County Opens Final Owings Mills Boulevard Extension

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (holding scissors) marks the opening of a new 1.2-mile section of Owings Mills Boulevard. (Photo provided)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (holding scissors) marks the opening of a new 1.2-mile section of Owings Mills Boulevard. (Photo provided)

Baltimore County officially opened the final extension of Owings Mills Boulevard on Thursday, June 16, completing the long-awaited connection between Owings Mills and the Liberty Road corridor.

In his speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kam-enetz said, “If you think about it, life is really about connections — your family, your friends, your faith community, your job. I like to think of this final phase of Owings Mills Boulevard as being like the LinkedIn of roads.”

This new section of the roadway is 1.2 miles, connecting Winands Road to Liberty Road (Route 26) at Live Oak Road. The significance of this connection is not lost on the local community. By joining existing portions of Owings Mills Boulevard to Liberty Road, the full 3.8-mile road now serves as a direct connector from Reisterstown Road to Liberty Road.

“In addition to the important economic benefits of linking these two business and residential communities, this extension will help relieve traffic congestion on neighborhood streets and provide for future road  capacity,” Kamenetz added. A $13 million construction project, Owings Mills Boulevard Phase II accounted for the parking needs of businesses and residents and further updated the local infrastructure with new landscaping, paving, stop lights, signs and roadside lamps. The new section of road itself includes four lanes, a raised median and paths for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Additionally, Phase II boasts a two-span, 250-foot-long bridge crossing Scotts Level Branch stream.

“This is a very good time to live, work and drive in Owings Mills and Randallstown. It’s wonderful how every year these communities shine just a little brighter — attracting new people, new businesses and new enthusiasm,” Kamenetz said. The newly completed route is a part of Baltimore County’s $30 million investment in growing the Randallstown area since 2008.

Orlando Shooting Brings UMD Students Out of the Closet

Zev Shields

Zev Shields

Chaim Kalish was celebrating the Shavuot holiday when Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 patrons at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It took the 24-year-old student at the University of Maryland at College Park only 15 minutes after the holiday ended to post a defiant response on Facebook:

“I have a very BIG announcement to make. It is not an easy one. … I am transgender. I go by the name Isabella Maxine with She/Her pronouns.”

About an hour later, it was Zev Shields’ turn:

“After the tragedy of this past week in Florida, I’ve  decided to officially, publicly come out,” wrote the 20-year-old Maryland student and a friend of Kalish. “I am a proud, stalwart, openly bisexual person. In an ideal world, none of this should be a secret, a source of fear or shame. However, due to the hatred of some, it isn’t this way.”

After contacting his friend Shields for a final boost of courage, 19-year old Josh Bloch posted his announcement moments later:

“In light of the events in  Orlando on Saturday night, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to publicly come out of the closet. … I’m bisexual.”

They think it’s  peer pressure, that it’s a phase. But being a man was  a phase. Being a man was peer pressure to me.” — Isabella Kalish


The three friends had been putting off coming out. But in a little more than an hour, they had chosen the same way to show their solidarity and outrage after the mass shooting in Orlando.

Josh Bloch

Josh Bloch

“The goal of the shooting was to make us afraid, and we’re showing it didn’t work,” Bloch said in an interview later in the week.

“It should make me more scared,” Kalish said. “But if I stayed in the closet, the religious zealots or the terrorists win. But I’ve been walking around like this,” she said, pointing to her multicolored necklace, Billabong purse and deep V-neck top, “and I still have to be careful.”

“Once [Kalish] came out, it was a lot easier to come out,” Shields said. “It felt more like standing in arms [everyone coming out at once] than a trend.”

Why had they waited until then to come out? Each had a reason.

“I pushed it off at the request of my parents,” Shields said, “because there is the side of my family that is a whole lot less supportive.”

Shields, a 20-year-old Silver Spring, Md., resident, realized he was bisexual when he was 15. He waited until the fall of 2014, just before he started the Israel Experience at Bar-Ilan University, to tell his parents in what he described as a “lengthy” email.

“My stomach was trying to escape my body because I didn’t know how they would respond,” he recalled, repositioning his ponytail and sipping from a cup of cold-brewed coffee. “I got  incredibly lucky to have the family that I have.”

Shields said his parents were nervous about his grandparents finding out and about people from his hometown of Baltimore, a community that he noted “had changed a lot to be less tolerant of the middle ground.”

Bloch, who grew up in the heavily Orthodox Kemp Mill neighborhood in Silver Spring, was nervous about being socially ostracized after coming out.

“My biggest fear was that I would lose a lot of my friends. I didn’t see that happen — not at all,” he said.

Isabella Kalish

Isabella Kalish

The junior aerospace engineering student thought he might be bisexual when he was in 12th grade after private discussions with friends.

“I’ve always felt the attraction [to guys and girls], but I thought it was a normal feeling for straight people to have,” Bloch said, his voice  unable to hide the thrill of going public.

Kalish said she still has work to do with her family.

“My family is really not happy about things. They’ve always seen me as an impulsive person,” she said, eyeing her bright blue nail polish. “They think it’s peer pressure, that it’s a phase. But being a man was a phase. Being a man was peer pressure to me.”

Part of the “180,” Kalish said, is that until November 2015 she was “very Orthodox and a  [politically] staunch conservative.” The turning point came after a heated argument with a friend in which Kalish criticized the idea of a person’s preferred pronouns. Her hurt friend  approached her afterward.

“I think it was just the way he approached me and I started to think, ‘Why am I so opposed to this? Why am I so closed to this?’” Kalish said.  “I was stuck in a religious structure I didn’t really like.”

The visual arts major said she hasn’t found a way to merge her Jewish and trans identities. She gave up celebrating Shabbat and keeping kosher within two months of starting hormone therapy. Bloch identifies as modern Orthodox, Shields as a “lazy modern Orthodox.”

They said they’ve been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received since coming out and joining Hamsa, Maryland  Hillel’s LGBTQ and Allies  student group.

“We are all about student  Jewish journeys, and we’re 100 percent supportive for students to come together and have an outlet to meet other students who are LGBT and allies,” said Maiya Chard-Yaron, Maryland Hillel assistant director.

Kalish still worries about the first time she walks into Hillel wearing a skirt but knows that eventually she’ll stop caring.

Eliana Block is an area freelance writer.

Studying Abroad May Be Rewarding, But Is It Cheaper?



With the cost of college tuition rising faster than the rate of inflation, Shlomo Lifshitz says he knows the solution: study abroad.

Specifically, study using the services of Lifshitz’s Lirom Global Education, founded to encourage study in Israel.

“More and more people cannot afford to pay the cost of tuition, which I think is ridiculous,” says Lifshitz, a longtime education and tourism marketer. “As a result, people are graduating with $100,000 in student loans, and what do you become — a line cook at Burger King or a waiter at Cheesecake Factory.”

Lifshitz says Americans should study in Israel, which his company can facilitate “at much cheaper rates than most U.S. universities.”

“Israeli university presidents don’t go home with a paycheck of over a million dollars like in the States,” Lifshitz says when asked if tuition costs are cheaper in Israel.

Before founding Lirom, Lifshitz ran Oranim Educational Initiatives, which sent tens of thousands of young people to Israel on guided tours and assisted with Taglit Birthright.

Lirom offers academic gap-year programs, some of which offer 10 credits toward a bachelor’s degree, as well as summer programs in such areas as conflict resolution, archaeology, first-responder training and marine biology.

Some 304,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2013-14 academic year, according to data by NAFSA: The Association of International Educators. The number represented just under 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher education.

According to data from the Institute of International Education, six of the 10 top academic destinations are in Western Europe.

“Will studying abroad save you money does not have a simple answer,” said Mark Shay, CEO of Abroad101, which provides a study abroad program evaluation tool to over 200 universities.

“When people ask me this type of question, I generally say that in any consumer decision, you get what you pay for. In the United States, you can save money by going to community college, but you lose out on all the benefits of a well-endowed university. When it comes to full degrees abroad, you can save a great deal in tuition by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree overseas, and in many cases American students can get a federal student loan. In the you-get-what-you-pay-for scenario, the value of that degree in the marketplace should be factored into that equation.”

Abroad101 helps schools collect and share program information with prospective students through a creation of reports.

“A student can enroll directly in a foreign university and take courses with the local students and in most cases save a great deal on tuition and even transfer that credit back to their home university,” said Shay. “Without the oversight of a provider, the vastly different teaching styles, living conditions and social norms may be hard to navigate, and that transcript may not be accepted, which is why many people elect to study abroad through third parties who take on the duty of care for that student.

“Direct exchanges, coordinated through your home university, are a great way to bridge that unknown,” Shay continued. “You live in standard international student housing overseas and pay your home school tuition and will be assured the basic duty of care by your home university.”

Based in Berkeley, Calif., Go Overseas, a study abroad provider, seeks to empower “more meaningful time overseas” for students. It includes a ratings and reviews system. The provider is a “millennial-minded community [that] believes in creating a better world through travel and encouraging everyone they know to go on programs that include meaningful cultural exchange.” Prospective candidates are also offered volunteering and teaching options in various countries.

Phoenix-based CEA Study Abroad offers education programs for U.S. students looking to earn college credit from fully accredited programs to 13 countries. Its stated mission is to work closely with study abroad offices and international program departments across the United States and Canada.

One of Lirom’s programs is offered through Israel’s College of Law and Business, which costs about $48,000. The first year is in English with the second and third years being half-Hebrew and half-English. In the fourth year, students may choose to take a four-month course and sit for the New York or California state bar exams, earning a bachelor of law degree from Israel, Lifshitz says.

Or a student could finish his or her last semester at Chicago’s Kent College of Law or the Fordham University School of Law and earn a master of law degree.

“And it’s affordable,” Lifshitz says. “These bachelor’s degrees did not cause your parents to go bankrupt, and you did not cause yourself heavy, heavy loans.”

Kidney Foundation Takes Fundraiser to New Heights

Participants in June 25’s Rappel for Kidney Health will rappel from the top of the 15-story Hyatt Regency roof down to the pool deck. (Screenshot of

Participants in June 25’s Rappel for Kidney Health will rappel from the top of the 15-story Hyatt Regency roof down to the pool deck. (Screenshot of

In a world with constant warnings about bizarre health risks such as the Zika virus and Ebola, some of the most common and dangerous ailments can be overlooked. One such ailment is kidney disease, the ninth-leading cause of death in the United States.

More people die from kidney disease than from breast cancer, prostate cancer or leukemia. Nearly 50 percent of Americans will develop kidney disease in their life, a statistic that is increasing as diabetes and high blood pressure become more prevalent health issues as well.

The National Kidney Foundation of Maryland (NKF-MD) has been actively advocating kidney health since 1955, officially joining the National Kidney Foundation in 1964. According to its mission statement, the NKF-MD “is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.”

On June 25, the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland will be putting on its seventh annual Rappel for Kidney Health event at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unique to Baltimore, the event is an opportunity for members of the community to raise awareness and money for kidney health and get screened. Since its inception, the Rappel for Kidney Health event has raised more than $676,000.

Rappel for Kidney Health will be providing entertainment throughout the day, including face-painting, a DJ, carnival games and various raffles. Additionally, the event will offer free screenings to promote kidney health, which entail blood pressure, sugar and creatinine readings. The biggest draw and fundraiser of the event is rappelling.

Each year, participants form teams to raise money for kidney health. Each team tries to attain a goal of $1,000, which, when achieved, earns the team’s participants the right to rappel from the top of a building. This year, participants will be making their way from the 15-story roof of the Hyatt Regency to the deck of the pool below, where friends, family and guests will cheer on those making the descent.

Every year, members of Baltimore’s Jewish community participate in the event. One such denizen is Jordan Levine, who has been actively working to raise awareness for kidney health since having his personal life affected.

“I hadn’t even given kidneys a second thought until my son was born with only one,” said Levine, a board member of NKF-MD.

He was further influenced when his brother was in a serious car accident and experienced renal failure. Since then, both of Jordan’s relatives have stabilized and are in good health. These days, it is their turn to watch Jordan put himself in “danger.” However, Levine notes that the members of Over the Edge, the rappel company that helps put on this special event, “do a tremendous job of making you feel comfortable.” This is the second year that he will be rappelling. Between this year and last year, Levine’s team alone has raised nearly $4,000.

Another Baltimore resident who will be participating is former District 11 delegate Jon Cardin, who found out about Rappel for Kidney Health through a family friend, Amy Greten. The catalyst for Greten’s involvement with Rappel comes from a family history of polycystic kidney disease, which necessitated her having a liver/kidney transplant. A thrill-seeker himself, Cardin is attending Rappel for Kidney Health both to support Greten and to rappel himself if he raises enough funds. He recounts that by rappelling to support friends and family affected by kidney disease “not only did [Amy] raise a lot of money, but she overcame a fear of heights as well.”

Cardin supports a variety of nonprofits, having participated in the Special Olympics’ Polar Bear Plunge 16 times in addition to fundraising and attending events for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

To raise further money for kidney disease, this year’s Rappel for Kidney Health event will feature the second annual Toss Your Boss Challenge, in which employees from local businesses raise money to send their bosses over the edge.

NKF-MD officer Jenny Trostel assures that this year’s event is guaranteed to be “the coolest thing around.”

Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan rappels on Friday, June 24 as part of Toss Your Boss.

Reform in the Crosshairs Gun violence spurs call for state, federal action

cover1Faith leaders, policymakers and experts in the greater Baltimore and Washington regions are refusing to stay silent more than one week after the largest mass shooting in recent history.

Whether or not Congress passes legislation this week restricting known terrorists from purchasing guns, the prevailing view among most Jews is that some form of restriction on gun purchases is in order when it comes to preventing tragedies such as the June 12 massacre in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub that left 50 dead, including the gunman.

Maryland currently has a state assault weapons ban in effect, but it is undergoing its second legal challenge in district court. Meanwhile, the Orlando attack has led many to call for the reinstatement of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban that prevented the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic weapons for civilian use. The ban expired in 2004, and while there have been attempts to reinstate it, none have been successful. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in 2011 put out a policy statement calling for the reinstatement of this law following a rise in the number of mass shootings, said executive director Ron Halber.

“There was no reason why the man who committed that act of terror in Orlando should have been able to get his hands on [an assault weapon]” he said, referring to killer Omar Mateen’s purchase of the Sig Sauer MCX assault weapon two weeks prior to the shooting (Mateen also used a handgun that he had purchased at the time). “There is no reason at all that people on the terrorist list should have access to weaponry. That’s just illogical. I don’t know how anybody can defend that position.”

cover2Now is not the time to roll back any reasonable gun restrictions that are already in place. — BJC executive director Howard Libit

Halber said he detects frustration among members of the public who are desperate for action in the wake of the Orlando shooting and the many tragedies that preceded it. He emphasized that the JCRC is not calling for an outright ban on firearms for the use of protection or hunting, but the elimination of “military-grade” weapons from the public’s possession is a rational step.

Like the JCRC, the Baltimore Jewish Council also supports banning semiautomatic weapons. Executive director Howard Libit said the BJC has a history of supporting gun control legislation, including during the 2013 legislative session when the organization supported several new laws that were proposed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children.

“We certainly think that now is not the time to roll back any of the reasonable gun restrictions that are already in place in Maryland. That would be going the wrong direction,” he said. “And we’re paying close attention to what’s happening in Congress right now and certainly salute the efforts that a number of senators have made, including ours, to try and push for some greater federal steps.”

In addition to the Jewish advocacy arenas of both cities, rabbis are also speaking out. The rabbinic community as a whole has not taken one formal position on gun control, and it may be because, as Agudath Israel of Maryland director Rabbi Ariel Sadwin said, assault weapons haven’t been widely discussed in terms of Halachah.

Ariel Sadwin (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Ariel Sadwin (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

[There are] definitely plenty of people in the community who feel strongly about the need for protection. — Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director, Agudath Israel of Maryland

“To say there is a position within the community here and even broader, Agudath Israel of America, I don’t believe they’ve had too many statements on gun control because it’s not like we are against all guns,” he said.

Sadwin said like with many hot-button issues, the Orthodox community often can see merit to both sides in the gun control debate.

“[There are] definitely plenty of people in the community who feel strongly about the need for protection especially in a period of time that the Jewish community has seen continued safety issues, and there are definitely people in the community who feel there should be added protections and stuff like that,” he said. “So it’s hard to go and take a position, as some in politics will say, to completely overhaul gun control. At the same time, the availability of an assault weapon, the likes of which can go carry out a disaster like happened in Orlando, is a real concern.”

But Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue, who serves on the board of Jews United for Justice, believes Halachah can be interpreted to be against assault weapons.

“Halachah exists to guide us in how we’re to live our lives as Jews and how societies should be ordered,” he said. “We are to do just about everything we can in order to preserve life and save lives, so weapons that exist whose purpose is solely to take lives — that we know in the hands of civilians are much more likely to take innocent lives than they are to protect innocent lives — I think Halachah would frown on assault weapons in nonmilitary personal hands.”

He said that the United States’ obsession with gun ownership, as well as increasing xenophobic, racist, homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric, is a “dangerous and deadly cocktail.”

“One of the great tragedies of the current perspective that some Americans have on gun ownership is that instead of using, in moderation, weapons that are designed for sport, for hunting or even perhaps for protection, we have so fetishized weapon ownership and gun ownership in this country that when something tragic like this terrorist attack in Orlando occurs, we’re so conditioned as Americans to say, ‘Well, that has nothing to do with guns.’ But, of course, it has everything to do with guns,” Cotzin said. “Tel Aviv just had a shooting — a terrorist attack — a week and a half ago, and what was surprising about that attack was it was done with guns. Most of the terrorist attacks in Israel have been done with knives because in Israel it’s hard to get guns.”

Brian Frosh (Photo by Dayna Smith)

Brian Frosh (Photo by Dayna Smith)

The reason we banned [assault weapons] in Maryland is because they’re totally unnecessary or ill-suited for anything other than the police the military. The idea that you need to be able to fire off 15 shots really fast for hunting is crazy. It’s not necessary. It’s not sportsmanlike. — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh

When Adas Israel Congregation Associate Rabbi Aaron Alexander arrived in Washington last year, one of his mandates was to better engage the congregation’s social action committee. He did so by first asking congregants what issues were most important to them, one of which was gun control.

“When the consequences are life or death we have an obligation to fight as hard as we can for policies that preserve life and dignity,” he said. “We’re going to have a voice, and our voice is not just going to be to scream or yell or pray. Our voice is going to be to change tragedies that happen in this country every day.”

Alexander is not yet sure what Adas Israel’s on-the-ground efforts will be, but he has experience in community organizing from a previous role in Los Angeles, where he served on the clergy caucus of LA Voice PICO — an interfaith advocacy group.

“We’re in the midst of training our leadership to be effective organizers,” he said. “There are a lot of people out in the world who want to do something and we have learned that groups are effective when they are part of something bigger.”

Alexander said it was “shocking” that Congress took no action related to gun legislation after the Sandy Hook shootings. He called last week’s 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats on gun control a “God-inspired act.”

“Sometimes, we get so bogged down in the intricacies of the Second Amendment, we’re no longer able to see beyond the forest to the bigger picture.”

Alexander acknowledged that the Torah does provide a case for owning a gun by spelling out a right to self-defense, but he said in today’s world the most well-intentioned gun owners can cause devastating side effects simply by being enablers.

“If you think about domestic violence and suicide, a gun in the home raises the possibility that someone will do harm to themselves or others,” he said. “If the gun is not in the home, there is a much better chance someone will survive either their lowest moment of depression or someone close to them.”

Bobby Zirkin (File photo)

Bobby Zirkin (File photo)

This is a no-brainer … You have somebody on a terror watch list, they shouldn’t have firearms. — State Sen. Bobby Zirkin

It is not directly from the Torah that the argument for gun ownership comes, but rather the history of persecution that Jews have faced, explained Edward Friedman, editor-in-chief of the NRA’s monthly magazine Shooting Illustrated.

“Part of what made me a believer in the Second Amendment was what the Jewish people have gone through and the fact that we were, until the creation of the State of Israel, actually until the creation of the United States, never able to protect ourselves,” he told Washington Jewish Week last year. “In the U.S. it is individually, and in Israel it’s more collectively … there are people out there who spew violent hatred toward Jews and all too often put that into action.”

The right to owning a handgun in the home has been upheld several times by the Supreme Court, including in the 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court determined 5-4 that banning the registration of handguns or requiring the use of trigger locks to store them in the home violated the Second Amendment. The late justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion.

Nathan Lewin, a Washington attorney who has worked on a number of Supreme Court cases and knew Scalia, said he thinks there are limits on the latitude that the Heller decision gives gun owners.

“Beyond [handguns] I think courts have construed that as meaning that the legislature has the authority to go and regulate other forms of purchases, other forms of guns and ammunition,” he said.

Lewin said he thinks measures such as background checks and an assault weapons ban would be permitted under the Constitution.

While these measures may stand the test of the law, there may not be the political will to enact them, Lewin said, while noting the influence of the National Rifle Association on the political sphere.

“Although I’m not generally sympathetic to a lot of things the Obama Administration supports, I think legislation in this area is desirable,” he said, while noting that he thinks the larger issue is “Islamic terrorism.”

Maryland is currently fighting its own legal battle to uphold an assault weapons ban that took effect on Oct. 1, 2013. The law, which was based on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, outlawed 45 different weapons including the AR-15, which is similar to the weapon Mateen used. Gun owners who purchased the banned weapons prior to this date were permitted to keep them. There is no estimate as to how many people this includes.

The ban faced its first legal challenge from the pro-gun community in 2014 and was upheld by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake. But in February, they appealed the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled by a 2-1 vote among three judges that the case should be reheard in the same lower court under the “strict scrutiny” standard, meaning that the ban must “further a compelling governmental interest” in order for it to trump the Second Amendment.

Attorney General Brian Frosh said he thinks the ban will withstand this latest court challenge after other circuit courts upheld similar laws in the states of New York and Connecticut.

“It’s not that difficult,” he said. “There are clear definitions as to what an assault weapon is in the law. If somebody brings us a case where you’ve got an AR-15 that’s sold in a store who’s not buying it for police purposes or military purposes, it’s a violation. …The reason we banned them in Maryland is because they’re totally unnecessary or ill-suited for anything other than the police, the military. The idea that you need to be able to fire off 15 shots really fast for hunting is crazy. It’s not necessary. It’s not sportsmanlike.”

Frosh said anyone carrying a banned weapon into Maryland from another state is subject to the same penalties as someone who obtained one illegally in state, which include a $5,000 fine and a prison sentence of three years or less for the first offense. The penalties increase for subsequent offenses and for criminals who use the illegally obtained weapon in carrying out the act.

Frosh said the country at large remains in danger due to the lack of a renewal of the federal ban, and that has to do with politicians being “more responsive to the NRA than to the citizens.”

“I think that in Maryland we’ve made ourselves safer by having an assault weapons ban, but until our neighbors do the same, everybody’s in peril,” he said.

Sandy Rosenberg (File photo)

Sandy Rosenberg (File photo)

We can impose reasonable restrictions. I think [Maryland’s] bill will be ultimately upheld. — Del. Sandy Rosenberg
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) was a co-sponsor of the original policy and said he does not see how the Second Amendment would include assault rifles since they are not used for hunting and there is “no rational basis” for their use. He regrets not including a mental health component at the time, which, he said, is “very hard to legislate.”

“You want to people to seek mental health counseling and so forth without limits, but at the same time you want to keep guns out of the hands of people who have the capacity to do harm. So how you define that prohibition is very challenging but important to do,” he said.

Zirkin also co-sponsored a bill last year that would have barred gun sales from suspected terrorists — something he thinks is seriously lacking at the federal level.

“You look at Washington and their failure to do even the most simple of things is embarrassing,” he said. “This is a no-brainer of an issue in my opinion. You have somebody on a terror watch list, they shouldn’t have firearms.”

The bill did not pass Maryland last year, but he expects it to come up again in the 2017 General Assembly session.

Adding to the problem, Zirkin said, is the lack of communication from the FBI to state and local police about who is on the watch list. He said it is “self-evident” that all police officers should have access to the list.

“I believe we will pass a bill, but again, unless the federal government does it, it doesn’t protect us,” he said. “It’s nothing more than a statement from the state.”

However, Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) believes passing a bill in Maryland would be more than a statement.

“It has the potential to make a difference in Maryland because it would make it more difficult for someone who is on that list who is a suspected terrorist to purchase a gun in this state,” he said. “Passing the law here could create momentum to do so in other states and hopefully eventually to do so at the federal level, where it would be most effective. And that’s the role that states often play.”

He also thinks the state’s assault weapons ban will stand.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion makes it clear when he said — when he struck down the D.C. law — that the Second Amendment right is not an absolute right,” Rosenberg said. “That’s the case with all the other Bill of Rights protections. These are not absolute rights. When we worked on this bill, as the legislature considered the bill, we were very aware of that — that we can impose reasonable restrictions — and I hope and think that the bill will be ultimately upheld by the courts.”

Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said he too thinks the ban is in the public’s interest. Popkin, an Olney resident who attends Washington Hebrew Congregation and has served in law enforcement for more than 30 years, said the community he is in charge of is generally very safe. But over the years it has seen its share of gun violence, including a series of shootings near Westfield Montgomery Mall earlier this year. Popkin’s tactical team was also called into action during the sniper attacks of 2002 that left 17 people dead including six in Montgomery County.

“For anybody to think that an active shooter situation could not happen in our backyard is being naive,” he said.

Popkin said at the very least, there should be some additional background review of gun purchasers.

“No fly, no buy,” he said. “If you are being looked at as a person for potential violence, there should be some restriction for purchasing a firearm.”

New Plans for Protracted Mideast Conflict Surface

Map of Israel (©

Map of Israel (©

Nearly 50 years after Israel gained control of the West Bank in the Six Day War, a nonpartisan movement of former Israeli senior security officials has joined with two American organizations to warn against the continuing presence of Israeli forces on land that Palestinians claim for a future state.

“The status quo is an illusion, because the situation is getting worse every day,” said Susie Gelman, chair of the board of the Israel Policy Forum, quoting Amnon Reshef, founder of Commanders for Israel’s Security.

Israel Policy Forum, which promotes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is advancing two plans developed by Reshef’s CIS and the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that aims to address the concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians.

“Israelis need security, Palestinians need hope. There are steps that can be taken now that can provide both,” said Gelman. (Gelman is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes the Baltimore Jewish Times.)

The CIS plan, called Security First, offers actions Israel can take in the short term to ensure its security in the absence of negotiations with the Palestinians. It recommends that Israel complete its security barrier around the West Bank and stop construction of Jewish settlements outside the barrier.

The CNAS plan, Advancing the Dialogue: A Security System for the Two-State Solution, focuses on how Israel can withdraw from the West Bank without repeating the mistakes it made in its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

“Too often you hear from Israelis that if [they] walk out of the West Bank, it’ll just become Gaza. That’s sort of the shutdown [of the debate],” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East security program at CNAS. “We’re saying it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Susie Gelman (Israel Policy Forum)

Susie Gelman (Israel Policy Forum)

Goldenberg’s plan includes elements that the Gaza pullout lacked: a regional and border security system, an internal Palestinian security system and a drawn-out Israeli redeployment. The redeployment would be monitored by a panel including American, Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

He added that while Palestinians will not accept Israel taking unilateral action, a secondary deal can exist in which the United States would diplomatically support certain unilateral Israeli moves. However, the plan’s goal is to create enough layers of security that unilateral action would never become necessary.

Michael Koplow, policy director for IPF, emphasized the plans do not require a change in Israel’s government nor do they attempt to back any opposition political leaders.

Ilan Goldenberg (Center for a New American Security)

Ilan Goldenberg (Center for a New American Security)

“The current government has said it supports two states, and we take the prime minster at his word on that,” said Koplow. “We think that the CIS and CNAS plans can be implemented with any government, left or right.”

But the dynamics between governments do matter, Goldenberg said. He believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas both support the idea of a two-state solution, but their versions of what it looks like don’t necessarily overlap enough to see it through.

“More than anything, you’re asking two risk-averse politicians who don’t trust or like each other to take this huge career and life risk, and they’re just not going to do it together,” said Goldenberg. “The dynamics do need to change.”

Michael Koplow (Center for a New American Security;

Michael Koplow (Israel Policy Forum)

That, coupled with the strained relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, only adds to the challenge.

The unfavorable political realities, Gelman said, have caused some to question why Israel Policy Forum is promoting the two-state solution.

“I think anyone who cares about Israel has to do everything possible to preserve Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic and secure state,” said Gelman. “If you accept the premise that the two-state solution is the only solution, then we all have to do everything we can, despite the current political realities, to offer a different way forward.”

Har Sinai Lifelong Learning Program Is a Hit

Har Sinai’s members put the SPICE program in motion. (File Photo)

Har Sinai’s members put the SPICE program in motion. (File Photo)

A new program offered at Har Sinai Congregation has attracted a loyal following among community members interested in continuing their education.

The program is called SPICE, which stands for “Social Interaction, Personal Growth, Intellectual Development, Cultural Stimulation and Educational Enrichment,” and it targets older adults who are interested in taking courses on a variety of topics.

The synagogue hosted three programs in its first semester, which ran from March through May. The eight-week “Great American Music: Broadway Musicals” explored music from Broadway, much of which was created by Jewish composers. The two sessions of “Famous Jews Who Changed the World” focused on the works of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

The programs concluded with the four-week “Muslims, Christians and Jews: Perceptions and (Mis)Understandings,” a series of discussions facilitated by scholars from the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Joseph DeMattos, president of Har Sinai, called the program the “brainchild” of some very involved members who reached out to synagogue staff to get the program off the ground.

“What really excites me as Har Sinai president about SPICE is that it was organic, that the idea originated with members,” he said.

Har Sinai’s Rabbi Emeritus Floyd Herman, a former Jewish Chautauqua lecturer at Loyola University and a teacher of multiple “lifelong learning” programs at local colleges, says the program helps address the lack of these programs in the suburban area around Har Sinai in Owings Mills. Herman, who led the “Famous Jews Who Changed the World Sessions,” said one of the strengths of the program has been finding facilitators with a record of success in these programs.

“We want to grow it and continue. We have the facilities, we can find the people to do the teaching, and it’s a good use of our building, it’s a good use of our time, and it’s an opportunity for people to learn and also to see what Har Sinai is all about,” he said.

Har Sinai administrators who helped run the courses said some courses had regular attendances of 30 to 40 people, and the largest attendance they saw was around 60 participants.

Jo-Ellen Unger, Har Sinai’s director of congregational learning, said that the administration realized that apart from regular services and religious school, the fact that Har Sinai does not run a preschool or day school meant that the building sat empty for most of the week.

“We thought how wonderful it would be, first of all to have people in the building, to have energy and excitement in the building and to provide for our members and members of the larger community,” she said.

Unger said the feedback from members was overwhelmingly positive, with each program building its own loyal following. Synagogue members have already been reaching out to get information about the courses that will be offered in the summer and fall, she said.

Barry Berman, a Har Sinai member of 38 years, attended all three programs in SPICE’s first semester and was enamored with the program. “It was all memorable, the music program was incredible,” he said. Berman said the programs brought him into the synagogue at times he would usually be away; he felt a greater engagement with the Har Sinai community.

“It’s been a great experience … you walk in, write your check, pay for lunch or you bring your lunch, and you’re good to go,” Berman said, citing the program’s low cost and accessibility and engaging facilitators. When asked if he would be coming back to SPICE, he said “Absolutely, I have already signed up for the next program.”

In July, Susan Weis-Bolen of Susan’s Kitchen Vegetarian Cooking School will lead three sessions on juicing, soup making and vegetarian cooking. In August, Har Sinai will host “Reel Judaism,” which will be four separate showings of films with Judaic themes.

The fall semester begins in September with a series on the Supreme Court taught by Loyola University professor and Supreme Court Historical Society trustee Jim O’Hara. In October, a series on the upcoming presidential election will begin, hosted by political commentator Barry Rascovar. The last program in the fall, beginning in November, will be “Bible Stories You Never Learned in Sunday School,” a take on lesser-known stories of the Bible.

For more information about the SPICE program, contact Jo-Ellen Unger at 410-654-9393 or

Adam Barry is an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Mid-Atlantic Media’s Runyan Going ‘Over the Edge’ for Kidney Health



Mid-Atlantic Media’s editorial director Joshua Runyan will participate in Toss Your Boss, an event in which employees can raise funds that benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland for the privilege of having their boss go ‘over the edge’ — rappelling down the exterior of the Hyatt  Regency Hotel at the Inner Harbor from roof to sidewalk. NKF-MD brings attention to and raises money for kidney research and care.

Runyan will participate in the VIP preview on the afternoon of Friday, June 24. The main event happens on June 25 and is scheduled to include local celebrities, transplant donors and recipients and other adventure seekers of all ages.

“While I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous, I’m also thrilled to be supporting such a worthy cause,” said Runyan. “I’m sure my staff is also looking forward to seeing me go over the edge.”

Face painting, a DJ and other activities will entertain those waiting in the landing zone, where friends, family members and hotel guests can cheer on the rappel participants.

Over the Edge, a special events company that provides signature rappel events for nonprofit organizations in North America organized the event.

Rappel for Kidney Health events have drawn more than 530 participants and raised more than $676,000 to help the foundation expand its  patient services, education and research efforts.

Other participants include NKF-MD board member and second-year rappeller Jordan Levine in support of his son who was born with one kidney. Today, his son is a healthy 4-year-old, but having only one kidney places him at a higher risk. Also rappelling will be attorney and former District 11 Del. Jon Cardin, who will be supporting a friend who is a transplant recipient.

For more information, call Jenny Trostel at 443-322-0377 or email

Challenging the ‘Dumping Ground’ Status Quo

Destiny Watford, a resident of the South Baltimore neighborhood of Curtis Bay, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in stopping the nation’s largest incinerator from being built in her neighborhood. (Photo provided)

Destiny Watford, a resident of the South Baltimore neighborhood of Curtis Bay, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in stopping the nation’s largest incinerator from being built in her neighborhood. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

Until a few months ago, Baltimore’s Curtis Bay neighborhood, a community with a history of being marginalized and displaced for industry, was set to be the future home of the country’s largest trash incinerator.

While the proposal was touted as clean energy, some residents saw the plan to burn 4,000 tons of trash every day to produce energy at a facility less than one mile from two schools as all but clean. And with the South Baltimore neighborhood’s history of air pollution and respiratory illnesses, one teen and her peers set out to fight the incinerator.

After a four-year battle, they won, and the impact was felt well beyond the city. Curtis Bay resident Destiny Watford, one of the leaders of the effort, was named a recipient of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize in April. Watford, a 21-year old Towson University junior who first forayed into activism at age 17, is the third-youngest honoree in the history of the international prize. Her co-honorees this year are from Slovakia, Cambodia, Peru, Puerto Rico and Tanzania.

“Her nomination represented the whole package of what we seek to recognize with the prize — the grassroots activism, the fact that she was able not just to identify problems but go about doing something positive to solve them, while bringing along members of her school community as well as the larger community,” said Susie Gelman, vice president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, the awarding organization. “This is exactly the kind of person we seek to recognize with the prize. We were also very impressed by the fact that Destiny was able to realize these achievements while she was a high school student.”

The foundation and prize were founded by Gelman’s parents, Richard and Rhoda Goldman, who “envisioned the Goldman Environmental Prize as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems, draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievement and inspire others to emulate the examples set by the prize recipients,” according to the prize’s website.

The first Goldman Prize Award Ceremony was held in April 1990 in San Francisco. Goldman Prize winners now number nearly 180.

Like all of the Goldman Environmental Prize winners, Watford’s journey was arduous — a journey that saw her and her peers rally community members who had resigned themselves to the status quo that their community was a dumping ground, taking on public and private interests, facing arrest and pushing to this day for a community-backed plan for the 90-acre site where the incinerator was going to be built.

For Watford, the journey began when she saw the Henrik Ibsen play “An Enemy of the People,” which had striking parallels to what her community was going through.

Goldman Environmental Prize

Goldman Environmental Prize

“They’re constantly battling [the question], ‘Do we want to prosper and have wealth come into our community and risk our health?’” Watford said. “For a long time, my community has been facing that question.”

Curtis Bay is plagued by a number of issues, Watford said, and the impending incinerator was just one of many. In addition to housing issues, the community is a food desert, within eyesight is an “endless sea of industry” that displaced residents decades ago, and there are more liquor stores than parks, Watford said. Residents young and old deal with the gamut of respiratory issues including asthma and lung cancer, among others.

Curtis Bay was among the top 10 ZIP codes in the United States for toxic air pollutants released by stationary facilities from 2005 to 2009, and its ZIP code ranked first in the country in 2007 and 2008, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Curtis Bay ranked 74th in the nation in 2010 due to pollution control upgrades at two coal-fired power plants, the report said.

Watford co-founded Free Your Voice, a student organization centered on community rights and social justice. She and the organization learned all about the community’s history and environmental troubles as they studied Curtis Bay and the various issues affecting the community. Watford admits she didn’t even know what an incinerator was until she researched it.

“When we learned about the incinerator it really struck home for us. [We asked,] ‘How is this even possible? The nation’s largest incinerator to be built less than a mile from where we go to school,’” she said. The group studied the concept of human rights and how it applied to them. “We found that the incinerator violated our basic human rights pretty much on every level, [including] our basic right to live in a healthy community and breathe clean air.”

Armed with the facts, Watford and members of Free Your Voice set out to educate and involve the community’s residents, many of whom were unaware of the possible incinerator even though it was proposed in 2009. While most people were against the idea once they learned about it, there were challenges in rallying the community.

“One of the hugest challenges was trying to change hearts and minds. For so long, as communities like Curtis Bay have been treated as a dumping ground — just ignored — what happens is, it becomes status quo,” Watford said. “You kind of get this dumping ground mentality of not being able to see the change that can happen.”

Destiny Watford (Goldman Environmental Prize)

Destiny Watford (Goldman Environmental Prize)

She remembers one elderly man early in the process who told her, “Curtis Bay is and always has been a dumping ground. What you kids are doing won’t change anything.”

But through knocking on doors, storytelling and presentations, the effort grew strength in numbers. Free Your Voice spoke at community association meetings and with various stakeholders in the project, including Baltimore City Public Schools, who were one of 22 public institutions that had contracts to buy energy from Energy Answers International, the company behind the incinerator.

For Watford, the traction of the opposition became tangible in several forms: When Energy Answers’ CEO Patrick Mahoney presented at a community meeting and the attendees were outraged at his claims; when Baltimore City Public Schools pulled its contract; and when Baltimore City pulled its contract after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her fellow Board of Estimates members voted to do so. All 22 public entities eventually canceled their contracts with Energy Answers.

The final blow to the incinerator later came on a technicality. The incinerator’s permit was invalid if 18 months had passed since issuance without any construction on the site. The 18 months had passed, and it was up to the Maryland Department of the Environmental to officially invalidate the permit.

But it would take months of pressure from community activists and Free Your Voice before MDE would rule the permit expired. In December 2015, about 200 people demonstrated outside of MDE headquarters. They planned to drop off petitions inside, but doors to MDE were locked. Eventually nine people got inside to drop off the petitions and told MDE Secretary Benjamin Grumbles they wouldn’t leave until he made a decision on the permit. Seven were arrested.

In March, Grumbles released a statement saying the permit was expired. Just one month later, Watford was honored with Goldman Environmental Prize.

“It was a huge honor, and I was so excited,” she said.

Gelman got to know Watford better during Goldman events that honored this year’s winners. “I have no doubt Destiny has a very bright future of continued, effective activism ahead of her,” Gelman said.

The award came with $175,000 in prize money, which Watford said she plans to use for future efforts in Curtis Bay. While Energy Answers has a 99-year lease on the land where the incinerator was going to be built, the community is hoping to gain control of the land and decide its fate.

Looking back on the years of effort, Watford acknowledges it was quite a herculean effort considering that throughout the campaign people wondered if there was truly anything they could do.

“I think everyone had moments like that,” she said, “but we all had to break through the dumping ground mentality together. Others took longer and some never really got there, but the point is the struggle and the push, and we’re still pushing.”

Fed Live! A Huge Success!

More than 400 attendees enjoyed this year’s sold-out Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Fed Live! gala on June 9.

The Stars & Stripes-themed event featured entertainment by The Capitol Steps and a live auction called Give for Good, where attendees could bid on and donate services the federation provides.

It was also an evening of honors, and this year the awards included recognition of Rob Freedman as business professional; Marvin Hoss as medical professional; Sara Magden for young leadership; Jill Oletsky as community builder; and Ellen Strichart as woman of valor.

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