and one woman — Adam and Eve,” said the rabbi. “We ultimately share the same father and mother, so we are brothers and sisters.”

“I think there is a perception that the two communities can’t come to an understanding,” said Colon. “It’s a false interpretation. But in order to enter into an arrangement, there must be mutual respect of each other’s cultures. When I was hired, I was asked to cross that invisible line of Northern Parkway, and we’ve been doing that.”

“It’s been a pretty good honeymoon; now we’re into the marriage,” he continued. “No hiccups so far. With this project, both communities attempted to say, ‘We can live together, we can work together, and we can do business together.’ ”

While this is the largest collaboration between Southern and Northern Park Heights, it is not the first, stated Posner. “Last year, [PHR] opened a new food pantry right around the time when we do the [Passover] chametz-burning. So we alerted people and asked them to bring food they were giving away. People did it, and we helped to stock the shelves of the food pantry.”

Rawlings-Blake also struck an upbeat tone.

“I am so excited to be here,” said the mayor. “This community deserves a renaissance, and it is having a renaissance.”

Perhaps the most moving message of all came from Renaissance Garden’s first resident, Bernard Wells: “I’ve been in a few buildings but none can compete with this one. This is the Taj Mahal!”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

A Night In The Life

Officer Jacob Gabbard holds up a vial of crack cocaine he found on the street. (Photos  David Stuck)

Officer Jacob Gabbard holds up a vial of crack cocaine he found on the street. (Photos David Stuck)

In a city where the murder rate, which just hit a four-year high with 234 homicides recorded in 2013, gains national attention year after year, it’s just business as usual for officers in Baltimore’s busy Northwestern District.

“You’re never more than a block away from sheer, unadulterated violence,” says police officer Jacob Gabbard.

Gabbard, 38, and John Sheehan, 31, patrol the area that stretches from Pikesville to Mondawmin. Unlike the Eastern or Western districts, where crime is almost exclusively drug-related, the Northwestern District — one of five that make up the city of Baltimore — experiences just about every kind of crime. From larceny to homicide, Northwestern officers see the entire spectrum on a daily basis.

A recent ride-along with the pair for a “Charlie” shift — the busiest of the three Baltimore police shifts — earlier this month, offered the chance to see just what those responsible for guarding Baltimore’s streets experience every day between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Evening-shift officers begin their workday at 2:39 p.m. when they report for roll call, a briefing of any new developments or policies before they hit their beats.

Three areas split the Northwestern District, with Sector I spanning from Belvedere Avenue south to Liberty Square and from Pimlico Road to the Metro subway tracks. Sector II covers the area to the west of the Metro to the city line; Sector III spreads north from Belvedere Avenue and Northern Parkway. Sheehan and Gabbard call Sector II, the largest in the Northwest, their professional home.

Generally, about six officers cover each area, each patrolling in his or her own cruiser. But on this particular night, Sheehan and Gabbard ride together.

Officer Jacob Gabbard gathers information from the family of a missing woman.

Officer Jacob Gabbard gathers information from the family of a missing woman.

For Gabbard, the Baltimore Police Department is the latest stop in a string of departments. As he pulls out of the district headquarters’ lot and heads south on Reisterstown Road, he provides a look into the life history of a career law enforcement officer: He grew up wanting to be a policeman and graduated from a police academy when he was only 18. After bouncing around from town to town in his native Ohio — he had a stint as an undercover narcotics officer — and in search of steady police work, he decided to move to Baltimore, which offered better job security.

“I don’t regret it, not for one second,” he says of making the switch in 2006 from small-town policing to patrolling a major metropolitan area. In just a couple of months in Baltimore City, he was able to do everything he had done in all of his years in Ohio and then some. Coming to Baltimore, he says, was “the best decision I ever made.”

For Sheehan, a native of northern New Jersey, the decision to become a police officer in Baltimore came a little later in life. Attending Iona College in New York, he wanted to get into forensics. But “after taking science and math classes, I was like, ‘Nah,’ ” he says with with a smile. He joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2004.

Elevating Awareness, Sparking Discussion

Beth Israel’s class for children with disabilities learns to bake hamantaschen. Back row, from left: teacher Stacey Levin, class assistant Robert Soucy, teacher’s assistant Shoshi Fader, class assistant Julie Cohen, class assistant Josh Weiss and class assistant Mia Kaufman.  Front row, from left: Libby Rosenthal, Aiden Gimbel, Josh Blum, Avery Berman and Harrison Blochston. (David Stuck)

Beth Israel’s class for children with disabilities learns to bake hamantaschen. Back row, from left: teacher Stacey Levin, class assistant Robert Soucy, teacher’s assistant Shoshi Fader, class assistant Julie Cohen, class assistant Josh Weiss and class assistant Mia Kaufman. Front row, from left: Libby Rosenthal, Aiden Gimbel, Josh Blum, Avery Berman and Harrison Blochston. (David Stuck)

The goal of the National Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month is to initiate discussion and promote inclusion for everyone in all aspects of Jewish life, regardless of their physical or mental ability.

But “the discussion shouldn’t be about deciding things for people with disabilities but should include people with disabilities in the discussion,” said Shelly Christensen, founder and executive director of Inclusion Innovations and a co-founder of JDAM.

Although disability awareness and accessible programming exists throughout the year, the Greater Baltimore/Washington area will join the nationwide effort by highlighting a month of educational programs and events in February to raise awareness, particularly in the Jewish community, about creating accessibility and inclusion.

The aim, say advocates, is to ensure that Jewish organizations are committed to taking needed steps so that everyone can participate in all aspects of Jewish life.

“When we think of inclusion, we think of things such as building ramps, installing automatic doors and retrofitting restrooms,” said Christensen. “While it’s important to address those things, the most important thing is to create the mindset and atmosphere where everyone knows they belong.”

Christensen is facilitating a daylong conference, Inclusion Works: Guiding the Way to an Inclusive Community, at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC on Feb. 4. Stan Goldman, director at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation who has been a central figure in securing many disabilities grants in the United States and Israel, will be the featured speaker. Christensen will be featured at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation during Shabbat services on Feb. 7 and Feb. 8.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO and president of RespectAbilityUSA.org in Washington, sees a Jewish disability awareness month as a necessity, given demographic realities.

“Jews typically wait to get married later in life than other populations,” she said. “So [Jews] have a lot more people over the age of 35 who are trying to have kids than other populations. Autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Down syndrome are all linked to age of parents. So for Jews, we’re more at risk.”

Surveying the landscape of Jewish organizations, Mizrahi gives high marks to the camping movement in general but singles out day schools for particular criticism. Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, she noted, “is the largest Jewish day school in the country, but yet a Jewish child who has a more involved disability cannot go there. That’s why you need an awareness month. That just should not happen.”

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Charles E. Smith’s head of school, acknowledges that “Jewish day schools in general have not fully addressed this issue,” but that many schools, including his, “have made significant strides to be more accessible to a wider range of learners.”

“Our school has a director of educational support services and nine full-time faculty members who work in this area,” he pointed out. “In
addition, we have done facultywide training on differentiation within the classroom. Our school is currently engaged in the strategic planning process, and we hope to further address this issue as we move to the next step of our school’s development.”

Mizrahi’s organization will present a webinar on Feb. 18 with information on how to make a business or organization more inclusive. Other Washington-area events include a talk by Lise Hamlin, director of public policy at the Hearing Loss Association of America, at Temple Micah on Feb. 21. Baltimore-specific events include a film presented by the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance and Shemesh called “Rethinking Dyslexia: The Big Picture,” with a discussion following, at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Feb. 9. The Center for Jewish
Education is hosting JDAM Reads, a book club focusing on titles chosen
by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, on Feb. 12.

On Feb. 6, advocates from both Baltimore and Washington will join their counterparts from across the country for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Speakers will include Allison Wohl, executive director of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, and David Morrissey, executive director of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities.

Janet Livingston of Owings Mills, a national co-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s disability committee, has a 21-year-old son with autism.

“Things have changed for the better in many aspects in the general and Jewish communities in the past 10 years,” she said, citing more resources and assistance for her son, Sam, at Jewish organizations. “That has had an impact. He has a better sense of self-esteem.”

For more information on events throughout February and to download a resource guide, visit jewishfederations.org.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Greater Baltimore/Washington area events >>

mgerr@jewishtimes.com