It’s Not Over Till It’s Over Community assembles to reject deal, get word out

Even though President Barack Obama secured his key 34th supporter in the Senate for the Iran nuclear deal, vigils were still held in protest and concern, organized by Baltimore Zionist District calling for politicians to reject the deal and also to get out the word to the community.

About two dozen people assembled at the intersection of Old Court Road and Park Heights Avenue for about four hours on Sunday and on Monday at Slade and Park Heights avenues. Participants waved U.S and Israeli flags and held placards that read, “We need a Better Deal,” “Reject Bad Iran Deal” and “Congress: Say No to Iran Deal.” Some drivers honked their car horns in solidarity.

“We’re here to protest the deal,” said Robert Slatkin, president of BZD. “[It’s] still a bad deal for the country and for Israel. When [Iran] talks about death to America and Israel, we need to pay attention to it,” said Slatkin.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, would require Iran to reduce and restrict its production of enriched uranium in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Obama has promised to veto any bill that blocks the deal’s implementation, and with Sen. Barbara Mikulski coming out in favor of the deal last week, the Senate is unlikely to overcome a presidential veto. Still, the overriding sentiment of vigil participants was it’s not over until the vote happens later this month and they remain hopeful.

“Anything can change,” said Irwin Azman of Baltimore County. “The old saying, ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings’… I still have hope. There might be a change in the Senate so we have to stress our views here.”

Late last week, Sen. Benjamin Cardin came out against the deal. A large banner thanking Cardin was present, but his hesitation to act was criticized by some of the attendees.

I can’t think of a more important issue of our time. Nuclear Iran threatens Israel and threatens the United States.

“I was disappointed that someone of [Sen. Ben Cardin’s] caliber would wait until it was obvious that his vote wouldn’t make a difference,” said Ruth Guggenheim. “Instead of standing up like a man — with a little bit of dignity, like a Jew — and saying this is wrong from the get-go. I find it insulting.”

As of press time, 218 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the House of Representatives have opposed the Iran deal. To overcome a presidential veto, 43 Democrats would also need to oppose the deal. Thus far, all of Maryland’s Democrats in the House are either in support of the deal or remain undecided.

“I’m out here because I’m a Christian United for Israel, and I believe that this so-called deal is actually the beginning of the annihilation of the State of Israel, and also of America,” said Mae Bouchau, who lives in Lochearn and attends Trinity Life Church in Lutherville. “I think it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen for both of our peoples.”

Christians United for Israel is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States with more than 2 million members. About 5,000 members were assembled to pray in Washington, D.C. in July, when the deal was signed.

Bouchau was protesting because “it is possible that some of these undecided senators might vote no if we get enough word out to them,” she asserted. “I’m still writing letters, I’m still making phone calls and emails and praying for that.” She added, “Actually, we know Israel will come out of this because God has promised it. Whether America will or not that’s another story.”

When asked if people were becoming fatigued with the Iran deal, Brian Sacks, a past president of BZD, said he hopes not.

Said Sacks, “I can’t think of more important issue of our time. Nuclear Iran threatens Israel and threatens the United States.”


Something for Everybody For area rabbis, a High Holiday sermon that resonates is the ultimate goal

Next to writing a dissertation, crafting an effective High Holiday sermon may seem like one of the more monumental achievements for any writer. But talk to rabbis from congregations of all sorts in Baltimore and it becomes apparent that they have it down to a science.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation uses a simple litmus test to determine whether a message will fly with his congregants or not.

“Someone should be able to summarize it in a sentence or two,” he said. “That is the underlying approach of whenever I do a talk.”

Yet, this task increases in difficulty with the onset of the High Holidays because many Jews who do not regularly attend synagogue throughout the year will show up. Sharff said this does not intimidate him.

“The size is immaterial,” he said. “It could be a size of two and you’re going to wrestle with the same question.”

090415_cover2Sharff typically begins thinking about which topics he will focus on during the preceding spring and into the summer. The actual writing process can take either hours, days or weeks, he said. Sharff said a good sermon must speak to congregants emotionally and intellectually while also motivating them to take up a cause of action.

“What I find really helps connect people is stories,” he said. “I want them to walk away feeling like they got good value.”

A common practice among many rabbis is to collect newspaper clippings and pieces of writing that stand out and may have relevance to the themes of the High Holidays.

Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation said the day after Yom Kippur he sets a folder aside for this purpose. He often turns to Torah commentaries for intellectual fuel.

“Sometimes a whole sermon can grow out of that,” he said.

It isn’t until the next summer that he really begins thinking about what the subject of his sermon will be. He compared this part of the process to organizing messages on a bulletin board and seeing which part of the board was the most full.

“I kind of work organically, and things sort of form themselves into topics,” he said.

Schwartz is going into his 18th year at Beth El and says there is no magic bullet to making a sermon resonate with a large group of congregants. But he notes that most of the themes of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur lend themselves to multiple generations and are interchangeable. He said he will write all of his sermons out and then decide which one to give on each holiday one week prior.

090415_cover“Most High Holiday sermons you could give on either High Holiday,” he said.

Schwartz gave a Yom Kippur sermon last year focusing on the Book of Life in which he described how the modern-day higher-education system focuses on tangible results, such as getting a job, as opposed to simply making the experience formative for students. He explained that this is similar to the way in which people misinterpret the Book of Life as something that will ensure them a long life instead of a fulfilling one.

“You’re not praying for time, you’re praying for quality of life,” he said.

This year, Schwartz said one of his sermons will include the image of a cluttered desk and will present solutions for how to unclutter it.

While Schwartz gears his sermons for a general audience, Columbia Jewish Congregation’s Rabbi Sonya Starr will often direct each sermon at a particular segment of the population.

“It says on Mount Sinai God spoke to everybody the words they needed to hear. I’m not God,” she said.

This year, Starr will give six sermons between the two holidays and the intervening Shabbat. One of her Rosh Hashanah sermons will take a more Jewish text-based approach that is intended for an older crowd, and another will focus on current events. For the last two years she has devoted one of her sermons to race relations.

“For me it’s about trying to find something for everybody throughout the High Holiday period,” she said.

Starr will also sometimes write a sermon that focuses on an issue specific to her congregation, such as the one she gave last year on CJC’s dues structure.

“When I gave that sermon last year, that was very particular to our community,” she said.

Starr said she does not start thinking about sermon topics as early as some rabbis.

“I probably begin thinking and reading about it around Passover,” she said. “It’s usually part of my Omer.”

Starr said she formulates ideas during her summer vacation and is ready to write by the time she returns in August. In addition to readings, many of her ideas come from conversations with congregants.

“It’s much more of an experiential experience than it is an intellectual one,” she said.

Despite months of planning, rabbis sometimes make last-minute decisions to change the topic of their sermon based on recent events.

As a rabbinical student in 2001, Sharff had prepared four sermons prior to the High Holidays but ended up rewriting all of them after the 9/11 attacks that year.

Two years ago, Sharff had prepared a Kol Nidre sermon entitled “Can you see God in Camden Yards” but instead decided to share stories that were much more personal from the past year.

“Three people that were important to me had died of cancer,” he said. “It just ended up being one of the most profound sermons I’ve ever given.”

Sharff said this year he plans to give one sermon on tikkun olam and another focusing on current events in Israel.

“That sermon is not written until the last minute because things are always changing,” he said of the latter one.

Not all rabbis choose to focus on current events, preferring to avoid controversial topics that might spark disagreement such as the debate over the Iran nuclear deal. But Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation said he plans to discuss the deal in one of his Rosh Hashanah sermons.

“To me, there is no issue that’s more important to discuss with the Jewish community,” he said. “The very security of the State of Israel is at stake.”

Wohlberg said his purpose in discussing the deal in a sermon is to educate congregants about the issues and recognize that there are differences of opinion. He said the deal is “the most loaded issue in recent memory” and to not talk about it would be “absurd.”

“This is one that is putting the U.S. and Israel in a conflict, and that’s not a comfortable position for anybody,” he said.

Wohlberg said he understands that many rabbis choose not to discuss politics on the High Holidays but asserts that any issue involving Israel should not be categorized as “political.”

“I think a lot of [rabbis] are just afraid to take a stand because there are people in their congregation who don’t agree with them, but it’s not for me to say,” he said.

Wohlberg gives three sermons each year including one of “Jewish interest,” one focusing on world events and one that is more personal. He said congregants generally give him positive feedback.

If my sermon makes someone think, even if they disagree with what I’m arguing for, for me it was a good sermon.

“They always like it, they come back for more,” he said. “They don’t always agree, although for the most part they generally do.”

Wohlberg, like the others, starts giving serious thought to his sermons during the summer with the process being completed one month before the holidays. He said there have only been a couple of occasions when he changed a speech entirely, but he is a thorough editor.

“I’m always making changes and additions and subtractions, and that doesn’t stop until the day before,” he said.

There is a fine line between a sermon and a lecture, and that is something Rabbi Ronald Shulman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation takes into account when writing. Shulman said he tries to make sure he chooses topics that are from the heart.

“My conviction comes from my personal connections to a topic, from my personal experience, from sharing in life moments with others and from my learning and reflection,” he said.

Shulman admits that a good sermon does have a point of view but said the purpose is not to get everyone in the congregation on board as long as they understand the main point.

“If my sermon makes someone think, even if they disagree with what I’m arguing for, for me it was a good sermon,” he said.

Shulman said his High Holiday sermons attempt to address rebuilding society through strengthening personal relationships.

“I am focused on two things,” he said. “First is our responsibility to respond to the need for social justice and human dignity in our Baltimore region.

“Second is to take the opportunity we have to grow with each other in our understandings of Jewish identity toward more active engagement in Jewish life and learning.”

Shulman added that he also plans to offer commentary on Israel’s position in the world, although it will not address the Iran deal directly.

The idea of speaking in front of a large congregation may seem intimidating and even rabbis such as Starr, who has been with CJC for 16 years, admits that a High Holiday sermon makes her pause and think about the weight her words will have.

“We are given an incredibly awe-provoking task to speak things that are meaningful,” she said. “How would I not take a deep breath and realize the task before me.”

Schwartz said he recognizes that some sermons will resonate more than others, but it is impossible to please everyone.

“You give it your best shot, and you hope it goes well,” he said.

Wohlberg has been at Beth Tfiloh since 1978 and said if he absolutely had to, he could give a sermon tomorrow.

“Now I feel like I’m talking in my living room,” he said. “I feel very connected with the congregation.”

High Holidays for All Reform Temple’s free services, held at Owings Mills High School, started more than a decade ago

Susan Dudley (Photo Provided)

Susan Dudley (Photo Provided)

Susan Dudley’s family goes way back in American Reform Judaism. Her family on her mother’s side was here before the American Revolution, when she believes there were only 500 Jewish people in the whole country, and they fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. They were involved in the founding of early Reform institutions, including Owings Mills’ Har Sinai Congregation.

But in 1999, when the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed its Statement of Principles, Dudley noticed a change in her beloved Reform synagogue. She found that ritual was being valued over spirituality; she found the result to be empty and lacking meaning.

After a few years of celebrating the High Holidays at home by herself, Dudley took matters into her own hands and wound up building her own congregation. More than a decade later, the Reform Temple has grown from 100 people to more than 1,000 that come out for High Holiday services that Dudley said emphasizes the meaning of the holidays and are free and open to all.

This year’s Rosh Hashanah service is on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to noon, and this year’s Yom Kippur service is on Wednesday, Sept. 23, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Both services are at Owings Mills High School at 124 S. Tollgate Road.

“When [Har Sinai’s former] Rabbi Schusterman used to hold up the Torah and say, ‘Behold a good doctrine has been given unto you, forsake it not, its way are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace,’ I really thought that the doctrine he talked about was classical Reform Judaism,” Dudley said. “I believe that classical Reform Judaism is a way of living in a mindful way and being conscious of the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind.”

After the changes in the late 1990s, Dudley set out to do her own thing. She held her first High Holiday services at Grey Rock Mansion in Pikesville. Unsure if she would get even enough people for a minyan, she rented the smallest room she could find. But when 100 people showed up, the service was moved to the mansion’s ballroom, where people still stood on steps and on a patio since the room was packed.

The Reform Temple, which Dudley later incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, found a home at Pikesville High School. But as the school undergoes renovations, the services are being held at Owings Mills High for the second year in a row.

She aims for the services to be easy to digest — they’re only an hour long and mostly in English, something she thinks injects meaning into the service for people who don’t know what all the prayers mean.

“In my service, the only Hebrew is the Shema and the Kaddish. It’s all responsive reading and it’s all in English so that people understand it,” she said. “People who have been Jewish all their lives love my service because they have no idea this is what we’re saying.

“They were just repeating meaningless syllables. I just think Judaism has so much to offer,” she added. “I think it’s such a wonderful, wonderful religion. I think if people really knew what it said, we’d be converting people without even trying.”

She concludes her Rosh Hashanah services with the singing of “Ein Keloheinu” and “God Bless America,” which she notes was written by Jewish composer Irving Berlin, to recognize the beauty of the United States, where Jews are free to practice their religion.

While Dudley never expected she would be anchoring High Holiday services, she said she’s following in her ancestors’ footsteps.

“We are not spectators in life. We have been active Jews, and the way we conduct ourselves I believe is Jewishly because we know what it is [to be Jewish],” she said.

“I don’t know where this is going, [but] I know where it’s going now is good.”

Community First Howard County Federation seeks to boost millennial involvement

Laurie and Brian Avrunin are the co-chairs of Jew Year’s Eve. (Provided)

Laurie and Brian Avrunin are the co-chairs of Jew Year’s Eve. (Provided)

On Sept. 10, the Jewish Federation of Howard County will host its Jew Year’s Eve event to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and launch its newest giving level, the Chai Society, at the Gudelsky Center Howard County Conservancy.

“You spend the first and second nights of Rosh Hashanah with family, so we thought it would be a wonderful idea to spend one night with Jewish friends to celebrate the New Year,” said Laurie Avrunin, who is a co-chair of Jew Year’s Eve along with her husband, Brian.

The event and the Chai Society are part the Federation’s efforts to encourage more young families and millennials in Howard County to get involved with the community, according to Rachael Simon, committee chair for the Federation’s young adult division, oxyGEN.

“We want people to come out, participate in our events and meet new people,” said Jeremy Goldman, chair-elect of the oxyGEN committee. “In the past, we were suggesting large donations that were out of reach for millennials. Now, we’re trying to make it a lot more than just writing a check.”

Goldman said the difficulty of getting people involved in the community is rooted in constraints that people face with time and money.

“In the past, [the Federation] was very focused on fundraising. Now, we’re doing more programming like Jew Year’s Eve,” said Goldman. “Instead of asking for money on the first contact, we’re trying to build the community first.”

I think it’s important for [my children] to see their parents giving back to others in the community and I hope it’s something they’ll do when they grow up.

Simon echoed Goldman’s sentiment and added that many people move to Howard County for things such as the school system but have the challenge of figuring out how to incorporate Judaism into their lives. That’s where the Federation is hoping to help.

The name of the giving level, Chai Society, came up after the oxyGEN committee decided what a reasonable gift by millennials would be, according to Simon. In the spirit of the Jewish tradition of giving in multiples of 18, the committee decided on $180 annually, differentiating the Chai Society from the national Ben-Gurion Society, which requires $1,000 annually.

While the Federation is encouraging young people to get involved, the millennials organizing and leading the efforts all have their personal motivations for staying active in the community. Simon, whose husband is from Baltimore, has lived in Howard County for 10 years and was originally active in a women’s leadership group at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“It’s important to me to be involved in the Jewish community,” said Simon. “It came from my upbringing; my parents were very involved, and now I have children.”

Goldman started to get involved six years ago by joining the board of directors at his children’s preschool, Bet Yeladim.

After his children graduated, he began looking for other ways to stay active in the community.

“I think it’s important for [my children] to see their parents giving back to others in the community, and I hope it’s something they’ll do when they grow up,” said Goldman.

Avrunin echoed all of her colleague’s motivations.

“I want my children to grow up knowing that they are surrounded by the love of the Jewish people and values that we have,” said Avrunin. “I grew up with Jewish values and went to religious school; my parents were very dedicated to Judaism. They made sure that we had Jewish values, and I want to do that for my own children.”

Avrunin hopes that participants at Jew Year’s Eve leave the event feeling a greater sense of community.

“I hope people walk away and feel how many Jewish people surround us in Howard County,” said Avrunin. “I hope people walk away and say, I hope we do this every year; I hope this becomes an annual tradition.’”


Jew Year’s Eve
September 10, 2015
7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Gudelsky Center Howard County Conservancy
10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, MD 21163

To purchase tickets, visit

For information, contact Meghann Schwartz, or
410-730-4976 x106.

Seeking Divine Intervention Jewish group pushes worldwide prayer prior to Iran vote

Screenshot of homepage

Screenshot of homepage

An Orthodox Jewish outreach group that is against the Iranian nuclear deal is asking Jews around the world to recite two chapters from the Book of Psalms on Sept. 8 both to pray for Israel and to unify Jews prior to Congress’ vote on the deal in mid-September.

The Day of Jewish Unity, coordinated by Acheinu, is being held on the 82nd anniversary of the passing of the Chofetz Chaim, a leader of world Jewry in pre-war Europe.

“He was essentially known for his desire to interject civility into our private discourse,” said Aaron Troodler, spokesman for Acheinu, which has offices in Lakewood, N.J. and Israel.

Participants are asked to recite Chapters 20 and 130 from Psalms between 7 a.m. and noon EDT. Those psalms were chosen as they both “call out to God in times of trouble, in times of crisis,” Troodler said.

To gather participants, Acheinu is spending $150,000 on advertisements in Jewish newspapers and radio stations throughout the United States as well as a social media campaign.

It also produced a 30-second video for a Day of Jewish Unity Facebook page. Acheinu noted in its news release that the video has elicited anti-Semitic and virulent comments from hate-mongers, such as “Death to Israel.”

This highlights the need for Jews to come together and pray for divine intervention to combat the dangers that they presently face, Acheinu stated in its news release.

“If the Iran deal is approved in its present form, there is a prevailing sense that it would place the Jewish people in harm’s way and pose a grave threat to democracies worldwide,” according to Acheinu’s news release.

Whichever way Congress votes on the nuclear weapons deal with Iran, “this is something we will have to contend with for a long time,” Troodler said. Therefore, Acheinu hopes that Jews will reflect upon the Chofetz Chaim’s desire for unity.

“This is a time when we should be coming together and working for the common goal” of protecting Israel, he said. Instead, “we are fighting with one another when we should be working together.,”

Also on Sept. 8, a delegation of rabbis and community leaders are expected to go to Radin, Belarus to pray at the Chofetz Chaim’s grave.

“As we face the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, we are seeing an incredible display of Jewish pride and unity, as people from around the world are coming together to rely on our faith and engage in prayer in order to avert disaster and persevere,” said Rabbi Motty Kroizer, international director of Acheinu. “As people understand the gravity of the situation and comprehend the serious danger that exists if Iran is permitted to continue its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, they recognize that this is a time of crisis, and we need to act together now.”

According to Acheinu, several dozen businesses in North America and Israel have committed to participate by encouraging employees to recite the two chapters and also to pray for Israel’s welfare. The group’s spokesman was not aware of any Maryland or Washington, D.C. participants.

To sign up to participate, go to

Marvin Mandel Passes Away at 95 Maryland’s 56th governor leaves ‘extraordinary legacy’

Gov. Marvin Mandel at his 95th birthday party in May.

Gov. Marvin Mandel at his 95th birthday party in May.

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, the state’s first and only Jewish governor, passed away Sunday afternoon.

One of Maryland’s most prolific political figures, Mandel served as governor from 1969 until 1977, when he was convicted and jailed for racketeering and mail fraud charges. His sentence was later commuted and his conviction overturned.

Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland lost a great leader and someone that he and many others considered a friend.

“I will be forever grateful for the advice, wisdom and stories Gov. Mandel has shared with me throughout the years,” Hogan said in a statement. “No other governor has had the lasting impact on all three branches of Maryland government, and while he held elective office for 28 years, he dedicated his life to making our state a better place to live.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also expressed her condolences.

“I know that Gov. Mandel will be remembered for many accomplishments during his time in state government, particularly the instrumental role he played in developing and promoting public transit in our region,” she said. “I will fondly remember his love of state and local politics and the stories he would share. My thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Mandel’s family.”

Mandel, Maryland’s 56th governor, is credited with reorganizing the state’s executive branch into departments with supervising secretaries, revamping the court system, establishing mass transit and dedicating resources to school construction.

He was elected to Maryland’s chief office when then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew stepped down to be the country’s vice president under President Richard Nixon. Prior to his time as governor, Mandel was a member of the House of Delegates, where he served as speaker from 1963 until 1969.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski released a statement extending condolences to Mandel’s family.

“Gov. Mandel was a brilliant administrator who was rightly proud of his extraordinary legacy of modernizing and reorganizing Maryland state government,” she said. “He will also be remembered for his many other innovative initiatives, including reducing the burden of school construction costs on counties and helping to build subway systems in both Baltimore and the metro areas around D.C.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin also released a statement, which touched on the interaction the two had as members of the Maryland House of Delegates in the late 1960s.

“I was witness to and learned from his unique ability to bridge political and geographic divides to get things done for the state of Maryland,” Cardin said. “Gov. Mandel understood that government existed to serve the people; he instilled that ultimate truth into every member of the House of Delegates, and that tenet served as the cornerstone of his governorship. During his time as governor, we saw unprecedented investments in education and transportation infrastructure as well as an overall streamlining of government to make it more effective.”

Lainey LeBow-Sachs, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, joined with the rest of the Jewish community in mourning Mandel’s passing.

“We mourn the passing of Gov. Mandel who contributed so much to the state of Maryland,” she said on behalf of the BJC. “Gov. Mandel was a strong representative of the Jewish community in Annapolis and on a regular basis helped to secure many of our needs. His legacy to the Maryland citizens was exemplary, and he will be greatly missed.”

LeBow-Sachs knew Mandel personally from her time working in the office of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

“He was just an incredible person who cared so much about people,” she said. “Schaefer and he were very close friends, and when the governor was mayor he helped with the building of the Convention Center.”

In May, Mandel celebrated his 95th birthday at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in an event featuring tributes from Hogan, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, among others.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., got to know Mandel during his days as a student at the University of Maryland in the early 1970s, when he served as a student liaison to the state government. He had contact with Mandel on a number of occasions, particularly during antiwar demonstrations on campus that required the presence of National Guard troops.

“He was very responsive,” he said. “When there were problems on the campus, I was able to reach him on the phone. My sense is he was genuinely concerned about the safety of the students.”

Weinblatt said Mandel was “amazingly effective” as a governor in his ability to streamline the bureaucracy of state government.

“I think he’ll be remembered as someone who knew how to use the tools of government in a way that could benefit all, and his concern for trying to serve all citizens of the state was certainly felt by all,” he said.

Weinblatt continued to stay in touch with Mandel for the remainder of the former governor’s life, speaking at his 90th and 95th birthdays.

“He was very moved by it on both occasions. There were tears in his eyes when I did the blessing for him,” Weinblatt said of the celebration in May.

Weinblatt officiated at the funeral service, which took place Thursday at Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. Interment followed at Lakemont Memorial Gardens in Davidsonville. He lay in state at the Capitol in Annapolis on Wednesday.

Construction Begins on New Metro Centre Building

Attendees at the groundbreaking of a new office and retail building at the Metro Centre at Owings Mills signed a 700-pound piece of steel that will be used in construction.

Attendees at the groundbreaking of a new office and retail building at the Metro Centre at Owings Mills signed a 700-pound piece of steel that will be used in construction.

Construction began on a 200,000-square-foot office and retail building at the Metro Centre at Owings Mills, marked by a groundbreaking on Aug. 27.

The new construction is part of 1.2 million square feet of office space planned for the mixed-use development, which will total 7 million square feet when completed.

“We are extremely optimistic about transit-oriented developments, which meet today’s real estate demands of one location comprised of residential apartments, retail and office space all within a work, live, play environment,” Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises, said in a statement. “The heavy rail component of Metro Centre, offering rapid connections to the global markets throughout the region, positions Metro Centre uniquely in the marketplace.”

Metro Centre currently consists of two five-story retail and residential buildings, totaling 56,000 square feet of retail space and 232 apartments, as well as the County Campus building, which is home to the largest branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and a satellite location of the Community College of Baltimore.

“Owings Mills already is a successful business community for finance, health care and insurance companies such as T. Rowe Price, CareFirst and Toyota Financial Services,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement. “Metro Centre at Owings Mills offers companies
a Class A transit-oriented location that brings employees and customers right to their door, whether by Metro subway or interstate.”

Baltimore County Crime Dropped 7.2 Percent in 2014

Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced a 7.2 percent overall decrease in crime in 2014 at a news conference on Aug. 26.

Among the types of crime that decreased were aggravated assault, burglary and vehicle theft, which went down by 6.1 percent, 15.8 percent and 17.1 percent respectively. Johnson told reporters that these reductions date back to 2007.

“Since then, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in crime including a 29 percent decrease in serious violent county while the population of the county went up by 40,000 people,” he said. “That’s an incredible achievement when you think about it.”

Despite this, Johnson said, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what leads to changes in crime trends since one criminal can offset the statistics. He said there was one man who committed more than 30 robberies last year.

“I think looking at crime year to year is not a wise decision to make,” he said. “You look at programs you put in place.”

Johnson said the case clearance rate in Baltimore County is 20 percent higher than most counties across the country, and he attributes that to $50 million the department has invested in communication technology such as iPads.

“Today, we’ve seen more and more crimes committed via the cyber world, and we’ve called upon these people to do more,” he explained. “Employees who look at algorithms to try and predict where crime will occur.”

Johnson said he still feels there is no substitute for police officers, but it is necessary to invest in the latest equipment to keep up.

“Good old-school policing helps clear cases, but technology helps clear them faster,” he said. “It’s more efficient, more effective.”

Kamenetz pointed out that officers now engage in field-based reporting where they fill out reports from their patrol car. They also are able to access the Internet from their car.

“These are very difficult times for police officers,” he said. “They are under tremendous scrutiny with everything they do.”

Despite this progress, there were 25 homicides in the county in 2014, and Kamenetz said there is still work to be done.

“There’s always room for improvement, and we’re always fine tuning our methodology, but our police officers in Baltimore County are doing a fantastic job,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake Joins ‘Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism’

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hosted American Jewish Committee leaders at city hall Tuesday as she signed the AJC’s “Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism” statement.

The statement has mayors calling on their European counterparts to speak out and act to prevent anti-Semitism in their countries. It has been signed by nearly 300 mayors and county executives, including Baltimore County’s Kevin Kamenetz, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, county executives from Montgomery, Harford, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and several other municipalities’ mayors.

“Mayor Rawlings-Blake was a key participant in the campaign. In her role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, she wrote a letter very early in the campaign encouraging every mayor in the country to sign on,” AJC Director Alan Ronkin said via email. “AJC received numerous signatures as a result of her efforts and those of others around the United States.”

In addition to Ronkin and other AJC leaders, the mayor was joined by State Sen. Cheryl Kagan and Baltimore Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector.

The AJC presented Rawlings-Blake with a shofar to express its appreciation.

Owings Mills Chabad Dedicates New Torah Celebration attracts hundreds; Torah dedicated to rabbi’s late father

There’s no party like a Chabad-Lubavitch Torah dedication party.

People marched and danced in the streets, music was played, flags were waved, tiki torches were lit and a festive meal was enjoyed to mark the occasion.

Hundreds came out to the Chabad of Owings Mills on Sunday, Aug. 30, for the Grand Torah Dedication. The Torah, inscribed in Israel and finished on the spot by New York sofer Rabbi Moshe Klein, was dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Moshe Katsenelenbogen, the father of Owings Mills Chabad Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen. Rabbi Moshe, along with his mother, Sarah, and father, Michoel, were instrumental in educating and strengthening the Jewish community in Soviet Russia and helping Jews flee the country, serving jail time and risking their lives in the process.

“My father was a living Sefer Torah,” Katsenelenbogen, known in his community as Rabbi K, told the crowd as the Torah was finished being written. The elder Katsenelenbogen passed away on Sept. 3, 2014, a month ahead of Yom Kippur. During Rabbi K’s annual appeal on Yom Kippur last year, he announced a Sefer Torah campaign to be dedicated to his father.

Chabad of Owings Mills Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen and his family help Rabbi Moshe Klein, a scribe from New York, write one of the remaining letters in the Chabad’s new Torah. (Photos by Marc Shapiro)

Chabad of Owings Mills Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen and his family help Rabbi Moshe Klein, a scribe from New York, write one of the remaining letters in the Chabad’s new Torah. (Photos by Marc Shapiro)

The new Torah and the dedication event cost more than $60,000, Katsenelenbogen said. As the Torah was finished, various sponsoring families, relatives of the rabbi as well as other Chabad rabbis, including Lubavitch of Maryland Director Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, helped inscribe the remaining letters.

Once the Torah was finished and dressed, Katsenlenbogen led attendees in a celebratory parade. Korn’s Hachnosos Sefer Torah Truck, a festively decorated trailer, led the way, blasting Jewish music, as Katsenlenbogen and others — carrying flags and tiki torches and dancing — followed, carrying the new Torah under a chuppah canopy on wheels through the parking lot, down Owings Mills Boulevard, up Crondall Lane and back into the Chabad space. Gov. Larry Hogan issued a Proclamation declaring Aug. 30, 2015 Torah Dedication Day.

Kaplan said the event brought to memory Katsenelenbogen’s father, who he called an extraordinary individual who was the “personification of selfless devotion to Torah and the Jewish people,” and it was a great tribute to his ancestors.

“To see their children, grandchildren preserving Judaism with the same selflessness in this free country is extraordinary,” Kaplan said. “Stalin is dead, communism is dead. The spark of Judaism [from Rabbi K’s family], that’s what still alive today.”

Moshe Katsenelenbogen was born in 1931 in Gzhatsk in the former Soviet Union. His parents were active in the local yeshiva, his father being a prominent student and his mother serving as the yeshiva’s cook as well as arranging underground Torah schools for young children and saving Jewish children from government orphanages. Moshe’s father, Michoel, would later be taken away by secret police and killed.

Moshe became an expert in Talmud, Jewish law and Chasidic teachings, and helped the underground network of Chabad synagogues and schools. His mother Sarah sent hundreds of people to safety by helping obtain documents needed for escape. Both were later incarcerated in Siberia, where Sarah died of a heart attack. While in prison, neither gave up information about their Jewish activities and maintained religious observance to the best of their ability.

Moshe, who rescued Torah scrolls from being destroyed in Soviet Russia, would later settle in London, where he taught at a Chabad high school and started a family.

Katsenelenbogen said his father was very proud of the Owings Mills Chabad’s progress, which was encapsulated by the Torah dedication.

090415_dediction2“This is a sign that we have matured as a community. We have grown to the point that not only have we purchased a Torah, but we commissioned our own brand new Torah,” the rabbi said. “It was not cheap, but it’s a mitzvah. It’s the last mitzvah of the Torah. Commandment 613 is that every Jew is obligated to a Torah scroll for him or herself.”

At the celebration, Katsenelenbogen’s congregants praised him for making Chabad a welcoming place for all Jews.

“There’s diversity here not a lot of synagogues can get,” said Gayle Beltrand, a Reisterstown resident whose children go to Hebrew school at Chabad. She noted that her husband, who is not Jewish, is always welcome there. “You’re here to soak in the spirituality.”

Susan Ansel, another congregant, said the Chabad has a great social atmosphere and good food.

“They welcome people wherever they are in Judaism,” she said.

Added Stan Friedman, “It’s nice to see all [types of Jews] in one place and not to see the separation among Jews.”