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.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

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.

WANTED: SAFE SPACES

“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.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

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.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

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.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

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.

Baltimore Doctor Victim of Florida Crash

Dr. Larry Becker passed away on Jan. 8 after sustaining serious injuries from a car crash on Jan. 3 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Becker was in the car with his wife, Alma, who is now back in Baltimore being cared for by family.

He 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 the interment was at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Berrymans Lane.

Police To Increase Presence This Weekend

Three additional police officers will be on patrol in Northwest Baltimore during Shabbat hours on Friday night and during the day on Saturday according to a statement released by the Northwest Citizens Patrol and Shomrim on Friday.

“We are all aware of the recent increase in crime within our community,” the statement read.

“Baltimore City and County Police work hard to protect the citizens of our community day and night. We, the members of NWCP and Shomrim, are committed to being the eyes and ears of our community.”

Neil Schachter, the president of NWCP, told the JT the decision was made yesterday in a meeting between the two groups as well as rabbis throughout the community. He is not sure whether the increased presence will continue beyond this weekend.

An Unwritten Tradition Roland Park Place residents greet Dec. 25 with Chinese dinner

Residents at Roland Park Place enjoy Chinese food and a movie on Dec. 25. (Provided)

Residents at Roland Park Place enjoy Chinese food and a movie on Dec. 25. (Provided)

Jews eating Chinese food and going to the movies on Dec. 25 — some call it a stereotype while others think it’s merely a joke. But to some, it is an unwritten tradition, and it’s just as much a part of the holiday  season as anything else.

Residents at Roland Park Place, a continuing care retirement community near Hampden, took part in this tradition for the second year in a row, and it attracted both Jewish and  non-Jewish residents.

“They have a big brunch here on Christmas day when there is no meal service,” said Judith Skolnik, who is a resident and chair of a committee at Roland Park Place that organizes events for the community. “I said, ‘Christmas is coming, and [some Jews] usually have a Chinese dinner and go  to the movies because everything else  is closed.”

The idea stuck immediately and had many Jewish residents fondly reminiscing over their own holiday dinners at Chinese restaurants.

Marie Tassone, program and special events coordinator at Roland Park Place, helped to organize the event last year.

She explained that many residents who celebrate Christmas have family in during the holiday season. However, things are usually quiet following the afternoon meal on Christmas day. This made it a perfect time to arrange the Chinese dinner.

Last year’s event brought out close to 30 residents both for dinner and a screening of “A Christmas Story.” This year, Tassone’s assistant, Jennifer Fisher, spearheaded the event and said it ended up being even more popular.

“It wasn’t something I had even thought of,” said Tassone. “I had heard of it before, like in the movie ‘A Christmas Story.’ I knew Chinese restaurants were open, but I didn’t think it was a traditional thing.”

Skolnik said she hadn’t indulged in the custom as a child but remembers her friends always being excited to do so. Specifically, the movie “was always a big decision.” This year’s movie was “National Lampoon’s Christmas  Vacation.”

For some residents, an assortment fried rice, General Tso’s chicken, beef and green beans is a tasty collection full of memories.

“We always ate Chinese food on Christmas Eve,” said Minna Katz, who lives at Roland Park Place with her husband, Lou. “We didn’t do a movie, but we found Chinese restaurants in  different parts of Europe.”

We always ate Chinese food on Christmas Eve. We didn’t do a  movie, but we  found Chinese restaurants in different parts  of Europe.
—Minna Katz, Roland Park Place resident

Katz said she started eating Chinese food on Christmas in the 1960s and has kept the tradition going. The pair usually indulged on Christmas Eve,  as they often offered to fill in at their respective jobs on Christmas day to allow colleagues to celebrate.

Katz said she enjoyed the dinner at Roland Park Place, but living in Seattle for two decades has spoiled her. She said being “closer to the Far East” meant better Chinese restaurants.

“We received a notice for the second annual Chinese takeout and a movie,” said Katz. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s what we have to do.’”

Lou Katz was a consultant for NATO, which meant the couple did a lot of traveling. They managed  to find Chinese food to enjoy on Dec. 25 while in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Although the Katzes are “not sushi people,” there was sushi available at the dinner, which was selected by  several members who enjoy it.

Tassone and Skolnik described the event as successful, and Skolnik added she is looking forward to continuing the tradition next year.

“The [residents] really enjoyed it,” said Fisher. “They thanked me for being there, for giving up my day and [told me] how much they enjoyed the food and the company.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Week of Advocacy Hundreds of Jewish teens from USY descend on Baltimore for annual convention

Teens at the United Synagogue Youth International Convention gather at the southwest corner of Camden Yards in Baltimore on Dec. 29. The protest came in response to the April 2015 Orioles game played in an empty stadium. (Daniel Schere)

Teens at the United Synagogue Youth International Convention gather at the southwest corner of Camden Yards in Baltimore on Dec. 29. The protest came in response to the April 2015 Orioles game played in an empty stadium. (Daniel Schere)

More than 700 Jewish teens packed the rooms of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31 for United Synagogue Youth’s 65th Annual International Convention. The event’s theme was “Think More. Do More. B’more.” and focused on  issues at home and abroad.

The day’s events of Dec. 29 began with empowerment workshops in which the teens broke off into groups of five and discussed ways to advocate for issues about which they are passionate such as politics, combating anti-Semitism and raising awareness about mental illness. They then devised ideas for an action plan on large sheets of paper that they planned to implement in their home communities.

The anti-Semitism group came  up with the idea of starting a social media campaign for people in USY to share their experiences and create interfaith partnerships with other marginalized groups.

“A lot of times we don’t think that we teens can actually make a change, so this showed that with just a couple minds brainstorming together, we really can make a difference and start something big,” said Michael Standler, a  17-year-old from Connecticut. Standler has been involved in USY since he was a freshman in high school and said the week’s events have given him a greater perspective on the importance of social justice.

“I’ve learned a lot about advocating for Israel and how to build a stronger connection between the U.S. and  Israel and also just to do more social action,” he said.

The convention is USY’s hallmark annual event that attracts teens from around the country, but a number of attendees traveled a stone’s throw from their families. Mia Kaufman, a senior at Franklin High School, has been in USY since eighth grade and said this year’s convention was one for the books.

“It’s honestly so amazing, it’s like 10 times better than I expected it to be,” she said.

Kaufman’s friend, Andrew Burt, who also attends Franklin, has been involved with USY since middle school and said the week has been “unbelievable.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “It’s a thrill to be with so many like-minded Jewish teens.”

Burt said he learned a great deal about lobbying by attending empowerment sessions focused on advocating for Israel.

“There’s specific ways you’re trained in AIPAC to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship stays strong and to ensure a better future for both countries,” he said.

RJ Tabachnick, the son of Jewish Chronicle writer Toby Tabachnick, traveled from Pittsburgh for the convention and also attended a workshop focused on Israel advocacy. He said USY events are important for strengthening peer relationships.

“I really love making friends and seeing old friends,” he said.

The teens spent the first part of the afternoon learning about the proper way to contact their congressman or congresswoman from Sam Daley-Harris, CEO of the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation. During his lecture, Daley-Harris called several teen volunteers to the stage and had them role play mock calls to their local senators, asking them to sponsor a bill aimed at reducing the incarceration rate in the U.S. At the end, one teen made a real call to Sen. Ben Cardin’s office asking him to sponsor the bill, which received  noticeable applause from the crowd.

With the spirit of political activism in the air, the teens proceeded to march from the hotel to Camden Yards as an act of protest against the Orioles game played on April 29, 2015 against the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium due to dangers resulting from the Freddie Gray riots. The teens gathered at the stadium’s southwest gate and broke out in song for several minutes before speakers took to the microphone to voice their concerns.

“Today is all about voices,” said Rabbi David Levy who serves as USY’s director of teen learning. “We’re standing outside the gates of Camden Yards because after the riots took place here in Baltimore, it was decided for the first time in Major League history that a baseball game would be played right here without fans in the stands.”

Levy emphasized that the measure of not allowing fans into the stadium was done with the good intention of keeping peace in Baltimore, but it still created a chilling effect on expression. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr.,  he explained how silence can have  far-reaching consequences for society.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent,  intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention,” he said.

Levy challenged the teens to not be silent and to create “spaces and places” for the voices of young people to be heard.

“When we don’t [create spaces], we have silence,” he said. “We’re left with empty stadiums, empty streets, closed schools and a society that finds itself stuck. So in order to move forward, our role is to make noise everywhere.”

A student leader in USY also  addressed the crowd and said it is  important to realize that in a crisis, sports such as baseball often act as unifying element to a city that is  internally torn.

“They [the Orioles] were not trying to make a political statement,” she said. “They were not asking anything of anyone in Baltimore. They were there just doing their part to return their community to normalcy.”

The final speaker was Danny Siegel, a former international president of USY and author who read a poem called “The Good People,” which he had written several years ago after a mission trip to Israel.

“The good people anywhere will teach anyone who wants to know how to fix all things breaking and broken in this world — including hearts and dreams. And along the way we will learn such things as why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing with our hands and minds and souls and our time.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com