Menorah Lighting Ushers in Chanukah for City Officials

December 21, 2016 - Annual City Hall Menorah Lighting

City officials and leaders of the Jewish community gathered on Dec. 21 to light the menorah in City Hall. (Photo by Mark Dennis, Office of the Mayor)

City Hall got into the Chanukah spirit on Wednesday as Baltimore officials gathered for the third annual lighting of the City Hall menorah.

While hundreds are expected to turn out for the lighting of the 30-foot Esther Ann Menorah at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor on Sunday, the pre-Chanukah ceremony at City Hall provided new Mayor Catherine Pugh, the city council president, council members and others the opportunity to kick off the holiday early with the candle lighting as well as songs performed by the kids choir from Cheder Chabad.

“I think it is very appropriate that we have a City Hall menorah,” said Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland. “The holiday of Chanukah celebrates light defeating darkness, and there is no better place to light the menorah than where they actually set all of the laws.”

Tenenbaum helped to initiate the annual tradition in collaboration with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and his citywide Jewish community liaison Betsy Gardner. “Now we are continuing the tradition and educating the public and the city on the importance of Chanukah and how it connects everyone — lighting the city to bring everyone together,” Tenenbaum said.

Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon of Park Heights Chabad explained to those gathered that Chanukah was about being proactive and going after what you want, rather than being slothful. He said that Judah and the Maccabees represented those who knew that they deserved better and acted to regain control of their lives, rather than sitting idly by.

“Don’t accept reality as it is, make the changes in your own individual lives and collectively as one,” he told the crowd. “Many of you in the audience are leaders in our community and you have dedicated your lives to bring light into people’s lives.”

Several officials in attendance took the statement to heart.

“I wear my Judaism on my sleeve, I am very proud of it,” said city councilman Zeke Cohen. “The way I operate as a council person is through the lens of tikkun olam.”

Howard Libit, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a former member of the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s senior staff, recognized the long-standing relationship between the city and its Jewish community.

“All of our elected officials are so accommodating of the Jewish community and so responsive to our needs, [the City Hall menorah] is just another example,” he said. “It is meaningful to respect all of the different faiths of our city because that is what makes us strong, all the different people who come together.”

Young said that Chanukah, while a Jewish holiday, has a more universal message.

“The City Hall menorah represents … the victory of religious freedom and a miracle of God,” said Young. “As we prepare to light the menorah, let us remember that God wants to draw all of us closer. 2016 has been a year that tests our city’s faith and strength. This menorah is a symbol of just how powerful we can be as a community when we come together and hold each other up.”

Winands Road Synagogue Set to Close


Winands Road Synagogue Center (Mathew Klickstein)

“As with all good things in life, nothing of value can or should remain stagnant, including institutions” began the statement emailed from the desk of Rabbi Sholom Salfer to his congregants at Winands Road Synagogue Center — Randallstown’s last operating synagogue — on Thursday, Nov. 17.

With an original charter that dates back to 1895, when it was still located in East Baltimore, and after 50 years at its current Randallstown location — once a stronghold of the Baltimore Jewish community — Winands Road will officially close its doors on an unspecified date in mid-2017.

“It obviously was not an easy decision, but we no longer have a nucleus of members to support financially or otherwise the operations of a synagogue,” Winands Road vice president and treasurer Morris A. Wise said.

The 74-year-old retired Pikesville resident has held his positions at Winands Road for more than 15 years and has been a dedicated member for 43. Wise believes the closure will likely occur shortly after Shavuot, which this year falls on Wednesday, May 31.

Detailing that Winands Road’s membership has fallen to “just over 100, down from close to 200 members four or five years ago,” Wise suggested that a primary reason for the dwindling numbers has been the challenge of replacing older congregants who have left or passed away with a new generation.

“As the Jewish population in Randallstown moved away, it was not replaced by younger people,” Morris said. “At one point, we had a very thriving preschool, a very thriving  Hebrew school, [but] those things have been gone for probably 30 years.”

Having been so active at the congregation for the better part of Winands’ five decades in Randallstown, Wise has witnessed what were once younger congregants become older and emigrate to neighboring communities such as Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown (or away from the Baltimore area altogether).

Once there, the erstwhile Winands Road congregants set up roots for their growing families and unsurprisingly established themselves at other shuls.

“Even at this point in time with our membership,” Morris continued, “there is only approximately one in five who live in the Randallstown ZIP code.”

The synagogue, residing at 8701 Winands Road, has been a kind of bricolage of other former congregations, notably Beth Yehuda and Beth Jacob Anshe Kurland, with Salfer  as its spiritual leader since Sept. 1976.

“My personal feeling is that no one would have believed we could survive this long,” Morris said of the “very family-oriented, tightknit group” whose shul has been kept alive by “the dedication of the people who  attend morning and evening minyans and the dedication of the rabbi.”

“We have indeed become family,” continued Salfer in his email statement to his congregants, “and our spiritual and familial relationships will never be broken.”

The rabbi added that the board of directors, whose voice he represented in the  issuing of his message, will “lend our support to other worthy institutions who continue to grow and bring new vitality to the wider Jewish community.”

Wise affirmed that there are currently “no specific plans at the previous time” to reopen elsewhere, concluding, “I don’t believe that’s in the cards.”

When asked where he believes his fellow congregants will go from here, Wise was similarly uncertain.

“I think it will be up to individual choice,” he said. “A few people will go here, and a few people will go there. I think many people will follow where their children have already gone.”

Hogan Boosts Nonpublic School Funding


Gov. Larry Hogan poses for photos with Bais Yaakov students. (Justin Silberman)

When Baltimore Jewish Council board members voted in 2009 to support legislation that would help students and their families pay for nonpublic school tuition, they realized there was a growing need for financial aid in their community.

“In [Jewish] day schools, they have a reputation of finding a way to accommodate every kid, even if that means the classroom is bursting,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC. “So they find a way to accommodate financial needs for students, but providing some additional dollars helps the families and schools to get a better quality education.”

Around the same time the BJC made its initial push to ensure that children get the best possible education, state lawmakers also sought similar legislation.

Now, seven years later, during this year’s legislative session, Del. Antonio Hayes (D-District 40, Baltimore City), Del. Keith Haynes (D-District 44, Baltimore City) and Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11, Baltimore County) all supported legislation that would have helped low-income students and their families pay private school tuition.

Although the bills failed to make it through the Senate and the House of Delegates, the legislature ultimately approved $5 million that Gov. Larry Hogan had set aside in the state budget for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program. On Dec. 13,  the governor addressed hundreds of students, faculty and parents at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, announcing that the state-funded program would gradually see its funding increase from $5 million to $10 million by 2020.

“We’re working hard to ensure every single child in the state of Maryland is given the chance to get a great education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said. “We owe it to our children to find new and innovative ways and solutions to make sure everyone gets those opportunities.”

Through BOOST, which provides scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools in areas with under-performing public schools, many families of Jewish students are better positioned to bear the burden of high tuition costs.

In the Jewish community alone, more than 700 students from Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Chabad of Park Heights, Mesivta Ne’imus HaTorah, Ohr Chadash Academy, the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Bais HaMedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, Israel Henry Beren High School, the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and the Torah Institute of Baltimore were awarded scholarships that totalled more than $1 million.

Chana Kagan, a teacher at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, said the economic relief the program provides to families struggling to make ends meet can go a long way.

“Now, a family will know that [tuition] is not all on their heads all the time,” Kagan said. “The financial burden is a lot. It’s not as if the people here aren’t trying. People here work hard. They try hard, and they try one thing or another to make it work when it comes to providing their children the best education they can.”

A seven-member advisory board appointed by the state legislature met eight times this past summer to determine the criteria for how students and schools would be deemed eligible for the program. More than 5,000 students applied for the program, with 2,447 students from 171 schools across the state receiving scholarships.

“In [Jewish] day schools, they have a reputation of finding a way to accommodate every kid, even if that means the classroom is bursting.” — Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC

Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the BJC, said advisory board member Elizabeth Green was instrumental in the application process. Working with the BJC, Green and Agudath Israel of Maryland director Rabbi Ariel Sadwin helped set up special workshops at schools where families could apply to BOOST and check their application’s progress online.

Many of the families, Mersky said, don’t have access to a computer, and because applications are submitted and monitored electronically, they were left with no other choice.

“It was really boots on the ground what [Green] and [Sadwin] did in such a short amount of time that people had to apply and for us to get out the information,” Mersky said. “So it was a really big applause for what they both did.”

Green, one of Hogan’s two personal selections to the board, praised the governor for his active participation.

“I want to thank Gov. Hogan as we continue to shape the BOOST program, which has had such a tremendous impact,” said Green, who also sits on the board of the BJC and Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore.

The program was created with money in place for one school year, giving state lawmakers the choice to extend or cease it.

Hogan said the decision to continue BOOST solidifies his commitment to making education one of his administration’s top priorities, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd on Dec. 13.

“I knew I came to the right audience,” Hogan said with a laugh.

The December Dilemma How interfaith families make the holidays meaningful

cover_rotatorThe December Dilemma is a reality that many interfaith families live out each holiday season. The big question is how to balance Christmas and Chanukah in a family with a parent of each faith.

While families try to keep the meaning of Chanukah at the forefront of their celebrations, it can be difficult living in a country that overwhelmingly celebrates Christmas, particularly in a season such as this during which Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukah share the same date.

Some experts argue that the overlap between these two holidays is a good thing, however. It provides the ideal opportunity for open dialogue between faiths, setting the grounds for each to share important traditions and practice.

“It is important to try to recast what has sometimes been referred to as ‘December Dilemma’ to ‘December Delights,’” said Dr. Keren McGinity, director of Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement at Hebrew College’s Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education. “Give interfaith families the support they need to honor all of their family members as well as engage Jewishly. There is no one correct way. What is better for one family is not necessarily the solution for another.”

For interfaith families that are raising their children Jewish, the problem boils down to how to celebrate and properly respect the traditions of each faith without confusing the Jewish identity of their children.

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

“I encourage families to celebrate with distinction,” said McGinity. “By that, I mean to acknowledge both the sanctity of the Christmas holiday and the historical reality and meaning of Chanukah. Not to blend the two, but rather to celebrate each on its own merit and in ways that are meaningful to all parties.”

Sykesville resident Erica Hamilton is Jewish, but she and her kids celebrate Christmas with her husband’s family. This year, to accommodate observance of both holidays, the family simply planned parties on different dates to give room for proper celebrations.

“It took some extra planning,” said Hamilton, “but it is very important to me that for our children, Chanukah is seen as this great celebration just as much as Christmas, rather than one over the other. We give them both their due.”

Even on Christmas Eve, the Hamilton family won’t skip saying the Chanukah prayers and lighting the menorah before celebrating with the Christian side of their family.

Pikesville resident Mandee Heinl is raising a Jewish family with her Catholic husband, Steve. Although their kids are still very young, Mandee said they understand the Chanukah traditions, and she plans to teach them more of the story as they get older. The Heinl children also experience Christmas at their grandparents’ house, where the family has a tree and gives out presents.

“I know some families do presents for Chanukah, but we have never done that. We try to stick to traditions such as jelly doughnuts and latkes, lighting the menorah, gelt and dreidels,” she said. “Santa does not come to our home. I think it would be confusing to have more than one religion in our home, but that could change, and they will have more questions as they get older. Right now, we stick to Chanukah to keep it clear for them.”

Celebrating non-Jewish holidays with friends and family should never be considered detrimental to a child’s Jewish identity, some rabbis say.

“I tell families with Christian relatives that they should make sure they are celebrating whatever holiday with that side of the family. It’s an often-used analogy, ‘They’re going to someone else’s party,’” said Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “The core issue is if your goal is to raise Jewish children, the majority of your own celebration should focus on emphasizing the Jewish holiday.”

Heinl thinks the cross-pollination of religions can be a learning experience for children.


Mandee Heinl’s two young children experience both Christmas and Chanukah. (Photos by Mandee Heinl)

cover5“We have Jewish children, but they don’t miss any Catholic traditions that my husband wants in their lives,” said Heinl. “He takes my lead in Judaism, and I take his in how he wants to integrate his religion into it. I’m not intimidated by another faith, I have a strong Jewish identity and I hope my kids will too, but I think being around other religions is a win. They learn about people and cultures that believe differently than they do. I still want to instill a strong Jewish identity in them, but I don’t think teaching them to be wary of a different faith is a good way to do that.”

The Hamiltons and the Heinls are far from the only families navigating a two-tradition holiday season. Twenty percent of married participants in the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community study were intermarried.

That rate was 42 percent among non-Orthodox Jews ages 18 to 34. Thirty-six percent of practicing Jews surveyed in the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” were intermarried, compared with 79 percent among secular Jews. According to the study, 35 percent of Jews intermarried in the years 1970 to 1974. Between 2005 and 2013, 58 percent of married Jews had non-Jewish spouses, a 23 percent increase.

Commercialization and the Holidays

While Chanukah is of less religious significance to Jews than Christmas is to Christians, some feel Chanukah has become commercialized like Christmas due to the coinciding timing of the holidays.

“I think a lot of Christians would say Christmas is out of control in its commercialism,” said Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation. “I have for a long time advocated bringing Chanukah back to its humble origins, I don’t think it is helpful to the celebration of Chanukah to try and make it into Christmas. We should celebrate it for what it is, but I don’t think there is a need to make a huge to-do about it.”

For Jews from other countries, celebrating Chanukah in America might come with a bit of culture shock.

“It has become clearer to me as a South African Jew that there is a different way to celebrate Chanukah,” said Lara Nicolson, director of Shalom Baltimore and interfaith engagement at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “When I moved here 12 years ago, I realized American Jewish culture is very different. We have fallen into buying eight gifts and decorating our home for Chanukah. We have lights, and [our home] looks festive like many of the non-Jewish homes in the neighborhood.”

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

Having been raised in a country where Chanukah was more about family being together, lighting and displaying the menorah and making the traditional food, Nicolson was surprised by the complexity of the American holiday season. “Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, and it has become a very big American civil holiday,” she said. “But the gifts and the trees, they are American traditions.”

While some feel the commercialization of Chanukah can be detrimental to its traditions, it can be a valuable opportunity to educate non- Jews about the holiday — many are unaware of its minor religious significance relative to other holidays.

“The Chanukah that we talk about as competitive of Christmas is the American cultural observance, not the religious observance,” said Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “Setting up a dichotomy between the holidays is something interfaith families have to deal with, but ultimately as a rabbi, I want people to feel connected to Jewish values and ideologies. What I care about is that people know the story of why we celebrate Chanukah in the first place.”

So how does one emphasize Chanukah to children in a way that empowers their Jewish identity? Tradition is a big part of Chanukah, but simply lighting the candles and giving gifts is not necessarily provoking the questions that an interfaith family may need to ask.

“It’s a holiday about rededicating [the Second Temple], so every year, we need to rededicate ourselves to retelling the story of Chanukah and doing so with historical accuracy,” said McGinity.

PJ Library, housed in the Macks Center for Jewish Education, provides resources for families looking to educate interfaith children about the holidays. Gabrielle Burger, the library’s director, recommends “Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise” by Karen Fisman.

“A little girl named Rachel travels to visit her Italian grandmother during the holiday season and made a special menorah to bring with her,” Burger said. “The menorah gets left behind, so the girl’s non-Jewish grandmother goes to great lengths to create her own handmade menorah and to surprise Rachel with it as a gift so that they can continue to celebrate the holidays together.” This book illustrates how interfaith families can respect each other’s traditions.

This holiday season, PJ Library is sponsoring thematic Chanukah programming addressing heroism and how people can be heroes with a program focusing on the story of Judah Maccabee and how the Maccabees were able to fight for religious freedom, “which is something everyone can appreciate,” said Burger.

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

“We are moving away from the concept of gift giving — people were so happy to hear we were moving the needle away from commercialism and more toward how you can be the best and make the world a better place,” Burger said. “At every Chanukah program this year, we are giving out a bag with four pieces of gelt, two dreidels and a ‘value’ card that speaks about Judah Maccabee and the concepts of gevurah (heroism) and chesed (kindness), the values we are instilling in our families.”

While some might question giving out a gift bag after stating that the library is moving away from gifts, it is for good reason. Rather than seeing it as giving a gift, Burger sees the gift bags as something people can take home to continue Jewish education.

“We are trying to get a paradigm shift for the entire family,” Burger said. “It’s easier to understand [the meaning of Chanukah] by talking about the different aspects rather than the religion behind it. It is considered the festival of lights, and we talk about different kinds of candles and how you can bring light into your community. Gelt is so important because after the Maccabees’ victory was the first time that Jews minted their own money with Jewish symbols and Hebrew letters on it.”

Reinforcing Jewish Identity

“I always have been of the belief that these issues are more complicated for adults than for children,” said Schwartz. “A child is told, ‘Oh, you’re Jewish or Christian or whatever,’ and the child says, ‘OK, that’s me.’ A kid can go to a grandparents’ Christmas celebration and know, ‘I’m a Jew, but my grandpa isn’t.’ It isn’t going to impact the child’s Jewish identity, and I remind families of that. It’s also important to make sure to respect the other faith’s traditions, to understand what they are and what their origin is. [A Christmas celebration as a Jew] doesn’t have to be threatening.”

Rabbi Busch echoed Schwartz’s sentiment.

“It will be simpler for both the children and the family if they have only one religion in their household, but I know families very successfully raising Jewish children who take a more complicated approach,” said Busch. “If the goal of the parents is to raise Jewish children, the Jewish holiday experience should be the bigger thing in their lives than celebrating anything else. I believe kids can go to other people’s celebrations and understand one family member is not Jewish but the family as a whole is. It is a complicated message, but kids can understand.”

Busch stressed that it is important for kids to be given a consistent message. If a child is observing Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, “they can deal with the complications that arise from celebrating [Christmas] one specific time of the year.”

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Another aspect of the December Dilemma is determining how and where to celebrate both holidays and what objects — Christmas trees, menorahs, gelt — to incorporate into those celebrations.

Often, the solution is a happy combination. Nicolson’s family embraces the mutual holiday season. “We go to a friend’s house who are not Jewish on Christmas,” she said. “We celebrate Christmas Eve and realize it is an important holiday for them. But we also bring latkes and our menorah … We honor them and respect them and give gifts with them, then we go participate in Mitzvah Day.”

However, Nicolson understands that for some interfaith families, celebrating Christmas will be more significant than to others. “Chanukah is not one of our major holidays, and we have eight days,” she said, “so if a family is feeling challenged, you can accept that for some families, [Christmas] will be their major holiday and you should not compete. For those that are struggling with how to steer their traditions in an interfaith family, the first point is that the couple really needs to discuss it with each other first to figure out how to blend their family and faiths.”

For example, Gail Willoughby raised her family Jewish, and although her two children are now grown and identify as Jewish, their entire family attends a Christmas Eve candle-lit service out of respect for Gail’s husband and his traditions.

“We support him during his holidays as he supports us,” explained Willoughby. “He is a Christian, but he is at Beth El a lot for services and not just during the high holidays. It’s interesting because when we go to church, the people are always very curious about our holidays and will come greet me and say happy Chanukah and ask about our traditions. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me, and the conversations that we have are very positive.”

Willoughby regularly engages in interfaith dialogue as a member of the interfaith chavurah at Beth El. A majority of the members are couples with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father who are raising a Jewish family. As far as celebrating during the holiday time, the general consensus was that they celebrate Christmas with that half of the family but also take their menorah along with them.

“It’s a great time to share our traditions. No one is forgetting Chanukah, we are just showing respect for family members who aren’t Jewish,” said Willoughby. “There is nothing wrong with going and celebrating with family members who aren’t Jewish because there are traditions in other parts of the family.”

Moshe Moskowitz Remembered as ‘Simcha’ 13-Year-Old Talmudical Academy Student Killed in Crash

Moshe Moskowitz (left) poses for a photo with his brother, Naftali, during Bike4Chai. (Courtesy of Chai Lifeline)

Moshe Moskowitz (left) poses for a photo with his brother, Naftali, during Bike4Chai. (Courtesy of Chai Lifeline)

The funeral service for 13-year-old Moshe Simcha Moskowitz, son of Rabbi Doniel and Tamara Moskowitz, Dec. 15 at Sol Levinson & Bros. attracted mourners numbering in the hundreds — the chapel, which seats 500 to 600 people, overflowed to fill a large part of the entryway and a side chapel.

Moshe died Dec. 13 from injuries sustained in a four-vehicle collision on northbound I-95. His mother, Tamara, who was driving, was being treated at MedStar Washington Hospital Center as of Monday afternoon.

He was an eighth-grader at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, where his father has also taught for nearly three decades. His classmates arrived to the service by school bus.

“What is there to say?” said Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, the Academy’s executive director. “It’s devastating for our whole school community. Rabbi Moskowitz has been teaching here for 30 years — his family is our family.”

Outpourings of support and condolences on Facebook paint Moshe as a dedicated and thoughtful young man, an image the service reinforced. A Facebook post from Chai Lifeline, a Jewish service organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses, said that Moshe was one of the youngest Bike4Chai riders — a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he had diabetes, said his brother, Naftali, during the service. Moshe and Naftali raised $12,475 for the charity this year.

“A tragedy like this befalls a family and a community,” said Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, who was officiating the service. “[It’s] so difficult to understand and so difficult to make sense of.”

He went on to say that through faith, the community can endure and take hope.

“It’s a pain, and it hurts, but we will never lose our faith,” he said. “We will persevere.”

The rabbi was followed by Moshe’s father and two of his brothers, all of whom spoke emotionally and tearfully about how much Moshe meant to them.

“There’s really nothing I can say today that will do justice to Moshe,” his father, Doniel Moskowitz, said, voice breaking. “Simcha was his second name, but it’s what he was.”

Moshe was described as a kind, generous, gentle boy who had a passion for learning and a strong determination to do what was right. All spoke about his ready smile and ability to take on any challenge with a positive attitude.

“Moshe, you were my teacher, you were my rebbe,” Doniel said of his son. “Now, you are a rebbe for everyone.”

On the night of Dec. 13, the Moskowitz’s Dodge Caravan was slowing down as it approached a disabled black Honda Pilot on the roadway when an 18-wheel tractor-trailer struck the rear of the Dodge van, essentially crushing it between the two vehicles, according to Sgt. John Pietanza of the Maryland State Police College Park Barrack. A white Volkswagon was also struck by the tractor-trailer as it veered to the left in the initial collision.

Moshe was flown to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police. The driver of the Honda, Maria Chryssos, 58, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and its passenger, Anastacia Chryssos, 35, of Perry Hall, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were transported to Prince George’s Hospital Center. Linda Perline, 53, of Glenwood, the driver of the Volkswagon, was not injured.

There is no indication that, at the time of the accident, any driver was impaired, Pietanza said. The investigation into the incident is ongoing, and police ask anyone with information to contact the College Park Barrack.

Misaskim, a group that helps to ensure Jewish rites are protected during emergencies and tragedies, was called that same night to work with the Washington, D.C., medical examiner so that the body was released in a timely manner, according to a rabbi with the organization, Jack Meyer.

Bolton Street Synagogue Celebrates Reform Affiliation


Congregants celebrated the synagogue’s “exciting milestone” with music and song.

On Dec. 3, Bolton Street Synagogue officially celebrated its recent affiliation with the Reform movement this past spring with a Shabbat dinner and service presided over by both its own rabbi, John Franken, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Since its inception in 1986, Bolton Street has been unaffiliated. The synagogue prides itself on being progressive and open and at the time of its founding did not feel any affiliation fully represented its views. Now, however, the world has caught up to them, says Russ Margolis, the current president of the board.

“This is an extremely exciting milestone for our congregation,” he said. “It’s our coming-of-age within the larger Jewish community.”

The celebration was planned mostly by administrator Erin Bolan and Melissa Zieve, the interim director of education and president-elect of the board.

“I think the evening was everything we could have hoped it would be,” Zieve said.

A large part of the decision to join the Union for Reform Judaism was the shared values and commitment to social justice and tikkun olam, the desire to change the world for the better.

“For us, affiliating with the Reform movement, which shares the views we have, allows us to put into action our congregational missions,” Margolis said.


Rabbi Jonah Pesner

During the service, Pesner cited Jewish values and Jewish involvement in major movements such as civil rights and labor as a way for progressive Judaism to interpret traditional Jewish teachings into action in his off-the-cuff remarks, according to Margolis.

“For me personally, it may have been the most inspiring [sermon] I’ve ever heard,” Zieve said. Even better, she added, was realizing that they were now a part of the same movement. “This isn’t just this great speaker from that great organization doing amazing work. This is us.”

With the new affiliation, also comes a transition to new leadership. Zieve, who was on the affiliation committee, is set to take over as president of the board on July 1, as will a new rabbi. The synagogue is currently undergoing a rabbinic search.

Margolis is happy to have seen the congregation through this transition.

“My legacy is that we can now be connected with the wider Jewish community both for the next generation — the youth of our congregation — and for the development of our interest in social justice through participation in URJ,” he said. “And that we can contribute, in our own small way, to the spirit and practice of progressive Judaism.”

With the URJ comes resources, support and options. As administrator, Bolan has already started planning events and partnerships with other Reform congregations and is looking forward to doing more of those kind of events.

“For me personally it means we have resources available and a community out there of like-minded Jewish people,” she said.

The culminating celebration marks the end of the long process of affiliating. Now, Bolton Street Synagogue is looking to its post-affiliation future.

“It’s really about embracing a vision of Judaism that makes sense for us,” Zieve said.

Temple Oheb Shalom Welcomes First Female Rabbi

Rabbi Sarah Marion (Provided)

Rabbi Sarah Marion (Provided)

Temple Oheb Shalom welcomed Rabbi Sarah R. Marion as its newest spiritual leader in June, a historic appointment, as Marion is the first female clergy member to join the congregation since its founding 163 years ago.

From Westchester, N.Y., Marion, 30, grew up in a family that was not particularly religious. She did not become involved with the Jewish community until she was 7 years old, and even then, Judaism did not become a significant part of her life until she was 13 and studying for her bat mitzvah.

“While I was studying, a family member told me that I would be the first member of my family to become a bat mitzvah,” she said. “That role really hit me. All 13-year-olds are looking for a sense of purpose, for something that makes them special, and I decided that maybe this was what would set me apart, and that stuck with me.”

The idea of applying to rabbinical school came to Marion when she was finishing high school. After becoming more involved with her temple following her bat mitzvah, she enrolled in a program at Hebrew Union College in which high school seniors received training and instruction from current rabbinical students.

“For the first time, I was interacting with rabbinical students who were just a few years older than me, who were young and hip and cool. I saw myself there in a few years,” said Marion.

She attended Brandeis University, earning degrees in gender studies and Near-Eastern and Judaic studies. After working for a time at Temple Beth Elohim in Massachusetts, Marion attended rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College, from which she graduated this past May.

“It was never a question in my mind whether a woman could be a rabbi because I had grown up with a very strong female rabbi at my temple,” Marion explained, when asked about being the first female clergy at Temple Oheb Shalom. “The thought of a male rabbi was actually a bit more foreign to me than that of a female rabbi growing up.”

At Temple Oheb Shalom, Marion will be in the role of assistant spiritual leader and will serve as the temple’s director of youth engagement.

“She is a wonderful addition to our team,” said Kenneth Davidson, executive director of the synagogue. “The congregation loves her after such a short time. She fits in so naturally that it feels like she’s been here for ages; she has really made it her own.”

Marion is already digging into her job with enthusiasm. “The past few months, I have had a lot of coffees,” she said with a laugh. “The rabbinate is really changing and becoming a lot more relational and about getting to know more people one on one. I really see myself as a community builder and connector in addition to being that teacher on high on the pulpit. I really see the role of the rabbi to be stepping down off the pulpit and coming into the community and being at Starbucks talking to people in the community just as much as I am here planning sermons.”

She also has a clear view of what direction she wants the temple’s youth programming to move. Under her watch, the youth group revived a program “very near and dear” to her heart called Rosh Chodesh, which is a program “dedicated to building teen resilience through gender specific programming,” she explained.

She also recently brought to the temple a parallel boys program called Shevet Achim. She believes that these programs are invaluable in an age when teens need support in their lives more than ever.

“Kids and teens and youth these days are so over programmed and overscheduled,” she said. “So much is going on in their lives, and many are often really struggling with identity issues and finding their place in the world, just like I was when I was 13. There is no place better than a synagogue community to help teens and youth figure out who they are and who they want to be and just feel loved.”

Marion asserted that the world right now is so complicated that people are searching for answers more than ever. “The Jewish community is here to support those people in a way that no other organization can,” she said.

Another of her ideas is to bring a challah bake to Oheb Shalom in January. “We are trying to go off the success of the Shabbat Project and the Great Challah Bake and are looking to bring our own. We want to make it a giant, multigenerational program for men and women alike,” she said.

“I really want to find ways to build bridges outside of this community,” she added. “I want to propel and inspire our community members to go out and bridge the divides in our community and to make a difference. The reality is that I am the rabbi for all of these people, so I want to be as involved as I can with each and every one of them.”

J Street Founder Encourages Diversity of Opinions on Israel

jstreet1Before a crowd of about 100 at Temple Oheb Shalom last week, J Street president and co-founder Jeremy Ben-Ami said that it is both healthy and necessary for Jews in the United States to voice their diverse opinions on Israel.

He called J Street both pro-Israel and pro-peace, outlining them as an organization that recognizes the right of the Jewish people to a nation-state, but that also recognizes that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only logical solution to the conflict. He reiterated several times that, in his view, being pro-Israel does not mean that one should have to support all the policies of the sitting Israeli government.

When it comes to the recent election of Donald Trump, Ben-Ami said the main question he’s been getting is a simple one with a very complicated answer: “What does it mean for Israel?”

His answer more or less boiled down to “wait and see.” There are two Trumps, he said — one who might see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “ultimate deal” and the other who surrounds himself with people who would not, likely, promote the two-state solution or peace. His call to arms before taking questions was the hope that American Jews will speak out.

“Are we just going to sit back and let this happen? I hope not,” he said.

The audience questions ranged from deeper questions about Israeli and Middle East politics to requests for more information about J Street specifically. On the question of how J Street differs from AIPAC, Ben-Ami praised the beginnings of the other organization as a “bulwark for Israel when they really needed it” but went on to add that AIPAC has now become a supporter of everything Israeli does, no matter the ideological content or contradictions of the government’s policies.

“Being pro-Israel means standing up and saying what you believe is the right course,” he said.

When it comes to Israel, people often use the metaphorical
descriptor of the David and Goliath story. For older generations, many of whom remember the fight for statehood and other battles, big and small, for recognition, the Jewish state is entrenched as the underdog David, while younger generations have grown up in a different context, with that same state taking on a more Goliath form.

Now, that same story can apply more locally in the fight for the political will of American Jews. Relative upstart J Street (founded nine years ago), the David in this scenario, is taking on the Goliath of AIPAC in defining the United States’ approach to, and support of, Israel.

While J Street is based in Washington, D.C., it does have a presence in Baltimore. With this event, Ben-Ami is hoping to start to expand the group’s presence in Charm City. Originally, the event was to feature a discussion between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and a J Street adviser, but Cohen had to pull out at the last minute due to pneumonia. With the new incoming administration in the U.S. and changing politics in Israel, Ben-Ami aimed to educate both about J Street’s mission and the likelihood of a two-state solution.

“The goal, really, is to spark more of a discussion about Israel,” Ben-Ami said before the event. “It’s a very interesting moment in not just Israel politics, but our own.”

The Oheb Shalom audience was mostly receptive, if somewhat questioning, to Ben-Ami’s message.

“I was very impressed by him,” said attendee Jackie Glassgold. “It was very interesting, and I’m glad I was here.”
Glassgold said she hadn’t known much about J Street and was planning to look more into their plans and goals.

Not everyone was totally swayed, however. Jacob Apelberg, who had asked Ben-Ami about Israelis of Arab descent, thought the J Street founder hadn’t addressed the complexities of Israel adequately. Apelberg lived in Israel for several years and, while he thought Ben-Ami had a good presentation, he thought the emphasis on the one solution might “close their eyes to the other side.”

“It was OK, but he automatically assumes ‘Jewish’ is a religion, but I say it is cultural as well. Many Jews or Israelis are secular,” he said. “It’s not so simple.”

Two Firsts for Area’s JNF Add Up to Exciting Future

Orly Shalem and Stuart Diamant-Cohen (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Orly Shalem and Stuart Diamant-Cohen (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

On Dec. 8, the Jewish National Fund’s Baltimore and Delaware office celebrated two milestones with the appointment of Orly Shalem as president, the first woman and first Israeli to hold the post.

Growing up in Be’er Sheva and living on a kibbutz as a teenager near Ashkelon (Baltimore’s sister city), Shalem was aware that there was money for Israeli infrastructure projects, but she didn’t know where it was coming from.

On her year off from the kibbutz, she visited the United States, where she met two people who would greatly impact her — her husband, Yair “Ron” Shalem, and Diane Scar, who now serves as the JNF’s national campaign director.

“As an Israeli, it isn’t really something that is explained to us, where money is coming from,” said Shalem. “Talking to Diane made me realize that the money came from organizations such as the JNF.”

Part of why Shalem was so drawn to the JNF is the Be’er Sheva River Park, “a massive environment and economic project that is transforming the riverfront into a 1,700-acre civic paradise,” according to JNF’s website. The project helped to clean up Shalem’s hometown. “As a child, it was just the end of the city, all trash and old cars,” she recalled. “Today, it is a place where you would want to live; they made it beautiful.”

Now that Shalem, 49, is JNF president, one of her top priorities is to involve Israeli with the organization.

“We want to bring more Israelis to the table,” she said, “to educate them and get them more involved. I don’t think they even know how much the JNF does for Israel. There are a lot of young people and families here, and I want to draw them closer to us.”

Stuart Diamant-Cohen, director of JNF for Greater Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said Shalem will be great at bringing in more community involvement.

“There has never been a JNF president who is a woman or who is Israeli in the Maryland area, so for us, this is a wonderful breaking of the glass ceiling,” said Diamant-Cohen. “Personal outreach is the most effective way of engaging people, and we could not ask for a better person to be doing that.”

One way that Shalem hopes to engage people is through the JNF’s mission programs, which provide a means for American Jews to engage with Israel in a manner that takes into account one’s personal and professional interests, ranging from counter-terrorism groups to doctors and lawyers.

Diamant-Cohen serves as the staff professional for the JNF’s law and justice mission.

“We have the opportunity to meet with everyone from the minister of justice to Supreme Court justices. We see the court system in action in Israel, see how it interacts with the environment, with young people and the law,” he said. “To look at it from the aspect of the leadership is a very unique experience. These missions are where the JNF offers the opportunity to effect positive change in Israel.”

Shalem believes that missions are important because they enable individuals to engage in activities and subjects that interest them while still helping people in Israel.

“On my last mission, I went to Halutza, a community right on the border of Gaza,” she said. “We got to see how they live under the rockets. It’s not easy. If their house gets bombed, some would think they would go live elsewhere, but most do not. They stay and rebuild with the help of the JNF. This is something that you need to go on a mission to understand.”

Shalem is now building her agenda for the next two years. “Hopefully, I will be able to achieve everything I have in my mind, in spite of every day there being a new project,” she said.

These new projects vary drastically and can come up unexpectedly, such as the recent fires throughout Israel. In the past two-and-a-half weeks, devastating forest and urban fires have had a dramatic effect on the JNF’s work. In that time, the JNF has raised more than $6 million toward the cause. Among other things, this money has been put toward 23 new fire trucks, each of which costs approximately $450,000. One of JNF’s goals is to increase Israel’s fire-fighting fleet to 900 trucks.

Shalem works every day to ensure that Maryland continues to support and contribute to causes in Israel.

“This is the time and place to start a new chapter in my life and to make a change,” said Shalem. “I think bringing the face of a woman to the [JNF] board is already making a change, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Weinberg Foundation Celebrates Grants, Looks to Future



The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation announced plans to distribute nearly $99 million in grants this year at its Annual Community Gathering, which the organization held at Beth El Congregation on Nov. 16 to celebrate its mission, partnerships and this year’s accomplishments.

The event took place shortly after the 26th anniversary of Harry Weinberg’s death and served to commemorate the lasting impact that he had on Baltimore.

Nearly 1,000 people were in attendance as the Foundation celebrated its accomplishments and highlighted a handful of grants among the hundreds awarded over the past year.

“The Weinberg Foundation asset base is over $2 billion,” said Donn Weinberg, Weinberg Foundation trustee and executive vice president. “Each year, we donate 5 percent of that total, approximately $100 million. We have a lot of focuses — older adults, workforce development, disabilities, general community support — but our newest category is veterans.”

Showcasing the Foundation’s newest area of giving, veterans and military support, Spencer Kympton, president of The Mission Continues, addressed the crowd. His organization “empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact,” according to its website.

“The Mission Continues helps veterans get involved in their communities either through a six-month fellowship or through a platoon system, where people periodically get involved in community activities, which gives vets that sense of belonging and having a mission,” said Weinberg. “Our veterans section is really trying to do things along those lines and provide veterans with opportunities for reintegration.”

At the annual gathering, a video presentation highlighted a number of Foundation grantees including Catholic Charities, an organization that caters to low-income individuals and families in West Baltimore by preparing people for employment; the Naor Foundation’s collaboration with the Israel’s Ministry of Education to support the revitalization of youth villages around Israel that cater to at-risk children; and the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, which runs specialized care facilities for older adults and those with disabilities called Green Houses.

“This event expresses the Foundation’s gratitude for [our many wonderful partners’ and grantees’] important contributions that help make our communities stronger each year,” Rachel Garbow Monroe, Weinberg Foundation president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.

The organization also announced that going forward, the Weinberg Foundation will be holding its annual gathering every two years rather than annually.

“We want to better maximize the use of our funds to help the poor and impoverished,” said Weinberg. “We felt [the change] wouldn’t hurt our communication.”

Weinberg also mentioned the Foundation’s excitement about a library project that involves creating 24 libraries in elementary and middle schools in Baltimore over time.

“We have been thinking about having a greater impact on the inner city and education using capital grants,” he said. “We gathered approximately 40 different partners and so far have created nine or 10 incredible libraries. It’s like Disney World. There are projectors, computers, nooks and all this great infrastructure that makes it a great place. The project also provides more resources and training to librarians so that they can be the best they can be. It ends up resulting in better literacy and academic performance.”