‘Not One Step Back’ Havre de Grace synagogue, church honor MLK day with mosaic unveiling

Havre de Grace’s Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church worked together to create a mosaic that represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which Martin Luther King Jr. frequently referred. (photo by Justin Katz)

Havre de Grace’s Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church worked together to create a mosaic that represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which Martin Luther King Jr. frequently referred. (photo by Justin Katz)

Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church in Havre de Grace joined together last weekend to unveil and dedicate a mosaic the two congregations created in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The mosaic represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which King frequently referred.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” the quote says.

Adas Shalom Rabbi Gila Ruskin said that she always partners with an African-American church wherever she lives. In Havre de Grace, that partnership has been St. James and its reverend, Baron Young. She said her time, as a religion teacher, at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore City was the impetus for this commitment.

“[It was by] spending time with African-American teenagers who live in Baltimore City and really want to get an education and have a productive life,” said Ruskin. “Despite all of the adversity they face, I learned so much from them about what it’s like to be a young African-American in today’s world.”

The dedication ceremony had three speakers, and following the mosaic’s unveiling, the congregations joined together to help make blankets for the homeless of Harford County. The first speaker was Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of Howard County’s Beth Shalom.

When I say, ‘Forward together,’ you say, ‘Not one step back.’
— Keshia Thomas

Plotkin focused on his experiences participating in the 2015 Journey for Justice Walk from Alabama to Washington.

“At the front of the line, not just that day, but every day was a man named Middle Passage,” said Plotkin. Although Plotkin didn’t speak with Passage directly, he heard his story through colleagues. “He was an older gentleman who had taken his name to honor the way his ancestors came to America.”

Plotkin explained that many of his own ancestors came to the United States on a boat, eager and excited to see the Statue of Liberty. However, many of Passage’s ancestors came against their will on the “Middle Passage” route across the Atlantic Ocean that brought slaves from Africa.

To Plotkin’s — and many others’ — disbelief, the unthinkable happened during the march.

“The line stopped suddenly. I saw from about halfway back a man fall, and it was Middle Passage,” said Plotkin. “Initially we thought, perhaps hoped, that he got tired and tripped, but it very quickly became apparent that this was not the case.”

The buses took the marchers back to their home base, where Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP who marched next to Passage and accompanied him to the hospital, delivered the news. Passage had died.

For his participation in the march, the Union for Reform Judaism honored Plotkin, as well as each of his rabbinical colleagues, with a Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award. The award is named after a rabbi who advanced the cause of social justice through the creation of the Religious Action Center in Washington.

During his presentation, Plotkin removed the award from its packaging to show the crowd. He began to introduce the next speaker, Keshia Thomas, but not before making a special announcement.

“To recognize what you have brought to this community, to myself and to communities around the country and to this cause you so passionately support,” said Plotkin, “I present you with this plaque.”

Thomas also walked in the 2015 Journey for Justice but said she’s been an activist since childhood. She staged a walkout at her school after Rodney King’s brutal 1991 arrest in Los Angeles and mentioned how difficult it was to explain her actions to her parents.

After being introduced, Thomas began her speech by teaching the crowd one of the many chants she has learned.

“When I say, ‘Forward together,’ you say, ‘Not one step back,’” said Thomas.

Throughout her speech, Thomas intermittently chanted “Forward together,” and the audience responded, “Not one step back.” Thomas, who has received several awards from different organizations and universities for advocacy for racial equality, shared the story that brought her into the public eye in 1996. It began when she heard that the Ku Klux Klan was planning to rally in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The Ku Klux Klan was coming to Ann Arbor to spread hate. I had to stand up to say, ‘No, not today and not in my town,” said Thomas.

When Thomas arrived at the rally, she noticed someone on a bullhorn.  Without warning, that person changed the crowd’s demeanor for the worse.

“All of a sudden, [the person on the bullhorn] said, “There’s a Klansman in the crowd. Get him,’” said Thomas. The crowd fell silent and turned to a white man wearing a black vest with a Confederate flag. He had an SS tattoo.

Thomas’ first reaction was to confront him. But after seeing the man get struck in the head with a sign, Thomas acted. A now-famous photo of the incident, taken by Mark Brunner, shows Thomas protecting the man while yelling at protestors to stop. Ultimately, police arrived on the scene, escorted the man away and arrested several protestors who had become violent.

Media outlets later confirmed that he was not a Klansman.

Although Thomas’ actions were well publicized at the time, she shared the next, lesser-heard part of her story with the audience. A few weeks after the incident, she was sitting in a coffee shop when a white teenage boy approached her and said, “Thanks.” Confused, Thomas asked what he was thanking her for.

The teenager was the son of the man who Thomas protected.

The final speaker of the evening was local attorney Philip Hunter, who participated in all three Selma, Ala., marches as a teenager. As a result, he was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama along with other members of the original marches.

Hunter recalled that his father was an active member in the NAACP when “it was not popular to be a part of a subversive group.”

Hunter’s father and seven other men were nicknamed the “Courageous Eight” because they petitioned the superintendent of schools to integrate; this was before Brown v. Board of Education. Many people lost their jobs as a result of signing that petition. Hunter’s father and seven other men refused to remove their names.

Hunter explained that during one of the marches, the group knew authorities were waiting for them. Being athletic, he thought he could outrun the tear gas. He was wrong and faced the same brutality that many others of the time experienced.

Throughout his speech, Hunter repeated one of King’s famous quotes several times.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” said Hunter

He repeated, “Where do you stand in times of challenge and controversy?”


Make Way For Millennials America’s youngest politicians eligible for presidency

The oldest members of the millennial generation are turning 35 this year, making them eligible for the highest seat in the land. While we may not hear “Hail to the Chief” as the intro for a millennial president this election cycle, 2016 is the last presidential contest in which America’s largest generation will be forced into the spectator-only role.

The Pew Research Center defines millennials as people born in 1981 and after, making them the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. The center describes this generation as “linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry and optimistic about the future.”

Make Way For Millennials

Millennials’ engagement with political structures differs wildly from their predecessors’.

“Millennials are dissatisfied with politics,” said Nik Sushka, 32, a former president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats. “Many millennials don’t identify with the political structures of the past, and it’s difficult to get millennials excited about serving in political office.”

Sushka has seen both sides of the coin when it comes to politically engaged — or in some cases disengaged — millennials. Her organization has successfully helped several millennial politicians with campaigns for public office, including Maryland state Dels. William Smith (D-District 20) and Marc Korman (D-District 16), who is Jewish.

However, getting millennials out to vote is still a problem facing candidates at all levels.

Although millennials are less interested in the polls, they are not disengaged from the issues. Sushka said millennials are dissatisfied with policies that would help to address issues such as sexism, racism and immigration reform. This feeling cuts through party lines.

“I think millennials, by and large, definitely respond more strongly to the single-issue advocacy angle,” Brent Tracy, chairman of the Modern Republicans of Howard County, said in an email.  “Our generation responds more to what is being said, rather than to who is saying it.”

Tracy, 28, said this feeling comes down to the individual. In his early 20s, he felt more passionate about the issues than the policy; however, he now takes more interest in creating “practical policies,” because he thinks “it is important to note that we can’t fix issues without good policies.”

Millennials, Tracy said, are more interested in tackling political issues through organizations, rather than policies, for two reasons.

First, the generational wall is becoming more difficult to break through due to people generally living longer and holding office longer.

Second, “they don’t trust politicians.”

“People are more and more cynical about politics — and Washington in particular,” said Matt Dallek, assistant professor of political management at the George Washington University. “I don’t see millennials moving into political space in the traditional offices [but] more so through advocacy, given the anger and animosity toward elected officials alike and the relative suspicions of each party.”

Korman, and Smith, who are from Rockville and Silver Spring respectively, are among the few millennials to buck that trend. With assistance from the Young Democrats, Korman, 34, and Smith, 33, were elected to the General Assembly in 2014.

What sets older liberals apart from their younger counterparts, said Korman, is how baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), the silent generation (born between 1928 and 1945) and the greatest generation (born before 1928), have developed their positions.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (a baby boomer) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt., and of the silent generation) are both seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

“[Millennials have] always had these positions,” said Korman, referring to issues such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization. “Clinton and Sanders have had an evolution over time because they have been around longer.”

Korman said that millennials are able to tap into change easily, and change is an idea that voters can get behind. This change is possible for politicians such as Clinton and Sanders, but it doesn’t come as easily.

Though millennials don’t have the political cohesion of the baby boomers and the greatest generation, they have concrete positions on certain social and foreign policy issues, said Jeremy Mayer, an associate professor at the school of government, policy and international affairs at George Mason University.

“On gay rights, they have made up their minds,” said Mayer. “They are against foreign wars. This is a generation shaped by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Unlike their parents’ generation, which saw the first Gulf War as a political success, the foreign conflicts millennials have been exposed to means they’re “not going to vote for the neo-conservative America as policeman of the world,” Mayer said.

Conservativism among millennials, said Mayer, will be more libertarian in its identity, in part because millennials are less religious. A 2014 Pew Research Survey concluded that only 27 percent of millennials attend a religious service on a weekly basis, compared with 38 percent of baby boomers and 51 percent of the silent and greatest generations.

Chrysovalantis Kefalas, 36, who is gay, epitomizes the ideals of young members in the Republican Party who are less conservative on social issues. Kefalas, who is seeking to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), characterized this not as a potential shift within his party, but as a rapid re-embracing of Republican core values of “free enterprise, individual rights [and] equal opportunity.”

“One of the things I think millennials more than any other generation seem to understand and appreciate is an unwillingness to wait for justice to occur,” Kefalas said.

“[Millennials] want to see a lot of social change. They want more involvement not just with brand change, but with voters who aren’t reached right now,” like young voters and minority voters, said Melanie Harris, 29, chair of the Baltimore Area Young Republicans Club and a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Jimmy Williams, treasurer of the Modern Republicans, said he thinks prioritizing social issues is a key difference between older and younger Republicans.

“A major difference between millennial Republicans and older Republicans is that we tend to prioritize [issues like] the economy, jobs, national security and education,” Williams said in an email. “Older Republicans still tend to put social issues at the top of their lists of important issues.”

Regardless of their differing views on social issues, Harris said she believes young activists in Baltimore, and Maryland in general, are united in their discontent with the political status quo.

“Some [millennials] have come to view our current political climate as status quo regardless of which of the two major parties is in charge,” Williams said. “As a result, [millennials] look to membership in advocacy organizations as a way to effect real change.”

Kefalas, who served as Maryland’s youngest deputy legal counsel during Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, joked that his greatest age-related concern is that he looks 20 years old — but in a serious vein said he believes that voters care more about his experience than his age. He argued that millennials have already begun to influence politics from the inside out.

“Things are getting done and it’s not necessarily the senators and representatives who are getting things done; it’s the young staffers who are pushing for results,” he said.

On the state level, Kefalas said he counts criminal justice reform as an issue he successfully pushed from within the Ehrlich administration. Ehrlich initiated a strategy that provided nonviolent offenders substance abuse treatment and implemented a clemency program in an effort to reintegrate them into society — as productive members of communities.

“I think one of the key sleeper issues in American politics is pensions,” said Mayer. “Pension politics directly pitches the young against the old. If we come to a pension crisis, that may be the moment millennials get engaged.”

Mayer predicted several states are only a few years away from pension crises.

Student loan debt is another financial issue that has exposed deep generational divides and resentment.

“I think that this generation of Democrats and millennials is on a different fiscal path than previous [generations] for a number of reasons. First is student loan debt,” said Smith, who estimates that his generation has $1.2 trillion of student loan debt. In Maryland, students attending public universities have approximately $25,000 in student debt after earning an undergraduate degree.

“[The amount] of debt that millennials have from the start changes our trajectory,” said Smith. “If you ask average millennials, [this is the] first generation where the outlook is not better than our parents.’”

Though Sanders has focused on economic disparity on the campaign trail, attracting a wide millennial following in the process, young voters are largely ignored by mainstream political operatives. Brian Zuzenak, former deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, spelled out the reason why to one of Mayer’s classes.

“It’s really expensive to talk to your generation, and when we try, it’s not worth the money because you don’t vote,” Zuzenak said during his lecture, according to Mayer. Although President Barack Obama’s campaign received praise in 2008 and 2012 for its use of social media to bring out younger voters, Mayer said he doesn’t think the millennial turnout was as large as reported.

“I think most campaign operatives would rather improve one or two points among baby boomers than five points among millennials,” said Mayer.

That does not mean millennials will be ignored forever.

“This generation is up for grabs, and I think Republicans and Democrats have yet to figure them out,” said Mayer. “Whichever party figures out how to get this short-attention-span generation to pay attention is going to win.”

(To prove a point, Mayer assigned his class with designing a political advertisement for their peers. The winner: A 12-second Vine video.)

“Everyone has a smartphone, everyone’s on social media all day,” agreed Harris, who re-chartered the Baltimore Young Republicans in July. “There’s a blissful ignorance of decades past. The radio’s off, the TV’s off; you might not know what’s going on outside your door.

“With this computer in your pocket [it changes the dynamics].”

“I think the way [the party communicates], that’s a part of change there, the use of social media to engage people instead of old-fashioned methods,” said Korman.

And in an era where a single Facebook post can mean getting a pink slip, social media may also become the downfall of some would-be millennial politicians.

Jonathan Sachs, who graduated from the University of Maryland, was president of the student body and the university’s College Democrats and has interned on Capitol Hill for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

He previously served as the campus mobilization director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“[The millennials’] biggest liability is also a positive. The positive is how people can connect with each other seamlessly” through websites such as Facebook and Twitter, said Sachs. “It’ll be interesting when people who were on Facebook for so long start running for office.

“Everyone has things [on Facebook when] they weren’t at their proudest moment or were voicing an opinion on a controversial topic they don’t still believe.”

Ultimately, millennials believe that — in the words of Korman — “candidates shouldn’t run because they’re young or because they’re old. If there is a well-qualified 35-year-old who can make a case to run for president, their case shouldn’t be [dismissed].”

“The generation that is in power now has been in power for a long time,” Sachs said. “No one in the millennial generation will be elected president on their 35th birthday.

“But the question is how do [politicians] in the next generation lead people in [both generations] to solve some of these big issues we’re facing as a country.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com, mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Howard County Board of Education Decision Maintains status quo for Jewish High Holidays

Following more than an hour of discussion Thursday, the Howard County Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose’s recommendation to maintain the decision to close schools on the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the 2016-2017 school year.

Following a motion by board members Bess Altwerger and Dr. Janet Siddiqui, it also approved closing schools on the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice Eid Al-Adha and the Hindu Festival of Lights Diwali. The school system will bring options back to the board for consideration about whether schools will close for students only or for students and staff.

Foose’s recommendation also included a request for proposal to “study the impact of the range of religious observances celebrated in Howard County to inform the development of the 2017–2018 calendar that will be presented to the board in September.”

The 2017-2018 academic calendar committee will meet with representatives from several Howard County organizations including the Jewish Federation, the Muslim Council, and the Chinese Parent Association as well as members of the Hindu community.

Although the action was initially focused on the Jewish High Holidays, the majority of the board’s discussion centered on requests from several other religious groups.

Regulations state that schools can close only if the absenteeism during a holiday would create operational problems. With that understanding, several religious groups asked that professional development days — on which students are off and teachers use to further their own education — be adjusted to allow these groups of students to celebrate their respective holidays.

This latest request had to be balanced with prior requests from teachers about when they thought placement of professional development days would be most beneficial to their own needs.

“The purpose of the school calendar is to provide adequate time for teaching and learning, but we also try to address the unique desires of our community,” said Foose, in a written statement. “We heard from hundreds of community members and we value their input. We will do our best to provide options that ensure students receive a great education and have opportunities to celebrate their cultures and traditions.”


Bridging the Religious Divide Second seminar in DFI series looks at anti-Semitism in other religions

History professor Robert Freedman says Islam originally contained several anti-Semitic teachings, but there are different interpretations. (Provided)

History professor Robert Freedman says Islam originally contained several anti-Semitic teachings, but there are different interpretations. (Provided)

The roots of anti-Semitism can be traced to the original teachings of the world’s largest religions, scholars told attendees at the Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development on Jan. 7. The workshop, the  second in a series dedicated to examining the causes of anti-Semitism,  featured lectures from history professor Robert Freedman, Rabbi Geoff Basik and religious scholar Rosann Catalano.

Freedman began his lecture by noting that bigotry and prejudice are “not limited to any race or religion,” but that the Quran contains several passages that assert the supremacy of the prophet Mohammed, creating the perception that the text is inherently anti-Semitic.

“The Quran is full of anti-Jewish comments,” he said. “Those anti-Jewish comments can and often are read at Friday services.”

Freedman said the establishment of Sharia law led to Dhimmi status for Jews, which in essence said that “my  religion is better than your religion” and can be tied to the belief that no prophets exist after Mohammed. Under this designation, Jews could only ride on mules, not horses, and had to wear yellow belts in order to distinguish themselves as Jews.

“As a result of Dhimmi status, Jews were second-class citizens,” Freedman said.

Freedman said Arabs began to ask themselves why they were defeated in the 1967 Six-Day War and began to call for changes.

“The emphasis on the sayings of  al-Baghdadi and al-Qaeda and all  of Islam has moved in the last 30 or 40 years; there’s an emphasis on  return to the pure days of Mohammed and his four disciples.”

He noted that since then there have also been calls for the reformation  of Islam.

Robert Freedman (Provided)

Robert Freedman (Provided)

“It’s not the religion, it’s who interprets it,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Freedman said it is important for people to realize that every word of the Quran cannot be treated as holy, just as the Torah is not taken literally in Judaism.

“Now, we have Jews who treat the Bible as holy in every word but not as a document that was written down and that involved interpretations all the time,” he said.

Freedman said the current political climate has become highly anti-Muslim, particularly the rhetoric coming from presidential candidate Donald Trump, who he called a “fool.”

“American Islam is a solution if people other than Trump would begin to embrace it,” he said while noting that both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush declared that Islam was a  religion of peace. “You try to make the American Muslims as a bridge to influence the rest of the world.”

Basik, a rabbi at Kol Halev Synagogue, followed Freedman’s lecture with his view on anti-Semitism today and said that while it is not as blatant as it once was, it still exists. He said there is often a divide between today’s young generations and their parents and grandparents, some of whom lived through the Holocaust.

Rabbi Geoff Basik with Neil Rubin (Provided)

Rabbi Geoff Basik with Neil Rubin (Provided)

“We are people with long memory of deep hurt,” he said. “There’s a kind of residual PTSD that is often  retouched and retriggered. All of this history contributes to a certain mindset — a tragic realism that this is a  hostile world. It’s a deep pessimism.”

“We are people with a long memory of deep hurt. There’s a kind of residual PTSD that is often retouched and retriggered. All of this history contributes to a certain mindset — a tragic realism that this is a hostile world. It’s a deep pessimism.”
— Rabbi Geoff Basik

But Basik pointed out that some Jews often contradict themselves  by condemning anti-Semitism but subscribing to beliefs that their religion is superior. He explained that the original version of the Aleinu contained a line that said of other  religions, “For they worship a God that does not save.” Basik said this line is not included in any 21st- century Siddurim.

Catalano, a scholar at the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies,  discussed the often fractured relationship between Jews and Christians going back to the belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. She said that this was based on a theological conviction as opposed to a racial one.

Rosann Catalano (Provided)

Rosann Catalano (Provided)

Catalano explained that there is a difference between the terms anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, in that anti-Semitism means “a belief or  behavior against all Semites who speak a Semitic language,” but anti-Judaism is specific to Jews.

“It’s a problem because you will misunderstand the teaching of anti-Jewish teachings in the church,” she said.


A Long Strange Trip Owings Mills native creating conversations about otherworldly experiences

Mike Margolies (center) founded a discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is about to help launch online magazine Psymposia. In December, Twig Harper (right) spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event about salvia and  Sensory Deprivation Tanks.

Mike Margolies (center) founded a discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is about to help launch online magazine Psymposia. In December, Twig Harper (right) spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event about salvia and
Sensory Deprivation Tanks.

Mike Margolies had a good job as a chemical engineer at Exxon right after college. For a nice Jewish boy from Owings Mills, it was a good, safe path to be on.

But after some mystical experiences with mind-altering substances, Margolies knew he had to change his life’s trajectory. In the back of his mind, he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it took these experiences to give him the courage and confidence to pursue that path.

“I just didn’t feel like climbing the corporate ladder. In life, it didn’t seem like what I wanted to do,” said Margolies, 29. “I wasn’t trying to take a break. I was trying to change the course of my life.”

That journey — which included 15 months of backpacking in Southeast Asia — led him back to his home city, where he now runs a psychedelic discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is project editor of soon-to-be-launched online magazine Psymposia. Both of these projects are working toward Margolies’ goal of creating a safe space to talk about drugs and psychedelic experiences.

“What we are trying to do is facilitate honest conversations,” he said. “We are not advocates for drugs; we’re advocates for honest conversations about drugs.”

Psychedelic Seminars has hosted scientists from Johns Hopkins University who study psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms), a representative of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, medical cannabis activists and experts and a variety of other multidisciplinary speakers. Psymposia, which launches in the coming weeks, will use a similar cast of characters and feature a main article and responses to it from a variety of writers, along with a response from the original author to create a back-and-forth conversation. The theme of the first issue is “Coming Out of the Psychedelic Closet,” something Margolies himself had to do.

It was in Peru where he decided to change the course of his life after several ayahuasca ceremonies. The South American psychedelic brew, used as spiritual medicine among people indigenous to the Amazon, reportedly gives those who take it great spiritual revelations and insight, although those revelations can be coupled with gastrointestinal trauma.

At the time, Margolies’ insights led him to quit his job and go backpacking. In August 2013, he set out for Southeast Asia and spent 15 months traversing the region, mostly in Thailand. While he had planned to start a life over there, after a visit home in November 2014, he decided to stay in the United States. Over coffee with a friend, something obvious presented itself: His passion is talking about psychedelic experiences.

The day after this conversation, which took place this past February, he made the Facebook page for Psychedelic Seminars.

“There was no group I could find in Baltimore like a psychedelic discussion group,” he said. “And there it is: It’s obvious, just make it.”

The first meeting took place in March 2015. Margolies rented a room in a library and spoke to a small group about how ayahuasca changed his life.

But it wasn’t as simple as starting a group. While his parents were initially shocked when he quit his job, he shocked them again when he told them he was becoming something of a psychedelic guru. It took time and a lot of conversations for Margolies to be fully open about his own psychedelic drug use.

“It’s been a work in progress … but they’re coming around,” he said. Although he’s still a bit troubled by a conversation over this past Thanksgiving in which some extended family members told him they were concerned about him.

“This scene itself is the very epitome of why I do what I do,” he said. “There is so much stigma around drugs. We’re so impaired in the subject we can’t even have a conversation.”

If Psychedelic Seminar’s Dec. 22 event is any indication, Margolies’ effort to create a space for conversation is working. About 40 people crowded into Artifact Coffee in the Woodberry area of Baltimore for a talk and Q&A with Twig Harper, who runs a Sensory Deprivation Tank facility and works with psychoactive plant salvia. The light-proof and soundproof tank is filled with water salted enough to make the body float and can produce a variety of different effects some may refer to as psychedelic.

A majority of the evening was more back-and-forth conversations with attendees than presentation, with what Harper said were more “deeper space questions.”

Harper said it’s important to have an educational and social structure around psychedelic drugs and technologies, something he didn’t have in his late teens and early 20s when he did a lot of experimenting. He said it took a lot of work to understand those experiences and get to a point where he could talk about them. While he thinks psychedelic experiences shouldn’t be stigmatized, he still thinks caution should be exercised.

“If you look at other cultures that have these or other cultures that have existed or used sacred medicines … there’s a special class of people, the priests, it was their job to understand the [substances] by direct experience, and that’s not for everyone, and I think that’s something to really consider about these substances,” he said. “They’re oppressed and misunderstood, and [some of] the people who understand them want to liberate them, and there’s a tendency to want to bring them to everyone. They’re not for everyone, and maybe not everyone should understand them.”

But as Margolies found the confidence to search for his true calling, Harper too felt his outlook on life changed from psychedelic experiences.

“It removes the idea that we’re just an accumulation of a personal history with patterns of sensation,” he said. “It allows us to kind of tap into, I think, the eternal and mystical parts of our consciousness, which in the larger society is something that’s greatly needed.”

Albert Garcia-Romeu, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event in June about his work in using psilocybin in smoking cessation as well as the other work Hopkins’ scientists have done with the compound. He said these kinds of presentations are often given outside of Baltimore to very specialized scientific audiences, so he thought it would be good to give back to Baltimore’s community.

“It can be helpful because we can answer questions around harm reduction with a scientific or medical perspective that sometimes they might be misinformed about,” he said.

Someone like Garcia-Romeu can provide information on drug trends and issues with illicit street-level drugs and can tell people about kits that can test drug purity and where they can find those kits.

“It’s better to provide condoms than it is to tell people to be abstinent, basically,” Garcia-Romeu said.

Hopkins psychologist Bill Richards, Ph.D., who has been in psychedelic research since 1963, will speak at the next Psychedelic Seminars event on Jan. 19.

For Margolies, coming back to Baltimore rather than starting a new life on the other side of the world proved to be more fruitful than he’d imagined.

“It turned out in my own home city, Hopkins is doing this research; it happens to be this hotbed of all the things I’m interested in,” he said. “I only had to come back into my home with new eyes.”


Wanted: Safe Spaces First few weeks of 2016 see continued crime in Northwest Baltimore

For residents in Northwest Baltimore, crime has picked up in 2016 right where it left off at the end of last year, and once again it has raised concerns over public safety in the Jewish community. According to the Shomrim of Baltimore Facebook page, more than 20 incidents have occurred during the last few weeks.

These concerns were voiced during a town hall meeting at the Park Heights JCC on Monday, when members of the Baltimore Police Department addressed several hundred residents of the surrounding community.


“I can tell you without the shadow of a doubt that the work ethic and the talent is here in Baltimore,” Commissioner Kevin Davis said in support of his department. “I know that we have to do better with property crimes, quality-of-life crimes.”

Davis, who spoke only briefly due to another engagement, said he hopes that the crime-heavy year of 2015 will be an “asterisk year,” and he added that the department is in the process of coming out with a sophisticated burglary strategy.

Capt. Jason Yerg, a commanding officer in the Northwest District, said many of the recent break-ins were occurring during 15-minute windows and in broad daylight when parents were taking their children to school. He said two juveniles who attend Northwest High School are believed to be behind the most recent string of robberies and have been taken into custody.

“Now the onus falls on the criminal justice system,” Yerg said. “And sometimes we in the city would like to see the criminal justice system act a little more swiftly.”

One man suggested that Baltimore introduce stop-and-frisk policing tactics similar to those of New York City in the 1990s during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. Yerg was quick to point out that Baltimore adopted the policy 15 years ago, but it has been heavily scrutinized due to criticisms of racial profiling.

I think the police department is afraid to do its job because of what happened in [the riots].
— Sharon Saroff of Owings Mills

“Unfortunately, the ACLU and various civil rights organizations have a huge problem with that,” he said. “A lot of the things that we did back in 2001, 2002, 2003 that were Giuliani-esque alienated the city. Some of the things that used to happen in the back alleys that kind of kept people on the straight and narrow, they’re not acceptable anymore.”

A number of recent crime victims were in attendance Monday and complained that on-the-scene police officers never wrote reports. One man who was robbed last summer said that a truck he and his neighbors were warned about pulled up to his house after the incident. “I wrote down the license plate number. He was driving slowly because he was casing houses. I got in my car and drove behind him,” he said.

The man called 911 while following the truck on Woodcrest Avenue, but the 911 operator said police could not respond because he was in a moving vehicle and did not have a fixed location. The truck then drove off.

“I told [the operator], ‘You get an A-plus for procedure and an F for results.’ So if we call 911 and that’s the runaround we get, who do we go to besides Shomrim?” the man asked.

Yerg said that Shomrim was a great resource, and in that situation the police should be called, But, he added, sometimes property crime is not prioritized.

“We’re not going to be able to solve all the problems in the Northwest,” he said. “You call 911 and you get an ill-trained 911 operator, and they don’t get it to a patrol in a timely manner, or the call is coded based on priority because we have higher priorities taking place, and police officers don’t show up for 20, 25 minutes. That’s not [Northwest] Maj. [LaTonya] Lewis’ fault or our fault; that’s all of us working together.”

Maj. Robert Smith told attendees that the size of the Northwest District creates challenges for police because they often focus on the more economically depressed areas as opposed to Upper Park Heights.

“This is a pretty big district,” he said. “You have communities that are stable, you have communities that are fractured, and you have communities that are in shambles.”

The meeting followed a series of robberies at gunpoint that had occurred during the week of Jan. 3. On Jan. 6 at Seven Mile Market, a man held up an employee who was loading the ATM machine about a half hour before the store opened; the thief made off with an undisclosed amount of cash, according to the Baltimore County Police Department. Neil Schachter, president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, said the suspect was likely a disgruntled employee.

“I think this was an unusual anomaly,” he said. “This person was sitting in the hallway wearing a Seven Mile Market shirt. How did he get a shirt? They clearly thought he was one of the workers.”

Another incident occurred on Jan. 5 at 9:30 p.m. outside Bais Haknesses Ohr HaChaim, when a man was robbed at gunpoint by three individuals, according to Schachter. He said despite the frightening nature of some of these attacks, residents should have no reason to be fearful.

“These incidents happen very far and few between, and I don’t think it’s going to stop one congregant from going to shul,” he said. “We have confidence in the police department, and we’re sure that this will be totally under control in a short period of time.”

Law enforcement did increase its presence over the weekend, however, adding three officers to patrol targeted areas during Shabbat hours. Schachter said this was a request from the NWCP, Shomrim and a delegation of local rabbis. He wasunsure whether this would continue in future weeks.

Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson said he has had a number of conversations with police about safety and that the most important thing for residents is to make sure their doors are locked and their possessions are secured. He said he feels safe where he lives in the Summit Park neighborhood.

“The major thing right now is that there are police throughout the neighborhoods,” Abramson said. “I see them in the morning [going to work], and I see them on the way home. They are moving in the right direction.”

Many residents blame the increase in crime on a diminished police presence, which they attribute to lingering inner-city violence in the wake of last April’s Freddie Gray riots during a year that recorded 344 homicides — the most in any year since 1993.

“I think we need to have more [police presence], because the police department isn’t doing enough right now,” said Sharon Saroff of Owings Mills.

Saroff, a regular shopper at Seven Mile Market, said her husband once served on the NWCP and thinks more security in general is needed.

“It’s not just here in the Northwest area, it’s all over the city, and I think that something has to be done,” she said. “I think the police department is afraid to do its job because of what happened in [the riots],” she said.

Pikesville resident Bari Efron also feels the police needs to increase its presence in the area.

“I think one of the reasons that we’re seeing this upsurge has to do with the riots and that police feel that their hands are tied,” she said.

Efron, a Seven Mile shopper, said [the crime upsurge] is upsetting but not to the extent that she feels unsafe.

“I feel safe on a daily basis pretty much, but there’s always that feeling that you always have to be careful and look around you,” she said.

Diane Dorman, a resident in the Towers Condominiums near the intersection of Falstaff Road and Clarks Lane, said she has lived in Baltimore for eight years and said much has changed in that time, even to the point where she no longer feels comfortable walking alone. Dorman was particularly concerned about a recent carjacking on Clarks Lane and hopes additional security measures are taken.

“They’re putting more lights in the parking lot,” she said. “Maybe that’s what they need, more street lights.”

While most have blamed Pikesville’s crime problems on lack of police and security, resident Ann Kibel Schwartz said she thinks socioeconomic and educational disparities play a larger role. Schwartz moved to the Baltimore area 15 years ago and said she thinks more partnerships between schools and on-the-job training would help reduce the crime rate.

“We could have programs in the schools where [students] get a combination of practical life training and jobs in partnership with maybe hospitals and other big places that are potential employers,” she said.

Schwartz said she volunteered with Head Start in the 1960s and thinks that people are less likely to commit crimes when they have hope.

“When [children have] enough to eat and clothes on their back and lots of love, it makes a big difference,” she said.

Schwartz, who teaches art appreciation at the Community College of Baltimore County, said her students often find constructive ways of dealing with their emotions through creative means.

“What gives me a lot of hope is how many young students I have who write poetry,” she said. “Having a way to express yourself calms people down, so I just think it’s important.”

Schwartz said she thinks empathy is the key ingredient in making a community safer.

“There’s no 100 percent cure, but if people know each other and they have empathy for each other, they’re less likely to hurt each other,” she said. “When you live among strangers, it’s stressful and you have less empathy.”


Alleged Anti-Semitism in Council Race Community organizer claims candidate referred to Jewish opponent as ‘Jew boy’

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (Photo provided)

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Alleged anti-Semitism has surfaced in the race among three black candidates and one Jewish candidate to replace retiring District 5 Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector.

In a Facebook post, minister and community organizer Kinji Scott accused Derrick Lennon of saying, “We can’t let this Jew boy get in,” referring to District 5 candidate Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer. He said the comment occurred during a conversation on the morning of Friday, Jan. 8, at a West Baltimore ceremony where a street sign was dedicated to father-of-three Kendal Fenwick, who was killed in November.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. What kind of anti-Semitic s—- is that?’” Scott said later in an interview. “I’m shocked, to be honest with you, that somebody would say what was said.”

Lennon denied the accusation and called it absurd.

Schleifer said he’s hoping the accusation isn’t true.

“I’d be very disappointed if it was true,” he said. “I think I have a good relationship with Derrick, and I would hope the voters wouldn’t vote for anybody based on race, gender or religion; that they vote based on who has done the most as a community activist for the community and the person who they feel is a leader who can represent everybody in the district.”

Schleifer, who serves as vice president of the Cheswolde Community Association, said he and Lennon have worked together over the years, especially on slots funding. In a brief phone call, Lennon mentioned that he used to run community event WinterFest, which was billed as a  celebration of diversity and was open to all facets of the community.

Schleifer said he’s not jumping to conclusions about what was said.

“If he wants to reach out to me, of course I’d be willing to speak with him,” Schleifer said. “Until I hear from him, I would never rush to judgment.”

Schleifer, a small-business owner and community activist, and Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association, face Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate, and Sharif Small, also a small-business owner, in the Democratic primary for the District 5 council seat.

Spector, who was appointed to her seat in 1977 and is known as the “dean of the council,” announced that she will not be seeking reelection. She is one of six sitting council members not running in the primary.

In addition to wanting to spend more time with her family, Spector, 79, said she had doubts as to her effectiveness if she were re-elected.

“I always had allies. I had a governor. I had a mayor, I had the president of the council. I had colleagues. I was part of a collaborative,” she said. “The political landscape has already changed.”

She referred to her “blip in the road” with Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young in which he removed her from several committee assignments after she voted against two bills he supported.

She said she will not be endorsing a candidate for her seat but plans to work with whoever wins.

If a campaign event on Sunday, Jan. 10, is any indication, Schleifer has the support of a sizable portion of the Jewish community. A Pikesville home was packed to the brim to hear New York Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder speak. The legislator spoke about the importance of local elections as well as local support.

“This is a candidate who needs the support, who is going to win and be successful, not just in the campaign,” he told the crowd.

Among the attendees were Young, Councilman Nick Mosby and his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and several area rabbis. Schleifer is the Northwest community liaison for Marilyn Mosby.

“He has been an asset to my office. He is dynamic. He takes initiative. He’s a genuine person so it was an easy sort of no-brainer,” Mosby said of appointing him to that position. “I’m kind of sad to see him go, but I’m very proud of him.”

Young said he goes to a variety of campaign events to get to know the candidates and was not endorsing Schleifer.

Nick Mosby, who represents District 7 on the City Council and is running for mayor, said he is supporting Schleifer.

“This trending toward new energy and new ideas in government is critically important for our city,” he said. “We have a huge opportunity to really tackle some of the challenges that we’ve seen, some of the ones that are in the forefront like public safety, and I think Yitzy is ripe to take on those challenges.”


Hungry Harvest Makes a Deal HoCo company hits jackpot on ‘Shark Tank’

CEO and founder Evan Lutz addresses attendees at Hungry Harvest’s “Shark Tank” viewing party on Jan. 8. From left: Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Lutz and Peter Ettinger, executive director for the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Justin Katz)

CEO and founder Evan Lutz addresses attendees at Hungry Harvest’s “Shark Tank” viewing party on Jan. 8. From left: Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Lutz and Peter Ettinger, executive director for the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Columbia-based Hungry Harvest’s CEO and founder Evan Lutz made his debut on “Shark Tank,” and despite a few tense moments, cybersecurity executive and shark Robert Herjavec struck a $100,000 deal with Lutz for 10-percent equity in Hungry Harvest.

“Shark Tank,” which airs on ABC, offers entrepreneurs from around the country the opportunity to pitch their companies to five executives. The high-rollers come with a variety of backgrounds from fashion to real estate who are all ready to invest with their own money if they think a company is a winner.

“There’s no way the sharks will make a deal with a delivery service that sells ugly fruit,” said Lutz, 23, referencing conversations with friends and family who initially suggested he apply for the show. Despite  doubts, Hungry Harvest, a company that sells edible fruits and vegetables that may have been discarded due to looks, went through the lengthy application.

Lutz began the process in February 2015 and then traveled to Los Angeles in June to have his moment in front of the sharks; the show aired on Jan. 8. Everyone from friends, family and customers to business partners and local and state politicians joined Hungry Harvest to watch the show at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship.

I keep getting this reoccurring feeling that it’s a dream but it’s really happening. It’s been exhilarating; it’s been awesome.

— Evan Lutz, CEO and founder of Hungry Harvest

“I’m real excited to be here tonight; I can’t imagine how nervous Evan must have been when he was out there,” Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman said during the party. “[Lutz] clearly has a passion for entrepreneurship but also a passion for people, and that’s why I’m excited for him.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is from Howard County, was also in attendance.

“[Hungry Harvest being on “Shark Tank”] is great. It gives a lot of attention not only to this county, but Maryland in general,” said Rutherford. “Maryland is open for business as the governor says. It’s an innovation capital, and we want to build on that.”

Rutherford added that although he doesn’t necessarily have a favorite shark, he does like Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban and Canadian venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary — who uses the name Mr. Wonderful while on “Shark Tank” — both of whom were on the show when Lutz made his pitch.

“I was really nervous,” said Lutz about the moments before pitching his company. “I couldn’t believe I walked in there.”

Following Lutz’s initial pitch requesting $50,000 in exchange for 5 percent equity in Hungry Harvest, the sharks became nervous when they found out the company was donating food to the hungry despite operating at a loss.

This proved to be a deal breaker for real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, who dropped out from negotiations after telling Lutz he was too “in love with the idea” and should be more “greedy.”

“We were targeting any shark but Barbara,” said Lutz. “Not because we don’t think she is smart or business savvy, but we didn’t think she would be able to help us like the other sharks could.”

Herjavec, who said he appreciated the good Lutz is trying to do, made his offer

“Instead of just writing another check I have been looking for a way to give people an opportunity that empowers them,” said Herjavec on the show. “This is something that I want to do.”

Initially, Lutz asked if he could hear offers from the other sharks — a question that generally never ends well.

“My immediate reaction [to the sharks after that question] was, ‘That was stupid,’” said Lutz “I thought, ‘If someone rejects the first deal, then more often than not they walk out without a deal.”

O’Leary began pitching a deal to Lutz, but it never made it to the table as the other sharks suggested Lutz take Herjavec’s deal, and that is exactly what Lutz did.

“We’re all about taking the great idea and making it an even greater product,” said Peter Ettinger, executive director of MCE. “[Hungry Harvest] is the first group I’ve ever met where they figured out how to do well by doing good, so we’re very excited [for them.]”

Lutz said he is happy with the deal.

“I keep getting this reoccurring feeling that it’s a dream,” said Lutz. “But it’s really happening. It’s been exhilarating; it’s been awesome.”


Kimco on Track to Own Entire Owings Mills Mall

The Owings Mills Mall may soon see redevelopment that has been in the pipeline for years.

On Monday, Kimco Realty reported that it paid $11.5 million to acquire General Growth Properties’ 50-percent ownership in the mall and also  acquired the parcel owned by J.C. Penney for $5.2 million. Kimco is under contract to buy the Macy’s parcel for $7.5 million.

“As a result of these transactions, Kimco will own 100 percent of the Owings Mills Mall and plans to  develop a new open-air center in its place,” the news release said.

The mall closed off its interior doors in September, and Macy’s closed in November. J.C. Penney is the only remaining retailer in the mall.

Although Kimco plans to raze the entire mall, previous plans included building an open-air center around the structures of J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

In a previous interview, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was excited that the shopping-destination-turned-eyesore has a future.

“We’re just really excited that we’re on the same page [with developers], and we see a lot of movement taking place,” he said. “I’ve made myself available to meet with any of the  retailers to sell them on how great the area is.”

Kimco isn’t the only developer working in Owings Mills. Construction is flourishing at Greenberg Gibbons’ project Foundry Row, where the centerpiece store, Wegmans, is expected to open late this summer. The Metro Centre at Owings Mills, a project by David S. Brown Enterprises, has brought retail, luxury apartments, a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch to the area surrounding the Owings Mills Metro.

Baltimore Doctor Dies as a Result of Florida Crash Injuries

Dr. Larry Becker

Dr. Larry Becker

Dr. Larry Becker passed away on Jan. 8 after sustaining serious injuries from a car crash on Jan. 3 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was in the car with his wife, Alma, who is now back in Baltimore being cared for by family.

Becker, 77, was treated at St. Mary’s Medical Center but passed away due to complications.

Becker was an orthopedic surgeon who pioneered arthroscopic surgery and was the first surgeon in Maryland to perform the procedure.

“My background in competitive sports enables me to identify with the athlete’s desire to return to his or her sport as quickly as possible,” Becker wrote on his website. “It’s truly a thrill watching my patients  recover from knee surgery and resume their active lifestyles, whatever their age!”

The details of the crash are still being investigated, and the Palm Beach Gardens police  department was not immediately available for comment.

The funeral took place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Jan. 11, and interment was at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Berrymans Lane.