A Neighborhood’s Fix Epidemic opiate crisis hits home

Over the course of the past few weeks, Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood has become a ground zero of sorts for the debate surrounding how to handle a problem that many say has taken over the city: the resurgence of heroin.

Tensions ran high last week when residents and local professionals packed into the Mount Washington Conference Center for a public meeting concerning a proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation center just steps from the neighborhood’s main business district.

The Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which currently operates out of an office on West Road in Towson, has requested to lease a building on Newbury Street in Mount Washington to open a second treatment center. MARC, which was founded in 2013, serves primarily middle- to upper-class patients and families suffering from addictions ranging from alcohol abuse to drug use.

This building on Newberry Street near Kelly Avenue has become a heated point of contention between the lease-seeking Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and Mount Washington residents. (Heather Norris)

This building on Newbury Street near Kelly Avenue has become a heated point of contention between the lease-seeking Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and Mount Washington residents. (Heather Norris)

While they emphasize their center is essentially a counseling center that addresses the roots of clients’ addictions, they do prescribe Suboxone, a drug that inhibits the ability of opiates to take effect. The proposal to use the vacant building at the corner of Newbury and Kelly streets is awaiting a decision on zoning pertaining to the number of parking spaces needed to operate a medical clinic, but Mount Washington residents arrived at the meeting ready to do battle.

Representatives from MARC faced questions that ranged from plans for landscaping to how many of their patients reside in Mount Washington and rebuffed accusations that they had been evicted from their original Towson office and that they were misleading the community about the kinds of treatment they offer. The owners told attendees that they had no plans to change the exterior of the building they are seeking to rent, that they could not disclose ZIP codes of patients, that their Towson location is still in operation and that, though they do prescribe Suboxone to aid in the treatment of opiate addicts, they do not distribute the drug out of their offices. Still, several neighbors were far from happy about the possibility of a center for addicts opening up down the road.

“They need help, and they need it here,” Mike Gimbel, former Baltimore County drug czar and current adviser to MARC, told the crowd of concerned residents. Still, many expressed doubts about whether addiction was really a problem in their neighborhood.

But odds are it is, say many experts in the field of addiction treatment.

In summer 2014, the National Geographic channel, in its “Drugs, Inc.: The High Wire,” put into words what many people had known for a long time: Baltimore has a serious heroin problem. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is expected to declare a state of emergency over heroin any day, dedicated part of his State of the State address earlier this month to discussing the situation.

“Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, it has become an epidemic, and it is destroying lives,” Hogan told the General Assembly on Feb. 4, adding that he has tasked Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford with leading the charge to tackle what he called an “emergency” in the state.


One out of every 10 city residents is addicted to the highly dangerous drug, estimates the White House’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. While that number has been disputed by some officials, consensus nonetheless is that the rate of addiction is extremely high. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimoreans accounted for half of all people admitted to treatment programs statewide for heroin addiction in 2012. In that same year, Baltimore City saw more than twice as many heroin-related deaths than any other place in the state. With easy access to extremely pure forms, experts predict that the trend will only grow.

Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS) is a New York-based organization that helps addicts and their families around the country. Unlike previous heroin spikes, the heroin being sold on the streets today is exceptionally pure, JACS experts say. As a result, it’s both more powerful and more potent. Also, users are finding alternative ways to ingest the drug into their system. Instead of shooting liquid heroin into their veins through a needle, kids as young as early teens are simply snorting or smoking the drug, alleviating some of the sense of danger surrounding it and making it more appealing to a wider clientele.

“The heroin producers and distributers have made heroin a purer, more powerful substance,” said Jonathan Katz LCSW, director of the Rita J. Kaplan Jewish Community Services for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York. “In other words, it’s not cut as much as it used to be with all kinds of adulterants that required it to be injected to get a high.”

That lack of syringes and needles, he added, can sometimes lead to a false sense of security for the user, making the chances of overdose greater.

The proposal to open the treatment center in Mount Washington cuts to the core of what many experts are urging people to acknowledge: Heroin is no longer the inner-city drug people still picture it as. Many of the city’s addicts come from affluent areas and live relatively privileged lives.

“More money just means better drugs,” said Daniel Brannon, founder of Right Turn/IMPACT, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment program based in Park Heights. A Baltimore native and recovering addict, Brannon himself was one of the first clients at the former Jewish Recovery House, which has since closed. Of the three men who moved into the center together on the first day in 1996, he says he is the only one who lived long enough to get clean.

The Jewish community, he said, has made major strides over the past decades in acknowledging addiction as a problem that exists in the Jewish neighborhoods.

“It used to be that in our communities, in Jewish communities, people didn’t want to talk about it,” said Brannon. “But addiction is everywhere.”

What many people who oppose the opening of treatment centers in their neighborhoods don’t realize, Brannon contends, is that the centers are places where people are not doing drugs. Residents of communities being eyed by potential rehab centers have a choice, he insisted: “You can have our houses or you can have crack houses.”

I feel bad for the people here tonight, because if their kids end up in trouble, where are they going to go?

The expansion of local treatment options also means more people could get the help they need, said Brannon. Instead of having to pay for a stay at a center in Florida or California, Baltimoreans could pay half the price and receive treatment just minutes from home.

“People have families, people have jobs,” he said. “But at the same time, they need help.”

Howard Reznick LCSW-C, senior manager of prevention education at Jewish Community Services, said the path to the current state of Baltimore’s heroin crisis is chartable.

“Societies go through phases of the drug of choice,” said Reznick. The path to Baltimore’s heroin addiction can be traced through a series of societal changes dating back to the 1950s.

In the ‘50s, Reznick said, valium became the drug of choice for suburbanites and the upper class. Then, in the ‘70 and ‘80s, so-called “uppers,” such as cocaine, surged in popularity. In the 1990s and 2000s, pain medicines, such as oxycodone, became popular again. In some ways, Reznick said, the new spike in heroin use is an extension of the painkiller trend.

A person doesn’t simply wake up one day and start taking a drug like heroin, he said. While every addict’s journey is unique, Reznick described what he called a “well-worn path” to heroin addiction as experimentation with prescription painkillers that eventually leads to the user’s tolerance reaching a level that makes it nearly impossible to achieve that high with the kinds of drugs they can find in friends’ and family members’ medicine cabinets. Seeking a more powerful, cheaper alternative, they turn to heroin.

Unlike cocaine addicts, who generally can sustain an addiction for an average time of three to four years before going over the edge, opiate addicts can live with the addiction for decades.

“You can walk for a much longer time than you can run,” said Reznick of the difference between addictions to uppers compared to the addiction to downers.

Last year, JCS teamed up with a number of other local organizations to form the Jewish Recovery Network, which includes MARC. The organization supports the center’s plans to open an office in Mount Washington.

Although the network focuses a lot of attention on educating school children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in hopes of preventing addiction before it begins, easily accessible treatment is an important tool in any community’s ability to combat addiction.

“It’s obviously incorrect,” said Reznick of the reputation of heroin as an inner-city drug. While the majority of addicts JCS sees are in their 20s, Reznick said it is not at all uncommon for 16- and 17-year-olds to turn to the JRN for help.

“This doesn’t discriminate,” said MARC adviser and former county drug czar Gimbel after the Mount Washington meeting. After an hour-and-a-half of tense debate, his frustration with the lack of community support for the center was clear.

“I feel bad for the people here tonight,” he said, “because if their kids end up in trouble, where are they going to go?”


MIDC to Highlight Wearable Technology

(©iStockphoto.com/scanrail )


The Maryland/Israel Development Center is bringing together companies involved in data, fitness and health care to examine opportunities in wearable technology. The Tuesday, Feb. 17 event will feature presentations by Under Armour, Johns Hopkins University and the Israeli embassy.

“As technology gets smaller and smaller, we’re all carrying around computers with us in the forms of our phones. The same technology is being put in wristwatches; they can put it in necklaces,” said Steve Brooks, chief innovation officer at Sage Growth Partners, who is moderating a discussion at the event. He also serves as co-chair of the MIDC’s life sciences committee. “There really is a race to enter this field.”

For Sage Growth Partners, a health care firm, the interest is in measuring health indicators in real time to get baseline readings on overall health, get pre-emptive warnings about risks and measure disease states. For other emerging issues, such as aging in place, putting sensors in homes can detect movement and possible emergencies such as falling.

“It’s putting sensors in places they’ve never been and having real-time ability to monitor,” Brooks said.

Under Armour is already utilizing wearables.

“Under Armour Connected Fitness is the world’s largest health and fitness community, reaching approximately 120 million registered users,” Mike Maglin, general manager of Under Armour’s digital product, said via email. “It is an open platform that is device (wearable) agnostic and brings together data from hundreds of devices that share into the Under Armour platform of digital apps including UA Record, MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal.”

And like Sage Growth Partners, Under Armour looked to Israel for wearable technology.

“The Israeli market is fantastic,” Brooks said. “There is some brilliant technology coming out of there. It’s so innovative, and they have such big support from the government.”

In the fourth quarter of 2014, Under Armour hosted its annual “Future Show,” which focuses on using digital technology to make athletes better. Maglin said there was a strong showing from Israeli companies, and Under Armour is continuing to explore those relationships.

The quicker this technology develops, the more vulnerabilities can present themselves. Avi Rubin, professor of computer science and Johns Hopkins University and technical director of the university’s Information Security Institute, will be on hand to discuss security issues.

“I’m going to talk a little bit about security for embedded devices and why the proliferation of ‘the Internet of things’ has led to increased security risks,” he said. “Everything from the thermostat to the refrigerator gets an IP address. You have devices being built somewhat experimentally that are being sold and developed more quickly than there is the ability to analyze their security.”

He said that often these devices can be used to proliferate attacks against other systems and leave the attacker more hidden. While the Israeli market moves faster, Rubin thinks the country might be more aware of these issues.

“I think that Israeli companies, just because of the nature of life in Israel, tend to be more focused on security than Americans, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to deal with the same issues,” he said.

MIDC chairman Rob Frier sees the threats and the opportunities in the technology.

“It’s a really interesting connection in hacking, security, Israeli companies and wearables,” he said. “It’s a really nice blend of related technologies.”

Anat Katz, commercial attaché for the Embassy of Israel will also speak about wearable technology being developed in Israel.

⇢ MIDC’s “Wearable Technology” is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 at Sage Growth Partners, 3500 Boston St., Suite 435, Baltimore. Free for members, $25 for nonmembers. Visit marylandisrael.org/wearables.


Lessons of the Shoah

More than 200 students across Baltimore City and County participate in a day-long Holocaust curriculum to learn lessons of tolerance and compassion at the John Carroll School. (Melissa Gerr)

More than 200 students across Baltimore City and County participate in a day-long Holocaust curriculum to learn lessons of tolerance and compassion at the John Carroll School. (Melissa Gerr)

More than 200 high school students from approximately 20 schools from Baltimore City, Baltimore County and beyond came together last week at the John Carroll School in Bel Air for “Lessons of the Shoah” a day-long program designed “to motivate participants to make a personal commitment to combat prejudice and hatred.”

The gathering was co-sponsored by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the John Carroll School, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Claims Conference and, on a most personal level, John Carroll graduate Andy Klein, owner of local ShopRite grocery stores.

Klein, a native of Bel Air who attended the school when there was no Holocaust curriculum, is a firm believer in educating young people about tolerance and regularly sponsors the school’s seniors’ trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. This year, he wanted to do more.

Klein said studying Holocaust history is a way for young people to internalize the stories and hopefully invoke in them the willingness to call out injustice and “to challenge it and question it.”

In the morning, the students, from many religious and ethnic backgrounds, chose from six workshops that tackled different themes of the Holocaust.

Deborah Cardin, JMM deputy director of programs and development, presented students with five large black-and-white historical photographs that depicted several scenarios; some included civilians and military, some showed smiling faces; and others showed destitute families. She challenged the group to create a timeline — representing before, during and after the Holocaust — by scouring over details in the images. Participants studied expressions, clothing, location and even body language. The exercise ignited conversation and sparked questions about what was actually happening in the photos, what events led up to the Holocaust and what could people have been thinking at the time.

Father Robert Albright, former Catholic campus minister at Towson University and director of ministry to higher education for the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, dissected the difference between, he said, the often misinterpreted concepts of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, pointing out that the former is theological and deals with culture and religion while the latter is ideological and based on racial and secular ideas.

Presenter Josh Headley, history department head at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, confronted students with the “not in my backyard” notion as he unraveled the complex roles of perpetrator, collaborator and bystander during the Holocaust.

What do you do if something happens, but it doesn’t have any relevance to you, he asked the group, and compared that behavior with those who stood by and watched the horrors of the Holocaust unfold. But, he prodded, what happens if you do stand up and say this is wrong and what is needed for an individual to take that action?

Headley said he’s witnessed the impact of teaching Holocaust curriculum on students, especially when it promotes ideas of not looking the other way and calling out an injustice

“I’ve taught 40 years in the classroom and nothing has had an impact” on students like studying the Holocaust.

“I see it in … the change of behaviors on the lacrosse field,” where Headley coaches. “I see it in the hallways at school — students will stand up for someone else they don’t know and say ‘you need to stop what you’re doing, that’s wrong.’ It’s really affirming,” he said.

Headley hopes students, after a day immersed in Holocaust curriculum, will be able “to contextualize the behavior of something happening right now and what might happen if you don’t adjust or adapt but instead make a change.”

Other workshops dealt with the psychology of hatred and the evolution of genocide and included presenters from the USHMM Levine Institute for Holocaust Education and Centropa, a European organization dedicated to preserving 20th century Jewish stories from Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

After lunch, for which kosher meals were provided as needed, the group listened to Esther and Howard Kaidanow, who have shared their personal stories of resistance and survival of the Holocaust with hundreds of young people.

“If you forget history, it could happen again,” said Esther, in anticipation of speaking to the assembled group. “There are some who don’t know about it, don’t believe it or even deny it. … I hope that it will give knowledge and power to young people … to alleviate any possibility of hatred or misjudging people of other backgrounds. I always hope that if it influences even one person, then it’s a benefit.”

At the end of the day, students met to discuss, reflect and share what they learned. For many, such as Rawaida Saeed, a freshman at Polytechnic Institute, this was a first exposure to Holocaust curriculum. What she learned that morning made her question the inaction of genocide bystanders, she said. “If something happens like that, I can do something. … We can take matters in our own hands. We have freedom of speech, we can protest.”

“I’ve taught 40 years in the classroom and nothing has had an impact” on students like studying the Holocaust, said Louise Brink Géczy, senior project coordinator at the school and a passionate promoter of Holocaust education there for 13 years. Géczy works closely with Jeannette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the BJC since 2007.

Parmigiani said Baltimore City and County are very committed to Holocaust education, and last year, more than 6,000 students at 52 schools, synagogues, community centers and military locations heard firsthand Holocaust testimony from the approximately 20 survivors that BJC enlists as speakers.

Richard O’Hara, president of John Carroll School, said the goal of the day was “not just to study history, but learn from the lessons and apply them … to stand up to evil, point out injustice … to build up the kingdom of God for peace and understanding and love for others.”


Building Campus Community

Participants in the first annual Masorti on Campus  Shabbaton gather for a group photo. They represent a  diverse group of campus communities seeking connection.

Participants in the first annual Masorti on Campus Shabbaton gather for a group photo. They represent a diverse group of campus communities seeking connection.

Seeking connection among Conservative and traditional-egalitarian students on college campuses, a dedicated group of students banded together and are in the midst of planning their second annual conference.

When Koach, the Conservative movement’s college outreach program, was shuttered in 2013, a group of concerned students came together to form their own community. Masorti on Campus, which also welcomes students from backgrounds not affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is the result.

“Masorti on Campus came about as a grassroots effort to show the establishment of the Conservative movement … that even without institutional support, we were still going to carry on,” said Eric Leiderman, one of the co-founders and current sociology major at Binghamton University.

“We’re trying to connect existing communities,” said Leiderman. “There’s a feeling of students being abandoned on campuses. We want them to feel connected.”

To demonstrate that these scattered communities are not alone, Leiderman has an interactive map on masorticampus.org that identifies campuses and their Jewish communities.

For previous generations of Conservative students, connection to the larger community was achieved at the annual Koach Kallah, an event which inspired Masorti on Campus.

“We knew from the get-go that we needed to have a large event, a coming-out party [to] let people know we’re here to work with as many students as possible,” said Leiderman.

“It is vital that college students have the opportunity to find a home in the Conservative Movement and opportunities for leadership development on their campuses so they continue to remain engaged and feel welcome. They are our future leaders in the Conservative Movement. We need their involvement, creativity and energy.” 

From there, Leiderman reached out to two friends, one at the University of Hartford and the other at Columbia University in New York, to be co-chairs of the first Masorti on Campus Shabbaton, which was housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary last year. Approximately 55 students from 30 campuses attended the inaugural event.

JTS has been a consistent partner for Masorti on Campus, providing travel subsidies to last year’s event, managing donations and providing counsel on organizational matters.

Sara Horowitz, dean of student life at JTS and a Bowie native, wrote, “Part of JTS’s mission is to educate future Jewish professional and lay leaders to serve the Conservative Movement and larger Jewish community. It is natural for JTS to serve as a resource for Masorti on Campus and to help engage college student leaders who are seeking to create pluralistic Jewish communities on their home campuses.”

This year’s Shabbaton will be housed at the University of Maryland, College Park, Feb. 20-22. Organizers estimate they will have a turnout at least equal to that of the first Shabbaton.

Ben Kramer of Potomac is a co-chair for the upcoming Shabbaton and is eager to connect with other students and share best practices. The senior government and politics and history major was involved with the rebuilding of the Conservative/traditional-egalitarian minyan at UMD called Ometz. He hopes that their success will inspire other campus communities.

“People were sad to see Koach go, but people are very happy to see this element pop up, a ‘for students by students’ initiative that shows the movement that a gap [between high school and congregational life] is not acceptable,” Kramer added.

Kramer and his co-chairs have been working diligently to create an impressive line-up of speakers. Attendees will hear from Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International; Rabbi Joel Levy, Yeshiva director at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Daid Yarus, founder of mllnnl and JSwipe; Joey Weisenberg, creative director of Yeshivat Hadar’s Center for Communal Jewish Music and others.

In addition to the Shabbaton on Maryland’s campus, there are plans for a regional Shabbaton in Arizona, which Masorti on Campus student leaders hope will attract students from the Southwest and southern California, who due to financial constraints might not be able to participate in the main event.

Looking ahead, Leiderman wants the organization to further partnerships with Hillel International, the Camp Ramah network, MAROM Olami and other likeminded organizations, in an effort to become the go-to organization for campuses seeking to build Conservative/traditional-egalitarian communities.

Concluded Horowitz, “It is vital that college students have the opportunity to find a home in the Conservative Movement and opportunities for leadership development on their campuses so they continue to remain engaged and feel welcome. They are our future leaders in the Conservative Movement. We need their involvement, creativity and energy.”


Industrious New Director

Anita Kassof (Photo by Caroline Earp)

Anita Kassof (Photo by Caroline Earp)

Former associate director at the Jewish Museum of Maryland Anita Kassof, who is “thrilled to be back in Baltimore and to be committing to this community again,” has found her new home and her latest mission at the Baltimore Museum of Industry as its new executive director.

Kassof, who has spent the past four years commuting to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, officially takes over at BMI this month. While she loved the work and deeply respected her colleagues in New York, she said her ties to Baltimore remained strong.

“My husband and I underestimated just how deeply rooted we are in the Baltimore community and how committed we are to this place,” she said. “I tell people I feel like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It took me a little while to be away to realize that there’s no place like home.”

Kassof, 51, brings years of curatorial and directorial experience to her new position. In addition to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, she spent 11 years at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, three years at Baltimore City Life Museums and was a founding staff member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where she worked for 12 years.

“It was a really privileged moment to be there,” recalled Kassof. “Holocaust survivors were coming forward for the first time. They had raised their families … and they were just starting to tell their stories, so for the first time they were giving us their materials and they were sharing their experiences with us.”

Though the majority of Kassof’s experience is at Jewish museums, the skills translate.

“Much of the work of ethnic-specific museums has really broad relevance to the museum profession,” she said, noting her past responsibilities to cultivate new audiences, care for collections, identify and secure funding and design and build collections relevant to new audiences — all of which “[have] absolute relevance to any museum.”

“Anita’s background in museum leadership, curatorial experience, and her strong ties to the Baltimore community will make her an excellent leader for the BMI,” said Streett Baldwin, chair of the BMI board of trustees and director at CPA firm, Ellin & Tucker. “The staff and board alike are looking forward to having her join the museum and lead the institution into our next chapter.”

“My first several months will involve a lot of listening,” to trustees and staff, said Kassof, adding she’s also very eager to gather input from local community leaders, elected officials, business leaders and teachers to find out how “they envision the BMI and how they see this as part of their lives.” She would also like to launch a formal strategic planning process within the year. She added, “And I absolutely want to ramp up the exhibitions, both to dive into the existing collection and also how we might interpret industry,” citing technology, health care and finance, in order to look at “industry” with a wider scope. “So we’re looking forward and honoring our past.”

“I’d like [visitors] to be intrigued by what industry is today, what does it mean for Baltimore’s future, and how are contemporary industries contributing to Baltimore’s renaissance?”

Acknowledging the importance industry has played in Baltimore’s past, she said that traditional manufacturing is still very relevant “but that there is a future to industry.” She noted some BMI exhibits that are already edging toward that, such as Video Game Wizards — Transforming Science and Art into Games and the Maryland Engineering Challenges, both of which engage younger visitors.

Kassof understands an important component of the visitor experience involves nostalgia and the “Oh wow! I didn’t know that” about Baltimore’s history, but she said, “I’d also like them to be intrigued by what industry is today, what does it mean for Baltimore’s future, and how are contemporary industries contributing to Baltimore’s renaissance?”

A visit to the museum needs to be relevant, and it needs to resonate, she said. “Where you really hook visitors and where you really create meaning is when they can somehow find a personal intersection with the museum.”

Kassof hopes to create partnerships with other museums as well and intends to reach out to her colleagues at the American Visionary Art Museum and the Maryland Science Center for possible collaborations that could enhance what she described as an ongoing challenge to lure visitors to the south side of the Inner Harbor tourist area, a part of the city — between Federal Hill and Locust Point — that she said is undergoing a lot of change.

A place like BMI is an important anchor and “cultural institutions can be an agent of change in neighborhoods, and they need to have a voice at the table,” she said. Especially for an area in transition, added Kassof, the BMI is “an authentic voice that honors the past.”

Woman’s 11-Year Get Battle Comes to an End

Cynthia Ohana with three of her five children, (from left) Gavi, Tamar and Adina. (Marc Shapiro)

Cynthia Ohana with three of her five children, (from left) Gavi, Tamar and Adina.
(Marc Shapiro)

After separating from her husband 12 years ago and divorcing nearly 10 years ago, Cynthia Ohana has finally received a get, a divorce document sanctioned by Jewish law necessary in order to remarry.

On Jan. 23, Ohana’s attorney, Larry Feldman, who worked on the case pro-bono for 11 years, reached an agreement with Tim Faith, Ephraim Ohana’s attorney, bringing to an end a legal battle that lasted 11 years.

“I’m beyond elated. Any type of freedom, of course, is welcoming, but it’s difficult,” said Cynthia Ohana. “I’m still processing. It’s emotionally overwhelming, but it’s been 11 years. I don’t want to say it’s a little too late, but I can’t get back 11 years of my life that were taken from me.”

Her case sparked national attention and inspired waves of rallies and community support in Baltimore. The rallies were largely initiated by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a New York-based organization that fights on behalf of so-called “chained women” known in Hebrew as agunot. Because their recalcitrant husbands refuse to give them a get, they see themselves as shackled to marriages that long ago were ended in the eyes of civil law.

The organization’s executive director, Rabbi Jeremy Stern, estimates the group held at least a dozen rallies outside of Ephraim Ohana’s homes — he moved several times — as well as outside of the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he was a student.

“Once it became clear that there was no way to resolve this amicably, we applied pressure,” Stern said.

While this was one of the organization’s longest cases — ORA was involved for nine years — it has similarities to other cases, Stern said.

“Fundamentally, what motivates these guys is the same thing that motivates every other domestic abuser, which is the feeling that they need to assert power and control over their spouse,” he said. “That’s what makes get refusal a form of domestic abuse.”

Ohana first sought the help of CHANA, a Jewish aid program of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, in September 2003 for domestic violence and secured the first of several protective orders from her ex-husband on Dec. 21, 2004. Although they secured a civil divorce in May 2005, Ephraim Ohana would not grant a get.

“Fundamentally, what motivates these guys is the same thing that motivates every other domestic abuser, which is the feeling that they need to assert power and control over their spouse.”

Cynthia Ohana, who would later volunteer at CHANA for two years and is now an employee of seven years, said she sees men using gets as bargaining chips with her clients.

“When, for instance, a woman gets a protective order, the get becomes a bargaining tool where her husband can say, ‘If you dismiss your petition against me, I can give you a get.’ It becomes a bargaining tool regarding custody and visitation of the children as well as financial issues, distribution of property and so on,” she said. “This creates another opportunity to further abuse, oppress and withhold her freedom.”

An attorney for Ephraim Ohana could not be reached for comment.

Cynthia Ohana said a secular divorce is not enough in the Orthodox community, and not just for remarrying purposes.

“It affects me and any other woman who’s going through the same struggle in that it prevents her from going forward in having a stable and loving relationship at home and remarrying,” she said, “and, ultimately, there’s closure that’s lacking.”

In addition to community support and rallies held with ORA and other organizations such as the Awareness Center, Inc., the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse and Jewish Women International, CHANA also advocated on behalf of Ohana. Rabbis Shraga Neuberger of Ner Israel Rabbinical College and David Herman of Shaarei Tfiloh Synagogue also advocated on her behalf.

Nancy Aiken, executive director of CHANA, said her organization is grateful for the support.

“CHANA is grateful to ORA and for all the public support for all women in these situations,” she said. “We’re just grateful that so many people care about the issue and that ORA worked tirelessly for this case as they do for so many others.”


Yeshiva Students Experience Haiti


Fifteen Yeshiva University students, including two Maryland natives, visited Haiti for a service mission through the Center for the Jewish Future. (Photos provided)

The second she stepped off the plane, Esther Shmunis knew she was in a place unlike any other she’d been to before.

The terminal was “miniscule,” the Silver Spring resident said. Advertisements and stores were low budget, people were wearing clothing that looked like it was from another decade. Outside the airport, there were police everywhere, the landscape was littered, sewers overflowed, ,and people starved in the streets.

Baltimore native Eliana Shields noticed Haiti’s plight before she even stepped off the plane.

“In Israel you see swimming pools and houses and cars and greenery [as you’re landing],” she said. “When you land in Haiti you just see huts. I saw a lot of metal roofs, huts and just dry land. You don’t see a lot of cars and a lot of greenery at all.”

Shields and Shmunis, both students at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, were two of 15 Yeshiva students who went on the service trip to Haiti, a program of the Center for the Jewish Future and the American Joint Distribution Committee. It was one of two service learning programs the university held during this recent winter session from Jan. 10 to 18.

This firsthand exposure to such dire conditions is exactly what the university wants, according to CJF Dean Rabbi Yaakov Glasser.

Eliana Shields (second from right) planted trees with students at a school in rural Haiti as part of a service trip through Yeshiva University.

Eliana Shields (second from right) planted trees with students at a school in rural Haiti as part of a service trip through Yeshiva University.

“Our students grow up in a relatively sheltered environment in terms of the larger challenges that face the world in terms of poverty and underprivileged education,” he said. “You take 15 Yeshiva students, you pull them out of their comfort zones. … They really absorb and internalize where the world is, and you empower them to make a positive impact on that situation.”

On the trip, students learned about the country’s history and humanitarian issues following the massive earthquake that hit island in January 2010. They met with community leaders and aid organizations, and worked on projects at a school in the city of Zoranje.

“The Haitian leaders we talked to had repeatedly emphasized that the earthquake didn’t create new problems,” Shmunis said. “It just exacerbated new problems that already existed and made people realize how bad a situation they already were in.”

Yeshiva students took part in a variety of activities with students at a school and community center established by the Foundation for Progress and Development, where they planted trees and refurbished community spaces.

Shmunis described the tree-planting as “back breaking” — it involved using wheelbarrows, carrying water, using pick axes and shovels and carrying trees. Since the trees, Nigerian almond trees, were being planted in a dry desert area, the students had to dig up rocks and sand to create the proper growing environment.

“The Haitian leaders we talked to had repeatedly emphasized that the earthquake didn’t create new problems. It just exacerbated new problems that already existed and made people realize how bad a situation they already were in.”

While the labor-intensive project proved to be rewarding, local students’ drive to get an education left the biggest impression on both Shields and Shmunis. In a rural area, with limited resources, students would walk to and from school a total of four hours each day and wear uniforms.

“That drive for education was so eye opening,” said Shields, a psychology major with an education minor who wants to be a teacher.

Shmunis added that education was where she saw some hope amid Haiti’s desolation.

Glasser said students’ concept of poverty forever changes on these trips.

“The notion of people waiting on lines to get water to drink, just to see that on their planet, in 2015, knowing that at home on their phone they could order any product they want and have it within 48 hours, but that on the same planet there are people that can’t get clean water, it was jarring,” he said. “I think it was disruptive.”

While 15 students were in Haiti, 20 others took part in the Jewish Life Coast to Coast program, which had them interact with rabbis, educators and community leaders in Atlanta, Charleston, Richmond and Baltimore.


“It’s no secret that the Jewish population is concentrated in New York and other areas where most students come from,” Glasser said. “The purpose is to expose our students to Jewish communities that are, I would say, outside the New York metropolitan area that have vibrancy and both an infrastructure and collaboration and institutions that have been developed with creativity and tremendous substance.”

In Charm City, they met officials from the JCC of Greater Baltimore. The trip aimed to give students a concept of the impact they could make in various Jewish communities, as well as the reach of Yeshiva.

“The communal footprint of Yeshiva University is very broad and very impactful,” Glasser said.


Ohio Rabbi Remains in Jail Chaplain accused of sex abuse recalled as diligent student

Booking photograph of Frederick Martin Karp

Booking photograph of Frederick Martin Karp

New details have emerged in the case of the Ohio rabbi accused of sexually abusing a Baltimore County girl.

Reached at the seminary from which Rabbi Frederick “Ephraim” Karp, who is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, graduated in 1998, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, dean of the Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary in Spring Valley, N.Y., said that Karp “was a very fine young man.”

“He was very dedicated to rabbinical work,” said Spivak, adding that Karp had a close group of friends at the school and took his studies seriously.

Though Spivak is a graduate of Loyola College and Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore, the rabbi said he was unsure of what connection Karp had to the Jewish community in the area. Karp’s wife is a graduate of the University of Maryland and he has an aunt in Gaithersburg.

Karp made his first appearance in Baltimore County court last Thursday for a hearing at which a judge reduced his bail from $5 million to $500,000 and forbid him from any contact with his accusers, witnesses or children under the age of 18.

Karp, 50, a Beechwood, Ohio resident and director of spiritual living at the Menorah Park Center for Senior Living there, was extradited to Maryland on Jan. 28 from New York City, where he was arrested Jan. 15 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport as he awaited a flight to Israel.

He is charged with second- and third-degree sex offense, sexual abuse of a minor and perverted practice stemming from an accusation made on New Year’s Eve that Karp had been repeatedly sexually abusing a young girl in Baltimore County over a five-year period.

Karp, who wore an orange jumpsuit and sat quietly during the Towson proceeding, made his appearance via closed circuit television from a holding area.

State prosecutor Lisa Dever, who heads the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s sex offense and child abuse division, detailed some of the allegations against Karp to the judge. The alleged victim, she said, came into contact with Karp through a close relationship between the rabbi and her family.

The abuse, the state claims, began when the victim was 7 years old and continued until Karp’s arrest. The girl is now 12. Furthermore, the attorney added, two of the victim’s sisters have since come forward and accused Karp of inappropriately touching them as well.

The alleged abuse began when the victim was 7 years old and continued until Karp’s arrest.

The State’s Attorney’s Office would not say whether more charges would be pursued.

Karp’s lawyer, Marc Zayon, told the judge his client was not aware of any investigation surrounding him until Jan. 14, when Baltimore County police came to his home in suburban Cleveland to speak with him. Karp was not trying to flee the country, said Zayon. Rather, he was leaving for a planned vacation he had scheduled in September.

Karp’s wife, Sarah Epstein Karp, was present at the bail hearing, along with Karp’s brother-in-law.

Karp’s two adult children were absent at the hearing.

Before moving to assume his role at Menorah Park, Karp lived in Monmouth, N.J., where he worked as the local federation’s community chaplain from 2001 to 2008.

Karp founded Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains and served as its president. He was suspended from that role, as well as his position at the Menorah Park Center, late last month.

“We have no knowledge of any details other than those published in the media,” Neshama said in a statement. “NAJC must trust the legal process of the State of Maryland and, until these charges are either proven or dismissed in a court of law, have suspended his membership in the organization.”

A pretrial hearing was granted but has not yet been scheduled. As of press time, Karp had not posted bail and remained at the county detention center.

Baltimore County Police have said that there is no evidence that any incidents of abuse occurred at any Baltimore-area Jewish facilities.


Pikesville Middle Designated a Lighthouse

Pikesville Middle School has been chosen as a “Lighthouse” school beginning next fall.

Lighthouse schools are among the first in Baltimore County to put into action the vision of the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) program, tagged as “the move to digital learning.” As part of the program, all incoming Pikesville sixth-graders will be given computer tablets, and teachers will receive additional training in how to incorporate technology into the classroom.

Ten elementary schools piloted the new instruction model this academic year.

Baltimore County Public Schools is redesigning its core curriculum to better fit a blended learning environment with an emphasis on critical thinking and analytical skills. By the 2017-18 academic year, BCPS plans to roll out several core STAT components, which include having a digital device for every student and teacher and upgraded wireless and broadband infrastructure in every school.

In a video posted online, Ryan Imbriale, executive director of innovative learning at BCPS, and his team can be seen bringing celebratory balloons to seven delighted Baltimore County middle school principals and assistant principals to announce their schools’ new Lighthouse status.

Bor Named Pearlstone Professor

Hana Bor, a professor at Towson University’s Department of Family Studies and Community Development, has been selected as the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone
Professor. It is the first time the professorship has been conferred since the Baltimore Hebrew University was folded into Towson as the Baltimore Hebrew Institute.

With the additional resources of the professorship, Bor hopes to further develop Holocaust education, expand study abroad opportunities — including in Israel for faculty — and host an international conference for Jewish educators at Towson.

“I want to do Holocaust education and research and develop some more new courses in the long run and, hopefully, take a group to Eastern Europe,” she said. “I want to grow and study professionally.”

Bor, director of the Master of Arts in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Services program, has been involved in Jewish education for more than 30 years. In addition to her background in social work in Israel, she’s worked as a day school teacher, religious school principal and adjunct professor. As a faculty member of Baltimore Hebrew University, Bor joined Towson in 2009 when the merger went into effect.

Karen Eskow, chair of the Department of Family Studies and Community Development, nominated Bor for the professorship because of her “commitment to education and Jewish learning, enthusiasm for her topics and attention to the students at all levels,” she said.

“She’s creative. She is full of ideas and she makes them happen,” Eskow said. “She’s everything that one would want … to have this role at the university.”

Bor launched Towson’s first study abroad trip to Israel. She’s taken students twice and is currently writing a grant for a third trip, which she hopes to lead later this year. She sees a study abroad trip for faculty to Israel to as leading to joint publications between academics in both countries.