JCC Spin Classes Cycle in Tandem with Ride for the Living

Ann Berey leads one of five spin classes OMJCC dedicated to cycle in solidarity with JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living. (Melissa Gerr)

Ann Berey leads one of five spin classes OMJCC dedicated to cycle in solidarity with JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living.
(Melissa Gerr)

Approximately 50 people at the JCC of Greater Baltimore at Owings Mills rode in solidarity with 85 bicyclists at the Ride for the Living, a 55-mile fundraising ride that began at Auschwitz-Birkenau and ended at the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow.

In the JCC spin class studio in Baltimore, with photos posted on the wall of Krakow participants for incentive, instructor Ann Berey led one of five classes the JCC devoted to the ride last weekend. Over loud driving music, Berey encouraged participants to “imagine you’re biking with them, look at their faces and get a visual.”

“I rode in memory of my grandparents, because they raised me,” said Galina Shkolnik, whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors. The Pikesville resident of more than 20 years brought family to the United States from Ukraine.

The Krakow ride, which honors the past Jewish history of the city and also celebrates Jewish life in Poland today, raises funds to help ensure the future of Krakow’s Jewish community. Last year’s participants raised enough to pay for Holocaust survivors from the Krakow JCC’s Senior Club to visit Israel. The group includes more than 100 survivors.

Amy R. Schwartz, fitness and wellness director at the Greater Baltimore JCC, said because they received the event information too late to send a cycling team to Krakow, they came up with the idea to dedicate spin classes to the cause and invite the community to ride in solidarity and raise funds that way.

Krakow’s Jewish Community Centre opened in April 2008 and serves as the focal point for the resurgence of Jewish life in Krakow. It has more than 550 members and holds programs for holidays, weekly Shabbat dinners and services, among other activities. It also offers five levels of Hebrew school classes, kosher catering and an on-staff genealogist.

“The Ride for the Living is important because Jewish life in Poland is flourishing,” Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich said in a statement. “Jewish communities around Poland are growing, and while we acknowledge our loss as a people here, we can’t focus on only the loss.”

Donations are still being accepted at crowdrise.com/BaltimoreJCCRideForTheLiving.


American Dollars, Israeli Lives An up-close look at philanthropic efforts on behalf of Israel

The donation of an ambulance to the American Friends of Magen David Adom by lifelong Pikesville residents Bill and Karen Glazer adds one more tangible piece to the large network of philanthropic, financial and emotional bonds that connect Israel with the United States.

Magen David Adom, the national blood services center and emergency response team of Israel, is a state-mandated agency that receives no government funding in order to remain a member of the International Red Cross and Crescent movement. Despite this, MDA is responsible for responding to Israel’s 8 million citizens, regardless of their religion, in a time of need.

“We loved that we could honor our parents with this ambulance. We’d like to think they helped to mold us into who we are, and we want the people of Baltimore to know about the work Magen David Adom is doing,” said Bill Glazer. “Magen David Adom is very unique because it is funded by people who love Israel.”

061215_cover1Glazer attributes much of the support of MDA in Baltimore to Wally Kleid, a longtime member of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation who has been personally involved in rallying support in the past several years.

Moses Montefiore will host a celebration on June 15 at 7 p.m., honoring the Glazers and the donation as well as spreading the word about MDA’s work.

“Each shul has their causes that they take up. Magen David Adom has historically been a cause that [Moses Montefiore] has given to and the people of Baltimore have given to,” said the congregation’s Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro.

Every MDA ambulance that is donated to AFMDA is built in the United States as a retrofitted Chevrolet, transported by truck to the port of Baltimore and shipped to Israel with a dedication written on the side. The ambulance donated by the Glazers will be in honor of their parents, Ruth and Harry Glazer and Miriam and Lee Hack.

Although Kleid’s efforts have been successful, many like Glazer still describe the movement in Baltimore for AMFDA as “grass roots.”

According to statistics provided by AFMDA, Baltimore’s Jewish population of about 90,000 has, on average, donated $130,000 each year in the past decade.

Pittsburgh, with a Jewish population of 45,000, has averaged $30,000 per year.

These numbers stand in contrast to other cities such as Detroit, which has donated $8 million in the past decade with a Jewish population of 65,000. Since 1967, when the Michigan regional chapter of the AFMDA was established as a result of the Six Day War, the city of Detroit has donated 300 ambulances, which makes it the largest donor per capita compared with other U.S cities.

By comparison, over the past 10 years, Cleveland, with a Jewish population of 80,000, has donated $2.5 million to AFMDA.

Since AFMDA has limited staff members in any given city, funds distributed by Jewish federations and other pro-Israel organizations can be analyzed to get an overall picture of different communities’ efforts on behalf of the Jewish state.

This ambulance will be donated to AFMDA by Bill and Karen Glazer (inset) in honor of their  parents, Ruth and Harry Glazer and Miriam and Lee Hack, on June 15. (Provided)

This ambulance will be donated to AFMDA by Bill and Karen Glazer (inset) in honor of their
parents, Ruth and Harry Glazer and Miriam and Lee Hack, on June 15. (Provided)

Through a spokeswoman, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore said that of the $46.5 million it anticipates from the 2015 annual campaign, $10.5 million will be allocated toward Israel and overseas funding, 22 percent of the budget.

By comparison, according to the 2014 annual report from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, last year’s campaign raised $33 million and allocated $9.5 million to Israel and overseas funding, 28 percent of the budget.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised $23 million in its 2014 campaign. It allocated roughly $5.75 million toward Israel-related programs and $920,000 to overseas funding, 29 percent of the budget.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland raised $30.3 million in its last annual campaign and allocated $11.8 million to overseas Jewish agencies and services, but the breakdown did not clarify whether that money was from the campaign or other funds, such as grant money.

Bill and Karen Glazer  (provided)

Bill and Karen Glazer (provided)

Madelyn Cohen, the representative from AFMDA managing the June 15 event, said population is not the only factor to consider when comparing donations from different cities. One of the most powerful tools any fundraising organization has is its staff.

“The professional staff is critical to develop any area by working hand-in-hand with the local leadership,” said Cohen. “For any fundraising effort it works like a car. The local community leadership is the engine that drives the effort, and the professional staff steers it so it does not go off course.”

Of Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, cities with long Jewish histories, Cleveland and Detroit have AFMDA representatives. Pittsburgh’s representative is based in Cleveland, and AFMDA does not have anyone based in, or covering, Baltimore.

Although exact breakdowns were not available, each federation specified that the money allocated for Israel and overseas funding is put toward programs such as Taglit-Birthright Israel and MASA as well as helping Jewry in other countries.

“If Israel is in crisis, we raise money for that particular response,” said Marc Terrill, president of The Associated. “Our ongoing rapport with Israel, since they have a strong government, is to respond to areas where we can have the most impact: social issues, immigration, vulnerable communities, etc.”

Aside from the money, Terrill believes the connection between Baltimore and Israel is more than financial.

“When people go to visit Israel, they feel like they have a home, particularly in [Baltimore’s sister city] Ashkelon,” said Terrill. “That’s the richness of our connection, building that peer-to-peer human connection.”

Jewish federations coordinate many efforts under the umbrella of the Jewish Federations of North America. David Brown, chair of Israel and overseas council for JFNA, echoed Terrill’s remarks, saying that he believes the connection between North America and Israel transcends dollars.

“This is an emotional connection. All Jews are responsible for one another,” said Brown. “Wherever Jews are in need, that is where JFNA and our systems respond.”

Brown noted that this past winter, money and other resources were sent to France in response to the supermarket shootings and the increased number of attacks on Jews. Additionally, a delegation from JFNA will be leaving for Ukraine in the upcoming weeks in response to the ongoing conflict there between pro-Russian separatists and the central government in Kiev.

“Jews are not necessarily the target of [the Ukrainian] conflict, but they are being displaced and affected by it,” said Brown.

The JFNA sends a portion of its funds to several partner organizations that distribute the money to a variety of causes assisting world Jewry, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, World ORT (it markets itself as the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training nongovernmental organization) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Donations from the JFNA primarily subsidize the JDC’s core budget each year.

According to that organization’s annual reports, on average the JDC, which focuses on finding solutions to social issues such as immigration, unemployment and at-risk youth, has committed between $14 million and $15 million to Israel each year. However, the total money leveraged from that core budget has dropped significantly since 2008, when it generated $160 million from partners to the $111 million it generated in 2013.

Medics attend to an injured Israeli inside a MDA ambulance.

Medics attend to an injured Israeli inside a MDA ambulance. (photo provided)

When asked about the decline in donations, JDC spokesman Michael Geller explained the cause for the trend had two reasons: the economic recession that began in 2008 and the 2006 Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah. Since July 2014, the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas targets in Gaza, JDC’s donations surged again, with $7 million donated to date, according to Geller.

Military conflict plays no small part in why an organization like MDA is necessary. During last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, the organization’s leaders were forced to operate underground as Israel was attacked with rockets. Although they were able to operate effectively, the conflict became a wake-up call in terms of security. MDA is now working toward funding a subterranean complex that will allow more space for operations and provide protection from potential terrorist attacks.

Even though the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has been on the rise over the past several years, from college campuses to state legislative bodies, some organizations have seen an increase in support toward Israel, such as the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

“The BDS movement in our communities is understood for what it is,” said Ari Dallas, director of development for the Mid-Atlantic region of the FIDF. “It draws more support and people are more inclined to support Israel.” He added, “People who care about Israel understand that the BDS movement doesn’t have a valid case.”

Last month, the Illinois state House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibits state pensions from including companies in their portfolio that participate in the BDS movement. Although Indiana and Tennessee passed resolutions condemning BDS, Illinois is reportedly the first to take economic action against supporters.


*The numbers given for The Associated are estimates of their 2015 campaign, not records of the 2014 campaign.

Israel Bonds, an organization founded in 1951 with which Bill and Karen Glazer are actively involved, fights the BDS movement by acting as a broker/dealer and underwriter for government bonds from Israel to clients in the United States and worldwide.

The Glazers have gone on several trips to Israel, including one with Israel Bonds for the state’s 60th anniversary and one in 1976, which initially inspired them to become involved with AFMDA.

“We are fortunate that we live in a lifetime where we can experience Israel even though our parents and grandparents could not,” said Bill Glazer. “Our son had a bar mitzvah in Israel at the wailing wall with our whole family. We often point to that visit as our favorite.”

Shapiro, who recently visited Israel, remembers specifically seeing ambulances from MDA in action.

“I get the feeling one day I’ll be in Israel and see [a Baltimore] ambulance driving around,” said Shapiro. “It’s an amazing thought that this vehicle is going to Israel and savings lives.”

How much they can help people in Israel with this ambulance is ultimately what has driven the Glazers and their desire to get involved.

“What struck near and dear to me was how many gifts enable us to touch the lives of so many Israelis,” said Glazer. “This ambulance has been that for us. Magen David Adom has become an organization we see as so important, and word needs to get out.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this article.


Hopkins Student Attending Jerusalem Summit

Aliza Waxman (Provided)

Aliza Waxman

Johns Hopkins University doctoral candidate Aliza Waxman will bring years of experience working on the issue of global health in three different continents when she attends the 2015 ROI Community Summit in Jerusalem this month.

The summit will bring 150 Jewish innovators with a wide range of skills and backgrounds to the Israeli capital city to discuss, experiment and challenge each other on how they can strengthen the world’s future Jewish community.

“We are proud that the ROI Summit has become an exceptional forum to convene some of the most promising young Jews from around the world,” said Justin Korda, executive director of ROI Community. “This group of inspiring leaders has incredible potential to infuse new energy into the global Jewish community.”

Waxman spent eight years working in HIV/AIDS prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa and is interested in international assistance for developing countries.

“Growing up in Boston, everyone looked like me and had similar access to education. It was a privileged upbringing compared to most of the world,” said Waxman. “When I went to college and was exposed to African studies and sociology of developing countries, it opened my eyes to the whole field of work in international development.”

Although she is now studying public health at Hopkins, Waxman realized early on that if she wanted to take this up as a career, she would need to open the right doors before she graduated. In 2006, she went to Peru and volunteered at a prison and orphanage. When she got back to the U.S. she interned with the Aids Action Committee of Boston.

“HIV is such a large problem that affects such a large population in the world and the reason for it is so multifaceted,” said Waxman. “The stigmas have been a barrier to prevention. There is a fear of not wanting to be associated with something because it is a STD but also because it affects such a marginalized society.”

Waxman’s passion for the issue of global health is matched by her Jewish convictions, she said. She sees the summit as another opportunity to connect her ethnicity and her career.

“My advice to other young Jews would be, we have a lot of opportunities to make the world a better place,” she said, “and now is the time to take advantage of it.”


Cardin Scholarships Awarded to 72 Special Needs Students

Special needs students from across the state, including 18 from the greater Baltimore region, were awarded Michael Cardin Scholarships.

Announced on Monday, the annual awards — established in 1998 following the death of Sen. Ben Cardin’s son, Michael — are managed by the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities. The organization’s executive director, Dorie Flynn, said this year’s class of 72 students was the largest ever.

“We obviously want to reward students that have come through struggle and have done well,” she said. “I get thank-you notes all the time. I’m just overwhelmed by how grateful these families are.”

Flynn said the scholarships can be used toward a variety of future educational opportunities, such as camp, day school, conservatory or a four-year university. Tracy Brown said her 17-year-old son, Alex, one of the winners, was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 and that he has grown tremendously since enrolling in the Forbush School at Glyndon.

“He’s just a really smart kid, and he’s come a long long way,” she said.

Brown said she was “super duper excited” three weeks ago when she found out Alex was selected as one of the winners. He will put his scholarship money toward attending the Michael Phelps Swim School. Brown said her son has been an avid swimmer from a young age.

Patti Wilbur, mother of winner Scott “Sandy” Wilbur, said she found out about the scholarship through an email from one of his school’s social workers. Sandy, 17, has been at the Baltimore Lab School since he began struggling with a learning disability in first grade.

In late April, they were notified Sandy had been awarded $3,000, the equivalent of two semesters’ tuition at Goucher College.

“We were absolutely thrilled because tuition is just so high,” she said. “It was really a gift for him to be awarded the scholarship and we feel very honored and grateful.”

Wilbur said Sandy is hoping to major in writing at Goucher.


Jewish Festival Comes to the Quarry Event features community organizations, synagogues, vendors, music, food and more

This Sunday, Quarry Lake at Greenspring will likely be packed for the Baltimore American Jewish Festival.

The festival, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., features live Jewish music, kosher food, author signings, a kids area and around 100 vendors that include artisans, synagogues, schools, Jewish and community service agencies.

Jay Harris, who runs Harris Promotions, has put on the Quarry Lake Fall Fest for the past four years and came up with the idea of doing a Jewish festival while talking to his son.

“I said, ‘What better place to than the Quarry?’ because it’s right there in the heart of where all the Jews live,” he said. “We have a stage with all Jewish music on it, we have kosher food … and we have a great assortment of vendors.”

The festival is sponsored by Sol Levinson & Bros., Guaranteed Rate, Uptown Jewelers, Camden Body & Fender Co., Peregrine’s Landing at Tudor Heights, Hyatt Regency Baltimore, Allstate, Masada Tactical, LifeBridge Health, WCBM, Friends of the IDF, Q 1370 AM, Koons Volvo and Academy Mortgage.

The Baltimore American Jewish Festival will be held on Sunday, June 7, at Quarry Lake at Greenspring. (Provided)

The Baltimore American Jewish Festival will be held on Sunday, June 7, at Quarry Lake at Greenspring. (Provided)

There will be live music from the Baltimore Bows Orchestra, the Tummelers, the Princess Company and Yehuda Mond. For the kids, there will be face painting, a balloon man, caricatures, Torah tales and a moon bounce.

In addition to synagogues from all denominations, the festival will feature a variety of local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland. According to the group’s co-president, it now numbers 103 members and boasts a mailing list of about 200 people. But they hope to reach more.

“There are still plenty of people that don’t know we exist who are doing their own family histories and genealogies,” Dick Goldman, co-president, said. The JGSMD will have computers set up and volunteers on hand to help those interested start researching their ancestors.

“The Internet has gotten so good for family research that we can make a claim that in five minutes or less we can find your ancestors who were in this country in 1940 or earlier,” Goldman said. “We have subscriptions to all of the very helpful websites and people who are skilled in looking for things. For probably everybody we’ll be able to find some relatives and some information.”

The Pikesville Chamber of Commerce will also be on hand to promote its 5k race, which is on July 12 and benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund and the chamber.

Chamber Executive Director Jessica Normington said the festival is a great event for the community.

“The Jewish population is the largest in [Pikesville], so to highlight that for the larger community itself is great, and I think it’s great that Jay and Harris Promotions wanted to take the time and effort to do this,” she said. “I think he’s gotten great support from the community, so it’ll be exciting to see the turnout.”


From Imagination to Reality Psychotherapist-author promoting self-help book in Pikesville

As a psycotherapist, Kim Schneiderman successfully uses writing exercises in her therapy sessions.  (Photos provided)

As a psycotherapist, Kim Schneiderman successfully uses writing exercises in her therapy sessions.

A New York-based psychotherapist will be in Pikesville this week promoting her new book, which teaches self-help through a writing program that asks readers to take an outside perspective on their own lives.

Kim Schneiderman will be at the Pikesville Barnes & Noble on June 11 at 7 p.m. promoting her upcoming book, “Step Out of your Story.” (Editor’s note: Schneiderman is a former Jewish Times freelance writer.)

“When I was a little girl … I had the uncanny sense that I was a character in a story,” said Kim Schneiderman. “I’d imagine reading about the exact same situation in a novel. First, I would ask myself, ‘What would I hope the main character would do in response to these circumstances? What actions or outcomes would I root for as the reader of this story?’”

Schneiderman began developing writing exercises, with those questions in mind, as a way to help her patients look at the larger narratives of their personal lives in the wake of tragedy or disaster. But she was eventually faced with a tragedy of her own.

“I was developing a workbook when my father was diagnosed with cancer and I had to see if I could walk my own talk,” said Schneiderman. “Could I transform my life from a narrative perspective? Could I really find a redemptive narrative despite losing both parents?”

Even though she had a challenging relationship with her father and was his end-of-life caregiver, they bonded when she shared with him the book proposal for “Step Out of Your Story,” which he ultimately supported.

After reading an interview from Rabbi David Aaron, Schneiderman took inspiration from his book, “Endless Light,” which asks readers to look at themselves in more than just the roles they assume in life, a practice which draws from kabbalah.

“How can I help clients look at their lives from this distance?” said Schneiderman.

Writing themselves as a story character was a natural choice for Schneiderman, who always had an active imagination as a child. Beyond helping her through personal tragedies, the exercises have proven useful for her former students who continue to use them.

Gavriel Meir-Levi was one of Schneiderman’s first students who became captivated with her ideas of writing his own life from an outside perspective when he attended one of her workshops in Manhattan. When Schneiderman began offering therapy sessions using her writing exercises, and Meir-Levi quickly signed up.

“At the time, people were getting very excited about [President Barack] Obama as a candidate. He kept saying the U.S has lost its narrative arch,” said Meir-Levi. This idea resonated with him as someone who was stuck in a desk job.

060515_author2“I began writing this fictional story of myself being trapped on a desert island and what would I do if I ever got off the island,” said Meir-Levi. “After writing these different version of my life and all these different things I would do if I got off the island, I finally left the island.”

Meir-Levi quit his desk job and drove out to Chicago to help the Obama campaign.

“It opened all these doors and a whole chapter of my life that never would have gotten written otherwise,” said Meir-Levi, who has continued to use the writing exercises since then.

Susan Saroff, who met Schneiderman at a 2010 workshop in Manhattan, is also still using the exercises she learned.

“[Schneiderman] is a fabulous leader in the way she has you write in the third person. It gives you an unusual mirror to reflect in,” said Saroff. “I find it to be a useful tool in making decisions in my life. It is a way to write that is different from a journal.”

What connects Schneiderman and all of her clients writing is ultimately perspective.

“We can’t fully control the story but we can mind them to develop from them,” said Schneiderman. “There is one way to tell your story, but isn’t there another?”

Kim Schneiderman hosts a writing workshop on June 12 from 10:00 a.m. to noon at WordPress Abilities OT Services & Irlen Visual Learning Center, 600 Reisterstown Road, Suite 600GHI, Pikesville.


JT Honored with Rockower Awards

The Baltimore Jewish Times won several honors in the 2015 Rockower Awards competition held by the American Jewish Press Association.

The JT’s editor-in-chief, Joshua Runyan, who also serves as editorial director of publisher Mid-Atlantic Media, won first place in single commentary for “Life-or-Death Struggle,” an installment of his popular “Opening Thoughts” column discussing the Jewish perspective of a terminally ill patient’s choice to end her own life.

Art directors Lindsey Bridwell and Ebony Brown won first place in overall graphic design and second place in cover page graphic design.

Senior reporter Marc Shapiro won second place in reporting about health care for “Medicinal Reefer Madness,” a cover story about Maryland’s efforts to institute a medicinal cannabis program.

The JT’s sister paper, Washington Jewish Week, also won several awards, including second-place honors for feature writing, commentary and editorial writing.

The AJPA announced the awards on Monday. They will be distributed at the organization’s annual conference this fall in Washington, D.C.


Eye on Houston Baltimore examines flood plan after Texas disaster

The Jones Falls, in this view south of the 41st Street bridge, is prone to severe flooding during heavy rains. (By Onore Baka Sama (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Jones Falls, in this view south of the 41st Street bridge, is prone to severe flooding during heavy rains. (By Onore Baka Sama (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore may not have the bayous of Houston, but local officials say they are prepared in the event a flood of similar magnitude to last week’s inundation in Texas and Oklahoma should occur.

Storms that struck that region beginning on May 26 killed at least 28 people and wrought extensive damage across entire neighborhoods. Much of Houston’s devastation was centered in the heavily Jewish locale of Meyerland.

Here in Baltimore, one particular area prone to flooding is the Jones Falls watershed, which begins in Greenspring Valley near Garrison and empties into the Inner Harbor. About 200,000 people live along the watershed, 67,000 of whom are in Baltimore County, according to population figures.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, whose 5th District includes some of the watershed, said the federal government declared the area around Jones Falls in Pikesville a floodplain in the 1970s. Spector, who has been on the Council since 1977, said a number of building restrictions went into place after Hurricane David swept through the area in September 1979, causing massive flooding.

“We always get a warning about it, and our primary goal is public safety,” she said.

The Jones Falls area has experienced flooding a number of times since then, including a rainstorm on April 30, 2014 that caused a railroad retaining wall along East 26th Street to collapse.

Baltimore City Deputy Director of Emergency Management Connor Scott said his office’s role is to communicate with the police department, fire department and other first-responders in preparing for inclement weather.

“When we have a forecast for significant rain we always have someone on call 24-7 and if it’s a big storm we’ll call some more people,” he said.

Scott said they will also call store owners and residents close to floodplains in order to gauge water levels. He said the Mount Washington neighborhood near Whole Foods is often susceptible to floods.

He added that officials have implemented a text-message alert system for localized flooding in addition to alerts from the National Weather Service. They hope to have an expanded alert system by March 2016.

“There have been a few times when we’ve had hurricane threats to the city, and in areas that are prone to flooding from the storm surge, [we] will actually work with citizens to move cars,” he said. “We’ve actually towed cars before, because you’d rather have your cars towed than to have it flooded out.”

Also read, ‘Total Paralysis’: Houston Jewish
Community picks up pieces after flooding.

Scott, who has worked for the city government for four years, said the most significant weather-related events during his tenure were last year’s landslide and flooding from a derecho storm in 2012. He said none were as severe as Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which damaged thousands of homes.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said many of the city’s streams have flood-control gauges that measure rainfall and stream level. He said the three locations most prone to flooding are Mount Washington near the Smith Avenue bridge, Clipper Mill near Union Avenue and the Jones Falls Wastewater Pumping Station.

“We coordinate directly with the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management to alert them when water levels are expected to rise to flood levels that may impact public safety,” he said.

The department has also hired a third-party contractor to clean areas that accumulate debris, which include the Northern Parkway and 29th Street underpasses, he added. “In the past, this accumulated debris had resulted in a 6-foot difference in water levels, so you can imagine the increased potential for significant flooding.”

Despite the precautions the City of Baltimore has taken, the threat of flooding is not as severe as it would be in Houston, said Raymond. Baltimore differs from southeast Texas in that it does not have hard clay soil and is therefore not prone to oversaturation.

“Baltimore sits in a bowl,” he explained. “We drain right out into the harbor, which goes out into the Chesapeake.”


The Cost of a Dignified Burial Jewish funeral expenses can be steep, but must they be?

The emotional cost of burying a loved one can be overwhelming. But when a price tag upward of $8,000 for Jewish funeral expenses — the regional average, according to National Funeral Directors Association statistics — is added to that cost, the suffering can be exacerbated.

“People go into debt for funerals. They take out loans. They do some crazy things,” said David Zinner, a Columbia resident and vice president of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington.

“People are embarrassed to ask for a lower price,” said Zinner, whose organization negotiates contracts with Washington, D.C.-area funeral homes to ensure affordable Jewish burials. He has approached Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., Baltimore’s only Jewish funeral home, as well, on several occasions.

060515_cover1While Talmudic laws can sometimes be open to debate and interpretation, said Zinner, who is also an instructor in Jewish funeral customs at the Gamliel Institute, laws about how Jews are to bury the deceased and how the community should support those in mourning are clearly stated. The laws are essential to ensure that the family of the deceased be cared for and protected in their time of need.

Funeral customs were dictated as a kind of great equalizer, with the same respectful and humble provisions precisely defined for both the wealthy and the poor, he explained. That includes detailed rituals, which are carried out by a community’s chevra kadisha, or burial society. Such services are directly enlisted by a funeral home and families or other organizations cover the costs.

Each society provides a shomer, or guard, to watch over the body until burial and performs the tahara, a ritual washing and then dressing of the deceased in a traditional simple shroud. Additionally, a Jew’s burial should include soil from Israel, a tradition to ensure all Diaspora Jews are “buried in Israel,” said Zinner. In total, these services can run about $400.

The wealth of simplicity means funerals should be both simple and affordable, Zinner asserted. But over time costs have only risen dramatically; the 1970 average of $708, according to the NFDA, has grown to more than 10 times that price today.

Zinner’s organization currently has contracts with Hines Rinaldi funeral home in the D.C. area and Cunningham Turch funeral home in Virginia to guarantee the base cost of a Jewish funeral for $1,850, compared to between $4,000 and $6,000 without the contract at other funeral homes.

“If you call up Hines Rinaldi and say, ‘I’m Jewish and I want the contract,’ you get it,” said Zinner.

To be clear, the base price only includes the transport of the deceased to a funeral home, refrigeration, provision for washing and dressing, completion of all necessary paperwork, professional services, a simple casket and transportation to a synagogue for the service and to the cemetery. The $1,850 does not include the purchase of a higher-end casket, should a family choose to purchase one, or the renting of limousines.

Cemetery costs are also additional, Zinner specified, which many people don’t realize. Opening and closing a grave can run from $400 to $2,000, liner vaults run anywhere from $400 to $5,000 and  monument costs are on top of that, with prices that run from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

All roads lead to Levinson’s

One year ago this month, Levinson’s opened an office in Columbia to assist clients in that area. Though Zinner’s organization focuses on the Greater Washington area, as a member of Columbia Jewish Congregation, he’s met with Levinson’s “about once a year” in hopes of negotiating on behalf of fellow congregants living near the Baltimore area who might choose to use the funeral home.

“I think they do a great job of taking care of people, but I think their prices are way too high,” said Zinner.

Levinson’s base cost for a funeral is comparable to that charged by funeral homes in Washington for clients not requesting the Jewish burial negotiated price.

“It’s clear that they’re not interested in that [negotiated contract] model,” said Zinner. “It wouldn’t be in their interest to cut their own business.”

Still, Levinson’s, a family-run mainstay of the Baltimore Jewish community for more than 120 years, is dedicated to ensuring Jews in Baltimore are not limited by financial means when choosing a Jewish burial, said the firm’s vice president, Matt Levinson.

“We partner with the rabbis, the cemeteries [and] different organizations such as the [Hebrew Burial and Social Service Society of Maryland] for families that need assistance in providing a funeral,” said Levinson. “We’re here to help in any way we can.”

Levinson’s arranges between 800 and 900 funerals per year, with approximately 10 to 15 percent of those families receiving some type of financial assistance, either from Levinson’s directly or through other community organizations, he said. “We’ve never turned anyone down, and whatever we have to do to allow a family to have a proper Jewish funeral we will do.”

At Levinson’s, funeral arrangements start with basic services of 24-hour access to a funeral director, staff (about 25 full-time and 25 part-time) and overhead, listed at $2,255. It includes consultations with family members to discuss and arrange funeral details, coordination with clergy and cemeteries, filing notices with newspapers, the state and the Social Security Administration, obtaining certified copies of a death certificate and the transfer of loved ones in the middle of the night, if necessary.

Levinson’s also makes arrangements for shiva observance and will drop off chairs, prayer books and candles and then collect everything when the mourning period has concluded. It offers after-care resources as well, such as bereavement groups, seminars, lectures and a bereavement library.

“Just comprehensive service for whatever they need,” said its president, Ira Levinson.

Still, the total cost depends upon the options chosen by a family in mourning. Caskets at Levinson’s range from $775 to about $13,000. A graveside funeral
service costs $650, and a service in Levinson’s chapel or another facility runs $725. Interment services at the cemetery following a chapel service cost $325. Other in-house costs include refrigeration and sanitary care at $450 each and auto rentals, such as for transfer of the deceased to the funeral home ($450), hearse usage ($450) and if a limousine is requested for family members, another $335.

Monument purchase and foundation pouring are additional costs and can vary greatly. As in Washington, cemeteries carry their own charges too, such as to open, close and maintain a gravesite as well as the cost of the plot itself, which is most commonly purchased through a synagogue.

In that area of the industry, there are other options, one of which locally is Chevra Ahavas Chesed.

Prepayment of funeral arrangements can lock in current costs and allow families to avoid making decisions  during an emotionally charged time.

Prepayment of funeral arrangements can lock in current costs and allow families to avoid making decisions during an emotionally charged time. (©iStockphoto.com/mactrunk)

Subsidized costs

Founded in 1941 to assist new immigrants, Chevra Ahavas Chesed is a membership-based organization that arranges about 35 burials per year, said its president, Stan Hellman. The only nonmonetary requirement to join is to be Jewish.

After payment of an initiation fee, ranging from nothing to $1,500 based on the age of the oldest family member — substantially lesser fees apply for single individuals — an annual membership fee is collected of $45 per family or $25 per individual. This entitles each member to a plot in the Chevra Ahavas Chesed-owned cemetery on Liberty Road in Randallstown, nestled between Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion’s and Beth El Congregation’s cemeteries, as well as a traditional shroud and tahara services performed by the organization’s own chevra kadisha.

“We have people who belong to Glen Avenue [Ohel Yaakov Congregation] and Baltimore Hebrew and some don’t belong anywhere,” Hellman said of the nearly 1,100 people — 580 households — who make up the membership.

A big distinction of the organization, said Hellman, who has been involved with it since the 1970s, is “[synagogues] are in the retail cemetery plot business. We are not.”

Plot location is allocated in the order needed, with adjoining plot arrangements made available for couples. Two after-funeral costs are incurred: a perpetual care fee ($400 individual and $600 for a double plot) and a foundation pouring fee required to stabilize headstones, about $350 per site, paid to the monument company.

Upon a death, members are instructed to contact Levinson’s directly.

“We work very closely with Levinson’s,” said Hellman. “They keep marvelous records” that match up with the organization’s account of members’ plots, and “if a spouse died, they [already] know right where [the adjoining plot] is.”

Irma Pretsfelder, a Chevra Ahavas Chesed member who recently retired from serving in the women’s chevra kadisha for 30 years, said: “As far as I’m concerned [Levinson’s] is A-1. They’ve been so cooperative with everything.

“You make one phone call and that’s all,” added Pretsfelder, whose husband recently passed away. “You call Levinson’s. You don’t go pick out a box. They know exactly what the [organization] wants.”

Any other services rendered by Chevra Ahavas Chesed members are paid directly to the funeral home, but Hellman said if a family needs financial assistance the organization also maintains an emergency fund.

Also read, To Prepay or Not To Prepay.

Another way a family might receive assistance is through the Hebrew Burial and Social Service Society of Maryland, for which Richard Friedlander is a board member and volunteer treasurer.

“All people work through Levinson’s,” said Friedlander. “I can’t be complimentary enough for the community service they provide with respect to never letting someone go without the ability to have a Jewish funeral.”

The Hebrew Burial and Social Service Society owns plots within the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation cemetery, including a “big acquisition” it made about 20 years ago. At no time “in the near term would we need to buy more,” said Friedlander.

The society relies on Levinson’s to identify families in need of assistance, he explained.  “Levinson’s will turn to us and make arrangements via our available lots.”

Matt Levinson said such assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Friedlander’s society draws funds from its endowment and receives donations as well. In addition to providing a plot, it covers all expenses with respect to a burial, including a modest marker and headstone. It serves between six and 18 clients per year, said Friedlander.

Over at Jewish Community Services, Karen Nettler, the director of community connections, said that clients get sent to Levinson’s, as well. Whether or not they receive financial assistance is a decision left to the funeral home.

“The issue sometimes is that people have an [unrealistic] expectation for a funeral,” she explained, “that is above and beyond the free burial that will be provided for them.”

Heather Norris contributed to this article.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com, mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Waiting in the Wings O’Malley announces presidential bid

On a sunny Saturday in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley finally declared, “To all who can hear my voice — I declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States and I’m running for you.”

But, as Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County explained, the odds of O’Malley — or any other Democratic presidential hopeful — wrestling the nomination away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are “close to zero.”

“If you think about the possibilities out there in the Republican and Democratic parties, there just aren’t very many,” said Norris. “I think O’Malley is positioning himself to be the recipient of a movement away from Hillary from her supporters in case she does stumble.”

Martin O’Malley makes it official: “I’m running for you.” (Photo provided)

Martin O’Malley makes it official: “I’m running for you.” (Photo provided)

Waiting in the wings should Clinton’s campaign implodes is a viable option. As Norris pointed out, during Clinton’s first run for the presidency, “she had the nomination locked up, nobody thought anybody could beat her. A lot of things happen in the run up to a primary.”

Clinton is only the first of several substantial hurdles O’Malley needs to overcome in order to secure his party’s nomination.

Despite having served as mayor of Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, and as a wildly popular governor for two terms, his visibility nationally has been poor; a Washington Post poll from October found that O’Malley’s popularity in deep blue Maryland had taken a big hit (though he continued to poll above a 50 percent approval rating in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties). His former lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, lost spectacularly in last year’s governor’s race that was his to lose, and Baltimore, whose streets O’Malley claimed to have cleaned up using a data-driven initiative, erupted this spring after the death in police custody of Freddie Gray.

The opposition, Norris said, has and will continue to use all these points.

Then there’s the issue of positioning himself to the left of Clinton to both distance himself from the woman he once supported and attract the votes and organizing power of those more aligned with the party’s liberal wing, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

O’Malley took an obvious swipe at Clinton — and the presidential aspirations of Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, son and brother of two presidents — in his announcement.

“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” he told the crowd. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”

Norris acknowledged O’Malley’s liberal credentials. The problem is they may not be enough to carry him through the primaries.

“If you look at his record as governor, he got the DREAM Act passed, he got same-sex marriage passed, all of these by referendum and all upheld by popular vote,” said Norris. “He also got the living wage passed. These are all touchstones for [progressives].”

O’Malley spoke of Maryland’s successes during his tenure as governor, and outlined an a social and economic agenda that matches with progressive values: “higher minimum wage, overtime pay for overtime work, and respect for the rights of all workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages.”

“If we take these actions, the dream will live again,” O’Malley said.

But the Jewish, self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) firmly occupies the progressive left of the party and has had a national platform from which to champion his views. Sanders is polling ahead of O’Malley in the early states and garnering large, enthusiastic crowds of grassroots volunteers. Whether that enthusiasm can be maintained remains to be seen.

What O’Malley does have going for him is his 15 years of executive experience — more than Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama had under their belts when they entered the White House, Norris pointed out — and his youth. And don’t expect O’Malley to come right out and say it, but part of his campaign strategy is running as an alternative for a younger generation. At 52, he is far younger than Clinton, 67, and Sanders, 73.

Looking to build on O’Malley’s youthful energy is Generation Forward, a new super PAC founded by Damian O’Doherty, 41, and Ron Boehmer, 25, who served as O’Malley’s spokesman shortly before the former governor left office.

The duo, who moved into a WeWork shared office space in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, are intentionally bucking the trend of most super PACs by targeting their messaging to millennials in early nomination states. There will be some television an online ads, said Boehmer, but expect to see more grass roots ventures that capture the authenticity millennials look for.

It’s an ambitious project, considering millennials by and large tend not to participate in the political process. Boehmer attributes millennials lack of political involvement to general cynicism about the future and the perceived inability of government to function.

“We’re trying to recapture the idea that we can build the next great generation of Americans,” said Boehmer. He added that Generation Forward is working to build on the momentum young people had for Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

All three declared Democratic candidates — former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee was set to announce after press time — have strong ties with the American Jewish community and Israel.

The National Jewish Democratic Council welcomed O’Malley to the race, releasing a statement that read, in part, that as governor, “O’Malley has proven that he is able to deliver on his promises. Furthermore, having been to Israel numerous times over the course of his career and having established strong business ties between Maryland and the Jewish state, Gov. O’Malley has proven to be a true friend to the American Jewish community.”