Liberator, Educator, Motivator ­­Murray Simon: ‘an incredible mentsch’ from East Harlem

Murray Simon, 90, is described by his rabbi as a gentleman and a mentsch who is always willing to help anyway he can. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Murray Simon, 90, is described by his rabbi as a gentleman and a mentsch who is always willing to help anyway he can. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Spending a few minutes with Howard County resident Murray Simon in his Columbia apartment, it quickly becomes obvious that every picture on a wall and trinket on a shelf tells a story. But what is not as obvious is how many people Simon has influenced, and the extraordinary depth with which he has touched their lives.

Simon, 90, was born in East Harlem, N.Y., during the Great Depression and for much of his youth he was a “lackadaisical student,” he said. So much so that he was once dismissed from a yeshiva.

“I think what is extraordinary is his transformation from almost a juvenile delinquent to a very serious student,” said daughter Barbara Simon, who lives in Manhattan and teaches Hebrew at the Jewish Community Center. [He became] very academic and he made a choice to be a lifelong student.”

She attributes her father’s change to when he had pneumonia at age 12 and was hospitalized at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Despite his young age he stayed in the adult ward. This was a transformative time in Simon’s life as he “met people who took an interest in him intellectually. The world of books opened up, and he began to gather mentors that would be important to him throughout his life,” she said.

Barbara Simon said her grandmother always stressed the importance of a good education, and that message has come down through the generations.

“After I completed junior high school, I selected a high school in Brooklyn and … it turned out to be one of my good decisions,” said Simon. “I haven’t made all good decisions.”

Barbara added that her grandmother, Simon’s mother, Sarah Markman Simon, went to the high school to personally thank the principal for allowing her son to have the education he did. Following his high school graduation in 1942, Simon attended New York University, but World War II quickly disrupted his education, and Simon enlisted.

He was assigned to an Army student training program that was meant to be an “army of occupation” despite the bleak outlook of the war at the time. Simon said, “We had this attitude that we would win.” Toward the end of his training, due to heavy casualties in Europe, the Army canceled his program and sent him to an infantry unit. By October of 1944, Simon was on the Queen Mary headed for Europe as a machine gunner in the 3rd Infantry Division.

“Later, they called me to become a radio operator. I told them ‘as a machine gunner, I’m shooting at them. As a radio operator they’re shooting at me,’” said Simon. “But I accepted the position.”

When I taught the class in 1956, they were all 12 years old. Last September when they were 70, we had another class reunion

In November 1944, the 3rd Infantry Division helped liberate the concentration camp Natzweiler-Struthof in Alsace, France. Although credit was officially given to the First French Army, Simon and other members of the 3rd Infantry Division would be recognized in April 2010 at the U.S. Holocaust Museum for their work with survivors in the Salzburg area.

The following year, Simon and other veterans, were appointed the title of Chevalier, or Knight, in France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to acknowledge services rendered to France and holds five of the country’s highest decorations.

“We began having Sunday morning services and we would go to the work camps, pick up survivors there and bring them to services,” said Simon. “At the end of services we’d put money or cigarettes [into a collection bin] so that we could give it to [the survivors], and they could share it amongst themselves.”

Simon and his fellow soldiers later found out to their amusement that some of the items they donated were sold on the black market by survivors. Eventually, Simon and his division took Nuremburg in April 1945, and although he was offered other positions, by then Simon knew he wanted to return home.

When he returned from Europe, he continued his education at New York University and eventually earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree. Although he’s worked as an educator and administrator in the United States, Latin America and Africa, Simon had one class that he described as his “dream class.”

“We’re talking about 1956, at what really qualified as an inner-city public school which was crowded, and most of the teachers there were tenured into their position; totally bored, just trying to do their best to maintain discipline,” said Dr. Robert Kolodny, who was a part of Simon’s class 7-4B at Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High School in Yonkers, N.Y.

Kolodny said that Simon stood out among other teachers because he taught skills that were unheard of in the public school system from critical thinking to reading and understanding The New York Times.

“Picture a group of seventh-grade students who were not inspired by their schooling. But when you walked in that classroom, you felt like a freshmen in college,” said Kolodny. “He treated us and made us feel like our opinions were important and needed to be aired, debated and mulled over.”

Kolodny added that of Murray’s class 7-4B; two  became doctors (including Kolodny), four became lawyers and several attended Ivy League schools.

Simon’s part in his student’s lives didn’t stop — figuratively or literally — after they graduated from junior high school.

“When I taught the class in 1956, they were all 12 years old,” said Simon. “Last September, when they were 70, we had another class reunion.”

The class has continually reunited at different locations and for different celebrations, one of the latest being Simon’s 90th birthday. Simon has attended several of his former student’s weddings as well as their children’s bar and bat mitzvahs.

Despite lengthy conversations about World War II, Kolodny and his classmates never knew about their teacher’s service in the military until later in life.

“I have no idea why he didn’t talk about World War II,” said Kolodny. “I was astonished to find out Murray had grown up in East Harlem. It was very surprising to me because my father had run a medical clinic not far from there.”

Barbara Simon said her father never discussed his time in the military with her either, but she attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. when he was appointed a Chevalier. While she is moved by the sacrifices that her father and others in his generation made, she recognized that the subject of World War II is “still very raw.”

“I always think about people in my father’s generation as having lived through spectacular years. Living through the 20th century with all the technological innovations and changes in politics and society,” she said, “it’s almost mind-boggling the changes [my father] has gone through.”

Today, Simon and his wife, Juana, are  active members in Columbia Jewish Congregation, led by Rabbi Sonya Starr.

“[Simon] has been a dedicated member of CJC since he joined, and he’s always a gentleman, knowledgeable but respectful, kind and willing to help in any way he can. … He’s really an incredible mentsch,” said Starr. “One of the other things he is known for is playing Jewish geography better than anyone.”

While Simon’s personal and professional endeavors span far beyond a school in Yonkers or his time in the military, his daughter said the people he has met and relationships he has built are a testimony to his ability to inspire those around him.

“I think my father has a lot of warmth, and over the years it has been very difficult for him to articulate the depths of all his emotions and love for people,” said Barbara Simon. “But I think his soul has always been involved in tikkun olam.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Pride, Honor, Success’ New leadership at Pikesville High brings renewed spirit

Sandra Reid is the new principal of Pikesville High School.

Sandra Reid is the new principal of Pikesville High School.

Newly selected principal of Pikesville High School Sandra Reid has experienced the difference education has made in her life and intends to pass it along this year as she takes the reins.

“No matter where the child is at the moment, you may be dealing with a future leader,” said Reid. “That’s why I love education. Because when [a student is] at a crossroad, you can
be the impetus that changes that person’s life.”

Reid, who earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, started teaching after realizing she did not feel fulfilled in the banking industry. After earning a master’s degree in education from Harvard and moving to Baltimore in 1990, she began teaching at Randallstown High School.

She eventually was asked to serve as an assistant principal at another school. Although she was reluctant to move into  administration, she took the job as a favor to a friend. The change from educator to administrator stuck, and she served as assistant principal at Pine Grove Middle School for several years. She began in September at Pikesville, and the community is already seeing a difference.

“There is already such a change in the spirit of the staff and students,” said Cassia Parson, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association who was asked to help evaluate candidates for the principal position. “Every place that [Reid] has been has shown significant changes, and Pikesville needs that fresh interest and spirit in the school.”

Parson said pride in the school from students and staff has been a major concern for Reid. As a result, Reid has adopted the phrase “pride, honor, success,” which shares the school’s initials.

“I think she’s someone who can catapult [PHS] to the next level,” said Jeff Jerome, former president of the PTSA. “[She has] tremendous academic credentials, [and] she understands the totality of the educational experience and what’s required in the academic environment to get kids into college. She also understands that not everybody goes to college.”

Jerome, who is also the chair of the Pikesville Schools Coalition, which is a community advocacy group focused on improving local schools, first met Reid in a meeting that included other members of the community. He was impressed by the questions she asked about every aspect of school life.

“She was interested in gathering as much information as she could from every perspective,” said Jerome. “She was really doing her due diligence.”

Jerome, who is a Pikesville alum, added that Reid’s attention to school spirit comes at a critical time in the school’s history. He said alumni, who would now be in their 40s and 50s
felt a lot of pride in their school, which opened in 1964, but school spirit has dropped off in recent years. He believes Reid has the ability to reignite that pride in students and teachers.

He added, “If you’re excited about the school, you might do better academically or join a few clubs. [It] benefits everybody.”

Beyond the usual tasks of any school principal, Reid’s first days on the job included getting up to speed with the school’s recent renovations. Due to the advocacy from the PTSA several years ago, Baltimore County Public Schools approved $46 million in renovations to the school, which includes air conditioning, according to Jerome.

But for Reid, the bottom line is education.

“There are many students in the world who don’t get a chance to receive an education. It’s painful to watch when people squander it,” she said. “You don’t have to become a teacher; just use whatever education you have to make a meaningful difference in the lives others.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Comptroller, Governor Weigh In on Baltimore County Schools’ AC State’s high officials call for accelerated action

Peter Franchot

Peter Franchot

A contentious debate is taking place between Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot as the state officials have criticized the county for not fixing sooner its schools that lack air conditioning.

The county executive has gone on the defense, saying that he is fixing a problem he inherited, with a plan to have air conditioning in 99 percent of county schools by 2021.

“There is no resource problem. There is no money problem. It’s a lack of leadership, it is a lack of priority,” Franchot told The Jewish Times. “It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.”

Franchot’s suggestion is to outfit classrooms with window units as renovations take place, something Kamenetz attacked at a recent news conference held with Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas S. Dance.

“I know the comptroller is very interested in this subject, but most interestingly, the state doesn’t authorize funding for room air conditioning,” Kamenetz said. “So he’s sitting there telling us to add room air conditioning, and by virtue of the state rules they’re going to pay for zero. So really it’s not a well-thought-out position when you kind of look at what the facts are.”

He added: “It’s really putting a Band-Aid on a problem when we’re offering a long-term cure.”

Kamenetz and Franchot are both viewed as potential Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election, adding a political undertone to the debate that Franchot said has “twisted” the issue.

“This is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind,” he said. “I don’t really care where the blame lies. I want the problem fixed.”

Hogan said Dance and Kamenetz should explain the air-conditioning situation at the next Board of Public Works meeting on Oct. 7, according to The Baltimore Sun. Kamenetz told the newspaper he hadn’t received an invitation and would not say if he would attend, adding that Hogan is welcome to meet with him at his Baltimore County office.

At his news conference, Kamenetz highlighted that projects are completed or fully funded to reduce the number of schools without air conditioning to 15 percent this year. Fifty-two percent of schools lacked air conditioning when he took office in 2010. He has asked the state for additional funds to expedite the county’s Schools for Our Future program, a 10-year $1.3 billion program of which $900 million are county funds and $400 million are state funds.

“Customarily, the state requires the county to provide a dollar-for-dollar match. We are providing more than $2 for every $1 of state funding,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We need the state to step up and equally match our county contributions so we can expedite the air-conditioning projects at the remaining schools.” At the end of the program, 99 percent of county schools, including all middle and elementary schools, will have air conditioning.

Locally, Pikesville High School is in the midst of a $44.9 million renovation that includes a new HVAC system, a new roof, accessibility upgrades, new classrooms and technology. The project is expected to be completed by the 2016-17 school year.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Sukkot at Stevenson Jewish student club constructs sukkah

Students at Stevenson University construct and decorate a sukkah to help educate both Jewish and non-Jewish students at the school’s Greenspring campus.

Students at Stevenson University construct and decorate a sukkah to help educate both Jewish and non-Jewish students at the school’s Greenspring campus.

Stevenson University’s Jewish Student Association had about 20 students at its Greenspring campus construct and decorate a sukkah on Sept. 25 in preparation for Sukkot.

“We want to put up a sukkah to expose any students on the Greenspring campus to something Jewish,” said Rachel Rudo, president of the JSA and a human services major. “We wanted something to show that the Jewish Student Association means business and wants to make a difference.”

Lauri Weiner, an associate professor of human services at Stevenson and adviser to the JSA, said that students tried to form a club in the past, but efforts slowed after many in the leadership graduated.

“We were talking about different events that we could do, and we felt a sukkah would be something everyone would notice,” said Weiner. “It’d be a good way to start educating people on different Jewish holidays.”

Weiner added that seeing a sukkah on campus might encourage students who have not identified as Jewish to do so.

According to the 2013 Pew Research study, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, 32 percent of those polled in the millennial generation (born after 1980) described themselves as “Jews of no religion” or people who identify as Jewish based on their ancestry, ethnicity or culture. That number decreases as the ages of those polled increased.

Weiner, who was raised Reform but is now Conservative, feels positive about this year’s leadership because they have more time to establish the club before they graduate. Rudo, also Conservative, echoed her sentiments.

“This year, the officers are very involved, very into it and have been contributing ideas since we picked officers in early May,” she said.

“We’re very excited that JSA got off to good start and that we’re doing things together. Hopefully, we’ll have a successful year,” said Goldman, the club’s treasurer who is Orthodox.

Aside from encouraging Jewish students on campus to embrace their heritage, the club is also hoping to educate others about the culture of Judaism. The sukkah will be open for use throughout the seven days of Sukkot to anyone who is passing by.

A sign explaining the basic story of Sukkot is next to its entrance, and another sign, written in Hebrew reads, “Welcome friends.” Additionally, when available, a member of the JSA will sit near the sukkah with a lulav and etrog to explain their significance to the holiday.

As some students constructed the sukkah frame and covered the roof, others created decorations, which included tracing their hands on construction paper. Weiner explained that the hands were used as decoration to represent each person who took part in the sukkah’s construction.

The club has attracted attention.

“A lot of students are not aware of this holiday; they’re aware of the [other] main holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but this is their first exposure to Sukkot,” said Jonathan Lasson, an adjunct professor of psychology who came out to help students build the sukkah. Lasson added he has built sukkahs for several decades and assisted his parents when he was young.

“Just getting a better understanding of some of the things that are a part of our heritage that people don’t know about, it’s a wonderful experience for students,” he said.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Faiths United At 50 Jews, Catholics celebrate milestone anniversary of landmark treaty from Vatican II

With the vote of more than 2,000 Catholic bishops and the help of one pope 50 years ago, relations between Jews and Catholics became more civil than ever. These two faith communities of Baltimore will mark the signing of the treaty that made it possible — Nostra Aetate — with a series of events this month commemorating its 50th anniversary.

Nostra Aetate, which translates to “in our time,” was a statement passed by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965 that extended an olive branch toward Jews and people of other faiths with whom Catholics previously were at odds. The document was the final result of a five-year effort to reform the church that was started by Pope John XXIII with the formation of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

The impetus for Nostra Aetate is partially attributed to Jules Isaac — a French Jewish historian who had been France’s inspector general of education and later survived the Holocaust.

John Borelli, a religion professor at Georgetown University, said that after Isaac’s wife and daughter died at Auschwitz he began thinking about what could have triggered such events.

“That kind of put him on a road to rethinking everything that was happening in the war and in the Holocaust,” he said.

Borelli said Pope John, a reformer who surprised everyone at the time by striving for ecumenism, met with Isaac in 1960 to discuss incorporating Jews into the various groups addressed in the treaty, which also included Muslims and Buddhists.

“John wanted to update the windows and open up to the modern world,” Borelli said.

Pope John had already set up the Secretariat that was headed by Cardinal Augustin Bea, but both agreed with Isaac that the treaty should be extended to Jews.

At issue was the long-held belief by Catholics that Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death. Borelli said the earliest example of this teaching appears in the Gospel of Matthew, written about 60 years after the time of Jesus.

“If you read some of the gospels literally, especially John and parts of Matthew, you could come across that this was a condemnation of Jews for not receiving Jesus as Messiah.”

Borelli said the First Vatican Council — convened by Pope Pius IX in 1868 — had ended without resolution, and Pope John was determined to convene a council dedicated to changing the way Christians prayed.

“He knew that the way to update the church in the modern world would come to him,” he said. “He had these kind of vague ideas but knew that if he gathered the bishops of the world, it would work itself out. One piece of this was the part on interreligious dialogue.”

Despite Pope John and later Pope Paul VI’s efforts, a number of Jews still did not entirely trust the motivation of the church’s leaders due to a not-so-friendly history dating to the Crusades.

“There were a number of incidents of persecution in history that were remembered,” Borelli said. “I think the trust factor had to come from this long experience that Jews had lived as a minority in a Christian country, and their fate depended on the will of the Christians.”

Borelli added that many objections came from Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East.

“There was the worry that there was that negativity, and you had a number of bishops from the Middle East who worried this would have negative repercussions,” he said.

He knew that the way to update the church in the modern world would come to him. He had these kind of vague ideas but knew that if he gathered the bishops of the world, it would work itself out. One piece of this of this was the part on interreligious dialogue.

Ultimately only 88 of the more than 2,000 bishops convened voted against the treaty. To recognize the historic achievement, the Baltimore Jewish Council will host William Lori, the Archbishop Diocese of Baltimore, at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8, where they will present him with a letter expressing appreciation for his interfaith work in the city.

BJC executive director Art Abramson said the outreach to the Catholic community came as a part of ongoing conversation they have had.

“We have a very strong relationship with the Catholic community,” he said. “Together, we lobby on a variety of issues, and we’re going to highlight that in terms of what Nostre Aetate meant.”

Abramson cited Pope Francis’s visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23 as another key event in what he sees as an ongoing progressive stance by the Catholic Church. He compared Pope Francis’ political positions to those taken by Pope John 50 years before.

“It’s a very important effort, and especially in light of the present pope and the many initiatives he’s been making on social justice and climate change and outreach to so many faith communities, the parallels are there,” he said.

Later in the month, the BJC will help host the city’s third annual Open Windows Festival, a panel discussion that will feature Borelli, Abramson and other notable speakers such as Christopher Leighton, who is the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

Father Robert Albright, a retired Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, has been involved with the festival from its beginning in 2013. The first year, 250 people showed up, and the second year, they had about 100. Abright hopes that by “going ecumenical and interfaith this year,” there is an even larger turnout.

“[Nostre Aetate] is a document that has to do with the church from all different religions,” he said. “The very fact that we’re reaching out to the Muslim community and the Jewish community, we’d like to have as many people there from other religions as possible.”

Albright said the first year most of the event was centered around the history of Vatican II; last year’s discussion focused on “the liturgy and the laity” of the council.

Albright will emcee the event and said the idea of open windows is a metaphor for the evolution of the church over the last 50 years.

“That particular imagery is strong this year in terms of opening the windows not just in the church, but to other religions as well, and so that’s very central to Pope John XXIII’s dream,” he said.

Albright said he and several other bishops made the pilgrimage to Washington to see Pope Francis and got about 200 yards from the pontiff. He also watched the pope’s speech to Congress the next day and said he thought it was “fabulous.”

“What I loved about him all along is that he never scolds anybody and he never dominates,” he said. “He comes as an equal partner in the dialogue.”

Albright said previous popes have taken similar stands, such as Pope John Paul II, but Francis’ personality is unique.

“John Paul was more of a dictator,” he said. “He came across with an iron fist.”

The interfaith spirit was in the air Sept. 17 when The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore co-hosted a day of service at Weinberg Housing and Resource Center with Catholic Charities. The events concluded with a philosophical discussion about the religious interpretations of “The Giving Tree,” a 1964 children’s book by the late Shel Silverstein. In it, a small boy repeatedly takes different parts of the tree for his own use to the tree’s satisfaction until the tree is nothing but a stump. Scholars discussed the Jewish value of tzedakah and the Christian value of agape. Tzedakah commands Jews to give charity as an act of loving kindness, whereas agape defines charity as a form of love by Christians, where God is the originating source and the end.

After 15 minutes of discussion about the book, Leighton, who was leading the discussion, concluded by suggesting there are multiple correct interpretations of the relationship between the boy and the tree.

“On the one hand, is this a model of self-navigation and self-emulation, or is it self-destruction,” he said. “Or in some sense, is this the fullest realest realization of extremists? And in that tension resides, I think, occasions for Christians and Jews to challenge each other and learn from each other in exciting ways.”

Mary Anne O’Donnell, assistant director of Catholic Charities, said she found herself struggling with the stories but said interfaith discussions such as this one are essential for personal growth.

“I really think that kind of debate and conversation is what makes us all better people, because we learn from one another and we hear a different perspective,” she said.

Despite the evolution of relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Western world, religious persecution persists in the Middle East. On Sept. 21, the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, a humanitarian organization that helps Iraqi Christians in need, held a candlelight vigil at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington to honor Christian victims of the violence in the region and call on Pope Francis to condemn it as genocide. The ceremony included a benediction and shofar blast from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac. Weinblatt said he has followed these events in the Middle East closely and is glad people are finally speaking out.

“I think that the timing of this is meant to call attention to while the pope is here,” he said. “The pope has spoken about oppression in the Muslim world, and I think it’s one of the things that we as Jews certainly should also share a great deal of concern about.”

Weinblatt too drew comparisons between Pope Francis and Pope John in noting how both were close to the Jewish community in some part of the world.

“I think one of the points was that Nostre Aetate opened up those possibilities for reconciliation, for dialogue, for greater understanding,” he said. “And I would say Pope Francis is in that line because he had such terrific relations with the Jewish community in Argentina.”

Some scholars, such as Borelli, were in college when Nostra Aetate came to be and did not immediately realize its impact. He said by 1972 he knew it would have a large impact on him professionally. Borelli emphasized that the evolution of Jewish relations with the church can be seen in the academic community, adding that “every bishop has a best-friend rabbi.”

“In the last 50 years look at the number of Jewish scholars of the new testament, and that’s really changed the dialogue,” he said. “These kinds of things that have happened in Christian-Jewish relations have happened in the wake of Nostra Aetate.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Comptroller, Governor Weigh In on Baltimore County Schools’ AC State’s high officials call for accelerated action

Peter Franchot (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Peter Franchot (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

A contentious debate is taking place between Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot as the state officials have criticized the county for not fixing sooner its schools that lack air conditioning.

The county executive has gone on the defense, saying that he is fixing a problem he inherited, with a plan to have air conditioning in 99 percent of county schools by 2021.

“There is no resource problem. There is no money problem. It’s a lack of leadership, it is a lack of priority,” Franchot told The Jewish Times. “It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.”

Franchot’s suggestion is to outfit classrooms with window units as renovations take place, something Kamenetz attacked at a recent news conference held with Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas S. Dance.

“I know the comptroller is very interested in this subject, but most interestingly, the state doesn’t authorize funding for room air conditioning,” Kamenetz said. “So he’s sitting there telling us to add room air conditioning, and by virtue of the state rules they’re going to pay for zero. So really it’s not a well-thought-out position when you kind of look at what the facts are.”

He added: “It’s really putting a Band-Aid on a problem when we’re offering a long-term cure.”

Kamenetz and Franchot are both viewed as potential Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election, adding a political undertone to the debate that Franchot said has “twisted” the issue.

“This is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind,” he said. “I don’t really care where the blame lies. I want the problem fixed.”

Hogan said Dance and Kamenetz should explain the air-conditioning situation at the next Board of Public Works meeting on Oct. 7, according to The Baltimore Sun. Kamenetz told the newspaper he hadn’t received an invitation and would not say if he would attend, adding that Hogan is welcome to meet with him at his Baltimore County office.

It’s an issue where we left tens of thousands of kids behind.

At his news conference, Kamenetz highlighted that projects are completed or fully funded to reduce the number of schools without air conditioning to 15 percent this year. Fifty-two percent of schools lacked air conditioning when he took office in 2010. He has asked the state for additional funds to expedite the county’s Schools for Our Future program, a 10-year $1.3 billion program of which $900 million are county funds and $400 million are state funds.

“Customarily, the state requires the county to provide a dollar-for-dollar match. We are providing more than $2 for every $1 of state funding,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We need the state to step up and equally match our county contributions so we can expedite the air-conditioning projects at the remaining schools.” At the end of the program, 99 percent of county schools, including all middle and elementary schools, will have air conditioning.

Locally, Pikesville High School is in the midst of a $44.9 million renovation that includes a new HVAC system, a new roof, accessibility upgrades, new classrooms and technology. The project is expected to be completed by the 2016-17 school year.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Dynamic Jew-uo Rabbi-cantor team ushers in a new era for Frederick congregation

Jordan and Shulie Hersh are the first husband-wife team to lead services at Beth Sholom Congregation in Frederick. (Provided)

Jordan and Shulie Hersh are the first husband-wife team to lead services at Beth Sholom Congregation in Frederick. (Provided)

Western Maryland may not seem to be the conventional destination for a Jewish couple from upstate New York who studied at a Yeshiva in Israel. But for Rabbi Jordan Hersh and his wife, Cantor Shulie Hersh, leading Frederick’s Beth Sholom Congregation is an opportunity for them to be young pioneers in a synagogue that is almost a century old.

Jordan Hersh said early in his life he was not involved much in the Jewish community. He attended a high school with no other Jews, completed his undergraduate degree in sociology at the University at Buffalo and four years later headed to Israel to study at the Conservative Yeshiva. It was at this point that he “fell in love with text,” and the rabbinical juices started to flow.

“That was coupled with being 26 at the time and asking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” he said of his decision to go to Israel. “I just found a place that let me explore all the areas of life without having to choose just one.”

It was there in the beit midrash that Hersh met his eventual wife, Shulie, who was studying to be a cantor. He had originally planned to make aliyah but changed his mind when Shulie announced she would be returning to the states for cantorial school.

“Everything just kind of fell into place,” he said.

While in rabbinical school, Hersh worked at congregations in White Plains, N.Y., and Tallahassee, Fla., before arriving at Beth Sholom as a rabbinic intern in 2013.

In the summer of 2014, Hersh took on a full-time position at Beth Sholom and commuted to Frederick from New York City twice a month as part of Jewish Theological Seminary’s Gladstein Fellowship in Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Hersh is Beth Sholom’s first non-Orthodox rabbi in its 98-year history, and he said so far the community in Frederick has been very welcoming.

“There’s a good history of ritual and tradition, and it was a good fit for me,” he said.

During his first year as rabbi, Hersh designed a visioning campaign to help bring the congregation together through activities such as participating in a social justice committee. He hopes to plan a congregational trip to Israel in December 2016.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I love getting to my study and opening books and teaching the classes that I teach. I think that’s really it, helping people take ownership over a path in their lives.”

Hersh said he has been impressed with the rate at which Frederick’s Jewish community has expanded.

“Ten years ago there was only one shul,” he said. “It’s a growing area, and I think it shows a lot about how the Jewish community is beginning to flourish.”

Shulie Hersh found her Jewish niche slightly earlier than her husband, leading Shabbat services at her home congregation in Upper Nyack, N.Y., when she was 15.

“My father is a rabbi so I grew up going to shul with him every Friday night and Saturday morning,” she said.

Hersh attended a Hebrew day school up until eighth grade but then decided to change course a bit by going to a public high school.

“I really appreciated having that Jewish education, but when I got to high school my parents gave me a choice between going to Hebrew school or a public school,” she said. “I really wanted to break out of the Jewish bubble and get a taste of that diversity.”

Hersh headed off to SUNY New Paltz for her undergraduate degree and said she was less observant during this time, but toward the end of college she realized she missed her spiritual side and began to think about cantorial school.

“It just seemed like the natural next step,” she said.

Hersh entered the H.L. Miller Cantorial School in 2008, but upon spending a semester in the program she did not feel entirely comfortable there.

“I wasn’t feeling inspired; so that next year, which was 2010 [and] Jordan’s second year of rabbinical school, we went back to Israel,” she said.

Hersh ended up transferring to the Academy for Jewish Religion, where she received her cantorial ordination earlier this year.

“I loved the idea of gaining a pluralistic Jewish education and learning from all different denominations,” she said.

Hersh’s path, like her husband’s, has taken her through different settings, from Camp Ramah in Wisconsin to a congregation in Cranford, N.J. She now juggles several responsibilities that include leading services on a part-time basis, tutoring b’nai mitzvah students and leading a preschool music program for kids between the ages of 2 and 4.

Hersh is the first woman cantor in Frederick and hopes she can provide an inspiration for other women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

“For the community to have a woman cantor in the Jewish community is very exciting,” she said. “Nowadays it’s becoming the norm. Women are taking over rabbinical schools and cantorial schools, and it’s a great thing.”

Executive director Marcia Newfeld said having a husband-and-wife team lead the congregation has been a unique experience and that having a cantor has been a wonderful addition.

“[Cantor Hersh] has added a great deal,” Newfeld said. “She has a lovely voice, and when she’s singing you can feel the emotion pouring out of her.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

The Legacy of ‘Mr. Defense’ How Yitzhak Rabin changed Israel

Yitzhak Rabin (Wikimedia Commons)

Yitzhak Rabin (Wikimedia Commons)

As the 20th yahrzeit of Israel’s fifth prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, approaches, the legacy of the man nicknamed “Mr. Defense” remains as polarizing as the conflict he tried to resolve.

Jewish organizations across Maryland are recognizing the Nov. 4 anniversary by bringing in scholars and political authorities to speak about the effect Rabin had on the Jewish state.

“[Yitzhak] Rabin is the history of Israel,” said Avraham Azrieli, a novelist who will speak about Rabin on Oct. 14 at a Howard County Jewish Federation event. “His life mirrors the history of Israel … because he was so prominent.”

Azrieli, who grew up and studied law in Israel, wrote about 1967’s Six Day War in which Rabin was chief of general staff in the Israeli army, as well as the immediate events leading up to the day he was assassinated. His books “The Jerusalem Inception” and “The Jerusalem Assassin” follow these events respectively through the eyes of fictional characters. How Rabin was central to Israeli life will be one aspect of his talk in Howard County.

From serving in the army for nearly three decades during the War of Independence and the Six Day War to serving as Israel’s prime minister and ambassador to the United States, Rabin had a part in many of the Jewish state’s defining moments, most notably during the polarizing period of the Oslo Accords, which had Israelis concerned as a “matter of life and death,” according to Azrieli.

The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that, among other things, initiated a peace process between the two groups. What bothered some Israelis about the agreement was Rabin’s intention to concede land.

“That is why the Oslo Accords raised such terrible anxiety in Israel. It cuts Israel in half, making it an indefensible country,” said Azrieli. “The reason Rabin was pushing it [was because of] who he was as a person. He served Israel as a soldier, military and political leader almost continually from the 1930s to his death.”

Azrieli added that Rabin saw Israel in a position of power in the negotiations; if the PLO had attacked Israel despite the promise of Yasser Arafat, who represented the PLO, then Israel would be strong enough to protect itself.

Dr. Ralph Nurnberger, a former professor at Georgetown University and a former lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will also talk about Rabin at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville on Nov. 2. He echoed Azrieli’s description of the parties both supporting and opposing the Oslo Accords.

“The [two groups] who opposed Oslo and the concept of peace with Palestine reached the same conclusions with different perspectives but agreed to not give up territory,” said Nurnberger. He explained that if one party approached it from a militaristic view, Israel would be too narrow geographically to defend itself. “Secondly, from a religious perspective, Jews have the right to live anywhere in the world but particularly in the lands that were occupied by Jews millennia ago.”

When Israel and the PLO were negotiating the Oslo Accords, Nurnberger was serving in an organization called Builders for Peace, whose goal was to assist the peace process through economic development. During his time with the organization, he sat down with Rabin, Arafat and Shimon Peres, then Israeli foreign minister.

During his talk at B’nai Israel, Nurnberger will recount his first meeting Rabin in the 1980s, when he was as an AIPAC lobbyist, where they outlined what a vision of peace might look like. Although Rabin said it would include returning certain territories, he didn’t draw any lines at the time.

“At the time, Rabin was a former everything, a future everything and a current lesser figure,” joked Nurnberger.

On Nov. 4, 1995, when Rabin was leaving a peace rally at the Kings of Israel Square, he was shot several times by Yigal Amir, a right-wing ultranationalist who opposed the peace process.

“The assassination was incredibly shocking to Israelis because it was [by] a Jew. There was always fear of Arab terrorism, but here is a religious Jew shooting the prime minster to death,” said Azrieli. “There was tremendous shock on all sides of the political scale and this tremendous sense of guilt that Rabin was demonized. His blood was on everybody’s hands.”

There was no shortage of world leaders at Rabin’s funeral, including President Bill Clinton, who famously recited a eulogy ending with the phrase “goodbye friend” in Hebrew.

Azrieli said that some people felt Rabin’s political opponents, not the least of which was Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, were in part to blame for the assassination. Nurnberger added that Leah Rabin, his wife, allowed Yasser Arafat to make a shiva call but refused Netanyahu.

“Some people misconstrued what political disagreement is,” said Azrieli. “Just because he objected to Rabin’s peace-making, that implied [Netanyahu thought] killing Rabin was right to do, which he never did.”

After his assassination, Rabin was succeeded by Peres who had relatively similar views, and despite the anger some Israelis had toward the right, Netanyahu managed to beat Peres in the following election. Nurnberger explained that a series of terror attacks fell on Israel shortly before the election targeting Egged bus No. 18. (The number 18, when represented in Hebrew letters, spells the word life.) Many Israelis felt Peres would not be as hard on terrorism and violence as Netanyahu, which ultimately cost Peres the election.

Following Rabin’s death, although parts of the Oslo Accords remained in effect, the peace talks that would draw permanent borders fell through.

Joshua Muravchik is a distinguished fellow at the World Affairs Institute and author of “Making David into Goliath: How the world turned against Israel.” He questions the power of one man over the power of a people.

“The myth is that Rabin was a peace maker and that things in the Middle East would be different today had Rabin not been assassinated,” said Muravchik. “One enduring obstacle between peace with Israel and Palestinians is that Palestinians are not ready to make peace. It’s true today and it was true when Rabin was alive. There’s very little that Israel can do to change that.”

For more information about these events, visit the following websites:
jewishhowardcounty.org/federationcalendar
bnaiisraelcong.org/events-programs/event-calendar

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Crime After Crime’ screens for CHANA
20th Anniversary

As a ramp up to its 20th anniversary celebration later this month, CHANA, the Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women, will screen the powerful true story “Crime After Crime,” a film by Yoav Potash, on Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts.

The award-winning film, called “harrowing, moving and inspiring” by The Washington Post follows the path of Joshua Safran, a Jewish pro-bono attorney who helps Debbie Peagler, an imprisoned survivor of domestic violence, gain her freedom after more than two decades of unjust incarceration. Safran, it is revealed, is a survivor of abuse himself.

“My mother was a practicing witch,” said Safran in a recent interview, though she was raised by communists who were raised by Jews. The two hitchhiked for five years in his mother’s quest for utopia, and she ultimately married a man who was abusive to her and her son, which Safran details in his book “Free Spirit,” a memoir about “growing up on the road and off the grid.” Safran will be on hand to discuss his involvement in the legal case and the film later this month as part of CHANA’s gala on Oct. 29.

“I’ve always looked at everything through a Jewish spiritual lens, and this case was no different,” said Safran, citing Rabbi Arye Levin as an inspiration. Levin was an Orthodox rabbi known as the “Father of Prisoners” because of his regular visits to the inmates at Central Prison in Jerusalem.

“What makes my perspective so unique is having the advantage — or disadvantage — of being a survivor,” said Safran, “so I can speak from the client and the agency’s perspective.”

Among twists and turns, discoveries of perjury and public protests, the film unravels the mystery of Peagler’s trial and bares more of Safran’s personal struggle. Ultimately, it leaves audiences feeling optimistic and hopeful.

“My client [Peagler] is a devout Christian and leader of the largest prison women’s gospel choir in the world,” said Safran, who came to his Orthodox Jewish observance later in life. “She is deeply spiritual, and I was really inspired and often rejuvenated by her faith.”

He added, “We both felt like we were embarking on this spiritual journey together. It wasn’t just a legal case but something much bigger.”

Safran said as details emerged during seven years in and out of court, it became apparent the case was an impact case about changing the law and the way America sees the laws surrounding domestic-abuse survivors.

A question-and-answer session with the film’s writer/director/producer, Potash, follows the screening, and is presented in part with support from Towson University.

CHANA supports victims of abuse in the Jewish and secular community and addresses the needs of women, men, children and elders who experience physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse. They provide crisis intervention, education and consultation as well as advocate for community awareness, safety and healing.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Delays Expected During MD-140 Road Work

The Maryland State Highway Administration says major delays are likely through early November as SHA replaces a deteriorated culvert underneath Reisterstown Road just south of Painters Mill Road.

The contractor performing the work, Cheverly-based Civil Construction Inc., closed two lanes on a half-mile section of Reisterstown Road (MD-140) between Painters Mill Road and St. Thomas Lane on Sept. 24, and the closures will remain in effect 24 hours a day for about six weeks, weather permitting, according to a news release.

The affected section of Reisterstown Road will have one open lane in each direction and a turn lane for vehicles traveling from northbound Reisterstown Road to Painters Mill Road. SHA advises motorists to plan for extra travel time and consider using I-795 between Owings Mills Boulevard and I-695 to get from Owings Mills to Pikesville.

The culvert replacement is in coordination with a project to replace a Baltimore County water line that runs underneath MD-140, and is being done in advance of a larger roadway widening project on Reisterstown Road between Garrison View Road and Painters Mill Road that will include an extra travel lane and bicycle-compatible shoulders.

Following the culvert work completion, there will be temporary nighttime lane closures Sunday through Thursday on MD-140 between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. the next day, and lane closures at the St. Thomas Lane intersection Sunday through Thursday 10 p.m. through 5 a.m. the next day for water line replacement work; construction of new sidewalks, curbs and gutters; roadway restoration and paving for the next two years. The entire $6.3 million project is expected to be completed late fall 2017, weather permitting.

Those who have questions about this project or state roads in Baltimore County can contact the SHA’s District 4 office at 410-229-2300 or SHADistrict4@sha.state.md.us.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com