Royal Farms Reopens in the Heart of Pikesville

(Melissa Gerr)

(Melissa Gerr)

The Royal Farms convenience store at the corner of Smith  Avenue and Old Pimlico Road, which was closed for remodeling for more than a year, opened on Feb. 24.

The store previously had not offered some of the chain’s  notable favorites such as its “World Famous Royal Fried Chicken” but will now serve that along with several other grilled and fried items.

The store has also doubled the number of available Slushie  machines in response to the product being a local favorite.

“For that particular store, we wanted to bring in the hot foods that our customers have been asking us for,” said Royal Farms spokeswoman Brittany Eldredge in a written statement. “But in general, we want to be able to provide one stop for people looking for a great, fast meal. With our expanded menu of hot sides, we believe we can make our customers’ lives easier and dinners better.”

The remodeling of the store became a point of contention in the community last summer when residents complained about the lack of sidewalk that created a dangerous situation for people walking to and from shul. The store has since built a sidewalk in front of its property along Old Pimlico Road.

Subminimum Wage Bill Sparks Discussion

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

A new bill before the Maryland General Assembly would phase out the practice of paying some people with disabilities a subminimum wage for jobs they perform in sheltered workshops.

The bill has sparked a passionate response, particularly from disability advocates, who call it a civil rights issue. The first hearing for the bill was Feb. 10 with a number of people with disabilities and their allies speaking in favor. The bill, HB 420, is also called the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act.

“By guaranteeing equal protection under the law for minimum wage, individuals with disabilities will be empowered to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and full inclusion and integration into society,”  said Ken Capone, the public policy analyst for People on the Go Maryland, one of the main disability groups advocating for HB 420, in an email.

The bill specifically targets a section of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 14(c), which was set up to allow employers to pay below the minimum wage for those employees with disabilities that hinder their productivity.

It would phase out this practice, originally, in three years, although, with input from other parties, including agencies who run these kind of facilities, that will likely increase to four years.

This issue was actually addressed by the Baltimore Jewish Council in December 2014, where they, after hearing from both proponents and opponents, decided to call on the state to create a task force to study the issue.

The council wasn’t notified before the bill was introduced before the Assembly, said Sarah Mersky, the director of governmental relations, so their official position hasn’t changed. It is still an issue that is important to the community, however, she said.

“Right now, we have no  position, but we are getting  involved,”  she said.

She expects the council will address the issue again in the near future.

At the time, one of the  opponents who spoke out when BJC was looking at the issue was Chimes, a not-for-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find employment, whether that’s with outside companies or in its own supported facilities.

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Now, the group, which  employs about 800 people with disabilities in the state, is not actively opposed so much as concerned.

“We are sort of quasi-supportive of it,”  said Martin Lampner, the president and CEO of Chimes.  “We recognize that the system is changing.”

His main concern stems from lack of teeth in enforcing the state’s vague plan in providing resources and framework for those workers who would be affected. Of those Chimes works with in Maryland, 75 percent already make a competitive wage, he said.

The rest — largely those with complex medical problems or occasional significant behavioral issues — are in supported facilities, or sheltered workshops, and earn a wage, potentially under minimum wage, based on their productive capacity. If, after this change in the law, those people are hired at a job with fewer hours per week, the struggle will be to ensure they still have a meaningful way to spend the rest of their days.

Chimes is already working to address this issue with new initiatives. It has become a  “business incubator,”  meaning it provides physical space and certain services to startups in return for the business employing people with disabilities at a minimum wage or higher.

This ensures that those who need it will have services available on-site, but also brings them into an integrated environment. The organization is currently working with two businesses — Cyberspa and 800razors — and Lampner said it has so far been a success.

Capone worked at one time at a sheltered workshop and said he felt demeaned by the work, having completed a  difficult computer-training program at Johns Hopkins.  Instead of working with computers, however, he was earning  “pennies on the dollar”  doing repetitive work, he said.

“[A]s we have known since the 1960s, separate is not equal,”  Capone said.  “It benefits people with disabilities, as well as people without, to be able to interact with each other and learn from one  another. We are a better society.”

“I think there is a genuine  willingness on the part of  all parties to get this right.” — Martin Lampner, president and CEO of Chimes

The bill is the result of a long study by a coalition of groups, including People on the Go, provider agencies and other advocacy groups. Proponents say it will help integrate people with disabilities and those without, which improves their health and self-sufficiency.

The whole country is moving in this direction, said Nancy Pineles, the managing attorney for developmental disabilities with the Maryland Disability Law Center, and several states already have.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do and the right time,” she said.

People don’t want to be segregated, she said. Working in an integrated environment is beneficial for everyone. Pineles is optimistic about the chances for the bill passing this session.

Despite some of his concerns, Lampner said he is encouraged by how discussions are progressing with HB 420.

“I think there is a genuine willingness on the part of all  parties to get this right,”  he said.

Betsy Gardner Announces City Council Bid

Betsy Gardner (David Stuck)

Betsy Gardner (David Stuck)

Elizabeth “Betsy” Gardner kicked off her campaign for the Baltimore City Council’s 5th District seat on Sunday, Feb. 21.

She is one of seven candidates seeking to fill the seat that will be left vacant when longtime councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector retires. She faces 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; Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform  advocate; Sharif Small, a small business owner; and Kinji Scott, a community organizer; and Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, an attorney, in the Democratic primary. There are no Republican challengers.

“Ms. Gardner has a strong, demonstrated commitment to improving public safety, supporting education initiatives and improving the quality of life of Baltimore City residents at-large,” a campaign press release said. “During a distinguished 14-year tenure as a community relations liaison for the City of Baltimore, Betsy learned how the city operates, gained valuable knowledge about community needs and issues, developed an eclectic capability to solve problems, build bridges and access information to provide support and leadership for the residents of Baltimore’s 5th District and beyond.”

A Leap Year of Faith

Lila Levine, born on Feb. 29, 2012, will celebrate her first real birthday on Monday. (Dahlia Levine)

Lila Levine, born on Feb. 29, 2012, will celebrate her first real birthday on Monday. (Dahlia Levine)

When Alexandria, Va., resident Allison Dinsmore celebrates her 11th birthday on Monday, she will do so along with some 200,000 Americans whose birthday falls only once every four years. She says she makes do.

“I miss kind of having the one actual day most years, but it gives me something to talk about,” she says.

Feb. 29, or Leap Year Day, this year also falls in the Hebrew calendar’s leap month, Adar 1.

Like many with the elusive Feb. 29 birthday, Dinsmore, who is otherwise turning 44, normally celebrates on Feb. 28. Lila Levine, on the other hand, celebrates on March 1. This year, Lila will be celebrating her first Feb. 29 birthday; she was born in 2012.

Lila’s mother, Dahlia, a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, said Lila will have a bowling party with her preschool friends.

“We always said when she was born, every four years when she had her actual birthday, she would have a really big birthday,” Dahlia Levine said.

She said the family normally celebrates Lila’s birthday on March 1 rather than Feb. 28 because that is when she will reach certain legal milestones.

“She won’t be able to drive a car on Feb 28, she won’t be able to vote on Feb. 28 — so that’s why we celebrate on March. 1,” she said.

Levine said she has tried to explain the idea of leap year to her daughter, but she is too young to understand.

Leap year-born Chicago attorney Ilya Lipkind, 31, also marks his birthday on March 1. He said his 8th, 12th and 16th birthdays were a big deal, but that the magic of leap years has since faded.

“It was ingrained in me by my dad that it’s bad luck for me to celebrate on my birthday,” he said. “By the time you’re 32, there are other holidays that are more important.”

He added that having a highly unusual birthday is a good topic for small talk at parties.

“If anything it’s been a nice benefit just for the oddity factor, and it always makes for good conversation,” he said.

Unlike the quadrennial leap day on the secular calendar, the Jewish leap month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times in 19 years. A 13th month is added to align the calendar. In the Hebrew calendar, the months follow the cycles of the moon, but the year requires festivals to fall in their proper seasons, said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland.

“That’s why every Jewish holiday never comes on time,” he said. “It’s either early or it’s late because people are thinking along the solar cycle.”

Kaplan said the Hebrew calendar  follows ancient formulas introduced by rabbis more than 2,000 years ago.

“The Torah commands us to ensure that Passover should be in its proper time of spring, so the Torah is telling us we have to maintain a balance between the lunar and solar cycle,” he said.

Kaplan added that the two Adars are seen as “60 days of good omens.”

Purim will be celebrated on the 14th of Adar II, which begins at sunset on March 23. And an additional Purim, called Purim Katan, or “small Purim,” is celebrated on the 14th of Adar I, which this year fell on Feb. 23. This holiday is minor compared to Purim but still involves some of the same rituals.

On Purim Katan, Kaplan said, “We don’t read the Megillah and we don’t say certain prayers, but a l’chaim never hurts.”

Changes in Franklin Music Program Spark Concern, Some Hope

Due to stagnant and declining enrollment, Franklin High School is restructuring its music offerings. (

Due to stagnant and declining enrollment, Franklin High School is restructuring its music offerings. (

As Franklin High School’s administration grapples with how to best utilize a finite staff in a school with a diversity of interests, the school’s music community faces an uncertain future as it fights to keep certain classes from the chopping block.

Initially, jazz band, symphonic band — an honors-level band — lower level piano and Advanced Placement music theory were to be cut. But after hearing from students, parents, alumni and community members, principal Patrick McCusker and assistant principal Kieran O’Connell, who handles the school’s scheduling, reinstated jazz band, combined symphonic band with the standard level concert band and hope to offer AP music theory every other year.

“Enrollment in our instrumental music classes has been stagnant or slightly declining over the past several years, and we have finite staffing,”  McCusker said. “The kids’ registration is what drives what we can offer.”

Earlier this month, students were informed of the changes in class offerings and were told they’d have to register for other classes for the 2016-2017 school year. Parents and alumni rallied on social media and started a new Facebook group and a petition on The Facebook group — “Save Franklin High Music Classes!” — had 675 members, and the petition — “Save the Music Department of Franklin Senior High School” — had 1,388 supporters as of press time. A number of people in the Facebook group planned to attend Tuesday night’s Baltimore County Board of Education meeting.

Donna Ginsburg, whose son, Daniel, is a 10th-grade music student, said he is set on pursuing a degree in music theory and composition.

“For him, having a theory class is pretty much mandatory,” she said.

But she feels that even students who aren’t planning to pursue music beyond high school will suffer from the cuts.

“There are other kids who want to be able to play music, not because they even want to go ahead and major or minor in music, [but] just because it’s the thing that gets them at school, making it through the day,” Ginsburg said. “That music class can make all the difference in keeping grades up in the other classes.”

That music class can make all the difference in keeping grades up in the other classes.— Donna Ginsburg,  Franklin High School parent

Anne Meltzer, president of the Franklin High Performing Arts Boosters and the mother of 10th-grader Sam, understands the school is in a tough position.

“I think that the school has a lot of really challenging  decisions to make when it comes to staffing, and I think the number of kids interested in the music program has been diminishing,” she said. “It’s a really tough place for [the school] because you do have kids that are very interested in music and they get hurt when other kids do lose interest in music.”

McCusker, who met with a group of students who signed up for some of the affected classes, said the decisions are not final.

When she heard about the community concerns, Councilwoman Vicki Almond also spoke to McCusker.

“I really felt he was trying  to work this out,” she said. “I really think he’s working on a solution.”

The fall may actually see the return of what was once a Franklin institution — the marching band, which hasn’t been around for a number of years. Gil Roberts, a music teacher at Franklin Middle School, recently presented to McCusker, Meltzer and other Franklin officials a plan for starting the program back up. He not only put a memo  together, but he spoke with two other Baltimore County schools that recently revamped their marching bands.

“I was so thrilled with what [Roberts] put together,” Meltzer said. “We will have a marching band next year. That is going to happen.”

She said Roberts is a favorite among students, and his leading the band would surely generate interest. He will likely run a four-day band camp prior to the start of the next school year to get students ready.

“The goal will be to do two parades, our homecoming  parade and the Reisterstown Festival Parade,” Meltzer said. “As soon as the band is ready to play at a football game, they will.”

The school is holding an event for students interested in joining the marching band on March 22 at 7 p.m.

Art with a Heart Names Friedman President

Alyson Friedman has been elected president of the board of directors for Art with a Heart, a 15-year-old Baltimore-based nonprofit that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of people in need through the use of visual art. Friedman has been a member of the board since 2011.

Art with the Heart achieves its mission through the execution of art classes in schools, community centers, group homes, permanent housing facilities, shelters, hospitals and senior centers. More than 10,000 separate classes are held on an annual basis, providing more than 182,000 visual art experiences. The organization has also served more than 550 young adults in its summer job program, and its community service and public art initiatives provide accessible and meaningful volunteer opportunities.

Friedman also serves on the board of directors for The Associated; is an inaugural member of the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation including its past-president; is immediate past-president of CHANA Baltimore; and serves on the board of directors of Associated Women, the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership and the National Women’s Philanthropy Board of the Jewish Federations of North America. She also volunteers with groups and institutions including Israel Bonds, Garrison Forest School and Jewish Women International.

Associated Honored by Israel Bonds

On Jan. 31, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore became the first federation to be presented with Israel Bonds’ Israel68 Commemorative Medallion Award.

The award was presented to The Associated in recognition of its work in the greater Baltimore Jewish community as well as Israel, where it has a sister- city relationship with Ashkelon and a long-standing relationship with Israel Bonds. Since 2008, the organization has partnered with Israel Bonds Maryland by being a 100 percent match partner for all Israel Bonds purchased during the High Holidays.

Israel68 Award recipients embody the highest standards of leadership as demonstrated by their exceptional dedication to Israel and perpetuation of Jewish values and ideals.

Associated president Marc B. Terrill and chair Mark Neumann accepted the award, given at the Israel Bonds Prime Minister’s Club Dinner in Boca Raton, Fla. The Associated is among 13 honorees receiving this award.

Harbour School Honored

bbriefHarbourSchoolThe Harbour School has been recognized as a Lead2Feed Certified School. Only 10 schools and youth organizations have received this honor. Harbour was recognized for inspiring community service and its demonstration of student leadership. Through the efforts of Harbour students and staff, students have performed thousands of hours of community service working toward alleviating hunger in the community. Their efforts have earned $50,000 for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

Siri Llamas, a special educator at The Harbour School at Baltimore, was recognized by the Lead2Feed Student Leadership Program as Teacher of the Week in early February. Her leadership has assisted her special needs students to provide educational materials and resources that provide practical ways to combat hunger in local communities in 17 states and nine foreign countries.

Lead2Feed was started three years ago, and since its inception, more than 1 million students from 3,500 schools across the country have participated. The Harbour School is the first and only school to win twice.

The Harbour School is a nonpublic school serving students ages 6 to 21 that have been diagnosed as having learning disabilities, high functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other health impairments.

Baltimore Native Wins with Perfect Pitch

Justin Hayet and Haley Silverstein pitch their conference idea at the First Annual Campus Pitch Competition at WeWork. (photo provided)

Justin Hayet and Haley Silverstein pitch their conference idea at the First Annual Campus Pitch Competition at WeWork. (photo provided)

Baltimore native and pro-Israel activist Justin Hayet, 21, and his partner, Haley Silverstein, won $2,500 at the First Annual Campus Pitch Competition at WeWork, held by the World Jewish Congress and Israeli Consulate in New York.

The competition challenged students to pitch an initiative concerning Israel, anti-Semitism or interfaith relations to a panel of judges including global CEOs, entrepreneurs and social innovators. The grand prize was $5,000 in funding and a trip to the WJC Conference in Europe.

Hayet and Silverstein, Hillel members at Binghamton University, pitched a conference called “For This We Stand” that includes an academic and interactive speaker series that addresses Israel and human rights.

Hayet emphasized this conference is meant for students on both sides of the issue, to challenge the speakers and question them.

“We don’t want to people to only support Israel because they see the difference between [Israel] and the countries around it,” said Hayet. “We think Israel’s case for human rights is strong, so we wanted to dig deeper. Students are academics, and they want a platform to debate. We wanted to bring it all together. We want students to be educated and speak about their ideas.”

Voting Rights Granted to Ex-Offenders

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

The Maryland General Assembly on Feb. 9 overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto on a bill that grants voting rights to ex-offenders once they are released from prison.

The bill restores voting rights to approximately 40,000 Marylanders, about 20,000 of whom will be eligible to vote in Baltimore City’s upcoming mayoral and council elections, according to The Baltimore Sun. The law takes effect March 10.

Previously, Maryland law withheld the right to vote from individuals beyond incarceration until probation and parole supervision was completed.

The House of Delegates voted to override Hogan’s veto in January, but the Senate delayed the vote twice. All six of Hogan’s vetoes were overridden by the legislature. Two bills decriminalized possession of marijuana paraphernalia and limited the power of police and prosecutors to seize anindividual’s assets, two bills changed the way hotel taxes are collected, and another bill dedicated $2 million for the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) said restoring voting rights to ex-offenders follows in the tradition of expanding the franchise.

“And when we’re talking about the importance of enabling people who were in prison to get back into the workplace, I think a corollary of that is enabling them to participate in the political process,” he said.