Gone But Not Forgotten Digital Yahrzeit website provides option for remembering loved ones

Many Jews around the world memorialize their loved ones with a plaque or a candle, and now there is a 21st-century way to do so.

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Blessed Memory, a website launched earlier this summer, honors loved ones who have passed on but would otherwise not have an opportunity to be remembered. It was created in part for Jews who do not live near a synagogue or belong to one.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism spokesman Barry Mael said the idea came to him several years ago while traveling, when he noticed several congregations that were losing members or didn’t have a rabbi.

“In some of these travels I was seeing some of these communities that were isolated,” said Mael.

He came to the realization that the dying congregations would at some point need a way to maintain yahrzeit records. Mael mentioned the idea to several lay leaders and eventually collaborated with Marty Werber, who was the chair of the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem.

“We started working on this project over the last three years,” Mael said.

Mael said the original idea was to maintain a hard drive at the Fuchsberg Center, but they realized this would prevent those living outside of Israel from accessing the database.

“We found a way to develop it on the cloud, so now people can go to the site from anywhere,” he said. “If there’s a child or a grandchild in L.A. and someone else living in Philadelphia or whatever, they don’t have to be in the same location.”

On the website, found at blessed memory.org, are virtual plaques that include each person’s name in Hebrew and English as well as their dates of birth and death.

Clicking on one will bring you to more information including the synagogue he or she belonged to and the cemetery where they are buried.

“It really tries to give you a sense of who the person was,” said Mael, who added that many synagogues have
already expressed an interest in adding their yahrzeit lists to the site.

Mael emphasized that the site is not intended to compete with congregations but rather help them in preserving their history.

He anticipates a number of people from Europe will be interested, in addition to those in Israel and the United States.

Jo-Anne Tucker-Zemlak, who is the Maryland regional representative for USCJ, said the site will be open to congregations from all denominations of Judaism and that there are several in the state that are in need of the service, but none had been contacted yet because the site is brand new.

“These are smaller congregations that are in their sunset years,” she said.

One such synagogue is Congregation Shaare Tikvah in Waldorf, which has 22 families, according to Ed Halikman, the congregation’s president. Halikman said several years ago their yahrtzeit boards were stolen, and he created an electronic board using PowerPoint software in order to preserve the history of the more than 500 original plaques that were lost.

“It’s electronic. It only takes up the space of a 32-inch TV,” he said.

Halikman said he was aware of the site but did not think it would be useful to his congregation.

“I don’t know why anybody would use a website,” he said.

Tucker-Zemlak created an online plaque for her late husband, Barry, who passed away in 1993.

She feels it is important for ensuring that future generations of families know where their heritage came from.

“As an individual, when I’m no longer a member of my congregation and have moved out of state or whatever, I want to have that,” Tucker-Zemlak said.

Although she knows of no congregations in the greater Baltimore area that are in their “sunset years,” she thinks the site could be beneficial to anyone.

“Even though I’ve been a member of a congregation for 40 years,” she said, “that’s no guarantee that’s going to last forever.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

A Positive Spin Young entrepreneur, motivated by chronic illness, creates health record management company

Noga Leviner used her experiences as a patient to start PicnicHealth.

Noga Leviner used her experiences as a patient to start PicnicHealth.

Crohn’s disease isn’t typically associated with positive outcomes, but battling the chronic disease was the impetus for Noga Leviner, 34, to start PicnicHealth.

PicnicHealth helps patients retrieve and organize their medical records — a sometimes overwhelming task
— that can burden those managing a chronic illness. Collected records are stored and organized electronically in an easy-to-read format so that any clinician can quickly access a patient’s full background history.

“Coordinating medical records when you’re seeing doctors in different health care systems is a huge
hassle,” said Leviner. “As a patient, I’d have to stay on top of whether my latest lab tests results got sent from my primary care doctor to my GI specialist. This can mean lots of phone calls, waiting on hold, faxing and mailing requests and carrying around binders between doctors.”

After Leviner decided to drop out from her previous business, Lumni USA, which helped underserved students access low-risk student loans, she tossed around ideas with her husband, Lukas Biewald.

“I asked her, ‘what else do you know or have insight into?’ She said, ‘I know what it’s like to be really sick,’” said Biewald, adding that “most people who have a serious condition like Crohn’s are not in a position to start a company.”

However, Leviner, who has been able to manage her symptoms, was an exception. Through mutual connections she would eventually meet her partners, Troy Astorino and Gillian Hanson.

“I’m a doctor, and I have a hard time getting my records,” said Hanson, director of medical informatics at
PicnicHealth. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who has no experience with the health care system.”

Hanson has firsthand experience with the issue PicnicHealth is tackling. She was diagnosed, as a child, with a rare bleeding disorder, similar to hemophilia.

“I think for most people, if you are healthy, you have no idea what it is like to manage your medical forms,” said Hanson.

Leviner likens the task to filing tax forms, a chore most people deal with only annually, whereas patients of chronic illnesses need up-to-date information ready for numerous doctors on a regular basis.

Most companies who have tried to help patients compile their records, such as the no longer existing Google Health, have used a top-down approach, where the company works with the hospital to implement their system. PicnicHealth learned from their predecessor’s mistakes and took another route.

Instead of implementing systems within hospitals, PicnicHealth uses its knowledge of the medical system to request a patient’s medical files on their behalf quickly and efficiently. This also means it can service patients’ in any part of the country.

John Marquette, 59, lives in Pennsylvania but visited Baltimore for a memorial service this past January. After landing in Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, he made an unexpected
hospital visit to St. Agnes when he started experiencing severe pains.

“When you go into a hospital they ask you to rate your pain from 1 to 10 based on the pictures of the faces,” said Marquette. “I know what it feels like to be past a 10; it was so bad I lost consciousness.”

The pain he was feeling ended up being kidney stones.

Marquette, who is active and makes an effort to lead a healthy lifestyle, takes several medications for conditions, which, on their own, are not serious or atypical for men of his age. Nevertheless, it is imperative for all of his doctors to be “in the same boat at the same time.”

When he lived in California his provider and insurer, Kaiser Permanente, had already invested in an organized medical records system. Marquette quickly realized that, in Pennsylvania, many of his doctors were in different practices and didn’t communicate with each other.

Marquette heard about PicnicHealth last year through a blog, and being a historian by practice, he did his
research.

“PicnicHealth lets me pull together and have good control over all of my medical records, and God forbid something happens, I can provide that information to the doctors who need it,” said Marquette.

PicnicHealth recently partnered with uBiome, a company that provides patients the tools and data necessary to understand their own bodies and ultimately live a healthier life.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Coming Together LGBT discussion at Enoch Pratt led by change-makers

Yitz Jordan, also known as Y-love, speaks about his experiences coming out as a gay man at Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore City. (Justin Katz)

Yitz Jordan, also known as Y-love, speaks about his experiences coming out as a gay man at Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore City. (Justin Katz)

Yitz Jordan, whose stage name is Y-love, has seen hate, prejudice and racism throughout his life, but when he and several other LGBT activists shared their stories in Baltimore on July 21, the negative wasn’t the focus of their discussion.

“Taking a negative and making it a learning experience,” said Jordan, “[People have heard] a lot of stories of struggle and horrible things that have happened to people, but all those experiences have been transformed into something positive.”

Jordan, a gay Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist, was a panelist in a discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. The discussion was centered on Dr. Joe Wenke and his new book “The Human Agenda.”

Wenke thought of the title when he was writing an article about the persistence of the phrase “the homosexual agenda.”

“It became apparent to me that there is no such thing as the homosexual agenda,” said Wenke, during the panel. “There’s only the human agenda: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How controversial is that message? We’re all human beings.”

Other panelists included Gisele Alicea, a transgender activist who talked with Wenke for his book, Saida Agostini, director of LGBTQ resources at the FreeState Legal Project, and Keith Thirion, director of advocacy and programs for Equality Maryland.

Although Wenke interviewed many for his book, he picked Jordan and Alicea to accompany him on a panel discussion for their unique stories.

“Gisele and Y-Love have unique human stories to tell,” said Wenke. “I think if you have an open mind and a good heart, it’s hard to judge people for who they are.”

Jordan grew up in East Baltimore, and although his mother was catholic, he always had a deep interest in Judaism. After seeing a commercial on television that said ‘Happy Passover’, he began researching Judaism. His mother was doubtful that his interest would last.

But Jordan’s interest in Judaism only increased; at age 9, he insisted on celebrating Chanukah instead of Christmas, in high school he taught himself to read Hebrew, and in 2000, he converted. Although his engagement with Judaism was growing, his relationship with his mother was declining.

“When I was 13, my mother and I fought like cats and dogs. It became a mantra: ‘The Jewish community will not accept you,’” said Jordan. “Ironically, it was tzedakah that paid for my mother’s funeral in 2004.”

Jordan attempted to come out when he was a teenager, but between the lack of support from his mother and his efforts to join the Orthodox community, he went back into the closet.

While Jordan’s life has not always been easy, what makes his story more impactful is when people hear it side-by-side with Alicea’s story, as they did at Enoch Pratt.

“When I came out of the closet my mother was hurt, and she did cry, but she was so supportive,” said Alicea. “She let me live my life freely and didn’t question me after that,” said Alicea. “[My mother] and I didn’t always have a perfect relationship but when it came to gender she was very accepting.”

Alicea, who is transgender, had a very different childhood compared with Jordan’s. Most of her family was supportive with one exception.

“My father initially had an issue. He banged his hands on the table and shouted, ‘My son is not going to be gay’” said Alicea.

Alicea’s father eventually came around when he saw her after she transitioned. Although Jordan’s mother passed away before he came out of the closet again in 2012, he ended up receiving support from places he didn’t expect.

When Jordan and a friend were studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, they’d use music and rhyming to help them with Talmudic studies. After performing at an open-mic night in Tribeca, N.Y., the owner invited them to come back for a regular slot.

Jordan stopped performing for some time when his rabbis told him that it would hurt his integration into the Chasidic community. But after seeing Matisyahu grow in popularity and losing both his mother and grandmother in 2004, he had a change of heart.

In 2005, one of Jordan’s friends from yeshiva, Erez Safar, got him signed on to record at Modular Moods, which would become Shemspeed, the premier Jewish-owned-and-operated label.

The success helped him come to terms with his sexuality, but not without hesitations.

“Before coming out I was preparing myself for backlash of epic biblical proportions,” said Jordan. “I was literally expecting people with pitchforks to bang on the door.”

To Jordan’s surprise, when stories appeared about his coming out in  2012, social media comments started flooding in showing support.

“I was expecting extreme hatred when I came out, but it got thousands of shares on Facebook, and lots of tweets through social media,” said Jordan. “People were saying, ‘I don’t understand Y-Love, but I support him.’”

Jordan was later approached by Wenke to participate in “The Human Agenda” with Alicea and other LGBT change-makers.

Wenke’s approach to writing his book and guiding the panel discussion was simplistic but direct.

“What if I just have conversations with amazing people in different communities across the country,” said Wenke during the panel. “Unique and amazing human beings telling stories about their lives and sharing their experiences. Maybe that would be a way of reaching people who have open minds and hearts but need to be educated.”

Jordan believes Wenke’s method is appropriate, and the event at Enoch Pratt is proof.

“What could be a better catalyst for change than just a simple conversation, where we come and explain why we’re human beings,” said Jordan after the event. “There were no confrontations, no heckling, no anger, it was literally just coming together as humans.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Believing in Baltimore City students express feelings about unrest with help from renowned musicians

When Baltimore City saw riots and looting following the death of Freddie Gray in April, Believe in Music founder Kenny Liner was scared for his students and spent the night fighting the urge to hop in his car to make sure they all were OK.

The Living Classrooms program, which aims to uplift Baltimore’s inner city youth through music and self-expression, was started for those students — many who live in the very neighborhoods that were affected by the unrest — to learn how to tell their stories through writing and recording music.

In the days that followed, Liner had his students drop everything to write a song about the recent events.

From left: Believe in Music students Caprice Martin, Taniyah Kutcherman, Yamaudi Pinder and Amira Winchester. (J.M. Giordano)

From left: Believe in Music students Caprice Martin, Taniyah Kutcherman, Yamaudi Pinder and Amira Winchester. (J.M. Giordano)

In the program’s almost three-year history, students have performed at music festivals, there have been three packed benefit concerts at the Maryland Science Center and Believe in Music has been featured in international media. But July 20 was arguably one of the most special days for Believe in Music, when a song “Believe in Baltimore,” a plea for positivity and togetherness in the wake of Baltimore unrest written and sung by students backed up by some of Baltimore’s most well-known musicians, was released.

“I want people to realize that it’s not really about being black or white, it’s about all of us coming together,” said 15-year-old Yamaudi Pinder. “I think once people listen to it and listen to the lyrics, they’ll realize that we’re all a big family. We’re all human.”

Pinder, one of the song’s lead singers, wrote the lyrics to the bridge: “Unification can show the whole nation that we are together by association/through all the struggle and tragedy, violence and anger turn to peaceful harmony.”

The video can be viewed at bit.ly/1MD8kMX.

I want people to realize that it’s not really about being black or white, it’s about all of us coming together.

As the students worked on the song, Liner reached out to Baltimore musicians to get involved with the project. He got in touch with members of internationally renowned Baltimore band Future Islands, who were in town with a few days off, and as he said, “it kind of snowballed” from there.

With the help of Sam Sessa, Baltimore music coordinator at Towson University’s listener-supported radio station WTMD, the cast of musicians expanded to include members of Lower Dens, Celebration, The Bridge and Mt. Royal as well as Caleb Stine, Letitia VanSant and more. Local filmmaker Chris LaMartina shot a music video featuring scenes from around Baltimore as well as the recording sessions at WTMD, and the video was produced by 15Four.

Sessa said when he put feelers out, the response was overwhelming.

“I basically reached out to some of the best Baltimore musicians I could think of and I just went right down the list,” he said. “It’s amazing how these musicians wanted to give their time to this. It’s not often that so many great Baltimore musicians come together for one song. But these kids are so talented, I’m glad it’s this song.”

Future Islands’ touring drummer Mike Lowry and bassist William Cashion, who have spent much of 2015 touring, arranged the song. Jana Hunter of Lower Dens coached the kids through the song just days after returning from England opening for Belle and Sebastian.

“I don’t think [the students] knew who these bands were going in but realized quickly how talented these musicians are,” Sessa said. “This project has made an impact on these kids’ lives.”

Liner said the whole process, from his students writing the song to the response of local musicians to the recording and music video, has been amazing for him to be a part of.

“I’m just so appreciative that people are interested in what the kids are saying and their feelings about what’s happening in Baltimore,” he said. “Their little lights are shining so bright, and you can really feel and hear the talent and the depth in their voice.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

From Owings Mills to Mississippi Ali Duhan takes her Jewish involvement down South

Those who have worked with her call her ambitious and passionate and say she has bright future in the Jewish community.

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan, 22, who graduated from McDaniel College this past spring, has taken her energy to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), where she recently started a two-year education fellowship.

She and seven others are responsible for becoming experts in the ISJL’s religious school curriculum, visiting member communities in the 13 states that span from Florida’s panhandle up to Virginia and over to parts of Texas, organizing and directing the ISJL’s education conference (which was held in late June) and creating and running various programming.

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan has just begun a two-year education fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. (Provided)

Owings Mills native Ali Duhan has just begun a two-year education fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. (Provided)

“I’m just hoping to learn,” Duhan said. “Everyone here is so amazing at what they do and so passionate. I would love to learn from them.”

A look at Duhan’s previous work in the Jewish community shows that she should fit right in.

A graduate of Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Duhan was an active member of Temple Emanuel, where she served on the youth group board and worked as a madricha. She was involved in Beit RJ (Baltimore Education Initiative for Teens of Reform Judaism) as well as NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth).

“I could tell that she was very passionate about the community,” said Amy Goldberg, who taught seventh grade at Temple Emanuel and had Duhan as her madricha. Goldberg, who works as a youth educator at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, also served as Temple Emanuel’s youth adviser.

At McDaniel, Duhan studied sociology with minors in religious studies and ASL/deaf studies.

“Sociology is a great lens in which to view religion especially in a fellowship like this when you’re looking at how people want to have religion in their lives,” she said.

Last summer, she interned at Jewish Volunteer Connection, where she worked on Jewish service learning projects and helped enhance programming. She also served on the J-Serve International Day of Youth Service Committee and the organization’s Students Taking Action for Change program. Erica Bloom, assistant director at Jewish Volunteer Connection, said the internship was a step for Duhan to explore the world of being a Jewish communal professional.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with. She has a lot of strengths and a lot of passion,” Bloom said. “I would support her in whatever she does.”

Duhan heard about the fellowship at the ISJL through Goldberg, who went through the program from 2006 to 2008, prior to her time in Baltimore.

“It really let me have a taste of Jewish communal work, and it sort of identified what I’m passionate about in the community,” Goldberg said. “I think this will be a good experience for [Duhan], and I think she can find more of a direction for where she wants to go from here.”

In addition to the duties all the fellows work on, Duhan is working on alternative minyanim and how to get people more engaged in different aspects of the Torah through avenues such as Kaballah. But she’s going to let those southern communities she’ll be working with guide her work.

“I like the philosophy of the institute because it’s trans-denominational and it meets the needs of the community as opposed to being like ‘oh, you need this,’” she said.

The curriculum will be one of the bigger items she and the fellows work on. It allows the ISJL’s 350 member congregations to have standardized Hebrew instruction, and through the curriculum and the involvement of the fellows, the institute provides guidance and resources to congregations with small staffs and Hebrew school teachers who don’t have strong religious study backgrounds.

Rabbi Matt Dreffin, associate director of education at the ISJL, said fellows are hitting the road this week in two groups of four and visiting several communities, and they’ll be out for the remainder of the month and all of August. Fellows will then revisit communities by themselves again in the fall and spring, where they do a sort of scholar-in-residence program in which they lead services, programs and sometimes retreats.

“We hire young, potential future Jewish professionals to travel around,” Dreffin said. “Our fellows kind of become experts in enthusiasm in the program and in the curriculum.”

He described Duhan as “a fountain of energy” who is asking a lot of questions, which is good.

“She’s not 100 percent sure what she wants to do next, and that’s partially why you come here,” he said. “She is just soaking it all up.”

But what about Duhan’s own Jewish life? To the Baltimorean’s surprise, Jackson, Miss., where the ISJL is based, has a vibrant Jewish community.

“It’s not Baltimore, there’s not a synagogue on every corner, but there is something there,” she said. “It’s a lot more than I was expecting.”

She’s connected with a young Jewish professionals group, a local synagogue and college groups as well.

“Much like every other region in the country­… we have smart Jews and we have Jews that are less knowledgeable, and we have large congregations and smaller congregations,” Dreffin said. “The biggest thing [the fellows] say about Jackson is they’re a little worried. We show them there’s a Target, it’s a real city. We have Whole Foods. It’s legit.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Young Blood, Big Stories Up-and-coming reporter tackles the national scene

Baltimore native Evan Lambert, 26, may be a young reporter, but that hasn’t stopped him from covering stories such as the Trayvon Martin case and the execution of the D.C. shooter John Allen Muhammad.

In June, Lambert took a reporter position at WTVT FOX 13 in Tampa, Fla.

“I just needed a change after three years [at WKMG in Orlando, Fla.] and a new challenge,” said Lambert. “This opportunity kind of just fell in my lap.”

The work he did for WKMG made an impression on his co-workers and superiors.

Evan Lambert (Provided)

Evan Lambert (Provided)

“Evan is a compassionate individual who wears his heart on his sleeve, is aggressive in gathering information and takes his job seriously,” said Allison McGinley, one of Lambert’s former supervisors at WKMG.

Lambert said the first time he felt compelled to pursue journalism was after he watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001 unfold.

“I knew, [after 9/11], I wanted to be there to witness events and inform other people,” said Lambert.

Lambert, who grew up in Owings Mills, recalled as a child his mother always had the local news on the television. Aside from being fascinated with the reporters, he already had experience talking to unfamiliar people from attending Camp Airy, an all-boys Jewish sleep-away camp.

“At sleep-away camp, you learn how to interact with people in close quarters,” said Lambert. “As a reporter, I’m always meeting new people and a lot of the time on their best or worst day.”

His ability to interact with people on their bad days not only helped him on the job, but was noticed by his co-workers.

“I consider him one of my best friends,” said Alex Holley, a former colleague from WMBF in Myrtle Beach, S. C. “Whenever we had a rough day we’d run into an edit bay, because they’re soundproofed, and we’d just vent to each other.”

Although Holley worked different shifts than Lambert, they became friends quickly because they shared the difficulties of being new reporters.

“His day ended as mine was starting, and he was always willing to stay late to hear me vent,” said Holley.

Lambert remains friends with Holley and those he met at Camp Airy, which he attended until he was 21. Although he said he’s not particularly religious, learning to interact with people would help Lambert later on in college and his career when he’d develop a tie to the Jewish community.

When Lambert began attending University of Maryland, College Park, he connected with Kol Sasson, a Jewish a cappella group. Although he never intended to join, he hit it off with the other members quickly and was accepted after auditioning.

“I was always performing in musicals and plays,” said Lambert. “In news, there is an element of performance.”

Between Camp Airy and Kol Sasson, Lambert had a perfect combination of experience and personality to keep pursuing his desire to be on air. In 2009, when he was working on the university’s newscast, John Allen Muhammad, who shot and killed several people in 2002, was scheduled to be executed. Lambert recalled the concern of people in Baltimore when Muhammad was loose.

“During the shootings, everyone was in a state of panic,” said Lambert. “I was afraid that someone was going to come [to Baltimore] and start shooting people.”

In Nov. 2009, Lambert traveled to Virginia, where Muhammad was being held. He recalled standing in a pressroom with other reporters, many from national publications. Only two members of the media were chosen to witness the execution firsthand, and the scene was described at a news conference after the fact. Lambert didn’t expect to be chosen, but he said he wouldn’t have wanted to see the execution even if he was offered the chance.

“It was one of the first major news events I covered,” said Lambert. “It solidified that I wanted to [pursue journalism.]”

More major stories, such as the Trayvon Martin case, would come when he landed his job in Orlando after two years reporting in South Carolina.

Lambert moved to Orlando shortly after Martin was killed. When the verdict for the case was given, his news station had “all hands on deck.” He ended up coming into work two-and-a-half hours early that night.

“We didn’t know how people would react to it; if there was going to be riots or any kind of violence,” said Lambert.

Although there was no violence where Lambert was located, the case, which garnered national attention, was a sensitive issue for the community, and local media had to tread lightly.

“It was a divisive story for our community and very difficult to report,” said McGinley. “We had to make sure we had all sides and cover it as a whole to help our viewers understand its impact on the community.”

Covering stories such as Trayvon Martin and the D.C. shooter may not always be easy, but Lambert has remained driven to make an impact.

“He was always good at being positive. He’d say, ‘What we say in here, stays in here. We just have to stay positive and keep going,’” said Holley referring to their time venting to each other in the edit bay.

Lambert said he is grateful for the opportunities he’s had, especially the ones in Tampa.

“Television journalism is difficult, and there are not a lot of people who can graduate and just go on-air,” said Lambert. “What I’ve found at my new job, they care more about good journalism rather than just the biggest crime.”

“I’m really excited for him and wish him all the best,” said McGinley. “I think he’s turning into a solid reporter who will do great things in the future.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A Time to Act Thousands in Jewish community speak out in opposition to Iran nuclear deal

Little more than a week after the Iran nuclear deal agreement was announced and as the details begin to sink into the minds of Americans, many members of the Jewish community are raising their voices in protest and concern.

At Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, approximately 1,500 congregants and other community members came together at short notice for a Community Gathering for Prayer and Action on July 19, called by the Rabbinical Council of America.

“The rabbis feel that this is a critical moment and requires a communal response of both prayer and action,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer of BJSZC via email. “If not now, when?”

Speaking to the congregants, Hauer invoked the spirit of Esther, “the original lobbyist/advocate for the Jewish people,” and how she fasted and prayed to prepare herself to stop the Persian king from destroying all of Israel and called upon the Jewish people to act and to do the same — on her behalf and for themselves.

We gather “to make clear that we have learned the lessons of our history, our recent history. We are not here to be comforted but to be awakened, to be stirred to daven and to act,” Hauer said. In order not to leave the praying or lobbying “for the Jewish people in the hands of a few isolated heroes, as we have done in the past, we will all neither sleep nor slumber until we have done all that we can for the sake of the world and for our people.”

Hauer chose to address elected officials directly for much of his sermon as a way to urge community members to raise their voices and do the same.

“And so let us begin today a process … to plead and to lobby and to work to bring this issue to the eyes and hearts of our elected officials, so they can do what they can at this critical moment. And yes, there are many concerns about what exactly can be accomplished — with veto threats and U.N. resolutions and the like — but it is clear, and all those involved agree, that lobbying the Congress is of great importance and what we need to do at this time.”

Lobbying Congress is familiar territory for the Baltimore Jewish Council, which commended President Barack Obama for his diplomatic efforts and willingness to negotiate a deal. However, after sufficient time to review its details, the organization believes the Iran nuclear deal “does not foreclose Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon and, indeed, could lead to highly unstable conditions in the Middle East and around the world.”

N.Y.C. photos by Richard Chaitt and D.C. photos by Melissa Apter

In its four-point written statement, the BJC said it supported the original idea of lifting economic sanctions in exchange for a “true dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program,” but the resulting deal fell quite short of that, it said, by permitting Iran to begin a nuclear program after 10 years.

Because “the extraordinary sums of money currently frozen pursuant to international sanctions will be released and can be expended in further pursuit of Iran’s hegemonic aspirations and its demonstrated desire to wreak global havoc and terror,” the BJC does not support the current deal and asserts that the deal’s incentive for foreign firms to enter into commercial agreements with Iran — along with the ability of Iran’s neighbors to pursue nuclear weapons — could be “disastrous.”

“We should remember the president’s oft-cited remark that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’” continued the statement. “We need to go back to treating Iran like the rogue terrorist nation that it is. We need to present a credible economic and military challenge that will bring about change in Iranian behavior. … We encourage the president to heed the voices of those who are concerned over this agreement and to negotiate a better deal. If the president is right that this is the best deal that he can achieve at this time, and if he is nonetheless unwilling to walk away from it, then Congress should reject the agreement.”

 

NYC Protest Draws Thousands
An ecumenical, bipartisan crowd numbering more than 10,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square on July 22 and included Christians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, to name just a few of the disparate groups that united in the heart of the city to denounce the proposed United States-led nuclear deal with Iran.

The Stop Iran Rally was coordinated by the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition in partnership with more than 80 other sponsors. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the rally organizer, said he and several other JRRC members put their know-how and connections together to create this event.

He said there are very few Jewish organizations that advocate solely for Jews, and this rally represented standing up for them and for Israel.

Wiesenfeld said the agreements between the U.S. and Iran are essentially a negotiation for surrender, but with hard work from citizens, he thinks the deal can be undone.

“It’s not just enough that they vote for this,” he said. “This must be stopped for the security of the United States, for the future of Israel, for the future of the Jewish people; now is the time for Jews to act.”

Speakers at the rally — including congressmen and Israel advocates — echoed Wiesenfeld’s view of the deal and urged the crowd to contact their members of Congress to vote against the deal.

As the talk of national security was broadcast from the stage, shouted responses rippled through the crowd.

“Kill this deal!” they shouted. “Where is Chuck?” — a reference to New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles D. Schumer who is seen as a key to its approval. Schumer is Jewish and the heir apparent to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. His decision will go a long way in influencing other Senate Democrats.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Rabbi Jonathan Gross led a sizable delegation at the rally, including a group of students and parents from the BT Dahan Community School.

One student said, “It was great to be a part of something to help Israel, America and the world.” A classmate added, “Today, I really cared about Israel — I felt like I was a part of something.”

The usual throngs of tourists appeared curious but unfazed by the large gathering and still managed to snake their way through the sea of protesters, who enlivened their presence with Israeli and American flags and black-and-white anti-Iran posters.

East Brunswick, N.J., resident Karen Golding-Kushner changed her work schedule so she could attend the rally with her 23-year-old son, Leor Kushner.  “I wanted to make sure there was going to be a sufficient crowd here to make a point,” she said.

Golding-Kushner said she marched against the war in Vietnam and also supported the Soviet Jewry movement. Since then, she said, she hasn’t felt as strongly about an issue of national significance until news of the Iran deal struck.

“I think we’re on the brink of, God forbid, a tragedy,” she said. “And if they’re not stopped, I want to know that I did everything I possibly could.”

Golding-Kushner mentioned to her son on the drive from their home to the rally that one day, he will be able to tell his children that he stood up against Iran and did what he thought was right.

 

ALSO READ: Most Jewish Federations Find ‘Plethora’ of Opinions on Iran Deal

 

“Hopefully,” Leor said, “my children will be able to say, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”

Mandel Bar-David didn’t have to travel as far to get to the rally. But the 22-year-old hates big crowds and often doesn’t go to Manhattan from Crown Heights for that sole reason. Still, he felt compelled to attend this rally.

Bar-David is a Persian Orthodox Jew.

Some of his family still lives in Iran. He said it is wrong that they can’t go outside while wearing a kipah without facing scrutiny.

Bar-David said he connects to this issue as a Jew more than an American citizen or a Persian. He said it hurts him to see other Jews supporting Iran when Israel should be the focus of united support from the community.

“If we lived” in Iran, he asked rhetorically, “would they care for us? Would they be talking about our faith and supporting us? I don’t think so. They’re killing us.”

He said he wanted to stand up for his Jewish pride at the rally and give both Chasidim and Persians a good name.

As the crowd started to pick up again in volume and energy, Bar-David raised his voice as well, cheering “Am Yisrael Chai” three times in a row.

“My family is Persian, but I would never in my life support Iran. I am not Iranian,” he said. “I am Jewish. I am Israeli.”

 

Cruz vs. Code Pink
The day after thousands of people flooded Times Square to protest the Iran nuclear deal, concerned Washington, D.C.-area residents voiced their objections at a rally across the street from the White House.

Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group, organized the afternoon protest in Lafayette Park to criticize the deal and shed light on the four Americans being held hostage in Iran. Their protest drew the attendance of the liberal anti-war group Code Pink, who earlier last Thursday cheered Secretary of State John Kerry when he testified before Congress.

A scuffle broke out between members of Code Pink and CWA supporters as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) addressed the 100 or so attendees in the sweltering July sun. Later, a Code Pink supporter attempted to shout down Cruz, prompting the senator to call forward co-founder Medea Benjamin for an impromptu debate.

Responding to Benjamin’s accusations that the senator was engaged in war mongering, Cruz said, “In the midst of this negotiation the Ayatollah Khamenei led thousands of Iranians in chanting ‘Death to America’ while they burned American flags and Israeli flags.

If you want to know what this Iranian deal is, listen to President [Hassan] Rouhani of Iran who said, ‘We got everything we wanted out of this deal,’” Cruz added. “This deal is a complete capitulation by President Obama to radical Islamic theocratic zealots who want to murder millions of Americans.”

The majority Jewish audience cheered Cruz and later Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern addressed her remarks to Obama.

“Why, Mr. President, have you negotiated away the future of our children and our grandchildren to the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamic terrorism?” she said.

As the protest dragged on past the scheduled one-hour mark, supporters and detractors of the deal splintered off in mostly congenial debates.

Nate Atwell, a Code Pink member, strolled the lawn with Cruz pressing the senator to further explain his stance. Though Atwell said he respected Cruz’s consistency, he rejected the senator’s position regarding the deal.

“I believe it’s a good deal because it’s a step away from war, a step toward peace,” said Atwell, who added that members of Congress have rushed to condemn the deal without adequately reviewing its terms.

Shlomo Bolts of Silver Spring attended the rally while waving a Syrian revolutionary flag. Citing Iran’s engagement in other conflicts in the region, Bolts said he doesn’t trust Iran to follow through on the terms of the deal.

“I think Syria is the best proof that Iran is a bad actor in the world and in the region now,” he said. “They’re not going to moderate their behavior, they’ve only gotten more crazy.”

rkurland@midatlanticmedia.com; mapter@midatlanticmedia.com; mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Campers Meet With First Responders City police, fire departments give kids a job demonstration at JCC

About 120 children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old from JCC Camp Koolanu got the chance to climb into a fire truck, ring the siren of a police car, see officers on horseback and interact with other members of law enforcement as part of First Responders Appreciation Day.

The event, held July 22 at the Weinberg Park Heights Jewish Community Center, was organized by Northwest Neighborhood liaison Betsy Gardner in conjunction with the Baltimore City Police Department, the Baltimore City Fire Department, the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies. The event serves to educate kids on the importance of first responders in protecting the community.

“They are our friends,” Gardner said. “They are our first line of defense, that they’re here to serve our community and to take care of our community.”

Rabbi Chanina Szendro, the camp’s director, said he’d like to impart the role of first responders with an event he hopes will be held annually.

“I told the campers this morning, these are people who, when you call them and need their help in any sort of desperate situation, they don’t know who you are, but they show up and they’re there to help you,” he said.

Some of the officers at the event were trainees of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland — an organization that helps train law enforcement officials in methods of sensitivity toward the Jewish  community. Director Chesky Tenenbaum said he hopes the event sends a message of Ahavas Yisrael, “loving one’s fellow Jew.”

“It’s sort of a thank you for everything that they do for us,” he said. “There’s no greater mitzvah than for someone to put their life on the line to help somebody else.”

Police officers from several units were at the event, including Deputy Sheriff Kenyatta Washington of the department’s domestic violence unit. Washington said his unit travels around the state to do similar events in order to show kids that police officers are on their side.

“The kids are showing us their appreciation, and in return we’re showing them different aspects of what we do … and the different tools that we use in our day-to-day work,” he said.Washington said that level of  appreciation has trickled down within his family.

“I have an 8-year-old son who says he wants to be a police officer, and I ask why,” he said. “And he says because I like helping people and it seems fun, so that’s what I want to do.

”Northwest Deputy Commander Jason Yerg said events like these are important because they open the eyes of kids to public service while embracing the Jewish community.

“It’s kind of symbolic of the community partnership that we’re looking to develop within the Northwest District of the Baltimore Police Department,” he said.

Yerg said community partnerships with the police are important when it comes to combating stereotypes about the police that have developed as a result of the Freddie Gray riots and other violent events in the city.

“People go into law enforcement because they’re looking to keep the juveniles, the youth of our society, safe,” he said. “That’s really what it’s about. The media has kind of taken it off into a tangent, that it’s kind of an us-versus-them mentality. And what we’re looking to do is to re-bridge that gap and to let kids throughout the country, throughout the city, throughout the Northwest District know law enforcement is your friend, and ultimately when you have a problem, we’re here to help.”

Yerg was not the only one at the event who addressed the recent negative attention cast onto police as a result of the riots. Also present were recently appointed Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Davis said that by holding an event in the Jewish community, he hopes to embrace the diversity in the city’s population.

“It’s important to sustain that in our city, because diversity is our strength,” said Davis. “The government and the police department has to do all it can to recognize the diversity of our city.”

Davis said his promise to kids and their families is to ensure that his department is able to prevent future violence.

“Baltimore has not had a riot since 1968, so 47 years later we had one,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons from our experiences. The circumstances surrounding that unrest — and those riots in particular — and the property damage, the police officers being hurt and the business centers being hurt, that’s not going to happen again.”

Young, who has two daughters and two grandchildren, said first responders are “part of the very fabric of the city,” and he wants kids to understand that most police officers have good intentions.

“I say we’ve got bad in everything,” he said. “There are bad politicians, there are bad people in our city who commit crimes. There’s bad in everything, but we can’t hold the whole department or the whole society
[responsible] for a few bad apples. There’s more good than there is bad. And that’s what I tell my own kids.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Camp Fare Summer camps and Israel, what should be taught?

Gan Israel campers happily pose for a photo by the “kotel.”

Gan Israel campers happily pose for a photo by the “kotel.”

Israel is frequently at the heart of Jewish camping. Children return home with additional Hebrew vocabulary they learned from their favorite Israeli counselors and are quick to show off new Israeli dance steps. But how do summer camps teach the more controversial side of the Jewish state — Israeli history, geography and politics?

For the youngest campers the ins and outs of the two-state solution aren’t typically incorporated into the camp day.

Chaya Wolvovsky, camp director of Camp Gan Israel in Silver Spring, said her campers, girls and boys ages 2 to 11, celebrate Israeli culture with activities like Israel Day, where campers dress in blue and white, write notes to place on a paper Kotel, drink Israeli-style chocolate milk and learn Israeli dancing. Café Gan is three-day-a-week Israeli and Judaic focused “funshop,” which reinforces a connection to Israel that many of the campers already possess, she said.

The politics of Israel and the ongoing conflict are not on the café’s menu.

“They’re young … our goal is our children should realize that Israel is our home, Israel is our holy place,” said Wolvovsky.

At Camp Milldale in Baltimore, the Israeli flag is raised daily and Israeli counselors teach about their native culture. There isn’t much discussion of maps — the only one Amy Bram, camp director, puts up is a kitschy map with camels. The elementary school-age campers are taught to have a positive relationship to Israel, which again, doesn’t delve deeply into the conflict.

But the counselors, the majority of whom are in high school and college, do have a dialogue about Israel, said Bram.

Last summer, as rocket fire rained down on Israel, the Israeli counselors checked in with the news to make sure their loved ones were safe. Thus began a tradition of sharing Israeli news items. The counselors discuss the importance of news sources and compare how Israeli news outlets report events versus how outside media portrays the same events.

The discussions have “no agenda,” Bram stressed. “The agenda is to connect to Israel. We don’t [preach] any party line.”

“What we are teaching is a love of Israel, which is not the same as a love of Israeli politics,” said Bram. In the United States, she tells them, it’s patriotic to voice your views of the government, the same can be true of Israel.

Daily updates on the war between Israel and Hamas were also part of last summer’s experience at Camp Moshava. At the overnight camp at J Street, Israel is felt everywhere. “Mosh,” as it is informally known, is part of the Habonim Dror kibbutz movement. Israeli counselors are on staff, special time is set aside each day to learn about Israel through hands-on activities that include making pita and eating falafel, and Hebrew is incorporated through activities and songs.

As to maps, Executive Director Jen Silber said: “There are lots of different maps from different sources all around camp, which has led to some interesting discussions and comparisons.”

Older campers are prone to asking questions about the conflict. “They are given a nonjudgmental space to talk, and there is lots of room for varying opinions,” she said. “We don’t shy away from the conflict. We give them the space to think critically and analytically.”

Rising 11th-grade students go to Israel and they tend to walk away with more in-depth knowledge. For the high school students, “Israel is more real for them, more personal,” she said.

J Street launched a maps initiative at its annual conference in March, urging its members to bring updated maps delineating the green line into their synagogues and other Jewish communal spaces. Maps without the green line, they wrote to supporters, “are a clear symptom of a larger problem.”

“When the green line disappears from our maps, it also disappears from our consciousness,” the letter titled “Why Maps Matter” read in part. “If we cannot envision the outlines of the two-state solution on our maps, how can we advocate for it?”

Americans for Peace Now likewise advocates for the use of accurate maps. According to Rabbi Alana Suskin, director of strategic communications for APN, the organization offers hard-copy maps that depict the green line and has a much downloaded app called Facts on the Ground: The APN Map Project that tracks settlement activity.

“I remember growing up, you know, those bad people … they want to own all the land from the river to the sea. Look how they draw their maps; they don’t include Israel,” said Suskin. “And yet, we do the same thing” when we don’t draw the green line.

Suskin, whose child attends Camp Ramah, said she understood younger children not delving into the conflict, but she expressed hope that older campers would reflect on what the path to peace might look like, particularly, she said, because they’ll soon be off to college.

She stressed that Jewish young adults need to be prepared.

“They have to know both, that Israel is wonderful and essential to being Jewish, and also know that there are issues,” she said.

“One of the major issues of this conflict is that we have to draw a border,” said Suskin. “People need to see the information, to see it every day that the triangle we like to draw isn’t so simple.”

Robert E. Lee Park to Receive New Name

The Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, led by Dr. Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, publically asked Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference on July 21 not to change the name of Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

Cheatham, who has led several different civil rights organizations in the past including a Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, agrees the name should be changed, but he believes changing it to Lake Roland Park is just as bad, if not worse than, leaving it as Robert E. Lee.

“We found it to be a slap in the face,” said Cheatham.

Cheatham noted Roland Park has a history of housing discrimination against African-Americans, Jews and other minorities, which is pointed out in the book “Not in My Neighborhood” written by Antero Pietila. The book describes the discriminatory housing practices used in Baltimore from the 1880s into the 20th century, which was later picked up by other cities.

The push to change the park’s name came from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who accelerated the process after the tragic shootings in Charleston, S.C.

“The park is centered around historic Lake Roland, and the name Lake Roland Park better reflects this open space treasure,” Kamenetz said in a statement, reported by the Baltimore Sun. “We look forward to making a joint announcement with the city about the name change in the near future.”

In part due to pressure from a petition started on Change.org addressed to Rawlings-Blake, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has introduced a proposed ordinance to change the name of the park, as reported by the City Paper.

Cheatham has reached out to Rawlings-Blake’s office several times and even recommended Pietila’s book as reference.

“I think the mayor needs to be very careful about who she puts on the committee [that will rename the park],” said Cheatham. “You have a county executive who is about to make a major blunder. This will insult the African-American and Jewish communities.”

Congregation president Russell Margolis of Bolton Street Synagogue, which is located several minutes south of the park, was contacted about the renaming but was unable to comment on the issue.

Cheatham says he would like to see the park named after Maryland-born abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

On June 30, Cheatham and supporters held a news conference in Wyman Park calling for the removal of the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monument across from the Baltimore Museum of Art.