Jews in Paradise In Curaçao, vibrant Jewish history gives way to small but committed community

Tourists come to Curaçaoin the southern part of the Caribbean Sea to snorkel and dive in its turquoise waters, to lie out on the 30-plus sandy beaches as a constant breeze blows past, to marvel at Mother Nature as the ocean crashes angrily against the cliffs of Shete Boca National Park and to sample the famous blue Curaçao liqueur brewed from the skins of the island’s bitter oranges.

Willemstad, the capital city for the 150,000 people who call the island home, is a UNESCO World Heritage City. Its pastel colored grand houses — originally white until 1817 when the governor ordered them painted, as it was decided that the glare of the sun was bad for the eyes — sync perfectly with the island’s colorful culture that melds Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, African, Caribbean and South American influences.

Of the 765 historic buildings that span across the capital city’s districts of Punda, Otrobanda — literally “the other side,” as the St. Anna Bay divides the city in two — Pietermaai and Scharloo, a Sephardic synagogue is highly touted alongside the likes of the Governor’s House and Fort Amsterdam.

A small sign hangs on the corner of the light yellow building in the Punda district, directing tourists to the entrance of Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and Museum, the oldest continuously used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Visitors traipse through the doors to the complex under a Hebrew sign that reads “Blessed may you be in your coming.” On the right side of the black-and-white tiled courtyard is the historic synagogue building, where every Shabbat and major simcha has been celebrated since 1732.

Sephardic Dutch Jews settled in Curaçao, part of the “ABC” islands (Aruba and Bonaire are the others) near Venezuela, in 1651. They earned their livings as merchants primarily and built a soaring Sephardic-style snoa, or synagogue, set with rich mahogany pews anchored with four tall white columns inscribed with the names of the matriarchs and giant chandeliers hanging high above that can hold 144 candles.

Past the entrance to the much-chronicled synagogue, whose floors are covered in white sand imported from Suriname, is an iron gate. It leads into a smaller courtyard flanked by two smaller houses, which once served as the rabbi’s residence and mikvah house. Here is the entrance to the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum and the woman at its helm, Myrna Moreno.

Since she took over as museum curator in 2002, Moreno has ensured that the brainchild of Jessy Jesurun, a member of a prominent local Jewish family, preserves the past and tells the story of the Jews who remain on the island, most of whom attend the snoa, now affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement.

Walking around the two floors of the museum, which was dedicated in November 1970, she points to improvements she’s made during her 13-year tenure. Moreno has added new exhibit labels in Dutch and English, restored paintings and reformatted and expanded displays — her favorite is a deerskin Torah scroll from 1320, carefully stored upright in its own glass cabinet.

The biggest challenge, she explains, is coaxing locals to explore this aspect of Curaçao history.

“The cruise ship tourists, they come to the museum, but the local people you have to inspire, you have to teach them. There is a threshold — they’re scared,” said Moreno. “They say, ‘What are they doing in there? A church with sand on the floor? They must be doing strange things in there.’”

“I say, ‘No,’” Moreno said with a chuckle. “By catering the right things to them, the locals enjoy it and the tourists too.”

For the record, three official explanations are offered for the sand floors. The first is that similar Spanish-Portuguese synagogues found in the Caribbean, such as the St. Thomas Synagogue in the U.S. Virgin Islands, use sand floors to serve as a reminder of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert. The second explanation offered is that many of the Sephardic ancestors of today’s congregants lived as conversos, secret Jews, in Spain and Portugal. Sand floors helped to muffle the sound of their worship to passers-by who might wish them harm. The final explanation offered is the sand symbolizes the promise God made to the Abraham to multiply his seed “as the sands of the seashore.”

A notable exhibit, she said, was one on the nannies of Jewish children, known as yayas in the local Creole language Papiamento. Yayas were black slaves or former slaves who looked after the children of wealthy Jewish households. Yayas were second mothers to the children and taught their charges Papiamento and about local wildlife and attended to the children’s daily needs.

Some members of the Jewish community worried about the controversy such an exhibit might attract, but Moreno found the response to be overwhelmingly positive.

“I was getting people from 80 to 85 years old coming with grandchildren,” said Moreno. “One lady said, ‘I was a seamstress for all these Jewish people, can I touch this fabric?’” referring to a yaya uniform displayed on a mannequin.

“Then another lady came and said, ‘I used to be a proud silver polisher for the Jewish families.’ That is the link I am trying to get,” said Moreno.

Clarita Hagenaar, an expert tour guide, directs tourists’ attention to the grand mansions of the Scharloo district of Willemstad, which was once home to wealthy Jewish families such as the Maduros and Penhas, whose names are still emblazoned on the sides of buildings in the capital city.

Also read, Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao.

On the way to a stand that sells handmade local sweets, Hagenaar gestures to the corner of a busy intersection not far from the floating market where Venezuelans sell fish and fresh produce. There, she recalls from her childhood, tourists would come to town and make huge purchases from the Jewish-owned jewelry stores. So safe was the island that porters would carry the diamond-laden bags down the street to the ships without security escorts.

During the Jewish High Holy Days, Hagenaar continued, so many shops were closed that it was as if the non-Jewish locals were treated to an extra holiday. These days, Hagenaar said, a new wave of immigrants from China and India operate many of the shops downtown.

The Jews of Curaçao shared their wealth with other communities through- out the Americas, including congregations in Newport, R.I., Philadelphia, Caracas, Venezuela and Colon in Panama. According to information compiled by Michele Russel-Capriles, some of those congregations still say a special prayer for the Curaçao community on Yom Kippur.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life.

Hagenaar pauses yet again to draw attention to another yellow-and-white building that looks distinctly like a church but without a cross on top. It was not a church but the former home of Temple Emanuel, established in 1864 by Sephardic Jews who wanted to practice a more liberal stream of Judaism akin to the Reform Jewish Movement that was taking root in the United States. One third of the snoa’s membership went on to the new synagogue, but there was such crossover and intermarriage between the two communities that 100 years later the two Sephardic congregation  merged, thus the present hyphenated name.

Today, Hagenaar bemoans, the Temple Emanuel building is now a government facility where locals go to pay fines.

Not long after Temple Emanuel was founded, Ashkenazi Jews, predominantly from Central Europe, began arriving in Curaçao in the 1920s and ‘30s and like their counterparts in the United States, took up as peddlers before becoming shop owners just as prominent as their Sephardic neighbors. The Ashkenazim established a social center and sports club and dedicated their own congregational building called Shaarei Tsedek in Scharloo in 1959. In the 1980s, the congregation sold its building to move into a more suburban location, though its new building, round in shape with a stunning glass dome, was not completed and dedicated until 2006. Shaarei Tsedek continues to follow Asheknazi Orthodox customs, though some membership will attend the snoa too.

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and her husband Morris Seibald (see sidebar, above) belong to both congregations. Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald was a founder of Shaarei Tsedek, while Sheila’s family has been members of Mikve Israel-Emanuel for seven generations.

When the two married some 40 years ago, there’s was considered a “mixed marriage” because of her Sephardic background and his Ashkenazic background. Up to the day of the wedding, Sheila told me, her future husband’s grandmother kept asking relatives, “Are you sure [Sheila is] Jewish? She doesn’t speak Yiddish!”

The couple’s three children refer to themselves as “Ashkefards” or “Porto-pols” — half and half. Morris, admittedly, prefers to spend Shabbat mornings at Shaarei Tsedek, and the couple alternates where they worship for the major holidays.

Every Friday night and Saturday morning, the snoa is filled with worshippers and the sounds of the grand pipe organ built in 1866 — the oldest pipe organ in the area and thought to be the second oldest in the Americas — and restored shortly after the congregation’s 350th anniversary in 2001 with a generous donation made by the Ministry for Interior and Kingdom Affairs of The Netherlands. Services are led by Cantor Avery Tracht. A local from the Adventist church plays on the Sabbath so the congregants do not have to violate that aspect of Jewish law.

Ritual objects housed in the museum are routinely used by the congregation. In a glass cabinet near the reception desk are ornate silver breastplates used for the High Holy Days and Rosh Chodesh. A silver chanukiah from 1716 is lit with olive oil during the week of Chanukah. Glass goblets are still smashed against a 300-year old wedding tray at the conclusion of nuptials celebrated in the synagogue.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life. There is a Hebrew school and an active BBYO chapter. Extended families routinely share Shabbat dinners together. All take pride in the long history of their beloved snoa.

More information about the synagogue and museum is available at snoa.com. This trip was sponsored by the Curacao Tourist Board and Diamond Public Relations.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)

A gentleman in South Africa, who I interviewed earlier this year, said to me when I thanked him for his time, “Kol yisrael chaverim. Do you know what this means? All of Israel are friends.”

Given recent events, I think the phrase kol yisrael mishpachah, all of Israel is family, might be even more apt.

When my editor asked me if I would like to take a press trip to Curaçao, I immediately responded, “Yes! Where’s that?” (This despite having visited Aruba two years before.) Then I called my husband, Avi Bardack, to tell him that I’d be traveling to the Caribbean without him.

We’re quite close to our families, both emotionally and geographically, so naturally Avi told his parents the news, who in turn told his grandparents, who in turn told other members of the extended family.

Not two days later I received a call from my father-in-law, Paul, telling me that his cousins, Maxine and James Perlmutter — who have known me most of my life independent of Avi — had traveled to Curaçao before and met cousins there.

Cousins in Curaçao?

Of course, I had to investigate.

Sure enough, when my tour group arrived at Mikve Israel-Emanuel on the last full day of the trip, there on the synagogue bulletin board was a birth announcement for a Seibald baby girl. Avi’s paternal grandmother, Charlotte Bardack, was Charlotte Sebold before marriage. Despite the difference in spelling, this must be the common link.

Avi managed to get contact information for the Curaçao Seibalds from the Perlmutters, and, taking a shot in the dark, I sent an email to Sheila Seibald-Delvalle and her husband, Morris Seibald. I would only be in Willemstad for a few hours on Friday morning, but could we meet up?

Immediately, Sheila sent me a note back, welcoming me to Curaçao and inviting me to stop by their shop before my flight the following afternoon.

The next morning, my gracious host from the tourism board, gave me a ride to Aventura, the lingerie shop owned by Sheila and Morris.

I was nervous at first; yes, this was family but distant family that I had never met. Sheila set me at ease right away. We chatted for two hours in the backroom office of their shop, with Morris dodging in and out between customers. Our conversation would have gone on longer were it not for my flight.

Sheila shared stories with me about growing up Jewish on the island, photos of her grandchildren and three children — two of whom live stateside — and her time studying in my neck of the woods, first at Goucher College and then at The George Washington University. Morris likewise attended GW. He further told me about weekly family Shabbat dinners and how his grandfather tutored him privately to keep alive cherished Orthodox Ashkenazi traditions.

The common link, my father-in-law discovered and Sheila confirmed, is through Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald. Another relative who is tracing the Seibald/Sebold family tree will be in touch soon.

Not only do I now have family in the Caribbean, but meeting Sheila and Morris has opened up the option to meet new relatives on the East Coast, in the Netherlands and in other parts of South America.

The Jewish people may be tiny in numbers, but we are big on family.

Ravens or Redskins? Picking a team, living between cities

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Ravens helmet (Trask Smith/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

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Redskins helmet (Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire DAW)

The NFL season is approaching with the defending Super Bowl XLIX champions, the New England Patriots, hosting the league’s annual kickoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10.

Although Howard County, geographically, lies between Baltimore and Washington D.C., locals seem to favor the Ravens over the Redskins.

“Central to northern Howard County is heavily Ravens [fans], and southern Howard County, around Laurel, is more Redskins,” said Eric Tanenholtz from Bet Chaverim Congregation, who is a lifelong Redskins fans. “I’d say, anecdotally, between people I know and the amount of Ravens materials displayed, countywide it is a 70-to-30 split favoring the Ravens.”

Tanenholtz said although the past few years have been difficult for the Redskins, his childhood memories of players such as John Riggins, Darrell Green and Art Monk, the former wide receiver who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008, keep him going. Jonathan Goldberg, also a member of Bet Chaverim, is a lifetime Ravens fan and agrees the community favors the boys in Baltimore.

For some, including Tanenholtz and Goldberg who grew up in Potomac and Baltimore, respectively, their team support is based on their hometown.

“Any time it’s Packers game day you’ll find me wearing my Packers yarmulke,” said Rabbi Daniel Plotkin from Beth Shalom, who is a native of Milwaukee, Wis. However, his congregation does not share his sentiment. “This congregation is very Baltimore oriented.”

Plotkin said he has seen a variety of fans in the community including Ravens, Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles.

“I’m originally from Philadelphia so I really like the Eagles,” said Dave Yanovitz from Columbia Jewish Congregation. “Being here for 15 years, I follow the Ravens, but from the look of the congregation, I notice a lot more Ravens jerseys on Sundays during Hebrew school.”

I’d say, anecdotally, between people I know, the amount of Ravens materials displayed, countywide it is a 70-to-30 split favoring the Ravens.

Henry Rossman, from Bet Chaverim, lives in Columbia but has had season tickets to Ravens games since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, when then owner of the Cleveland Browns Art Modell relocated the franchise. Similarly, more than a decade before that move, in 1984, the Baltimore Colts relocated to Indianapolis.

When asked who he supports, Rossman smiled and said the question was hardly necessary while motioning to his Ravens baseball cap.

“The president of our synagogue [supports] Cleveland teams,” said Rossman. “We forgive him, but we love him anyhow.”

Marty Leshin is the president of Bet Chaverim.

“I’m a frustrated Browns fan because we just never seem to get there,” said Leshin. “My son is a frustrated Redskins fan.”

Despite being a long way from Ohio, Leshin is not alone in his support of the Browns.

“My father was a big football fan and had no boys. But he was a big jock so I’m a big football fan,” said Susan Groman from Bet Chaverim. As a native of Cleveland, Groman said she can never support the Ravens, especially since they left Ohio. She has stayed loyal to her hometown.

“I’ve seen Jim Brown play,” said Groman referring to James Nathaniel “Jim” Brown, former fullback for the Browns who was named the greatest professional football player by Sporting News in 2002. “I live a sad existence as a Browns fan because we don’t ever do well anymore.”

Regardless of where the support lies, Plotkin thinks Howard County has a healthy sports culture.

“[Sports] get in the way of things for Judaism at times, but even people with different sporting views can come together,” said Plotkin. “Especially when the Packers beat the Ravens in the Super Bowl this year.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Reparations How much should the PLO pay in terror compensation?

081415_pa_ploThe Obama administration on Monday cited potential economic and political repercussions to the Palestinian Authority when it asked a federal judge to “carefully consider” the amount of bond he will require for the PA to appeal large damages awarded to American victims of terror.

At the conclusion of a lengthy civil trial in February, the PA and Palestine Liberation Organization were found liable in six terrorist attacks that killed and injured Americans. The case was brought under an antiterrorism law with a unique provision that tripled the judgment of $218.5 million to $655.5 million.

Plaintiffs in the case included 11 families affected by terrorist attacks in Israel that killed 33 and wounded more than 450 civilians between 2002 and 2004.

Lawyers for the PA and PLO argued that they cannot afford the judgment and plan to appeal.

Judge George B. Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York made clear last month, The New York Times reported, that he wanted a bond as a “significant demonstration” that the PA and PLO are “willing and able to pay a judgment, if a judgment is entered and is affirmed on appeal.”

Lawyers for the defendants filed a motion to stay the execution of the judgment and to waive the bond requirement, which they said typically would be 111 percent of the judgment.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the State Department, filed a “Statement of Interest of the United States of America” with Daniels.

According to The New York Times, the case has been a sore spot between the State Department and the Justice Department. The Justice Department said the government should not make it harder for terror victims to collect on judgments, while the State Department argued that keeping the PA viable is part of the United States’ strategy to maintain regional stability.

The differing views were not lost on the victims and their families.

“We’re gratified that the Department of Justice supports the rights of survivors of international terrorism to enforce their rights and collect a judgment; however, we’re disappointed that the State Department failed to take any stand against the PLO and PA’s policy of putting convicted terrorists on their payroll as soon as they are jailed,” said Kent Yalowitz, who led the trial team for the plaintiffs. “If the PA has enough to pay terrorists, they have enough to pay the judgment in this case.”

Sokolow v. PLO was brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act that enables American victims of international terror to sue in the United States. Throughout the seven-month civil trial, family members offered up emotional testimony and showed evidence that the PA employed terrorists and made payments to the families of suicide bombers convicted and imprisoned inside Israel.

Attached to the government’s filing was a declaration by Antony J. Blinken, deputy secretary of state, which outlined the administration’s concerns with the bond amount. The United States, Blinken noted, provides Palestinian institutions with billions of dollars.

“An event that deprives the PA of a significant portion of its revenues would likely severely compromise the PA’s ability to operate as a governmental authority,” Blinken wrote.

Insolvency and collapse of the PA would harm prospects for a two-state solution. He further contended that a collapse would break down security coordination between the PA and Israel and that ensuing insecurity and instability would creep into Jordan and Egypt.

Blinken underscored the humanitarian situation in Palestinian territory.

“The PA is in the midst of a deteriorating economic and political environment, generating a slow-onset humanitarian crisis in the West Bank that threatens to unravel the economic, security, and humanitarian gains of the past ten years,” wrote Blinken. “In Gaza, where the situation is far more dire, a worsening economic situation could be exploited by Hamas to create an atmosphere for violent conflict.”

Blinken’s statement also said that “the United States strongly supports” victims’ ability to receive “just compensation” from sponsors of terrorism and terrorist organizations. The government, he wrote, was not taking a position on the merits of the case.

A Threat to Jewish Civil Rights? Jerusalem Post editor rakes Obama for his pointed remarks on the Iran deal

Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor, speaks to a full sanctuary crowd at Beth Tfiloh, urging American Jews to fight against “a deliberate attempt on behalf of the President of the United States to scapegoat American Jewry.” (Melissa Gerr)

Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor, speaks to a full sanctuary crowd at Beth Tfiloh, urging American Jews to fight against “a deliberate attempt on behalf of the President of the United States to scapegoat American Jewry.” (Melissa Gerr)

Upward of 500 people assembled in Beth Tfiloh Congregations’s sanctuary to hear Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, expertly unfurl her thoughts about President Barack Obama’s promotion of the Iran nuclear deal, what its outcome could mean for Israel and the United States and his alleged threat to American Jewish civil rights.

In conversation with BT Rabbi Jonathan Gross, Glick, who made aliyah after college from her native Chicago, first took Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to task for their criticism of Jewish leaders, such as AIPAC, who were lobbying against the deal. She challenges the criticism by asking why it is acceptable for the teacher’s union to lobby billions of dollars to prevent principals from firing teachers, but “standing up to a deal that enables Iran to acquire nuclear weapons” is somehow corrupt, disloyal and treacherous.

“He acts as though there’s something illegitimate about Jews expressing concern … as if there’s something dirty about Jewish money and lobbyists,” she said.

Glick then detailed what she sees as a gross inconsistency of the president’s public remarks about the deal and the message he gave to American Jewish leaders in a private meeting earlier this week, for which she obtained the transcript.

She speaks from experience and with credibility not only because of her role as a journalist, but also as a core member of Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians from 1994 to 1996. She also served as assistant foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard in 2002.

She continued, Obama explains “every morning, noon and night” to the public, “‘If Congress kills the deal, [Iran] will re-engage in high-level uranium enrichment, and as a result, the U.S. will be required to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities,’” ostensibly starting a war.

Then, she said, the president changed his narrative and told the Jewish leaders, “‘There won’t be a war, Iran is going to engage in asymmetric retaliation and that will involve attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East but mainly against Israel, and Tel Aviv is going to have missiles raining down on it. The only one that will pay a price for this is Israel.’” He essentially threatened American Jews that the outcome is in their hands, she asserted.

Rabbi Menachem Goldberger of Tiferes Yisroel Congregation, who started the evening with a reading of Psalm 121, said, “I’m here because I strongly oppose the treaty with Iran. I think it’s dangerous to the entire world. I’m here in support; I’m expecting to hear more details.” He’s contacted Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and Rep. John Sarbanes to voice his concern.

“You can’t negotiate with people who want to destroy you. It’s a simple thing,” said Goldberger.

When asked about the Israelis’ perspective on the deal, Glick said they are uncharacteristically unified and are “praying that Congress will kill it,” citing that they recognize that if the deal disintegrates, Israel may “get war with rockets and conventional missiles” but if it goes through, there could be nuclear war, meaning that as a country, Israel knows how to “pick our poison.”

Israel has long understood the benefit of “catering to the United States for our national security,” she said, though now the country must adapt — psychologically and militarily — to the “sense of betrayal that the United States has abandoned us, that the U.S. administration is really siding with Iran against Israel.”

Glick then ramped up to her most impassioned message regarding American Jews’ civil rights.

In her words, Obama threatened American Jewish leaders that he will “scapegoat American Jews and claim that you are disloyal to the United States of America and that you owe your loyalties to a foreign government, because you’re concerned by a deal that places Israel at existential risk. Unless you abandon your right, as American citizens, to lobby your lawmakers to oppose a deal you think is a disaster … you can expect me to continue to scapegoat you.”

Glick found the president’s message “stunning.”

“I feel it’s important for American Jews to recognize what we’re dealing with,” warned Glick. She said that it is a calculated campaign to “delegitimize political actions on the part of Americans on behalf of issues that they care about as a community. This cannot go unanswered.”

The talk was interrupted by numerous bursts of applause and several announcements urging people to contact politicians and voice their opinion on the deal.

Attendee Arnie Feiner said he has already contacted Sens. Cardin and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and will do so again. He and his wife, Lisa, both 72 and members of Chizuk Amuno, came to the open event, sponsored by BT congregants Eli and Mila Burman, because “this is extremely important — one of the most important foreign affairs issues since the end of World War II,” said Arnie. “And the way we perceive it, it’s about the very existence of Israel as well as a threat to not only America but the world in general.”

“I don’t think American Jews can stand for this,” Glick continued, and called it “the Alamo of American Jewry,” adding that “American Jewry [could] completely lose its political power as a community in America.”

“This is really about Jewish civil rights,” she said. “When the president of the United States tells the American Jewish leadership, ‘if you don’t back off in your opposition to this deal I’m going to continue scapegoating you as a community’ … it doesn’t matter if [American Jews] think it’s a good deal or not, the
very notion that the president of the United States should speak that way to citizens of the United States of any ethnic background and any ethnic persuasion is basically un-American.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Neely Tal Snyder Remembered for Dedication, Passion Pearlstone Center program director, mother of three, died in car crash

Neely Tal Snyder (Photo provided)

Neely Tal Snyder (Photo provided)

Although her life was cut short, Neely Tal Snyder’s impact was felt in Baltimore’s Jewish community and beyond. The wife, mother of three daughters, advocate and educator died in a car crash Monday morning at the age of 37.

“She felt so strongly about the things that were important to her,” said Autumn Sadovnik, a friend and colleague. “She really cared about people. She was so smart, so compassionate.”

Snyder was working as program director at the Pearlstone Center at the time of her death.

On Monday morning, Snyder was stopped on Route 30 in Reisterstown waiting to make a left turn onto Mount Gilead Road, where Pearlstone’s property is located, when a Peterbilt tractor-trailer struck her Hyundai Elantra from behind, according to Baltimore County police, who responded to the crash at 7:28 a.m. She was transported to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where she was later declared deceased. The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.

The Baltimore County Crash Team is investigating to determine if charges will be filed and will present its report to the State Attorney’s office when the investigation is complete.

Snyder was a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and previously served as the director of teen engagement at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education as well as the informal Jewish educator at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa., from 2001 to 2008.

In a statement on the organization’s Facebook page, the Pearlstone Center remembered Snyder’s life as “one of dedication to excellence in Jewish education and of passionate commitment to her community.”

Pearlstone Executive Director Jakir Manela said everyone at Pearlstone is heartbroken, and during sessions with a grief counselor on Monday, employees in every department of Pearlstone spoke about how Snyder treated everyone with love and affection.

We need to work harder to be a more inclusive Jewish community. Her daughters, who meant so much to her, will carry on and continue to welcome people at her table who may not have felt welcomed at other tables.

“She’s very special, and the pain and the loss will never really go away,” Manela said. “She definitely, undoubtedly, and not just at Pearlstone but for the whole community, brought a love of Torah and a love of community and really principled action [and] leadership … into our lives. [She brought] community into our lives in real ways that benefited people all around her. And we were blessed to have her as a colleague and to witness that miracle of what she brought to the world.”

Snyder co-founded Jewish LGBT advocacy organization JQ Baltimore in 2012 with Mindy Dickler, among others, and while there are new co-chairs now leading the organization, Dickler said JQ Baltimore would not have come into being without Snyder.

“All that our group achieved in the past three-and-a-half years would not have happened were it not for Neely’s passion and drive and commitment that Jewish LGBT youth should feel welcome in their Jewish community,” Dickler said. “I’m certainly old enough to have been her mother, and yet I learned so very much from her. She was my mentor, my adviser, my collaborator. No one person could have achieved all that Neely accomplish in her all-too-short life.”

An email to Dickler from Catherine Bell, national program director at Boston-based LBGT advocacy group Keshet, said Snyder “had a vision for a better world and knew how to pursue that vision with warmth and intelligence and commitment.”

That warmth and her dedication was felt by her neighbors, including Rabbi Faith Cantor of Beth El Congregation, who said she crossed paths with Snyder when her family moved to their neighborhood and the families’ kids started playing together.

“Her home was always open for hospitality,” she said. “They were always sharing their lives with every part of the community. She didn’t tell you how to observe Shabbat, she showed you how to observe Shabbat.”

Cantor called Snyder a “connector” and said her energy and outside-the-box approach to education left a lasting impact on the community. She recalled an email from Snyder a couple of weeks ago inviting people to bring their friends to Family Farm Camp at the Pearlstone Center, an example of her warm personality.

“I never saw her without a smile,” she said. “I never heard her speak harshly. She had this positive outlook on everything.”

Beth El Director of Education Dr. Eyal Bor said he met with Snyder when planning for the school’s participation in Hebrew School on the Farm last year at the Pearlstone Center. Bor said her creative planning “brought a different taste to Hebrew Schools” and created a “positive and engaging experience” for students in light of trends of declining school enrollment.

“She was a passionate educator who was extremely committed,” he said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Director of Education Brad Cohen, who got to know Snyder during the past five years through CJE and the Pearlstone Center.

“Neely was an amazing colleague who was thoughtful, energetic, intentional, passionate, fun to work with and really was successful in the things she did,” he said. “She really tried to meet students where they were at.”

Sadovnik, who considers Snyder a mentor, said her legacy will be her passion for welcoming diverse groups of people and making sure everyone is able to contribute to society.

“We need to work harder to be a more inclusive Jewish community,” she said. “There are so many informal experiences that we have in our community that can engage people in different ways, and as a woman in the Jewish Community, you can engage in traditional and modern ways that are meaningful and have big impacts. Her daughters, who meant so much to her, will carry on and continue to welcome people at her table who may not have felt welcomed at other tables.”

Snyder is survived by her husband, Rabbi Joshua Snyder, executive director of Goucher Hillel; her daughters, Shalva, Ayelet and Nava; her parents, Jordan and Sheila Harburger; and her brother, Noah Harburger, and her sister, Aleeza Wilkins.

Funeral services were held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation on Wednesday. Interment is at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Garrison Forest Cemetery in Owings Mills. Please omit flowers.

Contributions in her memory may be sent to Goucher Hillel, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, MD 21204, the Pearlstone Center, 5425 Mount Gilead Road, Reisterstown, MD 21136 or JQ Baltimore, 1601 Guilford Ave., 2 South, Baltimore, MD 21202 or to the link below:

http://www.youcaring.com/rabbi-josh-snyder-and-daughters-shalva-ayelet-nava-411420#.VczejVJHyI8.facebook

Justin Katz contributed to this report.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com,
dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Shakeup at Anti-Iran Deal Group In Congress, Democrats stating their positions

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Monday was named chairman of an advocacy group opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. The move came after it became known that United Against Nuclear Iran’s president, former White House adviser Gary Samore, is a supporter of the agreement.

Samore was replaced as president by David Ibsen. The leadership shakeup came the same day as the group announced that it will finance and run television and digital ads as part of a national campaign against the deal.

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

“UANI has led the effort to economically isolate the Iranian regime, and its bipartisan and international expertise makes it a highly respected voice on the merits of the Iran agreement,” said Lieberman. “I am honored to assume this new leadership role at this important time.”

Lieberman, who has been a regular on television and radio criticizing the deal, also sits on the advisory board of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

That effort was bolstered last week when Senate leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his opposition.

“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Schumer said in a statement on Aug. 6. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor and, after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”

Supporters and detractors of the deal had lobbied Schumer hard. Liberal groups, such as MoveOn, furious with Schumer’s dissent, promised backlash in the form of halting donations.

With Republican lawmakers nearly unanimous in their opposition to the agreement, the question is: Do the Democrats have enough supporters to sustain a presidential veto if Congress votes to reject the deal?

On Monday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) became the 10th of 27 Jewish Democrats in Congress to back the deal.

Schumer’s counterpart, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week she would support the deal, which she described as “imperfect.”

“Our goal has been, and remains, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We have far more ability to achieve that outcome if we approve this deal,” she said in a statement.

Maryland’s Jewish Democratic senator remains undecided. Sen. Ben Cardin was instrumental in brokering the legislation that allows for the current 60-day congressional review of the nuclear agreement.

“Sen. Cardin considers this a tough decision and very consequential,” Sue Walitsky, Cardin’s spokeswoman, said in an email. “He believes that each senator and member of Congress has to make his or her own decision based on what is right for our country — not [what is right for the] president, but the national security of the United States.”

Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which opposes the agreement, took a group of 25 members to lobby Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) last week. In a meeting with the senator’s staffers, the group outlined their main reasons for opposing the deal, namely, a lack of “anytime, anywhere” inspections and Iran’s financing of terrorist organizations.

“We feel that this is the test of our generation. If this deal goes through, it can affect the whole order of the world and the safety of our children and grandchildren for generations to come,” said Stern.

Lobbyists aren’t the only ones increasing pressure on undecided politicians. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama made direct appeals to the American public.

Obama, in a speech at American University on Aug. 5, said Israel’s government was the only one that stood openly opposed to the nuclear agreement.

“This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated, and because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support,” he said.

We feel that this is the test of our generation. If this deal goes through, it can affect the whole order of the world and the safety of our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

Obama met with American Jewish communal leaders from AIPAC, J Street, the American Jewish Committee and others at the White House the day before, spending two hours poring over the deal. According to JTA, the president acknowledged the concerns that pro-Israel opponents of the deal were unfairly cast as warmongers.

However, that did not stop Obama from excoriating opponents as “ignorant” and likened Republicans in Congress to Iranian hard-liners.

“It’s those hard-liners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” said Obama, referring to extremists in Iran. “It’s those hard-liners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus.”

The day before Obama’s speech, Netanyahu told the American Jewish community to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran.

The deal gives Iran two paths to a bomb, Netanyahu told the more than 10,000 people who tuned into the Web address put together by the Jewish Federations of North America and member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal, or Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.”

He spent much of his talk pushing back on criticisms levied against him by supporters of the deal. He specifically attacked the allegations made that war is the alternative to the deal reached by the P5+1 nations and Iran on July 14.

“Don’t let the world’s foremost terrorist regime get its hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Netanyahu concluded. “Oppose this bad deal.”

The White House countered the Israeli prime minister’s points, sending off infographics from the new @TheIranDeal Twitter account using the #JFedTalk hashtag during the talk. Marie Harf, senior adviser for strategic communications at the State Department, jumped into the online conversation tweeting out from her own account: “Fact: If we walk away from @TheIranDeal, we walk away alone. #JFedTalk.”

Congress will decide in September whether to reject the deal.

JTA contributed to this report.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Neely Snyder Remembered for Dedication, Passion Pearlstone Center program director, mother of three, died in car crash

Neely Snyder

Neely Snyder

Although her life was cut short, Neely Tal Snyder’s impact was felt in Baltimore’s Jewish community and beyond. The wife, mother of three daughters, advocate and educator died in a car crash Monday morning at the age of 37.

“She felt so strongly about the things that were important to her,” said Autumn Sadovnik, a friend and colleague. “She really cared about people. She was so smart, so compassionate.”

Snyder was working as program director at the Pearlstone Center at the time of her death.

On Monday morning, Snyder was stopped on Route 30 in Reisterstown waiting to make a left turn onto Mount Gilead Road, where Pearlstone’s property is located, when a Peterbilt tractor-trailer struck her Hyundai Elantra from behind, according to Baltimore County police, who responded to the crash at 7:28 a.m. She was transported to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where she was later declared deceased. The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.

The Baltimore County Crash Team is investigating to determine if charges will be filed and will present its report to the State Attorney’s office when the investigation is complete.

Snyder was a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and previously served as the director of teen engagement at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education as well as the informal Jewish educator at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa., from 2001 to 2008.

In a statement on the organization’s Facebook page, the Pearlstone Center remembered Snyder’s life as “one of dedication to excellence in Jewish education and of passionate commitment to her community.”

Pearlstone Executive Director Jakir Manela said everyone at Pearlstone is heartbroken, and during sessions with a grief counselor on Monday, employees in every department of Pearlstone spoke about how Snyder treated everyone with love and affection.

“She’s very special, and the pain and the loss will never really go away,” Manela said. “She definitely, undoubtedly, and not just at Pearlstone but for the whole community, brought a love of Torah and a love of community and really principled action [and] leadership … into our lives. [She brought] community into our lives in real ways that benefited people all around her. And we were blessed to have her as a colleague and to witness that miracle of what she brought to the world.”

Snyder co-founded Jewish LGBT advocacy organization JQ Baltimore in 2012 with Mindy Dickler, among others, and while there are new co-chairs now leading the organization, Dickler said JQ Baltimore would not have come into being without Snyder.

“All that our group achieved in the past three-and-a-half years would not have happened were it not for Neely’s passion and drive and commitment that Jewish LGBT youth should feel welcome in their Jewish community,” Dickler said. “I’m certainly old enough to have been her mother, and yet I learned so very much from her. She was my mentor, my adviser, my collaborator. No one person could have achieved all that Neely accomplish in her all-too-short life.”

An email to Dickler from Catherine Bell, national program director at Boston-based LBGT advocacy group Keshet, said Snyder “had a vision for a better world and knew how to pursue that vision with warmth and intelligence and commitment.”

Neely Snyder with her husband, Joshua, and daughters.

Neely Snyder with her husband, Joshua, and daughters in 2011.

That warmth and her dedication was felt by her neighbors, including Rabbi Faith Cantor of Beth El Congregation, who said she crossed paths with Snyder when her family moved to their neighborhood and the families’ kids started playing together.

“Her home was always open for hospitality,” she said. “They were always sharing their lives with every part of the community. She didn’t tell you how to observe Shabbat, she showed you how to observe Shabbat.”

Cantor called Snyder a “connector” and said her energy and outside-the-box approach to education left a lasting impact on the community. She recalled an email from Snyder a couple of weeks ago inviting people to bring their friends to Family Farm Camp at the Pearlstone Center, an example of her warm personality.

“I never saw her without a smile,” she said. I never heard her speak harshly. She had this positive outlook on everything.”

Beth El Director of Education Dr. Eyal Bor said he met with Snyder when planning for the school’s participation in Hebrew School on the Farm last year at the Pearlstone Center. Bor said her creative planning “brought a different taste to Hebrew Schools” and created a “positive and engaging experience” for students in light of trends of declining school enrollment.

“She was a passionate educator who was extremely committed,” he said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Director of Education Brad Cohen, who got to know Snyder during the past five years through CJE and the Pearlstone Center.

“Neely was an amazing colleague who was thoughtful, energetic, intentional, passionate, fun to work with and really was successful in the things she did,” he said. “She really tried to meet students where they were at.”

Sadovnik, who considers Snyder a mentor, said her legacy will be her passion for welcoming diverse groups of people and making sure everyone is able to contribute to society.

“We need to work harder to be a more inclusive Jewish community,” she said. “There are so many informal experiences that we have in our community that can engage people in different ways, and as a woman in the Jewish Community, you can engage in traditional and modern ways that are meaningful and have big impacts. Her daughters, who meant so much to her, will carry on and continue to welcome people at her table who may not have felt welcomed at other tables.”

Snyder is survived by her husband, Rabbi Joshua Snyder, executive director of Goucher Hillel; her daughters, Shalva, Ayelet and Nava; her parents, Jordan and Sheila Harburger; and her brother, Noah Harburger, and her sister, Aleeza Wilkins.

Funeral services will be held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road, Pikesville on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 3:30 p.m. Interment is at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Garrison Forest Cemetery in Owings Mills. Please omit flowers.

Contributions in her memory may be sent to Goucher Hillel, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, MD 21204, the Pearlstone Center, 5425 Mount Gilead Road, Reisterstown, MD 21136 or JQ Baltimore, 1601 Guilford Ave., 2 South, Baltimore, MD 21202.

Justin Katz contributed to this report.

Schumer, Engel to Oppose Iran Deal

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) ANNOUNCED HIS OPPOSITION TO THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) ANNOUNCED HIS OPPOSITION TO THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL.

Two of the most watched Jewish lawmakers in Congress announced they will vote to disapprove of the Iran deal.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) both said Thursday evening they had considered the issue carefully before their decision.

“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Schumer said in a statement obtained by The New York Times. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”

Schumer, a Jewish lawmaker from New York who is poised to become his party’s leader in the Senate in 2017, and Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives, had come under intense pressure from the White House and critics of the deal both because of the intensity among some Jewish New Yorkers and because of their influence as unabashed supporters of Israel.“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Schumer said in a statement obtained by The New York Times. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”

“The answers I’ve received simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East,” Engel was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Earlier that day, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she would support the Iran nuclear deal.

She described the deal as “imperfect,” but said in a statement, “Our goal has been, and remains, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We have far more ability to achieve that outcome if we approve this deal‎.”

Congress has a window until the end of September to kill the deal, but opponents of the deal must garner two thirds majorities in both chambers to overcome President Barack Obama’s pledged veto. Most Republicans want to kill the deal, making the battleground for votes among Democrats.

MoveOn, a liberal group that backs the deal, announced within minutes of Schumer’s declaration that it would launch a donor strike targeting the Democrats’ Senate reelection committee. Such a strike could send a message to the party’s establishment, while freeing up the grassroots movement’s base to give to individual senators.

“The vast majority of Democratic voters — the people who elected President Obama in part because of our shared belief that war must always be a last resort — will not stand for it,” said a statement from Ilya Sheyman, the group’s political action director. “Frankly, we thought Senator Schumer and other Democrats in Washington had learned their lesson after being misled into supporting a misguided war of choice in Iraq.”

Six major powers and Iran reached the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions on July 14. Israel’s government, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, opposes the deal.

Melissa Apter contributed to this report.

Presidential Call Obama invokes Iraq War, tells nuclear deal supporters to ‘get active’

President Barack Obama invoked the Iraq War to rally liberal organizers to make their voices heard in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

During a 22-minute phone call during the evening of July 30 with thousands of primarily Jewish organizers, Obama said, “One of the frustrations that I’ve always had about the run-up to the Iraq War is that everybody got really loud and really active after it was too late.”

Obama issued a challenge to listeners to “get more active and loud and involved and informed and start making your voices heard with respect to members of Congress because the lobbying that’s taking place on the other side is fierce, it is well financed, it is relentless.”

The president specifically drew attention to “the $20 million that’s being spent lobbying against the deal on TV ads that are already running” and linked those opposition groups to columnists and “former administration officials who were responsible for us getting into the Iraq War.”

Obama’s comments were a thinly veiled swipe at Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a new action group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has reportedly raised between $20 million and $40 million to shore up opposition to the agreement.

J Street, the liberal self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, has raised $5 million dollars to promote the deal and continues to fundraise, according to Jessica Rosenblum, director of communications for J Street.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, shot back at the president’s comments, particularly in reference to lobbyists.

“Apparently, the president’s claim that he ‘welcomes a robust debate’ was just rhetoric like his administration’s repeated pledges to make Iran submit to ‘anytime, anywhere inspections,” Brooks said in a statement. “President Obama should stick to the facts and stop demonizing Americans who are rightly skeptical of his dubious deal with the Tehran regime.”

Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, dismissed the RJC’s criticism.

“I listened to those words and heard, ‘This is what’s lining up against you on the other side of the line — get organized and be able to play the game with equal force,’” said Rosenbaum. “I view those comments as nothing more than a locker-room speech.”

According to Rosenbaum, the NJDC will use resources, both monetary and people, to support the agreement, which the organization concluded was “a good deal for the U.S. and for Israel, and more broadly, for the world as a whole.”

Patrick Dorton, a spokesman with CNFI, declined to comment on the specific allegation by the president that the opposition is composed of “billionaires who happily finance superPACs.”

“We hope that Americans and members of Congress take a close look at all the details,” said Dorton. “This is a very important decision. This isn’t just a so-so deal. It’s a terrible deal for the United States. Our campaign is a public education effort, and we want members of Congress to look at the fine print.”

Congress is currently within the 60-day review period. Members could vote in September to scuttle the deal. Detractors and supporters of the Iran nuclear agreement are using the August congressional recess to ratchet up pressure.

With the clock ticking down, Obama urged supporters of the deal to act, particularly as congressional
offices are being flooded with phone calls from the opposition. Lawmakers, the president said, are starting to get “squishy” from the “political heat.”

The president reiterated that he has “never been more certain about a policy decision — than this one right here. But the politics are going to be tough if you all don’t get involved and don’t get active.”

Much of the phone call was spent refuting criticisms levied by deal opponents and reiterating his support for “friends and allies” in the region.

Republicans have mostly declared themselves opposed to the deal, which means increased pressure is being placed on undecided Democrats, most notably the Jewish Democrat from New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Obama called 20 House Democrats to the White House on July 29 to sell them on the deal. Also in attendance were Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has come out in support of the deal, on July 30 said that Democrats who vote to override a promised presidential veto would face political consequences. Like Obama would do later that day, she cast this summer’s events as a fight against well-funded opposition.

“In the absence of your voices,” said Obama, “you’re going to see the same array of forces that got us into the Iraq War leading to a situation in which we forgo a historic opportunity and we are back on the path of potential military conflict.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com