Bais Yaakov May Sell Owings Mills Campus

122112_bais_yaakovCiting growth in enrollment, Bais Yaakov School for Girls officials said the school could sell its Owings Mills campus and expand its Smith Avenue campus.

“We’d like to do whatever we can to make it easier for our parents,” said Sandy Nissel, the school’s chief operating officer.

That may mean selling its campus on Park Heights Avenue in Owings Mills, which houses its elementary school and pre-kindergarten, and expanding its Smith Avenue campus, which houses its middle and high schools. The school’s overall enrollment has steadily increased over the past several years, Nissel said, with more than 1,450 total students, including about 675 at the Park Heighs campus.

“One of the options is to consider selling it,” Nissel said of the Owings Mills property. “There’s no sign up in front of the property, but if it’s right for the school, we will do it.” He added that the school is not aggressively marketing the property.

Bais Yaakov is exploring ways to get more classroom space, Nissel said. According to a press release, the school’s board of directors established an exploratory committee more than two years ago to plan for the school’s growth.

While additional construction at the Smith Avenue campus is possible, and preferable because of its proximity to the Orthodox community, there are issues with traffic, parking, campus access and outdoor fields that may make expansion difficult, the release said. Other options are being explored.

Iran Oversight Advances

Sen. Ben Cardin

Sen. Ben Cardin

In the end, Maryland’s newly ascendant junior senator got what he wanted.

The unanimous passing Tuesday of the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, referred to colloquially as the Corker bill after its chief sponsor, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked an important first test of Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin’s ability to negotiate the conflicting minefields of White House pressure and Republican resistance as the committee’s ranking member.

Cardin is now among the most visible Jewish legislators on Capitol Hill, thrust into the spotlight upon replacing Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is under federal indictment for suspected influence peddling.

Working in tandem with the committee’s chairman, Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tenn.), and convincing less-than-pleased senators to withhold certain amendments — 52 were filed, but only one was brought to vote during the markup session — showcased Cardin’s ability to compromise on legislation that, if approved by both chambers of Congress, would submit any final nuclear deal reached between the Obama administration and Iran to congressional review.

Cardin and Coker’s compromise brought together Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a newly announced GOP presidential contender, and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on language pertaining to Israel’s safety, security and right to exist.

Boxer, who initially opposed the bill as undermining the administration’s ability to negotiate, said, “I believe this bill has been changed from a point where I did not support it to the point where I can.”

At a briefing Tuesday morning, White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that the president is willing to sign the proposed compromise. Corker claimed victory, telling The Hill that the administration backed down from its promised veto after realizing the “number of senators [who] were going to support this legislation.”

As part of the compromise, an initial 60-day review period of any Iran deal — which was proposed by Corker and Menendez — was reduced. Assuming that a deal is delivered on time, defined as July 10, Congress will get 30 days to review the arrangement and vote on lifting economic sanctions, a key demand of Iranian negotiators. Twelve days will automatically be added if Congress sends a sanctions-related bill to the president. If the legislation is vetoed, 10 further days will be added to the review period.

In the event that the deadline to submit a final agreement to Congress is not met, the review period reverts to 60 days. During the review period, the president cannot waive sanctions put in place by Congress.

The legislation also mandates a presidential certification every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the terms of a final agreement. Should Iran be found to have violated the terms of an agreement, Congress would snap sanctions back into place.

“We’ve eliminated from the original draft certain presidential certifications that were not [directly related to Iran’s nuclear ambitions],” said Cardin.

Reiterating what he had told the JT a day prior to the vote, Cardin said in his opening remarks that congressional sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and only an act of Congress could permanently remove sanctions imposed on Iran.

Corker clarified that while the bill dealt with nuclear activity, reports on Iran’s other offensive acts, including regional terrorism, would still be required.

“The sanctions relative to ballistic missile testing — they stay in place. The sanctions relative to terrorism — they stay in place. The sanctions relative to human rights — they stay in place,” said Corker.

My goal is one goal — and that is to make certain Iran does not have the infrastructure to develop a nuclear weapon.

Menendez, who along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was thanked repeatedly for his efforts in crafting the original legislation, said his “goal is one goal — and that is to make certain Iran does not have the infrastructure to develop a nuclear weapon.”

“The best way to achieve that goal is with bipartisan support that strengthens the United States’ hand in moving from a political framework to a comprehensive agreement and sets out expectations for Iranian compliance,” he added.

As part of the administration’s campaign to sell the Iran deal, two separate meetings with Jewish leadership were held Monday afternoon. The meetings came amid a drop in the president’s approval rating among Jewish voters and stepped up pressure from local congregations such as Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim in Pikesville, which urged its members to lobby Cardin in favor of the Corker bill.

In the first meeting, 15 top officials from Jewish organizations, including Robert Cohen and Lee Rosenberg of AIPAC, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, three J Street board members and representatives from the major streams of Judaism, heard directly from the president and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

The outreach stood in contrast to an earlier briefing on an April 2 framework agreement reached with Iran in which Jewish leaders were briefed by Colin Kahl, Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

Rather than give leaders the hard sell, the president offered a softer pitch.

“He tried to explain he understands Jewish trauma, history, the Jewish feeling of being alone in a bad neighborhood,” one participant told JTA on condition of anonymity, as both meetings were off the record.

A number of the more conservative organizational leaders attending the first meeting, among them Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Allen Fagin, the Orthodox Union’s CEO, challenged Obama on the particulars of the Iran deal.

The second meeting with fundraisers — attended by Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who has been critical of Obama’s Middle East policies, and Democratic donors associated with AIPAC, including past presidents Amy Friedkin and Howard Friedman, and with J Street, including Alexandra Stanton, Lou Susman and Victor Kovner — turned into a strategy session on how Obama could better his message to American Jews, Israelis and the American public. The meeting was joined by Biden and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

JTA contributed to this report.

B’More Represented in Inaugural Leadership Class

Barak Hermann (File Photo)

Barak Hermann (File Photo)

JCC of Greater Baltimore President Barak Hermann has been selected as a Schusterman Fellow, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation announced Monday.

Hermann is one of 24 fellows from the United States, Israel, Australia and Europe from a variety of Jewish and secular nonprofit and for-profit organizations who were selected for the inaugural fellowship.

Each fellow will receive individualized and group-based learning, have access to a coach and develop an organizational change initiative.

“I want to continue to grow and improve my own leadership skills so I can maximize the success of our organization in achieving its mission,” Hermann said. “I’m hopeful that it’ll help me continue to think strategically and innovatively of ways to ensure the sustainability of the JCCs’ impact on the community.”

Adam Simon, the foundation’s director of leadership initiatives, said the fellowship continues the foundation’s work in identifying leaders and setting them up for success.

“The Schusterman Fellowship is designed to make some targeted, strong investments in people who have the greatest potential to be the positive forces our communities need,” he said.

The fellows, who went through a competitive application process, will have their own plans designed based on assessments from those they work with.

“The customized plans are directly tied to what their assessments from their peers, their supervisors, their direct reports have identified where their greatest need for growth is,” Simon said.

He added that the foundation spent about nine months researching the best practices in academic research and existing programs around the globe to prepare for the fellowship.

“What’s great about professional development and executive coaching is that it really helps me identify and maximize my strengths and evaluates opportunities for me to grow in other areas that allow me to be an effective leader for the JCC and in our community,” Hermann said. “The stronger that I am as a leader, the more affected the JCC can be.”

Along with individualized work, Simon said the fellowship aims to create a strong network of leaders that can implement change in their respective organizations and communities.

“We [at the Schusterman Foundation] envision these individuals being called upon individually and as a group as the Jewish community’s needs grow and change over time,” he said.

Out in the Open

Miryam Kabakov and Rabbi Steve Greenberg are co-founders and co-directors of Eshel, which  provides support, education and advocacy for  LGBT Orthodox Jews and their families. (Photos Provided)

Miryam Kabakov and Rabbi Steve Greenberg are co-founders and co-directors of Eshel, which provides support, education and advocacy for LGBT Orthodox Jews and their families. (Photos Provided)

It’s no doubt at the forefront of the minds of the approximately 45 attendees at this weekend’s Eshel retreat — designed to support Orthodox parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children — that the Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide whether the Constitution allows for a state to deny same-sex couples their right to marry or to renounce a couple’s marriage from another legal jurisdiction. Also of concern is that “the wave of anti-LGBT bills filed across the country continues to swell” with more than 85 bills appearing in 28 state legislatures, as reported by the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights.

Eshel, founded in 2010 to provide support, education and advocacy for LGBT Orthodox Jews and their families, hosts its third annual event at the Capital Retreat Center in Waynesboro, Pa., April 17 to 19, with the theme of “Family.” Featured are workshops that address the impact on immediate and extended family members when a child “comes out” as gay, bisexual or transgender. Topics include how to deal with rabbis, teachers, summer camps and neighbors; parenting LGBT teens; how to be a child’s best advocate; what to do when a child comes out of the closet and the parent goes in; and what actions to take if your child chooses to leave the faith.

Eshel serves as a year-round resource for Orthodox LGBT Jews and their families, but the retreat, said Rabbi Steve Greenberg, co-founder and co-executive director of Eshel and a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, grew out of “a desperate need for parents, who were totally in shock and didn’t know where to turn and were fearful and ashamed about a secret they didn’t know how to manage.”

“Parents of teens were in acute crisis,” added Miryam Kabakov, also co-founder and co-director of Eshel. They were asking themselves, “‘What do I do with my child if they want to stand on the other side of the mehitzah?’ and were trying to figure out how their kids could integrate into the [Orthodox] community.”

Kabakov, a social worker with more than two decades of experience in the Jewish LGBT community, added that when older children come out, for parents it becomes more of an internal crisis. They struggle with questions such as, “Should I be telling people? What will that mean for my other children and my other relationships? What do I do if I hear homophobic things at the Shabbos table or from my rabbi?” It isn’t as much about what the child is going to do, but instead how the parents are trying to figure out their own path, she said.

With his spouse looking on, Dr. Isaac Namdar (with black shirt, on left) speaks with attendees at a past Eshel national retreat. This weekend, Eshel expects approximately 45 attendees at its retreat in Waynesboro, Pa.,  designed for Orthodox parents of LGBT children. Six Maryland participants will be among them. (Provided)

With his spouse looking on, Dr. Isaac Namdar (with black shirt, on left) speaks with attendees at a past Eshel national retreat. This weekend, Eshel expects approximately 45 attendees at its retreat in Waynesboro, Pa.,
designed for Orthodox parents of LGBT children. Six Maryland participants will be among them. (Provided)

A mother, recently relocated to Silver Spring, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is attending the retreat for the second time this year. Her son came out about two years ago, she reflected on that time.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh my God, my son has a boyfriend,’ but it’s a new identity” you have to contend with, she said. “I’ve always considered myself as an ally of LGBT, but the crazy thing is I thought I was better with it than I was. It’s easy to say you accept your child, but after a while it hits you; it’s hard.” Citing she needed tools to cope with the situation she added, “That’s when I began to seek support. I needed to talk to others who are going through similar things.”

Eshel’s retreat provides opportunities for parents to swap stories and share coping strategies. Attendees, including six from Maryland but only one from Baltimore, share Shabbat meals and attend formal presentations by lay people and professionals such as Dr. Caitlin Ryan, a pioneer in the development of guidelines for the care of LGBT adolescents.

Ryan is the director of the Family Acceptance Project with San Francisco State University and a four-decade clinical social worker and researcher. Her findings reveal that support for LGBT adolescents and young adults from parents and caregivers is directly linked to the well-being and healthy development of the child. In contrast, actions such as rejection, punishment, praying to change or preventing an LGBT child from talking about their situation can correlate with higher suicide and substance abuse rates and other serious health risks.

Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, cites research that claims rejection or punishment of or praying to change an LGBT child can correlate with higher suicide and substance abuse rates for those adolescents. It’s most important, she said, to provide support that culturally resonates. (provided)

Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, cites research that claims rejection or punishment of or praying to change an LGBT child can correlate with higher suicide and substance abuse rates for those adolescents. It’s most important, she said, to provide support that culturally resonates. (provided)

Supportive behaviors, even if a parent doesn’t agree with the child’s choice, are powerful, she asserted. “Standing up for them when they’ve been victimized … or just talking to your child and listening respectfully” reduces dangerous health risks and leads to better self-esteem.

A distinctive factor in observant communities are the tight bonds and socialization that typically include nuclear and extended family and even a congregation, noted Ryan, so there is very little chance for anonymity or access to more comprehensive education about sexuality.

Mindy Dickler, founder and co-chair of JQ Baltimore, which offers outreach and support to LGBT individuals and their families locally, is on the planning committee for the retreat.

“For Orthodox parents who have LGBT children there are many levels of shanda around such an experience, and often parents are not at ease talking about their situation with neighbors and friends,” she said, citing the retreat’s networking and camaraderie as valuable to parents. Dickler added, “One of my battle cries has been we have far too many young people in our community that we are losing,” because of the inability to deal openly with the issues.

“When you get all of your info from your cultural world … all of the interaction comes from that culture. So the opportunity for someone to learn what transgender means or [have access to] the latest research is going to be much more difficult,” Ryan said. “What’s really needed are culturally appropriate educational materials,” which she is developing.

Ryan noted that more than 65,000 religious leaders, care givers, health and mental health providers and families have been trained on her family-supportive approach. “One of the most important things a family needs to find for their child is culturally resonant peer support from their cultural world,” she said.

Elana Altzman’s oldest son, now 20, was 16 when he told his parents he is gay. She and her husband ultimately moved their four children from New York to Linden, N.J., where they found a more supportive and accepting Orthodox community. Four years ago, she said, there were few resources for support; this year’s Eshel retreat will be her third.

We wanted to make the Orthodox community aware of this. That it’s not somebody else. This is your uncle and your niece, these are people you love and you need to be more open-minded about it.

“I’m hoping I can be in some small measure some source of support to parents who are newer at [dealing with LGBT child issues]. And it’s a way to reconnect with people,” she said, noting that throughout the year parents are in touch via email and a phone support group facilitated by Eshel. “It’s an opportunity to see each other, to bond over a friendship.”

Mark and Ellen Schwartz of Englewood, N.J., have attended the retreat each year since its founding. Their daughter, at 26 and at the time married to a man, told her parents she is gay about four years ago. Mark said he values the retreat for what he can offer other parents and what he receives in return.

“You feel like there couldn’t be anyone else going through what you’re going through … but it [is] very moving to be part of this group, listen to
stories, weep unashamedly,” he explained. “It’s not the conventional model in the Orthodox family.”

The Schwartzes are advocates in their community and the Orthodox community at large to help bring LGBT issues out in the open.

Eshel’s retreat for Orthodox parents features workshops that address the impact on immediate and extended family members when a child “comes out” as gay, bisexual or transgender. Attendees share experiences and strategies for coping with issues within their family and community.

Eshel’s retreat for Orthodox parents features workshops that address the impact on immediate and extended family members when a child “comes out” as gay, bisexual or transgender. Attendees share experiences and strategies for coping with issues within their family and community.

“We wanted to make the Orthodox community aware of this. That it’s not somebody else,” said Mark. “This is your uncle and your niece, these are people you love and you need to be more open-minded about it.”

Kenneth Prager, in Englewood, N.J., said he and his wife “grappled somewhat” when their daughter came out as a senior in college, “but at no point was there any question of our continuing love and support for her. It’s been a journey of education for all of us.”

Prager’s daughter has since married her partner at a religious commitment ceremony, and “there was a chupah and brachot and it was a beautiful, joyous, meaningful event,” he said. “That she wanted to surround herself with Judaism made me pleased.”

Prager said of the retreat attendees, “These are all good affiliated Jews who want to feel that their children will not be rejected by the religion that they love. The parents of LGBT children are more concerned and distressed of the fact that their child might leave Judaism than the fact that their child is gay.”

But Prager admits the climate of acceptance in the Orthodox community is “moving in the right direction, but at a very slow pace” and attributed the improvement in part to rabbis becoming more educated on the issues that are present in their communities. He referenced a document published by members of the Orthodox community in July 2010.

Kenneth Prager’s daughter Tamar (left) and her partner, Arielle, pictured with their two children, were married in a religious committment ceremony.

Kenneth Prager’s daughter Tamar (left) and her partner, Arielle, pictured with their two children, were married in a religious committment ceremony.

“Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community” — written by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, who has been a leader in the Rabbinical Council of America, with the input from dozens of Jewish law scholars, educators, communal rabbis such as Aryeh Klapper and Yitzchak Blau, and mental health professionals — distinguishes between the physical same-sex act (which is forbidden by Jewish law) and that of sexual orientation (not forbidden), supports the right to reject reparation therapy to “cure” a person of their homosexuality and urges Jewish Orthodox communities to exhibit sensitivity and acceptance of any devout Jew regardless of sexual orientation. It has more than 200 signatures from rabbis, educators and mental health professionals.

The document “Orthodox Rabbis Stand on Principle,” created in December 2011 and signed by 100 rabbis in response to Greenberg officiating at a same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C., states that “Jewish tradition unequivocally teaches that marriage can only exist as a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of a homosexual relationship.” It goes on to state that “rabbis are always available to discuss congregants’ personal issues, including intimacy,” but concludes with the statement that the public shouldn’t be misled in thinking that Orthodox Jewish views on homosexuality “can change, are changing or might someday change.”

“I doubt my place in the [Orthodox] Jewish community all the time,” said the mother in Silver Spring. “It’s hard, it’s not easy, but running away from it isn’t going to help the kids. It’s frustrating at times. But I do see people being accepting. All people need is to meet one gay person and it changes their mind. It changes their viewpoint. [My] friends have done this. This gives me hope.”

Mimouna 5775

With red fezzes perched on their heads and sweet treats in hand, Baltimore Jews marked the end of Passover with a Mimouna celebration.

Nearly 150 community members attended the Sunday event co-sponsored by Chevrei Tzedek Congregation and the Baltimore Zionist District and supported by a Jewish Education Enhancement Project grant from the Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Mimouna is a Jewish celebration that originated in North Africa and has since become a national event in Israel observed by Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews alike, explained Betsy Diamant-Cohen, one of the organizers of the festivities.


In the evening following the end of Passover, Moroccan and Algerian Jews open their homes and offer visitors treats and lay out their tables with lucky symbols often revolving around the number five. The following day, Israelis gather in parks for picnics with friends.

“I lived in [Jerusalem] for 12 years and I loved the picnics all over the parks,” said Diamant-Cohen. “When we saw that Passover ended on Saturday this year, we thought it would be the perfect time to [host] Mimouna, to have an event open to the whole community.”

Mimouna is a Jewish celebration that originated in North Africa and has since become a national event in Israel.

Together with Jan Fabiyi and other Chevrei Tzedek volunteers, the Myerberg Center, where the Conservative congregation meets each Shabbat morning, was transformed with paper palm trees and colorful Middle Eastern prints covering the walls.

Assisted by her daughter, Fabiyi brewed authentic Moroccan tea garnished with mint sprigs — a sign of good fortune and new beginnings — and Simcha Ohana, who was born in Tiberias, made authentic mufletta from scratch.

As she expertly prepared the treats, Ohana explained how to prepare the mixture of water, flour and salt, which is then rolled into a ball, fried in hot oil and served with sugar or honey.

Attendees gathered up their fried treats, kosher cookies and picnic lunches and spread out on blankets in front of a stage where Daveed Korup, performing arts specialist at Port Discovery Children’s Museum, pounded out Middle Eastern beats on a variety of percussion instruments. Ma’aravi/ Polak — named for Rabbi Shuviel Ma’aravi and Josh Polak of Guitars of Pikesville — took the stage in the second hour of the three-hour event to the delight of the crowd.

Attendees tried their hand at Moroccan games awari, marrakech, shesh besh (aka backgammon) and mancala. Guests giggled as they tried on traditional Moroccan outfits and showed off their artistic abilities at the jewelry and card-making stations. Many attendees left with their hands covered in henna by Sadia’s Henna & Crafts and trinkets from the shuk.

Future of Mosque Uncertain

AMC Baltimore bought the Slade mansion with the intention of renovating it and using it as their house of worship. (David Stuck)

AMC Baltimore bought the Slade mansion with the intention of renovating it and using it as their house of worship.
(David Stuck)

The building at the corner of Park Heights and Slade avenues was supposed to open as the new home of the Ahmadi Muslim mosque, but it appears that its doors remain closed.

As of the last JT reporting, the Muslim congregation was using its location on Garrison Boulevard for worship and Sunday school until the Slade Mansion property could be renovated and opened in late 2014. With the deadline well past, whether the mosque will ever open its doors across from the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation remains undetermined.

Dr. Faheem Younus, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, would not comment on the future of the Park Heights property, as the matter is still being discussed internally. Another congregational leader reached for comment referred the JT back to the president.

Though there were initially hesitations over a mosque moving into the heart of Jewish Baltimore, feelings of mistrust were quickly dispelled through interfaith dialogue and joint programming with BHC and with the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah.

Carole Sibel, Rock Star Philanthropist

Carole Sibel held “virtually every leadership position possible”  at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. (Provided)

Carole Sibel held “virtually every leadership position possible”
at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

There’s no debating that Carole Sibel was a true champion. From the Jewish community to the animal advocacy community to the arts community and to the medical community, Sibel’s impact and otherworldly fundraising abilities were felt all over Baltimore.

“She’s like irreplaceable,” said Sheldon Stein, president and CEO of Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where Sibel served on the board for more than two decades. “For the right cause, Carole was able to get Mr. Scrooge to write a check.”

Sibel passed away from cancer on March 27 at the age of 79. She is survived by her husband, Hanan “Bean” Sibel, three children, Steven and Todd Sibel and Cara Cohen and seven grandchildren.

Her funeral service, held on March 30 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, was attended by close to 1,000 people and was more “a celebration of her life,” Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg said.

“What made this funeral, in my mind, was not how many people as much as the diversity of the people,” Wohlberg said. “Diversity touched upon everything that she touched: rich, poor, old, young, black, white, gay, straight, singers, dancers — they were all there. This was not a Pikesville senior home.”

Stein said the service was a “Who’s Who of Maryland VIPs” including CEOs, Jewish community leaders and politicians.

Even Wohlberg had been touched by Sibel’s philanthropy: She chaired the annual Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School scholarship fundraiser Spotlight in 2006, which featured speaker Oprah Winfrey.

“You name it, it was her cause. She loved to be of help, she loved to be of service. That was her thing,” Wohlberg said. “It wasn’t for fame and glory because at a certain point, you don’t need it. You’ve done enough. But she never stopped. This is what kept her engine running.”

Her daughter, Cara Cohen, isn’t even sure she knows all the things her mother did.

“She was pretty unbelievable,” Cohen said. “I always remember being surrounded by many, many different people because she was involved in so many different things.”

Their house was always hosting meetings, parties or other gatherings. And Sibel’s kids grew up not just surrounded by humans, but also by animals. Their mother was very involved with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and was serving on its board at the time of her death. Cohen recalled a time that someone left a cat in a basket on their porch.

“Somebody put it there because they knew she would keep it or find a home for it,” Cohen said.

Zoo President and CEO Donald Hutchinson said he goes back 20 years with Sibel, when they were both on the zoo board.

“Those things that she felt strongly about, she probably felt more strongly than any other mere mortal,” he said. “I think the most interesting thing about Carole was she was willing to go back to all of her friends over and over again.”

Hutchinson said Sibel saw the value in the zoo as an historical institution as well as a place that helped certain animal species survive and that offered families educational experiences. She came to all the board meetings and took on various special projects. When the zoo added its raven exhibit, Sibel sold the Adopt-a-Raven program to hundreds of people, Hutchinson said.

“She was unwavering in her opinions, so if she felt committed to a cause, you might debate the cause, but you could not debate the commitment,” he said.

In addition to these causes, Sibel was a force at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and was a regular its events and fundraisers. Marc Terrill, the organization’s president, called her “tenacious and resolute.”

“Carole has held virtually every leadership position possible at The Associated and organizations we value a connection with. I’ve known her for over two decades. She was the first chair of the board when I served as president,” he said. “Her contributions to The Associated and the Jewish community and community at large, I know, will endure for generations to come, simply because of how she lived her life. She cared for the vulnerable, believed in the power of ideas.”

While a void most certainly will be felt in her passing, Stein hopes Sibel’s family can find comfort in her impact.

“I just hope they feel the positive that she did in the community and recognize that Baltimore is definitely a much better, stronger city because of the work that she did for everybody,” he said.

A Gaffe at the Gordon Center

The March 11 to 15 run of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” garnered five complaints.

The March 11 to 15 run of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” garnered five complaints.

When “Old Jews Telling Jokes” came to the Gordon Center for a series of performances in March, five actors paid tribute to Jewish humor. A handful of audience members got more than they bargained for, walking out after an offending joke involving Jesus on (and off) the cross.

The joke, as told by producer Phil Roy, involves a father turning his nail business over to his sons. The first ad he sees has a picture of Jesus on the cross with the line, “They used Levinson’s nails.” The father, outraged by his “idiot sons” tells them to fix it, and the next ad is a photo of Jesus lying near the cross with the line, “They should have used Levinson’s nails.”

Edward and Debra Grace of Timonium were two of the patrons who walked out because of that joke. The Gordon Center said they received five complaints.

“That really crossed the line,” said Edward Grace, who noted the couple is older and not generally a fan of the “X-rated” humor found in the production. “We wouldn’t have complained about anything, even though there were a lot of four-letter words.”

In a letter the couple sent to the Jewish Times and the Gordon Center, Edward Grace equated it to joking about the Holocaust.

“I am sure a ‘joke’ about the suffering during the Holocaust would not be tolerated, as it shouldn’t be, and neither should this,” he wrote.

Roy, who is Jewish, said the joke is innocuous, and people working on the production are sensitive to jokes that would offend non-Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, it has to with the two idiot sons,” Roy said. “I’ve produced something like 50 shows since 1972, and there’s no show that you can do that somebody isn’t going to have a problem with.”

Randi Benesch, managing director of arts and culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, which operates the Gordon Center, pointed out that “Old Jews Telling Jokes” was not presented by the Gordon Center, but the show rented the theater for its showing. Benesch said the show was not vetted prior to its showing.

“We have such a variety of rentals from jazz concerts to gospel choirs. It would be difficult to see everything before its production,” she said, noting that some shows run for the first time at the Gordon Center. “This experience has me thinking that — especially for plays where there could be controversial content — that we should be reviewing the scripts before we take it on.”

This experience has me thinking that — especially for plays where there could be controversial content — that we should be reviewing the scripts before we take it on.

Benesch has reached out to the patrons who complained about the show and offered them complimentary tickets to upcoming shows.

“It’s not at all reflective of what we’re trying to achieve at the Gordon Center,” she said. She even spoke with Roy, who said he’s taking the joke out of the Providence, R.I., show, but it will still be part of the show in other cities.

“The joke was in New York for the entire two-year run,” Roy said. “The author told me he had one complaint.”

In its eight-week Philadelphia run, there were two complaints. Five complaints in the Baltimore run, which was held from March 11 through March 15, surprised him.

“Our Catholic director specifically left [the joke] in, and the Catholic director from San Diego when we did the show there left it in,” he said.

Roy has brought shows to the Gordon Center for the past five years. While he was surprised at the number of complaints, he thinks audience members should have been ready when they came to the show.

“The show is like 60 percent adult humor,” he said. “We say it right in the ads. Adults only.”

Hate Crime or Not?

Last month, a Jewish George Washington University student posted a swastika to his fraternity’s bulletin board after returning from a spring break trip to India, where the swastika is considered an ancient good luck symbol.

It didn’t have the effect he intended. GW President Steven Knapp referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, which is currently investigating.

But is it a hate crime or an obnoxious prank? If the incident had occurred at George Mason University in Virginia or the University of Maryland, the answer could be different.

“A hate crime simply occurs when you have a traditional crime like assault or arson or whatever it might be which is motivated by a hatred for somebody based upon a protected characteristic such as race or gender or religion or in some situations sexual orientation or sexual identity, but the underlying thing is there must first be a crime,” said GW law professor John F. Banzhaf III.

What constitutes a hate crime varies by state, and the statutes could be the difference between an ordinary criminal prosecution and the penalty enhancement associated with a hate crime.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania enhance penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice toward someone’s race, color, religion or national origin.

Washington’s statute is the most wide-ranging when it comes to bias-related crimes. It also includes increased penalties for crimes motivated by “the accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, homelessness, physical disability or matriculation or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.”

A conviction for a hate crime — it’s typically added to other charges — has the potential to lead to significant consequences at sentencing.

Criminal defense attorney Lonny Bramzon, who represented a client accused of a hate crime in Washington, said that transgender is a protected status under the city’s hate crime law and his client was accused of stabbing a transgender person.

A guilty verdict can bring up to “one-and-a-half times the maximum fine authorized for the designated act” and imprisonment “for not more than one-and-a-half times the maximum term” applicable to the original crime in the District.

“There were comments made before and after that led the government to believe that it was a bias-motivated crime,” said Bramzon of allegations against his client. “The crime was motivated by this sort of bias or hatred against somebody for who they are, whether it be religion or gender identity; in this case, it was gender identity.”

But the charges may have beendifferent if the crime had occurred in Virginia or in Maryland or Pennsylvania, where being transgender is not a protected status under their hate crime laws.

Maryland also enhances penalties  if a bias-related crime is committed against a homeless person. The law refers to crimes committed “because of another’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin or because another is homeless.”

“What the Legislature has said is, ‘Look, if you’re committing a crime against someone and you are doing it because you hate them for their gender or whatever is on the list … then that’s going to be a separate crime that is going to carry more’ ” time, said Curtis Zeager, assistant state’s attorney for Montgomery County.

“If the underlying crime is a felony, the hate crime itself is going to be a felony, and it’s going to carry 10 years. If the underlying crime is a misdemeanor, the hate crime is going to be a misdemeanor and it’s going to carry three years. And if it’s a murder, the hate crime charge is going to be 20 years,” said Zeager.

Virginia’s statute “imposes additional penalties if a person intentionally selects the person against whom a simple assault or assault and battery resulting in bodily injury is committed because of his race, religious conviction, color or national origin.”

Assault and battery is a misdemeanor in Virginia punishable by up to 12 months in jail or a $2,500 fine.  But if the crime is found to be motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, religion or national origin, then the charge is upped to a felony that is punishable by up to five years in jail. The sentence must be at least six months with a mandatory incarceration of 30 days.

The Old Dominion also forbids intentionally intimidating a person or group by burning a cross “on the property of another, a highway or public space,” placing a swastika “on any church, synagogue or other building or place used for religious worship, or on any school, educational facility or community center owned or operated by a church or religious body” and displaying a noose on another’s private property without permission or “highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”

“Pennsylvania does not have a ‘hate crimes’ statute per se,” said Rebecca D. Spangler of the district attorney’s office in Allegheny County. It instead has a crime of ethnic intimidation.

The statute makes it a criminal offense “if, with malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals” a person commits an underlying crime listed in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code such as aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief or criminal trespass.

“If an individual is charged and convicted of ethnic intimidation, the permissible sentencing range is greater than for the underlying crime,” Spangler said.

For example, simple assault is a misdemeanor and is subject to a maximum of up to two years imprisonment. But when committed as ethnic intimidation, the maximum prison term is up to five years.

Was there an underlying crime that occurred at GW?

“Posting a swastika is not a hate crime,” said Bramzon. “It can be offensive, distasteful and punishable,  but that’s not a crime.”

Suzanne Pollack and Dmitriy Shapiro contributed to this report.

Schechter Hires New Head of School

Krieger Schechter Day School has named Rabbi Moshe Schwartz as the new head of school for the 2015-2016 academic year, only the third person to hold the position in the school’s history.

For the past five years, Schwartz has served as head of school for the Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, N.J. He earned his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and his master’s degree in Jewish education and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 2007.

According to Michele Brill, KSDS board chair, Schwartz was selected for his “demonstrated skills and insights and innovations at [Kellman Brown] that he could bring to Krieger Schechter.”

“He really connected with our search committee, with our parents — we had parent forums where he spoke about his educational philosophy — and he really connected with our faculty who thought he would be a great asset to the school,” said Brill.

Added Chizuk Amuno Senior Rabbi Ronald Shulman, “We’re very excited that Rabbi Schwartz is coming. We think he will be a good fit for our community because of his passion for Jewish education and his track record of advancing school community.”

A 23-member search committee, comprised of faculty, current and alumni parents and Chizuk Amuno Congregation leadership, was formed in the fall to find a replacement for the outgoing head of school, Bil Zarch.

According to Brill, Zarch’s departure was a “family decision.” His future plans could not be ascertained, and he did not respond to requests for comment.

In his new leadership role, Schwartz will lead the lower and middle school administrative teams, serve as a fundraiser, work with faculty to facilitate innovation in the classroom and be a voice for the school in the community, Brill said.

Schwartz’s appointment will begin July 1. His wife, Aviva, and their three children, Elie, Liba and Rina, are reportedly excited by their upcoming move to Baltimore.