Up Close and Personal Photographer focuses on the soldier experience in Afghanistan

Robert L. Cunningham (center) poses for a photo with soldiers from a CH-47 crew attached to Task Force Tigershark in Salerno, Afghanistan.

Robert L. Cunningham (center) poses for a photo with soldiers from a CH-47 crew attached to Task Force Tigershark in Salerno, Afghanistan.

Robert Cunningham has made four trips to Afghanistan, been involved in more than 140 combat missions and met countless soldiers, but he is not a serviceman; he is a photographer.

Cunningham, who visited the Baltimore Camera Club last month, joined forces with Steve Hartov, an ex-Israeli paratrooper, novelist and military journalist, to create “Afghanistan: On The Bounce.”

The book takes the best photos from Cunningham’s time as an embedded photographer in the military to give the public an in-depth look at what soldiers in Afghanistan experience on a day-to-day basis.

“I attempted to join the military right after high school, but due to fibromyalgia (a musculoskeletal disorder), I was permanently disqualified,” said Cunningham. “I was frustrated that [the United States was] in a war and I was stuck at home.”

Cunningham, 31, was given the idea of embedding as a civilian photographer after expressing his frustrations to friends who had served in Afghanistan. But before ever setting foot there, Cunningham realized that many civilians, himself included, didn’t have a real understanding of what it is like to be a soldier serving in the Middle East. This lack of understanding became the impetus for creating a book.

Hartov, who has served in both the American and Israeli military, said the book “has become a calling card of veterans who buy it and hand it to their families. They tell them, ‘This will tell you what I went through more than I can say myself.’”

“[The book is] to show to families and friends what [a veteran’s] day-to-day life really is like, so there could be a better understanding,” said Cunningham, who believes many suicides by veterans are due, in part, to “the lack of communication
between service members and civilians.”

“People think of combat photographers as taking pictures of explosions, shooting and shells flying,” said Hartov, who also has been an embedded photographer. “What I think about mostly are not the moments of terror, but the moments in between. I’m looking for fatigue, stress and those quiet times where soldiers seek to take themselves out of the combat zone.”

Although Cunningham and Hartov made it a point not to have combat become the book’s central theme, Cunningham said he received comments from some veterans that the small amount that was included was still too much.

Then there’s the trust factor.

“It’s interesting because I have been on both sides of the camera. When a photographer shows up, the first reaction is distrust,” said Hartov. “The culture has completely changed since the days of World War II, when combat photographers were respected by soldiers and they were there to convey the message.”

As a photographer, Hartov, who is a major in the New York Guard — a state volunteer force, said his career in the military plays a huge role in building a rapport with the soldiers he is accompanying. But for those who don’t have that advantage, it is a huge challenge to build that trust.

Cunningham admitted that at the start of his time in Afghanistan, there were moments where his own lack of understanding showed.

“When I first arrived in Afghanistan, I had breakfast with my unit’s public affairs officer. He said, ‘We’re going to have a ramp service, and we want your camera there,’” said Cunningham. “When I heard ramp service, I thought soldiers would be receiving medals or awards.”

The officer explained that a ramp service is when the military send one of their fallen home.

“I was standing in the middle of a funeral with a camera, and you can hear the camera. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling and one of the most horrible things I’ve had to photograph. The last thing I did in 2011 before leaving was a dual-hero ramp service.”

One of Cunningham’s goals with the book was to not allow politics to influence it.

“Anybody, whether you’re for or against the situation, can read the book and come out with a better understanding of what’s [happening in Afghanistan] without feeling pressured to believe one way or another,” he said.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

New Center for Teen Engagement Receives $1.5 Million Matching Grant

Brief_Assoc_Logo_tag_4cThe Jim Joseph Foundation awarded a five-year matching grant for up to $1,525,000 to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, to put toward its Jewish teen education initiative in Baltimore.

The Associated’s focused initiative includes a Center for Teen  Engagement, which will run a Teen Innovation Internship, a Jewish Teen Professionals Fellowship and a Lay Teen Advocates program, among other programs. It will be headquartered at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus.

“The Center for Teen Engagement will be a catalyst to inspire  innovative new teen initiatives in our community while providing a space for existing teen programs to collaborate and share  resources,” said Barak Hermann, JCC president.

Lay and professional leaders, community partners and teens  representing the JCC, the Macks Center for Jewish Education,  Jewish Community Services and Jewish Volunteer Connection and also area day schools, camps and youth groups all worked together on a task force to conceptualize the initiative.

“Our vision is to engage Baltimore Jewish teens in enriching and meaningful Jewish experiences that will spark their desire to learn and sustain an ongoing connection to Jewish life, Israel and Jewish community,” said Ned Himmelrich, who chairs the Teen Connection Task Force with Morry Zolet.

Goals of the programs include providing teens with training to engage their peers to develop responses to social issues; deepening the skills of teen professionals to inspire them to creatively integrate Jewish life into their work; and training teens to work with board members so they will more effectively advocate for the programming needs for Jewish teen education and engagement.

“The talented team at The Associated designed a strategic initiative that engages a range of community groups and members,” said Charles “Chip” Edelsberg, founding executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “We look forward to the development of the Center for Teen Engagement and the new opportunities for meaningful Jewish learning and for the community building it will catalyze.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Crossing the Line’ When being anti-Israel is being anti-Semitic

There were video clips of loud, aggressive protestors, people staging “die-ins,” police arresting students in the middle of student-government meetings and academics from schools such as New York University and Brooklyn College giving lectures all with the goal of criticizing the State of Israel.

However, many of these students and academics were going beyond the reach of criticizing the Jewish state. They were “crossing the line” into anti-Semitism.

From left: Amalia Phillips, Shoshana Palatnik, Sophie Tulkoff and Reut Friedman at the screening of the film ‘Crossing the Line 2’ held at the Macks Center for Jewish Education. (Photo by Justin Katz)

From left: Amalia Phillips, Shoshana Palatnik, Sophie Tulkoff and Reut Friedman at the screening of the film ‘Crossing the Line 2’ held at the Macks Center for Jewish Education. (Photo by Justin Katz)

As a part of its Israel High program, the Macks Center for Jewish Education, funded by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education, hosted a screening of “Crossing the Line 2” at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills on Nov. 8.

The presentation began with Amalia Philips, director of Israel and overseas education at CJE, posing the question: What do Jews have in common with each other more than any other cultural group. The answer: college attendance. Reut Friedman, Israel education associate at CJE, explained the Israel High program goes to both secular and religious schools to share the facts about Israel and help to clarify some of the complexities about the situation in the Middle East.

“We educate; we do not advocate,” Friedman emphasized.

The screening featured a discussion with the documentary’s director, Shoshana Palatnik.

“Jerusalem U released ‘Crossing the Line’ in 2009 on the topic of anti-Israel activities on university campuses. Recently, we’ve seen a rise in anti-Israel activity in a different forms,” said Palatnik, film director and researcher at JU. “It’s more subtle, it’s more within the system: academic boycotts and the rise of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. We felt we needed to update the movie to show people what is happening right now.”

I love Israel, but I don’t agree with everything it does. You can criticize Israel; you just need to know what guidelines to use so you don’t cross the line into anti-Semitism.

Palatnik explained the definition of anti-Semitism as it refers to criticism of Israel, which was given by Israeli politician Natan Sharansky. The definition defines anti-Semitism as the demonization of Israel, such as calling it a genocidal or a Nazi state; as delegitimization or denying Israel’s right to exist; and as applying double standards that hold Israel to different bar compared with other countries.

The rise in anti-Israel activity is not far from home either. On Nov. 5, Israeli television personality Assi Azar’s presentation at Goucher College, promoting his film, “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You,” was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protestors.

Speaking alongside Palatnik was Sophie Tulkoff, vice president of the Jewish Students Association at Johns Hopkins University. Tulkoff shared her experiences studying at a school where sentiments about Israel changed dramatically.

“The sentiment when I first got to school was very tame. All of [the Israel programming] was, ‘Let’s make falafels and talk about Israel,’” Tulkoff said to the 20 to 30 guests at the screening. “After my freshmen summer, the war in Gaza broke out, and everything changed. All of sudden, everyone had an opinion — and a really strong one.”

The documentary showed clips of students at JHU staging a “die-in,” where students were lying on the ground, wearing all black, and claimed to represent the civilians who died in Gaza. Tulkoff was walking through campus the day it happened, and having served in the Israel Defense Forces, she had friends serving in Gaza at the time.

“It was kind of shocking,” said Tulkoff. “I noticed my [teaching assistant], who grades all of my papers, teaches my class and knows me personally — they were holding a sign saying, ‘Israel apartheid.’”

The documentary also had footage from incidents at Ohio University, where members of the student senate tried to shout down students who spoke out in the defense of Israel after the senate’s president created a controversial video condemning the Jewish state.

The footage shows the pro-Israel students being led out in handcuffs after refusing to stop speaking on the senate’s floor. The incident created so much backlash at the university and in local media that some students resigned from their senate positions.

“It becomes our turn to listen to our constituency, and what do we do?” said Carter Phillips, in footage shown in the documentary. “We disrupt them when they’re speaking, we chant when they sit down, and we have them arrested for speaking out.

“All legitimacy we had as the student government of this university went out the door in handcuffs,” Phillips continued. “I’m therefore standing before you to tender my resignation as treasurer, effective immediately.”

Palatnik hopes this documentary will empower students not only to defend Israel, but also to criticize it intelligently.

“I love Israel, but I don’t agree with everything it does. You can criticize Israel; you just need to know what guidelines to use so you don’t cross the line into anti-Semitism,” said Palatnik. “My main call to action is educate yourself, empower yourself and step up for Israel.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

An Enduring Legacy Levindale celebrates 125 years of support for Baltimore’s Jewish community

Present-day Levindale Panorama. (Provided)

Present-day Levindale Panorama. (Provided)

Doris Kahn, a spitfire redhead and 102-year-old (“Don’t tell my boyfriend!”) resident at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Northwest Baltimore for three years — and a volunteer there for more than 40 — spoke with delight about  her daily activities, especially playing the piano for fellow residents.

“Hum it and I can play it,” Kahn said, while  chatting in a lounge area last week, her eyes sparkling wide as her hands made gestures as if on a keyboard. “You name it and I can play it on the spot.” She uses her spinet piano, which she brought to Levindale from her home after she became a resident.

“After her stroke, the first thing she asked me,” said her daughter, Barbara Friedman, “was not about whether they would tend to “her clothes, her makeup or her hair, but, ‘Do they have a piano?’”

Kahn lives in the “households” of Levindale, the most recent residential concept in its 125-year history as an institution that responds to the evolving needs of Baltimore’s Jewish community.

Intended to create a homey atmosphere for  residents, the household design was completed about three years ago. Instead of a traditional nursing home set-up with nurses’ stations, shared rooms, an institutional feel and a set schedule for meals and other daily routines, the new concept — which reflects national trends — provides residents with private rooms decorated with their personal  belongings, big windows at every turn, large airy common spaces and even communal kosher kitchens and dining areas, where residents may order whatever they please and take meals when they wish.

An Enduring Legacy

Friedman said of her mother’s stay at Levindale, “It’s nice to know she’s close by, we come every day, and they have wonderful activities.”

“I don’t say, ‘What do they have [to do]?’ I say, ‘Where am I going?’” said Kahn, continuing her daughter’s thought. “It doesn’t matter what they have, I’m ready!”

“It’s quite a lovely facility,” added Friedman, “and I would say my mother has made an adjustment to a very different way of life.”

Providing care and support for those adjusting to different ways of life has been a hallmark of Levindale’s mission since its inception.

In the late 19th century, waves of refugee immigrants fleeing persecution — not unlike those pouring out of terrorist-stricken Middle East countries today — arrived at Baltimore’s port in Locust Point in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Many were Eastern European Jews, and the two local synagogues were quick to  welcome them and organize assistance, but they eventually were overcome by the demands and numbers of the new immigrants.

When people think of Levindale, they think of a nursing home. They don’t realize we’re so much more than that.  — Jennifer Labute, vice president of nursing home operations

In 1890, members of Baltimore’s Jewish community responded to the expanding needs of  Jewish refugees and established the Hebrew Friendly Inn, the earliest iteration of what would become Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital decades later.

Set up as a temporary stop for Jewish immigrants as they found footing in a new country, it was first located in a leased house on Harrison Street near Fayette Street, but immigrant demands grew and so did the need for living quarters. A new location, at 1153 E. Lombard St., was secured by early 1892.

In 1899, Adolph Kres, a German immigrant wine-and-spirits merchant, began his nearly three-decade direction of the organization, and one of his first orders of business was to acquire yet  another new home for the growing support system for Baltimore’s Jewish community.

The location at 111-113 Aisquith St. was purchased in 1904, thanks to funds and donor recruitment spearheaded by Jacob Epstein, a Lithuanian immigrant and the proprietor of Baltimore Bargain House, which eventually became the fourth-largest retail business in the country.

Always with a finger on the pulse of community needs, as Baltimore’s Jewish population aged, directors and board members recognized the special needs required for elderly residents, and soon space was designated for their care. To make its mission more evident, in 1905 the institution was renamed Hebrew Friendly Inn and Aged Home. Adjoining buildings on Aisquith Street were later purchased to house medical facilities and to hospitalize the chronically ill, creating a continuum of care in one place.

As more funds were needed — and solicited — for the many organizations sprouting up to support Baltimore’s burgeoning Jewish community, a  consolidation effort took place, and in 1921, the Associated Jewish Charities, now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, was formed to fundraise and allocate monies, first led by Louis H. Levin, also known for his advocacy for needy children.

Two years later in 1923, the Jewish Children’s Services opened Levindale, a large orphanage on 22 acres at Belvedere and Greenspring avenues in Northwest Baltimore, named in Levin’s memory, but by 1926, home placement was considered better care for orphans, and the Hebrew Friendly Inn and Home for the Aged took over the Levindale campus. This resulted in “an exodus,” as described in a July 1927 Baltimore Sun article of Hebrew Friendly Inn residents moving from Aisquith Street to Levindale, “the men carrying their tallit and tfillin bags and the women their candlesticks …”

For decades, resident housing grew, and medical  facilities were updated on the campus. In 1969, Sinai Hospital moved from Monument Street to its current location on Belevedere Avenue and was considered “the crowning achievement in the plan for a Jewish medical center,” according to a Jewish Museum of Maryland timeline created for Levindale.

In 1970, in its continued effort to evolve with community needs, but also to distinguish itself from the dated concept of a “nursing home,” the name Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Inc. was adopted. (In 1996, Levindale joined Sinai Hospital of Baltimore to form Sinai Health System; two years later, it merged with Northwest Hospital to form the current system, LifeBridge Health.)

“I love everyone who’s here, the way we work  together,” said Jennifer Labute, vice president of nursing home operations, a position she’s held for 16 years. “Everyone has the passion and desire to make residents happy,” which is formative to Levindale’s “resident-centered” mission, where staff interaction with residents, their friends and families is an integral part of the care.

“I’ve gotten attached to a lot of residents,” Paulette Carter said, who has worked at Levindale almost 40 years. “I sit in with them and listen to their stories, what they liked to cook for the holidays — we learn from each other. I have gained a lot of wisdom from them.”

Carter sings and dances to entertain residents too, “and residents who can, get up and dance for themselves,” she said with a laugh. “It makes me feel good to be part of that.”

“Levindale allows us time to get close and have [friendships] with residents,” added Phyllis Jones, a 15-year employee who was first a medical records technician and is now an executive assistant. She added, “When we lose a resident, we all feel that. It’s like losing a family member.”

Added Labute, “When people think of Levindale, they think of a nursing home, and they don’t realize we’re so much more than that. What it provides are many different levels of care, keeping people in their community.”

A long way in size perhaps from what the founders imagined, but still true to its mission, Levindale now provides services and care for 210 live-in residents with state-of-the-art facilities that include the household wings — some dementia-certified that include the added care that residents need; a respiratory care unit and a short-term  sub-acute medical care unit for those “not sick enough for a hospital, but not well enough to be home,” Labute said. They are treated with therapy and medications “with the goal of getting them back into their community.”

There is also a 120-bed specialty-care unit  for those with more complex or chronic health  issues. Two adult day centers, which Levindale  was first in the nation to offer, are also part of the system, one near the main campus and the other in Randallstown.

“Loneliness, helplessness and boredom,” are the three ‘plagues’ that affect the elderly, Labute said, as identified by Dr. Bill Thomas, who divined the Eden Alternative, an  approach designed to fend off those afflictions in order to improve the quality of life for seniors. Levindale adopted it in 2000, the first in the U.S. to do so.

Providing a destination plays a large part in the psychology of the Eden Alternative, and Levindale residents can attend the synagogue, happy hours, organized activities, regular events and outings. They can also visit a hair salon, a green house or a playground (for family visits), and there are Wii stations and iPods for use as well as music, physical and horticultural therapists on staff.  There are even special events such as carnivals, pet parades and classic car shows.

Interaction with animals plays a part in the Eden Alternative too, and dogs, cats, birds and fish can be found on the grounds at any given time. Some have become quite famous such as Lincoln, Carter’s beloved late poodle. Many residents eagerly awaited Lincoln’s visits and would shower him with special treats. They even staged a wedding for Lincoln and Rosie, a resident’s dog, complete with a tux and pink gown for “the couple.”

“We try to do lots of innovative things instead of just throwing medicine at people,” Labute said. “Traditionally a nursing home is so task oriented — wake up at this time, eat at this time. We work our day around [residents] instead of having them work around us.”

Handmade signs that read “Happy 99th Birthday Mr. Miller” peppered the walls around Solomon Miller’s residence last month. Before his 3 p.m. party, Miller was playing Scrabble with his daughter, Diane Miller, in a resident common area, one of his favorite activities when he’s not busy reading, playing bingo or finishing off the Baltimore Sun crossword puzzle. Miller, who grew up in West Baltimore and owned M&E Liquors at Monroe and Lombard Streets, has been a resident at Levindale for six years.

“They take good care of him here,” Diane Miller said. “It’s very cheerful if you have to be in a nursing home. He goes to [all the activities], and they come and get him. That’s another really good thing, they come and get people” if a resident can’t get to an activity on his or her own.

Not far from the Scrabble table, Ray Backus, 73, made his way to his room, which was decorated with personal photos and artwork. A voracious reader, there was a tower of books resting on a chair near his bed.

Backus has moved through the Levindale system, first at Sinai hospital and then one year in sub-acute care and two years in the households.

“I enjoy having my own room, I’m very satisfied here,” he said, and ran down his list of activities  including a book club, a bridge club and a current events group. Originally from Ohio, Backus came to Baltimore to teach philosophy at Towson University. He was raised Christian, like many of Levindale’s residents, but Backus resonates more with the  synagogue services on Saturdays, he said, and is even attending a Hebrew class led by a resident, who receives advisement on the curriculum from Levindale’s chaplain.

Working with the elderly is “a love and passion of mine,” Rabbi Jeffrey Orkin said, “I’ve been doing this since I left seminary.”

Orkin has served as Levindale’s chaplain since 2001 and leads services, Jewish programming and Passover seders and added that High Holiday services bring in an overflow crowd. He provides pastoral care for residents and their families as well. Orkin is grateful for Levindale’s Orthodox charter, he said, and added, “[Working at] Levindale has  revealed this to me — I take great pride in being a chaplain of all people, Jewish and secular.”

David Uhlfelder, chairman of Levindale’s board of directors, is also passionate about the organization’s Jewish mission.

“We’re [one of] the only kosher facilities for  eldercare,” said Uhlfelder, whose 103-year-old mother-in-law is a resident. “We have a large Jewish community [here], and in recent years, our  Orthodox community has grown substantially.”

“Since this is a Jewish nursing home, we very  heavily bring the ‘Jewish’ home to the residents,” Eve Vogelstein, Women’s Auxiliary past president, said, “by decorating the sukkah, delivering Chanukah gifts to all and bringing children in for Rosh Hashanah to make holiday cards for residents.”

The Women’s Auxiliary, active since 1899, also fundraises for resident field trips and in-house  entertainment, and it donated a sensory garden patio for residents and their  families to enjoy.

We “brighten and enhance the lives of the elderly,” president Esther Jacobson said.

Kahn is a perfect example of that. She likes to keep busy, and Levindale provides many options  — in fact she recently returned from  an outing to David Chiu’s Kosher Chinese restaurant.

“I don’t like to be down, you’ve got to be peppy — that’s why I had two husbands!” Kahn said, with a big laugh.

Idriz Limaj, about three months into his position as chief operating officer of Levindale and the Post-Acute Division at LifeBridge Health, has reached out to community leaders to ask what more can Levindale provide for them, and he was pleasantly surprised at a recent encounter.

“[I was told] you can’t do anything else, it is the only true Jewish nursing home that truly meets all the needs of the patients who want an environment of that kind,” said Limaj of the meeting, “and he added that the congregants he visits are very happy here.”

But Limaj, whose team takes a leadership role in defining care and innovation at Levindale, cited the statistic that many adults are even more ill when entering nursing homes now — perhaps  because people age in place longer at home. So Levindale is always “looking at specialty services” and “looking outside of the box at how we can  better meet the needs of our clients.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Out of the Blocks’ Reporter, composer/photographer give voice to Baltimore’s neighborhoods

Reporter Aaron Henkin and composer/photographer Wendel Patrick (at left, from left), create hour-long audio portraits of life in Baltimore, one city block at a time. (Wendel Patrick)

Reporter Aaron Henkin and composer/photographer Wendel Patrick (at left, from left), create hour-long audio portraits of life in Baltimore, one city block at a time. (Wendel Patrick)

As he worked his way along the 4700 block of Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore’s evolving Greektown neighborhood, radio  reporter Aaron Henkin tried out some freshly acquired Greek phrases with Evangelis Theofanidis, a lively character to be featured in the next installment of the WYPR audio  series “Out of the Blocks” airing on Dec. 22

“We sit, we talk, you tell me stories, and I put it on the radio,” Henkin said to Theofanidis, who had already begun to warm up to his questioning.

Collaborating with composer/ musician/photographer Wendel Patrick, Henkin sets out to interview all of the owners and patrons in the storefronts along a block, then Patrick photographs each one and scores the interviews, to create an hour-long audio portrait of life in Baltimore, one city block at a time.

“A city block is a fascinating ecosystem; it’s a fascinating honeycomb of all these adjacent lives,” Henkin said. “All of these people right next door to each other, separated by just one wall.”

We sit, we talk, you tell me stories, and I put it on the radio. — Aaron Henkin, reporter

The 4700 block of Eastern Avenue is a perfect example, where the  storefronts include Greek, Latino, Dominican and El Salvadoran  establishments.

“The beauty is not just each individual story, but the juxtaposition of them,” said Henkin, who has hosted the Gefiltefest competition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and helped make latke-making queen  Esther Weiner even more famous on his WYPR show “The Signal.”

Mi Jung So at Sparky Cleaners on Liberty Heights Avenue is a resident featured in past shows. (Wendel Patrick)

Mi Jung So at Sparky Cleaners on Liberty Heights Avenue is a resident featured in past shows. (Wendel Patrick)

“Out of the Blocks” programs  include voices from each address on a given block, though you won’t hear much of Henkin except the occasional question asked from slightly off mic.

“It’s not overtly didactic, it’s not a sermon, you’re not being handheld by a narrator,” Henkin said. The  programs aren’t designed to tell the listener what to think about the neighborhood; the neighbors paint that picture themselves.

The comments and stories revealed during the programs can be humorous, warmhearted and often arresting. Henkin and Patrick spend weeks  getting to know the entire block — proprietors, patrons, neighbors — in order to gain the trust of the neighborhood, show people they’re not just dropping by to grab a quick story and also to develop a rapport that allows the stories to flow.

After completing an interview, Henkin uses his microphone like a camera lens, to “take an active tour of all the sounds in the space.” He records close up and at a distance, creating “sounds that [Patrick] can use like  colors on a paint palette” for scoring.

“I might ask for more thunder,  cars passing or that chopping sound from the restaurant,” said Patrick. “That part is really important to the overall sound.”

Pigeon racers on Patapsco Avenue are residents featured in past shows. (Wendel Patrick)

Pigeon racers on Patapsco Avenue are residents featured in past shows. (Wendel Patrick)

In the most recent episode, there’s a rhythmic bed underneath the interview at the Caribbean Heat restaurant on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue, completely designed using sounds recorded in its kitchen. There’s also a dry cleaner interview introduced with percussive sewing machine sounds that are absolutely musical.

“There’s definitely something there for audiophiles. If you listen with ear buds or [quality] headphones, you’ll hear the little subtleties,” Patrick said, adding that he uses “a tremendous amount of sound” in each program.

He may ask Henkin to record  specific sounds while the two are on location because, he said, “when I’m on the block, I’m thinking, ‘What would work here, what would go well with this?’ I’m already [composing] stylistic ideas.”

They first met when Henkin interviewed Patrick about his recent CD release on “The Signal” a show that is on “indefinite hiatus” after 11 years on the air. Henkin said he’d read the Yellow Pages for story ideas looking for “encounters with randomness. And I thought ‘what if I pick one city block in Baltimore and make it  my mission to meet and interview everyone on that entire block?’”

After hearing Patrick’s music he asked to use it for a score, but Patrick suggested he create original scores for each piece, so the collaboration was born.

“Frankly, he makes the project way cooler than it would be otherwise,” Henkin said.

Hours and hours of interviews are edited down (the last project totaled 17 hours) to the final public radio standard running time of 48 minutes, 30 seconds, and Henkin then sends the file to Patrick for scoring.

But putting notes down on paper isn’t his working style.

“I write it in my head, and [then] it’s all about recording what’s in my head,” Patrick said. Or “I might make a decision to have something sound more improvised, and I’ll literally hit play and just start improvising along with an interview and that’s what will be recorded.”

In the Greenmount Avenue program, there’s a barbershop section that begins with the sound of the owner’s razor, which, Patrick says, is “just between B and B-flat.” With perfect pitch, Patrick is equipped to identify the note of any sound, whether musical, or in this case, electrical. He complemented that by composing the music score for the  interview in the same resonating pitch, because “this tool that has provided [the barber] with so much in life, it’s a central figure of the story and [therefore] also a central figure of the music created for the piece.”

Music, ambient sound, addition of textures and layers and processing  effects all happen in Patrick’s studio — he plays all of the music as well, whether it’s orchestral or hip-hop — and most is electronic, but he also may use his piano or upright bass. Then, he’ll send some individual stories, with score added, back to Henkin for a listen.

This process goes back and forth a few times and then comes the final mix.

They listen together, and “that’s an amazing experience,” Patrick said. “This is so fulfilling for me as an artist to do what I love artistically and apply it to something that is really meaningful.”

When it feels right, Patrick photographs each subject, but both agree that getting to know neighbors first is important, since pointing a camera at someone has a different effect than pointing a microphone. They return to the block with gifts of CD copies of the finished program and framed portraits for everyone.

“4700 Eastern Ave.” is their fourth project together after “4700 Liberty Heights Ave.,” “3300 Greenmount Ave.” and “400 E. Patapsco Ave.” Thanks to grants writer Susan  Warren at WYPR, who suggested the project would be ripe for funding, they recently received a total of   $80,000 from the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, the Cohen  Opportunity Fund and a substantial anonymous donor, with the charge to complete six programs within the next year.

The the boost of funding has  created an uptick in production and also widened the scope of what the series could become, perhaps documenting other cities in Maryland, the U.S. or even the world.

“It’s a promising year for us, and it’s one that, by the end of this [grant funding] year, I think we’ll have made an interesting document of record for Baltimore. Each block is  a collage, but by the time you have  six or eight of these, the series is  going to be this wonderful collage of Baltimore.”

 

Mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

A Step Above Two local congregations undergo deep self-reflection to rise above the standards set for pre-K in Maryland

On a warm day in late fall, students in a pre-kindergarten class at Beth Israel in Owings Mills were outside at the playground drawing in their journals. Others looked out at the parking lot and talked to their teachers about the purpose of speed bumps.

While this scene could be typical for any pre-K class, a lot more goes into it than meets the eye. From the teachers’ credentials to asking students open-ended questions, a lot of care has gone into the details of the Joseph and Corinne Schwartz Preschool at Beth Israel.

Beth Israel pre-k teachers Lisa Yarmis (upper left) and Lauren Freeman (right) and preschool director Rachael Schwartz (center) help students draw in their journals. (PMarc Shapirohoto by Marc Shapiro)

Beth Israel pre-k teachers Lisa Yarmis (upper left) and Lauren Freeman (right) and preschool director Rachael Schwartz (center) help students draw in their journals. (PMarc Shapirohoto by Marc Shapiro)

The program was accredited by the Maryland State Department of Education in June, making it the second accredited Jewish preschool in the greater Baltimore area and the only one in the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor.

“It’s about going above and beyond your licensing standards and requirements,” preschool director Rachael Schwartz said. “[Accreditation standards] represent the highest quality, and they also reflect research-based best practices for early childhood.”

Beth El’s preschool at its Park Heights campus is also accredited, having earned the designation in June 2014.

Schools get up to two years to become accredited once they declare to the state they would like to start the process. The first step is to do a self-study of the school, in which teachers, lay leaders and parents form committees to rate how the school is performing in various areas. After the study, the school creates an improvement plan.

The “validators,” as those who visit and grade the school are called, look at program administration, program operations and home and community partnerships.

Validators look for differentiated instruction, which means having individual, small- group and whole-group instruction. They look to make sure students are exposed to diversity, which means having materials from dolls to books that represent different cultures and even having dolls with wheelchairs.

“[It’s] really about getting children to understand there’s a bigger world here and teaching tolerance,” Schwartz said.

The accreditation process looks at parent involvement and what kinds of opportunities the school offers to parents.

[Accreditation standards] represent the highest quality, and they also reflect research-based best practices for early childhood.

The state wants things in classrooms labeled for literacy purposes, so the school labeled shelves and baskets. There’s also big focus on transitions.

“Transitions during the day of just moving within your building, transition of a child brand new coming into the program,” Schwartz said. “There are life transitions we want to help families through; and then another interesting component, [the state] wants to see how you help transition a child out of your program into their next school.”

The preschool even rewrote its mission statement.

Beth El’s preschool director Mandy Barish has been a validator for the state since 2008.

“We basically go in and we have our instrument that the program has rated themselves with, and we’re looking and reading against their rating,” she said. “We do around three hours of observations of the whole school, we have to hit each age group.”

Validators also spend a few hours going through documentation the school prepares for accreditation. It could take a month to three months for schools to hear if they are accredited. When they are not, they are told in what areas they need to improve.

For Beth El, accreditation of the preschool was also a matter of upping their game. Barish said the school took a hard look at lesson planning, the school’s curriculum, teacher strategies and room arrangements.

For Schwartz, Beth Israel’s accreditation was “unbelievable validation.” The preschool is an emergent program, rather than a traditional program, which means they don’t use the traditional 30-minute circle style of teaching and focus more on children as individuals using developmentally appropriate practices.

“There was incredible pride for the families,” Schwartz said. “Children benefit because learning environments are exciting, positive and growth oriented. Parents benefit because children are enrolled in stimulating environments that reflect research and best practice.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Residential Revolt Some homeowners still frustrated with plans for development on The Associated’s land

Cheryl Aaron and Joel Marcus lead a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17. (Justin Katz)

Cheryl Aaron and Joel Marcus lead a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17. (Justin Katz)

Tensions remain high among some residents living near the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, where The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is planning to sell a  vacant area of land to a developer in order to build a 56-home development.

“The excess land was previously planned to be the home of a 90,000-square-foot office building, which would house Jewish organizations.  It is clear to us this is no longer necessary,” said Mark Smolarz, chief  operating and financial officer of The Associated, in a written statement. “We believe it would be better to sell the land in order to raise funds that will help us continue to provide our services to the community.”

The Greater Greenspring Association, which opposes the development, held a public meeting at St. Thomas Church on Nov. 17 to update residents about the current plans and discuss their concerns.

“This community that surrounds the JCC and Weinberg Village is a predominantly Jewish community,” said Cheryl Aaron, zoning committee chair of the Greater Greenspring  Association. “They’re pretty outraged and they’re feeling thrown under the bus. Nobody wants to talk to them;  no one is taking their concerns into  account, and they’re frustrated.”

One concern, which was brought up at the meeting by Joel Marcus — he lives on Nancy Ellen Way, perpendicular to Garrison Forrest Road — was the impact the development will have on traffic, the environment and the school system.

“I asked if [The Associated has] done a traffic study,” said Marcus. “They  essentially said they didn’t have to. There were no legalities saying they had to do that.”

Another concern brought up by Aaron is that Greenspring’s attorneys have reportedly called The Associated’s legal team repeatedly without a response.

“Nobody is returning our attorneys’ calls,” she charged. “It makes it difficult to have a dialogue.”

When asked about The Associated’s response to the community’s concerns, Smolarz said, “As a community organization, it’s important for us to maximize our resources so we can benefit the  community at large.”

He said The Associated has conducted a traffic study and emphasized the county ensures all of their tests and plans “pass muster.”

Regarding the attorneys, Smolarz said, “Our legal team has gone above and beyond to work with [their] counsel, and we sent them the [development] plans when most legal teams wouldn’t have sent the plans to other groups.”

Smolarz added that since the JT had inquired about Greenspring’s concerns, there had been multiple correspondences between the two legal teams.

At a meeting last year between the Worthington Park Homeowners  Association, some of whose members will be as close as 300 feet to the new development, and The Associated, the possibility of building an age- restricted community, which would likely pose less traffic concerns, was brought up.

A website affiliated with the Greater Greenspring Association, keepourvalleyrural.com, said that the most recent Associated plans provided to the organization do not call for the development to be age- restricted. The website also pointed out that whereas the approximately 210 homes on the east side of Garrison Forrest Road from Aston Court to Starlite Court are now spaced one per acre, plans for the new development call for 5.5 homes per acre.

Ethel Barrish is the president of the Worthington Park Homeowners  Association and expressed the community’s views in an interview several days after the meeting.

“We have met with The Associated on several occasions to speak about the development, voice our concerns and keep apprised of the progress. I do understand that the zoning is  already in place that allows a housing community and that The Associated has made substantial changes that I have requested to the landscape buffer,” said Barrish.  “Worthington Park is not in favor of a traffic circle, but we understand that this decision is made at the county level. We  also strongly agree that it should be a 55-and-older community.”

The traffic circle Barrish referenced was a part of an earlier draft of the plans and has since been removed.

Both Aaron and Marcus urged people to attend a development plan hearing on Dec. 11 to express their sentiments about the issue.

“I know that the community feels absolutely uncared about by The Associated. We are their constituents; we are the people they are supposed to represent,” said Marcus. “It’s an  organization that has a charge to do good work for their community, and this is absolutely an act of uncaring for its community.”

Some attendees at the meeting asked Aaron and Marcus what changes they would like to see happen to the plan. Marcus responded that any changes he spoke about would be hypothetical  because of the difficulty communicating with The Associated.

Despite the Dec. 11 hearing quickly approaching, Smolarz said there is always time for negotiations if both parties are willing.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

The Sounds of Jewgrass Mama Doni Band to perform in HoCo

Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg will perform in Columbia on Dec. 20. ( Provided)

Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg will perform in Columbia on Dec. 20. ( Provided)

The phrase “Jewish bluegrass music” might not sound like it would work on paper, but Doni Zasloff has managed to blend the two and make it appealing it to both kids and  parents.

Zasloff, whose stage name is Mama Doni, will perform at the Red Branch Theatre in Columbia on Dec. 20 with her musical director and  husband, Eric Lindberg.

“We want to make an experience happen,” said Lindberg, who is from Rockville. “It’s more than just a song and funny sentiments, we’re trying to create a world of Judaism that is not only fun, but really spiritual and  accessible to kids.”

Zasloff, who is from Brooklyn, N.Y. and has a degree in educational theater from New York University, said she has always loved music, but she didn’t pursue a career in it immediately following her graduation. Only after spending seven years in children’s media and marketing did things start to click into place.

While helping out at her daughter’s preschool reading books and singing Shabbat songs with the class, she was asked to take a position as a music teacher.

“Once the juices started flowing,  it just came together. This is what  I’m supposed to do,” said Zasloff. “I love this.”

The first several years were good to Zasloff, as she produced two full  albums, “I Love Herring (& Other Fish Shticks for Kids)” and “Chanukah Fever,” as well as several EPs. Eventually, she would meet Lindberg, who would join the band in 2010 through a mutual connection, and his presence would bring an “elevated experience” to Mama Doni.

“The personal side is that we’ve both had some breakups,” said Zasloff. “After a number of years of being  co-workers, we fell in love and got married [this past June].”

Zasloff and Lindberg said that, falling in love aside, the idea to fuse bluegrass music and traditional Jewish songs was more of a propensity than a conscious idea.

“We explored all different genres,” said Zasloff. “But when we dived into prayers, it was just an accidental thing that we kept writing bluegrass music; it just kept happening.”

Lindberg, who studied jazz and classical music at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, said he’s always been in love with bluegrass music. That love, combined with his strong Jewish background and what he describes as a “big revival” religiously during his pursuits with  Zasloff, made for a natural combination.

“[We never said] ‘wouldn’t it be cool because it’s so crazy that we love bluegrass and we love being Jewish?’” said Lindberg. “We feel it’s important to make American Jewish music for ourselves and to be who we are.”

They recently recorded their first album in Nashville as Nefesh Mountain, a band that is aimed at adults, with Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, Scott Vestal, Rob Ickes and Gary Oleyar, all of whom have made their bones in the bluegrass music world.

As for the concert in Columbia, Zasloff and Lindberg said they are looking to give people more than just a good time.

“We ultimately want to give them a really incredible experience, not only with singing and dancing, but also with ruach,” said Lindberg. “We want to take being Jewish out of the context of a synagogue and Hebrew school. We want to give it a concert  atmosphere and celebrate being Jewish.”

“We want for children and families to just forget about everything and to let go,” said Zasloff. “And really to  connect to their Jewish spirit in a  meaningful way, and hopefully, they’ll take that with them forever.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

 

Mama Doni Concert
Red Branch Theatre
9130 Red Branch Road,  Columbia
Dec. 20. Cost: $10
For more information, contact Michelle Goldberg at mgoldberg@jewishhowardcounty.org or 410-730-4976 ext. 118

Community Rallies Around Holocaust Education BJC event raises money for proposed education center in Greece

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, director of the  museum at Kehila Kedosha Janina in New York, speaks about a proposed Holocaust education  center to be located in Salonika, Greece at a fundraiser held by the Baltimore Jewish Council  at The Black Olive restaurant. (Marc Shapiro)

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, director of the museum at Kehila Kedosha Janina in New York, speaks about a proposed Holocaust education center to be located in Salonika, Greece at a fundraiser held by the Baltimore Jewish Council at The Black Olive restaurant. (Marc Shapiro)

The Greek port city of Salonika was home to around 56,000 of Greece’s 76,000 Jews before World War II. There were centers of Jewish learning and many esteemed rabbis.

These days, the city’s Jewish community numbers 1,200, according to Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, director of the Kehila Kedosha Janina museum in New York. To commemorate the city’s rich Jewish history, Ikonomopoulos and others are raising funds to build the Holocaust Memorial and Human Rights Educational Center in Salonika.

The Baltimore Jewish Council held a fundraiser for the museum on Oct. 26 at The Black Olive restaurant, where Iknonomopoulos spoke along with restaurant owner Stelios Spiliadis. Iknonomopoulos spoke of the dire importance of education in a world with rising anti-Jewish sentiment.

“We’re living in troubled times now. As you all know, there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism throughout Europe and here in the United States. We’ve  become easy targets in times of economic crisis,” she said. “It’s no different in Greece. Never has it been more important to have a center to educate.”

Iknonomopoulos calls herself a daughter of  Salonika — her grandfather made aliyah to Haifa after Salonika experienced a devastating fire started by the splattering of oil from cooking eggplant.  Her grandfather lost his 10 older brothers and  sisters, their spouses, children and, in some cases, grandchildren during World War II.

The multimillion-dollar project, which consists of an octagonal tower, a low ring-shaped building and a public plaza, would include a museum,  cultural center with a permanent exhibition hall, a temporary exhibition hall, an auditorium with 300 seats, study rooms for lectures and seminars,  multipurpose spaces and a café. The center, which would be more than 130,000 square feet, will be located in an open plaza at the end of the rail lines that were used for deportation of the local Jews.

“It’s going to educate students, it’s going to educate the next generation, it’s going to tell the story of the Jews of Thessaloniki and how they perished,” Iknonomopoulos said. (Thessaloniki is Salonika in Greek.) “It’s going to be used as an example to teach tolerance, that this is completely unacceptable in the world we live in now.”

It was no ordinary night at The Black Olive, as Spiliadas and his wife Pauline, the restaurant’s head chef, made sure to feature the food of Salonika’s Jewish community, which meant a whole lot of eggplant. A lot of the Jews in Salonika were Sephardic Jews from Spain, so the food was a sort of Sephardic Spanish-Greek Jewish fusion. There was bourek, a pastry filled with eggplant and lamb, flava bean salad, chicken on top of eggplant and, what Spiliadas’ said was the most special dish, moussaka.

“Moussaka is the memory and history of the Jews who are left in Salonika now,” he said.

The moussaka was topped with a thick buttermilk sauce, representing the “upscale” influence from Europe. The ground meat below was reminiscent of influence from Turkey and Italy.

“At the very, very bottom is eggplant; the memory of the Jewish community, which, after the years passed by, was covered and sometimes almost  forgotten by time and the pain that was to take place from 1942 to today,” he said. “I would like for you to enjoy moussaka, but dig in to find the  eggplant. Please bring it up to the surface, and  remember our brothers, our sisters, our children in the embrace of their mothers facing the most horrible, horrible death that anybody can even imagine.”

Spiliadas is not Jewish but has Jewish grandchildren and grew up in Patras, Greece during the time of Nazi occupation. His interest in Salonika stems from his connection to Greek’s progressive party and his desire to dispel the myth of Jewish  passivity during the Holocaust, knowing that the country’s Jewish population fought alongside the  resistance in the Greek army.

On a trip to Israel in the early 2000s, BJC executive director Art Abramson connected Spiliadas to a survivor from Salonika. The man told Spiliadas about growing up in the Greek city, introduced him to other Greek Jews in Tel Aviv and gave him a memoir written in Hebrew that Spiliadas hopes to translate.

“There were tears in my eyes because here was a man who survived Auschwitz playing the accordion and making believe that he was a crazy Greek who needed to be there to entertain the Nazis,” Spiliadas said.

Abramson briefly addressed the crowd after the meal to emphasize the importance of Holocaust  education. He spoke about GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s “absurd” notion that the Jews would have been better off during the Holocaust if they were armed, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Grand Mufti gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews.

“This is all about the misuse of history, and it is vitally important that we do what we can do to end this misuse of history,” Abramson said. “If you’re blaming the victims and you’re excusing the  Germans, we’re in 1984 again,” he said referring to the George Orwell book.

“We need this center, and we need more Holocaust education, not less. There’s nothing more important right now than making sure that the memory of the victims and the lessons of history are  preserved,” he said.

The event raised about $1,500 for the center, and checks are stillcoming in. The center may get a boost, as the German government, which should soon vote on reimbursing Greece for train tickets the Jews of Salonika and other communities were forced to  purchase for their deportation to Auschwitz.

Iknonomopoulos closed her talk by underscoring how essential Holocaust education is in Greece.

“I long for the day when there are two things I never have to hear again. One is, ‘Do you mean there were Jews in Greece?’ Believe it or not I still hear that,” she said. “And number two, ‘Was Greece involved in World War II?’ Believe it or not, this is what I hear when I lecture.”

 

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Farm to Farm to Table Upper Marlboro husband, wife team import olive oil from Israel to their organic farm.

Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, started an organic farm 10 years ago in Upper Marlboro after spending time on a kibbutz in Israel. (Courtesy of Scott Hertzberg)

Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, started an organic farm 10 years ago in Upper Marlboro after spending time on a kibbutz in Israel. (Courtesy of Scott Hertzberg)

It was a love for farming, a love for Israel and a love for each other shared by Scott Hertzberg and his wife, Tanya Tolchin, that spurred the Upper Marlboro, Md., couple to start an organic farm 10 years ago. Since 2009, they have given their plot of land the distinction of being one of the few places in the country to sell imported Israeli olive oil.

Hertzberg grew up in Pikesville, where he  attended Talmudical Academy and Mount Saint Joseph High School before departing for Hampshire College (Amherst, Mass.) in the early 1990s. It  was there that he met Tolchin, and they began  volunteering in a food bank before heading to  Israel upon graduating to spend time on a Kibbutz.

On their second trip in 2005 the moment of  realization came for starting their own farm.

“That was the trip where we said, ‘Oh my goodness, another 10 years are going to pass before we have any connection with Israel,’” he said. “Realizing that we were going to go home, it would be nice to have something year after year.”

After learning much of their  organic farming techniques from  expert Mario Levy while in Israel, the couple began growing vegetables before importing olives, olive oil and dates in 2009. At that point they started their business, Israeli Harvest, choosing to import from Makura — a small family-owned farm roughly 20 miles south of Haifa.

We sort of had the idea for it that they could get better value for some of their products than they were seeing. We’re helping to support one family farm in Israel so it’s just the beginning. — Tanya Tolchin

“Mukura’s a small farm, and they’re not large enough to produce for the  big Israeli importers because those  importers need a very cheap price,” he said, adding that the domestic market there can vary.

“Every year the price of olive oil is not that good in Israel, so it’s good for them to have an export, particularly to America because Europe’s getting  difficult to export to because of the  politics.”

Tolchin said their practice of  importing Israeli products has the look and feel of two small family businesses supporting each other.

“We had the idea that they could get better value for some of their products than they were seeing,” she said. “We’re helping to support one family farm in Israel, so it’s just the beginning.”

Makura grows eight types of  olives, which include Spanish, Greek, Italian and local varieties. It then uses a cold-press technique to produce the oil and ensure it retains its flavor. Owner Guy Rilov said the farm has been handed down to him from his parents, and for the last 22 years it has used organic techniques. He said the business has faced struggles this year due to weather-related events.

“The crop is medium this year due to a big storm that did a lot of damage,” he said.

Hertzberg said he feels the quality of an imported product depends more on the individual farm than on the country it comes from, debunking myths about foods such as wine.

“For a long time Israeli wine had an inferiority complex, and now it’s proven itself it can be just as good as the Mediterranean wines,” he said.

This year, Hertzberg has scaled back the farm’s production a bit in order to spend more time with his children, Ezra and Shira.

For the most part, Israeli Harvest is an online business; however, the olive oil is sold at two area stores, including E.N. Olivier in Baltimore. Hertzberg and Tolchin have also been running a community-supported agriculture business for the entire time they have had the farm and deliver to a church near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Tolchin said they have also marketed their produce to places that include Pineapple Alley Catering in Clinton, Md., and MOM’s Organic Market.

“I think that it’s been a successful venture,” she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com