Battleground Showdown Marylanders hit the road to help get out the vote



On a recent Sunday morning in October, Sam Novey and about a dozen Jews United for Justice volunteers from Baltimore headed to Lancaster County, Pa., to conduct some voter outreach.

Novey, 28, is a Baltimore native and Harvard University graduate who has spearheaded several national voter registration projects designed to assist college students with the process.

But on this day, Novey, a consultant at the Foundation for Civic Leadership, was dedicating his time to inform prospective voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods of the importance of this presidential election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“This is something I have done a lot in the past with various groups,” Novey said, “but it is the first time I was with JUFJ. So doing something like this with a Jewish group allowed me to express my values not only as an American, but also as a Jew.”

Hillary Clinton (Steve Sands/WireImage/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton (Steve Sands/WireImage/Getty Images)

If Clinton is going to win the presidency, she’ll need advocates such as Novey to plead her case as the Nov. 8 election draws near.

While Maryland Democratic leaders say they haven’t sent as many volunteers and  resources to neighboring battleground states as in past presidential elections, local residents have taken it upon themselves to mobilize Democrats, sympathetic independents and Republicans disenchanted with Trump.

They have boarded buses, formed carpool groups, driven into southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania neighborhoods and knocked on doors to drum up excitement for Democrats up and down the ballot.

“No one wants to sit in our safely ‘blue’ Maryland when Trump victories in our neighbor states could plunge us into a ‘Trumpian’ dystopia,” said Claire Landers, a member of JUFJ who has been involved with the organization of some of the trips. “Their fear, I think, is literally driving them to do something that might make a difference in a scarily close race.”

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

Both elected and nonelected Democratic leaders in Maryland have employed various initiatives aimed at harnessing  enthusiasm for Clinton, constructing a system that just doesn’t give Democrats wins, but runaway wins.

Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said the official campaign committee for Clinton, Hillary for America, has done a lot to unite Maryland Democrats behind her while  re-energizing her base of supporters.

“It’s not the most fun thing in the world to wake up on a Saturday morning, get on a bus and drive for hours,” Conner said, “but we have seen a real interest in our volunteers in Maryland to do that. So I think it is paying dividends, especially with what we are seeing out of places like Pennsylvania in terms of polling numbers.”

State Republican leaders, largely split on Trump, say they have campaigned in Maryland for local candidates but given money to states where the party’s standard-bearer has a better chance of upending Clinton.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he has seen a concerted push from Trump- inspired Republican activists to campaign for the controversial businessman.

Residents from Cecil and Harford counties, Cluster said, have made the relatively short trek to the Lancaster County Republican Party’s headquarters to make calls on Trump’s behalf. Cluster also noted he has been coordinating with campaign officials in other swing states such as Florida and Ohio to help Trump out in any way possible.

“We have been very active in our get-out-the-vote efforts with Pennsylvania and a number of other states,” Cluster said. “The Trump campaign, through volunteers here in Maryland, are making a strong push in Maryland to promote support.”

Crucial states in the 2016 presidential race: Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada. Wisconsin visited by Maryland Clinton supporter. (©

Crucial states in the 2016 presidential race: Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada. Wisconsin visited by Maryland Clinton supporter. (©

Pennsylvania is deemed one of a handful of crucial states in the 2016 presidential race, along with Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada.

For years, Marylanders have been Democratic foot soldiers in Pennsylvania, which lacks the union muscle that drives registration and early voting efforts in and around the state.

But this year, the Keystone State, with its 20 electoral votes, might be more crucial than ever despite having voted for the Democrat nominee in every election since 1992.

I understand people are angry,  frustrated and want to see change. Trump has capitalized on that appeal, but he is not the answer to some of the gridlock we are seeing right now.

— Delegate  Shelly Hettleman (D), 11th District Baltimore County

With a substantial number of blue- collar workers and mining families, Pennsylvania is seen as a hotspot for Trump’s promise to boost coal and natural gas and bring back American jobs from overseas.

As a result, Democratic Delegates Shelly Hettleman, who represents the 11th District in Baltimore County, and Maggie McIntosh, who represents the 43rd District in Baltimore City and is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, will lead a group of about 20 people to Pittsburgh on a five-day trip through Nov. 9.

Because Pennsylvania is one of 13 states without early voting, McIntosh and  Hettleman both say they plan to pound the pavement hard on Election Day. They  will conduct last-minute door-to-door canvassing, offer rides to seniors in  retirement communities who are unable to drive to the polls and conduct calls from a phone bank.

Their hope, McIntosh said, is not only to ensure a Clinton victory in Pennsylvania but also to position the Democrats to take back the Senate. Democrats must win four seats and the presidency to reclaim the Senate, making the hotly contested race in Pennsylvania between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty key for McIntosh.

The Trump campaign, through volunteers  here in Maryland, are making a strong  push in Maryland to promote support.

— Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party

“It’s going to be rough,” said McIntosh, who volunteered in Philadelphia for President Barack Obama and 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore. “We’re not going to find the enthusiasm for Clinton in [Pittsburgh] that you might find in Philadelphia or elsewhere. But we think it’s important to find every vote we can for Clinton in the Pittsburgh area, as well as the Senate.”

Hettleman, one of Clinton’s 60 Maryland delegates at the Democratic National Convention, said this is the first time she has campaigned for a candidate since being elected to office two years ago.

Like many Democrats, Hettleman is deeply skeptical of the brash temperament Trump has displayed at times during his candidacy and questioned his fitness for office with no previous political experience. Although she noted Clinton is not without her flaws, Hettleman contends Trump is not the best change agent for the country.

“I understand people are angry, frustrated and want to see change,” said Hettleman, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D). “Trump has capitalized on that appeal, but he is not the answer to some of the gridlock we are seeing right now.”

Pennsylvania is not the only state in which Clinton enthusiasts from Maryland have taken an active role.

Roberta Greenstein, a 64-year-old  Baltimore resident and community volunteer, was visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Milwaukee last month when she stumbled upon the city’s Democratic campaign offices.

The next day, she went back and asked to volunteer to make phone calls. She was immediately given a script that asked Democratic voters if they were going to vote and, if so, which candidate they would select.

“I think this election is one of the most important I can remember in quite a while,” said Greenstein, who sits on the board of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and also co-chairs the downtown Charm City Hadassah group. “I certainly do not want to see Trump elected, so I am doing what I can to see Clinton elected. I think no one thought Trump would get as far as he did because of the way he has carried himself.”

Several prominent Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that’s not going to stop Republican activists from showing their support for Trump at the polls come Election Day.

“We are prepared in Maryland to make sure there is no intimidation or anything that would stop  someone from exercising his or  her democratic right to vote.”

— Chuck Conner, executive director of the  Maryland Democratic Party

Nick Panuzio, chairman for the Trump campaign in Maryland and also chairman of the Talbot County Republican Central Committee, said Trump has brought in many Maryland Republicans who have never participated in the election process.

“We have seen a lot of people from all around the state who may normally not be as vocal in the election come out in great support of Trump,” said Panuzio, former Republican mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. “This movement is real, and I feel he has gained a lot steam from all different ethnic groups within the state and country.”

Jews for Trump, a national group comprised of Jewish Trump supporters, lists 73 Maryland voters on its website who have vowed to cast their vote for the GOP nominee.

Phil Kaplan, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer and Towson resident who backs Trump, is not among those in that group but nonetheless plans to vote for Trump. His plan on Election Day, he said, is to take part in Operation Red, an online movement that is encouraging Republican supporters to wear red to the polls.

“I’ll say this: Trump supporters are very worried about possible rigging of the election, cheating, etc.,” Kaplan said. “I can’t confirm any of that, of course, but there has been a lot talk about that. So our overall feeling is that there has been such immorality in the tactics used against Trump that anything is possible, so we just want to show our solidarity by wearing red.”

In recent weeks, Trump has implored voters to poll watch, suggesting the election is “rigged,” and voter fraud could make the difference in the election. Maryland state law permits poll watchers,  but it also restricts them from talking to voters or challenging them on any grounds other than identity.

Panuzio will lead a group of 300 party-trained poll monitors to Baltimore City and 150 to Prince George’s County on the day of election to watch for suspicion activity such as voter impersonation and double voting.

The goal, Panuzio said, is to protect the privacy of each voter while allowing the presence of poll watchers to ensure that the process is legal and fair.

“We don’t want the polling places in Baltimore to stay open past the time they are supposed to stay open. People have plenty of time, ample time, to vote, and we are going to be sure that they vote  ontime,” said Panuzio, referring to the 8 p.m. cutoff time for voters. “We just really want to make sure things are in order.”

Given the strength of the laws to combat voter intimidation, Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, expects voting to go smoothly.

“Everybody has the right, within the legal limits, to observe the conduct of an election,” Epps said. “If [poll observers] became concerned that irregularities are going on, they have every right to bring it to the attention of their party’s attorneys who can go into court and try to make sure things are done correctly. What they can’t do, I don’t think, is to storm into the polling place and start trouble.”

Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Department of Justice has dispatched observers and monitors to safeguard the voting process. The law prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.

Observers work inside polling places. Monitors, by contrast, are not permitted to go inside polling places unless state officials grant them authorization.

For the 2012 election, the Department of Justice deployed 780 federal monitors to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states to watch for unlawful activity and write up possible civil rights violations. Maryland, however, was not one of the states monitored.

Conner said voter protection hotline monitors and attorneys at the polling stations will be on standby to maintain order in case any disputes arise.

“We are prepared in Maryland to make sure there is no intimidation or anything that would stop someone from exercising his or her democratic right to vote,” Conner said. “As long as people are not getting into line after 8 p.m. and are there on time, they are free to vote without obstruction or  interference.”

Science Center Looks to Secure Its Future

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center, which turned 40 this year, is celebrating the milestone anniversary by raising millions of dollars to take its brand of science education firmly into the future.

The Inner Harbor institution announced its “Revitalization For Today — Securing Our Future Capital Campaign” on Oct. 28. The $7.5 million campaign has raised almost $4.6 million since January.

“It is a very important campaign for the Science Center,” said Van Reiner, president and CEO. “We are looking to increase the size of our endowment and upgrade some exhibits that are in need of modifications.”

Reiner explained that nearly one million children have been through the exhibits since they first were installed, which has resulted in wear and tear. For example, he cited the area of the dinosaur exhibit, where children can put on goggles and dust off fossils. The exhibit has been so popular that the coloring of the fossils have been worn away to the point that they are nearly  unrecognizable. Some of the funds raised by this campaign will go toward repairing such exhibits, as well as renovating others to make them more  engaging and exciting.

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Another initiative will expand the water play area in which kids have a chance to splash around as well as learn about engineering and physics.

“We are looking to seriously expand it, because right now, a child coming in at 1 p.m. will not be able to get close to the exhibit because it is so popular. We want to make it more  accessible,” said Reiner.

Educational exhibits such as these have created a lasting impact. Susan Ehrlich, director of global business development at W.R. Grace and a member of the Science Center’s board of trustees, points to herself as an example.

“The first time I went to the Science Center was with my dad when I was 11 years old,” she said. “It had just opened, and there was a long line of people; it was packed. But I was intrigued and amazed by all of these things, and it interested me in science.”

“There were a lot of people there answering questions,  including female scientists,” she added. “It planted the seed in my head that I could be a scientist as well, back when that wasn’t a common career for women. I studied chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins, and knowing my history with the Center, I was asked by the CEO of W.R. Grace to be its representative on the board.”

While revamped exhibits are always fun and exciting, however, a majority of the funds that the campaign raises will go toward support for the Center’s education initiatives, both in-house and in the community. One of the biggest draws of the Science Center is that it underwrites free admission for Maryland students who come with school trips or outreach programs.

“We ensure that public, private, parochial and homeschooled students can enter free with reservations,” explained Reiner. “This campaign will help to provide this free admission for students. With the cost of normal admission and a bus to get here, a number of students would be unable to take advantage otherwise.”

All that remains now is for the center to keep pounding the pavement, continuing to reach out to friends, organizations and the community for help with fundraising.

“One of W.R. Grace’s missions is to help science in Maryland, and the Science Center is  directly related to that core mission,” Ehrlich said. “We look for companies to help contribute money, and we have been a corporate sponsor to help drive the interest in science in our community.  We were one of the first companies to donate to the Capital Campaign, and we want to  encourage others to contribute.”

At Pearlstone, a Blossoming Future Story

 Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

In the 15 years of its existence on the unlikely outskirts of a major metropolis such as Baltimore, the 165-acre verdant rolling hills and seemingly endless vista of lush organic farmland known as the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center has had its fair share of eclectic visitors.

“Beyond the Jewish community, we’ve hosted Christian groups, Muslim groups, universities, government groups, birthday parties, corporate groups, as well as many others,” said 34-year-old Jakir Manela, who has been integral to Pearlstone’s development for the past decade and its executive director for nearly five years.

Originally from Montgomery County, Manela focused on  Hebrew, Jewish and global  environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2004.

Manela became a Jewish  environmental educator at the Isabella Freedman Jewish  Retreat Center in Connecticut, where he met future Pearlstone program director Casey Yurow and Yurow’s wife, who was a young Jewish farmer at the time.

“We were inspired by that experience, and Pearlstone saw what was going on up there, then reached out to us in 2005 or 2006 to start something similar here,” Manela said. “So we did.”

With Yurow following shortly after, Manela was on his way, arriving at the center that was “already well-established and running; what we brought was the Jewish educational farm experience, which has really blossomed over the last 10 years.”

Pearlstone has become a major part of Manela’s life; he lives “just down the road” from the center located in the hinterlands of Reisterstown with his three sons and wife, who is a child birth educator and student midwife.

“It’s a big, beautiful campus,” marveled Manela, “and we are excited to expand our cultural component, spending a lot  of time and energy on our ecosystem restoration work, as well as continued  improvements to our biodiversity and  environmental health.”

 Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Though Pearlstone marked its 15th  anniversary on Sept. 12, the facility held a large-scale community outreach event during the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 19, granting tours of its oceanic property and previewing plans for precipitous  expansion of the grounds, including the bolstering of its baseball field and the  development of a new amphitheater, vineyard and a “U-pick” or “pick-your-own” organic garden area.

Patrons will be able to stop into Pearlstone and gather their own blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins, with Pearlstone planning specialized festivals for the harvests to come.

“People will be able to pick all sorts of things, even flowers,” Manela said, adding that the unique farming enclave of the center should be ready for visitors around May/June 2018.

“It’ll all be available in one location,  one that is near and dear to the Jewish community,” Manela said.

An agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which is also the owner of the grounds, Pearlstone’s outreach event invited business and nonprofit leaders from across the spectrum, including BGE CEO Calvin Butler, who spoke toward the end of the proceedings, haloed by a spectacular, fiery sunset backdrop.

“Calvin Butler is a great human being,” Manela said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him on a number of occasions; he’s a good listener.”

Pearlstone has been the recipient of BGE grants for environmental projects on the campus.

Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids,  connect and feel  inspired by this  beautiful place.

— Jakir Manela, executive director  of Pearlstone Center

“I thought one of the lines that he said at our event which resonated for me very deeply was something about being very humbled and honored finding himself as the leader of a major, 200-year-old corporation and waking up every day thinking about how he can use that platform  for good.”

Manela was inspired by these words  of Butler’s spoken for the audience of apt listeners, stomachs filled with all manner of delicious farm-to-table food that was being offered — including the likes of golden spaghetti squash au gratin and crumbly apple cobbler, all served with apropos bamboo wooden utensils.

Those not blithely under the influence of the halcyon, temperate weather or splendid, natural atmosphere of the farmland glowing with a pink radiance from the magnificent sunset may have been  besotted by unique beverages served  including an emerald sangria and fruit smoothies that visitors could blend themselves via an odd biking mechanism powered by pedaling.

“We aspire to the same approach as Calvin Butler’s,” Manela said. “How do we use our platform for good, for the benefit of the entire community?”

Manela clarified that though the Baltimore Jewish community is Pearlstone’s core and foundation, “we really are trying to reach out to those who may not otherwise engage with Jewish organizations and Jewish life, those for whom religion in general and Jewish life specifically may not resonate, even if they connect with the cultural aspects.”

“Jewish food, ethics, spirituality, sustainability, environmental ethics really do resonate with a broad swathe of the American public, including Jews, intermarried Jews and non-Jews,” Manela said. “Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids, connect and feel  inspired by this beautiful place.”

The outreach event was something new for Pearlstone in scope and a larger attempt at “getting on the corporate radar and reaching out to the nonprofit community in a big way.”

Manela said this “new experiment for us” was therefore a terrific success, proclaiming, “I think we knocked their socks off.”

Park School Senior Points Lacrosse Stick at Ivy League

(Photo provided)

(Photo provided)

Sam Cordish has come a long way since he joined the Park School of Baltimore’s lacrosse team as an unassuming freshman more than three years ago.

The 6-foot, 160-pound senior goalie worked hard to get a chance to showcase his talent, cracking the Bruins’ starting lineup as the No. 1 goalie after playing sparingly his first two seasons.

“To see him kind of go through this journey, it’s been such an interesting time for him,” Park head coach Josh Davey said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work, and he’s really busted his butt to put himself in a great position to play  beyond high school.”

In mid-October, Cordish, who also plays for the Greene Turtle Lacrosse Club of Towson, announced his next step, making a commitment to play for the University of Pennsylvania next season.

A touted recruit, Cordish said he held one offer from perennial national title contender Johns Hopkins University. He also drew the attention of Division I powers University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond and Division III schools Dickinson College and Franklin & Marshall College, both in Pennsylvania.

Cordish had a good feeling about Penn from the start of the recruiting process with head coach Mike Murphy at the forefront of Cordish’s longing to play for the Quakers.

“Having met with the coaches a few times, I loved them, and [they] were definitely people I wanted to play for in college,” Cordish said. “The school itself has great academics, which is something I was looking for.”

Because Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholar  ships and Cordish has not  formally been admitted to Penn, NCAA rules prohibit coaches from speaking about commits.

Cordish, son of The Cordish Companies vice president Jonathan Cordish, comes from a bloodline with a longstanding tradition of dominance in the sport.

His grandfather, David Cordish, CEO and chairman of The Cordish Companies, was a three-year letter player at Johns Hopkins who helped lead the Blue Jays to the 1959 national title. The Cordish Lacrosse Center, home to the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs at Johns Hopkins, is named after David Cordish, who was the principal donor for the $10 million project.

He’s put in a lot of hard  work, and he’s really busted  his butt to put himself in  a position to play  beyond high school.

 — Josh Davey, head coach of Park

Sam Cordish’s uncle, who shares the same first name, lined up in between the pipes at Penn and was an All-Ivy League performer.

“I think having a relationship with someone who cares about him as much his family does has been big for Sam,” said Jonathan Cordish, who played two years on Penn’s  men’s tennis team. “To know what it’s like to be an athlete at a high level has been very instrumental in Sam’s nurturing on and off the field.”

Last season alone, Sam Cordish led Park to an 8-5 record, notching 116 saves to go with 13 grounds. With Cordish serving as the last line of defense, the Bruins’ defense was one of the best in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference, holding six of 13 opponents to five goals or fewer.

Davey said Cordish’s work ethic in the weight room and classroom — Cordish is a lacrosse team captain — have propelled the goaltender to provide leadership for Park’s younger players.

“I think on and off the field, Sam is going to go as far as Sam wants to go,” Davey said. “If he continues to work as hard as I’ve seen him work, there’s no limit to where he can go. The possibilities are endless for him, because he’s one of those kids that when he puts his mind on something, I would say there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Cordish has also actively combined his lacrosse acumen with his Jewish identity. A two-time Maccabi Games participant, Cordish led Team Baltimore to a gold medal in the Under-16 seven-on-seven tournament in 2013, the first year lacrosse was a part of the Games.

He has also volunteered with Charm City Youth Lacrosse, passing on his lacrosse knowledge to underserved kids in Baltimore City.

“He might not be the most vocal leader on the lacrosse field,” Dia Clark, the boys’  director of athletics at Park and an assistant coach for the lacrosse team, said. “But people take notice of what he does. He seems very mature for his age and is one of the nicest people anyone will ever meet. Sometimes, I think it gets lost that Sam is not a man of many words, but he is always there for his classmates and teammates.”

Pleased with his college  decision and having it behind him, Cordish is looking forward to putting together a banner senior season.

The Bruins expect to contend in the highly competitive MIAA B Conference and are hungry to capture their first league postseason championship since winning it all in 2005.

“I want us to do better this year, of course,” Cordish said, “and I think with another year of experience, we will be even better. For me, I just want to continue improving my game and leadership skills and be someone the younger guys on the team can look up to.”

Sukkot Around Town

The JT stopped by community events as well as one family’s sukkah during the course of the holiday. Here’s how some in Baltimore  celebrated Sukkot.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Sukkot and Beer

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah stopped by Union Craft Brewing on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. Visitors crowded around the sukkah that had been on tour around the Baltimore area throughout Sukkot, jutting out from the bed of a pickup truck.

“Union has been an integral part of all of this,” said Charm City Tribe director Rabbi Jessy Gross, noting that the seasonal etrog beer on tap was, like the mobile sukkah itself, a means of “creating an  experience on a cultural level” that would allow for a more accessible connection to Judaism for the otherwise uninitiated.

Gross told the JT that reaching out to the community with the mobile sukkah and specialty beer is “important because only 11 percent of people not Orthodox between ages 18 and 34 say it’s important to belong to a Jewish institution, and so that leaves 89 percent of people left to connect with.”

Referring to her unique methods as “low barrier, high content,” Gross hopes folks will come for “the party” and stay for “the content.” They’ll end up asking questions — “What is etrog? What is a sukkah, anyway?” — that will turn a curious young person into someone who is suddenly learning more about and gaining more access to Judaism.

As a close friend of Gross, Union  co-owner Adam Benesch said it was an “obvious” choice to support what she was doing by having a larger event at which the mobile sukkah could rest for a family-friendly evening in the brewery’s parking lot, where children played games, face painting was prominent and where the Green Bowl Food Truck was present for purchase of healthy fast-casual food along with a reading of “Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery,” which — believe it or not — is a children’s book about making beer.

“We had an opportunity here to reach out to the community,” Benesch said. “It’s a mobile sukkah. So, I mean … come on.”

— Mathew Klickstein


Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

A Multigenerational Sukkah

While Sukkot gives families an opportunity each year to celebrate the season outdoors, the Hefter family has taken tradition one step further, passing on panels and decorations in their sukkah from generation to generation.

The family’s temporary holiday hut originated more than 40 years ago with Ruth and Sy Hefter. It has since lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.

Wendy Hefter and her family integrated her husband David’s parent’s sukkah into their own when they decided to stop putting it up following a significant flood in 2012. All of the current Hefter sukkah’s white panels were from the original, while the blue panels were added to the sukkah three years ago so that it would fit the new frame.

“Every year we add something new,” said Wendy. “This year, we actually harvested our own bamboo for the roof.”  Additionally, new paintings are added to the panels yearly.

Painting the panels of the sukkah is another family tradition. Sy originally painted some of the panels. Another of David Hefter’s siblings, Jodie Shoshana, who lives on a kibbutz, paints on her panels each year. Now, Amy Hefter is continuing the tradition.

Last year was her first painting — she painted the minions from the movie “Despicable Me” on a panel because her  father loves them. This year, she decided to illustrate a panel with ushpizin in the same styling that her grandfather used for the letters on the door of the sukkah.

Wendy explained, “Every night in the sukkah, you’re supposed to invite a guest in, one for each of the fathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and David.

“I wanted [the panel] to make sense for the holiday and for the theme. I hope that painting on the canvas means that it will be around for a long time. In the future, I intend on having a sukkah I can paint and decorate with my kids. It is wonderful that we took the sukkah that had been in my grandparents family for nearly generations and gave it a new home, where they can still spend time in it.”

Other décor have been passed down through the family as well. Wendy pointed out a poster in the corner: “That’s from 1973 — during the Yom Kippur war; that was the  famous poster that came out and my parents passed it on to me.”

Even more interesting is the family collection of etrogim. “It is the only fruit that doesn’t spoil when it gets old,” Wendy said. “It never rots. My husband and I have been collecting  etrogim for nearly 31 years. They don’t spoil; they just shrink and get harder. My  father-in-law used to put holes in them with a nail and would put cloves in there. As it shrinks, they get in there and you can use it for bisamim when you have Havdalah.”

— Daniel Nozick

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Sukkot with a Purpose

A number of Jewish community members and officials assembled in the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s sukkah on Oct. 20 as part of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s “High Holidays with a Purpose” initiative.

The participants were there to make a “Soupkot” kit to  donate to low-income families and families transitioning out of homeless shelters in an effort to ensure for them a hot and healthy meal this holiday season.

Abigail Malis, senior associate of community partnerships at the JVC, said the organization saw Sukkot as an opportune time to further its mission of giving back to those less fortunate in underserved communities.

“Well, think about how we operated back in biblical times and ancient times when all of our ancestors were farmers. They had to support each other and were responsible for supporting other members of the Jewish people,” Malis said.

Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior “director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, partnered with the JVC to turn the idea into a reality and raise people’s consciousness of why Jews  celebrate Sukkot.

“I thought this would be a good thing that would bring people into the sukkah and would also be thematically  attune with what we think about during Sukkot,” said Gross, founding director of Charm City Tribe.

The curiosity and buzz generated during the hour that dozens of people made their way around the sukkah was evident from the organizers.

Alexandra Ade, community outreach and volunteer associate at the JVC, said the response she received from the event, which helped benefit Living Classrooms and other JVC shelter programs, was greater than she imagined.

“What we’re doing, it seems pretty simple,” Ade said. “And we have noticed many of the people say, ‘Oh, it is simple and fun.’ I think people feel genuinely good about doing these projects.”

The soup kit, designed to serve up to four people, contained lentils, yellow and green split pears, barley, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic and onion power and one bouillon cube. A 12- to 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, five cups of water in a pot and one-and-a-half to two hours of cooking time — depending on a  person’s desired consistency — were the only required steps to completion.

— Justin Silberman


No Denying Deborah Lipstadt’s Voice

Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)

Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)

“I stand on my work and reputation and not on the honorifics which are applied to me,” said Deborah Lipstadt, when asked if she should be referred to as “doctor” or “professor” during her interview with the JT.

“Deborah” it is.

Lipstadt is the subject of a provocative and essential new film, released Oct. 21, called “Denial,” which chronicles the nearly decade-long battle the world-renown author and Jewish studies scholar underwent defending herself from claims of libel in the United Kingdom.

Directed by Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story,” “The Bodyguard,” “Temple Grandin”) from a screenplay by David Hare (“The Hours”) based on Lipstadt’s own 2005 memoir “History of Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving,” “Denial” is playing now at the Charles Theater and also stars Timothy Spall, Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson and Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.

‘Genocide’ is one of the  demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this  is all very  important.

— Deborah Lipstadt

In her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” Lipstadt referred acrimoniously to self-proclaimed WWII expert David Irving as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial,” among other pejoratives that Irving alleged caused irreparable harm to his continued career as writer and speaker.

The contentious British author brought a libel suit against Lipstadt, cannily choosing his home of the United Kingdom to do so, as in that court system, the burden of proof lies on the defendant, a reversal of our own “innocent until proven guilty” legal foundation. Lipstadt was essentially forced to either settle or fight Irving in court to defend what would ultimately be not only her own credibility but, in many ways, that of the Holocaust’s import in the global arena.

“I thought it would be a real amazing opportunity to bring Deborah Lipstadt to our community right around when the movie came out,” said Israeli-born Hana Bor about Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University’s invitation to Lipstadt to come speak at the campus on Thursday, Nov. 3.

The event will be free and open to the public, “an opportunity to come and hear history from a first-person account,” said Bor, who is Towson’s Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor, program director for Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service graduate programs and  responsible for the creation of the five-year B.A./M.A. degree program in family science and leadership.

“The history of all of this is happening right now.”

— Hana Bor of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute

“The movie dramatizes the real event, but the history of  all of this is happening right now,” Bor said.

Bor, who teaches courses on diversity and culture, said she believes the inexplicable existence of Holocaust denial is something too many people are unaware of, especially since the Holocaust itself is so rarely taught as part of required curriculum at both universities and high schools across the nation.

“It’s a good opportunity to raise the issue of anti-Semitism and to teach about people who deliberately distort the facts or choose to ignore  certain facts,” Bor said of the upcoming Lipstadt speaking engagement, particularly in reference to the likes of Irving who was indeed found by the court to be a distorter of facts in his works as noted by Lipstadt in her own.

Beyond the existence of Holocaust denial — as more than a mere fringe lunacy but rather a pernicious infiltration of academic and mainstream media circles — Lipstadt told the JT she plans on speaking at Towson about the biographical film, how Holocaust denial is a furtive form of anti-Semitism and frightening implications about why it should be of more concern today.

Lipstadt noted that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this,” in reference to how so much of her life — at least in the public eye — has become about Holocaust denial in general and her recent court case with Irving specifically.

Why focus on the Holocaust at all then?

Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in "Denial." (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)

Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in “Denial.” (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)

“I’m not a child of survivors,” she confessed, adding that though she had no immediate family in the Holocaust, she sees herself as a “20th-century historian [who] writes about the Jewish people. You name for me a more critical event for the Jewish people … and for the world. ‘Genocide’ is one of the demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this is all very important.”

Lipstadt ardently suggested that just as slavery is something white people should learn more about, as rape is something men need to learn more about, the Holocaust is something gentiles need to learn more about.

Hence her admiration of the filmmakers of “Denial” for the work they’ve done in bringing her work to a larger mainstream audience and why she feels public lectures such as the one coming to Towson next week is crucial to a better understanding of both history and important issues facing Jews and non-Jews alike.

As a main fulcrum of the film and her true story, Lipstadt refuses to debate anyone about the existence of the Holocaust.

“I wouldn’t expect someone who is an earth scientist to  debate someone who thinks the Earth is flat; I wouldn’t  expect someone who specializes in medicine to debate someone about vaccines causing autism when there’s no science to that; I wouldn’t expect a historian to debate someone who says slavery was only a kind of ‘indentured servitude.’”

If anything, Lipstadt said, the film coming out has made her feel stronger about her intractable position, “especially after seven years were stolen from my life [during the trial].”

“I think debate is important when there’s two sides,” said Jill Max, who has been the  director of the Baltimore  Hebrew Institute for the last five years and worked with Bor to bring Lipstadt to Towson.

“But there are not two sides to the Holocaust,” Max said. “It’s a historical fact, so I agree with Deborah 100 percent. You can’t debate somebody who is clearly there just to deny. To get down in the mud with a person like that … I  understand why she feels that way. It’s counterproductive, because you can’t win a situation like that. What you can do is bring facts to an audience, write books and defend against libel, and all of that has ultimately worked out for her.”

Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking at Towson University on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. This is a free event. For registration and more information, visit

Charmery Unveils ‘Black Sabbath’ Ice Cream with Manischewitz

David and Laura Alima, owners of The Charmery, pose with their new flavor, Black Sabbath. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

David and Laura Alima, owners of The Charmery, pose with their new flavor, Black Sabbath. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

What does heavy metal, kosher wine and ice cream have in common? They’re all incorporated into The Charmery’s Black Sabbath ice cream, which the Hampden shop unveiled on Wednesday.

The dessert tribute to the godfathers of heavy metal features black sesame seeds, blackberry Manischewitz wine and locally made blackberry jam.

“This is one instance where the name came first,” said David Alima, who opened the ice cream shop more than three years ago with his wife, Laura. “I was like, ‘We need to do a Black Sabbath flavor. Oh, black sesame seeds … gotta do Manischewitz, come on!’”

“Her family is big Manischewitz drinkers,” David said of Laura, who specified, “Blackberry only. That’s the classy Manischewitz.”

Over a scoop of the new flavor, David explained how his shop likes to mix the serious with the playful. Customers can find flavors such as kulfi, inspired by the traditional Indian frozen dessert, which has rosewater, pistachio flour, pistachio paste, cardamom and date pieces, alongside Cheese and Crackers ice cream.

“We want things that are seriously beautiful combinations of flavors and delicious, and some other things that are just like, ‘What?’” he said. “This is definitely a ‘what?’ flavor.”

But it works. The fruit and sesame flavors balance out each other’s sweetness and nuttiness, and the jam keeps the blackberry flavor at the forefront. While combining wine and ice cream is a delicate process, Manischewitz is a different kind of animal.

“It’s really hard to get the nuanced subtlety of wine in ice cream when you’re putting in this heavy cream,” David said. “But with Manschewitz, you don’t really have to worry about that. Manischewitz is like a truck; it’ll battle through.”

While the name of the ice cream came before its Jewish twist, for David, it pays tribute to the “iconic band” fronted by Ozzy Osbourne.

“They were so good at riffs. Their riffs just got you there,” David said of the band’s guitar parts. “I feel like they were a metal band, for sure, but they were such an approachable metal band. They were almost writing metal pop songs. They’d probably hate me for saying that, but they were listenable and really catchy. It’s all about the riffs.”

Black Sabbath won’t be the only Jewish- and music-inspired flavor The Charmery unveils this week. An ice cream tribute to Drake, who was born to a Jewish mother and had a bar mitzvah, will be on the shelves this Friday. The flavor, @champagnepapi, named after Drake’s Instagram handle, is a champagne base with poppy seeds throughout.

David, who is the son of an Israeli father and a Baltimore native, and Laura, who grew up in Columbia and is the stepdaughter of former Jewish Federation of Howard County president Jacques Fein, have been known to bring their Judaism into the ice cream shop. The couple actually met at Bel Air’s Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, where they were both counselors.

Past flavors include apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah; sufganiyot, a doughnut base with raspberry swirl, for Chanukah; etrog for Sukkot; charoset for Passover, as well as an ice cream with matzah in it.

“One of my favorite insider tributes — and I think it’s to everyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas,” David said, “is Chinese Food and a Movie, which is chocolate-covered fortune cookies and butter popcorn base.”

Mercaz Hosts Interfaith Program

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (file photo)

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (file photo)

Two longtime Baltimoreans, friends and colleagues, Dr. Christopher Leighton and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, will be leading a program entitled “Sibling Rivalries: Does God Play Favorites” at Beth Tfiloh’s Mercaz Dahan Center for Jewish Life & Learning.

The program is being done in partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies and “will explore questions of how Jews and Christians build their identities in relationship to one another and to God,”  according to the ICJS website. The program will takes place on the first three Wednesday evenings of November.

“We will be exploring the relationship of character  between Christians and Jews,” Leighton, the ICJS’s Protestant Scholar and former executive director, said. “Sometimes  Judaism is described as the parent and Christianity as the child, but recently the image which has come up is that of siblings.”

“Our dialogue is about the sibling rivalry between Jews and Christians in the Bible and contemporarily. There was a time when the relationship was adversarial, but in the past 50 years, that relationship has turned into brotherhood,” Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Wohlberg asserted.

Dr. Christopher Leighton (file photo)

Dr. Christopher Leighton (file photo)

“Unfortunately, I think the change was due to the Holocaust, which took place in the heart of Christian Europe. The church had to acknowledge that something had gone wrong, and beginning with the Second Vatican Council [1962-1965], they attempted to right the wrong. That can only be done by working together.”

In the course of the program, participants will be studying a number of biblical stories that Judaism and Christianity share, as well some that are not shared. The stories are those about siblings in sacred text, in both the Bible and the New Testament.

“We’re going to look at sibling rivalries and how to overcome a relationship where one brother is seen as supplanting the other as the ‘favored son’ who receives all of God’s blessings while the other is left empty-handed,” said Leighton. “Then we will look at how that definition is redefined today.”

First and foremost, the most notorious sibling rivalry will be studied, the dynamics  between Cain and Abel. The fratricidal relationship between the brothers will be used to look at how Jews and Christians should be related today.

Participants will then look at how the story of Esau and Jacob is paradigmatic of the relationship between these two religions. The conflict that resulted from Jacob’s deception of Isaac in order to receive his older brother’s birthright is analogous to the massive spread of Christianity following the destruction of the Second Temple.

“To Jews, traditionally Esau has been related to Edom, which related to Rome and thereby related to Church,” Leighton explained. “Christians have flipped it and see the Jews as the older brother, and they lay claim to being Jacob on whom the blessings rest.”

“What will be of interest is for people to see how Jews and Christians read the same text differently,” said Wohlberg. “I wonder how many Jews are aware that Christians see themselves as the descendants of Jacob, the younger child, rather than Esau, the elder child. The difference in understanding makes all the difference in the world.”

The third section will look at a more unfamiliar story to Jews, the story of the parable of the prodigal son. “It can be read to reinforce a dysfunctional rivalry, or it can be read in ways that are much more constructive and positive, so we want to explore how that might lead us to analyze the relationship between Christians and Jews in new terms,” said Leighton.

In the series, the two want to confront the sometimes  adversarial relationship between Christians and Jews and to foster a more positive and creative dynamic.

Madeline Suggs, director  of public affairs at the BJC,  explained that they are very  excited for the series because Jewish-Muslim discourse has been much more commonplace recently.

“Dialogue is one of our top duties,” she said. “It is such a joy for us at the BJC to have so many people doing interfaith work in the community. I am really excited for an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue as well. It’s a great opportunity with the timing and location to get people with a lot of different backgrounds and experience to get together in the same place.”

The series takes place at Beth Tfiloh’s Epstein Chapel, 3300 Old Court Road in Baltimore on Nov. 2, 9 and 16 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. For reservations or more information, call Noah Mitchel at 410-542-4850 or the Mercaz office at 410-413-2321.

Uniting Jewish Baltimore Shabbat Project aims to bring entire spectrum of community together

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

In 2013, South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein wanted to create an opportunity that would allow all Jews to celebrate one Shabbat together in more than just spirit.

The Shabbos Project resonated with Jewish communities around the globe: “The concept is simple: Jews from all walks of life, from across the spectrum — religious, secular and traditional, young and old, from all corners of the world — unite to experience one full Shabbat together, in full accordance with Jewish law,” the organization’s website says.

On the Shabbat during which the project was first launched, nearly 70 percent of the South Africa’s approximate 75,000 Jews celebrated Shabbat, many of whom had not done so before. In the aftermath of the event, communities wrote in from around the world, having seen the success of the project and wanting to bring the initiative to their own locale, giving birth to the international initiative.

Today, the project has grown immensely. Last year’s global initiative reached more than 913 cities and included participation by more than one million Jews worldwide. This year’s project looks to be even larger. In Baltimore, Jewish people from all backgrounds and traditions will come together once more to celebrate Shabbat with the local Shabbat Project’s motto in mind: “ONE Shabbat as ONE people with ONE heart.”

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Baltimore hopped on the train in 2014 and launched its own Shabbat Project initiative, which expanded to other areas last year such as Howard County, where the Jewish community also wanted to participate.

“The idea of Jewish people around the world keeping one Shabbat together blossomed into something miraculous and beautiful,” said Nisa Felps, project manager of the Baltimore Shabbat Project, as well as a member of the project’s steering committee. “There is an overwhelming sense of unity. It is a beautiful thing seeing these people from all walks of Judaism coming together.”

“This year, we really wanted to make Shabbat shine,” Felps continued. “It’s important that Shabbat is the nucleus of the Shabbat Project. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we can highlight Shabbat. Across Baltimore, there are all sorts of activities that will be happening: Shabbatons, Kiddushes, Onegs, family meals — at shuls and at people’s homes. We also launched the Shabbat Challenge. It is fully via social media, challenging people to engage Shabbat even more. There is a lot of momentum going into this year that we want to capitalize on. It is about unity and coming together for a love of Shabbat and of Judaism.”

Last year, the project touched 25,000 Jews in the Greater Baltimore area. This year, the goal is to engage at least 40,000. Events will be taking place across Baltimore between Sunday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 12.

The first, and one of the biggest, events will be the community-sponsored Shabbat Through the Senses, which is taking place at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project

“Shabbat Through the Senses is an opportunity for all kinds of families to come together and experience Shabbat piece by piece by having kids create things that they can use at home on Shabbat,” said Gabrielle Burger, director of PJ library and chair of the Shabbat Through the Senses event. “There will be a mini-challah bake with premade dough for kids. There will be Havdalah spice making, making Shabbat candles with wax and making candlesticks with sand art. You will have the opportunity to create your own tie-dye challah cover and to grind wheat with people from Pearlstone.”

The event includes PJ Library story time and pre-Shabbat activities with puppets and stories, as well as a sing-along with Beth Israel Congregation Rabbi Rachel Blatt and Beth Tfiloh Congregation Hebrew School director Brian Singer.

“Absolutely everything that we are doing is 100 percent inclusive, regardless of abilities,” said Burger. “Each family gets to make a Shabbat box based off the PJ library story ‘The Shabbat Box’ and take home an entire Shabbat experience when they leave. There will also be a moon bounce, face painting and a magician. It really will be a fabulous experience for everybody.”

Matisyahu headlines the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Matisyahu headlines the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert on Nov. 12 at Rams Head Live! (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Shabbat Challenge is an ongoing social media initiative for the project this year. The message is that Shabbat belongs to all Jews. It is about putting elements of Shabbat into the Sabbath, even if those observing aren’t going to do everything — because Jews can benefit from each individual piece that Shabbat has to offer.

“I have really always felt a love for Shabbat,” said Miriam Gross, who is coordinating Shabbat events and aiding the online challenge. “I do feel that it gets a rep of belonging to the Orthodox and more observant communities, but I have always felt that the reward for keeping Shabbat is getting to have Shabbat. It is an amazing time to unplug and thing about what is meaningful in life. What I love about the Shabbat project is that it is nondenominational — you see people who are pumped about Shabbat that you wouldn’t expect to be. I think it is really putting Shabbat back into the hands of every Jew that wants it, making it accessible.”

A large part of the Shabbat Challenge is a series of hashtags on social media that are being used to unite participants. #Shabbat@OurPlace and #Shabbat@ YourPlace, for example, are being used to help people find a community member’s home in which to celebrate Shabbat. #ShabbatUnplugged calls for people to unplug from electronic devices and “plug into real life.”

Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Top: Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. Above: The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

Jewish folk-rockers Moshav perform at the 2015 Baltimore Shabbat Project. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

The most well-known and anticipated event of the Shabbat Project is the Great Challah Bake, an event for Jewish women to unite and prepare for Shabbat by learning to bake traditional challah loaves together.

This year, the event will take place at the Baltimore Convention Center on Wed-nesday, Nov. 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. There also will be a challah bake for seniors on Wednesday, Nov 9 at 6:45 p.m. at Peregrine’s Landing at Tudor Heights and one for women only through the Jewish Federation of Howard County at Beth Shalom Congregation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10.

According to Felps, the first year that Baltimore participated in the Shabbat Project, the challah bake was one of the signature events. “The first year, it took off,” she said. “We expected 500 people and 1,200 showed up. Last year’s challah bake had just under 4,000 people, and this year we expect even more.”

Saralee Greenberg, a co-chair of the event’s steering committee, said that she became involved with the Shabbat Project initiative through the challah bake last year. “You’re at a table with 10 women, all of different ages and affiliations,” she said. “You are sisters, and there is a bond that just fills the room and fills the heart. I left with a sense of awe and happiness and understanding. This year, I got a call to be involved as a co-chair and said yes immediately because it is worth every bit of time and energy to make others feel the same way. I have never seen such dedicated volunteers.”

The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

The Great Challah Bake attracted nearly 4,000 people last year, and organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year. (Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Shabbat Project)

Hanni Werner, the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s marketing and communications associate, explained how last year the organization decided to have its first Shabbat Project challah bake. “We didn’t know how it would go, we were just starting out,” she said. “But the response was overwhelmingly positive, and everyone had a great time. We had such an incredible turnout that we reserved a larger space to accommodate nearly twice as many people this year. Last year, we had about 120 people, and this year, we’ll probably have about 220.”

“We especially felt it was significant at helping Jewish women unite,” Werner continued. “We’re a month out from the event this year, and we have already sold out. It’s one of those events that has really good, palpable energy. It is not just about making the challah, it’s about getting people together and connected. It has such a wide appeal that each year we seem to reach even more people, particularly multigenerational families who bring daughters, moms and grandmas.”

Jen Kaplan has been involved with the Shabbat Project since its inception in Baltimore. This year, she is once again co-chairing the Great Challah Bake. “We have made a lot changes this year,” she said. “We received a lot of positive and constructive feedback from last year. For example, there will only be Jewish music this year — some traditional, some pop, some Israeli style. There will also be a much higher level of spirituality this year, and an emcee, Yaffa Palti, will manage and direct the crowd as needed.”

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

The Great Challah Bake (Photo by David Stuck)

Kaplan plans to talk about the power behind women uniting to make challah together and the good that it can bring about. She wants to inspire a sense of Jewish unity and spirituality in the audience.

“For example, we are going to create a moment of silence when it is time to say the one-line brachah prayer,” she said. “When you actually rip a piece of challah off, everyone can have a moment for silent reflection and send their prayers directly up to those who need healing and livelihood. I am very connected to unity, and I really believe in the flavor of the project in Baltimore. Even the larger Shabbat project is really about everybody keeping a Shabbat together.”

In the same vein of unity, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Suburban Orthodox Congregation will be joining together on Nov. 11 to have “a wonderful evening of song, d’var Torah, camaraderie and a delicious dinner,” on Nov. 11, according to the project’s website.

“The Shabbos Project offers us the opportunity to connect to our entire community,” said Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation. “While we may have our differences, some quite significant, there is so much that unites and bonds us to one another. We feel truly privileged to share a Shabbos dinner with our brothers and sisters from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. We truly hope the seeds of achdus and unity will continue to flourish in the months and years ahead.”

The diverse array of events taking place in the community this year will culminate at the final event of the Shabbat Project, a community-sponsored Havdalah concert featuring Matisyahu. The concert is taking place at Rams Head Live! on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“I have always felt that the reward for
keeping Shabbat is getting to have Shabbat.”

— Miriam Gross, a Shabbat events coordinator

Lisa Bodziner, director of educational engagement at the Center for Jewish Education, was on the Havdalah committee last year and has continued in that role for this year’s event. “I really believe that the Shabbat Project is a great chance to involve a younger generation and less-involved crowd in the Jewish community,” she said. “The goal with bringing in Matisyahu is to create an experience that would be more relevant and intriguing to that audience.”

“I am very passionate about Shabbat and people having their own unique experiences,” Bodziner added. “I think Havdalah is sometimes a ritual that gets lost. We really wanted to make a beautiful evening celebrating Shabbat with a Havdalah that will turn into a concert. The goal is to sell out Rams Head Live!, which has a capacity of 1,600. We are happy to have anyone of any background and of any age group to join us. We want young folks to come out and embrace the experience of Havdalah and have a meaningful night.”

The evening will be packed with activities. From 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be a DJ. For $100, attendees can join a meet-and-greet with Matisyahu. There will be an art project in which people will be able to add to a neon lights display about what “light” means to them as an essential part of Shabbat and Havdalah. Repair the World will be running a project at the event, decorating holiday cards for needy families in the Baltimore area. There will also be pizza, cocktails and glow-in-the-dark glasses for the first 500 people registered.

The concert starts with Havdalah at 9; Matisyahu will perform until 11. Afterward, the DJ will play music until 1 a.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $25 at the door.

“We all have the same passion to bring Shabbat to Baltimore,” said Greenberg. “My goal is to cast the love and beauty of Shabbat on to the rest of Baltimore. I want people to come away with experiences they enjoyed. Having them do the one thing that they haven’t done before will make it successful for me.”

Editor’s Note: The Jewish Times is the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s official media sponsor.
For more information, visit

Synagogues Team Up for Election Series

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shaking hands after their first presidential debate, which was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shaking hands after their first presidential debate, which was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With Election Day closing in, Beth Am Synagogue, Beth Israel Congregation, Beth El Congregation and Chizuk Amuno Congregation have collaborated to put on a lecture series that explores the polarizing campaigns of presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton through a Jewish lens.

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who leads the Beth Am Synagogue of more than 500 families, said the necessity to start such a program was two-fold. The idea was to develop a project that had particular relevance to the election and to work with a respected Jewish institution in Yeshivat Hadar, a liberal yeshiva in New York, to execute that.

“This election season has been so divisive,” Burg said, “and to be able to bring a sense of broader responsibility within the Jewish community is a great counterpoint to some of the rhetoric we have seen.”

Sponsored in part by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the four-part series, “Debate and Decision: Thinking About the Election with Jewish Values,” kicked off on Oct. 20 at Beth El with Rabbi Shai Held, a teacher at Mechon Hadar yeshiva, leading a discussion at Beth El. Rabbai Aviva Richman, a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar, presented a talk at Beth Am on Oct. 27, discussing whether it’s possible, wrong or imperative for political enemies to creative community harmony. There are two remaining sessions.

This has to do with the well-being of our community and how our votes fit into that narrative.

— Howard Libit, BJC executive director

Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC, said the sessions have less to do with Trump’s or Clinton’s candidacy but more with personal reflection and shared values among Jewish people.

“This has to do with the well-being of our community and how our votes fit into that narrative,” Libit said. “It gives us an opportunity to think more broadly and deeply about the election beyond what we see on TV or read in the newspaper.”

The final two discussions, at Beth Israel on Nov. 3 and Chizuk Amuno on Nov. 16, will sandwich Election Day on Nov. 8, giving ample time for the participating rabbis to digest the results.

Burg, Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Beth El Senior Rabbi Steve Schwartz, Chizuk Amuno Rabbi Ron Shulman and Dr. Neil Rubin of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University will dissect the results in a panel discussion, capping what figures to be an eventful election cycle.

“About a little more than a week after the election, we’ll be able to digest what we have learned from the election,” Libit said. “It’s not a postmortem on getting out to vote or which candidate did a better job, but I think a lot will center on the tone and the nature of how the election went.”

Outside of rabbinical assembly meetings and board of rabbi meetings, the four conservative synagogues don’t often team up for programs, Burg said. During his six years as rabbi at Beth Am, Burg said this is the first time he can recall the four Conservative synagogues coming together in such a capacity.

Moving forward, Burg hopes it’s a relationship that can continue to grow and blossom when fundamental political and social issues present themselves to the public.

“It’s exciting to be able to do something like this just because we haven’t really done much of anything like this before,” Burg said. “I think this is something that we can explore doing more of in the future.”

For more information about these free events, visit