Maryland’s State Sport Takes To The Holy Land

Baltimore-area players and coaches joined Israeli lacrosse teams during a recent program sponsored by the  Israel Lacrosse Association. Attendees were (from left) Lilly Pollak, Davia Procida, Sarah Meisenberg, Michael Pfeffer, Jake Gavilow, Drew Saltzman, Jordan Abel and Max Wendell. (Provided)

Baltimore-area players and coaches joined Israeli lacrosse teams during a recent program sponsored by the Israel Lacrosse Association. Attendees were (from left) Lilly Pollak, Davia Procida, Sarah Meisenberg, Michael Pfeffer, Jake Gavilow, Drew Saltzman, Jordan Abel and Max Wendell. (Provided)

Five teens — four boys and one girl — from Baltimore joined a select group of Jewish American lacrosse players for an international competition that took place late last month in Israel and Poland.

Sponsored by the Israel Lacrosse Association, the U-19 [under 19] National program saw Lilly Pollak, Jordan Abel, Jake Gavilow and Max Wendell of Owings Mills and Drew Saltzman of Pikesville, in addition to teammates from other parts of the U.S. and Israel, compete in exhibition games, visit Israeli schools and conduct youth lacrosse clinics. At the end of the trip, the best American players and their Israeli teammates competed in a regional tournament in Warsaw.

The program, which ran from Dec. 21 to Dec. 30, drew on a coaching staff that included native Baltimoreans Davia Procida of Columbia and Sarah Meisenberg of Severna Park. Michael Pfeffer of Baltimore, who made aliyah after college to join the Israel Defense Force and now plays for Tel Aviv Lacrosse, served as the group’s security guard throughout the trip.

Scott Neiss, executive director of the Israel Lacrosse Association, attributed the program’s genesis to his country’s senior men’s team, which received an invitation to participate in a Polish tournament that included teams from Poland, Latvia and Israel.

“The senior team was preparing for the world championship next July, so we thought it would be a good idea to send players from the U-19 league,” said Neiss. “We are the Jewish team, and every Jew is eligible for Israeli citizenship, so we decided to mix some Jewish American players with the Israeli kids.”

Since Baltimore is a hotbed of lacrosse — it’s been Maryland’s official state team sport since 2004 — and because of the Baltimore/ Ashkelon partnership directed by Sigal Arieli, the program received significant support from both communities.

Neiss noted that in addition to promoting lacrosse in Israel, the program encourages relationships between young Jewish Americans and their Israeli counterparts, exposes Jewish American teens to Israel and teaches social responsibility and civic engagement. Prior to their departure from the United States, organizers encouraged each American athlete to collect lightly used lacrosse equipment for the benefit of their Israeli counterparts who might otherwise have been unable to afford the items.

The program also encouraged Hebrew language acquisition, requiring all players to use Hebrew instead of English on the field.

“For many of these [American] kids, this was their first trip to Israel. So we tried to do some touring around Israel while they were there,” said Neiss. The itinerary included stops to landmarks in Netanya, Ashkelon and Jerusalem, as well as Jewish sites in Warsaw.

For many players, “lacrosse is their passion and their religion,” said Neiss. “With all the recruiting camps in the summer, where does Israel fit in?”

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter

Burglaries Hit Pikesville Area

Residents of the Upper Park Heights area straddling Baltimore City and County have experienced several burglaries, an attempted break-in and a robbery, according to Shomrim of Baltimore and local police.

Baltimore County police said there were two daytime burglaries in the Ranchleigh community between Dec. 18 and Dec. 20. Shomrim, meanwhile, reported several thefts over a period of two days.

“It’s not unusual for crime to go up between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Ronnie Rosenbluth, Shomrim’s vice president. “What’s worrisome is that these types of crimes, particularly people attempting to break into homes, have been increasing.”

The Baltimore County burglaries reportedly took place in Gerard Court and the 2300 block of Farringdon Road.

Any time county police receive reports of related crimes, patrols are increased, said police spokeswoman Cathleen Batton. There have neen no additional burglaries in the area since the first two, she said. The Northwest Citizens Patrol announced that officials of both police departments said at a Dec. 26 meeting with community representatives that they had issued a “crime trend alert.”

Synagogues throughout the area alerted congregants by email three days earlier to the spate of robberies, urging people to lock their doors, be alert and notify officials of anything suspicious.

On the city side, two incidents on Dec. 16 — in the 2800 block of Cheswolde Road and the 6200 block of Winner Avenue — resulted in the reported theft of jewelry and two laptops and a broken window while a woman was home, according to Shomrim. The day before, two men allegedly took packages and a wallet from a parked car in the 6400 block of Green Meadow Parkway while the car’s owner unpacked his belongings. Two suspects reportedly left two bicycles behind as they fled.

Baltimore City police could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore County police offered free home security surveys and asked residents to report suspicious activity by calling 410-887-2222. Shomrim urged residents to email Baltimore City Councilwoman Rikki Spector at and to copy if they have been victims of any crime since Aug. 1. The effort, according to the organization’s Facebook page, is to ensure crime is properly reported.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

Maryland Congressional Representatives Push For New FBI HQ

The FBI's current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.

The FBI’s current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, as well as Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-5) and Donna Edwards (D-4), are hoping the Federal Bureau of Investigation will open its new headquarters in Greenbelt.

“Prince George’s County has the ability to donate, at no cost to the federal government, the proposed location that meets the size requirements and is located directly adjacent to a Metro station,” a statement from the legislators said. “This project will bring thousands of jobs to the county, boost our local economy and generate additional revenues for our community.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker sent a proposal to the U.S. General Services Administration on Dec. 17 for the site, which is a leading candidate for the new FBI headquarters.

Earlier in 2013, the entire Maryland delegation, which also includes Reps. Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Andy Harris and John Delaney, sent a letter to the heads of the FBI and GSA in support of a site in Prince George’s County. They noted that Maryland has the highest percentage of FBI employees of any jurisdiction at 43 percent.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

Tamar Epstein’s 5-Year Battle for Marital Freedom Apparently Over

Tamar Epstein and Rabbi Jeremy Stern were part of a 2012 Yeshiva University discussion to raise awareness on the plight of agunot. (provided)

Tamar Epstein and Rabbi Jeremy Stern were part of a 2012 Yeshiva University discussion to raise awareness on the plight of agunot.

Some are saying that Tamar Epstein, the former Silver Spring resident who has not received a Jewish divorce for more than five years, is now free to go on with her life. Details of the arrangement are sketchy, however, as a source close to her former husband denied that an official Jewish bill of divorce, known as a get, was ever given.

“A get has not been given,” the source said emphatically.

But according to Rabbi Jeremy Stern, director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, “the case is resolved. It is a closed case from our end.”

Stern’s organization advocates on behalf of agunot, the so-called “chained women” who, although civilly divorced from their husbands, may not marry according to Jewish law because their husbands have refused to provide them with the necessary legal papers.

In an email sent to the Washington Jewish Week, ORA announced that “after scores of rallies, thousands of letters and years of persistent advocacy and hopeful prayers … we are very excited to announce that Tamar Is Free!”

Stern said he couldn’t comment further on the case, which drew national attention, noting that “the situation is very sensitive right now.”

Epstein married Aharon Friedman, an aide to Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), in April 2006. The couple had a daughter in November 2007 and then separated in March 2008. They sought a civil divorce in April 2010.

Suzanne Pollak writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

Paying More For Energy

122713_bgeOn Dec. 13, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) ordered partial gas and electric distribution rate increases, as well as a surcharge to fund accelerated grid reliability.

According to Regina L. Davis, a spokeswoman at the PSC, the commission’s order balanced various interests and obligations, including the need to set just and reasonable rates, ensure safe, reliable service, maintain the utility’s financial integrity and allow BGE to earn a reasonable return.

While the increases, which, according to BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty, will not be much (an estimated $2.13 per month), rate adjustments of any size can disproportionately affect those on fixed incomes.

“From our perspective, it’s not just that the BGE rate goes up, it’s that everything goes up every year,” said Rona Stein, senior benefits coordinator at Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI). “The clients’ social security checks are eaten away, and the amount of social security doesn’t go up enough to match those increases. It’s all a balancing act.”

Commercial clients of BGE will see their bills increase by less than 1 percent, said Lighty. All customers will also begin to see surcharges to fund BGE’s Electric Reliability Investment (ERI) on their BGE bills beginning in April 2014.

“BGE’s ERI initiative is a wide-ranging plan that BGE proposes to undertake in the next five years to accelerate reliability improvements set forth in the Maryland PSC’s February 2013 order relating to the June 2012 derecho,” said Lighty.

Although the amount of the surcharge has not yet been determined, estimates for residential customers are 34 cents a month in the first year, with small increases in subsequent years. By the fifth year of the initiative, most residents will be charged an additional 75 cents a month.

Stein said her agency is  “always educating” its clients about energy conservation as part of its goal to “make sure that seniors and people with disabilities can stay in their homes.”

Stein also helps her clients to apply for the benefits to which they’re entitled. “When someone says, ‘I won’t apply for food stamps because it’s only $16, I encourage them to apply. Every little bit helps.”

One of Stein’s clients is Shirley Jackson, 83, of Park Heights. Jackson hasn’t noticed the increase in her BGE bill yet, but she admitted that paying even a few dollars more per month would make life harder. After paying her monthly bills, Jackson has about $100 left for food. She had been receiving an additional $16 per month in food stamps, but recently, her monthly food stamp allotment was decreased to $15. “We have to do the best we can,” she said.

Stein said that increases in energy costs not only impact her clients financially. “They also eat away at them emotionally. They can never catch up with financial demands.”

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter

Credit Card Numbers Compromised For 40 Million Target Customers’

122713_credit-card-numbers_compromised_target_customersCredit and debit card information of approximately 40 million Target customers was accessed by unauthorized means between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, according a statement the company released on Thursday, Dec. 19.

The theft included customer name, credit or debit card number, expiration date and CVV, the three- or four-digit security code on the back of cards.

“If their security can be breached, anybody’s can be breached,” said Sandy Raynes, who was shopping at Target in Owings Mills on Dec. 19. Her credit card information has been stolen three times in the past two years, including one charge of $6,000 that her credit card company caught.

In a notice to customers, the company said it partnered with a top third-party forensics firm to investigate the incident and determine additional prevention measures.

“Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests, and we have moved swiftly to address this issue so guests can shop with confidence,” Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and CEO of Target, said in a statement. “We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice.”

Mary Jo Landis, who was also shopping at Target on Dec. 19, said she was going to make her purchases in cash. She stops at the store about once every two weeks and said she may use her card again after the New Year.

“It’s just a little scary,” she said.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler released a statement recommending Marylanders check bank accounts daily, report suspicious activity to financial institutions, consider adding a fraud alert to credit reports or get a new card if the current one was compromised.

Gansler said there are several factors that concern him. It’s disturbing that something of this magnitude went undetected and happened to one of America’s top retailers.

“We do rely on companies the size of Target and that do business like Target to have proper safeguards in place,” Gansler said.

He expects attorneys general around the country to convene and work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on future actions.

While Target’s breach was large, two recent breaches included more than double the number of thefts. In 2007, 90 million T.J. Maxx customers’ data was stolen, and in 2009, a breach of card processor Heartland Payment Systems resulted in the largest card theft to date, with 130 million stolen numbers.

Target asked customers who think their information was stolen to call 866-852-8680 and contact credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It also recommended that Maryland residents contact the Federal Trade Commission or the Office of the Attorney General. More information can be found at

Anti-Defamation League’s Top 10 Issues Affecting Jews in 2013

122713_anti_defamation_league_top_10_issuesThe Anti-Defamation League compiled a list of 10 significant issues and events that the organization determines could affect the lives of Jews worldwide. Nuclear arms talks, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and increases in anti-Semitic attacks are found on the list, as well as the election of Pope Francis and his positive influence on Catholic-Jewish relations.

The list is as follows:
1. World powers negotiate with Iran, with limited results
2. In a visit to Jerusalem, President Obama urges a two-state solution
3. Supreme Court decisions change landscape for civil rights in America
4. Attacks against Jews increase globally; neo-Nazis gain traction in Europe
5. Election of Pope Francis bodes well for Catholic-Jewish relations
6. Syrian civil war prompts a refugee crisis; Assad fires chemical weapons
7. Anti-Semitism challenges Internet providers
8. U.S. spearheads new round of Israeli- Palestinian negotiations
9. Anti-Israel activity spreads on American college campuses
10. Anti-Semitism declines domestically, but concerns remain

“The diplomatic talks in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program were a serious gamble for the U.S. and the other five countries involved,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “And now that there’s a limited initial agreement on the table, there is also an open question of Iran being truly serious about conceding its nuclear weapons program and arriving at a comprehensive final agreement.”

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL national chair, also cited significant changes to the civil rights landscape, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to declare a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, as well as striking down a critical component of the Voting Rights Act.

“These were landmark decisions that could impact Americans and the Jewish community for years to come,” Curtiss-Lusher said.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

24 Hours Under The Radar

[slideshow id=”24 Hours Under The Radar”]

On Nov. 21, 2013, the staff of the Baltimore Jewish Times sought out, photographed and engaged with Jewish Baltimore. Twenty-four hours. Three teams. One city. An impressive and diverse cross section of the area’s Jewish people.

What comprises Jewish Baltimore? A lot of very different people, places, traditions and organizations, to be sure.

“24 Hours Under the Radar” is a glimpse into the ordinary — and therefore, extraordinary — behind-the-scenes lives of Jewish Baltimoreans. These are people who infuse some of the Jewish into Jewish Baltimore because of what they do, how they act, what they believe and, in some cases, simply because they’re Jewish. And each adds to the unique flavor of the city.

The following profiles are just a glimpse into that deep well of Jewish identity, culture and pride found here in Baltimore.

There is much more to uncover.

Read the, “Reporter’s Blog” by Melissa Gerr. >>

Photographers: David Stuck, Melissa Gerr, Marc Shapiro
Writers: Simone Ellin, Melissa Gerr, Maayan Jaffe, Heather Norris, Marc Shapiro

Taking Initiative

The tutoring and mentoring program is about developing positive connections between the students.

The tutoring and mentoring program is about developing positive connections between the students.

One of the core characteristics of being in the National Honor Society is service. Students frequently spend time tutoring other students as part of this commitment. One student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School felt that his chapter was not doing enough. He took action.

Junior Zach Azrael, vice president for service in BT’s National Honor Society chapter, saw that the status quo of NHS students tutoring other students in Beth Tfiloh was not really meeting the quota for service and, he felt, didn’t meet the needs of the community at large.

“There are 78 students in NHS and only 30 (students at Beth Tfiloh) needed tutoring,” said Zach. He talked about the issue with his neighbor, Terry Hickey, the director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in the Greater Chesapeake Region, and Hickey directed Zach to C. Diane Booker, the director of U.S. Dream Academy. Over the next five months, Zach worked with the academy to create a program for 28 Beth Tfiloh students to run tutoring and mentoring programs for more than 80 students at Pimlico Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

U.S. Dream Academy, founded in Columbia, Md., in 1998 by vocal artist Wintley Phipps, works to empower children who are at risk of incarceration to maximize their potential by providing them with academic, social and values enrichment through supportive mentoring and the use of technology, according to its website. The BT students are working with the students at the one location in Baltimore (there are eight across the country) to realize that mission.

“We encourage strongly the [NHS] students to create their own initiatives,” Zach said. “We have a science program, a technology program, an art program and a pen-pal program with a school in Uganda. Some students are running a book drive, and two of our students are creating educational games that they can play with the kids during down time.”

The NHS students have access to the attendees’ report cards and work with them to improve their grades. It’s about developing positive personal connections between the students.

Helaine Steinberg, the NHS adviser at Beth Tfiloh for the last 16 years, said she has rarely seen such commitment and initiative from students.

The mentoring program involves 28 Beth Tfiloh volunteers and more than 80 students from Pimlico Elementary/Middle School.

The mentoring program involves 28 Beth Tfiloh volunteers and more than 80 students from Pimlico Elementary/Middle School. (Photos provided)

“It’s hard for me to put into words how impressed I am by these students,” she said. “Zach has really taken it from just an idea to a program that is generating national attention from the National Honor Society. The students he has working with him are so incredibly enthusiastic; obviously the program would not be able to run without those dedicated students.”

Zach said his personal service plans extend beyond Baltimore, He is also working with Teach for America in Philadelphia to create a future partnership between Beth Tfiloh’s NHS chapter and the U.S. Dream Academy there. Eventually, he hopes to reach out to other NHS chapters to take on this program.

For now, Zach is just plain proud.

“Every time that Evan Quartner [BT, grade 11] has attended, he has worked with the same fifth-grade girl and helped her with her math,” Zach said. “Recently, she came up to him because she got a very high grade on her math test. She said, ‘Mr. Evan, you’re the best’ and gave him a big hug. Math was her worst subject at the beginning of the year.”

“What really makes me proud is that these students have taken the NHS service and have taken the BT concept of healing the world and have put it out into the community and created such good,” said Steinberg. “This group has really surpassed the groups that have come before them, and they are making BT really proud.”

Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.

Pay Check

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) says he believes the GA will accept salary recommendations this year. (File)

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) says he believes the GA will accept salary recommendations this year. (File)

A pay raise could be in the future for Maryland politicians.

The General Assembly Compensation Committee and the Governor’s Salary Commission will recommend salary increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and state legislators when the General Assembly goes back into session Jan. 8.

The General Assembly Compensation Commission will recommended that members of the Maryland House and Senate receive a 16 percent pay increase over the next four years, increasing legislators’ salaries from $43,500 to $50,330 by 2018, said Simon Powell, analyst for the committee. The two presiding officers, the Senate president and the House speaker would replace their $56,500 yearly salaries with a $65,371 figure by the end of the next elected body’s term.

The Governor’s Salary Commission will suggest the governor’s salary of $150,000 be increased to $170,000 over the course of the next four years. The lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general and state treasurer, all of whom make $125,000 a year, are up for a raise by the same percentage.

The commission’s goal in recommending this raise was to get the governor’s salary on par with the salaries of the two highest-paid Maryland county executives, said commission analyst Steven McCulloch. County executives in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties both make more than $180,000 per year.

U.S. governors make an average of $133,348, according to June 2013 Pew Research data. Although the governor’s salary in Maryland rests in the top half of governors, Gov. Martin O’Malley makes less than executives of nearby states such as Delaware ($171,000), Virginia ($175,000) and Pennsylvania ($187,256).

In Baltimore, the city approved a 2.5 percent pay increase last month for the mayor, comptroller and city counselors. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s annual salary will be $163,365 at the start of 2014.

None of the officials has received a raise since 2006. Most recently, in 2010, the General Assembly rejected higher salary recommendations made by the commissions. Both commissions make salary suggestions to the General Assembly every four years.

Powell, analyst for the General Assembly Compensation Committee, said the decision to increase the salary of legislators involved a number of factors analysts look at todetermine the new salary recommendation.

“They [the commission] decided they wanted to catch up for the net zero increases in the last eight years and provide for some modest increases in the future,” said Powell, adding that the commission sought to make up for the 2010 decision by the legislature to reject the recommended pay increases. “It’s basically the CPI [consumer price index] for the last eight years plus the forecasted CPI.”

Maryland has what is called a “white” legislature. Unlike “red” legislatures that require members to spend about 80 percent or more of a full-time job on their legislative duties or “blue” legislatures that require about 50 percent of the time a full-time job takes, legislatures such as Maryland’s fall in between that gap, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The state of Maryland currently has a $100 million structural deficit. Data from the end of the last fiscal year puts the state’s total outstanding debt at $10.6 billion.

Next, the commissions will present their recommendations to the General Assembly, which will then have the opportunity to accept each suggestion as it is, reject it or amend it, a process that would then lead to another, separate joint resolution that would be addressed later in the session. If accepted, the change will take effect in time for the 2015 session. “It’s designed so it will affect the next legislative body,” said Powell.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) said he believes the recommendation will be accepted this time around.

“It’s an appropriate compensation for the work that we do as state legislators,” said Rosenberg. “I would hope that the people I represent believe that I work hard on their behalf and that this is merited.”

Republican Jewish Coalition member Jon Parks said that state officials should have higher salaries, but added that at this point they haven’t earned it based on merit.

“I don’t have a problem with them making more,” said Parks. “My problem is with their performance.”

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, agreed.

“The general opinion of our party here is $43,500 a year is adequate enough for somebody who serves three months of the year,” said Cluster. “In these times where unemployment is still overly high, I think tax dollars shouldn’t be wasted on giving government employees [the governor, lieutenant governor and the legislature] a raise.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter