Emotional Meet Team USA settles into Berlin’s past and present at European Maccabi games

080715_maccabiBERLIN — After a very early arrival in the German capital, a group of jetlagged athletes, parents and volunteers from the American delegation joined their British counterparts for dinner on July 26 prior to the official start of the 2015 European Maccabi Games.

They mingled together in the expansive Estrel Hotel, where the delegations from every competing country are staying, and listened to several keynote speakers sound themes of continuity, Jewish pride and remembrance.

Each speaker, including British Ambassador to Germany Simon McDonald, impressed upon the 550 athletes present that they were in Berlin not just to compete and represent each of their countries, but also to learn from history — and to understand the significance of why they were in this place, at this time.

“The relationship between the two countries” — Israel and Germany — “is one of the most difficult,”
McDonald said in his speech. “But it’s also one of the great success stories of the post-Second World War” weltanschauung.

“I hope everyone has a brilliant time, not only personally, but also for what having the games in this city stands for,” he concluded. He also poked fun at the Americans’ expense for their participation in the games, which, he said with a laugh, was “puzzling,” as they are not part of Europe.

Speaking for the Americans prior to their departure from Maccabi USA’s Philadelphia headquarters, team manager Daniel Kurtz said that even though he has traveled to Israel for the Maccabiah Games, which
occurs every four years as a kind of Jewish Olympiad, this is the first time he has been motivated to attend the European Maccabi Games in his 15 years with the team.

“The European Games never had much draw to me. It’s never been something that really spoke to me as something I really wanted to do,” said Kurtz. He added that when Maccabi USA executive director Jed Margolis and EMG chairman of USA Organizing Committee Tonja Magerman “offered me the opportunity to go to Berlin, it was completely different.”

The spectacle and statement of having so many Jews — some 2,000 athletes from 36 countries — so
publicly present in Berlin held such power for him that he wanted to be a part of it, he said.

“To be part of Americans and Jews in Berlin, marching in the shadows of the Nazis and saying, ‘We’re still here and you’re not’” compelled him, he said, especially the idea of competing in this particular stadium.

Kurtz has been involved with Maccabi in various capacities, from coaching and managing to even participating as an athlete in judo competitions. He was trick-or-treating with his family on Halloween last year when he got the call from Margolis and Magerman inviting him to be team manager for the United States.

He is overseeing the 210 American athletes, coaches, family members and trainers in Berlin, as well as acting as liaison between the United States and the other countries.

The athletes, who each had to raise $5,800 in order to go, also spoke about a unique opportunity to compete in Berlin.

Following their bleary-eyed arrival in the German capital, the American delegation visited the Grunewald area of the city for a memorial service after they had settled in.

Grunewald is the site of the Berlin-Grunewald train station, which houses a memorial marking Track 17, the spot in which thousands of Jews from Berlin were deported from the city and sent to ghettos and concentration camps.

It was an emotional morning, said Maccabi USA executive director Jed Margolis.

Donna Orender, vice president of Maccabi USA, is in Berlin with her twin sons who are playing basketball for the open and youth teams, and they both read at the service. They honored Jewish Olympians killed
in the Holocaust, as well as the Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

“There were about 250 of us, and everyone was silent,” said Tonja Magerman, the European Maccabi Games chairman of USA Organizing Committee. “It was a storied moment.”

Orender, who is from Jacksonville, Fla., played basketball herself and participated in her first Maccabi Games in Israel in 1985. She is “thrilled and ecstatic” that her sons, Zachary and Jacob, 18, are competing in this year’s European contest.

“I want them to succeed competitively,” she said, “but the cultural lessons are far more important.”

The educational component of what Maccabi gives these athletes is “extraordinarily special,” she said.  In this case, the educational aspect included the American delegation visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on July 28 and gaining a more nuanced comprehension of the significance of being in Berlin at this time.

She added that “it’s an incredibly emotional and gratifying experience” to be in Berlin with her sons and
visiting the city with them as they prepare to compete in the same sport she played.

The dinner with the British delegation had been in the works for a few months, according to Maccabi USA President Ron Carner.

He knew that the American and British delegations were both going to be in Berlin ahead of the official start of the games and worked accordingly to plan a big event for the athletes.

This was the first time an event like this between two delegations had been planned, Magerman said. “It speaks to the relationship between America and Britain and how we support each other,” she added.

The players were treated to a buffet dinner and took the opportunity to meet and get to know one another — before they become opponents later on the field.

Carner, who has been president for six years, said having the games hosted in Berlin is “appropriate, exciting, challenging and emotional.”

He recalled the previous European Maccabi Games in Vienna in 2011, which evoked for many the memories of Hitler announcing the annexation of Austria.

“Here we are, four years later in Berlin, the heart of Nazism,” he said, speaking of the city’s history. “To say the least, it’s a very significant and important event.”


The Ties that Bind In Eastern Europe, Jewish communities are woven with memory, culture

Legend has it that Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, was founded by Jason and the Argonauts. The heroes of Greek mythology stole the Golden Fleece from King Aetes and fled across the Black Sea and up the Danube until they rested on the modest Ljubljana River.

The way Robert Waltl figures it, if legend is anything like life, there undoubtedly were Jews among the Argonauts. In the lands of Eastern Europe, you never know who will turn out to be a Jew.

Ljubljana, Slovenia (©iStockphoto.com/TomasSereda)

Ljubljana, Slovenia (©iStockphoto.com/TomasSereda)

Waltl, an actor and activist, is director of Ljubljana’s Mini Teater (mini-theater) and Jewish Cultural Center. I met him in Berlin last month on a weeklong tour of Jewish Germany sponsored by the German Foreign Office. Waltl was one of four participants from Eastern Europe. In conversations and in emails following the tour, they described Jewish life that was tenuous, fragile, yet surprisingly resilient. Surprising, at least, to an American Jew accustomed to abundance in all things, including the number of Jews.

Slovenia, tucked between Austria, Italy and Croatia, lost 90 percent of its Jews in the Holocaust. It emerged from the war with 200 Jewish souls. Most left the country, Waltl says. In Slovenia’s 2002 census, 99 citizens declared themselves of Jewish religion, he says, although unofficially the number is believed to be higher.

Waltl tries to knit this community together through culture — “theater and puppet performances, concerts, literary evenings, exhibitions, lectures, educational programs about the Holocaust, Hebrew lessons,” he says. The Chanukah menorah lighting front of the center at 3 Kriûevniöka St. attracts public officials as well as interested citizens. Holocaust Remembrance Day and an International Festival of Tolerance are also on the annual calendar.

“I see culture as an instrument for creating tolerance,” Waltl says. “Culture, unlike religion, offers the gift of discussion about various issues with different people. Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.”

Not everyone in this community who is drawn to Jewish culture is a Jew. That includes Waltl, a burly 50-year-old with short-cropped graying blond hair. Born in Austria, he came to Ljubljana as a young man to study theater. A few years ago, he learned that his great-great-grandfather may have been Jewish. Around that time he found out that a Jewish actress friend was a relative of his.

He began studying about Judaism, learning Hebrew and collecting Judaica. He attends religious services, although he is not religious.

“I even started to wear a kippa to all bigger events in order to raise the awareness among fellow citizens about the existence of Jews in Slovenia,” he says. “Since I discovered my Jewish roots, I felt obligated as a public figure to make sure that Jewish culture that left behind its traces here in Slovenia regains its deserved importance.”

Bukovina is the Eastern European territory with large Jewish populations that changed hands many times during the 20th century, with numbers declining at each turn. The city of Chernivtsi was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and today is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of about 1,300. The Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews helps preserve the memory of lives lost in the Holocaust. (Photo courtesy of The Bukovina Society of the Americas)

Bukovina is the Eastern European territory with large Jewish populations that changed hands many times during the 20th century, with numbers declining at each turn. The city of Chernivtsi was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and today is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of about 1,300. The Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews helps preserve the memory of lives lost in the Holocaust. (Photo courtesy of The Bukovina Society of the Americas)

Ghosts of Old Bukovina
Bukovina is one of those Eastern European territories with large Jewish populations that changed hands several times in the 20th century, going from bad to worse at each turn. At the end of World War I, Bukovina passed from Austria-Hungary to Romania. A part, including the city of Chernivtsi, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The Soviets exiled bourgeois Jews to Siberia. The next year the Nazis invaded. Today Chernivtsi is in western Ukraine, with a Jewish population of perhaps 1,300. At the Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovinian Jews, Anna Yamchuk helps preserve the memory of the lives snuffed out in the Holocaust.

Yamchuk, 27, is the museum’s public relations and program manager. Walking between meetings one day in Berlin, she told me how terrifying it is for her as a Ukrainian that Russia’s Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and continues to threaten the country militarily. The West is just watching, she said. It is doing nothing.

It’s easy to draw parallels between the latent threat to this region and the devastating war that was fought here 70 years ago. The museum in which Yamchuk works calls up the ghosts of old Bukovina, where many nationalities mingled and Jews lived with relative freedom until Austria lost the war.

“I believe that the work that we do is important for Jews, for the people of Chernivtsi and Ukrainians in general,” says Yamchuk, who is not Jewish. “Here we are preserving the memory about the history and culture of a great community — Bukovinian Jews. The memory that cannot be lost.”

Here, as in Ljubljana, one can join the Jewish community by remembering it. The national act of remembering what happened to the Jews, liberals believe, will promote tolerance.

The museum also promotes a living culture, she adds. “We do some projects with students and young people. These projects aim not only at discovering important historical facts, but also at promoting tolerance, understanding and friendship. This is a small contribution into forming open-minded civil society.”

The Sky of Belarus
My Eastern European tour mates left me with the impression that, although they came from nearby, their Jewish communities were a world away.
They needed support from the West to give them the oxygen necessary to flourish.

“Communities in Eastern Europe don’t feel secure and this is for several reasons,” says Marcin Wodzinski, director of the Center for the Culture and Languages of Jews at the University of Wroclaw, in western Poland. “With the exception of Ukraine, they are tiny, suffering from extensive out-migration, either in the past or very recently. Simply, they feel very fragile and rightly so.”

Wodzinski is neither Jewish nor a specialist in contemporary Jewish life — the 19th century is his field of study — but his deep knowledge of Jewish subjects is obvious.

Eastern European Jews suffer from an identity crisis, he says in an email. “It is rooted in the Holocaust, frozen through the communist times and actually aggravated by the post-communist transformations.” At the same time, it’s easier to be a Jew in Eastern Europe.

A candle stands among a set of stolpelsteine or stumbling stones in Frankfurt. The stones memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. (TILMAN VOGLER/EPA/Newscom)

A candle stands among a set of stolpelsteine or stumbling stones in Frankfurt. The stones memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. (TILMAN VOGLER/EPA/Newscom)

While walking in Frankfurt, we passed a group of 22 stolpelsteine — so-called stumbling stones embedded in the pavement that memorialize spots where Jews had lived before the Holocaust. Galina Levina, an architect from Belarus, saw them and froze. The tiles stated the Jews named on them had been deported from Frankfurt to Minsk, where Levina lives.

“During the Second World War, Jews from Germany, Austria, the former Czechoslovakia and Poland were deported to and killed in the Minsk ghetto and the Maly Trostenets extermination camp,” she explains in an email.

“I was at the end point, where the fates of the 22 names listed on these tiles had been broken,” she says. “The last thing these people saw was the sky of Belarus.”

It is a great responsibility for those who live freely under the sky of Belarus today “to preserve the memory of the names and fates of the Holocaust victims and all the events of the Shoah.”

Levina, 53, has a quiet, disciplined presence. She carries out that responsibility as an architect and as first vice-chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Organizations and Communities, an umbrella group for the ex-Soviet republic’s 60,000 Jews.

She also acts as the daughter of Leonid Levin, the union’s chairman until his death in 2014 and a prominent architect and artist. Levin’s work included designing Holocaust memorials around Belarus.

“Father had planned to carry out the project of a monument in Trostenets, in the place where the Jews from Minsk and European countries, partisans and civilians were exterminated,” Levina says. “I am working on this project together with a group of architects and sculptors. It is the duty of memory for me. Not only is it a monument, it is also great public activity to preserve the historical memory and explore the fates of the perished.”

Robert Waltl in Ljubljana, Slovenia:  “Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.” (dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com)

Robert Waltl in Ljubljana, Slovenia:  “Our Jewish center provides opportunities for cultural enriching and acquiring knowledge, openness and generosity.” (Photo courtesy of Jure Eržen/Delo)

Levina says that her Jewish community, while different than it was before the Holocaust, “is different nowadays, but it is developing after passing what seemed to be the point of no return.”

Wodzinski, watching Jewish life unfold from Poland, agrees.

“I’ve heard this story of the end of Eastern European Jewry so many times for nearly 40 years. It is certainly in process of transformation. It needs to reinvent itself, but I’m confident it will develop and thrive.”

When Eastern European economies improve, he predicts, they’ll act as a magnet for Israelis and other Jews, just as Berlin is today.

“There are also still East Europeans who search for their Jewish identity,” he says. “Even if not all of them become really Jewish, I’m confident some of them will and they will make a new chapter of Eastern European Jewry.”


Reisterstown Native Refines Her Path Through AVODAH Rottenberg enters dental school with new perspective on her chosen career

Jenn Rottenberg is wrapping up a year of service with AVODAH prior to dental school. (Provided)

Jenn Rottenberg is wrapping up a year of service with AVODAH prior to dental school. (Provided)

When Jenn Rottenberg had to figure out what to do with a year between college and dental school, she found what she was looking for in AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.

The Washington, D.C.-based arm of the organization would allow her to spend a year in social action work in the medical field. Her year as a patient advocate, living communally with other corps members and participating in Jewish learning has inspired her to pursue the path of working in community health.

Rottenberg has spent the past year with Community of Hope, which provides underserved Washington families with resources in health care, housing and education. Her work was broad and included helping out with prescription refills, medication authorization, case management and access to food and housing.

Through working with patients, as well as a nutrition/weight loss group and a diabetes group, she realized a lot of the families she was working with didn’t have proper information on their dental health. Some hadn’t been to the dentist in two years, and others would only go if a problem came up.

“From seeing the perspectives of different people coming from a different environment than I was, because of the AVODAH experience I was really exposed to a different population and saw how I wanted to be able to make changes as a dentist in those populations,” Rottenberg, 23, said.

The Reisterstown native’s time at AVODAH ends this month, and she starts dental school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, in the fall.

Although Rottenberg has been involved in social action from a young age — she was the social action tikkun olam member of USY through Beth Israel Congregation, interned at Jewish Volunteer Connection in college and performed social action through her Jewish sorority at the University of Maryland, College Park — that type of work seemed like a separate part of her Jewish life. AVODAH brought her two worlds together.

Founded in New York City in 1998, AVODAH opened its second site in Washington in 2002. In its 13 years, the Washington corps members, which included two houses with 22 participants in the 2014-15 year, have helped out more than 316,000 people.

In Washington, AVODAH has partnered with 44 local antipoverty organizations over the years, including women’s shelter N Street Village, homelessness advocacy organization Miriam’s Kitchen and service provider Bread for the City. In other cities, AVODAH works with organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, a partner in New Orleans, and Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a partner in New York City. The year-long work placements have corps members working on issues such as leadership development for at-risk youth, legal assistance for homeless and mentally ill adults and health education for low-income families.

In addition to the work placements, corps members live together and because of that share their experiences and end up referring clients to each other.

“The work that we do can be really stressful, it can be draining, and coming home to people who are working in similar fields is pretty nice,” Rottenberg said.

Weekly evening programs, retreats and workshops educate corps members on the causes and effects of urban poverty and methods of social change while bringing in Jewish learning and thought.

“AVODAH’s work is looking to spark the next generation of Jewish leaders who will work to make the world a better place in their work, in their philanthropy and in their spare time,” AVODAH executive director Cheryl Cook said via email. “We have an immersive Jewish model …the natural outcome is a more holistic identity.”

And Rottenberg isn’t the only one who has been changed by AVODAH. Eighty-three percent of alumni say their AVODAH experience altered their long-term career plans, and 85 percent said that AVODAH helped them find their place in the Jewish community.

“I really wanted to understand the root causes of a lot of social issues and see how I, as a Jew, can make a difference in my field,” Rottenberg said. “This year has really changed the way I thought about a lot of social issues, and I think it’s definitely shaped me moving forward in the dental and public health fields in how I want to effect that change as a Jew in Baltimore.”


Becoming a Jew … again ‘Shrek 2’ screenwriter brings his story of rediscovery to Baltimore

Jews for Judaism, the organization that works to strengthen and preserve Jewish identity through education, will launch its social organization for young Jewish professionals, J-Alliance, on Aug. 11. The event — Why Pray When You Can Party? — features screenwriter David Weiss at the University of Maryland, Baltimore SMC Campus Center.

Weiss, whose credits include “Shrek 2,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and “The Smurfs,” will share his stories and experiences about being Jewish.

Locally, Jews for Judaism works to combat the influx of Jews for Jesus missionaries that target Jewish families in the Baltimore area, particularly during the summer months.

David Weiss (Provided)

David Weiss (Provided)

“Our main focus is education; a lot of people in the workforce don’t have a Jewish education,” said Aviva Cohen, head administrator for Jews for Judaism. “When missionaries come up to you, it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’ Our goal is to teach people the answers to the questions [about Judaism], and even if people don’t know the answer right away, [we help them] find out theanswer.”

Cohen said she has found a lot of people who, when questioned about Judaism, are unsure of the answers. Her co-chair for the event, Tzvi Urszuy, has had similar experiences. Urszuy recalls sitting next to a man at a Shabbat dinner who identified as Christian but had a Jewish mother. The man, albeit too shy to ask, had questions about Judaism and despite sitting among Yeshiva-educated Orthodox Jews, Urszuy was the only one who could answer his questions.

“Lots of people have learned a lot of ritualistic ideas about Judaism, but they don’t understand what Judaism has to offer with that,” said Urszuy.

We have the right to be happy, we have the right to party, but at times, what we lack is the capacity.

Weiss has always identified as Jewish but was not observant until adulthood. For a large part of his young life, he was socially involved in church activities. However, during time in Dublin, Ireland, while working on “All Dogs go to Heaven,” he met an Orthodox Jew named David Steinberg. Weiss, who had little to no experience with Orthodox Jews, noticed Steinberg’s attention to eating kosher and keeping the Sabbath.

“We started chatting, and I asked him, ‘Why are you still Jewish? The rituals are beautiful but it’s a dead religion,’” said Weiss. “He was able to show me the opposite. He had such joy and pride in the practice, and he showed me that this religion was still vibrant. I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute I’m Jewish, maybe I need to think this through a little more.’”

For some time after that conversation Weiss had self-doubt about Christianity. Eventually, he met radio show host Michael Medved at a film festival, and although Weiss believed Medved was Christian, he turned out to be Jewish and invited Weiss for a Shabbat lunch.

“It was spectacular, a little like Christmas dinner, and I was amazed to find out they did that every week,” said Weiss. After that, Weiss slowly pursued Judaism more and drifted away from Christianity. He event-ually married, his wife converted to Judaism, and they both stepped into the mikvah as a way to officially start their Jewish life together.

“It took a long time for us to get where we are; we didn’t set out to be kosher or anything, we took it in small steps,” said Weiss.

The idea of enjoying the journey and not worrying about the outcome is particularly important to Weiss’ message, which for this event focuses on his pursuit of success in Hollywood while maintaining a rich Jewish life. He believes that worrying about the outcome prevents people from enjoying the process, and missing out on the process prevents people from achieving their fullest potential.

“In ‘Shrek 2,’ Donkey tells Shrek he has the right to remain silent’ and Shrek responds ‘Yes, Donkey. You have the right to remain silent, what you lack is the capacity,’” said Weiss. “We have the right to be happy, we have the right to party, but at times, what we lack is the capacity.”


Why Pray When You Can Party?
University of Maryland, Baltimore SMC Campus Center
621 W. Lombard St. | Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Visit east.jewsforjudaism.org/jalliance to purchase tickets. For more information, call Aviva Cohen at 410-500-5430 or email Aviva@jewsforjudaism.org.



What’s in a Number? Parsing the polls to find where Jews stand on Iran nuclear deal

Millions are being spent on advertisements aimed at swaying the public and putting pressure on lawmakers to either denounce or support the Iran nuclear agreement. But where do American Jews stand on this hot topic?

The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles poll concluded that American Jews support the deal by a margin of 20 percentage points, 48 to 28, while the poll sponsored by J Street found an equal margin of support, but with a 60 to 40 breakdown. By contrast, The Israel Project survey found a slight majority of those polled opposed the deal with 47 percent against and 44 percent in favor.

Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said that given how “malleable” the public is regarding the deal, how questions are framed has a significant impact on respondents’ answers.

Hundreds of people protest against the Iran nuclear deal on July 26 in Los Angeles. (Peter Duke)

Hundreds of people protest against the Iran nuclear deal on July 26 in Los Angeles. (Peter Duke)

Generally speaking, “when you give people a little bit of information, you get a little bit more support for the agreement,” said Kiley.

But, the TIP poll, designed by Nathan Klein, founder of Olive Tree Strategies, found the opposite to be true.

When the nuclear topic was first put in front of respondents, arguments for and against the deal were presented, but in the middle of the survey, respondents were asked to rank from “very concerning” to “not at all concerning” 10 concerns that “foreign policy experts” said they had regarding the deal.

Among the statements respondents were asked to rank were: “Iran will receive an estimated $100 billion-$150 billion in this agreement, money that can be used to support terrorism.” And: “The sanctions on Iran that are related to terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will also be lifted despite no progress or promises from Iran on these issues.”

Following the statement section, respondents were asked, “Now that you have some more information, in your own opinion, do you think that Congress should vote to approve the deal and lift sanctions on Iran or reject the deal and NOT lift sanctions on Iran?”

Respondents were asked that same question at three points during the survey.

Near the beginning of the survey, 40 percent approved the deal while 45 percent rejected it. Near the end of the survey, approval of the deal dropped to 30 percent while disapproval rose to 58 percent.

Klein told JTA that he designed the questions to “educate” respondents. He said he wanted to gauge how respondents’ views would change with more information.

However, the methodology Klein employed is not uncommon, said Kiley, particularly if the researcher wants to see how “attitudes changed through additional information given,” but for a “clean read” of public opinion, look to the responses given before additional information or statements are offered to respondents.

TIP Jewish respondents, when asked: “Recently, the United States and five other countries (known as the P5+1) reached an agreement with Iran regarding the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions in Iran’s  nuclear program. Based on what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?” Of the 1,034 respondents, 44 percent approved, 47 percent disapproved, and 9 percent didn’t know or didn’t offer an opinion.

The J Street poll, designed by Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, a public opinion research firm that works for Democratic candidates, and administered to 1,000 respondents between July 21 and 23, only asked two questions specific to the Iran nuclear deal, one regarding the deal itself and the other regarding how Congress should vote.

Read one of the two Iran-related questions: “As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Respondents had the options of strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose and strongly oppose. “No opinion” was not an option as it was in the other two surveys.

Klein criticized the omission, telling JTA that it introduced a bias in favor of the Iran deal, but Gerstein pushed back stating that there is widespread distrust of the government, which, if anything, would cause respondents without an opinion to oppose the deal.

That’s the inherent flaw with online surveys, said Kiley. Both the J Street and TIP polls were conducted online. Only the Jewish Journal utilized a telephone survey.

Kiley said it’s a common practice for those administering a phone survey to not offer “an explicit ‘I don’t know’ as an option, [but] if a respondent doesn’t offer an opinion or if the person says ‘I don’t know,’ that response can be registered; but with an online poll, you don’t [always] have that option.”

“One of the benefits of phone polls,” she added, “is that there is a probability that any American with a phone can be dialed randomly —weighted for demographics and such — but with online polls, that’s not how they’re designed generally.”

The Jewish Journal’s survey, conducted by phone, called only respondents who identified as Jewish in previous surveys unrelated to the Iran deal. TIP conducted its poll via email, using a third-party company to find self-identified Jews. For the J Street poll, Gerstein contracted with Mountain West Research Center to administer the online survey by email to Jews who identified themselves by religion or consider themselves Jewish.

The wording of the J Street poll question is identical to the ABC News-Washington Post survey published in late July, done purposefully, Gerstein told JTA, to compare the Jewish-specific survey results against the general population. The ABC News-Washington Post poll results published on July 20 found that 56 percent of Americans supported the deal while 37 percent oppose.

New secular polls have shown support of the deal slipping. In an extreme example, a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found that 57 percent of Americans oppose the deal while 28 percent support it and 15 percent either didn’t know or didn’t express an opinion. The question asked simply: “Do you support or oppose the nuclear deal with Iran?” No clarifying language of the nature of the deal or negotiations was offered.

The Pew Research Center similarly abstained from offering details. Instead, respondents were asked: “How much, if anything, have you heard about a recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran, the United States and other nations?” Followed by: “From what you know, do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?”

When formatted in such a way, Pew found that of the overall public, 33 percent approved, 45 percent disapproved, and 22 percent offered no opinion. Of the 79 percent of the 2,002 adults surveyed between July 14 and 20 who said they’d heard of the deal, 38 percent expressed approval, 48 percent disapproved, and 14 percent offered no opinion.

Of the Jewish polls, the Jewish Journal contained the most neutral verbiage. Steven M. Cohen, a demographer with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, designed the questions and supervised the poll conducted by Social Science Research Solutions Omnibus.

The key question was worded: “As you know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons. Do you support or oppose this agreement, or don’t know enough to say?”

Of the 501 Jews surveyed by phone, 47.8 percent said they support the deal, 27.6 oppose and 24.6 percent didn’t know.

As to how Congress should vote, respondents were asked, simply, “Should Congress vote to approve or oppose the deal?” When asked in those neutral terms, 53.6 percent said approve, 34.7 percent said oppose, and 11.7 percent responded “don’t know.”

Jewish Journal also gets praise for rotating between the placement of “good idea” and “bad idea” for the question: “In retrospect was it a (good idea) or a (bad idea) for the U.S. to conduct negotiations with Iran, or are you not sure whether it was a good idea or bad idea?”

Of the respondents, 57.9 percent said it was a good idea, 18.2 percent said it was a bad idea, and 23.9 percent were unsure.

If the Jewish Journal poll is accepted as the least biased, then American Jews, though skeptical of Iran’s ability to live up to its agreements, are divided but mostly in favor of the deal.

 JTA contributed to this story.


A Garden for the Future Temple Isaiah congregant pushes green initiative

Several years ago Temple Isaiah’s grounds were little more than turf and parking lot, but through the efforts of Betsy Singer and the Sacred Grounds committee that she chairs, the grounds have been transformed both aesthetically and environmentally.

Singer, who has been described as a driving force behind the initiative, says her primary motivation is about sending a positive message to the synagogue’s younger members.

“We’re facing real challenges to our climate because of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Singer. “Taking care of our synagogue ground and enhancing it tells our children that we care about their future, that we’re trying to make their future better.”

Betsy Singer (Provided)

Betsy Singer (Provided)

The original impetus for the committee was to assist with the effort to mitigate the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. Although the property had storage ponds to filter water with plants during heavy rains, the run-off from the pavement would still reach the bay, filled with pollution. At the same time, the base of the building had erosion problems when the water ran off of the building’s flat roof and plunged through the storm gutter.

“The leadership of Temple Isaiah felt we should do all we could do as a congregation to alleviate this pollution [as a form of] tikkun olam,” said Singer.

The congregation ended up reaching out to the Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth program for help.

“I think it’s been a great partnership with Temple Isaiah,” said Don Tsusaki, project manager for READY. “In 2012, when I met Betsy, she was talking about her vision for increasing the environmental stewardship of the community, and that’s when we installed the first rain garden.”

The READY program, which is funded by Howard County and administered by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, trains high school and college students to build rain gardens as a way to help alleviate pollutants from reaching the bay and gives students a chance to earn work experience and some income.

“[Singer] was able to begin a transformation, and people are getting behind her,” said Tsusaki. “They’ve been doing a lot, and I’m pretty impressed.”

Tsusaki is not the only one who has noticed Singer’s ability to create and maintain connections in the community.

“Betsy has done a fabulous job in having a vision and making contacts,” said Marge Gold, co-chair for the Sacred Grounds committee.

Like Singer, Gold’s motivation for participating in the committee is to invest in the future.

Taking care of our synagogue ground and enhancing it tells our children that we care about their future, that we’re trying to make their future better.

“We want to connect all of this to our kids to give them an understanding of sacred space and connecting it to our responsibilities as Jews to tikkun olam,” said Gold. “It’s wonderful to have these things and share them in meaningful ways with our kids.”

The program has even reached out to the congregation’s youngest members.

“We are working with preschool teachers on programs for small children; we had a marigold planting session with them,” said Singer. “They love to get in the dirt, touch the plants and water them. There is something very basic that they like about that. It’s nurturing a living thing.”

Aside from the READY project, Singer also reached out to Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, an environmental activist who founded the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network and Baltimore Orchard Project.

“It’s great when synagogues ask, ‘How does what we do affect the environment?’” said Cardin.

“We have to be discerning and intentional about all our behaviors —how we operate our businesses, energy, consumption and waste; these are all ethical and Jewish issues.”

Cardin reflected on one of her first jobs. She was responsible for overseeing a cafeteria, and a part of that responsibility included considering the environmental impact of the facility. At the time she didn’t appreciate the task of monitoring food waste or whether or not disposable utensils were being used, but looking back on it, she had a change of perspective.

“The way we relate to the physical world reflects the way we relate to other people,” said Cardin. “From this perspective, my first job was probably one of the most sacred jobs I could have had.”

Since the Sacred Grounds committee’s inception in 2012, it has built several rain gardens, a tree canopy in the synagogue’s front yard, planted over 100 trees and explored renewable energy options, among other things.

Along with improving the environment, the committee has also memorialized one of the its past rebbetzin and preschool directors.

“[Singer] was central to pushing that project forward,” said Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler. “What we were able to build there is a beautiful memorial to [Moira Renee Panoff] in the sense that it’s filled with children exploring nature, musical instruments and beautiful plants, [which was] really what her life was all about. When I see a group of kids interacting with nature, it’s a little bit of Renee’s spirit there.”


Rabbis Take Flight Orthodox Union steps up campaign against Iran nuclear deal, including visit to D.C.

As part of an OU video clip, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) talks about the Iran nuclear deal.

As part of an OU video clip, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) talks about the Iran nuclear deal.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has intensified its campaign to pressure members of Congress to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

Since the deal was announced, the OU has sent out a slew of national action alerts. But in recent days, it has called on its member rabbis to fly to Washington on Sept. 9, just days before Rosh Hashanah, to lobby against the deal, and it released a series of new videos via its email list and social media targeting Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The Democratic senators remain publicly undecided on how they will vote and serve communities with significant Orthodox populations.

The Cardin clip, taken from video a shot at the OU’s annual leadership mission to Washington, shows the senator declaring, “The agreement must provide an ample enough time before Iran could break out to a nuclear weapon with robust enough inspections that we can find out if they’re cheating.”

“Call or email Sen. Cardin and ask him to vote against the Iran deal because its inspections are not ‘robust enough,’” reads the final image of the 30-second clip.

Cardin, who was instrumental in securing the legislation allowing for the 60-day review period and vote by Congress, will be the focus of an additional digital campaign.

A save-the-date notice for the September lobbying blitz read in part, “We are confident that hundreds of rabbis traveling to Washington on the eve of this vote and just days before Rosh Hashanah will have a highly visible and real impact upon this fateful vote in Congress,” reported JTA. “We will only have this impact with your participation.”

According to Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the OU, while the OU shares the “long list of concerns and criticisms” voiced by other organizations, its campaign focuses on the proposed inspections regime and the billions of dollars Iran is due to receive once sanctions are lifted.

Added Diament: “We share [Israeli] Ambassador [Ron] Dermer’s concerns that even if Iran abides by the deal to every paragraph and subparagraph, in 10 to 15 years, whenever they get to the end of the deal, they’ll be a full-blown nuclear state with the blessing of the international community.”

The OU plans to keep pressure on Congress through the August recess and “right up to the vote,” said Diament.

A Doc Who Rocks Without missing a beat, Baltimore surgeon steps into Foo Fighters spotlight

Dr. Lew Schon (right) recently sang The White Stripes’ classic “Seven Nation Army” with the Foo Fighters.

Dr. Lew Schon (right) recently sang The White Stripes’ classic “Seven Nation Army” with the Foo Fighters.

Dr. Lew Schon, an orthopedic surgeon at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, has turned into an overnight celebrity after singing “Seven Nation Army” with the Foo Fighters at Fenway Park in Boston last month.

While the experience in and of itself was an honor for Schon, who plays in his own band called “The Stimulators,” he believes the performance was also a test of his personal philosophy, not only as a performer, but also as an educator.

“There’s something very special to being engaged and in person. Here I was, the ultimate test of my philosophy,” said Schon.

Schon first met Dave Grohl, founder of the Foo Fighters, when he was asked by a friend in the U.K. to do a follow-up surgery on Grohl, who had broken his right leg after falling off a stage in Sweden in mid-June. During their initial meeting in D.C., they developed a rapport after finding out they had a lot in common. This led up to the night at Fenway Park. What was supposed to be an evaluation turned into much more.

Schon and his wife, Erika, traveled to Boston to meet up with one of their sons, Ian, and see the concert. While Schon was looking over Grohl’s leg, he got a surprise question.

“I did my evaluation and was going through the game plan for his recovery, and Dave said, ‘How would you like to perform with us?’” said Schon. “I said, ‘Well, that would be great, but you may not want me to perform with you.’”

Grohl continued to insist, and eventually Schon agreed. After figuring out what song Schon would perform, he continued to remind Grohl that just being asked was an honor, and it wasn’t too late to change his mind.

“If it’s not a good fit, then I’m fine if you don’t go through with it,” Schon said to Grohl, but the Foo Fighters’ front man kept to his word. Moments before the concert was supposed to start, Schon was pulled aside by security guards to come to the rehearsal room.

Despite how sudden the opportunity was, Schon’s wife was surprised but not worried.

“I’ve heard the Foo Fighters do things like this. This [was] a signature Dave Grohl move,” said Erika, referring to Grohl’s tendency to bring people up on the stage. “The truth is I wasn’t worried. [Lew] connects really well with his audience and loves to ensure that everyone has a good time, whether he’s giving a lecture or performing with his band.”

Although the Foo Fighters asked him if he wanted to play piano, Schon refused because he wanted to focus on vocals. As a performer and an educator, much of Schon’s personal philosophy is based around engaging his audience.

“[I try] to make the experience as critical as the information transfer. I want to make it worthwhile for people to come out of their homes,” said Schon.

One moment that Schon enjoyed in particular was when he called out Grohl in the middle of the song. When Schon was at the last verse he added “David” to the end of the lyric; “I’m going to work the straw.” Grohl quickly responded, without missing a beat, “Yes, you will Lew.”

“Dave and Lew both connect really well with people, so they connected on stage well, and you could tell when Dave answered Lew right in the middle of the song,” said Erika.

Schon sees making connections with people as a critical part of his job as an educator. “We compete as lecturers with online courses; the interaction part of [online courses is] OK, but it doesn’t replace being there in person,” said Schon. “One of the biggest enjoyments in my 25-year career as an educator is putting on the show, making it more than a standard lecture.”

As someone who loves to please crowds, Schon ended his performance with a gesture toward the guy who gave him the opportunity.

“Whether it was healing, magic or just good entertainment, I swung my arms around my head and took [the energy in the room] and did my abra cadabra cast to Dave’s brace,” said Schon. “It was like the final transmission of ruach, of spirit.”

Schon’s son, Ian, believes his father’s successful performance was a momentous culmination.

“My dad was always fond of getting us together to play as a family, and all of his practice with his band finally paid off,” said Ian. “That’s why he was able to surprise everyone as being a great performer.”

Celebration of Life, Four Centenarians

Frances Smeyne celebrates 100 years.

Frances Smeyne celebrates 100 years.

FutureCare Lochearn held a celebration of life on July 31 for four of its special residents: Frances Smeyne, 100; Maxine Gray, 100; Emma Ennis, 100 and Elce Caldwell, 103.

The four were joined by about 50 others including fellow residents, friends and family for food, dancing and poetry.

As a part of the event, family members of each of the honorees read a short biography about their relative. Smeyne was joined at the event by her son and his wife, Joel and Linda Smeyne, and her daughter, Rona Seelig.

“This is a great honor, and I’m thrilled to have my mother here at a hundred years of age,” said Joel.

Francis Smeyne was born on July 22, 1915 in Baltimore and graduated from Western High School and married her high school sweetheart. She enjoys playing cards, dancing and eating out.

“Simply stated, my mother has been a very happy woman and a very fulfilled woman,” said Joel, reading his mother’s biography. “I’m glad that myself, my sister, Rona, and my wife, Linda, could be here to celebrate.”

Emma Ennis was born on Feb. 28, 1915 in Virginia and moved to Baltimore at 12. She has four children and three stepchildren. She enjoyed cooking large meals for family gatherings and has a passion for singing and dancing.

Maxine Gray was born on Aug. 24, 1914 and attended Baltimore city public schools. She was happily married for 13 years until her husband passed away in 1968. She is known for her remarkable memory and is close friends with her roommate, Emma.

Elce Caldwell was born on March 7, 1912 in Galveston, Texas. At 17, he left Galveston and moved to Louisiana, where he married. He then moved to California, where he worked in the Naval shipyards. Eventually, he came to Baltimore and worked at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard for 20 years. His granddaughter, who read his biography, describes him as hard working and independent.

“[The party] has been wonderful,” said Francis Smeyne. “For all of this to happen; it’s very exciting.”

Bibi Speaks Out Netanyahu to American Jews: “Oppose this bad deal”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed directly to the American Jewish community Tuesday afternoon to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran.

112814_editorial_lgThe 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 that war is the alternative to the deal reached by the P5+1 nations and Iran on July 14.

“We in Israel don’t want war, we want peace,” said Netanyahu. “The claim that we oppose this deal because we want war isn’t just false, it’s outrageous.”

The alternative to the current deal, he said, is no deal or a better deal. He refuted the claims that he wouldn’t accept any deal and that he had offered no alternative.

Netanyahu said that if the United States maintains its sanctions, the rest of the world will “come around” given the size of the United States’ economy compared with Iran’s.

“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 from her account: “Fact: If we walk away from @TheIranDeal, we walk away alone. #JFedTalk.”

According to a White House email, President Barack Obama was scheduled to meet with American Jewish leadership this afternoon to discuss the Iran nuclear deal.