A Heart-to-Hut Celebration At home, in front of apartment buildings, on pickup trucks — Baltimore celebrates Sukkot

Photo credit ©istockphoto.com/Karaidel

Photo credit ©istockphoto.com/Karaidel

Sukkot is always a drastic transition,  shifting from one of the most solemn days of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, to one of the most joyous of celebrations.

In Baltimore, families will eat and sleep in their sukkahs — temporary, hand-built abodes. Many will host Shabbat dinners, and others, through local  organizations, will have the sukkahs  come to them.

The Hebrew word “sukkot”  directly translates into English as “booths,” referencing the structures that Jewish families build. The meaning of the  holiday is two-fold.

Commonly, Sukkot is known as an agricultural holiday to celebrate the harvest. In fact, some scholars speculate that the American tradition of Thanksgiving is derived in some sense from Sukkot, as the incredibly devout pilgrims would have looked to the Bible for an appropriate celebration of the harvest.

One of the most important traditions is to shake the lulav and etrog in six directions to symbolize that God is everywhere. An etrog is a citrus fruit native to Israel that could  easily be mistaken for a lemon — it is known as a citron in English. The lulav, however, is a bundle composed of three separate plants. It derived its namesake from the single palm branch that it contains, which is known as a lulav in Hebrew. The bundle also contains two willow branches and three myrtle branches. Although there are a few interpretations of why we use these four separate plants, all interpretations share a common theme — that all parts are different, but a mitzvah is performed when all of the elements are united.

In spite of this agricultural significance, Sukkot is better known as a commemoration of the 40-year pilgrimage of the Israelites through the desert. The sukkahs that we build today are reminiscent of the temporary shelters in which the Israelites would have dwelled.

Contemporary Judaism sees Sukkot practiced differently in many households. Some families will build a sukkah to commemorate the holiday without utilizing it, while others will eat and sleep in their sukkah for every night of the holiday.

Caleb Gitlitz and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have spent at least one night sleeping in the family sukkah for years. (Photo provided)

Caleb Gitlitz and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have spent at least one night sleeping in the family sukkah for years. (Photo provided)

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman of the Harford Chabad said, “People in Chabad believe in sleeping in the sukkah, but  Halachah, the Jewish law based on the Talmud, says that if you are uncomfortable dwelling in the sukkah, then you do not need to — there is a fine balance. We will eat and drink in the sukkah even if it is raining. However, with the spiritual energy that permeates the sukkah, how can you sleep? The second Chabad Rebbe, Dovber Schneuri, said, ‘I am unable to sleep because that energy is so powerful.’ Supposedly he would not sleep on Sukkot.”

Yohanan and Tamar Schulman, local Baltimore parents, have been putting up a sukkah every year. “I have been putting up the sukkah for 20 years now,” said Yohanan. “It is a tradition that I was taught by my parents, and I like to do it with my own children now.” He and his children sleep in their sukkah.

For many local families, Sukkot is a time to come together and celebrate. Caleb Gitlitz, 13, and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have been spending at least one night together in their sukkah for years. It started when Gitlitz’s family lived in New York.

“I used to go to New York to visit them for some holidays,” said Howard. “They had put a sukkah up and the kids were so excited. Caleb must have been 5. He has always been into his religion, he lives it every day. He wanted to sleep in the sukkah, so when his  father was skeptical, I slept in it with him.”

It has been a tradition of theirs ever since. Howard said that it means a lot to her because now the boys are much more grown up, but they are still just as enthusiastic about sleeping in the sukkah and spending time with her as ever.

“We always play cards and games in the sukkah; last year, we played Rummikub,” shared Gitlitz. “The holiness of the sukkah, I just love being out there. When we lived in New York, sometimes we would ask a friend or two for help building the sukkah, because working on it brings out a lot of the life of Sukkot. Being with my bubbie in the sukkah is a huge part of the year and our relationship. Every Sukkot, we will be singing, shouting l’chaims; it is so spiritually uplifting. A lot of people that we invite over don’t have a sukkah of their own, so we want them to experience it, and they want to experience it too.”

Aiden Gitlitz, Caleb’s younger brother, added, “I love sleeping in the sukkah with my bubbie because we have a lot of fun, and I get the feeling of what it was like to sleep in a sukkah outside for the Jews in Israel.”

“It really has made a strong impact on our kids,” said Teri Gitlitz, Caleb and Aiden’s mother. “Our kids really thrive in the joy of the holidays, and it is really special because they know that they get to sleep in the sukkah with their bubbie.”

Another of the Gitlitz family’s traditions is for each of the grandchildren to create an  edible sukkah. “I bring supplies and they each have a theme,” explained Howard. “The kids will use their Legos too. Sometimes the theme is biblical, sometimes the theme is “Star Wars.” It is Caleb’s  favorite part because we are making memories together. He has told me that when he grows up and has his own family, he wants to continue the tradition with them.”

Lieba Gornbein looks  forward to “sitting in  the sukkah and seeing
the stars above, opening  our minds to what  Hashem has to  bring us.”


Ben Temin has always enjoyed Sukkot and wanted to build  a sukkah, but living in an apartment the past few years rendered him unable to do so, as “a sukkah has to be exposed to the sky and our porch was covered.” This year, he and his wife, Renee, were determined to celebrate properly, so they found a kit and decided to build their sukkah on the lawn in front of their building.

Apparently, the Temin family was not the only one determined to celebrate Sukkot in spite of an inopportune environment. “Everyone in our building who wants to will build [a sukkah] out front, and the management tolerates it,” said Temin. “We would like to sleep in the sukkah, but it  depends on the weather, and it is not a private area, so safety is a consideration.”

Last year, the Temins had made arrangements to go out of town for Shabbat during the intermediate days of the holiday. However, when their plans fell through, they were at a loss for where or how to celebrate. “We were amazed because we were at home and everyone was so hospitable. All of our neighbors invited us into their sukkahs.” This year, Ben and Renee intend to invite friends, family and neighbors for meals in their own sukkah.


Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah is inspired by Israeli artists’ designs. (File  photo)

Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah is inspired by Israeli artists’ designs. (File photo)

Varied Celebrations

As a time of renewal, reminiscence and reflection, Sukkot remains a cherished holiday for many Jews, regardless of their denomination or level of religious engagement.

Last week, the JT stopped by the Park Heights JCC to speak with Jews of all backgrounds who generously provided their take on the season and how they’re planning on observing.

“We’ll mainly have our family there for the Shabbos of Sukkot,” said Maia Bar Am of Indian Village.

By family, Bar Am means her husband, “four girls and two boys,” who will join her along with her sister who will stay with the rest of the family in their sukkah.

“We usually take the kids on some kind of chol hamoed outing,” Bar Am continued, adding that this year was particularly special for the family due to her setting up their sukkah alone with her older girls and 7-year-old son.

“My husband works six days a week now,” Bar Am said. “So I told him, ‘Yeah, I bet the girls and I could set it up ourselves!’”

Menlo Drive resident Ken Addess will also stay home for Sukkot, though he said he may go apple picking with his family.

For many, the joy of Sukkot is all about family. (Courtesy of jta.org)

For many, the joy of Sukkot is all about family. (Courtesy of jta.org)

“We have a beautiful sukkah,” Addess said. “It’s attached to the house and we enjoy spending time there. We can leave our comfortable house and go there to remember what our purpose in life is. That’s what I usually talk about at the table.”

Lieba Gornbein will celebrate at home with family and friends too. They’ll talk about the harvest and the coming of the new year, Gornbein continued.

Gornbein looks forward to “sitting in the sukkah and seeing the stars above, opening our minds to what Hashem has to bring us.”

“Sukkot is great,” Gornbein said. “I love sitting in the sukkah. Hopefully it won’t rain and won’t be too cold!”

Gornbein’s particular sukkah has been dutifully decorated over the years by her children with homemade trinkets: “little sparkling lights and birds hanging from the ceiling.”

With her children coming home from as far as New York, Gornbein said she’s delighted to have them all together at once.

But not everyone has made arrangements so far in advance. Some prefer to wait until the last minute to decide where they’ll go, who they’ll be with and just what they’ll be doing this Sukkot.

“I don’t really have a plan yet,” said Jill Klein. “I’m sort of an impromptu type of person.”


Bringing Sukkot to the People

During the last four years, Charm City Tribe Rabbi Jessy Gross has helped Jews in Baltimore to celebrate Sukkot by bringing the festivities to them, similar to a longtime Chabad outreach activity.

With a pickup truck serving as the foundation, the Charm City Tribe mobile sukkah  becomes a scene of awe among many passers-by this time of year who stop to get a better view of the structure on its annual tour.

Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, said the opportunity to raise awareness on sukkahs to those unfamiliar with the temporary hut is something she relishes.

“Last year, one of my favorite things that happened was when we popped up at a Ravens tailgate, a couple of gentlemen were walking by, and they were like, ‘Oh, those are the Jewish huts that people in Pikesville put up,’” Gross said with a laugh. “I would say that [the mobile sukkah] spikes  curiosity, and people like to participate and to learn and experience what it’s like to be a part of ours.”

Rabbi Jessy Gross (seated, wearing a winter hat) and Charm City Tribe take their mobile sukkah on the road. (Provided)

Rabbi Jessy Gross (seated, wearing a winter hat) and Charm City Tribe take their mobile sukkah on the road. (File photo)

This year, the Charm City Tribe mobile sukkah will make stops at HomeSlyce in Federal Hill, Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point and Union Craft Brewery in Hampden. In two of the locations, Max’s Taphouse and Union Craft Brewery, there will be Union’s Anthem Golden Ale on tap, which Gross expects to be a big draw.

Also at Max’s Taphouse, Charm City Tribe and Repair the World Baltimore will hold an interactive service activity designed to give back to those less fortunate. Together, members from both organizations will package mugs of soups that will be donated to different food distribution centers throughout the city, including Meals on Wheels.

Josh Sherman, a program associate for Repair the World Baltimore, said he’s looking forward to connecting the community while informing young people of the holiday meaning and tradition.

“Repair the World has a strong partnership with Charm City Tribe and is absolutely in love with the concept of a  mobile sukkah,” Sherman said. “We should be bringing the Judaism to you, not the other way around. We hope to engage Jews in their 20s and 30s in some of the mitzvot of Sukkot outside of the traditional and institutionalized Jewish spaces.”

Gross, meanwhile, has taken an active role in bringing Sukkot to the forefront at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC — literally.

For the first time she can  recall, Gross said there will be a sukkah in the Owings Mills JCC’s front circle, allowing members to participate in a number of programs offered inside the physical location. The 12-by-24-foot structure, four times the size of the previous sukkahs tucked away in the courtyard, will house yoga classes, staff gatherings, Shabbat dinners and more.

“At Owings Mills, I think we really want to give people the chance to see what the celebration of Sukkot can be,” Gross said. “We think by creating a lot of different opportunities for people to come into the sukkah with a purpose, it can help introduce them to all the possibilities around Sukkot.”

It’s all part of an effort that she hopes will continue to generate an increased buzz around Sukkot.

For more information, visit JCC.org/Sukkot and facebook.com/CharmCityTribe.

Howard County Sheriff to Resign amid Racist, Anti-Semitic Remarks

James Fitzgerald (Screenshot: http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/36loc/how/jud/sheriffs/html/msa15142.html)

James Fitzgerald (Screenshot: http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/36loc/how/jud/sheriffs/html/msa15142.html)

Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald, who recently came under fire for alleged racist and anti-Semitic statements, will resign from office after numerous calls for him to step down.

Fitzgerald was expected to sign an agreement Tuesday stating that his last day in office would be Oct. 15, according to Howard County Council Administrator Jessica Feldmark.

Among the remarks detailed in a Sept. 1 report by the county’s Office of Human Rights were Fitzgerald referring to former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as “little Kenny Jew-boy” as well as derogatory comments about African-Americans and women. The sheriff was also accused of retaliating against deputies who did not support his re-election in 2010.

Ulman was in the middle of teaching a government and politics class at the University of Maryland, College Park when his cellphone frantically started lighting up with texts and calls.

His consulting firm, Margrave Strategies, was trying to reach the him to tell him about the just-released report.

Ulman, a Democrat who was the candidate for lieutenant governor under Anthony Brown’s unsuccessful 2014 bid, said he was “surprised but not shocked” to hear of Fitzgerald’s alleged controversial remarks.

“Despite being called names myself, I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years,” Ulman said. “What bothered me was the totality of what [Fitzgerald] had done, creating a hostile, bullying workplace that brought politics into a government workplace.”

The 48-page report stunned a community known for its racial, social and economic diversity.

Prior to his resignation announcement, a wide range of elected officials called for Fitzgerald to resign from his post, including five members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation — Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D), Dutch Ruppersberger (D) and John Sarbanes (D).

Ken Ulman: “I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years.” (File Photo)

Ken Ulman: “I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years.” (File Photo)

“As federal elected officials with responsibilities for the people of Howard County, we urge you to prioritize the needs of the residents of the county you serve, as well as the officers under your command, and resign your office,” the five wrote in a statement.

Former and current Sheriff’s Office employees, interviewed during the nearly year-long investigation, told the Office of Human Rights that Fitzgerald ruled by fear and intimidation, among other demeaning tactics.

On Sept. 29, Fitzgerald issued a statement apologizing for  the attention surrounding the accusations, but said at the time that he intended to stay in office despite increasing  political pressure to step down.

“I can say that the report has been humbling, hurtful and disappointing to all involved,” Fitzgerald said in the prepared statement. “It has caused me to reflect on what is important to my family, our community and the men and women deputies that I have served with at the Sheriff’s Office.”

On Monday, County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) issued a statement expressing his disappointment that Fitzgerald had ignored calls from his office, other elected officials and community leaders to resign. He also announced that he was directing the county’s law office to explore “any and all legal means” through the court system to relive Fitzgerald of his duties.

Last week, Kittleman asked the county’s representatives in Annapolis to explore whether the General Assembly could impeach the third-term sheriff. State lawmakers do have the authority to impeach state judges and officers.

Under the state constitution, elected officials, such as Fitzgerald, may be removed from  office if they are convicted of  a felony or a misdemeanor  related to their conduct in office that carries potential jail time. Fitzgerald, however, had not been charged with any crime.

The House of Delegates holds the sole power of impeachment, but a majority of the House must agree to oust the official. A trial also would need to be held in the Senate, requiring a two-thirds vote from all senators for conviction.

No government officer has ever been impeached under the procedure, according to The Daily Record.

Fitzgerald and his representatives did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Ulman, who maintained a professional working relationship with Fitzgerald for more than 10 years, hoped the sheriff would walk away on his own power so that impeachment would not have to be explored.

“My sense is that he’s going to leave office one way or another,” Ulman said prior to Fitzgerald’s resignation. “Whether or not he does it on his own is forced out, it would be nice if he could see the writing on the wall and resign graciously. Unfortunately, it will be a spectacle in Annapolis if he doesn’t choose to resign.”

In Howard County, Ulman said, the Sheriff’s Office “does very little,” providing courthouse security, dealing with landlord-tenant evictions, transporting prisoners and serving protective orders and warrants. The Howard County Police Department, led by Chief Gary Gardner, is the primary law enforcement agency of the county.

For many in the Jewish community like Ulman, they hoped to see Fitzgerald forced from his position in as timely a manner as possible, citing a lack of trust from someone who should put the community’s best interest at heart.

Seth Bernstein, director of the Howard County Board of Rabbis and Rabbi at Bet Aviv, called on distraught Jews in the county to share their frustrations with local politicians.

“It’s very important right now for Jews who feel this type of language need not continue by [Fitzgerald] to write legislatures to tell them they want the sheriff impeached,” Bernstein said prior to Fitzgerald’s resignation. “I think such letters should be written for people who feel strongly about this issue.”

Bill Crystal, a Jewish Howard County resident of 25 years, cannot recall a time there has been such racial turmoil, especially from someone whose duty is to protect and serve the public. He thought Fitzgerald was no longer fit to continue in his current role, he told the JT prior to the resignation announcement.

“To me, it’s just baffling that someone who works in [Howard] County makes comments like that, then [defended] himself in front of the constituency and [refused] to resign,” Crystal said.

This is a developing story.


Baltimore’s Jewish Community Remembers Peres

Shimon Peres, pictured at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in 2013. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Shimon Peres, pictured at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in 2013. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

With the passing of one of Israel’s last surviving founding fathers on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres, many in the local Jewish community have been left speechless.

Considering the wide-spanning reach of Peres’ triumphant legacy, there’s conversely much to be said about the life of this statesman, mentor and friend to so many Jews and other global citizens.

The JT reached out to a number of members of the Jewish community, who shared their memories of and personal anecdotes of encounters with Peres and notes of inspiration found in remembering one of the great leaders they were lucky enough to know.

Marc B. Terrill
President, The Associated: Jewish Community  Federation of Baltimore

Shimon Peres was a one-of-a-kind leader who had a profound effect on the Israel that we know today and the entire Jewish diaspora. He was a hero in every sense of the word. I had the pleasure of meeting him during my early days working at The Associated and was struck by his presence; being with him was humbling. The world lost a true mensch this week, and we will forever be grateful for the legacy he leaves behind for the Jewish people.

Peres was our history book, our walking history.” — Amalia Phillips


Ellen Ginsberg Simon
Vice Chair, Baltimore Israel Coalition

He was a lion of the Israeli  political world for its entire  existence, almost since its  inception. He held almost every post there was. [He was] widely regarded by world leaders. To me, the most memorable  moment I have of him was his receiving the Nobel Peace Price. That stands out as a defining memorable moment. Israel would look and be a completely different country today if he had not been a part of it. Say whatever you want about where it stands today, it was groundbreaking, and he was definitely at the ground floor. That’s a major legacy of his. He clearly did his utmost for his country and his people.

Howard Libit
Executive Director,  Baltimore Jewish Council

I joined the governor’s mission to Israel and we had originally planned to meet Shimon Peres during our trip over there with our delegation. We were supposed to meet with him Sept. 21 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Peres suffered a stroke before the trip, so that meeting had to be canceled. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am that we missed out on this opportunity to meet with him. He was such an inspiration to everyone who seeks peace and freedom in Israel and the Middle East.

Rabbi Shmuel Gurary
Chabad Israeli Center of  Baltimore

For Rosh Hashanah, I’m going to repeat one of the very special speeches Peres once gave. He was invited to talk in Hebrew in front of German parliament. He talked about his grandfather who taught him Torah. Peres said he could see his grandfather standing there in front of his eyes as he was in his talit in the shul of the village where he grew up. Peres told of the day the Germans came to this village asked everyone to go to shul and they closed the door and burned every one of them. I think it’s one of those very strong speeches that Peres said that had a lot of power to it, trying to point out that we can be in the worst condition with memories of our grandfather burning and still never allow anyone to put us down; we can stand strong in being a Jew, even here in front of these Germans.

Gal Massalton
Israel Shlichah, Baltimore Zionist District

The Baltimore Zionist District joins Israel, the entire Jewish community and the world in mourning a beloved leader and man, Shimon Peres z”l. Peres devoted his life to serving Israel and the Jewish people. As president, prime minister and minister in 12 cabinets, Peres never lost hope in the country and the people and  always believed in the prospects of creating peace. While his physical presence will be greatly missed, his influence, legacy and spirit will continue to live on through the people and State of Israel.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin
Director, Agudath Israel of Maryland — Mid-Atlantic  Region

The one time I met him in person was 18 years ago. He’s someone who’s known for his respect for all denominations, specifically in the Orthodox community — the one I represent and was reared in. His  respect to the religious leaders of the status quo was paramount for the communities in Israel to thrive. From the perspective of my organization, there’s definitely a feeling of loss with his passing, people taking a step back and acknowledging the career that he had and the devotion to the Jews in Israel and the State of Israel worldwide, those Jews living in the diaspora.

Amalia Phillips
Director of Israel and Overseas Education, The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education

The first thing that happened this morning [the day after Peres’ passing] when I walked into the office was this: We have a young emissary from Israel and we both looked at each other and said it was a sad day. He was printing pictures of Shimon Peres, and we lit candles outside of the agency with them. I learned something from this, which is that this emissary is only 18 and so Peres clearly managed to ignite the passion in young people. He was there before there was Israel, but the young are born into the reality of there always being an Israel. Peres was our history book, our walking history.


HoCo Federation Celebrates with Jew Year’s Eve

Attendees enjoyed mingling at the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Jew Year’s Eve celebration on Sept. 29. (Ross Lewin of LewinCreativeGroup.com)

Attendees enjoyed mingling at the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Jew Year’s Eve celebration on Sept. 29. (Ross Lewin of LewinCreativeGroup.com)

The Jewish Federation of Howard County kicked off Rosh Hashanah with its Jew Year’s Eve celebration on Sept. 29, a night that brought young adults in the area together to schmooze and help celebrate the holiday.

The second annual event, a somewhat formal pre-High Holidays party, included food and an open bar with drinks such as apple martinis to celebrate the new year.

The event was filled, with  attendees socializing and engaging in interactive activities. The tables were pushed to the side, and no attendees were sitting, instead choosing to peruse the event’s various offerings, which included a photo booth and music from DJ Doug Sandler that led to line dances reminiscent of middle school bar and bat mitzvah season.

On one side of the room was a paper mache pomegranate (which more than one person expressed could serve as a piñata at the end of the year or at next year’s event), and next to it was a wall that attendees could post their New Year’s resolutions on.

Liron Fisch served on the decision-making committee for the event, both this year’s and last. “It is nice because the planning committee has grown since last year’s event, and we were able to do a bit more,” she said. “We started planning months ago, around the beginning of summer. This year, we had a new advertising strategy and a new attendance goal, which it looks like we met.”

The Jewish  community is  very spread out  in Howard County, so it  was nice to get everyone to  come together in one place  to celebrate.” — Meghann Schwartz,  Jewish Federation of Howard County associate director


“My main role in decision making was directly with the decorations. I planned the décor and planned and created the centerpieces for the tables and the pomegranate. The interactive resolution wall is just a  fun way for the community to  reflect on the New Year.”

The event had a lot of draw even outside Howard County. Many attendees shared that they had come from Baltimore or even D.C. at the invitation of a friend or after receiving an e-vite from the Federation.

“I just moved from Baltimore to Howard County recently,” said Jillian Block. “A friend  invited me to the event and it was just a great opportunity to meet new people.”

jewyearseve_thumbnailMarcie Orenstein, who drove to the event from Baltimore City, shared, “I have been living in Baltimore for two years, but I have never been really involved in Jewish life here. This is the first Howard County event that I have been to, and it’s great. The people have been very nice, and many have introduced me to other interesting new others. It is always nice to attend a formal event; it’s not something that a lot of us will do regularly.”

Members of the Chai Society, a group of young Jews who have donated to the Federation, were also in attendance. Joining the Chai Society provides one with the opportunity to attend exclusive events and to participate in jLEADS, a Jewish Leadership Education and Development Series.

Michael Drob, a Chai Society member, said, “I have been involved with the Chai Society for a while. I heard about it from the Federation, and just like in college, you want to do something social. This is a great way to get out and meet new people.”

“The Jewish community is very spread out in Howard County, so it was nice to get everyone to come together in one place to celebrate,” Meghann Schwartz, associate director of the Federation, said before the event. “We want young adults to feel good about themselves and good about being a part of the Jewish community in Howard County. We want them to be  engaged and help build the community for themselves.”

Rachel Millstein, another attendee and a local middle school teacher said, “Jew Year’s Eve was a great way to spend my Thursday night. The music was excellent, and reconnecting with friends and meeting new young Jews who have moved to the area makes me excited for the upcoming events. I can’t wait for sushi in the sukkah!”

» oxyGEN and Bet Chaverim are sponsoring Sushi in the Sukkah at Zimbalist’s sukkah on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are  $15. Register online today or  contact Meghann Schwartz at  410-730-4976, ext. 106.


Guitars of Pikesville Closes Doors, Opens Community

Longtime customer Rick Sambuco (left) jams with Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak. Photo by Daniel Nozick

Longtime customer Rick Sambuco (left) jams with Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak. Photo by Daniel Nozick

Guitars of Pikesville has been a staple institution for musicians in the area since its  inception almost 11 years ago. The store is essentially a one-man show, with all of the services that it provides being performed by the owner, Joshua Polak, who has run the store since it first opened.

The doors of Guitars of Pikesville are set to close by the end of October — however, Polak and the regular  attendees of his shows and jam sessions plan to be even more active in the community as a result of the retail location closing. If anything, this will result in the close community that has formed around the  institution growing even larger, as small concerts and jam sessions will occur more frequently.

“We’re not going out of business per se,” Polak explained. “I’m shifting to where I can  actually earn an income of some type, which is through the services — lessons, setup and repair work, performances, etc.”

Polak elaborated on the  difficulties of being a small business in music retail.

“With Amazon Prime,” he said, “they often sell accessories at distributor pricing and with free shipping. I still have to pay for shipping, so people can get accessories cheaper online. I come out without any markup; having what I have at the store accessory-wise is more of a community service than anything. It’s not just us, it’s the entire music industry.”

We’re putting music back where it belongs, in your life and in your home.
— Joshua Polak

He’s also seen trends of people preferring to repair old items as opposed to buying new  instruments to save money and a contemporary transition that has seen a lot of music being created with electronic devices as opposed to instruments. All in all, there is simply more business in services than in retail.

Polak wants to make sure that the community — which has frequented his shop throughout the years — knows that he is not disappearing.

“We’re certainly going to be more active than ever,” he shared. “We can concentrate a lot more on community activities now. Everything will be same in terms of services; we still have the same phone number. We will still do restrings, setup and repairs, and lessons will continue in my home or yours.”

Now that the shop is closing up, Polak intends to continue with his local concerts and jam sessions. He hopes to grow that community and throw more events.

“The big thing of interest is the community that has developed over the past decade for small concerts in the home  environment,” he said. “I think it is even better than the space that we have in the shop because the neighbors and friends of whoever hosts will come as well, and hopefully the number of people that we reach grows. We have several very good houses to work with for concerts that members of the community have offered up. We are really here to coordinate this loose association of people who love what we do in the community.

In the ’80s, before Guitars of Pikesville opened, Polak and his fellow musicians would clear out the furniture from someone’s living room and fill it with 30 to 40 people. Rather than selling tickets, they would just pass a hat around the  audience for donations.

“That’s the way that some of the best music is made,” he  reflected. “It was very strange in the ’80s; the average person thought, a concert where? Your house? It was so foreign to them.”

Arnie Clapman, a local  percussionist and artist, performed at several jams and even hosted his own night when he first moved back to Baltimore several years ago.

“Guitars of Pikesville was a jewel in the rather musically bleak area of Pikesville,” Clapman posted on Facebook. “I hope they find another home close by.”

For Clapman, it was also a place to share “Greenwich Village war stories with other ’60s  suvivors of the Beat Generation after the jams,” he said.

Rick Sambuco has been joining Polak’s Sunday night jam sessions since he first started coming to Guitars of Pikesville nearly a decade ago.

“Things were already going for Sunday night jams, and I have been doing them ever since,” he said. “People have come and gone, but there is still a lot of the same crew. It’s a Sunday night routine for a lot of people who are upset that the shop is closing but buoyed and really happy about the fact that we are going to continue things in the community.”

“I hate that it is closing  up,” said Holly Montgomery,  another regular performer and customer at Guitars of Pikesville, “but I know that it has been hard to keep open. It’s really too bad because it was a unique space that the community really needed, a place to just hang out and be creative. There were a lot of opportunities and musicians there.

“I have no doubt that Josh will keep his concerts going, and I will do whatever I can to help out,” she said.

“There is no money in product anymore,” Polak said, “unless it is associated with live performance. We’re putting music back where it belongs, in your life and in your home.”


CHAI Unveils First Affordable Housing Project

Officials from CHAI and The Associated, as well as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (second from left), celebrate the opening of CHAI’s first affordable housing project for families. (Courtesy of Baltimore Jewish Council)

Officials from CHAI and The Associated, as well as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (second from left), celebrate the opening of CHAI’s first affordable housing project for families. (Courtesy of Baltimore Jewish Council)

Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), an agency  of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, unveiled its newly minted  16-unit Fallstaff Apartment building on Thursday, Sept. 29.

The project is the first affordable housing initiative CHAI has ever completed for families in its 33-year history, consisting of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Mitch Posner, CHAI’s executive director, said the organization plans to continue with similar ventures for Jewish families who desire to live in the suburbs of the Greater Baltimore community.

“Buying and renovating the Fallstaff Apartments was a  natural fit for CHAI,” Posner said in a prepared statement. “We modernized and beautified an aging apartment complex in the Fallstaff community so that limited income families could enjoy quality affordable family housing. It’s part of CHAI’s underlying mission to develop and enhance housing in neighborhoods with a  significant Jewish presence. We see this Fallstaff project as the first opportunity for CHAI to  invest its resources and development expertise to create affordable housing for families in our Northwest community.”

Among the amenities included are new kitchens, windows, bathroom components, flooring, painting, lighting, HVAC systems, as well as a new roof, landscaping and parking areas.


Easterwood Boys Club to Celebrate 61st Affair

The Easterwood Boys Club will celebrate its 61st annual affair with a luncheon at the Olive Branch in Pikesville on Oct. 19.

Former Baltimore Colts standout Tom Matte is slated to host the festivities, which several dozen people are expected to attend. It will include food, drinks and reminiscing in the restaurant’s private party room.

Lenny Miller, longtime president of the Easterwood Boys Club, said Easterwood Park was a home away from away for many Jewish kids in the Greater Baltimore area.

“Growing up back in the day, it was the place to be if you were a Jewish kid,” Miller said. “There was always something at the park to do for everyone, and you could just be a kid there.”

The park, located at the corner of Bentalou and Baker streets in West Baltimore, had a longstanding tradition in the Greater Baltimore Jewish community encompassing parts of six decades. It started in the 1910s as a home away home for many Jewish kids in the area who would get together to mostly play sports.

But as the neighborhood demographics started to change and more Jewish families moved to the northwest corridor of Baltimore County in the 1950s and 1960s, the park became known more for its nostalgia.

In response, the club was formed as way for past visitors of the park to stay in touch with one another. At its peak in the 1980s, Miller said, the club had more than 700 to 800 members. In recent years, however, that number has dwindled to a little less than 100, though Miller added that it still remains a  vibrant organization.

“This is a significant piece of Baltimore Jewish history, the entire area around Easterwood Park,” Miller said. “Everyone always had a good time there, and we will never forget the memories we made at that place.”

The cost of the Oct. 19 event is $35. For more information, contact Miller at 443-695-0423.


The Backbone of MPT CEO Larry Unger continues to move the station into the future

CEO Larry Unger. Photo by David Stuck

CEO Larry Unger. Photo by David Stuck

Tight budgets, increased competition and mass technological and cultural shifts in the way viewers demand content and broadcasters try to deliver it — this is what Larry Unger confronts on a daily basis.

As CEO and president of Maryland Public Television, Unger, 68, juggles fundraising, technological updates, public appearances and ensuring diverse programming at the station.

This is not a position, however, he ever envisioned himself holding after leaving the banking  industry more than 21 years ago.

“I have to be candid: Television was not one of the things I thought about. Public television was certainly not one of the things I thought about,” Unger said. “MPT had been going through quite a tumultuous transition at that time.”

In 1997, when Unger first joined MPT — headquartered in Owings Mills — as a consultant, he brought nearly three decades of expertise in the local financial  services industry with him. This made him an ideal candidate to deal with the  reorganization MPT was going through  at the time with a new president and CEO, Robert J. Shuman, not to mention dwindling government financing.

“[Shuman] told me he was interviewing [Unger] and asked me what I thought of him? I knew we were looking for a chief financial officer at the time, and I had known Larry and told [Shuman] I thought he would do well,” said David Nevins, CEO and founder of Towson-based public relations firm Nevins &  Associates and former chairman of MPT.

ungercover2Unger, an Owings Mills resident, worked directly under Shuman, keeping the station financially solvent while  enhancing leadership skills needed to oversee a staff of more than 150. Together, Shuman and Unger continued to help MPT produce award-winning local and national content and grow its online presence and community outreach efforts while offering an array of education resources for children, teachers and daycare providers.

But when Shuman opted for retirement in 2011, after more than 15 years at the helm, a search committee was put together to conduct a national search for MPT’s next CEO and president. The search, which lasted several months, ended with Unger being promoted.

Edward Kaplan, chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission since 2007, said Unger possessed a unique set of traits and invaluable experience with the station that made him the best  fit for the position over several other high-profile candidates.

“You don’t often get that from someone in a nonprofit organization when they come in from the outside and apply their knowledge of business and finance to making your organization financially sound,” Kaplan said. “He really had all these background factors that helped him do the best job.”

For Unger, who said he was mostly  involved in MPT’s finances up until his  appointment to the No. 1 spot, it was an  adjustment that took some getting used to.

“If I have learned anything, it’s that management is management,” Unger said. “A lot of it is the way you treat people and the way they respond to that. I think I learned after a little while that it works pretty much the same at [MPT] as it did in banking.”

Once he got his feet wet in the position, Unger, the first Jewish CEO and fifth overall in MPT’s more than 40-year history, hit the ground running. Just last year, he was named one of Maryland’s 32 most admired CEOs for 2015 by The Daily Record, comprising officials from private companies, public companies, nonprofit organizations and government entities.

Larry Unger’s wife Sherry calls him the “hardest-working person I know,” which is evident in the way he involves himself at MPT. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger’s wife Sherry calls him the “hardest-working person I know,” which is evident in the way he involves himself at MPT. Photo by David Stuck


Photo by David Stuck

George Beneman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at MPT, said the new and innovative ideas Unger has brought to the forefront have MPT in a healthy place for years to come.

“I would say that Larry is — and has  always been into — new technology,” said Beneman, who has been with MPT since its launch in 1969 and is the company’s current longest-serving employee. “He truly is an early adopter of whatever is new in technology, and he encourages what we’re doing. When the industry moved to high definition, it rolled a lot faster than most of us in technology thought it would, which Larry had a part in before he was CEO.”

MPT, with an annual budget of approximately $32 million, averages more than 1.7 million viewers on a monthly basis and reaches more than 3 million households in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. It is the eighth-largest public television station of 161 PBS member stations, with such shows as “MotorWeek,” “Chesapeake Collectibles,” “Artworks,” “Direct Connection,” “Your Money & Business” and “State Circle.”

A little more than seven years ago, Unger, as executive vice president, helped MPT balance an expensive transition from analog to digital as part of a Federal Communications Commission mandate. A big portion of that undertaking included replacing four of the station’s six outdated antennas on the transmitter towers located throughout various cities, which Unger said costed as much as $1 million per antenna.

Today, MPT offers three channels, MPT-HD, MPT-2 and V-me, the first  national Spanish-language television  network in association with public television stations. By the end of this December or January, Unger said, MPT plans to add a fourth channel, NHK World, an international broadcasting service of NHK Japan’s public broadcaster, to broaden  its offerings. As part of the move, MPT-2  will switch from standard definition to high definition, giving the station a pair  of each.

ungercover5“The addition of NHK World will offer a different perspective with more international news,” Unger said. “That’s going to be a very different channel lineup from what we have right now.”

ungercover6When it comes to the programs that MPT puts together, Unger leaves that to the producers and on-air talent but still maintains an active presence in what goes on behind the scenes.

Unger, who served six years in the Coast Guard Reserve, was heavily involved in an MPT production that paid tribute to Vietnam War veterans from around the state.

In its largest initiative ever, MPT aired a three-part documentary series, “Maryland Vietnam War Stories,” featuring the stories of Vietnam-era veterans from Maryland and their families, presented in their own words. “Maryland Vietnam War Stories,” which cost $2.5 million and took about a year-and-a-half to complete, is exactly the type of programming Unger hopes to continue in order to separate his station from commercial networks.

Rhea Feikin, longtime host of  “Chesapeake Collectibles” and “Artworks,” has been with MPT for more than four decades and said Unger has done a lot to rekindle the spirit of the longtime employees with projects such as “Maryland Vietnam War Stories.”

Larry Unger proudly shows off MPT’s many awards. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger proudly shows off MPT’s many awards. Photo by David Stuck

“Larry is a real mensch in the best sense of the word,” Feiken said. “MPT has been a really great place to work, and it’s never been better than it is now. Larry is a wonderful leader, and his door is always open. You can talk to him about anything,  because he’s great at listening. He’s just made a real difference in the general feel and tone of the building.”

John Davis, who came to MPT in 1973 and is the host and senior executive producer of “MotorWeek,” now in its 36th season, said Unger has a knack for getting the most out of his employees.

“He came in with a very good idea of money, how it should be spent and how it should be conserved,” said Davis, who worked for a Wall Street investment firm before joining MPT. “He’s been on top of the numerous crises we’ve had in the state, during the recession, and he navigated us through that. Frankly, I can’t think of anybody else doing it better, and I think he’s doing it better than any of his processors could have, in my opinion.”

Because MPT only receives a combined $11 million from state and federal funding, Unger often meets with prospective donors for social lunches to solicit contributions. This is something he had not done much of in the past, but he has come to embrace that aspect of the job.

“I kid people by telling them, ‘You  really don’t want to go to lunch with me,  because I will ask you for money,’” Unger said with a laugh. “Most of the people who I’m making these asks of, they know why we are there.

“But I have found it very rewarding. I make the joke all the time now that it’s been a number of years, and no one has thrown anything at me at lunch yet. So I feel like I must be successful.”

Unger has also been pivotal in expanding MPT’s membership list to more than 65,000, meaning the station receives a monthly contribution from those people. In March 2015, the station set a new high in voluntary paid members that included 10,928 sustainers.

Larry Unger outside MPT’s headquarters in Owings Mills. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger outside MPT’s headquarters in Owings Mills. Photo by David Stuck

“We have a very, very loyal viewership, and Larry works extremely hard to make sure that particular group continues to grow,” said Howard Rosen, who has sat on the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission board for the last 10 years. “We measure those figures very close, and we think Larry has us in a great position for the foreseeable future.”

His relaxed demeanor is also something his employees relish because that, in turn, allows their creative juices to flow to the surfaces.

“Larry isn’t a micromanager, which is something I think the employees here can all appreciate,” said Jeff Salkin, who hosts businesses and political shows “Direct Connection,” “Your Money & Business” and “State Circle.” “It really is a family-like atmosphere around here, and I can’t stress how important that is to him and in his work.”

Outside of MPT, Unger has been an  active participant in many Jewish community service initiatives around the Greater Baltimore area  and is a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was an advisory board member for the Baltimore Hebrew Institute, formerly Baltimore Hebrew University, which is housed at Towson University, and served on the Jewish  National Fund board.

He and his wife Sherry have been married 48 years and have three children and five grandchildren. Sherry stressed Larry has always been driven.

“He’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever known,” Sherry said, “and Larry has always been very goal-oriented. Every goal he’s ever set, he has always reached for as long as I’ve known him.”

She added that Larry takes great pride in attention to detail. Even after Larry comes home after a long day of work, Sherry said, one of the first things he will do is go to their bedroom and catch up on all of the MPT programs he prerecords on their DVR.

For his part, Unger is so consumed with everything he has going on in his life that he really hasn’t considered the thought of retirement.

“I haven’t given much thought to that,” Unger said. “I plan to be here for the foreseeable future and continue to see through all the new projects we have in the works. I’m very fortunate to have this job and will continue to do it to the best of my ability for as long as I can.”


One Funny Jew: Rabbi Telushkin Delivers at JNF Event

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was the featured speaker at JNF’s  Baltimore Israeli-style breakast. Photo by David Stuck

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was the featured speaker at JNF’s Baltimore Israeli-style breakast. Photo by David Stuck

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin stood stocky, white bearded, bespectacled and altogether proud behind the lectern at the forefront (both literally and figuratively) of the magnificent, almost palatial grand hall of Temple Oheb Shalom, rimmed by emerald art deco portraitures depicting revered figures from Jewish history.

More than 500 well-dressed cognoscenti of the local Jewish community sat eager for the speech to come. Telushkin is, after all, one of the 50 best speakers in the United States according to Talk Magazine and bestselling author of more than 15 books including “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion,” which remains the past two decades’ most widely selling book on the subject.

Some of his anecdotes revolve around personal encounters with such prominent statesmen as Joseph Lieberman.

The room was held in rapturous silence, each person at the 30 or so tables leaning forward.

“Three Jewish mothers were talking about their sons,” Telushkin quipped, “with one bragging, ‘My son, he loves me so much, he just bought me tickets for a cruise around the world!’ Another said, ‘That’s nothing. My son loves me so much he paid for a fully catered meal at a glorious dinner.’ The last chimed in cheerfully, ‘I have you both beat: My son pays a therapist $300 per hour … and all he talks about is me!’”

The joke resulted in an explosive eruption of raucous laughter from the audience, which was there to support the Jewish National Fund, a 115-year-old organization dedicated to fructifying needful expansion and emboldening in Israel. It was a perfect moment, if not necessarily an incongruous one.

Along with the procession of monumentally prestigious accolades he has received over the years, Telushkin is  notable in the nascent scholarly field of comedy. His speech for the morning was in fact based largely on his 1998 book “Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews” and thoughtfully explored the intersectionality between the Jewish identity and humor through a kaleidoscopic prism of sobering probity.

Following his introductory remarks — the only part of the speech he smirkingly claimed would be “serious” — that included the New Yorker’s admiration for Baltimore, a place he’s visited many times, as well as the community’s high percentage of Jews active in the JNF’s goals, Telushkin “switched gears,” launching right into his first joke … about promising not to go beyond another two hours.

Erika Pardes Schon (pictured) co-chaired the event with  Ellen Taylor. Photo by David Stuck

Erika Pardes Schon (pictured) co-chaired the event with Ellen Taylor. Photo by David Stuck

(A clever way to mollify some slight tension, met by resoundingly boisterous chuckles, in reference to some mumbled collective mutterings about the event having started a bit late.)

Being true to his word, so to speak, Telushkin immediately cut to the chase and focused on the brunt of his morning’s premise. He explained that so-called “ethnic humor” deals in broad strokes, stereotypes and clichés. A joke about a “drunken Irishman” or “cheap Jew” hold much more water, for example, than, say, “a drunken Jew” or “cheap Irishman.” Obviously, to suggest all Jews are cheap is as ridiculous as to imply Jews can’t or don’t get drunk, that all Irishmen are drinkers or can’t be cheap themselves.

The ridiculousness inherent to stereotypes of such humor is exactly what can make long-entrenched and oft-told jokes funny. To some.

As Telushkin suggested, it might be worth considering that those who take umbrage with this brand of humor may be taking the stereotypes they caricature a little too seriously, which brings into question these persons’ own embedded sensibilities about said unfortunate clichés.

“One Jew crossed another in the night and said, ‘I’m so sorry. I heard your business burned down last night.’ ‘Shh,’ said the other. ‘That’s tomorrow night.’”

After the uproarious laughter died down, Telushkin explained that it might be slightly easier to laugh at an old joke such as this one about Jews being avaricious “tricksters” if one comes into the conversation already understanding that, of course, this is not the case and thus the joke is mere lampooning.

Many groups of people like Jews have a long  history of  oppression. And telling these jokes is one way to deal with that. It’s something that can unite all those who have been marginalized  at one time or  another.

— Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

“People who abhor ethnic humor might be those who think all persons in each group are the same,” Telushkin said.

Certainly, such jokes can be used to discuss various seemingly established traits of, for argument’s sake, Jews: their ties to family (as showcased in the aforementioned jibe about the three Jewish mothers) or their propensity toward analysis (an element of the same joke).

This last dubious notion may be somewhat understandable, Telushkin said, due to the father of psychoanalysis — Sigmund Freud — being Jewish. According to Telushkin, Freud, in fact, was surrounded by so many like-minded Jews in his vocational circle that he made sure to request the appointment of the gentile Carl Jung as president of the International Psychoanalytic Society so that the burgeoning field of study would not be considered a “Jewish science” vulnerable to anti-Semitic criticism.

Humor, Telushkin continued, always takes the various extremes of situations and exaggerates them. That’s a critical component to its absurdity.

“A Jewish husband was told by his wife’s therapist that she has trust issues. ‘I know,’ said the husband. ‘I read about it in her diary.’”

There’s a patent absurdity in Telushkin’s gag that stretches to near tearing the rubbery extremes of stereotypes involving a paranoid Jewish husband who would go to the extent of reading his neurotic Jewish wife’s private diary.

All people laugh at and understand such narishkeit, was Telushkin’s overall point. It’s something that unifies not only Jews but all peoples, no matter their religion, race, gender, creed, class, ability.

“Many groups of people like Jews have a long history of  oppression,” Telushkin told the JT shortly after his speech. “And telling these jokes is one way to deal with that. It’s something that can unite all those who have been marginalized at one time or another.”

“I think that in everything that [Telushkin] writes, we can learn so much about human behavior, and much of this unifies all of us,” JNF’s national campaign director, Diane Scar, told the JT.

“By revisiting the generalizations that we maybe grew up with,” Scar continued, “we can look at so many important issues through a different lens and see, yes, that we’re all so much more similar than different.”

“We [at the JNF] wanted this morning to be a time when attendees could feel that they were with a very, very scholarly gentleman like Rabbi Telushkin and also have an opportunity to sometimes laugh at themselves and expose some of the nuances that sometimes might be taboo to talk about,” Scar said.

“We knew he would do this in a professional manner and that people could go into the High Holidays not only focusing on their transgressions necessarily, but also the positive things they do. Especially our contingent who are doing good throughout the day and feel just really proud of the work that they’ve done.”

It’s no wonder then that Telushkin ended what was already a jovial colloquium with the reminder Hebrew might be the only language he knows of whose word for “charity” — tzedakah — is the same for “justice.”

Here again is the ultimate contradiction that lends itself to a kind of absurd humor in its formulation: In continually seeking a certain justice for the past, Jews may be seen as pessimistic while optimistically giving charity where needed in looking toward the future, leading to Jews being, in Telushkin’s final summation, “optimists with worried looks on our faces.”

Now that’s funny.



Yom Kippur: A Community Lens

(credit: ©iStockphoto.com/lipmic)

(credit: ©iStockphoto.com/lipmic)

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, marks the end of 40 days of penitence and commemorates the day that God forgave the Jewish people for the folly and sin of the Golden Calf.

In contemporary Judaism, however, Yom Kippur serves as a day to atone for sins from the past year. For community members, the holiday — on Oct. 12 — has varied and deep meanings.

“I think that Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to wipe clean the slate of the past year,” said Rachel Glaser, an Owings Mills resident. “For me, it gives me the opportunity to set things right if there are people that I may have  had disagreements with, or if  I did not live up to my own  expectations for myself or the expectations of others in my community. My whole relationship to God is through the lens of my relationships with my community, my family and the world. I don’t see it as something separate. I reflect a lot on Yom Kippur and stay all day in synagogue, I use the words of the prayers to inspire me on how to approach this new opportunity to make things better.”

“Yom Kippur is the day the accountant comes,” said Martin Perel, who was eating at Goldberg’s New York Bagels on a recent afternoon. “You have your moral books checked to see if you’re in the red or the black.”

This thought was mirrored by Shomrim spokesman Nathan Willner, who shared, “Yom Kippur really just represents new  beginnings and time for introspection. It means taking a moral inventory of your year’s work, celebrating your successes and taking the time to improve on how you deal with challenges.”

I don’t just think to be  forgiven for  the past year  on Yom Kippur; it’s a time to think about  how you live your life. — Gail Walton

“It’s about forgiveness, not just atonement,” said Ruby Grossblatt, a Jewish reporter from Atlanta who was in Baltimore to get married and was also dining at Goldberg’s. “It is about forgiving yourself as well as others. You want to make a better year and come back to your roots a little.”

“All of the holidays were ingrained in me by the way I was raised, but I believe that God is forgiving, no matter what you do,” said Gail Walton, another Goldberg’s customer. “I don’t just think to be forgiven for the past year on Yom Kippur; it’s a time to think about how you live your life.”

This belief seems to be becoming more and more common. One aspect of the holiday that has shifted over the years is the form in which people seek repentance. The traditional practice for the holiday is to fast and reflect on the past year. However, many people in the community find that being active and volunteering in the community in the 10 days  between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the Days of Awe — is an another way  to derive meaning from the holiday.

Walton explained: “A rabbi that I met at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim once told me, ‘Going to synagogue and praying isn’t being a good Jew. It’s what’s in your heart and what you do.’ My son decided the other day, ‘I want to do a mitzvah, it is the High Holidays.’ He went and helped somebody apply for college, someone who didn’t about the process and needed some help. I believe that performing a mitzvah can make up for everything.”

David Bienenstock, a retired day school teacher, said Yom Kippur is a happy day for him.

“Even though you are fasting, the idea is that whatever you’ve done over the year, you will get forgiven at the end of the day if you did what you are supposed to do,” he said. “It is an intense and busy day but knowing that you will be forgiven is worth it.”

Bienenstock also makes sure to engage the community around the High Holidays. “Every year for many years,” he said, “I have been going to people’s houses to blow shofar for them. People will write to or call me and ask me to come for all sorts of reasons. Some people are ailing and bedridden, some people have young children. I got a call from a man whose wife had just had leg surgery.”

Like Bienenstock, Yom Kippur turns over a new leaf for others.

“When Yom Kippur is over, I feel that something is different in me,” said Glaser. “I sense a new spirit in myself, and the challenge is to maintain that momentum over the course of the year.”