Jews for Judaism East Closes After 32 Years Lack of funding, flagging interest cited as reasons for dissolution

Jews for Judaism East, the regional arm of the national organization that thwarts proselytizers targeting Jews for conversion and works to strengthen and preserve Jewish identity through education and counseling, closed its doors last month after 32 years.

Citing dwindling financial support as the primary cause, executive director Ruth Guggenheim said that the board came to the decision in October and planned for a Dec. 31 closure. There will be a liquidation of the  entire JFJ library of educational  materials, which span all religions, Jan. 10 and 11 at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Synagogue.

Guggenheim added that she and others on the board hope to start up Hatshuva, a resource with a similar mission but with a focus on Israel, where, she said, messianic Jews and evangelical Christians are fiercely  targeting lone soldiers in the Israel  Defense Forces, the Russian immigrant community and young Jews.

At its peak, JFJ East, which opened as the first satellite office from the Los Angeles-based international  organization in 1983, had seven  employees and was well funded,  especially during the mid-2000s, when Jews for Jesus sent missionaries “into every city with a major Jewish population” during its Behold Your God effort, Guggenheim said.

The organization’s work even drew the support of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, but after 2008, when most of JFJ’s  significant funding dried up, “we tried [several times] to become a small but viable agency under The Associated to do the programs and one-on-one counseling,” said Guggenheim. That never came to fruition.

Guggenheim said that when the  organization transitioned from reactive to proactive inspirational programming they garnered some support, “but now people have seemed to focus elsewhere,” and Jews don’t feel as threatened by missionaries because people don’t think they target Jews or Jewish kids.

There’s a perception that JFJ is “talking against other faith systems,” she said. “But that’s not true. We have many other interfaith supporters.”

“Ruthie Guggenheim has been the soul and center of our organization since I can remember,” said JFJ board member Marilyn Leavey Meyerson, “and she deserves accolades and kudos for what she’s been able to  accomplish and her dedication to the organization.”

Meyerson, who voted for the closure “for many reasons and with a very heavy heart,” first learned about JFJ as a client. Her son, Jason, joined Jews for Jesus in California around 1990, and Meyerson’s rabbi referred her to JFJ.

“I was devastated. I was in tears for days at a time,” Meyerson, who is modern Orthodox, recalled. “It  became therapy for me. I could go and express my deep feelings of  disappointment, and [JFJ was] a source of comfort.”

Her son met with a JFJ representative, but he “was so fervent, his belief system had totally changed. … He wouldn’t change his position,” Meyerson said. Jason returned to Baltimore and is currently a pastor and chiropractor in Ellicott City. “My husband and I chose to have an amenable relationship [with Jason and his family]. My grandchildren know we’re Jewish, and we hope that our son will come back to Judaism.”

Meyerson added she has committed to involvement with Hatshuva when it gets off the ground, hopefully by mid-2016.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, JFJ International founder, said his organization will have no involvement in Hatshuva, but he did say that it, along with a strong Toronto JFJ office, plans to  expand programs, resources and anti-proselytizing efforts to the East Coast region. But Guggenheim still has concerns.

“The average young Jew cannot come back with answers with confidence” when confronted by a missionary, which is information and training JFJ provided, even by outreach to organizations and schools, said Guggenheim. “People don’t realize messianic Jews are not even Jewish and they’re raising their children in the Christian faith. … We don’t have to turn our backs on our loved ones [who have converted]. We always encourage to keep the door open; there is always a seat at the table. Otherwise, our loved ones will never reconsider their spiritual choices and come back to Judaism.”

Guggenheim said clients came to JFJ “looking for Jewish content and because they were not getting it [elsewhere], unless they were involved  in the Orthodox community.” JFJ also provided role-playing exercises.

JFJ led more than 2,700 educational programs for about 100,000 youths during its tenure, Guggenheim said. Its staff and volunteers spoke with every youth organization and crossed denominational lines within the Jewish community, helping whoever needed help by providing community awareness, professional development and support when  organizations needed media coverage, supplying hard facts and figures. “When missionaries came into  communities, we were the go-to.”

Louis Schwartz, past president and longtime board member, also voted for the closure but is disappointed that “people don’t realize the problem this still is,” he said, citing the deceptive manner, he believes, with which missionaries target the Jewish community. Though people don’t seem as concerned about this issue now, “that doesn’t mean it’s going away.”

“I’m very sad, because there’s a tremendous amount of history and  accomplishment,” Kravitz said of the regional office’s closure. “We should all be appreciative of what Baltimore did and the areas they pioneered. We’ll look at the challenges as opportunities, and we have to move forward.”


Liquidation Sale of JFJ Educational Resource Library

Sunday Jan. 10,  9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Mon. Jan. 11,  5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Moses Montefiore Anshe  Emunah Synagogue
7000 Rockland Hills Drive, Baltimore
For information contact,  Ruth Guggenheim at
443-854-5993 or

Living Life Through Giving Life Everyman Theatre uses real-life organ donor example to illustrate the experience’s powerful emotions

Birth, bar mitzvah, wedding … liver transplant? Donating or receiving a vital organ does not typically make the list when we think of events in the cycle of life. But for several in Baltimore’s Jewish community, it can be a signature moment in the lives of the recipient, donor and everyone else involved.

Everyman Theatre lighting designer Jay Herzog had lived a relatively healthy life until the summer of 2014, when he began gaining weight rapidly. On Labor Day, he had become so large he could no longer feel his feet and said at that point he knew something was wrong.

Herzog went to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH.

“It basically means that you have cirrhosis of the liver that is determined not to be caused by alcohol,” he said. “I was blown away. I’d like to say I stayed positive as much as I could.”

Everyman Theatre’s production of “Under the Skin” follows the journey of Lou, played by Mitchell Hébert (pictured), who is in need of a kidney transplant and must seek help from his estranged daughter, Raina, played by Megan Anderson.  (Courtesy of Everyman Theatre)

Everyman Theatre’s production of “Under the Skin” follows the journey of Lou, played by Mitchell Hébert (pictured), who is in need of a kidney transplant and must seek help from his estranged daughter, Raina, played by Megan Anderson. (Courtesy of Everyman Theatre)

Herzog said his first reaction was one of panic: He decided he needed to “get his papers in order” and even assembled a living will.

“I needed to first take care of my family, that was my first reaction,” he said.

Herzog said he had never considered the possibility of being disabled but knew from communicating with others online who had suffered similar illnesses that going back to work after surgery was against the odds.

“Most people by the time they’re two years into their diagnosis, they’re not working,” he said.

Herzog’s disease was caught in an early stage, and this put him at a disadvantage for a transplant, as most occur when the eligible patient is roughly 30 days from death.

“You go through this system, which is a national system. There are 11 regions in the United States, and the livers are distributed through the regions,” he explained, adding that he has had friends who waited up to five years for a transplant.

At that point he began to consider a living donor option and reached out to family and friends as well as putting out a plea on Facebook for a donor with the same blood type.

Director Vincent Lancisi said Michael Hollinger has “a real gift for personalizing stories and incorporating humor” while raising important questions about the duty of human beings to one another.

“For me, being a B-positive blood type I was able to take anybody who’s B and anybody’s whose O,” he said.

Herzog said he received an enormous response that included not only close friends, but also high school acquaintances and former students of his at Towson University.

“It was really quite eye-opening to see who would do it, especially since a liver transplant is so complicated,” he said.

Until then, Herzog said he was not aware that it was possible for a liver to regenerate over six to 12 weeks and become fully functional again.

“The only difference is that neither of us [donor and recipient] can become a living donor again,” he said.

Herzog had secured a living donor by mid-December 2014 and had surgery on Jan. 21, 2015. Now, one year later, Everyman is commemorating his successful surgery and recovery by putting on a production of “Under the Skin” — a new play written by Michael Hollinger that follows the story of Lou, a man in need of a kidney transplant, and his estranged daughter, Raina, who must wrestle with the decision to donate one of her kidneys despite their rocky past.

The Springfield Hospital grounds contain a memorial that recognizes the contributions of organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

The Springfield Hospital grounds contain a memorial that recognizes the contributions of organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Director Vincent Lancisi said Hollinger has “a real gift for personalizing stories and incorporating humor” while raising important questions about the duty of human beings to one another. Lancisi said Hollinger effectively uses the father-daughter relationship to raise broader questions about the concept of organ donation.

“Why does it take a family member who’s suddenly in need of an organ to consider giving it? And who is family anyway? If I’m a match, what is my responsibility to the human race?”

Lancisi said he attended the first production of “Under the Skin” last year at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia and was immediately drawn to the story.

“I walked in kind of blind and was bowled over by the show and was saying, ‘I have to do this in my theater,’” he said.

The play, which opens Jan. 20 and runs through Feb. 21, mainly takes place in a hospital and involves six characters played by four actors; Mitchell Hébert, Megan Anderson, Keith L. Royal Smith and Alice Gatling. It traces the journey of the donation as told through Raina, but Lancisi said the purpose of the play is to illustrate the human struggle as opposed to providing an instructional display.

“You don’t need to know anything about organ donation to see this play,” he said. “It’s not an educational play. It’s a human drama.”

Lancisi said that the timing of Herzog’s illness was a coincidence but did influence his decision to pursue this type of play.

“We were all so shocked when this man who I’ve probably seen drink three alcoholic drinks in the time I’ve known him needed a liver transplant,” he said of Herzog.

It’s the greatest feeling. You can’t imagine. Knowing that you’re able to help someone and give someone life and it doesn’t sacrifice anything for myself.

— Yossi Burstyn, organ donor

The company has been in production for a few weeks, and Lancisi said the biggest challenge for him has been realistically portraying a medical environment, which includes adding props such as a hospital bed and electronic charts.

“You don’t have to have all of the bells and whistles,” he said. “You have exactly what you need to tell the story as it’s going.”

While Lancisi attempts to illustrate a difficult medical journey through theater, Rabbi Ruth Smith, a chaplain at UMM, tries to offer spiritual comfort to patients and make sure they have resources in the community. Smith said she frequently comes into contact with patients who have received heart, lung and liver transplants. There is a complicated set of Jewish laws that dictate when organs from the dead can be donated, but for living donations, Smith said, all denominations are fully embracing of the process.

Rabbi Ruth Smith, chaplain at the University of Maryland Medical Center, leads a service in 2014 honoring anatomical organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi Ruth Smith, chaplain at the University of Maryland Medical Center, leads a service in 2014 honoring anatomical organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Smith, a Reconstructionist rabbi, explained that an organ donation is part of the concept of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, and is one of the most important mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition. Despite being a rabbi, she emphasized that her role is more of a conciliatory one as opposed to one of spiritual guidance.

“I’m not their authority,” she said. “My job for any religion is to support their lives in whatever way they need.”

As an observer to the process, Smith has become familiar with both the physical and mental anguish patients and their families often go through during a transplant. For five years, Harry Burstyn and his family experienced this firsthand when he began experiencing kidney failure in 2008. As the JT reported in 2013, he eventually went on dialysis before receiving a donation from his cousin, Yossi. Burstyn said up until Yossi responded, he had been proactive in getting the word out, and eight potential donors had gone to the hospital to go through testing.

“I had friends do it, I had strangers who I haven’t met to this day who posted on Facebook, and thank God, Yossi stepped up,” he said.

Burstyn said there was never any question as to whether he would be comfortable with a living donor giving him a kidney, even from a religious perspective.

“The stereotype is it’s forbidden to be an organ donor,” he said. “If you want to be a donor and you’re donating to a living person, not only is it a good deed, it’s an obligation because if you save one life, you save the world.”

Yossi said that after the operation it took a couple weeks for him to recover, but it was worth it, and he celebrated by skydiving.

“It’s the greatest feeling,” he said. “You can’t imagine. Knowing that you’re able to help someone and give someone life and it doesn’t sacrifice anything for myself.”

Since receiving the transplant, Burstyn has become active in the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, which works to educate and promote the concept of organ and tissue donations.

Burstyn said going through a transplant can be a leap of faith for many, but for him, it was a second chance at life.

I don’t wish a kidney transplant on anyone, but it does a lot more than transplant your kidney, it transplants your life,” he said.

Herzog too has become involved with Living Legacy as well as several other donor advocacy groups. He said his goal is to let others know what it means to be a donor.

“Every single time that the donor walks into the room, the doctors remind them that they could die,” he said.

Herzog is once again teaching full time at Towson and will watch opening night of “Under the Skin” on the one-year anniversary of his surgery. He said the play is important in serving as an educational tool about an eye-opening experience that made him more grateful.

“I’m not a different person,” he said. “I’m more appreciate of people in general. I’m much more hopeful.”

A Holy Calling One of retired psychologist’s many philanthropic efforts is repairing prayer books

Arnie Feiner repairs a prayer book in his basement workshop. He estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Arnie Feiner repairs a prayer book in his basement workshop. He estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Racks of specialty tape line the walls; a hot glue gun sits on a work bench; various tools are stored all over the room; and books are piled high on a table in Arnie Feiner’s workshop.

This space, in a room of the basement of Feiner’s Pikesville home, is no regular workshop but where Feiner performs a sort of holy work: repairing prayer books for Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Feiner, who moved to Baltimore from Florida with his wife, Lisa, in 2009, estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books for his congregation.

“I had never done this until I came here,” Feiner, 72, said. “I came in and saw there was a tremendous need, especially at Chizuk, which has thousands of books.”

Over the last six years, Feiner has taught himself how to treat a long list of ailments that plague older prayer books. He uses a specialty tape dispenser to tape up spines that are worn. To reattach spines to the pages of the books, Feiner carefully uses a hot glue gun, which he replaces about once a year because they break from heavy usage.

“I’ve got to be very careful,” he said. “This hot glue gun is something like 400 degrees. I’ve only been burned once.”

He has tape in colors that match the books and winged tape that can be used when the top or bottom of a spine or the corners of the front or back covers are frayed.

“All these tapes and gadgets and what-not are special ordered for these purposes,” he said.

Whether using the specialty tape dispenser, applying winged tape or a blot of hot glue, Feiner applies his tools with the most careful precision.

For other fixes, he has adopted some of his own methods. To prop a book up, he pushes two bookends together and puts the prayer book in between them. To tape ripped pages back together or back to the spine of the book, he uses clamps to hold pages together on both sides of the book as he tapes the page.

“It’s kind of like doing surgery,” Feiner said.

For pages that need replacing, he pulls from a collection of books that are too damaged to repair. He even keeps handy a folder of photocopies of commonly replaced pages — he uses the double-sided copier from his old family practice and trims the pages to fit in the prayer books. He brings discarded pages to Sol Levinson and Bros. so they can be buried.

“These are holy books. These are not just library books,” Feiner said. “I think it’s holy work; that’s the way I approach it.”

If he comes across books that were dedicated to and by people he knows, he puts those aside until he sees them at synagogue so he can show people their newly repaired book.

Chizuk Amuno reimburses him for his costs, but the labor is free.

Rabbi Moshe Shualy, Chizuk Amuno’s ritual director, said that Feiner not only has saved the synagogue thousands of dollars, but also has helped restore books that he thinks have more character.

“There’s something particularly, I think, beautiful about picking up a siddur that’s been prayed from, and he really is a masterful siddur repairman,” Shualy said. “The spirit just shines from a book that’s been used as opposed to something brand new.”

Feiner walks the entire shul every few weeks, checking the books. He repairs a couple each morning when he attends minyan, and he even has a special box on Shabbat for books that are in need of repair.

“It’s almost like a joke,” he said. “Every day, people come over to me in shul [and say], ‘I got another one for you.’”

But book repair is hardly the bulk of Feiner’s Jewish and philanthropic involvement. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native, who moved to Florida in 1969, was extremely involved in Jewish life in the Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale area where he lived.

“The only position I think I didn’t hold at synagogue was sisterhood president,” Feiner joked. He served on several rabbi and cantor search committees and as ritual director.

Outside of Jewish life, Feiner was very involved in the medical world as a psychologist. He headed up one of the first veterans’ centers after the Vietnam War, a difficult task at a time when veterans were not looked upon favorably.

He began to specialize in ADHD in the 1980s, and from seeing so many children in his practice, he affectionately became known as “The Fun Doctor.” (These days, some call him “The Book Doctor.”) He, his wife, a clinical social worker, and their daughter, Sherri Abraham, also a psychologist, ran a family medical practice, Feiner, Abraham and Associates in Hollywood, Fla.

Feiner served on medical ethics committees at hospitals and was on the board of various organizations in Broward County, Fla.

The Feiners came to Baltimore in 2009 to be closer to their daughters and four granddaughters. Two of their granddaughters attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and the other two attend the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Arnie and Lisa are very active with all four of them and even drive to Rockville once a week to pick their granddaughters up from school. Lisa helps them with secular homework, and Arnie helps them with Hebrew homework. He’s even teaching one of them her Haftarah portion for her bat mitzvah.

Arnie and Lisa maintain the library for their neighborhood and also help manage the library at North Oaks, the retirement community across the street from their home. The two also volunteer as patients in the Clinical Foundations of Medicine, a program in which Johns Hopkins medical students learn how to interview patients.

“I frequently say I have never been busier since we retired,” Feiner said.

The Feiners and another couple also run a Chavurah program.

For Feiner, all this sharing and giving of his time is rooted in his Judaism and its principle of tikkun olam.

“I take seriously the prayers I utter every day,” he said.

Jewish Community Split on End-of-Life Issue ‘Death with Dignity’ bill to be proposed again this legislative session



The issue of allowing terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to choose to end their lives will be debated once again in the Maryland General Assembly.

While a number of legislators, including the lead sponsor, and advocates who support the option are Jewish, the community is all but united on the issue leading into the start of the legislative session on Jan. 13.

This year’s bill will be called the End of Life Option Act, a name change reflecting that some felt Death with Dignity implied that other deaths were undignified. While there is no debate that choosing to end one’s life goes against halacha, those who support the legislation say it’s about compassion and respect for the ill, and they draw on their Jewish identities in their support.

“It’s not, to me, a matter of being Jewish or not being Jewish, it’s a matter of respecting people to make their own decision at end of life,” said Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-District 13), a Howard County politician and the bill’s lead sponsor. “Do I think that’s a Jewish value? Actually, I do.”

Pendergrass and advocates who support the bill were upset with the Baltimore Jewish Council’s testifying against the bill during last year’s session and at a workgroup meeting in the fall. The BJC plans to revisit the issue when a new bill is introduced. Executive director Art Abramson said he doubts the council would ever support the bill, but it’s possible the organization could step back and not lobby heavily against it.

This year’s End of Life Option Act, modeled partly after California’s law, will be similar to last year’s Death with Dignity Act. It would allow patients with a six-month prognosis to obtain a prescription for a lethal drug from a physician. The patient must be the one making the decision to take the drug and must be able to take the drug without assistance.

A workgroup convened this fall to make changes to the bill. Some of those proposals include changes to documenting witnesses, requiring that one of two witnesses not be a relative or beneficiary, and to some other reporting requirements. Other proposals include listing the cause of death as “pharmacologically accelerated imminent natural death,” and sponsors want to include a mandatory private consultation between the patient and his or her doctor to ensure there is no coercion.

Pendergrass said a large number of Jews testified in favor of the bill last session.

“The quote that stays with me and will continue to stay with me, hauntingly, is, ‘Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill,’” she recalled.

The quote that stays with me and will continue to stay with me, hauntingly, is, ‘Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill.’
— Del. Shane Pendergrass


Pendergrass said she was “personally discomforted” by the experience of the Baltimore Jewish Council testifying against her bill last session and stopped contributing to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore because of that experience.

“I think this was a place where if you believe in your religion that this is the wrong thing to do, then don’t do it,” she said. “But if you want government to not be run by religion, then let the government be run by secular rules, and use your religious energy for other things.”

For Ruth Goldstein, Baltimore-area coordinator for Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit that advocates for end-of-life choice, supporting this legislation is consistent with her Judaism.

“This is completely consistent with how Reform Jews practice and interpret Judaism, and there is no conflict. The Bible says you should stone people to death if you commit adultery, and we don’t do that today,” Goldstein said. “I think compassion is sort of the prime directive for my brand of Judaism, and this doesn’t conflict in any way.”

But for the Baltimore Jewish Council, it does conflict.

“We’re not going to support it. We can’t for halachic reasons,” Abramson said.

The BJC’s position was adopted in 1997. In the spring of 2015, the BJC called a group of rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, some of whom were executive committee members, who unanimously agreed to oppose the bill. Abramson said when the new bill is introduced, the executive committee will take a look at it and may ask the full board to make a decision on how the BJC should proceed.

“I haven’t had any rabbi call me and say to me, ‘Well, we should support this bill,’” Abramson said. “What I’ve had [is people asking], ‘Is there a way we can deal with the issue without going [into] full-hearted testimony?’ …I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes in that direction.”

Abramson said he is aware that people were upset with the council over last session’s testimony.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said his organization opposed the law last year and will again this year.

“It’s not going to be the primary item on our legislative agenda, but we would be willing to participate in broad coalitional efforts or testify,” he said, adding that the council has a longstanding policy that asserts its position on the upcoming legislation and that it is consistent with different denominations. He has not personally heard from Jews who support the legislation, but he doesn’t rule out that they exist.

“These issues are obviously highly emotionally charged and extraordinarily personal and complex, but we still feel [opposing the legislation is] where the Jewish community maintains a pretty strong consensus,” Halber said.

Norma Cohen, a Mount Washington resident who is active with Compassion and Choices, wants the BJC to put the issue to a full board vote. She authored a column in the Nov. 6 Jewish Times, “Baltimore Jewish Council Doesn’t Represent Me.”

“Times have changed, medicine has changed, and laws have changed,” she wrote. “It is time for the full board of the Baltimore Jewish Council, not just its executive committee, to revisit this very important issue and reach a consensus that reflects the entire spectrum of the Jewish community, not just a segment of it.”

Rabbi Rhoda Silverman of Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Owings Mills, agreed that Jewish perspectives can be updated for the times.

“Judaism values life. The laws that were created that talk about this, extending life and doing anything to pursue life, could not even imagine the medical technology that we have today, and I don’t believe those rabbis would have made those same decisions as they would have today,” she said. “When somebody is in an unbearable amount of pain and they know where this is going … I feel like the Jewish response should be to allow them to die with dignity. To me there’s no other response.”

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, disagreed.

“We are not in charge of when we live and die, that is something that is decided from upon high,” he said. “Wherever you’re going to look in the text that shapes our observance, there’s no place for something like that.”

Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who co-sponsored the bill last year, said this was an issue that was brought up at her first community meeting at someone’s home when she was campaigning.

“It was really very, very important to the people there,” she said. “They impressed upon me — and many of them were older adults — how important this issue was to them, and that stayed with me.”

She said numerous constituents have expressed their support to her as well on the issue.

“I think it gives people a lot of peace of mind to know that they have an option if they are terminally ill,” she said. “I firmly believe people should have the ability to make those choices for themselves at the end of life.”

She was present for a film screening of “How to Die in Oregon” presented by Compassion and Choices, which she recommends people watch to see how it actually works. The documentary, which explores how the state’s Death with Dignity Act has played out, will be screened for free at 1 p.m. this Sunday at Har Sinai Congregation.

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) will be present for the Har Sinai screening. A practicing ER physician, Morhaim has researched and written extensively on the issue of elderly care and authored a book, “The Better End,” on the subject.

He said people should take advantage of advanced illness and end-of-life care options that are available such as advance directives, hospice and palliative care, the support of family and health professionals and medical cannabis when it becomes available in Maryland.

“If we did so, a significant number of end-of-life care issues would be better managed,” he said. “However, there will always be outlier cases and circumstances that are not addressed by the above. But by using these tools (advance directives, hospice, etc.), these cases will be minimized.”

He said he looks forward to reviewing this year’s legislation and hearing from constituents.

For those pushing for the bill, the feeling is positive this year. With the workgroup amending the bill, 25 bills being introduced in 25 states in 2015 and the support of House Speaker Michael Busch, 2016 may be their year.

“I think the climate is a little bit different this year,” Goldstein said, “and we’ve had time to do some outreach and education and let people know what this really is as opposed to what it’s not.”

Keeping It Kosher Kashrut practice, misconceptions go hand-in-hand

New York-based kosher supermarket chain Seasons is preparing to open a new store in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

New York-based kosher supermarket chain Seasons is preparing to open a new store in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

One can be forgiven if he or she isn’t aware of every intricacy that goes into kashrut, the laws of keeping kosher. Companies such as Star-K expect it and have even set up a hotline for those with questions. But the misconceptions surrounding what it means to keep kosher are another discussion entirely.

“The biggest misconception is that kosher has something to do with the rabbi blessing the food,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Department.

“Some people still believe that a rabbi blesses the food,” echoed Star-K president Dr. Avrom Pollak. “I tell people that rabbis can bless the food all day long, but that doesn’t make any difference.”

With the New York-based kosher supermarket Seasons preparing to open a 15,000-square-foot location in Pikesville, the store’s general manager, Zachary Richards, explained that while the behind-the-scenes work to maintain a store of this size can be intricate, keeping kosher ultimately isn’t as difficult as some people perceive.

“I think the main thing people need to understand is the laws of keeping kosher aren’t that difficult to follow,” said Richards. “[Keeping kosher] is very difficult if you put yourself in certain situations.”

First, some basics: Food prohibitions don’t stop at such non-kosher animal sources as swine and shellfish. Meat, even if slaughtered properly, must be soaked, salted or roasted to remove residual blood. And even then, it can never be combined with dairy products.

According to Richards, if someone isn’t accustomed to these proscriptions and enjoys certain kinds of food, keeping kosher might initially not be so easy. Still, most of the difficulty is found in the steps before food makes it home, with a lot of it being shouldered by the distributor.

Beyond simply keeping milk and meat separate, much of the nuance involved with kashrut is done on the supermarket’s side, said Richards. His building in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane, will have three different kitchens for food preparation: fleishig for meat; milchig for dairy; and pareve kitchen for everything else.

Each kitchen has its own utensils, which are marked accordingly. And making a mistake is fairly simple to avoid.

“If you see a blue utensil in the green kitchen, you know you’ve made a mistake,” said Richards.

Richards added that Seasons staff go through what the company calls “sensitivity training” to ensure employees understand the basics of kashrut and Jewish culture.

The Pikesville store will be under the Star-K’s supervision and have a mashgiach, a kosher supervisor, in each of its departments.

“The real job of a mashgiach is to be the eyes and ears of the certifying rabbi or organization,” said Pollak. “Some stores may require several mashgichim. These mashgichim can do other jobs [such as service customers], but they must always be free to take care of kosher requirements as they come up.”

A mistake by a mashgiach can result in not only a religious issue, but a financial one. Pollak recalls an incident that required a business to shut down temporarily while it resolved an issue concerning an order of French fries prepared in non-kosher animal shortening that wasn’t checked on delivery.

Being sent non-kosher products can be a constant battle. Elefant explains a supermarket must strike a balance when it comes to what products it stocks on its shelves. If a supermarket stocks products certified by only one organization, such as the Star-K or OU, it may not have much variety in its selection.

However, if it stocks foods from organizations it isn’t familiar with, it risks receiving foods that are treife.

“Let’s say you have a product … and you go through the effort of investigating the kashrut of that product and determine it is fine. You tell the manager you can stock that product,” said Elefant. “But that doesn’t mean everything under that supervision is acceptable.

“You only checked that one product and people may extrapolate that if this [item] is fine, then everything is fine,” he adds. “That may not be the case.”

Since much of this is done by the supermarket, it makes keeping kosher that much easier on consumers. However, many consumers ask Elefant the same question about the future of kosher products. He gives all of them the same answer.

“The first question I get at public functions: What’s the next product that’s going to [become] kosher?” Barring food like shellfish or bacon, he asks them, “What do you want that isn’t already kosher?”

Death of Murderer Brings Closure Killer of Esther Lebowitz dead at age 70

Detectives examine the site where the body of Esther Lebowitz was found. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1996.26.235/Jerry Esterson)

Detectives examine the site where the body of Esther Lebowitz was found. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1996.26.235/Jerry Esterson)

The Baltimore Jewish community and beyond is breathing a collective sigh of relief as the man who was convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1969 — and who was awaiting a new trial — has died.

Wayne Stephen Young, who was serving a life sentence in the murder of Esther Lebowitz, died on Dec. 21 of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to Gerry Shields, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Young, who was 70, was being held at the Jessup Correctional Institution.

For those who were around when Lebowitz, who was a student at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, was murdered in 1969, Young’s death means that a man who shook the community to its core will never see life outside of prison.

Young was set to have his conviction vacated and face a new trial based on the “Unger ruling,” which concluded that incorrect jury instructions  administered in Maryland courtrooms may have led to unfair trials. A Maryland Special Court of Appeals opinion in another case made way for new trials in several cases. Young’s new trial had not been scheduled, his attorney, Erica Suter, said.

“Despite the ruling of the courts that he was entitled to a new trial, the life sentence was in fact realized, and justice has been done,” said Abba  Poliakoff, who is a cousin of Esther’s and was a teenager when she died.

Frank Storch was 12 when Lebowitz was murdered. His father was president of Bais Yaakov at the time.

“Just a few days ago, I was in the midst of coordinating the transportation  for the large group of community members who planned to attend the trial,” Storch said via email. “Now, the community is relieved that this long and painful episode in Baltimore’s  history is over. I am happy that  Esther’s family can now move forward.”

Storch most recently organized transportation to the courts in March 2014, when about 250 members of the Jewish community packed the courthouse for a hearing in which Young asked for a new trial based on the Unger ruling, which he was  denied at the time.

Despite the ruling of the courts that  he was entitled to a new trial, the life sentence was in fact realized and justice has been done.
— Abba Poliakoff

Storch and others said Young’s  potential new trial underscored the need for reform in the courts.

“When our government is willing to waste taxpayer money to reconsider what was such a clear-cut case that included an admission of guilt, clear evidence and a life sentence, it is very concerning,” he said.

Young confessed the killing to an officer.

Eli Schlossberg, who was 18 at the time of Lebowitz’s death, shared Storch’s sentiment.

“On a technicality, to have this thing reopened would have been  another — in my opinion — tragedy for the family and the community,” he said.

Lebowitz was last seen in Pikesville after being dropped off at a local drugstore after school. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home. Her autopsy showed that she was beaten with a blunt instrument at least 17 times and sexually molested.

Schlossberg, who was part of the search effort after Lebowitz went missing, knew both Lebowitz and Young. He was a customer of the fish store Young ran with his mother on the  corner of Park Heights and Rogers  avenues, and Lebowitz’s parents davened at Shearith Israel Congregation, where Schlossberg went.

He described Lebowitz as vivacious.

“She loved going into that store to watch the fish,” Schlossberg said.

He said Young was “sane enough to run the store” and knew people who lived on the same street as Young.

“We were all completely shocked,” he said. “It really rocked our community.”

Poliakoff also described Lebowitz as vivacious, and pretty and cute. He said it was a very traumatic time for his family, which is very close.

“It was a time when the family, as close as it was, pulled together even more,” he said.

On the prospect that Young could have faced another trial, Schlossberg said the community would have been active in opposing it, “but God took it into his own hands.”

“Hashem has ways of dealing with situations, and I think, in this case, I just hope that everyone is at peace,” he said. “Let’s hope this brings  closure to everyone.”

Poliakoff said he has heard from Lebowitz’s parents, who now live in Israel, since Young’s death. “They feel that justice has been done.”

Seven Mile Market ATM Robbed Wednesday Morning

(By Daniel Schere)

(By Daniel Schere)

An unknown amount of money was stolen in a robbery at Seven Mile Market at approximately 6:55 a.m. Wednesday morning. According to reports from the Baltimore County Police Department, an employee who was filling the ATM was approached by a suspect who displayed what he believed to be a handgun. The suspect then fled the scene with the money.

Baltimore County Police received a call about the robbery at the kosher market at 7:18 a.m., according to Cpl. John Wachter, a spokesman for county police. At noon, there was a sign on the ATM that said it was out of service. Seven Mile Market’s manager declined to comment on the incident.


Getting Their Mitzvah On

The Keep Punching team is in full force at the Park Heights JCC. (David Stuck)

The Keep Punching team is in full force at the Park Heights JCC. (David Stuck)

Jewish Baltimore woke up bright and early on Dec. 25, but the atmosphere was more about giving than receiving at the 10th annual Mitzvah Day.

Organizers estimated 1,000 volunteers from the community came to the Park Heights and Owings Mills Jewish community centers to write letters, decorate picture frames and do arts and crafts, all with the intention of sending goods to American soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces and the greater  Baltimore community.

The event was sponsored by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Casey Cares Foundation, ShopRite, the Jewish Volunteer Connection and a host of local organizations who led children and adults of all ages in the projects.

Ashley Pressman, executive director of the JVC, said the Jewish community has sent out an estimated 13,000 winter care packages in the Baltimore area and assisted more than 20,000 people in the past 10 years.

Cheder Chabad Cyberthon Smashes Fundraising Goal

Children from Cheder Chabad’s preschool pose for a photo by the playground. (David Stuck)

Children from Cheder Chabad’s preschool pose for a photo by the playground. (David Stuck)

Cheder Chabad of Baltimore raised $165,200 to put toward its school’s  scholarship fund through a 24-hour fundraising platform,

The website requires campaigns to seek sponsors who will match their funds dollar-for-dollar with the contingency the goal is met in a single day. Cheder Chabad was sponsored by Tov’s Pizza, Dougie’s, Eden’s Café and DJ’sNE  Diamonds (Noam Efron); each sponsor pledged $18,000.

A mother of three girls who attend Cheder Chabad, Rikal Kaler spearheaded the campaign by contacting other moms from the school to help spread the word, organizing meetings leading up to the campaign day, naming the campaign 72k1Day Cyberthon and choosing the standout color of bright orange.

On the day of the campaign, the mothers, with their children by their sides, raised an estimated $25,000 within the first hour of making calls. Early in the afternoon, the goal of $72,000 was hit. By the end of the campaign, the group had doubled its initial goal.

Cheder Chabad, which started nine years ago, has more than 180 students ranging from infants to middle school.

A Cultural Spotlight CJC to host 24th annual film series

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is the first film in a series of four being shown at the Columbia Jewish Congregation. (Provided)

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is the first film in a series of four being shown at the Columbia Jewish Congregation. (Provided)

When Sylvia Bloch began the  annual Columbia Jewish Congregation film series more than two decades ago, the problem was finding high-quality films with Jewish themes. Today, she said, the problem is picking among a long list of worthy candidates.

“The film series has two missions: entertainment and bringing the Jewish community together,” said CJC Rabbi Sonya Starr. “But also equal to that is the mandate to learn through different mediums, and theater is one ways we understand [other cultures].”

The congregation will screen the first of four movies on Jan. 16, and while some have heavier topics than others, they are all centered on Jewish themes. The first film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” presents the trials and tribulations of an  Israeli women who is trapped in a loveless marriage and seeking a  divorce.

The subject of divorce is particularly popular, as the case of Tamar  Epstein has played out in the news over the past several months.  Epstein, who used a high-profile campaign to force her husband into granting her a divorce, remarried this past September in Memphis, Tenn., after a Philadelphia rabbi used a rare procedure to annul her marriage.

This started a wave of backlash from the Orthodox community,  including from Rabbi Aharon Feldman, head of Baltimore’s Ner Israel  Rabbinical College who wrote in an open letter that “the woman is considered married for all purposes and is forbidden for any other man until a religious court rules otherwise,” the Forward reported.

“Israeli culture can seem foreign, so to watch this movie and see a very serious problem that needs to be addressed in the Jewish community is vital for us to change the  situation for agunah,” said Starr. Agunah is a term used to refer to a “chained woman” or a woman is  unable to divorce her husband.

Tom Laufer, a member at CJC and the chair of the committee that selected the films, said he is sure  Epstein’s name will come up in the discussion following the film. However, he emphasized the committee was looking to strike a balance when they chose what films to show.


 The film series has two missions:  entertainment and bringing the Jewish community together. But also equal  to that is the mandate to learn through different mediums and theater is one ways we understand [other cultures].”
— Rabbi Sonya Starr, Columbia Jewish Congregation

The congregation is showing “The Yankles,” on Feb. 20, which features the rabbinical dean of an Orthodox yeshiva starting a collegiate baseball team. The film has been the winner of several awards such as the Golden Ace Award in the 2010 Las Vegas Film Festival; best comedy at the 2010 International Family Film Festival and best feature in the 2010 Palm Beach  International Film Festival.

“I’ve been pushing for ‘The Yankles’ because it sounded very witty,” said Delana Stanfield, a member of CJC who was a part of the committee. “I was intrigued by the topic. I’m  really taken by the theme of an  ex-convict who takes redemption by coaching a Jewish baseball team. It’s been called an uplifting crowd-pleaser.”

Stanfield, who is a lover of  foreign films, said one film she recommends, which was not selected for this year, is the “The Green Prince,” a documentary about how the son of a founding leader of Hamas becomes a spy for Israel.

“Every film has a particular  emphasis, and [we try] to show a different genre with each film,” said Bloch.

“The Flat,” which is being shown several weeks ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, answers the question: How does one deal with the Nazi past? It features a documentarian cleaning out the Tel Aviv apartment of his deceased grandmother. What he finds leads him to evidence that his German Jewish grandparents had a standing relationship with a  senior Nazi SS officer.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all of [the films] as far as the subjects go,” said Laufer. “[But] I think the last one, ‘Dancing in Jaffa,’ is very uplifting film.’”

The film features an Arab teacher from Jaffa who comes back to open a dance school for Jewish and Arab children.

Said Bloch, “[‘Dancing in Jaffa’ shows that] maybe there can be a breakthrough between Palestinians and Israelis coming together.”


Columbia Jewish Congregation’s
24th Annual Jewish Film Series
5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia
Jan. 16: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”
Feb. 20: “The Yankles”
March 19: “The Flat”
April 16: “Dancing in Jaffa”
Tickets are $32 for four films, $27 for three films,
$19 for two films and $10 per single film. Sold at the door.

For more information, contact Robin Rosenfeld at or 410-730-6044.