One People, One Community HoCo to celebrate Global Day of Jewish Learning

Fourteen area rabbis were featured at Howard Community College for the Global Day of Jewish Learning last year. | Photo by Melissa Apter

Fourteen area rabbis were featured at Howard Community College for the Global Day of Jewish Learning last year. Photo by Melissa Apter

The Howard County Board of Rabbis will host the county’s second annual Global Day of Jewish Learning at Howard Community College on Nov. 15.

The Global Day of Jewish Learning, started by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz in 2010, aims to bring Jews around the world together for one day to celebrate shared Jewish text through community-based learning.

Steinsaltz started the project to commemorate his full translation of and commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, which he began working on in 1965. The project is managed by the Aleph Society which was founded in 1988 to expand upon Steinsaltz’s goal of developing Jews, Jewish identity and Jewish community.

“At the time, I was the president of the Howard County Board of Rabbis,” said Rabbi Craig Axler, who was instrumental in bringing the day of learning to Howard County last year. “And we were looking for ways to do collaborative Jewish learning. It seemed like perfect opportunity to get us and our communities together.”

Axler added that Columbia Jewish Congregation had participated in the Day of Learning prior to last year.

The Aleph Society decides the topic for the event, which is intentionally broad, and this year’s topic is “Love: Devotion, Desire and Deception.” In Howard County, more than a dozen rabbis will be teaching classes ranging from whether or not to forgive a domestic abuser to a special teen class being taught by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman.

“[The teen class is] about leaders who are struggling with their relationships with one another, their egos and their obligations to the community,” said Scheinerman. “And how they manage all of that.”

Scheinerman added that she has taught this text to teenagers during a scholar-in-residence in the past, and the teens could immediately relate it to their own lives. Axler’s class revolves around the modern Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and an exploration of how Hebrew words change from biblical to modern Hebrew.

Rabbi Ilyse Kramer, whose family attends Columbia Jewish Congregation, a Reconstructionist synagogue, is teaching about Jacob and Esau in Genesis.

“[The day of learning] is a great way to bring together a cross-section of adult learners from the variety of synagogues,” said Kramer. “And both of these years we’ve been very blessed to have great representation from all denominations as well as their adult learners.”

Axler leads Temple Isaiah, which is a Reform synagogue, and Scheinerman
is a part of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. However, the event will have rabbis from a variety of movements such as the Conservative movement and Chabad-Lubavitch, among others. Axler, Kramer and Scheinerman all emphasized that the diversity is an important aspect of the event.

“I see the value of each of the streams [of Judaism], but I also see the danger of remaining too separate from one another and not coming together,” said Scheinerman.

“We’re all different individuals and different movements; there’s a reason there are different synagogues,” said Axler. “But we are open to be one Jewish people and one Jewish community, and we’re richer when we do that. That’s why it was important to me to make something like this happen.”

In partnership with the Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation of Howard County is sponsoring the day of learning.

“As the integrating resource for Jewish organizations in Howard County,” said Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Howard County Jewish Federation, “the
Jewish Federation is proud to support adult learning with our community’s clergy through the Global Day of Jewish Learning.”


Global Day of Jewish Learning

Howard Community College Health Science Building

10901 Little Patuxent Parkway Columbia, MD 21044

Nov. 15, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

No registration required. Contact Rabbi Ilyse Kramer at or Rabbi Amy Scheinerman at

‘Here We Are’ Protesters call for ‘Open Federation’ outside G.A. site

Open Hillel demonstrators call on federations to drop their “red lines” around discussion of Israel.

Open Hillel demonstrators call on federations to drop their “red lines” around discussion of Israel.

Calling for Jewish federations to end their support for organizations conditional on their “adherence to red lines around Israel,” 50 demonstrators organized by Open Hillel gathered Sunday outside the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, meeting at the Washington Hilton.

The demonstrators, most of whom were in their 20s, said red lines such as that enforced by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations when it denied membership to the so-called pro-peace, pro-Israel organization J Street limit legitimate criticism of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian-claimed
territories, alienating young American Jews at a time when the federation world is struggling to attract them into community life.

“I feel excluded and isolated and fear that young Jews are being pushed away from engagement with Jewish institutions,” speaker Elana Metz, a senior at the University of Delaware, told the gathering.

Open Hillel formed in 2012 to protest Hillel International’s guidelines on Israel, which exclude from the organization those who are not Zionist, support the boycott,
divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The demonstrators, who police kept across the street from the hotel, chanted, “Let my people talk” and “Here we are.” Some displayed signs criticizing what they see is excessive donor influence on decision making in Jewish institutions. Other signs broadcast the bearers as products of mainstream Jewish day schools, youth groups and university Hillels.

The group’s call for “Open Federation” is in the spirit of “disagreement for the sake of heaven,” said Caroline Morganti, Open Hillel’s communications

After the demonstration, Morganti took a letter to the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, asking that by Dec. 8, JFNA “state clearly and publicly” that it would drop its red lines around Israel dialogue. Hotel security stopped Morganti at the behest of G.A. organizers and asked her to leave the building before she was able to deliver the letter.

The demonstration capped a day of workshops, which organizers dubbed “The Jewish People’s Assembly” at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. Seth Morrison, an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, led a session on

“What is a Federation?”

In its opposition to Israeli control of the West Bank, Jewish Voice for Peace calls for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and supports the BDS movement.

Morrison contrasted the federations’ accomplishments with their strict adherence to what he called “the company line” on Israel.

“Federations do mostly very good work, and they make hard decisions on allocations,” he said. “But if anyone says anything outside the company line, they’ll threaten to cut them off.

“Our role is to challenge this company line,” he continued, “and that in the long run is best for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.”

Many participants said they are calling for abolishing red lines to make the Jewish community more

“This is the beginning of a conversation with the community,” said Aaron Steinberg-Madow, an Open Hillel steering committee member from Philadelphia. “I’m thrilled the DCJCC allowed Open Hillel to meet.”

Jillian Lipman, 23, came from Baltimore looking for a Jewish community. “I’ve been unaffiliated with the Jewish community for a long time,” she said. “I was called an anti-Semite and a self-hating Jew” for her beliefs. “I wanted to see that there were Jews with other positions.”

Conference organizer Yonit Friedman, 23, came to Open Hillel after a disappointing experience on a Birthright Israel trip.

“I felt the leaders were either outright lying to us or leaving out a lot of truths. It was intellectually dishonest,” she said. “And it went against my Reform upbringing of social justice and justice for the oppressed.”

She called Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians “an enormous elephant in the room, even in Jewish spaces that otherwise do a good job.”

Friedman said that mainstream Jewish organizations treat Open Hillel and other Jews who share similar opinions about Israel as the enemy, when they are actually the demographic the federation world says it wants to attract.

“People who are in power often see us as an outside entity that they don’t know. But they do know us,” she said. “We’re the people in their communities who want to ask questions. Our concerns are not going away. And if you want to have any sort of Jewish continuity — engaging young people — well, here we are.”

Scientific Empowerment Annual conference motivates women to take charge of learning about health issues

When Harriet Legum was diagnosed with breast cancer 28 years ago, she could not have imagined that a disease with the potential of taking her life would spark a life mission of health education for hundreds of women that continues to this day.

“I was terrified. I was in my 40s, and the only people I knew who had breast cancer were in their 60s and 70s,” Legum recently recalled about when she first learned of her condition.

A Womens Journey was started in 1995 to educate women about diseases that can affect them as they approach menopause. ( Photo by Daniel Schere)

A Womens Journey was started in 1995 to educate women about diseases that can affect them as they approach menopause. ( Photo by Daniel Schere)

Legum had noticed a red flag when she felt a lump in the upper quadrant of her left breast, prompting a suspicion that she might have breast cancer.

“I talked to some of my doctors, and they said, ‘Nothing’s wrong with you,’” she said.

Many of Legum’s doctors accused her of being argumentative, but after a few weeks she went to see the late Dr. Rudolph Almaraz at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Almaraz took a biopsy at Legum’s insistence, which eventually led to a cancer diagnosis.

“I realized then [that] I wish I [had been] was more educated so I could have asked the right questions,” she said.

Legum’s realization spurred her to action in 1995, when she decided to use her experience as a teaching tool for other women.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Hopkins could understand the concept of educating women?’” she said. “I felt angry. No one heard me say that there’s something there. And I truly believe that women have radar. They know what’s there and what’s not there.”

From there, A Woman’s Journey was born as an annual forum dedicated to educating women on a variety of health issues they are likely to face as they enter their menopausal years. This year’s program, on Nov. 14 at the Hilton Baltimore, has since expanded to include 32 topics that will be covered in separate seminars. They include subjects such as strategies for dealing with bone loss, depression and eating right and ways to stimulate the brain.

“By having that knowledge, it empowers women, and we want to empower them to make the right decisions,” Legum said.

The conference is also known for its prominent speakers in the community who have included journalist Katie Couric and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, formerly the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. This year’s speakers include WJZ anchor Denise Koch and Dr. Nellie Shuri Boma, chief medical director at Al Rahba Hospital in the United Arab Emirates.

Legum said she expects close to 1,000 attendees, adding that women as young as 16 are being diagnosed with cancer and can benefit from the conference as well.

I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Hopkins could understand the concept of educating women?’ I felt angry. No one heard me say that there’s something there. And I truly believe that women have radar. They know what’s there and what’s not there.

“What is it about our environment that is causing these young women to develop this disease,” she said. “[Parents] come back and say to us: “If it hadn’t been for this program, my child would have died.’”

In addition to expanding in size, the conference is also traveling to other cities, including Washington and a number of locations in Florida. Leslie Waldman, the director of consumer and physician engagement at Johns Hopkins, said that after 20 years the conference has become recognized as a national brand.

“Today, I have to say the greatest interest is in aging well,” she said. “So we work very hard to respond to consumer interests.”

Waldman said women make up 85 percent of the purchasers of health care in the United States and are the primary decision-makers when it comes to health issues.

“When we began the conference, Google and other search engines weren’t around, and people relied on what they read and on health professionals to get treatments,” she said.

Waldman said the goal of the conference is to provide women with a trustworthy source of health information in order to provide answers and dispel myths.

“The message remains the same,” she said. “It’s our core value, and we hope that women will take responsibility for their health and the health of the ones they love.”

Dr. Crystal Aguh, an assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins, will participate for the first time and said the medical community has made great leaps in its ability to diagnose breast cancer. Aguh, who has served as a medical correspondent for ABC News, thinks patients are beginning to take on some of the responsibility in combating their disease.

“I think now you’re starting to see patients who have looked up some things,” she said. “More women are getting mammograms, and that’s great, but they’re also picking up earlier cancers.”

Commandment No. 11 Technology provides myriad ways to convey, ‘No mom, I’m not lying in a ditch’

Using FaceTime with an iPhone allows the reporter and her mother to stay in close touch, thanks in large part to her mom’s tech savvy and willingness to evolve within a digital world. (Screen shot)

Using FaceTime with an iPhone allows the reporter and her mother to stay in close touch, thanks in large part to her mom’s tech savvy and willingness to evolve within a digital world. (Screen shot)

It’s universally understood that the first amendment to the Ten Commandments — perhaps not as grave as the other 10, but respected by Jewish daughters and sons just the same, and I am no exception — is Please, Call Your Mother.

And my mother, now 85, has made it much easier for me to obey No. 11 during the nearly 20 years that I’ve lived away, due in large part to her willingness to adopt (albeit at times kicking and screaming) new technologies.

Though she is an expert texter — LOL, TTYL, LMAO and other catchy phrases fly off her fingertips — and she uses FaceTime and Skype like a pro, it wasn’t always so. I, my sister and especially my niece have logged “time at the screen” with my mom, patiently guiding her through steps that allow her to keep tabs on her brood and, of course, for us to keep tabs on her. That is, when she has her phone with her. Oh yes — and when it’s turned on.

“Mom, the whole point of having a cellphone is that you can take it with you when you leave your apartment,” I’ve said, in a mix of exasperation and relief on many occasions when finally reaching her after a few panicky texts to family members to determine her whereabouts (OK, yes, and to confirm that she was not lying in a ditch.)

But when those tables are turned, cellphone holders beware! Such as the night the police showed up at my sister’s house at about 10 o’clock “to make sure she was OK,” implored my mother to the police dispatcher. My sister was home with her husband, and they were asleep. But my sister hadn’t answered her phone in the last couple of hours, so in my mother’s mind, it was a national emergency … but I digress.

My mom, of course, is not alone in embracing all things digital. It’s evident everywhere you look that more seniors are becoming technologically proficient, whether to stay in touch with children, grandchildren or simply to stay up-to-the-minute informed and plugged in like the rest of us.

My mom cut her texting teeth on a flip phone, back when you had to repeatedly tap a number that corresponded with a letter to pound out your message.

But perhaps even more impressive, if I may brag, is that my mom cut her texting teeth on a flip phone, back when you had to repeatedly tap a number that corresponded with a letter to pound out your message. Now smartphone equipped, she has it much easier, though I haven’t convinced her to embrace the voice-recognition texting technology … yet.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my mother’s innate aptitude when it comes to communication because she’s had decades of practice, since the old days when landlines were king, and, really, you had to be much more resourceful if you wanted to reach someone immediately. One particularly impressive ‘mom-comm’ occurred when I was seated at the gate area waiting to board a plane. It was not by the typical overhead paging system that I was alerted, but instead I was beckoned by a rather stunned Northwest Airlines employee. She answered an incoming call on the push-button slim-line phone at her desk, listened a moment and said, “Will passenger Melissa Gerr please step up to the counter?” Eyes wide, she handed me the receiver and said simply, “It’s your mother.”

Though I have no recollection of what she wanted, this was not an emergency communiqué. Most likely, it was just to say, “Hi, have a safe flight.” The feat still impresses me to this day.

Over the years she’s continued to stay flexible with technology and allowed me to “be present” via Skype or FaceTime. Once it was when she opened a gift I excitedly sent express mail overnight, other times it’s on Sunday mornings when we’ve had coffee dates or at special dinners at my sister’s house. She sends me pictures of her latest haircut or fashion-forward purchase too. She even pays bills online now, thanks to my adept and incredibly patient niece.

Over the phone I’ve instructed my mother how to take and send a photo (there is still some mystery to this for her), how to open Skype and use the speaker-phone feature and also how to return to her home screen to open another app — “Press the one and only button on the bottom front of your phone mom!” Though frustrated expletives may fly, she perseveres.

Could either of us possibly have imagined how much would change from decades before, when she simply opened the back screen door and yelled my name into the dusk to call me home for dinner, that someday she would activate a different kind of screen and achieve the same effect of calling me home, now from several states away?

It’s I who choose to live in another city, and I’m thankful we remain close and can easily “see” each other often, in part due to an evolving digital world. But really, it’s my mom who has moved, from one technology to the next, being brave and patient and curious enough to master yet one more way to stay connected so that I may continue to obey No. 11.

‘Rough Night for Everyone’ Israeli filmmaker’s presentation draws protest at Goucher Hillel screening

Student protestors from the LGBT campus group TALQ Big disrupted a film screening at the Goucher College Hillel last week, claiming the event was ignoring larger issues about Israel.

Israeli television personality and LGBT rights advocate Assi Azar was invited to Hillel to screen his movie “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You,” which addresses how parents cope with their children coming out as gay. During the screening, about 15 students sat with pink duct tape over their mouths. At the end of the screening they removed the tape and began chanting anti-Israel sentiments.

Protestors interrupted Assi Azar’s post-film question-and-answer period at Goucher Hillel. The group claimed “pink-washing” of the event. (By Uri Chachick/Wikimedia Commons)

Protestors interrupted Assi Azar’s post-film question-and-answer period at Goucher Hillel. The group claimed “pink-washing” of the event. (By Uri Chachick/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Israeli filmmaker, this was the first time in his U.S. tour that he has encountered “pro-Palestinian protestors.” The event, organized by Goucher Hillel and Gophers for Israel, a student group at Goucher, was full with about 70 people in attendance.

“There were many students, many non-Jewish students and many students who are part of the LGBTQIAA community,” Azar reported in a Nov. 6 Facebook post that has been reposted by some in the Baltimore Jewish community.

“Before the screening began, I told the audience that I hope we could all engage in an open dialogue as we all share the same goal: Jews and Arabs living side by side in peace,” he continued. “We are all against the death of innocent people. We all must engage in dialogue in order to put an end to the conflict.”

Sammy Eisenberg, a senior and student co-president at Hillel who was in attendance at the event, said, “The LGBT group had seen the screening as a form of pink-washing  (using the LGBT issue as a cover of sorts to smooth over bigger issues about Israel) and had asked for the event to be shut down prior to the screening. It wasn’t, so they decided to protest.”

Eisenberg continued, “From what we understood, they were protesting the organization that was funding the film, Brand Israel, and they tried to make it clear prior, but it came out like it was [in protest toward] the speaker and the story. … Many people left feeling more confused, hurt, more alienated. There was a lot of misunderstanding.”

“The film screening was peaceful, but it was quickly succeeded by students removing the tape, standing and chanting against Israel, with posters in their hands,” Azar wrote in his Facebook post. “These chants were combative [and] filled with distortions of facts, mostly anti-Semitic. I found myself under attack, accused of ridiculous accusations. I was arguing with 20-year-old students who were brainwashed against Israel, had never visited Israel and who were targeting pure hatred against us.”

Kristen Pinheiro, interim executive director of communications at Goucher, said the institution supports “the students’ right to protest.”

“But we don’t tolerate obstruction of events, and that was communicated to both sides,” she said. “Public safety knew about this well in advance, and five safety officers and five staff members, including a chaplain, a provost and the vice president of student affairs, were there.”

After about 45 minutes of heated discussion between the students and Azar, “some of the college officials decided the dynamic was changing and decided to end the event,” said Pinheiro. “Everyone left around 9 p.m., and the event started at 7:30 so it was not cut short in any way.”

Eisenberg thought the question-and-answer period after the film had mixed together too many heated topics, such as LGBT rights, the Palestinian- Israeli conflict and race issues.

“Those three very large issues spiraled out of control, and in a way it had masked what [TALQ Big] intended to protest,” said Eisenberg. “It was a rough night for everyone, protestors included.”

Assi Azar did not respond to inquiries for comment.

Staying Active For seniors, retirement is much more than just manicures

Mountain climbing may have been an unlikely third act for Baltimore resident Gail Lipsitz, but it turned out to be a passion that was simply realized later in life. She had taught English to high school and college students, spending a little time in France in the process. She then spent 27 years as a public relations coordinator for Jewish Community Services before recognizing that the time was right for a busy life that did not involve a career.

“It was my decision,” she said. “I was able to choose the timing, and my basic motivation was that I just wanted to do a lot of things while I could still do them.”

Lipsitz retired in December 2013 and began to partake in exercise courses at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center along with a hiking club. Not long after, her son, David, asked if she would join him in his quest to climb Mount Bierstadt in Colorado.

“A good retirement is one in which you do go out of your comfort zone and try new things.”

Lipsitz ended up hiking all 14,065 feet of the mountain last summer with her son with little difficulty, which she attributes to the regular hiking she has done in retirement.

Gail Lipsitz pauses while climbing Mount Bierstadt with her son David. She has resolved to live an active retirement by doing activities such as hiking and traveling. (Photo provided)

Gail Lipsitz pauses while climbing Mount Bierstadt with her son David. She has resolved to live an active retirement by doing activities such as hiking and traveling. (Photo provided)

“Your adrenaline kicks in when you see people on the summit,” she said.

With her newfound hobby, Lipsitz has perhaps reached the summit of her life as well. She admits she was somewhat concerned about retiring because she thought the community would no longer view her as a professional. Lipsitz’s husband, Allan, had died in 2007, and she needed to find fulfilling ways to spend her days, even if that didn’t mean being in an office.

“I had to redefine how I wanted to spend these years, and since I was still working when he passed away, I had time to think about that,” she said.

Clarity came on a January trip to India when Lipsitz ran into an acquaintance, and upon telling her about her retirement, the friend exclaimed “I can’t imagine ever retiring,” she said. “I’d be so bored. What do you do all day, get your nails done?”

In addition to hiking, she teaches literature to adults at two synagogues and the Myerberg Center.

Neal Cierler also chose to lead an active retirement by becoming involved in JCS’s Mitzvah Mobility program as a volunteer driver. Cierler retired two years ago after a career with the Social Security Administration and saw an ad in the JT for volunteering with JCS.

“I was going to take care of the house or find some interests,” he said. “I wanted to find something I really wanted to do besides work.”

Most of Cierler’s clients are elderly and lack mobility. He accompanies them to doctor’s appointments, trips to the grocery store and other errands. Arrangements are typically made through a client’s social worker who contacts the volunteer coordinator and lets volunteers such as Cierler know they are needed.

“It’s just fascinating to talk these people,” he said. “They have a lot to tell and they have a lot to say. A lot of them just want to have somebody to talk to.”

Neal Cierler volunteers as a driver for the JCS’s Mitzvah Mobility program. Cierle retired two yars ago from the Social Security Administration. (Photo provided)

Neal Cierler volunteers as a driver for the JCS’s Mitzvah Mobility program. Cierle retired two yars ago from the Social Security Administration. (Photo provided)

Beth Hecht, JCS’s senior manager for community engagement, said it is often older adults who volunteer to take care of other older adults.

Whether it be through an institution such as JCS or through another means, retirement has the potential to be just as meaningful as a career. In Lipsitz’s case it is the last chapter in a life that has taken her to a variety of physical and mental places.

“It’s extremely fulfilling and stimulating,” she said of her current life. “It keeps my mind active but it’s far from full time work.”

Lipsitz said she recognizes that some do not have the luxury of retiring when they choose, and she said the purpose of her retirement is to stay active.

“I was not a person who felt like my whole identity was tied up in my job,” she said.

“On some level many are doing caregiving for their parents as the older generation lives longer,” she said.

Hecht said many volunteers also teach English as a second language  and spend time with children as part of a Big Brother, Big Sister program. She said retired attorneys help run a free legal clinic for those who need advice.

“That’s a wonderful way where attorneys can stay connected and have some personal satisfaction,” she said.

A Plea for Unity Netanyahu, Herzog headline JFNA’s General Assembly

A hoarse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told thousands of Jewish community representatives at the Washington Hilton Tuesday that disagreements over issues as divisive as the recent nuclear deal with Iran should not undermine either communal unity or the Israeli-American alliance.

“Maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance,” Netanyahu said at the closing plenary of the 2015 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. “There is only one Jewish people, there is only one Jewish state … and now more than ever, we must work together to secure the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu acknowledged that passions were higher this year due to the Iran deal, which he had urged Congress to scuttle, but he reiterated that Israel has no better friend than the United States and vice versa — a line for which he received a standing ovation.

Netanyahu had met the day before with President Barack Obama and said he was grateful for the United States’ financial support of Israel’s military needs.

“We have to pay for defense, and defense is very, very expensive,” he said. “In fact, it gets more and more expensive all the time.”

A Plea for Unity

The prime minister also spoke out against anti-Semitism and said the Jewish state cannot be held to a “triple standard.”

“Today, we have a voice, and we must ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear,” he said. “We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and against the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu said he remains committed to a vision of two states for two peoples with a demilitarized Palestinian state.

“When we meet a leader who is able to finally  recognize Israel as a Jewish state, we will have peace,” he said.

Netanyahu’s speech came one day after Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog addressed the G.A. Herzog had met with Secretary of State John Kerry Monday morning and called him a “great, great friend of Israel.”

“I told him that we commend and express great gratitude to him and to the president for their indelible support of the State of Israel and their contribution to Israel’s safety and well-being,” said Herzog.

Herzog referred to American historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Brandeis and Betty Friedan as leaders he feels have been important in influencing the nature of U.S.-Israel relations. He also praised Aung Sang Suu Kyi for her democratic leadership in Myanmar after facing difficult odds under house arrest for 21 years.

“I think it’s only a symbol, a symbol for us here as Jews, to wish well to another nation seeing democracy shine again out of the darkness of dictatorship,” he said.

Among those who turned out for Monday’s events were 60 people from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. One of the conference’s primary purposes is to allow members of the Jewish philanthropic community to share ideas about how to improve their own communities.

“The G.A. to me is an intellectual hub. It is a place where there is so much philanthropic thinking,” said Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect of The Associated. “It’s just a fabulous, fabulous opportunity that every lay and professional leader should take advantage of.”

Hurwitz, who was JFNA’s National Campaign chair last year, said the G.A. is an opportunity to “rub shoulders with people who have years of experience.” She attends the conference every year and said she always enjoys speakers who “inspire the hell out of her,” such as former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

“My whole life is klal yisrael, one Jew for another, and I don’t feel that for anywhere else except Israel and the G.A.,” she said.

Michelle Gordon, chief of staff for The Associated, said she has been to seven G.A.s and she always enjoys learning how they can utilize the best practices they hear about from other federations.

“It’s great to hear what all of our other counterparts are doing across the country and North America, the relationships that we can build with other organizations that are here,,” she said.

Gordon said such a geographically diverse abundance of Jews fosters a strong sense of community that she feels makes the G.A. unique.

“When you come here and you see so many people who are living passionately about the same things you are, you feel energized and supported and part of something much bigger than yourself; you can’t replace that by reading a book or reading an article,” she said.

Monday’s activities began with a series of morning breakout sessions followed by a three-hour plenary meeting, at which point all of the federations gathered by tables in the main ballroom. Speakers included Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The delegation then headed to their afternoon breakout sessions, including one entitled “Major League Fundraising,” which was co-led by Associated Senior Vice President Leslie Pomerantz. Pomerantz gave a presentation on how federations must think outside the box when it comes to fundraising.

“We allocate $47 million every year, $31 million of that comes from our unrestricted annual campaign,” she said. “Thank goodness we’re not in a crisis situation, but yet we know that we have community needs that are not being met and that we are leaving money on the table.”

Pomerantz said last year, The Associated changed the way it engages with its donors by doing things such as changing the job descriptions of senior-level fundraisers and focusing on making sure they get out of the office.

“All of us are fabulous organizers; we are great at making sure the events look great, that the trains are running on time, that direct mail is getting out, that the list pool is correct,” she said.

Pomerantz emphasized that when communicating with donors, it is important to maintain a good rapport and be “sellers, not tellers.”

“This isn’t about not taking no for an answer, this is about reframing the question,” she said.

Melissa Apter contributed to this story.

Western High’s Class of 1950 hosts 65th reunion

From left: Beverly Kronthal, Sandy Liberman, Zelda Zaben and Beatrice Yoffe pose for a photo at the 65th reunion of Western’s Class of 1950. (photo by Justin Katz)

From left: Beverly Kronthal, Sandy Liberman, Zelda Zaben and Beatrice Yoffe pose for a photo at the 65th reunion of Western’s Class of 1950. (photo by Justin Katz)

Gentle lighting, several tables decorated with yellow flowers, cloths with blue napkins precisely folded and placed in pristine white cups for each seat, and the reoccurring sounds of friends excitedly reuniting set the scene.

In the front of the room was a podium decorated with a cloth that read “WHS 1950,” with a crest resembling Maryland’s flag and the phrase “Lucem Accepimus, Lucem Demus” (“We have received light; let us give forth light”).

All in all, a refined celebration for the 70 women and a handful of husbands attending Western High School’s Class of 1950 reunion inside the Maryland Room at Martin’s West on Oct. 21.

“People frown when you say you went to an all-girls school,” said Beatrice Yoffe. “But we were a sisterhood.”

Western High School is the oldest all-girls public high school in the country and one of the oldest schools in the state of Maryland. The school has several notable alumnae such as Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland State Delegates Jill Carter and Cheryl Glenn.

Maragret Milleker attended the reunion and brought several articles and photos about Western she has saved since graduating.

A 1979 The Baltimore Sun article explains part of the reason the school was created. Western traces its origins to 1844 and a belief that the “fairer sex” couldn’t stand up to the rigors of attending a school that required a bit of travel. The city, therefore, needed two girls’ schools, one in the east and the other in the west.

Milleker said she went to Western “under duress,” as she didn’t like the idea of going to an all-girls school. But she’s grateful for the preparation the school gave her for when she attended the Maryland State Teachers College at Towson, now Towson University.

The impact the school made on its students is made clear by the distance some of the attendees traveled for the reunion. Rita Gelman lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was surprised by the number of people she recognized at the event.

“I picked up the phone when I got this yellow invitation and I said, ‘Irene, I want to go to the Western High School reunion’” said Gelman, adding that she hadn’t spoken to her friend, Irene, in 15 years. “She said, ‘If you’re going, I’ll go,’ and I’m so glad I came.”

Zelda Zaben and Sandy Liberman attended nursing school together after graduating from Western.

They joined Yoffe and Beverly Kronthal in wearing blue shirts, white pants and yellow neck scarves, matching the class’ colors of blue and gold, because they were the afternoon’s entertainment.

Following a cocktail hour and lunch, the group performed several parodies of Western High to the tunes of “Oscar Meyer Weiner” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, It’s Time to Go” among others.

Although members of the Class of 1950 have lately been organizing reunions every five years, Zaben said this might have been their last.

“[My memories of Western] are all glorious. It’s the people who are there: the students, the classmates,” said Jane Meyer, who served as the class’ student president for three years. “That’s what makes up any organization, and we all became very close-knit. … That stage of [our lives] was unique.”

Coming Home The obstacles of transitioning from military to civilian life can be daunting

The tactics and weapons of war have changed drastically since the turn of the 20th century, and so too has the toll, both physically and mentally, that active duty can take on servicemen and women when they transition out of the military and back to civilian life.

According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, 40 percent of homeless men are veterans, 200,000 homeless veterans sleep on the street every night, and 76 percent of homeless veterans experience alcohol, drug and mental health problems.

“[Soldiers] coming back now have conditions that we never had in prior wars,” said Michael Winnick, director of veteran services at Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.

The JWV, originally named the Hebrew Union Veterans, is a congressionally chartered veteran-service organization started in 1896 due to the misconception that Jews did not serve in the Civil War.

Erwin Burtnick is a retired colonel and holds several titles at different veterans’ organizations. He said the cause for substance abuse with veterans can stem from stress, experimentation while on active duty, how individuals are treated and what they go through during their service.

“If you’re in a vehicle and it gets hit by an [improvised explosive device] and you see body parts go flying, it affects you mentally,” said Burtnick, who pointed to his hat that identified him as a veteran. “I have teenagers come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Vietnam veterans wouldn’t have worn that hat. They were told, ‘As soon as you get back to this country, get out of your uniform.’”

Coming Home

Winnick, who was issued a bronze star and a “V” device for combat operation and valor in Vietnam, experienced firsthand the public’s reaction to veterans returning home. He was invited to a family wedding, and although he wasn’t in uniform, people at the reception asked him, “How could you kill women and children?”

“I told them ‘I was a medic, I was saving people,’” said Winnick.

Winnick left the Army in 1970, and by then the attitude of the public “was improving, but it wasn’t by any means what it should have been. You sent people to war, you have an obligation to take care of them.”

Winnick said although they were seldom, there were some positive moments following his service in Vietnam. After walking into a bar at an airport with his friend, a stranger asked Winnick if they were veterans.

“I clenched a fist ready for a fight,” he said. “The guy said to the bartender, ‘Whatever they have, put it on my tab.”

Winnick didn’t question it at the time, but he thinks the man was a veteran who knew what it was like to come home.

While the public’s treatment of veterans has become less of an issue recently, the transition to home home is still not always easy, specifically for younger members of the military. Rabbi Yonatan Warren is a 4th Battalion chaplain at the Naval Academy, and much of his job revolves around counseling midshipmen on both religious and nonreligious issues.

Warren served in Afghanistan, and he’s had discussions with soldiers about the transition back to civilian life. He said many of them are concerned where they will live.

“For younger people, they tend to go home where it’s comfortable, but some of them joined the military to get away from home,” said Warren. “Some people have left their family on purpose, and now because they are leaving the military, willingly or unwillingly, they may not want to go back, but the only safe place to go is home.”

Homelessness among of veterans is one issue that the Baltimore-based Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training is fighting. MCVET works to provide veterans with transient housing to help them get back on their feet.

Burtnick added that many programs such as MCVET require veterans to be clean of any kind of substances and sober. For some veterans this can be a challenge, but Burtnick emphasized that “you have to meet them halfway.”

Warren added that he serves a diverse population of soldiers, and they all have different concerns based on their ages and backgrounds. He also said that there are some individuals who will connect with him after they leave the military but in those cases his goal “is to help them find [another rabbi or counselor] who has a normal work week in that community.”

Even after an individual knows where they want to live, one of the most challenging issues members of the military face is finding employment. Burtnick explained that although individuals may have strong leadership skills or teamwork, they may not know how to market themselves in the civilian world. This can make things like writing a resume difficult.

“In the military, you command; in the civilian world, you manage,” said Burtnick.

Dr. Harvey Kaplan achieved the rank of colonel in the Army and served on active duty around the world for more than two-and-a-half decades. When Kaplan first retired from active duty there was very little offered by the military in terms of transitioning programs. However, Kaplan was recalled for Desert Storm and ended up retiring again.

By that time the Army Career Alumni Program had formed, which assists military personnel and Department of Defense civilians affected by downsizing and their family members with the employment process. After gaining experience working on a team from ACAP, Kaplan and one of his colleagues decided to develop their own program geared toward older military members.

The classes, which Kaplan is working to host in different venues in Montgomery County, aim to help individuals by giving them all the questions they need to ask themselves “to make a smooth, efficient and meaningful transition into a second career.”

“The first thing we would do [in a class] is stress the need for a total self-assessment: family, financial and personal,” said Kaplan. “We give people the questions they need to answer: What sort of commitment does an individual need to succeed in this process? What kinds of skills and habits do they bring to the private sector? Do you want to work for someone else or yourself?”

Kaplan added that to make a smooth transition, it requires time and planning, especially for older veterans who have spent their careers in the military. He said a well-planned transition can take up to two years of preparation, and “when a soldier, sailor or airmen only has three months to do it, it’s not enough.”

Burtnick said many programs at the local, state and federal level have been developed to help veterans with the issue of employment. Organizations such as Hiring our Heroes and Operation Hire Maryland focus on matching veterans with employers looking for the knowledge and experience that veterans have to offer.

While those coming home from active duty may be stationed at a base, when members of the Reserve come home they return to a civilian employer.

Burtnick is the Maryland area chair for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve which is an extension of the department of defense. He explained that when guardsmen (or service members in the Reserve) return from active duty, their former employer is required to rehire them with the same pay, status and benefits if they did not exceed five years of extended active duty.

However, most employers are not aware of this law and unintentionally violate it. ESGR calls employers and tries to get individuals rehired amicably. Most of the time this just means explaining the law. However, if an employer still refuses even after ESRG has called, a claim can be made with the Department of Labor.

“[The Department of Labor] first tries to get your job back in a nice way — sort of like what we do — but with a hammer behind it. If that doesn’t work, they start subpoenaing records,” said Burtnick. “They may look to see if this is a policy of the company. Have they done this to others? If it gets really bad, they take it to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and it goes to court.”

Burtnick emphasized most employers are willing to comply once they understand the law and that many organizations have called him back with questions to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated.

While many programs exist on the state and federal level, there are also local organizations that aim to assist veterans. Lisa Terry is the executive director of the Howard County Office of Military Affairs.

The office has been pushing initiatives such as asking businesses to create reserved veteran parking spots, urging the county to construct a memorial monument dedicated to veterans, supporting a Veterans Day parade in Ellicott City and teaming up with local college students who are interested in supporting veterans through service projects.

Harris Asbeil, who lives in Columbia, achieved Sgt. First Class in the Army. He said the transition from active duty to civilian life was comparable to making the transition from graduating from college to finding a job. However, he credits his ease of transitioning to the degree he had earned before entering the Army.

Asbeil said depending on what job someone had in the military, their skills may be limited.

“In the case of my son-in-law, the only translatable skill set he had was truck driving, and there’s need for it, but it’s limited,” said Asbeil. “My daughter was in personnel administration, and she’s working now doing just that.”

Asbeil added that his daughter joined the military straight out of high school and now lives in Michigan, where she is studying for her bachelor’s degree. He said during his second enlistment he intentionally aimed for a position that he knew would have translatable skills. He ended up working in electronics maintenance.

Many of the veterans and organizations interviewed all stressed that transitioning from military to civilian life is a broad topic. It encompasses much more than simply having a house to live in and a job.

“The guys coming back today are getting hit with different attitudes,” said Winnick, director of Veteran Services at JWV. “There are people going out of their way to make sure the guys get the things they need.”

Winnick said the cost is expensive, and while no one questions the financial aspect of it, the public is starting to learn one thing about war.

Said Winnick, “Today, people realize you don’t stop paying for a war after you pull the guys out.”


Chili Fundraiser for Vets

The Baltimore Station, a residential treatment program that helps veterans with poverty, addiction and homelessness, is hosting a Stars, Stripes and Chow: Chili Edition fundraiser on Nov. 7. Attendees can sample different chili recipes made by teams of first responders and members of the military and the Baltimore Station.

The event will also feature a panel of guest judges including Baltimore City councilmen Nick Mosby and Eric Costello; former Baltimore Sun food critic Richard Gorelick and a question-and-answer session with Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr.

“Most programming [like the Station’s] is a shorter stay, but since ours is longer, the success rates are higher, and there is more opportunity for someone to become stable,” said John Friedel, executive director at the Baltimore Station.

Friedel explained the Station’s average resident stays for 13 months, but the program allows for an up to two-year stay.

“It’s a comprehensive program that deals with mental, physical and holistic health,” said Friedel. “The generous amount of time works well [to tackle] all of the demons that may have led to homelessness and substance abuse.”

Vicki Almond Loses Aide But Gains His Wife Mandee Heinl joins District 2 team

Steve and Mandee Heinl (center) with Vicki Almond (third from left), Jon Cardin (far right) and others at their wedding. (Photo provided)

Steve and Mandee Heinl (center) with Vicki Almond (third from left), Jon Cardin (far right) and others at their wedding. (Photo provided)

When Vicki Almond’s legislative aide Steve Heinl left for an Annapolis law firm, the Baltimore County councilwoman didn’t even have to look outside the family for his replacement.

On Oct. 5, Mandee Heinl, Steve’s wife, became Almond’s new aide.

But this is no case of nepotism, as Mandee, 25, boasts a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore and has been working in politics since high school with jobs in Annapolis and at the Baltimore Jewish Council.

“She seemed like, naturally, the most qualified person to take my place,” Steve said. “It basically felt to me like a natural transition in politics. You need to be surrounded by people you trust and you know very well, people who support you but also understand you.”

For Almond, who takes the part-time council job as a full-time job, her aides, which include Mandee Heinl and senior council assistant Jonathan Schwartz, are also full time.

Mandee’s job includes a little bit of everything; she’ll help Almond write policy, handle constituent services, research and make appointments for Almond to visit schools and senior centers among other tasks.

“I spend a lot of time in my community so I need people in my office who can handle the day-to-day issues, constituent complaints [and] emails from the administration and from the rest of the council,” Almond said. “So they are really my eyes and ears.”

The relationships in the District 2 team go back to the late 2000s, when Almond, Schwartz and Steve and Mandee Heinl all worked in Annapolis.

Almond was chief of staff for Sen. Bobby Zirkin starting in late 2005 and hired Steve Heinl as an intern while he was in college. When she heard Del. Dana Stein was looking for an aide, she recommended Steve, and he got the job for the 2007 General Assembly session. Schwartz was hired in the fall of 2008 by Del. Jon Cardin, who shared an office with Stein, so he and Steve worked feet away from each other.

Mandee Heinl started in Annapolis interning for Cardin as a high school senior in the 2007 legislative session. After hearing Jon Cardin speak to her Hebrew school class at Temple Oheb Shalom, she decided she wanted to go to Annapolis. Mandee wrote a resume, landed an interview with Cardin and got the internship. She interned with Cardin for two years.

Mandee and Steve were friends in Annapolis, but they didn’t start dating until 2009. That summer, they worked on a campaign slate for District 11, which included Sen. Zirkin, Delegates Dan Morhaim, Stein and Cardin, as well as Almond’s County Council bid.

When Almond won the Baltimore County District 2 Council seat, things would change for Steve Heinl and Schwartz.

“I asked Steve if he would come and work for me, and at that point Jonathan was also working for Jon Cardin, so I stole him as well,” Almond said. “I came on with two people I had known for such a long time, so we already had a friendly relationship and a good working relationship.”

As Steve worked for Almond, he attended law school and did some law work on the side once he was admitted to the bar. In the meantime, Mandee interned for a lobby firm and would land her first post-college job as the assistant director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council, where she worked for three-and-a-half years. Prior to her new post at Almond’s office, Mandee was working for Del. Shelly Hettleman in Annapolis.

Things changed for the Heinl family when Steve took a job at Annapolis-based firm Hyatt & Weber doing estates and trust work after nearly five years with Almond.

“I met Steve as a college student, and he is leaving us as a barred lawyer and married with two kids,” Schwartz said.

And with Sam, 2, and Olivia, 1, both attending Oheb Shalom’s Learning Ladder, the family had to figure something out. So Mandee made the difficult decision of leaving Hettleman’s office.

“I think she is going to be someone really big one day,” she said of Hettleman. “It was actually a really hard decision.”

Aiding in her decision was the fact that Mandee has lived in Pikesville all her life and wants to raise her kids in the Reform community there.

“She is a Pikesville girl,” Almond said. “So I hate to say this this way, but I kind of stole Mandee from Shelly. So I stole Jonathan, Steve and Mandee. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.”

Mandee, who, according to Almond, is “very politically astute” and well connected, said her interest in politics goes back to her time at the Shoshana S. Cardin School, which she attended for ninth and 10th grades. The school was big on getting students involved in advocacy, Mandee said, and she took part in the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Advocacy Day both years. Now more seasoned in the political arena, Mandee has a sense of purpose that has kept her involved.

“I see so many things that go wrong and how the system is broken and it needs to be fixed — from kids going to school hungry every day, to people being homeless, to the cost of higher education,” she said. “If I can even effect a little bit of change, this is my way of trying to do that.”