Quarry Lake Festival Celebrates Jewish Heritage

This Sunday, June 19, the Quarry Lake Spring Festival, an annual celebration of Jewish heritage, will take place at Quarry Lake in Greenspring from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival, sponsored by Sol Levinson & Bros. and Woodholme Gardens, will feature Klezmer music, kosher food, book signings by local authors and a shofar blowing among other activities for kids.

Jay Harris, the festival coordinator, began the annual celebration after his son suggested the idea.

“My son said to me, ‘There hasn’t been a Jewish festival here for years. Why don’t you do one at the quarry?’” said Harris, who started running the festival 10 years ago. “So that’s what I did. I love having a festival, and I love having a good time.”

This year’s festival has 80 vendors scheduled to attend.

Proceeds will benefit the Jewish Caring Network, a  Baltimore-based nonprofit dedicated to providing support services to families facing life-threatening, lifelong or serious illnesses.

Born to Serve Barbara Levy Gradet steps down from JCS, strides into next adventure

Barbara Levy Gradet (Photo by David Stuck)

Barbara Levy Gradet (Photo by David Stuck)

It is the culmination of decades of service and leadership in the nonprofit, private and government sectors that prepared Barbara Levy Gradet for the position from which she steps down this month, after 12 years at the helm (and birth) as executive director of Jewish Community Services.

But, in fact, it seems Gradet was born to serve.

Attributing her early social justice and service exposure to the volunteer dedication of her grandmother, Rose Diskin, and especially her mother, Joyce Levy, who was the first executive coordinator for Sinai Hospital Auxiliary and also a longtime volunteer at the then-Jewish Family Services, Gradet has fond memories of participating in volunteer activities such as stuffing envelopes at the dining room table and was known to say, as a child, “Mommy, let’s play organization!”

But the colossal task Gradet took on back in 2007, after the pivotal decision to consolidate four agencies of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore to become one JCS, was not child’s play. The decision was made just three years after she became executive director of Jewish Family Services, and for about a year Gradet ran JFS and led the JCS transition.

She directed the consolidation process, which merged the staff, service programs and board members of Jewish Family Services, Jewish Vocational Services, Jewish Addiction Services and the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister League. The transformation of the agency, finalized in 2008, required a redesign and implementation of the new agency’s programs and its governance structure, branding, outreach methods and marketing strategies.

It’s an honor and privilege to work with somebody who you admire for what they stand for.

— Ronald  Attman, JCS board president

“I found that year to be the most exhilarating and exhausting year of my professional life,” Gradet, 67, said. “I felt like I used everything I had ever learned in every job I ever had to help this process move forward. And I was assisted by a fabulous energetic staff and lay leaders who understood the need. It was really an amazing time, and I had the opportunity to present what we did at a couple of national conferences. [Due to the recession,] what started to happen was agencies were looking desperately to merge, and we were ahead of the curve.”

During her career, Gradet held management or executive positions with the Baltimore County Department of Aging, St. Joseph Medical Center, Almost Family Adult Day Care and the Baltimore County Department of Social Services. Though born and raised in Baltimore and a longtime contributor to The Associated, when she started at JFS, she said, “Things look different when you work within the community and understand how The Associated works and how unique our federation is across the country. That meant a lot to me, as I’m a strong believer in collaboration,” she said. “And [the consolidation to form] JCS wasn’t the only bold change that came out of it.”

From left: Barbara Levy Gradet, Izzy Patoka, Rabbi Benjamin Sharff, Councilwoman Vicki Almond, Brian Goldman, Nancy Kohn Rabin, Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Bruce Sholk at the ribbon cutting for JCS Owings Mills offices in April 2012 (Photo provided)

From left: Barbara Levy Gradet, Izzy Patoka, Rabbi Benjamin Sharff, Councilwoman Vicki Almond, Brian Goldman, Nancy Kohn Rabin, Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Bruce Sholk at the ribbon cutting for JCS Owings Mills offices in April 2012 (Photo provided)

The organizational overhaul included a decentralization of management for Hillel programs and also resulted in the merger of Baltimore Hebrew University with Towson University.

“The most significant accomplishment — she had many — but the most important and substantive was the birthing of a brand new agency,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated. “This encompassed four venerable agencies into one holistic and interdisciplinary agency, creating the extending hand of a caring community.”

“Her sense of respect for the other, for different ways of approaching situations, really helped to advance the process of that merger and ultimately put this organization on the map locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.

“It was an entire team and community effort,” Gradet insisted. “I was privileged to lead, but it [took] a brilliant team of people to retain what was great and strong in the independent agencies and merge it into something even stronger. There were a lot of really big changes, and it was very courageous of The Associated to make the decision that we can’t be our grandfather and grandmother’s system forever. Times and needs were changing.”

And change they did.

From left: Eva Schwartz, then-JCS director of economic services, and Barbara Levy Gradet; the JCS building (File photo)

From left: Eva Schwartz, then-JCS director of economic services, and Barbara Levy Gradet; the JCS building (File photo)

“It was a blood bath,” Gradet recalled. “People who had been longtime donors — blue collar, white collar — this recession touched every part of our country and our community. It was prescient [of The Associated] is the only way I can say it. They couldn’t have known that our coming together would coincide with a great recession.”

Just as JCS launched in 2008, “we were confronted with a tsunami of need in the community,” she continued. “It happened fast, and we feel fortunate — The Associated visioning folks had determined we come together to be more effective and efficient. As it turned out, it was absolutely essential to being responsive to people who never thought they would need it.”

Today, JCS has an annual operating budget of $16 million, has 210 staff members and offers a broad array of social services to more than 25,000 individuals annually.

“We created a complex system of services provided to the community in a simple way,” Gradet said. “A person picks up the phone — they don’t get a phone tree, that’s what JCS has been all about. We measure that difference, we get letters, we know how many people we’ve been able to help and get back on their feet, get food on the table and roofs over their head. It’s an astonishing privilege for me to be here 12 years, watching the miracle that our staff is able to make and the strength they give to people to ultimately help themselves, giving them the tools and resources to manage their lives.”

The JCS Employer Partnership Awards recognize employers for listing job openings with JCS, hiring JCS clients and partnering with JCS for community work. (File photos)

The JCS Employer Partnership Awards recognize employers for listing job openings with JCS, hiring JCS clients and partnering with JCS for community work. (File photos)

It’s not always funds people are in need of, she said. Being wealthy doesn’t inoculate a person from situations where loved ones are abusing substances, marriages are in shambles, or when someone is at a loss for how to care for a suffering elderly parent.

“So we’re here for everyone in the community, and it takes a whole team to pull that off,” Gradet said. “People don’t get rich when they choose the serving professions. They do it because of their hearts. [JCS employees] make sure that everyone who gets to us gets the tools and resources they need and a caring response filled with humanity. We have people who have been with the founding agencies for 30 years and new people coming to us all the time willing to do all the extraordinary work. And our volunteers touch people’s lives every day in important ways.”

She continued, “And we have a real working board. Not a rubber stamp board. We put them through their paces.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to work with somebody who you admire for what they stand for,” said board president Ronald Attman, who is also vice president of the Acme Paper and Supply Company. “I’ve had a chance to work with many top executives here and in other parts of the country. Barbara’s leadership skills are unmatched. People really trust what she says and have confidence in her opinions. She has just tremendous credibility. But if there’s a difference of opinion, she respects it and takes it into consideration.”

“But the thing I’m most deeply struck by is her sense of compassion and empathy,” added Terrill. “She connects deeply, respects people’s points of view and their circumstances, and she really cares.”

Gradet noted that another goal of JCS is to eradicate the stigma often attached to using social services or even just the need to ask for help.

Barbara Levy Gradet, Jonathan Davidov, Michael Saxon, Elizabeth Jacobs, Ronald Attman, Allison Magat, Joel Fink and Harriet Berg. (File photo)

Barbara Levy Gradet, Jonathan Davidov, Michael Saxon, Elizabeth Jacobs, Ronald Attman, Allison Magat, Joel Fink and Harriet Berg. (File photo)

“Can you ever totally do that?” Gradet asked. “But we are all the same — the helpers and the help, and we change roles all the time. It’s hard to make that phone call.”

JCS is also committed to serving the entire community, Gradet said, and though the target is Baltimore’s Jewish community, everyone benefits when an entire community is healthy. And JCS does its part to reach out.

“We don’t just sit in our offices waiting for people to come,” Gradet said. “We’re in schools, in synagogues, we offer parenting advice, bereavement services, caregiver support. We’re proactive so people can come and get the information they need and so people can help themselves too.”

Under Gradet’s watch, JCS moved its Baltimore County offices into a newly built 10,000-square-foot addition at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, nearly double the size of its former location, consequently expanding its services into Northwest Baltimore County. And in 2014, JCS was named a Top Workplace by The Baltimore Sun .

Gradet will officially step down on June 30, and her successor, Joan Grayson Cohen, begins July 1. Cohen has been involved with the organization for 22 years and is JCS director of Economic Services.

“I get to leave this fabulous 12-year experience in great hands and in great satisfaction with what my team and I have accomplished together and what [Cohen] and her team will take as a starting point to build on,” Gradet said. “I couldn’t be luckier.”

Barbara Levy Gradet and her husband, Howard, are relocating to Los Angeles. “Being closer to my kids and grandkids is the only motivation that has made me decide to leave. That’s the motivation, but I’m not retiring. I actually love that I don’t know what’s next.” (Provided)

Barbara Levy Gradet and her husband, Howard, are relocating to Los Angeles. “Being closer to my kids and grandkids is the only motivation that has made me decide to leave. That’s the motivation, but I’m not retiring. I actually love that I don’t know what’s next.” (Provided)

Gradet’s next role, which she is thrilled about and takes very seriously, is that of a nurturing, loving grandmother to her two grandchildren, Elliott and Mira, who live with their parents in California.

Gradet and her husband, Howard, will relocate to Los Angeles to be within a short drive of one grandchild and a one-hour plane ride or a lovely coastal day drive from the other.

“Being closer to my kids and grandkids is the only motivation that has made me decide to leave,” Gradet said. “I don’t feel ready to retire, I don’t feel done. I feel passionate and energetic and blessed to be here. But I’m missing too much of my grandkids’ lives, and I don’t want to miss that. I had a wonderful relationship with my grandparents. It’s so interesting when you become a grandparent, your priorities change. That’s the motivation, but I’m not retiring.”

She plans to take time to settle in and do what it takes to live in a new place, since up to this point she’s lived all her life in Baltimore. But she’ll also “look at options, look at what this next chapter of my life holds. I don’t intend to look for an executive high-level job — I’m leaving the best, so I can’t possibly top that. But I still have a lot to offer, and I have learned so much, I feel there are ways I can continue to contribute. I actually love that I don’t know what’s next.”

But the thing I’m most deeply struck by is her sense of compassion and empathy.

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

Gradet said that although she’s leaving a community that she loves, she has no regrets.

“I was one of these weird kids, I knew what I wanted to be when I was little. As soon as I knew what it was, I wanted to be a social worker. My whole career — and especially my time in this community — has fulfilled my personal mission and my personal goal. How fortunate that is, when you get to do work that is so personally meaningful and so aligned with who you want to be in this world.”

Gradet feels dedicated to carry on the legacy of service she received from her grandmother and mother, which she so dearly cherishes.

“It’s an extraordinary circle — three generations — so my job is to influence my kids and grandkids to be that fourth and fifth circle.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

 

Outpouring of Love in the Face of Hatred, Violence

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Reeling from the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in its history, many cities around the country and the world came together in vigil, song and prayer this week to work through waves of grief felt from the tragedy and to stand in solidarity with the families and loved ones of the 49 lives lost and also with the LGBTQ community, at which the heinous attack carried out by Omar Mateen was targeted.

Mateen, 29, an American-born citizen living in Fort Pierce, Fla., whose parents are from Afghanistan, entered the Pulse nightclub some 120 miles away in Orlando, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, just after 2 a.m. on Sunday. The popular gay dance club had about 300 patrons inside at the time of the attack according to Orlando police chief John Mina.

The shooter killed 49 people and injured more than 50, held some hostage in a club bathroom and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State via a 911 call shortly after the start of the attack. He later was killed in a gun battle with police.

The outpourings of support and solidarity began almost immediately.

Marty Katz, co-director of JQ Baltimore, an organization that supports the Jewish LGBTQ community, attended the local vigil on Monday night, sponsored by the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland and the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care. Hundreds of people showed up at the Ynot lot, an open area in the Station North District, and filled the blocked off intersection of North and Charles avenues. Katz said he’s heard from many young people, and their parents, who have expressed concern over attending Gay Pride events this month and next.

“When terror takes place, the [terrorist’s] idea is to scare people and change people’s lifestyles and how they behave,” he said. “I encourage them to be smart, go in groups and be aware but have a good time. We don’t close the synagogues because there has been an attack on a synagogue [somewhere]. They may hire additional security but don’t close. So I don’t think we should close gay bars or Gay Pride events, but we should be smart.”

I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.

— Rabbi Jessy Gross, Charm City Tribe

He was much more concerned, however, with the language and actions of some extremist organizations “that stigmatize the LGBTQ community, [creating an atmosphere and mentality] that a person might latch on to, to justify harmful behaviors.”

Mindy Dickler, a co-founder of JQ Baltimore, agreed with the sentiment and added, “My son is participating in Pride activities, and I certainly won’t tell him to stop — just like in Israel, when there are attacks, people go on with their lives because that’s how you show love wins.”

Many politicians, community leaders and organizations released statements in light of the attack, such as Eshel, a national organization that creates community and acceptance for LGBT Jews and their families in Orthodox communities:

“Our hearts are broken over the senseless violence, the lives cut short, the families torn apart. … We pray for the day when we will know no more homophobia and or violence against LGBTQ people. … As Jews, we know all too well that hatred does not arise in a vacuum. It persists in our communities and our society at large. In face of this horror and bigotry, we must stand together as one and redouble our efforts to heal a broken world. … We call on religious leaders, particularly those in more traditional religious communities, and especially those in our own Orthodox Jewish community, to commit themselves and their congregations to not stand idly by the spilling of blood, to share responsibility for violence that is all too often inflamed by fundamentalism and to work hard to ensure that all our communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming to all.”

And after the conclusion of Shavuot, typically a joy-filled holiday, the Baltimore Jewish Council statement said, “Yet, this Shavuot was filled with sadness, as we mourned thelives lost in the senseless violence of the Orlando shooting. At a time meant for reflection on the joy and holiness brought by our faith, it is important that we do not demonize the faith of others. The culprit of this violent act is one man who has twisted his concept of faith to meet his own ends; it is not a representation of the entire Muslim community. … We must all ask ourselves, how many of these statements will we write in 2017, how many more senseless killings will our country endure? Something must be done to fight this epidemic and we look towards our interfaith and community partners to undertake this battle together.”

Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice, echoed that charge with, “We must work to end the hatred and intolerance and remove the weapons from our society that enable a single person to perpetrate such a heinous act. Though Maryland has instituted important common-sense gun violence reforms in recent years, there legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse.”

Evan Serpick, director of strategic communications at Open Society Institute of Baltimore, also attended the vigil and observed that “people were looking for a way to process what they were going through — the frustration, anger, sadness — it seemed very helpful and cathartic.”

He said a host of area politicians spoke, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, State Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Mary Washington. Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend but issued this statement:

“The First Lady and I are shocked and saddened by the senseless violence this morning at a nightclub in Orlando. We offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the innocent victims of this act of terror and our deepest gratitude to the first responders and law enforcement who responded to this tragedy with bravery and courage.

“I have reached out to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to express our support during this time. The State of Maryland is ready and willing to provide any assistance needed. Gov. Scott has called for a moment of silence and prayer at 6 p.m. [Sunday] for the victims and their loved ones. I urge everyone in Maryland to join in Gov. Scott’s call for unity and prayer.”

Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe has a different take on calls for prayer:

“I feel like if I hear one more politician say that what we need to do is pray, as a person who has a prayer life, I’m offended because prayer is not going to get us anywhere at this point,” she said. “Of course, we need prayer and healing when we have circumstances with victims and heartbreak, so there is a distinction to be made, but at this point the culpability is on us as a society.

“I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.”

Marc Shapiro and JTA contributed to this article.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

JCC’s Shabbat Decision Causes Concern

File photo

File photo

The Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center’s recent decision to open earlier on Saturdays has caused some concern for community members over respect for Shabbat.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the facility’s outdoor pools have been open on Saturdays, and since 2009, the JCC has opened at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but the board voted May 24 to keep the facility open for a full day on Shabbat, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The holy day begins Friday evening before sundown and ends after nightfall a day later.

Representatives from the JCC said that the decision to extend the building’s Saturday hours, which began on June 4, was the culmination of 15 months of discussion.

“We did not make this decision lightly. We conducted many, many meetings with community leaders over the past year and a half. This was not something that happened overnight,” said Annette Saxon, board chair of the JCC of Greater Baltimore.

Barak Hermann, president of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said, “Even though we opened our building on Saturday afternoons in June of 2009, there continued to be a demand of current and prospective members to be open Saturday morning.” Hermann said reactions to the decision have been mixed, as he has heard from Jewish members who are pleased with the decision, while he described others as “concerned and disappointed.”

In his JT column, “Shabbos at the JCC: Crossing the Line” (see page 10), Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion referred to a “clear red line” he felt was established during the 2009 decision that limited the building’s Saturday hours and came with “a pledge that the Shabbos experience at the JCC would be enriched with meaningful and substantive elements that would make that day at the J different than any other.”

Seven years later, Hauer feels that neither of these promises have been fulfilled. “The JCC is an entry point, a point of connection to the Jewish community, so it has to have a structure of its own. Every organization has to stand for something beyond customer service when it’s a communal organization,” he told the JT.

Other rabbis from the area’s Orthodox community have been hearing from congregants and community members as well. “People have approached me and said, ‘Rabbi, I thought the JCC as a Jewish organization would stand up in principle and not cave in to pressure to open on Shabbat mornings,’” said Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, director of Chabad of Owings Mills.

Katsenelenbogen expressed concern that this decision signals a shift in the JCC’s attitudes toward maintaining Jewish traditions and identity.

However, Saxon cited the “tough balance” between the desires and attitudes of JCC members, both Jewish members — observant and non-observant — and non-Jewish members. “It’s a fine line we walk here, and that’s why we didn’t take this lightly, and that’s why we put much so much effort in the process to get this point,” Saxon said.

Alex Schwartz of Owings Mills, a former JCC member of almost 20 years, said he feels that as the JCC’s non-Jewish and non-observant membership grows, he understands a shift in policy. “At the end of the day, you have such a different combination of people using the JCC. … If you’re going to be open on Saturdays, why not extend the hours?”

Adam Hariri of Pikesville attends the Park Heights JCC because of its proximity to his house, and while he keeps Shabbat, he felt mostly indifferent to the announcement that the Owings Mills location had extended their Saturday hours. “I understand it’s a Jewish facility and a Jewish organization, but I understand they don’t have one specific affiliation. Orthodoxy keeps the Sabbath, but it’s fine to me if the building doesn’t,” he said.

The Park Heights JCC facility remains closed on Saturdays and offers gender-sensitive pool use, fitness and children’s programming.

“We’re grateful that there’s a facility in Park Heights that many members of the community take advantage of, and that’s appreciated,” Hauer said. “We have a larger mission, and that’s the mission of Jewish continuity and that’s where the concerns lie.”

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said that the organization was kept informed about the discussions leading up the incident and that the decision hinged on keeping the JCC open as a place for non-observant Jews to spend Shabbat in a Jewish setting.

While he understood the concern of Rabbi Hauer and others, Terrill also hoped the decision would help the JCC reach more of the community.

“As an operating principle, The Associated system looks to engage all members of the Jewish community,” he said. In a follow-up statement he added: “This sometimes comes with diversity of opinion and absence of consensus.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

Adam Barry is an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The Glory of Gold: Reva Says Goodbye

For Reva Gold and Talmudical Academy, it’s the end of an era. “I love this school; it’s eating me up that I’m leaving.” (Provided)

For Reva Gold and Talmudical Academy, it’s the end of an era. “I love this school; it’s eating me up that I’m leaving.” (Provided)

Of those honored at the Talmudical Academy’s 99th Anniversary Banquet on Sunday, June 5, no one received a reception quite as rousing as Reva Gold.

As the longtime high school secretary received her Golden Anniversary Service Award for her 50 years at the school, every single one of the approximately 800 attendees of the banquet rose to give her a standing ovation.

While there were other honorees, the night arguably  belonged to Gold, who is leaving the school where she has been impacting lives since 1966. Alumni and staff reflected on this impact in a video that played  before the award was given.

“We used to joke that the school would collapse without her, and I’m not really sure how much of a joke that was,” Shmuel Luxenburg of the class of 1994 said in the video. “She was everything. She was mother of the dorm boys, nurse, psychologist, office manager, principal manager, doing it all and making sure that the boys, who were her No. 1 priority, were taken care of.”

Awards were also presented to guests of honor Ari and Shoshanna Krupp and Alumnus of the Year Gobbie Cohen. The Krupps have been heavily  involved in the school, and Ari is the outgoing chairman of the board, a position he has held for the past four years. Cohen’s Torah Youth Association provides extracurricular and after-school activities for yeshiva and Jewish day school students in the area.

Reva Gold is not an employee of TA, this is her family. — Rabbi Yaakov Lefkovitz

 

As for Gold, the impact she had made on the people there was clear, as was the impact that the students had made on her.

“I love this school, I love the boys, it’s eating me up that I’m leaving,” Gold said. “[The boys] were everything to me. They helped me through the death of my husband; they were just wonderful, and they’re a wonderful group of people.”

Before she married her late husband, Henry, she made sure he knew that the school was a massive part of her life, and that was something he must accept. Over the years she would meet the sons of men she had helped, becoming a part of multiple generations of Talmudical Academy families.

At the banquet, Rabbi Yaakov Lefkovitz, the school’s director of development, spoke with alumni who flew and drove in from multiple states to see Gold  accept this award. “In my dealings with alumni, weekly, daily, one of the first questions that always comes up is, ‘How is Mrs. Gold doing?’” he said.

Judah Katz, class of 2003,  remembered Gold’s ability to nurture the students, even in times of great distress.  “When Sept. 11 happened, she turned off the TV, and I don’t know what she was going through, but she was the shoulder everyone was leaning on,” he said.

Gold was presented with a photobook compiled by faculty, alumni, family and current students that commemorated the mark she had made on their lives.

“This is a school with teachers, but Reva Gold is our teacher,” said Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz, president of the Talmudical Academy and father to Yaakov. Gold taught responsibility by being there “day in and day out, in the best weather conditions and the worst weather conditions,” he said.

Lefkovitz also described how Gold taught by example with her selflessness, dedication to the boys’ education and well-being and constant love for the students.

“Don’t start up with her boys; you go back 50 years, five years or five months ago, these are her boys,” Lefkovitz said. “Reva Gold is not an  employee of TA, this is her family.”

Though 50 years of employment is coming to an end, Gold still plans to spend time around the school, possibly helping the nurses in the elementary school. The alumni are planning a special dedication in Gold’s honor on the new extended campus.

Adam Barry is an intern at the  Baltimore Jewish Times.

Providing the Highest Form of Charity

Maya Forit graduated this year as a registered nurse from the Achotenu pilot program. She has been accepted to work in the surgical department of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. (Provided)

Maya Forit graduated this year as a registered nurse from the Achotenu pilot program. She has been accepted to work in the surgical department of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. (Provided)

Eleven years ago, 8,600 residents from 17 Israeli settlements that made up Gush Katif — a small sliver of land on the Gaza Strip that Israelis and Palestinians transformed from desert to fertile agricultural ground — were forcibly  removed from their homes.

Gush Katif was placed intentionally as a security island of Israelis surrounded by a sea of Palestinians, and the evacuation took place as a result of a controversial decision by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his attempt at Palestinian peace negotiations.

JobKatif, the Israeli organization that sprang into action to assist Gush Katif residents torn from their homes, has successfully re-employed 85 percent of its evacuees and stabilized their upturned lives. Now, the organization’s chairman and founder, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, has set his sights on another needy population, also to help them find gainful employment and restore the personal dignity that comes with it.

Called Achotenu, Hebrew for both sisterhood and nurses, the newest initiative is a nurse training support program for Ethiopians in Israel. In its  recently completed pilot year, 10 young women graduated from four Israeli nursing schools. The program was  designed after identifying the needs and desires of both the Ethiopian community and  Israeli health care.

Mike Lowenstein, a member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah and a longtime supporter of JobKatif, commends the organization for “seeing a gap and filling it.”

“Rav Ramon … continues to support other sub-groups within the Israeli community at large. It’s been a natural progression into Achotenu … All with the common thread of employment,” he said.

It began because Rimon was “distressed to see so many Ethiopian adults in low-paying dead-end jobs,” said Judy Lowy, the organization’s executive director who recently traveled to Baltimore on a fundraising trip. Ethiopians have the potential to do much more, and the key is studying and having a profession, he  asserted.

Rimon charged the staff to identify what might be a successful approach to the crisis.

After a few months of  research, Lowy and her colleagues discovered that an overwhelming number of Ethiopian women dream of becoming nurses. Perhaps the draw to the profession is innately culturally based, she said.

The team also discovered that “Israel suffers from a dearth of hospital nurses,” with the patient-to-nurse ratio at 50 percent less than other developed countries. Matching up the desire and the need seemed like the perfect fit,  except for one big obstacle.

“There were hurdles to get into nursing school,” Lowy said. The obvious one is financial, but the other is much more subtle and harder to overcome, even though it has been a longtime controversy in the Israeli school entrance system.

The highest form of charity is to enable a person to stand on his or her own two feet. That’s what we’re
trying to do.”— Judy Lowy, executive  director, JobKatif-Achotenu

 

The Israeli psychometric exam, introduced about 20 years ago, was intended to test a young person’s natural potential, but also to act as an equalizer among students who had benefited from good schools and those who had not, Lowy said.

“Unfortunately, as soon as it was introduced, all these schools popped up to prepare you for the psychometric exam, and thousands of shekels [were] paid,” Lowy said. “It was no longer a reflection of your natural ability.”

Studies have shown that the exam is heavily culturally biased.

“It’s quintessentially Israeli, even North Americans and Europeans notice it,” Lowy said. “And you need a high score to get into nursing school. All the young women we took into our pilot program had paid for the prep and still didn’t get the requisite score. Across the board, Ethiopians score about 25 percent less than the rest of population.”

But Achotenu lobbied and successfully gained entry for 12 women into four different schools without the psychometric exam. Ten of the women graduated this year. Achotenu offers financial assistance during school, providing living stipends in order for students to focus on studies. The organization also provides tutorials if needed and facilitates monthly workshops to discuss any issues that arise. In evaluations, all the participants said the program was a huge help to their success.

“The motivation and creativity of the whole organization, and Rav Ramon and Judy — that keeps me motivated and driven to stay involved,” Lowenstein said. He has met with JobKatif families and seen “how their lives have been so positively changed. They were depressed, sitting at home, not knowing where the next dollar would come from. [The program has helped] them regain their dignity. And I’m so impressed with the  organization to have spread its wings, from JobKatif to Achotenu to Ta’asu Chayil.”

Ta’asu Chayil provides IDF soldiers an opportunity to stop out for weeklong (or longer) employment in order to support their families. About one-fifth of those enlisted require financial aid. There were repeat instances where soldiers would simply disappear from duty in order to go home and support their families. Ta’asu Chayil formalizes the process so that the IDF keeps its soldiers, and young men and women can tend to their families’ needs.

As for Achotenu, due to the success of the pilot, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hadassah Hospital and Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America are partnering with JobKatif-Achotenu to accept 25 Ethiopian students to their  university preparatory programs — followed by a four-year Bachelor of Science in the nursing program — for the 2016-2017 academic year and another 25 the following year.

This will be the first time an Israeli university will accept Ethiopian students in an academic track leading to a Bachelor of Science in nursing without the psychometric exam.

Each student will contribute funds, and the Israeli government, Achotenu and JobKatif will also bear financial support.

Lowy said in Israel the economy is thriving; unemployment is just under 5 percent, and “if you have the qualification, you’ll get the job.” So Lowy’s organization continues to help those who wish to be qualified obtain an education.

As the Rambam says, she added, “The highest form of charity is to enable a person to stand on his or her own two feet. That’s what we’re trying  to do.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Rock the Block

The threat of rain didn’t stop more than 3,000 people from attending the JCC’s third annual Community Block Party. Although the party was moved inside the Owings Mills JCC, attendees interacted with about 80 partners and sponsors and about 25 vendors selling everything from food to wares to jewelry and art, spread out from the JCC lobby to the gyms. There were children’s activities throughout the JCC and live music in the Gordon Center for Performing Arts.

“We love doing the event. It’s really a chance for us to bring people together,” said Paul Lurie, vice president of aquatics, fitness and recreation at the JCC. “You see people from all over the Jewish community and community-at-large. From kids to adults, there’s something for everybody.”

— Photos by David Stuck

Rock the Block

Clash of Countries, Mix of Cultures

Lyubov Ostrovska and Vitaly Kroner (Photo by Justin Katz)

Lyubov Ostrovska and Vitaly Kroner (Photo by Justin Katz)

Lyubov Ostrovska and Vitaly Kroner have shaped their careers based on the needs of the societies in which they’ve lived. Ostrovska has worked as a biologist in both an academic and research-based environment, developing a method for cancer treatment. Kroner was an electrical engineer for nearly two decades before purchasing a tax office in 2007.

But following escalation in the conflict between Russia and their native Ukraine, the married couple saw a new need in American society.

“[There] is a conflict of people who invaded Ukraine and want to impose their rules on Ukrainian society,” said Ostrovska. “Ukraine is not only about war and fighting, it’s about peace and culture. We have a rich cultural heritage that we want to introduce to American citizens.”

In partnership with the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, Ostrovska and Kroner are hosting an exhibit featuring artistic works that display the culture of countries across Eastern Europe, such as Russia, Ukraine and the Ossetian region. The exhibit’s opening ceremony, which attracted more than 100 guests, took place on April 25, and the exhibit closes on June 17.

“We’d like to show how those cultures have differences and similarities,” said Ostrovska. “They all show the beauty of their countries in different ways, but they still show the vision of peace and love of their land and family. The human values are the same for each civilization.”

The exhibit is the first initiative of the couple’s new nonprofit organization, the Federal Cultural Foundation, which aims to introduce Americans to Eastern European arts, music and culture. Ostrovska said much of the art in this exhibit is from Ukrainians because that was a logical place for the couple to start, and “we feel that Ukrainian culture is underrepresented here in the United States.”

Many of the artists on display were born abroad and came to the United States years ago, such as Wasyl Palijczuk, a retired professor of art at McDaniel College. Some are still drawing inspiration directly from their homelands, such as Amalia Kachurova, who grew up and lives in Ossetia, a region south of Russia and north of Georgia. Other participating artists include Garry Melamud, Oleksandra Pavlyuk and Gregory Bayda Benois.

Both Ostrovska and Kroner are pleased to have the exhibit at the JCC.

“[This is] a great way to partner with the local Ukrainian community, to feature the art of so many local Ukrainian artists,” said Randi Benesch, senior managing director of arts and culture at the Gordon Center. “Art helps unite our community and celebrate culture. This is a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

Through the exhibit and other events, Kroner hopes to dispel misconceptions among Americans about Ukraine and Russia.

“What Americans probably don’t understand is that [Ukraine and Russia are] different countries. They say ‘Ukraine? That’s a part of Russia,’” said Kroner. “No, it’s an entirely different country.”

The misunderstandings, Kroner said, goes beyond not differentiating the two countries. While inquiring about the Ukrainian population in Montgomery (Md.) County, where the FCF is based, he was told there is only a Russian population.

“When people say they speak Russian, it doesn’t mean they are Russian,” said Kroner.

Demographers estimate between 1.5 million and 2 million people of Ukrainian descent are living in the United States, according to the website of the Embassy of Ukraine. The 2000 census reported that metropolitan Baltimore has a Ukrainian community of more than 10,000.

Regardless of descent, Ostrovska and Kroner were clear about their goals.

Said Ostrovska: “We want to show that people of good will can work together and can restore peaceful relationships.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A Million-Dollar Legacy JWGF hits milestone, grants longer-term funding

­For 13 years, a group of dedicated, impassioned Jewish women in Baltimore have been quietly making a meaningful philanthropic impact on the lives of women and girls in communities locally and abroad. And this year, they upped the ante even more.

The Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation is a unique agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. The members, who now number more than 100, participate in the entire grant-making process. They contribute funds and then review letters of intent from potential grantees, pore over detailed proposals and budgets, attend site visits for finalist organizations and participate in multiple voting sessions to determine where each dollar is allocated. Members also monitor periodic check-ins and evaluation reports from grantees.

A Million-Dollar Legacy

This year denotes a maturing of the organization — not only in commemoration of its bat mitzvah year, but also because it surpassed the $1 million mark in grant giving. The organization also initiated, after about a year of intense research, a multiyear funding program as part of its grant cycle, which provides grantees a significant pipeline of support.

The process by which JWGF determined the extended grant recipient distinguishes it from its peers nationwide, said chair Elise Rubenstein after attending the national Jewish Women’s Foundation Force for Change Conference last month in Washington, D.C., where she and JWGF program director Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman presented their recent rigorous research.

Instead of choosing an organization already applying for funding or deciding on its own the greatest needs of the community — an approach used by several other women’s giving groups to allocate multiyear funding — JWGF conducted research to pinpoint community needs and funding gaps. The organization invited a panel of speakers that included women from the Abell Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, the Baltimore County Commission for Women, the Baltimore City Youth Commission and Jewish Community Services.

“We went to our committee and asked pointed questions,” Rubenstein said. “We asked, ‘Where’s the gap, who’s doing what, who’s doing it well?’”

The research results revealed a desperate lack of programming and funding for middle school girls. JWGF learned that 80 percent of a child’s life is spent outside of school time, and the activity gap of kids without resources during that time is enormous. “Out of school” time is usually when a child is stimulated to discover what he or she is passionate about, has the opportunity to experience team work and can improve upon life skills. Many underprivileged children don’t have access to after-school programming because it’s expensive.

“We identified that gap we could fill, and then we looked for a partner that could do that,” Millman said.

After meeting with more than 25 organizations and winnowing down possibilities, JWGF awarded Higher Achievement, which “closes the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years” by providing role models and a year-round after-school learning environment, all in a culture of high expectations that result in “college-bound scholars with the character, confidence and skills to succeed.” Higher Achievement will receive $20,000 per year for three years (with multiple check-in points during that time to ensure programming is on track) to address the gap in after-school programming specifically for young girls. The organization has a 30-year success record, and JWGF funding allows it to implement gender-specific programming for a total of 60 girls per year across three Baltimore City schools.

“The program will combine STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and girls empowerment and self-esteem building,” said Laury Scharff, vice chair of the foundation and co-chair of the New Initiative Committee with Elinor Spokes. “They’ve slowly evolved and have honed a precise program that works, and they’ve been dying to do a program that is gender based.”

Dare to be Queen, the name wildly popular with the middle school age it targets, also incorporates curriculum from the Maryland Science Olympiad. It will occupy the girls until about 7:30 p.m. four nights per week, and there is a six-week summer participation requirement as well. Homework time and physical activities are included as are snacks and dinner because 90 percent of the kids at those schools benefit from Title I initiatives, which means they are living at or below poverty level. In total, that’s about 650 extra contact hours of academic and emotional support, Scharff added, and data shows that participation in after-school programming directly correlates with higher rates for high school and college attendance by its participants.

We’ve learned as grant-makers about best practices. There are no one-year problems, and there are no one-year solutions.
— Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman, program director, Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation

After the unrest and upheaval in areas across the city surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, the young African-American man from Sandtown-Winchester who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake added $4.8 million to the city’s budget for after-school programming. She removed it from the budget the following year.

“So that makes us feel even better for our decision,” Millman said. “We’ve learned as grant-makers about best practices. There are no one-year problems, and there are no one-year solutions. We want to give [Higher Achievement] the ability to use money as they see best, [so the organization can] focus on their programming and not just on their fundraising.”

JWGF awarded a total of $139,000 in grants this year. In addition to Higher Achievement, it granted $4,800 to Adelante Latina, $20,000 to Advocates for Children and Youth, $9,200 to CHANA, $10,000 to Itineris, $20,000 to the Alma Pre-Army Academy (Israel), $20,000 to Jewish Community Center senior programming, $20,000 to Natal (Israel) and $15,000 to the Parks & People Foundation.

Spokes praised The Associated for its blessing and support that allows JWGF to function in such a unique manner.

“To give us the staffing and let us create a process … and giving us our own space to pursue such a progressive step in women’s philanthropy, I’m enormously grateful,” she said. “I learned so much about grant-making and about what the city needs.”

She said the decision was difficult with so many deserving organizations that could benefit from multiyear funding. Both Jewish and secular organizations made the final list.

“But a rising tide lifts all boats. What’s good for Baltimore City is good for the Baltimore Jewish community,” Spokes said. “Just because we’re funding outside the Jewish community, it’s still a Jewish thing to do. It’s all part of tikkun olam.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Nature and Numbers Inspire Temple’s Stained Glass

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

Temple Isaiah sits in a rural area of Howard County. In the sanctuary, two tall, narrow, clear glass windows flank the bima — and by extension the Torah.

That’s how things had stood since the Reform congregation moved in 13 years ago. Last week, however, those windows were replaced by six custom-made stained glass panels. One side of panels is decorated with pomegranates, the other with figs and grapes.

“This sanctuary has always been a beautiful place,” said Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler. “One thing that was not a part of the original design was stained glass windows.”

That’s where longtime members Ken and Cindy Hankin enter the story.

“The goal was to have stained glass [eventually], and for years, no one had the desire to see it come to fruition,” said Hankin. “My wife and I talked about it, and we said that’s what we should do.  We weren’t solicited.  We volunteered and said the sanctuary needs those stained glass windows.”

The Hankins funded the project. They worked with Axler and two California-based stained glass artists, David and Michelle Plachte-Zuieback. The project took a year and a half. When it was complete, the Plachte-Zuiebacks delivered their work by car — the only way they transport their stained glass — and installed it.

Axler and David Plachte-Zuieback said that many of the design choices were influenced by gematria, or Jewish numerology. The background for the glass are stars of David laid out in a honeycomb; they total 27 stars on each side,  giving a total of 54, representing the number of weekly Torah portions.

 

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

The glass also shows five pomegranates, representing the five books of the Torah. According to rabbinic tradition, a pomegranate is filled with seeds in the same way the Torah is filled with mitzvot, Axler said. So each pomegranate on the stained glass contains 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.

“Everything is intentional in its number,” said David Plachte-Zuieback. “In that way, it brings a level of symbolism that may not be obvious to someone. But as a teaching experience, it adds more meaning to the work.”

The uppermost panel of each window contains a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, the temple’s namesake.

“My spirit, which I’ve placed upon you, and my word which I’ve placed in your mouth,” reads the right-hand panel, “shall not be moved from you, or from your children, or from your children’s children, from now and for all time,” continues the left.

“[David and Michelle have] done some amazing projects, and Cindy, Ken and I were  really blown away by the beauty of their art,” said Axler. “Particularly, one of the things that all of us resonated with was the symbolism of nature in the Judaica art that they did.”

Ken Hankin said that when the artists were creating the design, he and his wife wanted a lot of imagery associated with nature because of Temple Isaiah’s rural location.

The glass was installed in time for the synagogue’s annual meeting on May 24.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com