Doors Closing Opens Up Mall’s Future Developer looking to makes moves at Owings Mills Mall

The interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall closed in late September. Mall owner Kimco plans to raze the mall and build an open-air outdoor shopping center. (Daniel Schere)

The interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall closed in late September. Mall owner Kimco plans to raze the mall and build an open-air outdoor shopping center. (Daniel Schere)

The closing of the interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall means many things to a community that has long considered the site an eyesore. To some, it paves the way for redevelopment that has long been in the pipeline. To others, it serves as the long overdue obituary to a mall that has been dead for more than a decade.

For Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, it means the mall, once the area’s premiere shopping destination, has a future.

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

With shovels in the ground at Foundry Row, which will be home to a Wegmans grocery store set to open next fall, and most of that project leased, Kamenetz is hopeful that the public will now see some development at the mall.

The interior doors closed in late September, and Macy’s announced it would be closing this month. Kamenentz said Kimco has acquired the Macy’s property as well as the majority of the mall from General Growth Properties, which was Kimco’s partner on the project. While a J.C. Penney spokesman said the company does not plan to close its Owings Mills store, Kimco is in acquisition talks with the retailer, according to Kamenetz. Baltimore County District 4 Councilman Julian Jones expects to hear from Kimco about the fate of J.C. Penney in January.

There’s millions and millions of dollars being invested in our community.

Members of the surrounding community have bemoaned the loss of the mall but are optimistic for the site’s future. Jeff Freedman, a community member who grew up with the mall in its better days, said he thinks converting the existing structure into an entertainment complex would be far more cost-effective than performing a complete overhaul, as has been discussed. He thinks transparency is key to ensuring the new complex is a success.

“It’s very important that Kimco asks the community for input in terms of which stores they would like to see and what would bring them back to the mall before determining the next steps,” he said.

Freedman added that the mall building, while empty, has sentimental value for people who grew up with it.

(Daniel Schere)

(Daniel Schere)

“Many people have also created memories here, so there are many people who do not want to see it demolished,” he said.

There has been a growing sense of discontent among some residents who have become concerned with the changing demographics of the region surrounding the mall, something Chabad of Owings Mills’ Rabbi Nachum Katsenelenbogen said he hears from his congregants.

“Some people are concerned that they’re going to put up a lot of residential buildings there,” he said. “They’re afraid that if 1,500 or 2,000 apartments go up and they’re not Jewish people, the percentage of Jews could go down.”

Katsenelenbogen, who was quick to note that he was not speaking for himself, said the perception among many he knows is that an influx of residents could form a barrier between the “Jewish section” and “not-so-Jewish section,” as has been the case with the intersection of Park Heights Avenue and Northern Parkway.

We’re just really excited that we’re on the same page [with developers], and we see a lot of movement taking place.

Kimco plans to raze the mall structure and turn it into an open-air outdoor shopping center. Previous plans that included building a new center around the structures of J.C. Penney and Macy’s were scrapped, and Kimco retreated from the spotlight after the Foundry Row site was granted commercial zoning in August 2012.

Jones is excited to see some activity at the mall and thinks Owings Mills has a bright future. He said Kimco’s new plans, which have several renditions, are similar in scope to the original plans.

“There’s millions and millions of dollars being invested in our community,” he said.

Meanwhile, activity at the eventual site of Foundry Row has flourished, with construction having begun on its centerpiece store, Wegmans. Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, confirmed that the store is set to open in the late summer of 2016 with employee recruiting set to begin early next year.

Wegmans currently has a location in Hunt Valley Towne Center, and Natale said Owings Mills is a promising community due to its population density.

“We look for the same criteria no matter the site,” she said. “We only open three or four new stores each year, and because the pace of our growth is very measured, we tend to be very selective.”

Baltimore County will be the only county in Maryland with two Wegmans stores, Kamenetz said.

The Metro Centre at Owings Mills has also made a splash with six retailers open and a seventh on the way, 85 percent leasing in the first of two luxury apartment buildings and a four-story, 200,000-square-foot office and retail building under construct­­­ion with an expected completion in summer 2016. The site is also home to the County Campus Building, which houses a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch.

Never Met a Stranger Linda Greenberg’s care for the homeless and needy was felt throughout Maryland and beyond


Linda Greenberg

Linda Greenberg, a prominent humanitarian in Anne Arundel County, died at the age of 72 on Friday Oct. 30 as a result of complications from heart-valve replacement surgery. Greenberg was well known in the Jewish community for her founding of the Christmas Eve charity “Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy.”

Greenberg started the drive in 1989 as an interfaith collection of clothes, toys and other items that she would deliver to homeless shelters throughout the Baltimore region. She later turned this into a nonprofit organization.

But Greenberg’s passion of helping the homeless extended much further than the holidays. Her son, Marc, said when he and his brother were young their mother would take them to downtown Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where they would walk around to help homeless people on the street. The Greenbergs would give money or food and sometimes would bring a homeless person with them to a meal if they were headed that way.

“My mom always impressed upon us, if you see someone who is homeless, you must give them something,” Marc Greenberg said. “We have duty and obligation to give back.”

Marc Greenberg said his mother’s never-met-a-stranger approach to life was rooted in what she viewed as a moral obligation to take action when she saw something wrong in the world.

“No matter what you do, you have to help somebody,” he said. “You have to stop; you have to speak to them; you have to help them.”

Annapolis resident Glenn Carr said he met Greenberg when she began the drive and said participating was a “life-changing experience.”

“She was probably the most compassionate human being I’ve ever met,” he said. “She gave everybody hugs, and the hug just went right to your soul.”

No matter what you do, you have to help somebody. You have to stop; you have to speak to them; you have to help them.

As a volunteer, Carr was responsible for identifying homeless shelters in Baltimore for delivery and giving directions to the driver of the food van in those pre-GPS days. He said Greenberg had the energy of a drill sergeant but was always upbeat.

“It wasn’t a stern manner, it was an enthusiastic manner,” he said.

Carr believes Greenberg inherited her giving spirit from her mother, who once asked her daughter to give her coat to a homeless girl while walking down the street in Washington when she was about 11.

Carr also said Greenberg kept of number of large livestock animals at her home and would write letters to the Capital Gazette speaking out against deer hunting.

“She really taught me that there are decent, caring people who take it to the next level,” Carr said. “And it also showed me [how] one person’s power and drive [can] spread.”

After moving to Florida in 2009, Greenberg’s desire to see the world led her on a visit to Uganda, where she was struck by the widespread poverty in the region.

“She went to Uganda to visit, and she realized how downtrodden they were,” Marc Greenberg said. “She was disgusted that some people had to walk 20 or 30 miles to get medical care.”

That trip spurred Greenberg to establish the foundation 4Uganda in order to raise money for improvements to the school and for a new hospital and dental clinic in the village of Myende on Koome Island.

Greenberg was a well-known member at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Annapolis for several decades until her move South. Rabbi Moshe Weisblum said when he moved to the area in 2002, Greenberg helped his family settle in, and the two became close.

“She was an extremely kind person, an extremely caring community person,” he said, adding that Greenberg was constantly recruiting volunteers in the congregation for her drive — something he said will have a lasting impact on him.

“She was a go-getter,” Weisblum said.,”and a person who you couldn’t say no to.”

Marc Greenberg said the loss of his mother is still sinking in, and he hopes her legacy of giving will remain in people’s minds.

“It’s been one of the most difficult things that my family has gone through,” he said. “I’m just smiling, thinking that we need to continue her mission.”

One in Several Million Journalist searches for grandfather’s ‘true love’

Sarah Wildman reads excerpts from her book “Paper Love” during a presentation at Chizuk Amuno  Congregation, which was moderated by Suzy Snyder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sarah Wildman reads excerpts from her book “Paper Love” during a presentation at Chizuk Amuno
Congregation, which was moderated by Suzy Snyder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

When people hear about the atrocities of the Holocaust, they most likely are told how enormous it was. Millions of victims killed; thousands of work camps established throughout Europe.

But Sarah Wildman’s book, “Paper Love,” tracks the life of only one person: Valerie Scheftel (nicknamed Valy), who Wildman discovered was her grandfather’s “true love” (according to her grandmother, who steadfastly refused to talk about it) years after his passing.

“I was going through boxes in my grandparents’ house, and there was a box labeled Correspondence: Patients A to G,” said Wildman. “I realized almost immediately that it was not from patients; it was his entire Viennese world.”

In partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Chizuk Amuno Congregation hosted “A Lost Love: One Family’s Forgotten History” on Oct. 14, which featured Wildman discussing the research she did to uncover Valy’s story, specifically after her grandfather fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.

Wildman, who is a journalist and former New Republic staffer, quickly became fascinated by the love letters she found along with a photo — “Your Valy” written on the back — and made it her goal to learn everything she could about Valy. She wasn’t sure where to begin the search, but after writing articles about work camps in France, she was contacted by the USHMM.

“[These camps] were tasked with sorting and redistributing the goods of all these regular people,” said Wildman during her presentation. “But personal items they were told to burn so that the Nazis were not just seeking an extermination, but also an erasure.”

We’re not witnesses in the original sense of the word, and I was very conscious of that. I wanted
to honor [Valy’s] story, and I wanted to honor my grandfather’s story. I was conscious during the process of the book of what would come after me.

One of the centers for Wildman’s search became the International Tracing Service, an organization that has acted as a repository of documents about the Nazis’ victims, works camps and more.

Toward the start of her search, the archives of the ITS were closed to the public, but the museum said those archives were the most likely place that would have documents about individuals, such as Valy. In 2007 the ITS opened its archives.

Even after the archives were opened, the search was far from over, as Wildman had to go through countless files and interview survivors around the world to get a clear sense of who Valy was and what happened to her.

Moderating the event was Suzy Snyder, curator of arts and artifacts at the USHMM.

“I think Sarah’s work is interesting because most of the time when we acquire a collection, there is some knowledge of a survivor’s experience through their own testimony, or often after they pass away, their children and grandchildren find correspondences,” said Snyder. “They know who is writing, [but in this case] we don’t have the whole story. We’re piecing it together just like Sarah.”

After Wildman finished her presentation, she took questions from the audience. Cynthia Peterman asked Wildman to elaborate on the idea that the story wasn’t hers to tell, which Wildman mentions in her book.

“We’re not witnesses in the original sense of the word, and I was very conscious of that. I wanted to honor [Valy’s] story, and I wanted to honor my grandfather’s story,” Wildman said in response. “I was conscious during the process of the book of what would come after me.”

Wildman added that while she was doing her research, she went through two different pregnancies and would say, “I’m growing little Jews in pursuit of lost Jews.” When she considered how her work may affect the next generation, she thought about her daughters hearing the story.

“I’m not [Valy.] I didn’t go through her life and nothing proves the privilege of my own life more than reading her letters and knowing the restrictions she was under,” said Wildman. “I grappled throughout the process of finding a way of telling her story, respectfully.”

FIDF Gala Raises Record Amount

Gary and Julie Applebaum pose with Ligal Atias, an Israeli soldier they sponsor through the FIDF’s IMPACT! program. (Marc Shapiro)

Gary and Julie Applebaum pose with Ligal Atias, an Israeli soldier they
sponsor through the FIDF’s IMPACT! program. (Marc Shapiro)

The Baltimore chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces raised a record amount of money at its annual gala on Thursday, Oct. 15 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

The organization’s seventh annual event raised more than $500,000 and drew about 450 people, both numbers higher than past galas.

“I think it was a very emotional evening,” said Gary Applebaum, who chaired the event with his wife, Julie. He thought that the big response was in part due to the recent violence in Israel.

“We know what to do. We come together, do what Jews always do and eat. We learned about all the things the FIDF can do, and people gave more money than they ever have,” he said. “People are so anxious now, and they so much want to help, so when you give them these solid programs that can help actual people and soldiers, they respond.”

Videos highlighted FIDF programs such as the IMPACT! Scholarship Program, which helps IDF soldiers attend college, and the Legacy program, which supports families of fallen soldiers.

The Applebaums are sponsoring their second soldier through IMPACT! The first one is now a maternity nurse. The second soldier they’re sponsoring is attending the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan.

As Applebaum was reading a letter from his soldier, Ligal Atias, she appeared on the stage, flown in for the event to the Applebaums’ surprise. She gave a short speech about how appreciative she was of the FIDF programs and stayed with the Applebaums for three days following the event.

“It’s about the helping soldiers through all these different programs,” Applebaum said. “These are Jewish kids, and we have to take care of them.”

Think It Doesn’t Happen Here? Think again, says coalition on domestic abuse

Elissa Schwartz, executive director of JCADA, speaks about the red flags of abuse at Hadassah’s Rockville office. (Suzanne Pollak)

Elissa Schwartz, executive director of JCADA, speaks about the red flags of abuse at Hadassah’s Rockville office. (Suzanne Pollak)

As a child, her mother “used to put me down. I wasn’t talented. I wasn’t smart like my brother,” a woman from Leisure World in Montgomery County, who asked her name not be used, recalled.

So when she started dating, it seemed normal to her that her boyfriend abused her verbally. And when her mother started picking on him, she felt obligated to defend the young man, who she married.

They had three children. The abuse escalated.

“It was verbal, physical, economical,” the woman said in a recent interview. “If he was really ticked off at me, he would put his foot on my back and push me out of bed.”

The Silver Spring woman decided she would leave him after their children went to college. The situation worsened, and she told herself she would leave when all were teenagers, right after they had b’nai mitzvah ceremonies.

But her situation worsened again before that.

Most people will never experience domestic abuse, but they can play an important role by supporting relatives and friends who are domestic abuse victims.

After her husband injured her, dislocating a disc in her back, she took the children and left. “It was really hard. I had no support system,” no family nearby.

That was 25 years ago. She still wonders how different her life might have been if domestic abuse had been discussed openly, if she had known that there were people out there willing to help and provide temporary shelter.

“I learned everything I knew about abuse after I was divorced,” she said. “It wasn’t talked about.”

Enter JCADA, the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, which strives to improve domestic abuse awareness. The Rockville organization provides help to those in abusive situations. It also reaches out to young people to make them aware of the red flags for abuse. And it lets them know they don’t have to put up with abuse.

A person is abusive if he or she constantly checks a partner’s phone to see who the person calls and texts or if that person questions every place the partner goes and every dollar spent, said JCADA executive director Elissa Schwartz, who spoke on Oct. 14 to about 30 people at Hadassah’s Greater Washington office in Rockville.

“Abuse is more than just a black eye,” she said. An abusive relationship is one in which one person seeks to maintain power and control over someone else’s behavior. It could be the threat of violence, constant putdowns, total control over the purse strings or the use of sex in a controlling way, she said.

When a partner “says, ‘You have to have sex with me tonight or you can’t visit your parents or see your grandchildren,’” that is abuse, she said.

To people who deny that domestic abuse is a problem in the Jewish community, Schwartz is quick to respond that it really is. It happens in Silver Spring and Potomac and elsewhere.

JCADA has 104 clients, the majority of them between the ages of 40 and 49. Since it opened in 1990, JCADA has served 330 clients, 72 percent of whom were Jewish.

Over 25 years, its statistics show that 90 percent of its clients were verbally and emotionally abused, 53 percent were financially abused, 52 percent were physically abused, and 22 percent were sexually abused. (The numbers do not add to 100 percent, because some victims were abused in more than one way.)

According to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, domestic abuse occurs with the same frequency throughout the population, regardless of race and ethnicity.

While most people will never experience domestic abuse, they can still play an important role by supporting family members and friends who do. The most important thing to remember is not to tell a person to leave his or her partner, Schwartz said.

Instead, be a “nonjudgmental listener” she said. Telling people to leave can put them in danger. Also, they may be reluctant to confide again.

“At the end of the day, their safety is the most important thing. Say, ‘I am worried about you. How can I support you?’” Schwartz said. “Let them know you will be there for them.”

Congregational Awareness Clergy from around the state learn how to address domestic violence

Shmuel Fischler speaks to clergy at a domestic violence workshop in Annapolis. (Daniel Schere)

Shmuel Fischler speaks to clergy at a domestic violence workshop in Annapolis. (Daniel Schere)

More than 270 clergy members from across Maryland gathered in Annapolis on Oct. 14 for the Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition’s third annual training session. The event features a number of speakers from various faith and advocacy groups aimed at educating members of the faith community on how they can provide resources to their congregations.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Karen Chaya Friedman started the event after serving as the board chair of CHANA, during which time the organization challenged every rabbi to do something in his or her congregation to address domestic violence during October. Friedman had to resign from the board when she became a judge but wanted to find another outlet for her passion.

“I have spent days and days listening to these cases and some days issuing as many as 30 or 40  [protective orders],” she said. “And it was very frustrating. And I asked myself, ‘How can we make some kind of difference in this problem?’ And it just came to me: Why can’t we take what CHANA was doing in the Jewish community, spread it to the entire community and ask every religion of every denomination to do something about domestic violence in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”

The event originally included only Baltimore City but gradually expanded to include more surrounding counties, and last year, it drew 150 clergy members.

“I think it’s very clear that for a lot of people, the first person they reveal their situation to is their clergy person,” she said. “And that clergy person’s initial reaction will really be key in determining what steps that person will take next.”

As a call to action, Friedman has asked every congregation in the state to include something related to domestic violence awareness in their service during the weekend of Oct. 23-25.

“We don’t expect the clergy to solve this problem or even to directly deal with the problem,” she said. “They have an entire congregation with a myriad of problems and community issues. So workloadwise it’s impossible, and domestic violence is an incredibly complex problem with a tremendous amount of subtleties surrounding it that the clergy would be in absolutely no position to deal with.”

Throughout the session, speakers emphasized to clergy the importance of including language in their congregation’s bylaws on how to address situations in which an abuser or a victim is a member. Shmuel Fischler, CHANA’s director of outreach and advocacy, began his presentation by asking how many spiritual leaders had such bylaws, to which very few raised their hands.

“Having a policy sends a statement,” he said. “When you share with the congregation that we have a policy that addresses domestic violence, that sends a real statement to victims, survivors and potential perpetrators that we’re not bystanders. We’re doing something about it.”

Fischler said a victim-sensitive policy that facilitates open communication with congregants, addressing domestic violence from the pulpit and agreed-upon hiring and firing procedures should be staples of any domestic violence policy. He also recommended congregations create a diverse committee of five to eight members to tackle the issue.

“This is not going to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i,’” he said. “What we have is a mechanism for what to do when a congregant comes to us and says this and this is happening.”

Fischler presented a variety of scenarios including a board member of a congregation who has a restraining order, an alleged abuser having donated $10,000 and an abuser who wants to attend the victim’s family event. He said in the latter instance, a spiritual leader has the right to restrict access to his or her place of worship.

“It’s not necessarily public that anyone can come,” he said. “You have the power in many instances to disallow someone who’s coming to an event. Be prepared to do that.”

Friedman, in addressing attendees, warned of many abusers who ask their spiritual leader to accompany them to court — something that can be devastating for the victim.

“When she walks into court and sees that her abuser is with his pastor or their pastor, that is very demoralizing,” she said. “And it’s something that I would implore you to think very closely about before you agree to accompany a respondent to court.”

Rabbi Moshe Weisblum of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Annapolis said he has been approached in the past by victims of abuse and said people are often more comfortable coming to his home for counseling.

“One word of encouragement, one word of hope, one word of admission to the right person at the right time changes people,” he said.

Weisblum gives two sermons every year about domestic violence and said congregants should not turn a blind eye.

“Sometimes people think that it only applies to them, but the reality is that it’s everywhere,” he said. “And it’s happening behind closed doors.”

Friedman echoed those concerns and said she hopes the number of men at the annual event increases.

“What we really want the community to understand is that this is not a female issue,” she said. “This is a human issue, this is a family issue, and this is a community issue.”

Not Your Typical CEO HoCo-based health executive honored by ADL

ADL national chair Marvin D. Nathan (right) presents MedStar CEO and president Kenneth Samet with ADL’s Achievement Award. (

ADL national chair Marvin D. Nathan (right) presents MedStar CEO and president Kenneth Samet with ADL’s Achievement Award. (

The Anti-Defamation League presented MedStar Health CEO and president Kenneth Samet with its Achievement Award at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington on Oct. 8.

Columbia-based MedStar Health is the largest health care provider serving the Maryland and Washington, D.C., region with 10 hospitals, 30,000 associates and 6,000 affiliated physicians.

“The principles by which Ken lives are the same principles that have guided the Anti-Defamation League for more than 100 years,” said David Friedman, ADL’s Washington regional director, in a written statement.

“A profound commitment to equality and human dignity, to compassion and mutual understanding and to building a community marked by respect and service to others.”

Friedman said his organization aims to recognize not only individuals in the nonprofit world, but also people who have been instrumental in shaping their respective communities.

“It’s very important when they, by their actions, do not simply make money but represent the values we consider to be essential in our society,” he said.

Past recipients of the ADL’s Achievement Award include Mark Weinberger, global chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young; David Falk, founder of FAME basketball; and Ted Leonsis, former vice chairman of America Online, Inc.

“Ken has demonstrated remarkable leadership throughout his impressive career. He has made an impact on a countless number of lives and truly is committed to making the world a better place,” said David Cohen, chair of ADL’s Washington regional board, in a written statement. “The overwhelming support for this event from hundreds of Ken’s friends, family and colleagues is a testament to his character and values.”

He spends just as much time talking to the people doing the behind-the-scene services as he does with the doctors, and I think that’s a strong demonstration of how much he cares.

Those speaking in Samet’s honor included Dr. John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, with which MedStar is a medical educational and clinical partner; Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac; Col. William M. Pallozzi, superintendent of the Maryland Department of State Police; and Richard J. Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

Friedman said one of the extraordinary things about Samet — and why he is deserving of the Achievement Award — is that “he has synthesized his personal values with his professional values.”

“Despite having [thousands of] employees, he doesn’t just know the doctors. He knows the people who clean the floors, he knows the people who move folks around, and he knows the nurses,” said Friedman. “He spends just as much time talking to the people doing the behind-the-scene services as he does with the doctors, and I think that’s a strong demonstration of how much he cares.”

The event honoring Samet raised more than $900,000, which is double the typical amount raised by the Achievement Award dinner. The money raised will go to support the programs and services that ADL provides throughout the region.

Samet received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Old Dominion University.

He also earned a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan.

He is a member of the board of directors for the following: Georgetown University; the Greater Baltimore Committee; the Economic Club of Washington; United Way of the National Capital Area; and Goodwill of Greater Washington.

A Guest from Ashkelon Mayor’s wife visits Chizuk Amuno preschool

Back row, from left: Orly Purrio, Revital Shimoni, Michelle Gold and Rabbi Ronald Shulman pose for a photo with a class at Chizuk Amuno’s Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Back row, from left: Orly Purrio, Revital Shimoni, Michelle Gold and Rabbi Ronald Shulman pose for a photo with a class at Chizuk Amuno’s Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center. (Photo by Justin Katz)

When one walks into a preschool classroom, there is an expectation that children will be talking loudly, and in English.

But when Revital Shimoni, wife of Itamar Shimoni, mayor of Ashkelon, Israel, walked into a classroom at Chizuk Amuno’s Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center on Oct. 20, she was greeted by 11 relatively quiet children learning and speaking in Hebrew.

The classroom itself was adorned with Israeli flags, colorful Hebrew words and expressions, maps of the world and posters.

Shimoni was in Baltimore with her husband as a part of his annual trip and visited children involved in the PJ ABC/Sifriyat Pijama Alef Bet program, which connects young children and their families to families in Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon.

The program is organized by the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, the educational arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“This is the first year we’ve had a partnership with a [school] in Ashkelon so we’re excited to be connecting parents and children,” said Michelle Gold, director of the Goldsmith Center. “It’s exciting that our first program, we have [Revital Shimoni] to help us make that connection and help us transport a project that the children are going to make back to Ashkelon.”

Gold added that the program was instated 16 years ago, which is also when she started in her position as director at Goldsmith.

Shimoni’s visit was to a Hebrew immersion class, where the teacher speaks only in Hebrew throughout the day. After introducing herself to each child and asking for their name, Shimoni, who has a background in education, helped the children trace their hands on a piece of cloth with a marker and write their names.

Shimoni will take the cloth back home and present it to a class in Ashkelon.

Orly Purrio, who is from a suburb in Tel Aviv and teaches the class that Shimoni visited, said that she does not speak English with the children at all. This means using improvised hand gestures and sign language when necessary.

“My entire body is moving,” said Purrio, laughing.

Purrio added that she aims to teach Hebrew, not translation. She does this by connecting it to their daily lives. During the visit, many of the children would bring up toys to her or Shimoni and say the color of the item in Hebrew.

Gold said the goal is to take a lesson and expand on it in. They’ve done this by growing different fruits and vegetables such as clementines and avocados while also learning about colors.

Purrio said the class just began learning about Israel at the same time of Shimoni’s visit.

Reut Friedman, Israel education associate at CJE, is an Israeli native and observed the interactions between Shimoni and the class along with Gold and Chizuk Amuno’s Rabbi Ronald Shulman.

“We’re delighted to welcome Revital, and we’re excited that she is here to visit our Hebrew immersion program at the Goldsmith Center,” said Shulman. “We’re thrilled for her to see how we teach the children Hebrew language, a love for Israel and a connection to their Jewish identity. [We hope] she feels at home and welcome in this community.”

Friedman also gave Shimoni a tour of Chizuk Amuno after finishing the art project with the class.

Shimoni has three children with another on the way.

Influential Optimist Local businessman Charles Baum was a problem solver, devoted family man

Charles Baum (Provided)

Charles Baum (Provided)

Charles Baum, a prominent businessman in Baltimore’s Jewish community, passed away Oct. 24 at the age of 73. Baum, who had served as the president of the Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore, a sister organization of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, said Baum “leaves the crown of a good name.”

“He was one of those people that you can’t really explain it, but when you experience it, then you know it,” he said. “He had this kind of twinkle in his eye and a sense of goodness that was at his core.”

Terrill said he had known Baum from the time he moved back to Baltimore from Boston 15 years ago, and they were in touch at least once a week.

He said Baum showed some of his true leadership abilities during the 2008 financial crisis, when he had just become chair of the Jewish investment fund.

“It’s a pool of money that is very important to the health and the philanthropy of our community, and during that time he was unshakeable, he was thoughtful, he was resolute and got us through one of the most difficult periods financially that was known to men and women,” Terrill said.

Baum’s life journey began in Montgomery, Ala., in the 1940s and led him north to Princeton University, where he graduated in 1964 at the top of his class. He then earned degrees from the Harvard Business School and the University of Maryland School of Law before joining his family’s business, United Holdings, where he worked until the onset of his illness earlier this year.

Baum was particularly known for his other career of advising athletes — prominent figures such as Orioles Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. Baum worked closely with sports agent Ron Shapiro at the firm Shapiro, Robinson & Associates through the late 1990s. Shapiro said the two met in 1975 after he had organized his firm, and Baum’s intelligence was essential to their success.

“He matched that brilliance with a wit and a kindness that made him a complete businessman and a complete human being,” he said. “There was no challenge that we faced in business or in the community that he couldn’t find a way to make light of in order to reduce the pressure.”

Shapiro said Baum would often comfort him when the firm faced the potential loss of a client by putting the situation in perspective. In explaining Baum’s legacy, Shapiro said his selflessness could easily be summed up by Winston Churchill’s famous expression, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Jim Dale, a former business partner, also referred to Baum’s humor and wit as defining qualities that made him successful and said Baum had a “sense of reality as a businessman.”

“He was not greedy,” said Dale. “It was possible to make a deal where everybody was reasonably happy.”

Dale said Baum was also exceptionally thorough about staying in touch with him and others with whom he had been close for many years.

“He’s one of the few men who really cultivated friends [and] did all the work it takes to keep up with friends,” he said.

Baum’s son, Matthew, said his father’s intellect could be traced to a sense of curiosity about the world and a variety of interest that ranged from politics to sports.

“He never missed a day of reading The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal,” he said.

Matthew Baum recalled an Orioles-Yankees game they attended as a family in 1992 where his father dove over a wall to grab a ball from a throw that Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly failed to catch. The incident was captured on a local broadcast and can now be seen on YouTube. Baum was ejected from Camden Yards for fan interference, but the family tells the story today with humor.

“He literally was on the field feet over his head, but that was just sort of typical of him with his enthusiasm,” his son said.

Matthew Baum said his father always put family and friends first and added it was remarkable that his father kept up with friends from his past without the aid of social media.

Now a history teacher at Gilman School, Baum said his father was nothing but supportive when he decided it was time for a career change from the corporate world.

“I was at a real crossroads when I was in my mid 20s when … I was choosing what I wanted to do,” Baum said. “[My father] told me to only do what I needed to do to please myself.”

The son said his father’s humility will be a lasting part of his legacy and was apparent even after being told his days were numbered.

“From literally the second before he told me about his diagnosis, he told me how grateful he was for the life he lived,” he said.

Gordon Center Turns 20 Performing arts center continues to grow as it enters its third decade

When the $4 million facility opened, it was of the highest caliber.

No detail was overlooked in the creation of the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts, from its masonry block design, lightweight concrete roof, ceiling panels and acoustic curtains — all of which contribute to the venue’s acoustic superiority — to its 550 roomie, sound-absorbent valor seats that wrap around the wide no-bad-seat-in-the-house venue to its hydraulic-powered orchestra pit to its 40-by-17-foot film screen. The 35-by-70-foot stage is large enough for theatrical and dance productions but small enough for intimate musical performances.

“When they built it, they made sure the sight lines were perfect for dance and the acoustics were perfect for music, and we had the second-largest film screen in Maryland,” said Randi Benesch, managing director of the Gordon Center and of arts and culture for the JCC. “We can really do anything in the Gordon.”

Gordon Center Turns 20

Twenty years later, the Gordon Center, located on the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus, remains the gem it was when it first opened in 1995. Last year, 30,000 people came through its doors.

Its 20th season exemplifies the diverse, cross-cultural, multidisciplinary, community center the venue has become, with shows from Chinese acrobatic dancers, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, The Maccabeats, Israeli-Palestinian pianists Duo Amal, the Reduced Shakespeare Company and much more. And that’s not including the classes, the teen and children’s programs, the performing arts camp, open-mic night and other programs Benesch has championed in her three years at the Gordon Center.

“I don’t want this place to be a façade, a venue that people come buy tickets, see a show and leave,” she said. “We want this to be the community’s performing arts center.”

When they built it, they made sure the sight lines were perfect for dance and the acoustics were perfect for music, and we had the second-largest film screen in Maryland. We can really do anything in the Gordon.

In the Beginning
It was difficult to sell the boards of the JCC and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore on building a multimillion-dollar performing arts center during the recession of the early 1990s, but the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust was willing to dedicate $2 million to the project, money that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.

“We thought it was a great opportunity at the time to build a performing arts center. The Jewish community didn’t really have one,” said Joe Meyerhoff, who was on the JCC board when the idea was first presented by the Gordon trust in 1991. “And when you have one group willing to put out that much capital to get the thing built, it was a pretty hard opportunity to say no to.” Meyerhoff would become the first chairman of the Gordon Center when it opened in spring 1995.

The Gordon Center has extremely good acoustics. It’s truly a world-class venue for the design of the theater, especially when you are talking about [a] concert experience. It’s very unique sounding — I can’t think of another place quite like it. It’s kind of a ‘best-kept secret.’

The Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust was formed in 1980 as a way to support local musicians and classical music. While the trust’s beneficiaries include legendary Baltimore institutions such as the Peabody Institute and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as Har Sinai, Oheb Shalom and Baltimore Hebrew congregations, the Gordon Center is held in highest esteem by trust director Phyllis Friedman.

“I think it was the best grant we ever made,” she said. “It puts Yale and Peggy’s interest in the performing arts on a building that has continuity. You make a grant for a concert and they play the concert and it’s finished, but this give [the Gordons] some stature.”

Although the Owings Mills area was rural at the time, it was a Baltimore County-designated growth area, and the JCC saw value in investing in Owings Mills. The growth would later be evident, as Owings Mills JCC, once an outpost in a rural community, had a membership increase of 40 percent in the five years prior to 1995.

Once everyone was on board, the rest of the money for the Gordon Center was raised in about three months, so as to not interfere with The Associated’s annual campaign.

To ensure the venue would be flawlessly designed, Meyerhoff and Nancy Goldberg, the JCC’s cultural arts director who would become Gordon Center director, set out to do some research.

“Joe Meyerhoff and I spent many months traveling the East Coast, anywhere we could find performing arts facilities that were smaller,” Goldberg said. “Finding out what did work, what didn’t work [and asking], ‘If you could do it over again, what would do you do?’”

Out of that research came the idea for the 650-square-foot hydraulic-powered orchestra pit (the only in Maryland at the time), which can accommodate 45 musicians below the stage and be raised to floor level to allow for 48 additional seats. Seats were built to be 20- to 22-inches wide with a generous 38 inches between rows. They opted to have a center aisle rather than have continental seating so that families with young children — one of the venue’s target audiences — would be able to get up and go to the bathroom quickly. The women’s restroom was built with about double the amount of stalls required by law for the same reason. All these features, of course, were in addition to designing the venue so that staging and sound would be perfect for any variety of performance types.

“We really did put a lot of thought into what we were building,” Goldberg said. “We wanted to utilize every penny we had and utilize it in the best way.”

Opening and Development
The Gordon Center officially opened its doors on May 1, 1995 with a performance by Israeli-born jazz singer Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, and guitarist Gil Dor. Because of the recession and contractors needing work, construction costs were less than projected, allowing the Gordon Center to open ahead of schedule and under budget.

The opening month featured an off-Broadway production, author appearances including Theodore Bikel speaking about his autobiography, a national dance company and the Jewish Film Festival, which was moved from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Gordon Center.

Goldberg said it was one of the most exciting times in her life, from the idea stage to the opening. She ran front of house and sought constant feedback from patrons.

“In the beginning, that really prompted what I did book, and when the people saw that [I was] doing what they’ve requested, they came back,” she said. “So it wasn’t so much getting people in the door, it was getting people in the door and coming back.”

Outside of performances, one of the highlights of Goldberg’s 17-year tenure was holding the first Maccabi Artsfest at the JCC and Gordon Center. Kids came from all over the world, including Baltimore’s sister cities of Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel for the fest, which allowed them to display their final works and stage performances at the JCC and Gordon Center.

“To me, that moment, it was all these years, we’ve done all these things, and now look at what we’ve done for Jewish youth,” Goldberg said.

As Goldberg worked to curate events the community rallied behind, she also took a chance in helping performers along the way. Guitarist Brian Gore, founder of International Guitar Night that plays annually at the Gordon Center (March 5, 2016 is this season’s performance), said Goldberg helped the tour in its earlier days. He said his tour looks for venues to “adopt” IGN and help it build an audience at the venue, and the Gordon Center, along with The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., helped establish a solid East Coast tour route for IGN.

For a tour of mostly acoustic guitars, the venue couldn’t be better.

“The Gordon Center has extremely good acoustics. It’s truly a world-class venue for the design of the theater, especially when you are talking about [a] concert experience,” Gore said via email. “It’s very unique sounding — I can’t think of another place quite like it. It’s kind of a ‘best-kept secret.’”

He described the Gordon Center audience as “cultivated, yet decidedly down-to-earth.”

“You have a huge number of regulars alongside a healthy dose of newcomers,” he said. “It’s a mix of people including long-term supporters and patrons of the Center who rub shoulders with classical, jazz and rock music fans, all of whom are grateful for the show.”

A New Direction
In the late 2000s, several people involved in arts at the JCC began researching the best ways to move the arts programs forward. JCC executive director Buddy Sapolsky as well as executive vice president Dale Busch, were set to retire soon.

“They both knew they were leaving and they wanted to have a legacy project, and they both loved the arts,” said Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, a Baltimore-based artist who helped them with the research along with Rabbi Phil Miller, now vice president at the Park Heights JCC, and Goldberg.

The group found statistics that said arts at JCCs were diminishing due to funding.

“That was pretty shocking to everybody. This is one of the areas which make America, historically for Jews, one of the greatest places we’ve ever prospered,” Schlossberg-Cohen said. “The fact that now we’re discovering that something’s reversed [that trend] was pretty alarming.”

Out of research and surveys, the group presented a plan to the JCC board that was built around the changing geography of the Jewish population, what demographics to reach and what kinds of events to have, with a major focus on people of all ages in the community. And with Goldberg retiring in 2012, the door was open for someone to implement this new vision.

That’s when Randi Benesch came into the picture. She had been working at Center Stage for eight years, managing development events and individual giving campaigns when Miller and Schlossberg-Cohen came to speak with the venue’s director about the JCC’s new vision for arts and culture.

“My ears perked up because I grew up at this JCC and I always had an eye on the Gordon Center,” Benesch said.

She grew up in Owings Mills and attended Franklin High School and has been involved in the arts all her life, from studying theater in college to working in the artistic programming department at the Kennedy Center to managing the Columbia Festival for the Arts.

“Randi was hired because she had an amazing background,” Schlossberg-Cohen said. “They wanted someone mature and experienced enough, but also someone young enough to bring new vision to it.”

Rather than branching out on her own and starting a consulting business, she took the helm at the Gordon Center in July 2012.

On Benesch coming to the Gordon Center, Goldberg said, “I told Randi from the beginning, ‘You’re not taking my place. This is about you starting something.’” And start something she did.

“I really felt like we were new, starting from scratch in so many ways,” Benesch said. “I think was an exciting time because we had so much support from the board and from this [arts and culture] council to reinvigorate the arts. I felt like I was starting with this blank slate.”

Under Benesch’s leadership, the JCC’s arts and culture council has greatly expanded family programming, started a dance month in conjunction with Baltimore County’s Commission on Arts and Sciences, expanded its music-presenting season, expanded educational programs and started a monthly open-mic night. The Gordon Center has developed a bluegrass following thanks to a partnership with the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival.

“Randi reinvigorated the place,” said Marilyn Zvili, arts and culture operations assistant at the JCC and Gordon Center. “I think we’re going in a great direction.”

Adults can now take art classes through a partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), and teens can learn from professional artists through YAD, the Young Artists Division. The Maccabi Artsfest delegation has grown, with Baltimore bringing 12 kids from Houston this summer, making it the largest arts delegation. A children’s theater production company for preschool- and elementary school-age dancers was started in conjunction with Towson University Community Dance. The Habimah performing arts camp, which doubled attendance from its first to second summer, has children learning music, theater, dance and singing with experts from Center Stage, the Children’s Chorus of Maryland, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Beatwell and more.

“In the last three of four years I think the Gordon Center is evolving into exactly what it should be and that is a resource for the community to explore performing arts,” Meyerhoff said.

“And the theater gives the community an opportunity to do that in a very high-quality space.”

In addition to its many offerings for the community, the Gordon Center has also been opened to community organizations. CHANA showed a film about domestic violence earlier this month at the Gordon Center, and Krieger Schechter Day School will have its musical at the venue this year. In September, Temple Emanuel held its High Holiday services at the Gordon Center.

Although the theater has been kept in pristine condition, there are always upgrades to be done. In the coming 2016 General Assembly session, the Baltimore Jewish Council will push for a bond bill that would help upgrade the Gordon Center’s devices for those with hearing disabilities as well as its lighting system to more energy-efficient LED lights.

As for Benesch, she wants to continue to do all the things the Gordon Center is doing but do them better. More artist residencies and master classes, more community partnerships, more integration with regional arts organizations.

“I just really want to continue to bring the best of the best to the Gordon in all the different disciplines that we present,” she said.


Highlights from the 20th Season

Sunday, Nov. 8
Eating Delancey: A Delicious
Celebration of Traditional Jewish Food
Authors Aaron Renzy and Jordan Schaps speak about Jewish food at this event, which includes brunch, an autographed copy of the book and a tour of a gallery of food photography.

Sunday, Dec. 13
The Maccabeats Chanukah Concert
The charismatic a cappella group brings its
upbeat mix of popular Jewish, American and Israeli songs fused with inspirational stories.

Sunday, Jan. 17
The Joshua Nelson Band
In a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., the “Prince of Kosher Gospel” teams up with the Bethel AME Choir for an evening of powerful spiritual, celebratory music.

Saturday, Feb. 6
Israeli-born, American-raised Achinoam Nini (NOA), a superstar in Israel who has shared the stage with Sting and Stevie Wonder among others, brings her eclectic sounds to the Gordon Center, the venue for which she gave the opening performance 20 years ago.

Saturday, Feb. 20
ZviDance in “Dabke”
This New York-based dance troupe, led by Israeli-born choreographer Zvi Gotheiner, combines liquid movement, diversity of ensembles and Middle Eastern themes with Israeli and Arab dance traditions.

For a complete calendar and ticket information, visit