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.

Addiction Recovery Center Abandons Mount Washington

The Maryland Addiction Recover Center, which caused a stir earlier this year when it decided to pursue a second location in Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood, has dropped those plans in favor of staying in Towson.

“It is a little bigger,” Zachary Snitzer, director of business development for MARC, said of the new location the center is pursuing. While the plan for the Mount Washington location was to use the space as a second center in addition to MARC’s primary location on West Road in Towson, the new plan will likely consolidate all of MARC’s services into the new, larger location, said Snitzer.

Although the company faced a large outcry of public opposition to the Mount Washington location, Snitzer would not say whether that played a role in the decision to drop the plan. The company also faced a shortage of parking spaces at the northwest Baltimore City building.

Snitzer said the group found the new Towson location about four weeks ago, around the same time they decided to relinquish their goal for the city location. He expects the new location to open in mid-April.

Pondering the Future

Whether it be through parties, free food or even stipends, Jewish college students are being constantly courted by a number of different campus organizations at almost every local college. The organizations doing the courting? They’re not fraternities or sororities, they’re the many Jewish organizations vying for students’ attention.

Towson University and Goucher College each have at least two Jewish organizations on campus, Johns Hopkins University has at least three and the University of Maryland has more than four. With all the demands on college students’ time and other Jewish organizations looking to capitalize on things such as holiday parties and Shabbat dinners, these groups have to be creative. Every group the JT talked with said it tries to avoid overlapping its programing with that of other similar groups, but when everyone celebrates the same holidays and shares similar passions, that can be difficult.

Jessica Rudin is an engagement intern with Towson University’s Hillel. Her title means that in between classes and homework and regular social activities, she must devote time to engaging with her peers and persuading them to attend Hillel programming.

“I have been involved in Hillel since my freshman year,” said Rudin. “The assistant director, Noam Bentov, reached out to me and said, ‘Would you be interested in this position?’ And I said of course I would.”

Engagement interns, launched by Hillel International six years ago, are the latest in decades of efforts to engage college-aged Jews in Jewish life. In the past couple years, statistics showing that age bracket as the least engaged in Judaism have resulted in an increased emphasis on reaching those attending universities around the country.

Rudin describes her job, for which she receives a stipend at the end of each semester, as bringing Jewish life to the Towson campus. When she meets Jewish students, whether through class or through mutual friends who are not involved in Jewish life on campus, she invites them to join her at an event. The advantage she has over traditional Hillel staff is twofold. First, she is speaking to her own peers, and second, some of the events she’s had the most success with are Shabbat dinners hosted alongside her roommate — another Hillel intern — right at her own apartment.

“It’s always been a success,” she said. “We usually have like 20, 25 people at our apartments, and it’s kind of crazy. It’s just fun to see everyone come
together from different social networks, like, ‘Oh, you’re in my class. I had no idea you were Jewish.’”

Along with the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has come the realization for many that college students tend to be the most perceptive to things such as criticism of the Jewish state. This year’s General Assembly of Jewish federations devoted many hours to breakout discussions that focused solely on combating the movement on college campuses. And the effort is not misplaced.

Student governments at 15 U.S. college campuses voted to approve resolutions in the 2013-2014 school year that called for a divestment from Israel. One petition for divestment at a Florida school collected more than 10,000 signatures. Approximately 400 anti-Israel events took place on college campuses that same school year, according to an Anti-Defamation League report.

But Jewish campus organizations over the past couple of decades have been persistently ramping up their presence and influence on college campuses nationwide, said Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

“If you go back to the 1960s and early 1970s, the sense was that college was an absolute wasteland for Jews,” said Sarna. With many in the Jewish community publicly linking the college years to the loss of engagement and interest in Judaism among young Jews, the larger Jewish community responded by pouring resources into campus programs and establishing Jewish leadership positions at colleges and universities.

“The world has changed almost 180 degrees,” said Sarna. “Many students discover Judaism at the university. Departments of Jewish studies, programs in Jewish studies excite students,  and a revitalized Hillel does much to bring students in. Chabad on Campus has been very influential on many of the campuses where it exists.”

“College is an incredible time of transition,” echoed Maiya Chard-Yaron, assistant director of the University of Maryland’s Hillel. “For a lot of students, they’re exploring who they are as adults, and we’re here for them to help them navigate that.”

Chard-Yaron said the engagement interns she and her staff have recruited at Maryland have been instrumental in the success of the organization. She likes the idea of empowering students to host their own programming and utilize organic relationships the students have built during their time on campus to grow Hillel and engage more students.

The work, she said, is about building relationships. Some of the most successful programs Hillel hosts are largely social, but there is an understanding that Jewish values inform everything they do.

“We believe that all of that falls under the umbrella of community,” said Chard-Yaron.

At Goucher College’s Hillel, Rabbi Josh Snyder reaches out to new students before the school year even begins to make them aware that there is a Jewish group on campus.

Even the busiest college students are looking for connections and relationships, he said, and Hillel can provide them with that.

“The question,” he said, “is how to become a priority in their life.”

While Hillel’s events are decidedly tailored to a Jewish crowd, the group welcomes participation from non-Jewish students as well. That way, students on the verge of coming to an event have the option of bringing any friend along, should that make them feel more comfortable.

At Maryland’s Meor, a campus group that emphasizes learning rather than cultural gatherings, Rabbi Ari Koretzky chides the lack of what he considers to be real Jewish learning taking place in many college Jewish organizations.

“A lot of other programs do social stuff,” said Koretzky. “Our purpose is to connect students to Judaism.”

He describes Meor as taking a different approach than Hillel.

“There are a lot of great groups doing a lot of great things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you can socialize in any group.”

In addition to trips to Israel and Poland, Meor emphasizes its plethora of Jewish education classes available to students. But getting students to willingly spend their free time in yet another class can be difficult.

College is an incredible time of transition.

“We do offer a stipend to ensure that the students stick with the classes,” said the rabbi. The organization’s 10-week “immersion experience” requires students to attend one two-and-a-half-hour class each week in addition to attendance at a Jewish wedding.

“It’s always difficult,” said Koretzky of engaging students at Maryland. But after 11 years on campus, Meor has learned that hard work produces results.

Koretzky estimates that some 500 students are involved in Meor, and Shabbat dinners are often attended by more than 50 people. Shabbat dinners, he said, are some of the best ways to attract the interest of new students.

“Shabbat is a low-barrier entry point,” said Koretzky.

From there, the group uses things such as social media to stay in touch with the students to encourage them to attend other Meor programing.

With a plethora of parties and events and other student organizations on campus, “we have to make sure we’re on their radars,” he said.

For his part, Sarna notes that the use of stipends and other methods of paying students for their involvement might look disingenuous at first glance, but the end result is often worth the means.

“Maybe at the beginning you give a reward to people who do Jewish study, but the hope is that this will create lifelong habits and excitement that people will continue to read and study on their own,” he said.

“Most of us brought up our children in the same way; that is to say they were given some kind of reward for good deeds in the hope that later in life that will come naturally.”

Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, who runs the shared Towson University-Goucher College Chabad House, has found that sometimes even using social media isn’t sufficient.

“We really depend on a good product,” said Rivkin. “We try to give people what they’re looking for.”

For Rivkin, the level of comfort many students exhibit around him is a measure of his own success.

“They’re going to treat us as a home,” he said. Instead of relying on things such as Facebook event invites, he said he simply devotes himself to being present on campus, so that students may seek him out whenever they wish.

Like many other campus organizations, Chabad does offer opportunities for students to be compensated for their time, but the majority of students come for programs for which they cannot be paid to attend.

In the end, he insists that the center’s success comes from finding the balance between social and religious events. Many events offer a mix of both.

Said Rivkin: “You’ve got to fulfill a need.”

JUFJ to Focus on Rent Court Reform

Jews United for Justice, which recently expanded to Baltimore in the fall, has named its first campaign issue as Rent Court Reform.

“‘Rent Court’ is a judicial process specifically addressing tenant-landlord issues,” according to a news release from JUFJ. “The court is overwhelmed by the volume of cases heard (about 1,000 per day), with judges moving cases quickly and not hearing tenants’ issues with properties not up to code.”

Recent studies cited by JUFJ show that two-thirds of low-income Baltimore residents live in rental housing that isn’t up to code.

“Even as many celebrate Baltimore City’s renaissance and new construction, tens of thousands of Baltimoreans face inadequate, unsafe and unaffordable housing,” the release said.

JUFJ held its community meeting on Sunday, March 29, where 63 people voted to make Rent Court Reform the Baltimore JUFJ Chapter’s campaign. The other option was police accountability. While participants could vote on a scale of 1 to 3 on how involved they’d be in one issue, more people said they’d take up leadership in Rent Court Reform.

Molly Amster, JUFJ’s Baltimore director, could explain why the group voted this way from what she heard in her small discussion group on that Sunday.

“One of the biggest things I heard was they liked that the rent court campaign was really hands-on and local,” she said. “This provides an opportunity for us to be a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in the progressive community.”

The group still plans to work on police accountability issues, as it already has in Annapolis.

The campaign will begin with JUFJ assisting in a rent court study in conjunction with the Public Justice Center and Right to Housing Alliance, which is being funded by the Abell Foundation.

“This will give our grassroots community members a hands-on opportunity to observe Rent Court and interact with tenants and landlords to learn about their experience and needs,” the release said. “Once the study, concludes, the Abell Foundation will publish a report with recommendations for change, which will inform the next phase of the campaign.”

Living Life Out Loud

Michelle Shaivitz is a doer. She is a mother, wife and community activist who attacks problems with passion.

“I am a huge believer in don’t complain about anything unless you’re willing to do something about it,” she said. “I have a lot of sayings that I live by, most of which, I stick them around my office.”

Accompanying her words to live by posted on the walls and cabinets in her office at CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. headquarters on Park Heights Avenue, where she serves as the director of school and community partnerships, are photographs of her husband, Mitchell, a Pikesville native, and daughters Isabella, 21, and Alena, 10.

At home, all four of them cuddle on the couch, surrounded by their rescue pets, and reflect on their loving family bonds. Alena, a precocious fourth-grader, rattles off her favorite things: Katy Perry, the bands One Direction and Big Time Rush and chocolate ice cream. She reveals that Mitchell is thecookie dad for her Girl Scout troop. Isabella and her parents laugh, as Alena continues on with non sequiturs about her favorite chapter books.

The Shaivitz family poses with Pluto on a family trip to Disney World. (Provided)

The Shaivitz family poses with Pluto on a family trip to Disney World. (Provided)

It’s a moment that the Shaivitzes do not take for granted. It took three years and 17 court cases for Michelle and Mitchell to officially become the parents of Alena and Isabella. The two sisters are adopted, or as Alena helpfully explained, “I couldn’t grow in mommy’s belly, so I grew in her heart.”

Michelle, who has worked with children in the community for much of her professional life, wanted to find a way to weave that into her personal life by becoming a foster parent.

She and her husband were at an event for Harford County children’s programming when, she said, they had “one of those moments where we looked at each other and said, ‘Are we going to do this?’ And we did.”

They went through the intensive training and background checks that it takes to become a foster parent and earned their certification in 2003; they began welcoming children into their home by 2004. Two years later, they met their daughters.

“We had just said goodbye to a 12-year-old young man and we got a phone call — I will never forget it — we got a phone call at 7:30 in the morning,” said Shaivitz. “It was Jan. 2 of 2006 and they said that they had two children, two girls, and that they needed immediate care. They were both under the child-in-need-of-assistance [standard], which means there were probably health issues.”

Isabella, then 12 years old, was thin, frail and didn’t make eye contact. Alena, then just 11/2 years old, was clearly ill and lay on Shaivitz the whole time they were at Isabella’s school. Once Isabella was settled in for the day, the Shaivitzes rushed Alena to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with double pneumonia and had rashes and sores from neglect. For the next three days, Michelle and Mitchell took turns staying up with Alena around the clock.

The girls were gradually nurtured back to health. Four months in, as Isabella and Michelle were lying on the hammock together, Isabella asked if she could call Shaivitz “Mommy.”

“I told my husband after that, ‘These children are ours. I really believe that they were meant to be ours,’” said Shaivitz.

But the case was not so straightforward. Isabella and Alena were two of nine children in what she describes as one of the worst cases Harford County has ever seen.

In recalling the three-year fight to adopt their daughters, Shaivitz gets emotional.

“It took a lot of patience. … I would say the hardest part was our oldest child was speaking up, refusing to go to visits. What’s wrong with the system when a child who is 13 years old is voicing that they don’t want to go back, that they don’t want to go to visitations, [and] they refuse to get in the car with the social worker?” asked Shaivitz. “They sat in the judge’s chambers and said, ‘I don’t ever want to see these people again,’ meaning her biological family. … That was the worst part.”

When they got the go ahead for the adoption, the couple sat the girls down and explained that they would be getting a new last name. Alena, who was 5 years old at the time, misunderstood and thought she would get to pick a whole new name for herself. The Shaivitzes thought, why not?

Isabella did her research and came up with a list of names; she and her parents settled on Isabella, Bella for short. Alena had something else in mind.

“I told her pick something you’ll be proud to have forever,” recalled Shaivitz.

The girl wanted to be named after her Grandpa Allan.

“We thought about it and I said, ‘What about Alena? That’s the feminine form of Allan,’” said Shaivitz. “And she said, ‘I want to be Alena!’ That was it. She lit up.

“That’s been her name ever since.”

“I am a huge believer in don’t complain about anything unless you’re willing to do something about it.”

The court room was standing room only on the family’s adoption day in March 2009. The four Shaivitzes dressed in matching pink and gray outfits — “Pink is mom and Alena’s favorite color and gray for dad,” said Isabella — and the girls received teddy bears from the judge when they confirmed that they wanted to be adopted. Tears flowed freely, as Shaivitz and her husband solemnly swore to be the girls’ “forever parents.”

“I’m actually the happiest person about [being a family],” said Isabella. “To me, it was a miracle.”

Bella, as her family calls her, is studying photo journalism and mass communication, holds a part-time job at Wegmans and is in the process of applying to the Maryland State Police Academy in the hopes of becoming a state trooper.

With her sister, Alena, snuggled on top of her, Isabella says that her favorite family moments are simply sitting together for a meal.

Mitchell, the lone male aside from one of their rescue pets, Sherman the Jack Russell, admits that it has been an emotional roller coaster, but he wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I enjoy the one-on-one time with the girls. I enjoy us as a family going to a new place for the first time,” he said, “introducing the girls to something they haven’t experienced before.”

Inspired by their time as foster parents, Shaivitz began to investigate for her doctoral research what happens to children who age out of the system.

“They’re essentially on their own,” she explained. “They have no services, no homes, no roots, so [they] have nothing.”

Her preliminary research transformed into her thesis that focues on “Prisoner Re-entry: Making Ex-prisoners into Citizens.” She successfully defended and earned a doctorate of education in innovation and leadership from Wilmington University.

Working with the former Harford County sheriff, she created the position of recidivism associate at the Harford County Detention Center who works with inmates before they get out, asking them, “Person to person, what do you need to start making changes in your life?”

But after Shaivitz left, the program was cut, though she continues to make an impact on communities through her work at CHAI.

She commutes an hour each way from her home in Harford County and admits that “it’s not a fun commute, but I do it because I love this job. I believe in what CHAI and The Associated are trying to do in this community with all my heart, so it’s important to me. It’s a small sacrifice to be part of something this big.”

A Walk with Purpose

At first, the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland was a place for Owings Mills residents Rose and Jeffrey Karlan to find resources and support, as their newborn son, Harrison, underwent dialysis for two nonfunctioning kidneys beginning three days into his life.

In a short period of time, the foundation became a source of comfort and outlet for memories. Harrison passed away on Feb. 13, 2013 at only 3½ months old.

On April 19, the couple will join thousands of others at the Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk, where they will remember their son.

“I became involved with the kidney walk while sitting in the NICU with Harrison and hoped that he would be able to join us during the May 2013 walk,” Rose Karlan said via email. “After he passed away, I used the walk as a place to remember him and as an opportunity to help other families like my own.”

Jeffrey and Rose Karlin, who lost infant son Harrison to kidney malfunction, will march in the Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk for the third time this year. (Courtesy photo)

Jeffrey and Rose Karlan, who lost infant son Harrison to kidney malfunction, will march in the Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk for the third time this year. (Courtesy photo)

She and her husband may have a baby in tow, having given birth to their daughter, Ivy Elliott Karlan, on March 26.

“She has two working kidneys, which I am more than grateful for,” Karlan said. “She looks a lot like her brother, Harrison.”

The Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk, in its 13th year, is the foundation’s largest annual fundraiser. Last year, the walk raised more than $375,000 with more than 5,000 walkers, according to development manager Avril Christens-Barry. It was the fifth-largest kidney walk in the country last year.

“It’s a huge awareness piece for us,” Christens-Barry said.

A majority of the funds raised come from walk teams and sponsorships, she added.

The foundation funds medical research, conducts public education, provides free health screenings and offers income assistance to low-income dialysis and transplant patients.

The kidney walk raised more than $375,000 last year with more than 5,000 participants, making it the nation’s fifth-largest kidney walk.

Kidney disease is the ninth-leading cause of death in the United States, and 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, although most don’t know it, according to the foundation. One in three Americans are at risk. While high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes, kidney disease can be detected early through simple screening, the foundation said.

“On any given day in Maryland approximately 9,300 individuals are on dialysis, and over 2,600 are awaiting a kidney transplant,” Traci Barnett, the foundation’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “Through this walk event, the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland is building awareness, driving prevention and supporting treatment of kidney disease.”

At the walk, participants will be greeted by mascots and entertainment, including the Ravens Super Fans, the Towson University mascot and stilt walkers, a DJ, a dance performance, face painting and hands-on activities for kids and adults. Adults can also take a free Kidney Health Risk Assessment and receive brief medical consultations.

Although Rose Karlan’s pregnancy prevented her from being as active as she was in previous walks, she still raised close to $700. In 2013, she formed a team of more than 70 walkers, many of whom returned the next year, and she raised more than $1,000 each year. She held fundraisers at the Cardinal Tavern in Baltimore, which donated bar sales, and raised money though raffles for gift cards and gift baskets. Little Italy restaurant Joe Benny’s, owned by the Karlans’ friend Joey Gardella, named a sandwich after Harrison and raised funds through a contest at the restaurant.

“I have greatly enjoyed my experience with the kidney walk,” Rose Karlan said. “It really gives me an outlet to focus on and allows me to remember Harrison on a specific day each year other than just the day of his birth and his death.”

McDaniel College Offers Free Tax Help

Accounting professor Susan Milstein helps students and a client with a simple tax return at McDaniel College’s free tax assistance program. (Marc Shapiro)

Accounting professor Susan Milstein helps students and a client with a simple tax return at McDaniel College’s free tax assistance program.
(Photo by Marc Shapiro)

On a recent Thursday night in a computer lab at McDaniel College in Westminster, local clients were getting their tax returns done a few weeks ahead of the April 15 deadline.

But this was no accounting firm, this was the college’s free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program in which students, who spend three Saturdays learning how to file simple tax returns, help low-income individuals from the surrounding area file their taxes.

“The clients are people who need free tax help,” said Susan Milstein, professor of accounting at McDaniel who brought the program to the school and has been running it for about 24 years. “That was the whole thing for me, people really didn’t have enough money to begin with and then they had to put out money to do their tax return.”

Milstein, who is also an accountant in private practice, has since helped bring the program to Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg and Frostburg State University and presented to various organizations, including the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants, to get them interested in the program. Some organizations in Westminster have also picked it up.

“I just felt like it was a win-win for everybody, and thank goodness life has been good to me and I could give back to those who really need help,” she said. “It just worked out beautifully.”

Generally, clients qualify if they make $35,000 or less as a single person or if they are a married couple or a head of the household who makes $50,000 or less. Those requirements can be adjusted for a client’s circumstances, Milstein said, provided they still present the need for help.

Each year, McDaniel’s VITA program churns out about 200 tax returns. More than 30 student volunteers see clients on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons during tax season.

Andrew Roberts, this year’s VITA student coordinator, started his freshman year. The junior economy, business and accounting major wants to be an accountant after graduating.

“I was looking for something that would give me a tangible skill,” he said. “It’s been one of my favorite parts of being a student at McDaniel.”

On that Thursday night, freshman Denis Montero worked on a client’s tax return with junior Ellen Archibald.

“It’s like a puzzle, and I really like puzzles, trying to figure it out,” Archibald said.

And the clients come back year after year, some working with the same students.

Woodbine resident Joan Knight came back for the third year after finding the students helpful and friendly.

“It’s a lot of help,” she said. “You don’t get paid a lot of money in housekeeping.”

Fourth-year client Mark Fino of McSherrystown, Pa., said he went to a major tax firm prior to the VITA program and was charged around $120.

“They do an excellent job, and the best thing is I get a refund every time,” Fino said.

In addition to getting credit for every 37 hours they volunteer, VITA is a major resume booster for students, Milstein said. The college has an extensive network of alumni in top positions at accounting firms, and in getting jobs and internships, having VITA experience on the resume sets students apart from other candidates.

“I see a lot of personal growth,” said Barbara Rowell, associate professor of business administration. “A lot of these [students] have worked, but they’ve done lawn work or house work or fast food. It should make them more marketable.”

Since Milstein is retiring from McDaniel after this semester, Rowell and Kerry Duvall, assistant professor of business administration, will be taking over the VITA program. Rowell will also be running interview day, where 40 companies interview business students for jobs and internships.

Public Information Reform Moving Through House

Maryland lawmakers may soon pass a bill that amends the Maryland Public Information Act to create more oversight and further define the process by which the public can access public records.

House Bill 755, sponsored by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-District 19), is currently in the House Health and Government Operations Committee and should soon head to the Government Operations Subcommittee chaired by Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County physician who supports the bill.

“It helps the public get information in an expedient way,” Morhaim (D-District 11) said. “It addresses a lot of issues with the Public Information Act and makes it clearer and more straightforward for the public and the government [in terms of] rules by which information can be shared.”

A companion bill, Senate Bill 695, sponsored by state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-District 20), passed the Senate.

The bill creates a Public Information Compliance Board, a voluntary five-member board that must include a lawyer, a representative of a nonprofit that works on open government issues and someone who has experience with the Public Information Act as a former or current custodian of records. The state Attorney General’s office will provide office space for the board as well as a Public Access Ombudsman, who will serve as a mediator between applicants and custodians.

The House and Senate bills amend the Public Information Act to allow for more timely responses to requests and offer the public a remedy for denials of requests.

The board will hear appeals from Marylanders who feel that they were unlawfully denied a record, charged an unreasonable fee of more than $250 or improperly denied a fee waiver.

“Under current law, you have no one to complain to,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, of which the JT is a member. “There is no recourse; you have to sue them. You don’t want to sue people, you want the information.”

Current law also does not clearly define what a “reasonable fee” is, Snyder said.

The board would provide the General Assembly with recommendations for how to improve the Public Information Act, as well as issue opinions to custodians of records on how to comply with the law. Those opinions would be available online.

The bill also specifies that if a custodian thinks it may take more than 10 days to get requested information, the custodian must let the applicant know within 10 days of application how long it will take, an estimate of fees and the reason for the delay. If the request is being denied, they must notify the applicant within four days, and within 10 days provide to the applicant reason for denial and a description of the undisclosed records.

Public information requests are often used by media organizations, nonprofits and environmental advocates to acquire government data.

Snyder said she worked in conjunction with Marylanders for Open Government, a coalition led by Common Cause’s Maryland chapter. More than 50 nonprofits support the legislation. The editorial boards of The Baltimore Sun, the Carroll County Times, The Frederick News-Post and the Cumberland Times-News also support the bills.

A poll of 500 Maryland voters conducted by OpinionWorks found that 87 percent of respondents support updating the Maryland Public Information Act.

Snyder said the reforms should curtail issues she’s heard about from various MDDC members who have had problems getting information from local and state government as well as police.

“There were just difficulties,” she said. “When this coalition approached me in the fall, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to shed light on these issues.”

Morhaim thinks the House bill is in good shape, especially since it took input from a variety of stakeholders into account.

“I think the bill is well-crafted, and we’ll make some changes from the Senate version which needed to be done,” he said. “It’s a big step forward for making sure the public has access to information from their government.”

Top of the List

Gabriel Scheinmann (Provided)

Gabriel Scheinmann (Provided)

Alan Garten traveled to the campus of Goucher College last week with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its most current incarnation. He walked away feeling more hopeful than ever.

“I think it’s the only viable solution to keep Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” he said of creating a Palestinian state in Gaza and on the West Bank of the Jordan River, roughly using the Israeli border established at the end of the Six Day War in 1967. Garten attended a discussion of the so-called “two-state solution” sponsored by the Baltimore Zionist District and Goucher Hillel.

Garten traveled to Israel last month with a group from Beth Am Synagogue. While there, he met with both Israelis and Palestinians and tried to deepen his understanding of the issue from every angle, he said. At Goucher, he was especially excited to ask the speakers, Ori Nir, communications and public engagement director for Americans for Peace Now, and Gabriel Scheinmann, director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, for their thoughts on Rawabi, a new planned city built for and by Palestinians in the West Bank.

“I think that rubs against the grain, against sort of what the Palestinian leadership would allow,” noted Scheinmann. But “is it hope? Yes, I think it’s a glimmer.”

“Rawabi is an anomaly,” echoed Nir, who emphasized that the town, which just recently saw its water supply green-lighted by the Israeli government, is the first one built by the Palestinians in decades due to Israeli prohibitions that prevent the formation of new towns. “It just goes to show how miserable the situation in Palestine is.”

The pair spent the lengthiest portion of the night discussing the status of Israeli settlements in territory deemed to be part of a future Palestinian state, a point on which they disagreed.

If Israel does not withdraw from the West Bank, the security risk for the country will be even greater, Nir argued.

“It’s unclear to me whether Israel stops building settlements, whether it makes a difference,” countered Scheinmann. He added that the rate at which settlements have been constructed under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no faster than the rate at which settlements have been constructed under previous leaders.

Ori Nir (Provided)

Ori Nir (Provided)

The talk also focused heavily on Israel’s relationships with other international powers, an issue thrust into the spotlight by the deterioration of relations between the Obama administration and Jerusalem in the lead-up to and aftermath of Israel’s March 17 elections.

Israel is far more integrated into the global economy than it was even a decade ago, said Scheinmann, who argued that the relationships the Jewish state has developed with countries such as China and nations in Africa have made the potential for strained relations with America and other Western countries less worrisome.

The announcement from the Obama administration that it will be “re-evaluating” its working relationship with Israel, however, is not something that should be taken lightly, argued Nir. The veto protection the U.S. supplies Israel in the realm of the United Nations alone, he said, is a hugely important cornerstone in the success of the Jewish state.

“This is serious,” he said, adding that Israel is risking becoming a pariah state in the international arena. “It will push Israel very close to the status of South Africa during apartheid.”

Both Scheinmann and Nir agreed that the Palestinians are not the ideal partner in a peace negotiation. But, said Nir, “you deal with who you have.”

It’s unclear to me whether Israel stops building settlements, whether it makes a difference.

Palestinian politics, he added, are the “politics of the weak.” Palestinian leaders know that they are the far weaker party in any negotiations, and they are determined to force their issues by saying no to anything that does not accommodate all of their needs.

“For them, it’s all or nothing,” he said. “But their all is too high.”

The recent victory of Netanyahu’s Likud Party also says a lot about Israeli priorities, both men said. While the pre-election debate concerned so-called “pocketbook issues,” security seemed to be the issue on the mind of Israelis at the voting booth. And Netanyahu is the man they trust to protect them.

“The healthy thing would be for Israel to get rid of this occupation, to get rid of the Palestinians by creating a Palestinian state,” said Nir.

Parenting in the 21st Century

Lisa Ferentz speaks to a group of mothers at the Community Parent  Symposium at KSDS. (Provided)

Lisa Ferentz speaks to a group of mothers at the Community Parent
Symposium at KSDS. (Provided)

Are you a tiger mom? A free-range parent? How do you deal with cyber-bullying? Is it ever OK to snoop through your child’s social-media accounts?

These questions, so foreign just two decades ago, are regularly faced by today’s parents, who as a result of the unique challenges of raising this generation of children and teenagers are seeking help through parenting classes and symposiums.

In early March, 120 parents participated in a Community Parent Symposium hosted at Krieger Schechter Day School and jointly sponsored with the women’s division of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Jewish Community Services. The evening featured a keynote address by Meredith Jacobs, vice president of marketing and communications for Jewish Women International and former editor of the JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week, who discussed the ups and downs of trying to be the perfect parent. Symposium participants then had the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions tackling the rise of childhood anxiety, overly involved parents, the “selfie” generation and a spotlight on how to raise children with Jewish integrity called “Making Mensches.”

Lisa Ferentz a clinical social worker and founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, Inc., facilitated a breakout session titled “The Challenges and Vulnerabilities of Early Adolescence.”

Simply put, “it is different to be a kid and teenager in 2015,” said Ferentz. “Parents get hit with challenges and want to make the right choices but may feel at a bit of a loss.”

The adolescent brain, she explained to participants, is wired differently and can start developing  as early as age 10 and may not finish developing into a fully “adult brain” until age 26. During that time span, the adolescent self — physical, spiritual, emotional, academic, social and social-media self — are evolving, and doing so at different rates. Teenagers are subject to peer pressure, generally have poor impulse control, a desire for risk taking and a limited ability to think in the abstract.

All of these factors combined means that more supervision is necessary, not less.

“Parents are sometimes under the impression that [teenagers] need less supervision when the opposite is true,” said Ferentz. “Parents have a right and responsibility to know what’s going on in a child’s life.”

Trust your gut, she tells parents. A certain level of moodiness is to be expected, but severe depression and anxiety are not a normal part of adolescence. If you suspect that your child is committing self-harm, being cyber-bullied or are cyber-bullying others, look into their social-media accounts and limit their screen time, she said.

Parents who feel overwhelmed, she continued, should seek professional guidance for their children and for themseelves. “A parent is not expected to be their child’s therapist.” In fact, a child may be more willing to disclose to a nonfamily member.

JCS is one community resource parents can turn to for help. Free half-hour consultations with mental health professionals are readily available. Parents can request a session through or fill out a form at the Owings Mills and Park Heights Jewish Community Centers. All appointments are kept confidential.

Rachael Abrams, a clinical social worker and parent outreach specialist with JCS, reiterating a common theme, said that in addition to seeking professional help, parents are looking for ways to convey safe practices to their children when it comes to technology and social media as well as to develop strategies to communicate appropriately and effectively at every stage of their child’s development.

Bullying remains a huge area of concern.

“Bullying is big,” said Abrams. “We did a large program two years ago and we were going to take a step back from the topic, but parents keep asking for it.”

In Harford County, Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, in conjunction with Harford Community College, recently concluded the six-part Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s “The Art of Parenting.”

Each class focused on a different topic from being a parent versus a “peer ant” to issues of discipline and boundary setting to cultivating healthy self-esteem and granting appropriate responsibilities.

Schusterman told parents to “make sure that they know that you’re the parent and they’re the child, and those boundaries are in place. As opposed to being a peer, [children] want you to have a certain level of healthy authority over them, and that will give them true freedom to fly on their own, as challenging as it will be for the parent.”