Northwest Hospital Launches Expansion

NWBriefLast month’s opening of the redeveloped and expanded Liberty Center building at Northwest Hospital is the first sign of redevelopment at the campus.

LifeBridge Health, the parent company of Northwest Hospital, invested more than $5 million in the redevelopment and expansion of the building, expanding from 8,000 to 13,800 square feet. ExpressCare anchors the first floor with a 4,600-square-foot urgent care center. A pediatrician’s office will open on the second floor, and plans for the third floor are forthcoming.

“As the corridor’s largest employer, Northwest Hospital is the institutional anchor of the Liberty Road communities. LifeBridge Health continues to make significant investments that bring jobs and contribute to the economic vitality of Randallstown and the entire county,” Baltimore County
Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a news release. “We are especially pleased that their commitment goes well beyond economic health. LifeBridge extends its medical mission to community partnerships and engagement that improve the quality of life for thousands of county residents each year.”

Northwest Hospital also plans to revitalize buildings on Old Court Road across the street from the hospital. While the plans are ongoing, the new and redeveloped buildings could include doctors’ offices, outpatient medical services and administrative departments.

Senate Sponsor Withdraws End-of-Life Option Act

The state Senate sponsor of a bill that would have allowed terminally ill individuals to obtain a prescription to end their lives has withdrawn the bill, effectively killing the legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly.

Sen. Ronald Young, a Frederick County Democrat, withdrew the Senate version of the End-of-Life Option Act, saying it did not have enough support to clear the Senate Judicial Proceeding Committee, according to reports.

The House version of the bill, sponsored by Howard County Democrat Del. Shane Pendergrass, had a hearing in the House Health and Government Operations Committee in February. Pendergrass said she will continue to push for the bill in the House this year, and, if necessary, next year, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Young and Pendergrass, along with legislative co-sponsors and advocates, launched a campaign for the bill at a January press conference. Since last year’s “Death with Dignity Act” failed to make it out of committee, a number of changes were made that legislators and advocates thought would
increase support.

Under the bill, terminally ill individuals with six months to live could obtain lethal medication after three requests, including one in private with a patient’s doctor. The individual must have the ability to self-administer the medication.

You Should Know … Lauren Kashan

Lauren Kashan (Justin Katz)

Lauren Kashan (Justin Katz)

Lauren Kashan, a native of Owings Mills, loved dinosaurs so much as a kid that she dreamed of working with them someday. But given the  dinosaurs’ long-ago demise, she discovered a love for some of their closest relatives and launched a satisfying career working with reptiles and amphibians.

Kashan gets to fulfill this dream with Ecoadventures, where she cares for creatures ranging from piranhas and hedgehogs to crocodiles and reticulated pythons, one of which, named Gigantor, is a staggering  22 feet in length and weighs 300 pounds.

Despite her small stature, Kashan is fearless when handling the animals  because “you get back what you put  in with animals,” she said. “If you are  gentle and kind, then you will get that  reciprocated.”

The JT caught up with Kashan, 27, at Ecoadventures in Millersville to learn about why she loves her work and to meet, in person, the 14-foot albino Burmese python, Honey.

How did you get your job at  Ecoadventures?
“I was introduced to one of the owners by a [former] co-worker of mine. I jokingly asked, ‘Do you need a herpetoculturist  [a person who works with reptiles and amphibians]?’ She said, ‘Well, actually we do.’ I had an interview, and I got the job. This was kind of ideal for me, because I get to work with the public, so I utilize public-speaking skills as well as taking care of animals. Normally at a zoo or aquarium, you do one or the other.”

Why the interest in reptiles and  amphibians?
“I’ve had reptiles since I was a little kid. All little kids like dinosaurs except I wanted to work with them. But that’s not [possible], so this was the next best thing. I loved Steve Irwin growing up. I wanted to be like him.”

It looks like a lot has already happened here today.
“Today, we had a [child’s] birthday party. It went really well. The kids were great, which isn’t always the case, but the party was smooth sailing. It’s the preparation and moving animals around which is the crazy stuff.”

How many animals do you care for?
“I take care of 120 animals here and a couple more at home, so seven plus the dog. I had more than 30 animals at one point. Before I started working at zoos and aquariums, I’d [rescue] anything that people would abandon. I ended up with 30  reptiles in my room at my parents’ house.”

This isn’t your average desk job.  What do you like about it?
“I really love getting to teach people something they don’t know. I never thought of myself as a teacher, but I definitely see myself as a champion for the underdog-type animals. I love getting to take a person from being terrified of snakes at the beginning of the party to holding a boa constrictor at the end. That’s one of the rewarding things for me, helping people get over their fear of these animals, teaching them the misconceptions and showing people how cool they are. A lot of people don’t realize that most of these animals aren’t dangerous if you respect them.”

Past Presence Baltimore’s ‘Jewish’ architecture remains testament to character, conviction, mobility of its people

First of two parts


Former Temple Oheb Shalom (Eutaw Place Temple) has been home to Maryland Prince Hall Masons since 1960. (Melissa Gerr)

Former Temple Oheb Shalom (Eutaw Place Temple) has been home to Maryland Prince Hall Masons since 1960. (Melissa Gerr)

To reflect on some of Jewish Baltimore’s architecture is to walk a path through its past. Whether the desired outcome was to culturally assimilate or stay true to faith, to differentiate from other immigrants or simply to embrace the modern, Jews have fervently proclaimed their identity and maintained a strong physical presence in a cityscape that is constantly evolving.

Between the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, the city’s Jewish epicenter was East Baltimore, home to a growing number of immigrants. German and Central European Jewish immigrants are responsible for the Lloyd Street Synagogue, dedicated in 1845 as the Orthodox Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the first synagogue built in Maryland and the third-oldest standing synagogue structure in the country.

Its Federal-style design says, “We are now Americans, we’re participating in the white American political history. That was important for every immigrant group,” architect and director of the master of architecture program at Morgan State University, Jeremy Kargon, said.

“It shows how the Jewish community was trying to  express its American identity more than its Jewish identity at the time,” said historian,  author and former researcher for the Jewish Museum of Maryland, Deborah Weiner. “They weren’t hiding their Jewishness but emphasizing their American-ness.”

The synagogue’s façade features a triangle pediment resting on four great pillars that flank the entrance, and there were few Jewish identifiers  on its exterior (no longer visible). But inside it is still rich with Jewish artifacts. Rabbi Abraham Rice from Bavaria,  believed to be the first traditionally ordained rabbi in the United States, was invited to lead the congregation, where there were strict rules in place, noted by Earl Pruce, author of the comprehensive 1993 book, “Synagogues, Temples and Congregations of Maryland, 1830 to 1890.”

“There was a system of fines, such as 25 and 50 cents for talking during services, for chewing, for gathering on the sidewalk in front of the synagogue and for leaving the  synagogue during services without permission of an officer,” the book states.

The fact that the Lloyd Street Synagogue still stands — and is a museum and open for tours — is a testament to those who fought to save it, Weiner said.

When Baltimore Hebrew Lloyd Street members moved north in 1890, the synagogue was sold to a church, but  then in 1905 became Eastern European Orthodox Shomrim Mishmeres, led by Rabbi Abraham Schwartz, who held Talmudic study in its basement and eventually founded the Talmudical Academy in Pikesville, she said.

In the 1950s, long after the Jews had moved out of the area and the building went up for sale, some feared it would be torn down.

“That’s when Baltimore  Hebrew Congregation swooped in, and said, ‘It’s part of our heritage, it’s the first synagogue in Maryland, we can’t let it be torn down,” Weiner said. “Then it got its fourth owner, the Jewish Historical Society [which became JMM], which was started in order to save the synagogue.”

The other significant synagogue on Lloyd Street came about because as German Jews became Americanized, Baltimore Hebrew began leaning toward Reform in the early 1870s — including the abolishment of separate seating for men and women — and there was a breakaway group that started Chizuk Amuno (Hebrew for defenders of faith). That building, erected less than 150 feet south, was dedicated in 1876. More ornate but still Jewishly understated, the brick building façade features a Star of David and the Ten Commandments tablets at the apex of the roof, and the window and door treatments show the Moorish-style influence that became popular for synagogues a few decades later. It’s now home to Modern Orthodox B’nai Israel Synagogue, which acquired the building in 1895 and has a growing membership, including Darren Margolis, whose Lithuanian great-grandfather, Chaim Dovid Margolis, once served as its cantor.

Past Presence

See more photos, click here


“I remember when I got married, standing there and thinking I wasn’t too far away from where he was leading services,” Darren said, adding that just last year he celebrated his son’s bris at the synagogue — his son being named for Darren’s father, who had been named for his own grand- father, the cantor Chaim Dovid.

Current Rabbi Etan Mintz added, “In many ways changes have taken place, but it’s about carrying on a legacy. … The story of B’nai Israel is a story of continuity.”

Though these two larger synagogues are important markers of the past, in reality East Baltimore and its surrounding areas, such as Patterson Park and what is now called upper Fells Point, were dotted with dozens of small Orthodox neighborhood shuls, Weiner said, characteristic of how Eastern European Jews congregated in their native countries, and they carried that tradition here. Most are no longer in existence, but Tzemach Tzedek, built for one of the early Lubavitch congregations organized in 1913, still stands at 2120 E. Fairmount Ave.,  although is in significant disrepair. It was dedicated in 1924 and “is a more typical representative of the immigrant shuls, but it didn’t get the special treatment of being preserved like Lloyd Street,” even though there is an effort underway to restore and renovate the building.

Preservation is important to a city and a community because it means “we’re recognizing that we’re part of a continuum, that we’re here  because of what people before us made possible,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, an organization that promotes and  advocates for the preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods. “And in preserving the most important parts, we’re contributing to that line of progress and heritage.”

Preservation has an economic impact on a city, he added.

Millennials are the largest demographic in the workforce, and studies show they decide where to live first and job search after, Hopkins said, and they seek areas that offer  a quality of life that speaks  to them.

“What contributes to that quality of living in Baltimore? Our historic places and our historic neighborhoods are absolutely at the heart of that answer,” he said. “It’s that  history. [A preserved building] is valuable for its own sake, but it has a real economic price tag and component to it as well, that we can use to  distinguish ourselves from other places people might choose to live.”

Hopkins added that preservation of Baltimore’s immigrant history teaches “lessons about assimilation and about community that you might not get from just taking a snapshot in 2016.” He points to the soon-to-be-restored and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places  Hebrew Orphan Asylum building, dedicated in 1875, as an example of philanthropy and service. Now owned by Coppin State University, the castle-like structure stands in West Baltimore on Rayner Street, founded by the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Baltimore on land provided by German Jewish immigrant William S. Rayner.


“It shows how the Jewish community was  trying to express its American identity more  than its Jewish identity at the time. They  weren’t hiding their Jewishness but  emphasizing their American-ness.”
— Deborah Weiner, historian and author

“The orphanage wasn’t just a place to put kids whose  parents were dead or couldn’t take care of them, it was really meant to be a full-on training institute so that kids could  go on to the brightest futures  possible,” Hopkins said. “There was education, dance and music. There’s a lot of commonality [among Baltimore’s immigrant groups] and a lot of shared experience that goes back hundreds of years, and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum is a great example of that.”

It’s not only institutional buildings that came to represent the spirit of Baltimore’s Jews,  asserts Hopkins’ colleague,  director of preservation and outreach Eli Pousson, who refers to Lithuanian immigrant Jacob Epstein’s Baltimore Bargain House (now the Nancy S. Grasmick building) —  on West Baltimore near North Liberty street that opened in 1911 — as an example.

Epstein, who began as a street-goods peddler, eventually became the fourth-largest wholesaler in the country and later became a major benefactor of the Baltimore Museum of Art, “would have his agents down at the docks at the  immigration receiving ports, and when Eastern European Jews were arriving, he’d set people up and say here’s the business, here’s how it works, this is how you make a living,” Pousson said, quoting a story heard from Weiner. Epstein’s Baltimore Bargain House represents, in part, “the story of Jews helping Jews in a city [where] there wasn’t necessarily anyone else who was going to help them.”

The Moves North,  More Lavish Tastes

According to Weiner and Kargon, the migration of Jews out of East Baltimore wasn’t en masse. German and Central European Jews moved in the 1890s, and then in the 1920s, Eastern European Jews followed. Three main reasons prompted them, they said. First was a  desire by the German Jews, who had been in Baltimore for decades, to distance themselves from the newly arriving Eastern European Jews because they  no longer felt like immigrants. Financial success for both  immigrant groups allowed the relocation away from “those areas that were considered slums, the decades of well-worn use of houses that were overcrowded,” Weiner said. And finally, as people became more assimilated, they simply chose different ways of life.

“A whole second round of synagogue building began … so by the 1890s there were  several synagogues in the area right below Druid Hill Park,” Weiner said.

Architecturally, ostentation was spurned with the first synagogues in East Baltimore, but “that changes in the 1880s and 1890s,” Kargon said. “[Architectural design] becomes more exuberantly orientalist, and the Moorish style becomes  assigned to synagogues in a certain way” and eclecticism becomes more pronounced.

Kargon holds up Baltimore Hebrew in 1891 (Madison  Avenue Temple, design begun by Charles Carson), Temple Oheb Shalom in 1893 (Eutaw Place Temple), Har Sinai in 1894 (Bolton Street Temple) and Chizuk Amuno in 1895 (McCulloh Street) — all located below North Avenue — as examples of that approach, designed by prestigious architect Joseph Evans Sperry.

“They all represent a single vision of what urban Jewish life meant,” Kargon asserted. “Very middle class. [The archtectural style reflected] they were not interested in religion so much as they were with striving.” They were “all German Jewish, all had money, all willing to relocate to slightly suburban areas in advance” of other populations.

In the early 20th century, areas of the city were restricted to Jews, so they populated those that were open to them.

Associated Jewish Charities (now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of  Baltimore) was dedicated to assisting Baltimore’s Jews, but during this time of transition, their constituents were straddling many areas of the city: East and Southwest Baltimore and Liberty Heights and Forest Park, as well as Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill. The African-American population, many living in overcrowded neighborhoods, was becoming economically successful and began moving north as well, Weiner said, and at times the two groups competed for housing.


[A preserved  building] is valuable for its own sake,  but it has a real  economic price tag  and component  to it as well.
— Johns Hopkins, Baltimore heritage executive director

“The Associated thought, ‘What if we build [somewhere] and it ends up being in a black neighborhood within three years?’” Weiner said. “They were in a quandary. So they decided, ‘If we put it on the edge of downtown, then it will be in the middle.’ They had raised all this money, and they needed to build it. [Monument and Eutaw streets] was an odd place to put it, and it was controversial. But there was so much population movement happening at the time, they didn’t know which area would end up being black and which would be Jewish.”

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association building (now an apartment building) was built alongside the Associated Charities, (now the Patuxent Institution), a movement started because “in the 1920s there was a lot of concern about the children of Jewish immigrants being lost to assimilation.” Baltimore historian Gilbert Sandler remembers summers he spent there as a child.

Sandler grew up in lower Park Heights, selling newspapers in Park Circle in the evenings. He attended Shaarei Zion (dedicated in 1926 at 3459 Park Ave.) with his family, where he became a bar mitzvah. He and his brother rode the streetcar from home to the Y.

“I took classes as part of summer camp — I loved the model airplane class, but my favorite was swimming,” he said, adding that he and his brother sometimes had coddies and a coke at the cafeteria.

While the YMHA center was built in reaction to the Jewish community’s mobility, the Jewish Community Center in upper Park Heights, built in 1960, was ahead of the curve, said Wiener.

“When [Associated Charities] built the Y they were  trying to follow the Jewish community, but in 1960, they were directing where the Jewish community would grow.”

Next week: The jump across Northern Parkway; seduced by the suburbs; and the burgeoning Orthodox community.


Gardner Aims to Take Her Experience to the Next Level

Betsy Gardner (provided)

Betsy Gardner (provided)

The mayor’s race won’t be the only hotly contested election this season. While a large pool of candidates hope to shape Baltimore’s future as the city’s top elected official, others are vying for City Council seats in crowded races.

Betsy Gardner, who currently serves as the neighborhood liaison for the 5th and 6th City Council districts and as the citywide Jewish community liaison for the City Council president’s office, is running for the 5th District Council seat being vacated by longtime Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. She has worked as a community liaison for the past 14 years, including under the last three mayoral administrations.

She faces Democratic primary challengers Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, an Orthodox Jewish small business owner and community activist; Derrick Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen  Improvement Association; Chris- topher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate; Sharif Small, a small business owner; Kinji Scott, a community organizer; and Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, an attorney. There are no  Republican challengers.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot but have a lot more to accomplish,” Gardner said.

Spector, who endorses Gardner, tapped her to run when she was considering not seeking re-election. Gardner said she wouldn’t have run against Spector out of respect, and Spector said she would have run had Gardner not stepped up.

“I just couldn’t take the risk of my legacy not being maintained … Betsy is really so well prepared. She’s the right person for the job,” said Spector, who has partnered with Gardner on various projects over the last 14 years. Spector said she would help Gardner transition into the office.

Gardner, 49, a member of Shaarei Tfiloh Synagogue and Temple Oheb Shalom, moved to Baltimore from her native Charleston, W.Va., 25 years ago. She has worked for H&S Bakery, Alex. Brown & Sons and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

In her time at the City Council president’s office, Gardner has worked on a number of issues that affect the Jewish community. She has worked on Homeland  Security grants for synagogues and worked in conjunction with the Baltimore Jewish Council to get security cameras installed on Park Heights Avenue. Each year around the High Holidays, Gardner has worked with police districts across the city to make sure synagogues have police coverage.

When Hatzalah of Baltimore, a volunteer medical services organization, formed, Gardner worked with the fire department and mayor’s office to make sure they were linked in to the city’s fire department and 911 system. She helped Chabad with their menorah car parade and public menorah lighting in the Inner Harbor. When the city’s chametz burning outgrew the parking lot at the Engine Company 45 parking lot on Glen Avenue, she helped relocate the burning to the parking lot at the Pimlico Clubhouse parking lot, where organizers starting taking food donations to feed needy families in the area.

She said public safety is one of her biggest concerns, and she expects to see more community policing under Baltimore City police commissioner Kevin Davis.

“You will start to see more officers in the community, and people need to get to know the officers and the officers need to get to know the community,” she said. Gardner and a police officer worked with Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of the Jewish Uniformed Association of Maryland, to conduct sensitivity training classes for officers and firefighters; the training is in its third year.

Garnder names education as a priority. In addition to wanting to provide affordable early childhood education and daycare, she would like to see the city provide tutoring services and career-related learning opportunities for students as well as expand job training opportunities for students who don’t plan to go to college.

She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Asian American Merchants Association and Baltimore Construction Laborers Local 710.

While she faces six opponents, including another member of the Jewish community, Gardner is simply focused on her campaign.

“The community knows what I’m capable of doing,” she said. “I think my work speaks for itself.”

Jewish Roots Inspire Security Executive’s Business

Michael Rogers, CEO of Securityhunter, has turned his business into one of the country’s top 20 security dealers. (Michael Rogers: Provided)

Michael Rogers, CEO of Securityhunter, has turned his business into one of the country’s top 20 security dealers. (Michael Rogers: Provided)

Michael Rogers initially  attended Cornell University to become a veterinarian; that didn’t go as planned, so he switched to business. The business he started took inspiration from his childhood.

“When you grow up as a Jew in the Bronx, you see guys with tattoos on their arms from Auschwitz,” Rogers told Inc. 5000 in 2014. “You get the feeling that if it weren’t for the United States, your people would be gone. So I had this blood debt. I really wanted to protect people.”

Rogers, 57, a resident of Owings Mills, is the founder and CEO of Baltimore-based Securityhunter, a company that provides security solutions to the federal government. Last month, the company announced a $200 million contract to provide  security systems and support services for 1,500 Social Security Administration locations.

The company, founded in 1987, has managed to go from “a small mom-and-pop shop,” said Alex Elbert, chief technology officer, to one of the country’s  top 20 security dealers with revenue nearing $50 million; and no small part of that is due to Rogers’ work ethic.

“It’s a wonderful point when you learn to risk everything,  you persevere and you make it. It’s a hell of a feeling.”
— Michael Rogers, CEO and founder of Securityhunter

“Michael has had tremendous success in pursuing federal  opportunities and is very efficient in the way he does business,”  said Elbert, who initially joined the company as its fourth  employee and returned as CTO two years ago. “He  surrounds himself with professionals who know how to  operate a business and is [very] successful at doing that.”

Although the company started in the commercial sector, Rogers decided to pursue federal business about 16 years ago. Since then, Rogers has landed contracts with the Navy, the Social Security Administration and the Department Health and Human Services.

“As I got older, I found that I was gravitating toward military books and reading a lot of books about the Holocaust,” said Rogers. “[I was inspired by] people who served our country with distinction and the people who endured, not just as a survivor, but as a  victor. They reached inside themselves and made a life for themselves when they came out.”

Rogers uses the stories as an inspiration for his life and work, and his commitment is matched by the commitment many of his employees have  to him.

“I have seen the company flat on the ground,” said Irene Montague, who has worked at Securityhunter for 16 years. “Yet, [Rogers] never gave up on building the company. He just amazes me because he’s never idle.”

Montague, who works in human resources, described Rogers as someone who “wears his heart on his sleeve” and who “doesn’t have a problem saying thank you.” This makes putting in a few extra hours here and there an easy decision for her. “I don’t mind doing it [because] he appreciates what you do.”

Rogers added that people have misunderstood his kindness for weakness, and as a  result he’s dealt with threats, embezzlement and extortion, but “you grow up, you learn, you figure things out.”

Persevering through challenges is a big part of Rogers’ advice to young professionals.

“A lot of young people will start a job and they climb two rungs of the company ladder. Then they have a tough time and they start a new job,” said Rogers. “They don’t give themselves enough of a chance to [succeed]. It’s a wonderful point when you learn to risk everything, you persevere, and you make it. It’s a hell of a feeling.”

DFI Honors Jewish Professionals

dfilogoThe Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center (DFI) announced its 2016 award winners on Monday.

The Outstanding Jewish Communal Professional Award winner is Chana Siff, assistant director of Israel and overseas at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; the Daniel Thursz Distinguished Jewish Communal Service Award winner is Cindy Goldstein, executive director of DFI; and the first Neely Tal Synder Community Impact Award winner is Rachel Siegal, director of development at the Pearlstone Center.

DFI award winner Chana Siff, assistant director of Israel and overseas at The Associated. (Photo provided)

DFI award winner Chana Siff, assistant director of Israel and overseas at The Associated. (Photo provided)

DFI, an agency of The Associated, will honor the award-winners on April 18 at Creating a Connected Community: DFI’s Celebration of Professionals at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, which will also serve to honor all of the area’s Jewish communal professionals.

“It’s an opportunity to really cherish the work people do that is often unseen,” said Liz Minkin-Friedman, chair of DFI and director of community outreach and engagement at Krieger Schechter Day School. She nominated Goldstein for the communal service award. “This is an amazing field, and the professionals that occupy it are incredible.”

Goldstein said she was honored to receive the award in Daniel Thursz’s name. While she didn’t know Thursz, whose career posts included positions at the JCC of Greater Washington and B’nai B’rith International, he influenced a large number of Jewish professionals.

“I’m really honored that they selected me because I’ve been in the field for over 30 years and I’ve been doing this kind of work and I love it. It’s my passion, it’s just what I do,” she said. “I don’t ask for any recognition. It’s my job to recognize everybody else.”

The DFI award winner Cindy Goldstein, executive director of DFI. (Photo provided)

The DFI award winner Cindy Goldstein, executive director of DFI. (Photo provided)

Siff works on a variety of international efforts at The Associated, including the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership and the Israel agenda for the federation, working with her colleagues to educate the community and advocate for and promote Israel.

“I feel honored every day to be working for the Jewish community and for Israel,” she said. “Israel is such an important part of the Jewish people and my personal life, and to be able to help others connect to Israel and to help Jewish people around the globe, especially in Israel, is really an honor and privilege.”

Siff’s award comes with a $1,250 grant to subsidize participation in a professional development opportunity.

The Neely Tal Snyder Community Impact Award, being given for the first time this year, honors the memory of Snyder, who died in a car crash in August. She was the program director at the Pearlstone Center, a wife and mother of three, who is remembered as being a passionate educator, leader and community builder.

Siegal said the honor is bittersweet, as Snyder was a good friend of hers. They worked at Pearlstone together, lived three houses away from each other and had kids that are about the same age. She said Snyder was a very thoughtful person, and that extended to her work, which, Siegal said, she approached with depth, from the largest to the smallest of details.

The DFI award winner Rachel Siegal, director of development at the Pearlstone Center. (Photo provided)

The DFI award winner Rachel Siegal, director of development at the Pearlstone Center. (Photo provided)

She said she feels that her job, along with executive director Jakir Manela, is to make sure Pearlstone has the resources to allow it to be an incubator of creativity and innovation.

“I feel that my job … is to sort of unblock the roadblocks and to make sure we have what we need institutionally to allow for innovation to grow,” she said. “I think it’s about showing people that Judaism and being Jewish are exciting and deeply meaningful and can be relevant to you no matter how you’re coming at it.”

In April, Siff, Siegal and Goldstein will take the spotlight alongside other Jewish communal professionals as DFI celebrates its 13th anniversary.

“It’s really exciting because the idea is really to recognize our professionals who are often behind the scenes, who don’t always get the recognition they deserve,” Goldstein said.

Jewish Voters on Fence About Trump

Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a campaign rally in Dallas.

Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a campaign rally in Dallas.

Jewish Republican voters this election season are vexing over who to support in the primary, with many reluctant to support businessman and current frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump’s nontraditional approach to campaigning and divisive rhetoric have put them on edge, but Jewish GOP members still say he would be a better president than former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Alexandria resident Deborah Bodlander, who is a member of Virginia’s 8th District Republican Committee, said the vast majority of her Republican friends are unhappy with Trump’s candidacy and believe he is only leading in the polls because of his anti-establishment persona. Bodlander is supporting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) because of what she feels is his strong approach to foreign affairs and national security.

“I trust that our alliance and our support for Israel with a President Rubio would not wane in the least,” she said. “I think he would be extremely supportive of Israel’s right to exist and be peaceful within its borders.”

Bodlander grew up in New York City and moved to Washington for graduate school before working for former congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) who at one time served as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The last Democrat she voted for was Jimmy Carter in 1976, which she calls a “huge mistake.”

Bodlander said she became familiar with Trump growing up and thought he was a “very nice man” but never contemplated him possibly running for president one day. Yet, she thinks his skills as a businessman could be effective in dealing
with a constantly gridlocked Congress.

“Because he is a businessman who is used to negotiating his deals, he would be able to negotiate on Capitol Hill and would be open to suggestions.”

As of press time Tuesday, polls had Trump at roughly 40 percent in Virginia with Rubio at 25 percent [Virginia voted March 1].

Bodlander plans to support Trump if he is the nominee and said despite the lack of foreign policy experience from the Republican field, she believes any of the candidates would better than Clinton, who she feels has “finagled,” her way into powerful positions with the help of her husband’s [former president Bill Clinton] influence.

“I don’t really look at her and see someone who is qualified to be president,” she said.

Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks about groups such as women, Muslims, Hispanics and others have given many Republican voters cause for concern about losing key demographic groups they will need to win in the general election. But Baltimore County Republican Central Committee chair Al Mendelsohn said he is willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt for his mishaps.

“When I watch somebody, I think, “I could have given a better answer than that, but I’m not on the stage,” he said. “I am at times embarrassed when people say things off the cuff. I felt the same way when the rabbi at my shul (Adat Chaim) supported the Iran nuclear deal. But I didn’t hold anybody to the standard of perfection.”

Mendelsohn has been a lifelong Republican since his father voted for Richard Nixon over Democrat George McGovern in 1972. He plans to support whoever the Republican nominee is and thinks all of the candidates have unique skills, even if they are not politicians.

“We’ve got a world-renowned surgeon [Ben Carson], we’ve got two senators who’ve got great accomplishments under their belts, we’ve got a real estate developer who’s employed tens of thousands of people. So I’ve got nothing but good things to say about all of these people,” he said.

Mendelsohn added that he thinks Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, a Jewish convert, could win a few Jews’ hearts and votes. “That’s a remarkably welcoming kind of position, certainly more so than if my daughter converted,” he said.

Mendelsohn too felt that Clinton’s political experience would not be beneficial to her, due to the stain of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans including ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“Her experience brought us Benghazi, brought us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, brought us the turmoil in Syria. I really can’t find proof that her experience would be a good thing,” he said, adding that James Buchanan was president leading up to the Civil War despite having served as a congressman and secretary of state.

Both Republican and Independent Jewish voters such as Gary Erlbaum say Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi
attack is a bigger Achilles’ heel than having a limited amount of foreign policy experience.

“I think that Hillary has promised to continue the policies of Barack Obama, does not have a good record on Israel and is a totally untrustworthy human being,” he said while adding that he feels that her policy of removing Muammar Gaddafi from power contributed to the takeover of ISIS in Libya.

Erlbaum, president of Greentree Properties in Philadelphia, said he has supported members of both parties in the past including Joe Biden during his 1988 and 2008 presidential bids. He plans to support the Republican nominee this year and has not made a decision who to vote for, but says Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich appear to be reasonable candidates.

“It’s irrelevant who I emotionally support because the primaries will probably determine the nominee, although there is the possibility of an open convention,” he said.

Erlbaum said he will reluctantly support Trump if he is the nominee but feels that his “demeanor, lack of knowledge and lack of civility would dictate that the Republican Party would be better off with another nominee.”

A wild card in the election could be former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said last month that he was considering a late entry into the race as an independent. A Bloomberg candidacy would be a breath of fresh air should Trump receive the Republican nomination, said Michael Granoff — a disgruntled Democrat who has worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman and Jeb Bush.

“I am now supporting Rubio, but if Trump is the GOP nominee, my view is it would be a moral imperative that an independent candidate run,” he said. “Preferably one who is about 10 times as rich as Trump. And if he had political experience too — say, running the country’s biggest city for over a decade [with] record low crime, record high job creation and bipartisan support.  Can you think of anyone like that?”

Granoff, a New Jersey native living in Israel, said he cringes at the possibility of Trump receiving support within the Jewish community.

“Those who follow a tradition once condensed as “don’t do unto others what you would not have them do unto you” cannot support a purported leader who mocks, denigrates and otherwise demeans not just political opponents, but war heroes, immigrants and the disabled.”

Chinese Women Make Aliyah from Kaifeng

From left: Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Gao Yichen, Li Jing and Li Chengjin

From left: Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Gao Yichen, Li Jing and Li Chengjin

For the first time in seven years, members of the Chinese Jewish community in Kaifeng made aliyah with help from the Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shasvei Israel on Feb. 29.

“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shasvei Israel. “After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity.”

Five women — Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Gao Yichen, Li Jing and Li Chengjin — studied Hebrew and Judaism for several years in preparation for their move to Israel. They plan to continue studying in their new homeland with support from Shasvei Israel and will receive Israeli citizenship after they complete their conversion.

“Being part of the Jewish people is an honor because of the heritage and wisdom,” said Jing, who prayed for help to make aliyah on a previous visit to the Kotel. “Now my prayer has been answered.”

Freund added, “These five young women are determined to rejoin the Jewish people and become proud citizens of the Jewish state, and we are delighted to help them realize their dreams.”

Temple Isaiah Embraces Folk Music Roots

Cheryl Wheeler’s approach to performing is to “talk to people, sing and have a good time.” (Gwendolyn Cates)

Cheryl Wheeler’s approach to performing is to “talk to people, sing and have a good time.” (Gwendolyn Cates)

When people think of Jewish music, folk music isn’t typically the first genre that comes to mind, but Temple Isaiah will become a folk music epicenter on March 12 when it welcomes Cheryl Wheeler in concert with Victoria Vox opening the show.

“The purists thought it wasn’t folk music if it didn’t have a [history to it]; if it didn’t have roots, how could it be folk?” said Marvin Pinkert, executive director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, who brushed up on the history of folk and folk-rock music in preparation for the museum’s Paul Simon exhibit that recently closed.

Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler, a fan of folk music, met Wheeler’s promoter at a concert and heard she was looking for alternative venues. With his synagogue’s president and fellow folk music fan, Larry Gordon, accompanying him, he introduced himself and offered his space.

“The concert is not intended to be Jewish, it is intended to bring great folk music into Howard County and into our venue,” said Axler.

But Pinkert said folk music’s roots in the Jewish community are strong. He said the Jewish community heavily influenced the development of folk music in the 1950s and ’60s. One way was simply geography.

“If you think about it, the folk music movement of the ’50s and ’60s could have happened in Nashville or Memphis, but it happened in Greenwich Village, New York. This made all the difference,” said Pinkert.

Another factor was “a lot of cross-fertilization of ideas” between the African-American and Jewish communities and the Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement.

“If you look at protest songs from folk and folk-rock,” said Pinkert, “a lot of them were written or sung by Jewish artists. Folk music and left politics were almost assumed to go together.”

On the business side of things, many record labels and folk labels had Jewish owners. All of this mattered, Pinkert said, because the Jewish community “wasn’t trying to preserve a legacy” in the same way that traditional folk songs and artists did by passing their songs from parent to child.

“I turned 10 in 1961,” said Wheeler, who is from Timonium. “That’s when folk became huge, [and it was] huge on the radio. I was crazy about it.”

Wheeler first took an interest in music when she came across a ukulele at a young age. Playing came naturally to her, and she landed her first gigs in her hometown.

“For years, I was hand-to-mouth,” said Wheeler. “But I never lost sight of the fact it was my choice. I just wanted to play music and make songs, so I did.”

Wheeler added that even though she started getting more work as she improved, she didn’t — and still doesn’t — let success go to her head.

“I don’t want the audience to feel they are apart from me or different from me,” said Wheeler, who has released several albums. “I don’t carry on about shows, I don’t try to act like, ‘Hey look at me!’ I come out in plain clothes, talk to people, sing and have a good time.”

Gordon said that the simplicity of folk music is what appeals to him and that this concert will be a precursor for more to come.

“One of the things on our agenda is the usage of our building to the community at large,” he said. “This is sort of a test. We anticipate more musical events at Temple Isaiah.”

Axler added, “I’m excited at the prospect of housing concerts at the synagogue. The opportunity to welcome the greater community into the synagogue is really exciting.”