‘We Can Win’ Green Party’s Stein launches run for president

Dr. Jill Stein announces her 2016 Green Party presidential bid on June 23 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Josh Marks)

Dr. Jill Stein announces her 2016 Green Party presidential bid on June 23 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Josh Marks)

Calling for an end to corporate capitalism and the two-party system, Dr. Jill Stein kicked off her campaign for president on the Green Party ticket with a speech June 23 at the National Press Club in downtown Washington.

“I’m running because this nation is in crisis. Only we the people have the power to fix it,” Stein said. “The American people have the power to create a new way forward, and the solutions we need are in our hands.

But many of the solutions being proposed by Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist candidate running for president as a Democrat, are similar to those that Stein and the Green Party are advocating: A “Green New Deal” jobs program to solve the climate crisis that would transition America to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, guaranteeing every American the right to a living-wage job with union protections, creating a “Medicare for All” single payer health care system, making college free and abolishing student debt and cutting military funding by 50 percent.

Stein conceded that Sanders’ platform is similar to hers, but said the difference is that if Sanders doesn’t secure the Democratic nomination, he will stand next to the podium and endorse Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic presidential candidate will be as “the party continues to march to the right.”

Like Sanders, Stein is Jewish. The Chicago native was raised in Highland Park, Illinois and her family attended North Shore Congregation Israel, a Reform synagogue in Glencoe.

However, unlike Sanders who last summer at a heated town hall meeting condemned Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, building terror tunnels and refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, Stein has taken a much harder stance against Israel that could turn off liberal American Jews who might agree with her on domestic policy issues but are also supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.

This is the time, if there ever was a time, for us to stand up. To not be cowed by this mythology of lesser evilism. This is the time for us to stand up and not take no for an answer and recognize that we have that power.

Stein formally announced her candidacy in an interview with Democracy Now! where she was asked by host Amy Goodman what separates her from Sanders and Democratic front-runner Clinton.

“My campaign is perhaps more critical — I would say definitely more critical — of funding for regimes like that of the Netanyahu government, which are clearly war criminals. You know, so we would not be funding the weapons used in the massacre on Gaza,” Stein told Goodman.

At the news conference, Stein also had harsh words for President Obama, saying that he has gone further than George W. Bush the past six years on issues such as bailing out the banks and expanding wars.

Some people claim that in 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader played the role of spoiler, costing Al Gore the election. However, Nader and others have disputed this allegation. Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida. Gore lost the state and thus the presidency to Bush by 537 votes.

When asked about playing spoiler at the news conference, Stein was defiant and said she would not accept “lesser evilism.”

Said Stein: “This is the time, if there ever was a time, for us to stand up. To not be cowed by this mythology of lesser evilism. This is the time for us to stand up and not take no for an answer and recognize that we have that power. And the minute we flick the switch in our heads from powerless to powerful, we actually are the majority and we already have support in spite of the oceans of propaganda that are rained down on people every day. We already have support in polls for the kinds of transformational solutions that we’re putting forward so I say let’s get out there. Let’s get organized and let’s fight like our lives depend on it because they do, and we can win this battle.”


Cuba in a Nutshell Visiting professor provides outlook on how U.S.-Cuba relations have evolved

Richard Feinberg says that although tensions have eased, U.S. investments, with some exceptions, are not tolerated in Cuba. (Provided)

Richard Feinberg says that although tensions have eased, U.S. investments, with some exceptions, are not tolerated in Cuba. (Provided)

About 200 people packed the room on the 21st floor of the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore on June 17 to hear renowned scholar Richard Feinberg present a lecture on relations between the United States and Cuba.

Feinberg, professor of international political economy at the University of California, San Diego, began by discussing the easing of tensions between the two countries since a framework for an agreement was announced by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17, 2014, calling it a “major moment in Cuban-American relations.”

“Cuban foreign policy has been based on hostility since the revolution,” Feinberg said.

The impending agreement has lifted a number of travel restrictions and could possibly lead to the lifting of a 55-year-old trade embargo the U.S. has enforced with Cuba since the Cuban Revolution. The deal also included the release of political prisoners from both countries, including Maryland native Alan Gross.

Feinberg said he was at a conference in Panama the day the announcement was made, at which 10 Americans and 200 Cubans were present.

“When (Castro) said that, there’s this huge gasp in the Cuban audience,” he said. “And then people stand up and start cheering hysterically. They could see the sun coming through the clouds for the first time in their lives.”

Feinberg, a former special assistant on National Security Affairs to President Bill Clinton, said Cuba has always been a “thorn” in U.S. foreign relations with Latin America but that he finally sees signs of democratization. He listed a number of reforms including steps taken by Castro to transition to an economy that values free enterprise more than it used to.

Feinberg said hundreds of cooperatives have been set up in Cuba that are independent from the government, and Cubans are now permitted to sell their apartments. Yet, he was quick to point out that the country still has a socialist economy on the whole.

“These private enterprise people still work under a lot of restrictions,” he said and noted that restaurants are only allowed to seat 50 people and that government inspectors must come and inspect the chairs before guests may be served.

“They figure if you have a lot of money, that becomes a pillar for power. And they don’t want a private sector that challenges the Communist Party.”

Feinberg said although Cuba is still a one-party state, friends may invite each other over for dinner and discuss politics or criticize the economy — something he referred to as “the beginnings of intellectual discourse.”

He said for the most part U.S. investments are not tolerated in Cuba, but there are a few exceptions.

“If you produce bricks and you want to sell to a private construction company in Cuba, you are now authorized to do that by the U.S. government,” he said.

He added that while the media is owned by the government in Cuba, officials are beginning to open up Internet access.

The event included a 30-minute question-and-answer session, and one member of the audience asked whether the recent developments with Cuba would improve U.S. relations with Russia. Feinberg explained that Cuba and Russia have had a history of ties since the Cold War when Cuba’s economy depended on the Soviet Union. He said the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis were some of the main events that ushered in tension.

“Although that failed, [the Bay of Pigs] was followed up by a lot of hostile activities,” he said.

Feinberg also said when the Soviet Union collapsed it had a detrimental impact on the Cuban economy, sending the Gross Domestic Product down more than 30 percent.

“A lot of people thought the regime was going to be overthrown,” he said.

Feinberg also said the sugar cane industry has taken a hit with production under 2 million tons per year and several factories having closed.

“They haven’t had the money to upgrade to modern technology to bring in the new machinery,” he said.

Feinberg concluded by discussing the next generation of leadership in Cuba. He said citizens in their 20s and 30s are mostly in favor of a more democratic state, but younger members of the politburo intend to maintain the Communist principles set by the Castro brothers.

“I think it’s a mistake to assume that because these people are younger, they’re going to be a lot more liberal,” he said.

Dana Moore said he found Feinberg’s lecture very informative and hopes barriers to travel and investment will be lowered soon.

“It’s definitely thawed. We’ve definitely seen some progress with it,” he said.

Cindy Hooper said she enjoyed Feinberg’s take on trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

“The rest of the world is open to doing trade with Cuba,” she said. “It’s just us who are not, and the embargo is around the United States rather than around Cuba. I thought that was very realistic and edifying.”


Jewish Camp, Jewish Life The lasting effect of Jewish summer camp

Jewish summer camps across Maryland opened their doors last week and the rising enrollment rates are likely to mean a more engaged and involved Jewry for the years to come.

“Jewish day camp attendance is clearly a conduit for teen Jewish experiences, and there’s no question that teen Jewish experiences affect adult Jewish engagements,” said Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A 2011 study showed an increased likelihood, between 5 and 55 percent, of adult Jewish engagement was linked to attending an overnight Jewish summer camp, according to the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

“Jewish [overnight] summer camps strengthen Jewish social networks and commitment as well as Jewish knowledge,” said Cohen. “The effects are seen decades later,” even in cases when parents are from different backgrounds or exposure to Jewish education varies.

Camp Shoresh, “a day camp with an overnight feel” according to its staff, began its summer session on June 22.

Shoresh, which is 36 years old, started in Frederick as a three-week summer camp based in Beth Sholom Congregation with less than 20 campers. Today, its campus sits on 107 acres of farmland in Adamstown with 450 campers enrolled, an increase of 30 campers — more than 7 percent — from last year.

The word shoresh in Hebrew means roots, and the camp’s method of inspiring kids, some of whom do not come from Jewishly active households, to take an active role in Judaism ended up inspiring the camp’s name.

“Shoresh made sense for us because we are bringing kids back to their roots,” said Rabbi Dave Finkelstein, executive director.

Shoresh has become a model for success, not only in Maryland, but throughout the country, and Finkelstein said he is called regularly from other camps asking for advice. One factor he attributes to its growing popularity is the fact that it engages campers all year round, far beyond the seven weeks that camp is in session.

“You can’t expect them to get the whole experience [of Judaism] in seven weeks. You have to deal with them all year round, from baby to bubbie,” said Finkelstein. For Shoresh, this includes having Purim carnivals, Chanukah parties and Shabbat dinners together. Finkelstein has personally officiated at his campers’ b’nai mitzvahs, weddings and funerals of family members.

Shoresh, though, is not alone in reporting rising enrollment. According to several other Jewish camps, both day and overnight, the number of campers is rising.

The Baltimore-based Camps Airy & Louise run overnight camps for boys and girls, respectively. Executive director Jonathan Gerstl said more than 650 boys are attending Camp Airy for Boys in Thurmont, Md., and 950 girls are attending Camp Louise for Girls in Cascade, Md., this summer. He says their combined numbers make the institution one of the top five Jewish summer camps by size in the country.

Jonah Geller, CEO and camp director of Capital Camps in Rockville, said this year has the highest enrollment in the camp’s history.

“We take our responsibility seriously to inspire Jewish curiosity and let campers explore and discover for themselves what’s meaningful to them,” said Geller. The camp  is located in Waynesboro, Pa.

Overnight summer camps in particular have proven to have an impact on Jewish teens lasting into their adulthood.

According to a 2010 study sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation, a private foundation committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, 71 percent of young American Jewish leaders attended an overnight summer camp.

However, overnight camp can be intimidating for some kids, which is why day camps, such as Shoresh, are equally as important.

“A lot of kids will not go to Jewish overnight camp if they do not go to Jewish day camp first,” said Finkelstein.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s summer camp program, which started in 1943, is also seeing a rise in enrollment. David Schimmel, executive director, said its enrollment soared past 1,100 campers this year. He reported at least a 5 percent increase from last year.

One of the goals of any Jewish summer camp is to have a lasting effect on its campers.

“[Jewish summer camp] lends itself to an open disposition for a child to experience new things that they may not be open to experience in school,” said Chabad Rabbi Levi Kaplan, director of Camp Gan Israel.

Even though it’s not an overnight camp, conversations with Shoresh campers reveal just how transformative the camp experience can be.

“I can’t even describe how much I love this place,” said Keren Binyamin, 14, who has spent more than five summers at Shoresh. “When it’s not camp, I am counting down the days until it is. Everyone is so warm, accepting and friendly. They make you feel special here.”

Ella Messler, 12, has been going to Shoresh for six years and attends Jewish day school. Her peers tell her that she doesn’t need to attend a camp such as Shoresh to establish a Jewish identity, but she disagrees.

“There’s so much more to being Jewish than just keeping kosher and learning Torah,” said Ella. “No matter what kind of school you go to, there is always more you can learn about your Jewish identity.”

Messler, whose bat mitzvah is approaching, will be studying her Torah portion with Rabbi Tzvi Tuchman, Shoresh’s assistant director. For her, learning from a friendly face is important.

“I’m excited that there is someone from Shoresh that I know who will help me study and learn the parshah and what I need to do,” said Ella. “I feel like all of my Jewish identity is a giant web with Shoresh, my family and my bat mitzvah.”

Aside from making kids excited to learn, the camp’s staff has a strong relationship with each other.

“The head staff is more than just friends and [that deep connection] has passed onto the kids,” said Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky, head counselor for the younger boys division.

Although you’ll find a lot of smiles at Shoresh, the staff ensures that the older children learn about some of the realities of Judaism in the world today. The camp currently has a large piece of open land surrounded by trees. Through the trees there is a small opening where a broken down bus sits in two distinct parts.

here’s so much more to being Jewish than just keeping kosher and learning Torah. No matter what kind of school you go to, there is always more you can learn about your Jewish identity.

On Jan. 29, 2004, Egged bus No. 19 was blown up in a terrorist attack, killing 11 and injuring scores more, near the Israeli president’s home. A Christian pastor took possession of the bus and used it to teach lessons about anti-Semitism in different parts of the world. Eventually the bus ended up in a junkyard near Frederick. The owner of the junkyard, whose kids went to Shoresh, contacted the camp and said there was no way he could junk it. Shoresh was quick to take the bus and incorporate it into its curriculum.

“It’s hidden at the end of campus, because you have to want to see it,” said Tuchman. He noted that the camp only shows the bus to older children.

On one of the trips to Israel that Shoresh coordinated for its teens, the delegation visited the site of the attack and said a prayer.

Understanding and dealing with anti-Semitism is a reality that the camp and its counselors take seriously.

“Kids will come back from Israel feeling excited and want to wear a pair of tzitzit or a kippah to school,” said Finkelstein. “One of our people here had their Jewish star ripped off of them by his own football teammates.”

Although visiting Israel is sometimes a somber experience, it has also been noted as one of the three pillars to young people establishing a healthy Jewish identity.

“Jewish camps, Jewish day school and a trip to Israel are the primary identity builders for young Jews,” said Barbara Schlaff, co-chair of the Center for Jewish Camping advisory committee run by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “I’ve seen it in my own life and my kids’ lives. Their friends today are all their camp friends; many of them are clergy or active lay leaders in the Jewish community.”

The Center for Jewish Camping advocates for different Jewish camps around Baltimore to maximize the number of campers enrolling each year.

Directors of many camps agree that beyond going to camp, counselors play an important role in terms of giving kids positive role models.

“When you come to Shoresh and you work on our staff, you’re told, ‘You’re not going to sleep for seven weeks,’” said Finkelstein. “You’re going to be non-stop and always be involved as a role model for kids.”

The campers at Shoresh not only have energetic counselors like Krawatsky, but some of Baltimore’s star athletes as role models.

“I met Rabbi Dave through a teammate and he brought some of us [to Shoresh,]” said Prescott Burgess, former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. “He calls me every summer to come out and I just enjoy my time with the kids, and teach them to play soccer and football.”

Burgess noted earlier that day he played Ga-Ga — Israel’s form of dodgeball — with some of the campers.

“I think all the girls wanted to get me out so they were all against me,” said Burgess, laughing. “The kids are very respectful and they ask a lot of questions to me as a football player and me as a person.”

Shoresh has such a lasting impact on its campers that many go far beyond simply observing Shabbat or becoming counselors. Sharon Nicholas wears several hats, but her position is special events director. Although she said she wasn’t raised in a very observant background, Shoresh has had a huge impact on all of her children.

After Nicholas moved to Frederick, she began looking for a synagogue to practice the small aspects of Judaism that she knew. Eventually her oldest son said he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. Nicholas found Beth Sholom, where Shoresh was originally based, and was approached by Finkelstein.

“I put [Finkelstein] off for a couple of years,” said Nicholas. “But once we joined, the kids loved it. They loved going to camp.”

Nicholas also noted that when her sons attended, the camp was nothing like what it is today in terms of facilities and space available.

“What they built from almost 36 years ago, it’s tremendous,” said Nicholas. “I can’t say enough about what this organization does, and does year round.”

Two of her sons moved to Israel, one serves in the Israel Defense Forces and one studied at a yeshiva. Her other
two sons embraced Orthodoxy. Her 13-year-old daughter has attended Shoresh since she was 3.

“Shoresh has just been amazing for all of the kids,” said Nicholas. “What I respect about Shoresh is the way they do things. They don’t try to throw things down your throat. It’s baby steps and whatever you choose to accept or grasp onto.”

Regardless of who attends or where they have been, Shoresh’s mission is clear.

“All kinds of Jews walk through our door,” said Finkelstein. “There are no labels, everyone is a loved and respected Jew. We just want them to become a better Jew whatever that means for their families.”


Confederate Battle Flag Comes Under Fire Efforts underway in Maryland, Washington and Virginia to remove it from public displays

More than two weeks after nine people were gunned down at Charleston, S.C.’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in what appeared to be a racially motivated attack, states and municipalities across the country are grappling with what to do about symbols rooted in the darkest days of the nation’s history.

In addition to the infamous Confederate battle flag used by Southern forces during the Civil War — and which the suspected 21-year-old Charleston gunman, Dylan Roof, is seen holding in one of several photographs that surfaced on social media in the days after the attack — groups of citizens are targeting the numerous roads, parks, schools and public displays honoring Confederate figures and bearing their names.

A heated point of contention for decades, “arguments defending the flag ... [have] almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag,” said historian Marc Leepson. (The Washington Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

A heated point of contention for decades, “arguments defending the flag … [have] almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag,” said historian Marc Leepson. (The Washington Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

“This is a real sea change,” historian and author Marc Leepson said. “It’s rare that events in history just change radically.”

He was referring to, among other things, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, advocating for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capital grounds and Wal-Mart, Amazon and other major retailers removing products bearing the image of the flag.

“Even the fact that some people who use the flag are saying now is the time to put it away is really significant,” he said.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is looking to recall license plates that display the flag, as is Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. In Washington, D.C., there are calls to remove Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the National Cathedral’s stained glass windows.

In Baltimore County, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is pushing to rename Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

“We think the name more accurately depicts the centerpiece of this great park, but also it’s more reflective of the diversity and inclusion that we believe Baltimore County represents,” he said. “We can respect our history, but we don’t have to adore it.”

In 2009, the county took over management of the park, which is still owned by the city. Kamenetz has asked the city to approve the new name. The county has put about $6 million in improvements into the park over the years, and Kamenetz said each time a new improvement was made, there would be comments from staff about coming up with a more inclusive name.

While Kamenetz said he started the name-changing process a few months ago, the tragedy in Charleston prompted him and his staff to accelerate the process.

Dels. Dana Stein, Shelly Hettleman and Dan Morhaim and Sen. Bobby Zirkin, all Democrats representing District 11’s delegation in Annapolis, issued a letter in support of Kamenetz’s effort. Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes the park, said she recently discussed the issue with the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association, and since it was OK with a change, she is as well.

While similar conversations are happening in jurisdictions around the country, Leepson called the discussions unprecedented.

“The same arguments defending the flag have been out there,” he said. “I think they’ve almost evaporated because of this horrible person who killed these people in a church and brandished this battle flag.”

Leepson said the flag was made after the first Civil War battle in 1861, when the literal fog of war confused commanders as to who was who. The Confederate States of America flag was red, white and blue, with two red stripes, one white stripe and 13 stars in its final version, an eerie likeness of the flag belonging to the Union.

“Because of the guns and the cannons, there was smoke all over the place and the commanders had a difficult time telling apart the two sides,” Leepson, a Middleburg, Va., resident said. “That’s when they developed the battle flag, which you cannot ever confuse with the American flag.”

For most, displaying the flag served to honor those who fought and died well into the 20th century. It started to become controversial in the 1960s when groups of college students in the Deep South who were opposed to the civil rights movement began using it, Leepson said. While it wasn’t being overtly used in opposition to civil rights, it was used in virtually everything the groups did, he explained.

Fast forward to 2015, when today, many acknowledge the battle flag as a symbol of hate, as Kamenetz said in regards to the license plate issue.

“It resonates as a symbol of hate. Why promote it?” he said. “We wouldn’t want a swastika on a license plate, it’s no different.”

Leepson agreed with that analogy, adding that since license plates are government-issued, forbidding a symbol on them is not a First Amendment issue. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to endorse that viewpoint, deciding last month that Texas, which allows citizen groups to propose new commemorative license plates, could forbid the issuing of plates bearing the Confederate battle flag.

In Richmond, which was the capital city of the Confederacy, Temple Beth-El Rabbi Emeritus Gary S. Creditor said things have changed.

“It’s been a revolution in the South in terms of its attitudes and its memories,” Creditor said. “The world around here has changed.”

But he still sees people holding onto the battle flag.

“There are people who are very resentful over the changing demographics of this country, so the battle flag doesn’t have to endorse ‘I want slavery,’” he said. “It can be ‘I don’t want to deal with people different than me.’”

With Richmond’s historic and modern-day segregation, with pockets of deep black poverty, Creditor feels that removal of the flag is appropriate. As recent as 1993, when he bought a house, there was a clause in his contract about not selling it to “Negroes,” he said.

While he is not advocating for the removal of all namesakes and statues of Confederate figures — something he doesn’t see gaining traction in
a city with bigger issues to deal with — he does think places such as Monument Avenue in Richmond, which has several statues of Confederate figures, can be more inclusive of history. He’d like to see more monuments like that of African-American Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and tennis star who can also be found on Monument Avenue.

But for decedents of the more than 10,000 Jewish Confederate soldiers, the issue isn’t so “black and white.” Pikesville resident Carl Berenholtz, who is the Sons of Confederate Veterans Maryland Division’s judge advocate, found that his great-great-uncle served in the Confederate Army. Michael Nufbaum came to America prior to the Civil War, leaving his family in Germany where they couldn’t own land, vote or hold public office, and landed in the South.

As shop owners from small villages, many German Jews looked to the agrarian South rather than the big city, Berenholtz said. Nufbaum settled in San Antonio, Texas, and enlisted in the Fourth Texas Light Artillery at 37 when the war started.

“He was fighting for one reason and one reason only, and that was state’s rights,” Berenholtz said. “He thought fighting for that fact would provide later on for the ability of Jews, his family in particular, to own land, vote, hold public office, et cetera, and that’s what he fought for.”

According to Berenholtz’s research, the Jewish soldiers were consciously not fighting in favor of slavery, given their people’s history. He is not in favor of taking down flags and removing Confederate figures from public display. For him, it’s a slippery slope, and he noted that slave ships carried the American flag.

“This is our history. Are you going to deny history? Are you going to change everything?” he asked. “I see that flag, it has nothing to do, for me, [with] slavery. It is, to me, about the second revolution, shaping our Constitution.”


Hearing On Stevenson Chabad Begins Hundreds attend to oppose Russian synagogue building

Herbert Burgunder III (right) speaks on behalf of Rabbi Velvel Belinsky (left) at a Baltimore County hearing over Belinsky's proposed synagogue. (Marc Shapiro)

Herbert Burgunder III (right) speaks on behalf of Rabbi Velvel Belinsky (left) at a Baltimore County hearing over Belinsky’s proposed synagogue. (Marc Shapiro)

Hundreds of people packed a Baltimore County hearing room on Wednesday, June 24 for the first in a series of deliberations over a proposed Chabad-Lubavitch congregation to be built on a three-acre property just north of the 695 beltway on Stevenson Road.

Many neighborhood residents, some of whom sat on the floor and stood in the hallway, wore red T-shirts that said “Friends of Stevenson Road, Protecting Our Neighborhood.” The crowd was there to show opposition to The Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad-Lubavitch congregation for Russian Jews led by Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, which is proposing to build a 4,000-square-foot synagogue on the 8400 block of Stevenson Road.

While synagogues are allowed to be built in residential areas — a right that is protected by the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 — neighbors said they’d rather see houses built on the property than deal with a synagogue’s activity and traffic.

At the hearing, Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen heard arguments on the first of two issues — residential transition areas, or RTAs, which are buffers put in place to blend a building in with its surroundings and make it less visible from the road. The second issue, to be debated at a later date, is if Belinsky’s plans are compatible with a nearly decade-old development plan for the property that divided its three lots into five subdivisions. The synagogue would have 22 parking spaces in the back of the building and 88 seats in the sanctuary.

Belinsky’s attorney, Herbert Burgunder III, contended that the issue with the subdivisions was moot since no development plan has been filed by Belinsky (previous plans were scrapped). Burgunder called two witnesses, Stacey McArthur, a landscape architect at DS Thaler & Associates, who spoke about the RTAs, and Mickey Cornelius of The Traffic Group, who researched traffic patterns in the neighborhood.

The opposition was represented by three attorneys, two hired by residents, and one of whom is a resident. One attorney had been retained by Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11), a resident who sported one of the red T-shirts at the hearing. Stein, who hired the lawyer with his wife and a neighboring couple, said he is acting as a homeowner and not a politician and that he cleared his involvement with the legislature’s ethics adviser.

Ken Abel, a neighborhood resident who has been one of the organizers of the opposition, believes the attorneys acting on the neighborhood’s behalf will show that there are legitimate problems with the synagogue’s plans.

“What they’re doing doesn’t comply with the rules,” he said.

Belinsky still believes he has a right to build his synagogue and his plans are compliant with county rules, but acknowledges that the opposition is hampering his progress.

“Because there are so many fierce [members of the opposition] and two separate attorneys hired by two separate groups opposed to us, it’s probably going to be a pretty lengthy and drawn-out trial,” he said ahead of the first hearing.

At the hearing, McArthur showed mock-ups of possible landscaping buffers and maps of what the landscaping would entail. Cornelius spoke about his research into the area’s traffic during which he determined the synagogue would not add a significant amount of traffic to Stevenson Road or decrease traffic safety. Following questioning by Burgunder, both witnesses were questioned by the other three attorneys.

The trial will continue at a later date that has not been set yet.


From Germany to Baltimore and Back Baltimore resident returns to German hometown on 80th bar mitzvah anniversary

Erich Oppenheim, 93, seated at center, is joined by Nenterhausen Burgermeister Ralf Hilmes (fourth from right) and Monica Kingreen (third from right) and family members (from left) Abby Leipsner, Shimshon Oppenheim, Itzhak Oppenheim, Iris Ingber, Lee Oppenheim, Nachson Oppenheim and Janet Oppenheim to celebrate the 80th anniversary of his bar mitzvah. The two people at far right are local historians. (Provided)

Erich Oppenheim, 93, seated at center, is joined by Nenterhausen Burgermeister Ralf Hilmes (fourth from right) and Monica Kingreen (third from right) and family members (from left) Abby Leipsner, Shimshon Oppenheim, Itzhak Oppenheim, Iris Ingber, Lee Oppenheim, Nachson Oppenheim and Janet Oppenheim to celebrate the 80th anniversary of his bar mitzvah. The two people at far right are local historians. (Provided)

Many people remember their bar mitzvah as a time for celebration and festivity, but Erich Oppenheim’s first bar mitzvah was followed by a moment that likely saved his life and simultaneously changed it forever.

On Jan. 26, 1935, Oppenheim had his bar mitzvah at a small synagogue in Nentershausen, Germany, which would later be desecrated by the Nazis during Kristallnacht in 1938. The day after his bar mitzvah Oppenheim traveled to Hamburg where he boarded the SS Washington bound for New York with his brother, Manfred. That was the last he saw his parents, Isidor and Flora Oppenheim, who sent him to the United States to spare him from the turmoil soon to envelope Germany.

This past May, Oppenheim returned to Germany, at age 93, with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit the synagogue that was rebuilt in Hessenpark, now an open air museum.

“It made me feel grateful that all of my children and grandchildren were able to be with me and wanted to be with me,” Oppenheim said.

Oppenheim originally contacted the synagogue when a man living in Boston, also from Nentershausen, heard Oppenheim’s story and told him the synagogue was rebuilt. The museum had been inviting Oppenheim to come see it for some time, but Oppenheim and his late wife, Thelma, were unwilling to travel at the time.

With his wife having passed, Oppenheim agreed to visit the synagogue under one condition.

“I’ll come if they open the synagogue and let us have a minyan,” said Oppenheim to Monica Kingreen, who works at the Fritz Bauer Institute, a museum in Frankfurt focused on Holocaust studies, and also played a key role in arranging Oppenheim’s visit.

Hessenpark agreed and, with Kingreen’s help, began preparing the synagogue for Oppenheim’s arrival. This included arranging a group of men from the neighboring town, Bad Nauheim, to travel, with a Torah and food for a kiddush in tow, to Hessenpark on the day of Oppenheim’s minyan.

“I’m going to Germany to visit the synagogue,” said Oppenheim, to his daughter, Iris Oppenheim Ingber. “She said, ‘You’re not going by yourself,’ and I said, ‘Yes I am.’ She said, ‘No you’re not because I’m going with you.’”

The last thing [my father] did was bless me and my brother. He couldn’t stay, he just did that and left.

Several of Oppenheim’s family members accompanied him for the journey, including several of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For Oppenheim’s grandchildren it was a unique experience to see Nentershausen firsthand.

“I was excited to join him and see it from his perspective,” said Abby Ingber Leipsner. “I had been to Germany before but never to his hometown.”

Leipsner recalled that on her first day in Germany on May 3, she noticed clips on a local television news show about the Holocaust. She believes it was being shown to commemorate the anniversary of a concentration camp being liberated.

“I remember hearing the police siren in Germany. It’s a typical siren in Germany but Americans associate it with the Holocaust,” said Leipsner.

Leipsner, who has two children, including a 13-year-old daughter, said as a parent she can’t imagine the idea of allowing her daughter to make a daring trip like the one that her grandfather made at the same age.

“At the time [Oppenheim’s parents] probably thought it was temporary. I don’t think they imagined they were saying goodbye forever,” said Leipsner.

During Oppenheim’s visit, the bürgermeister, Ralf Hilmes — similar to a mayor — in Nentershausen located a woman who lived next door to Oppenheim’s parents, the same house she lived in during wartime. When Oppenheim and his family visited the house, the woman said her parents spoke very fondly of Isidor Oppenheim. According to the woman, Isidor brought Berta, Oppenheim’s sister, to her house on the night of Kristallnacht, and the family hid Berta in their barn during the violence. Berta later escaped to England on the Kindertransport and would be brought to Baltimore by Oppenheim in 1949.

“The day [Isidor] was being deported, he brought two suitcases to their house,” said Ingber. “He said, ‘If I’m not back in two years, you can get rid of them.’ So he knew he may not be coming back.” Ingber asked about the suitcases but they were long gone. Along with Isidor and Flora, Oppenheim’s two other brothers, Ludwig and Fritz, would eventually perish in the Holocaust.

Oppenheim remembers the last time he saw his biological father.

“The last thing he did was bless me and my brother,” said Oppenheim. “He couldn’t stay, he just did that and left.”

Oppenheim and his brother, arrived in New York where they stayed at the Clara De Hirsh Home for Working Women until a foster family was found for them. Eventually,  Mr. and Mrs. Irving Star, Baltimore residents, took Oppenheim and his brother in as foster children.

This past year was the 80th anniversary of his bar mitzvah; however, Oppenheim chose to learn his haftorah portion 10 years ago because he had never recited it during his bar mitzvah in 1935. Since then, he has read it once per year ever since.

In addition to reading his haftorah during his bar mitzvah visit to Germany, Oppenheim also said a special tribute to his biological parents.

“It has been 80 years since my parents sent my brother and me to America, and it is 80 years since my parents sacrificed for me,” said Oppenheim in his tribute. “I used to sit next to my father where my great- grandsons sit now. I did not say my haftorah then [in 1935], I say it now in memory of my mother who stood in the street watching and waving as we drove away.”

Ingber noted that Oppenheim initially refused to sit at his father’s place in the synagogue because, she said, “he did not feel like he earned the right.” But Ingber urged that indeed he had and convinced him to sit down where his father sat in shul 80 years prior.

Aside from Hessenpark, Oppenheim also visited a cemetery in Nentershausen where he paid respects to his grandmother.

“The first gravestone in the cemetery was my grandmother’s,” said Oppenheim.

Before returning to Baltimore, Oppenheim’s son, Lee, and daughter-in-law, Janet, accompanied him to Bnei Netzarim, Israel where his grandson Itzhak and great-grandsons Nachson and Shimshon live along with five other grandchildren.

Shimshon told his great-grand-father that he will have the same haftorah portion, Yithro, when he celebrates his bar mitzvah.

“He was quick to point it out to me,” said Oppenheim, smiling. “So I gave him my book.”


Jewish Groups Decry UCC BDS Resolution ‘It contributes nothing to peace’

Demonstrators take part in a boycott, divestment and sanctions protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia.

Demonstrators take part in a boycott, divestment and sanctions protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia.

The United Church of Christ passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the boycott and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The resolution, which passed 508-124 at the 30th General Synod in Cleveland, was submitted by the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC, which represents 167 UCC congregations in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia and West Virginia.

Jewish leaders called the resolution disturbing and tragic yet not surprising.

“I think the United Church of Christ’s decision to divest from Israel is deeply disappointing and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of Middle East reality, and is a terribly flawed statement that assigns total blame to Israel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “It contributes nothing to peace. … BDS will never be the way that Israelis and Palestinians will come to a peaceful solution.”

While proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement known as the BDS Movement claim they are showing support for the Palestinian people, as a UCC statement said, Jewish leaders and those on the other side claim that the movement aims to dismantle the State of Israel, and often cite anti-Semitism as part of BDS.

The UCC joins the Presbyterian Church and United Methodists in the BDS movement.

“We know that academic organizations and professional organizations and religious groups are being targeted by the BDS movement to come out in favor of BDS, so it’s not ultimately surprising to us, but also disheartening,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, “and we have a lot of work to do. I think that’s what these votes keep telling us.”

Local UCC churches deferred comment to the Central Atlantic Conference Minister, Rev. John Deckenback.

“As disciples of Jesus, we hear and seek to heed his call to be peacemakers, responding to violence with nonviolence and extending love to all,” Deckenback said in a press release. “It is in that spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a desire to support Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for freedom, that the United Church of Christ has passed this resolution.”

Halber said the resolution “is not worth the paper it’s printed on” and “totally one-sided.”

“They can say [what they want]. The reality of the BDS movement is it’s designed to stigmatize and delegitimize Israel out of existence,” he said. “They’ve chosen the side that calls for dismantlement of Israel.”

Local efforts to combat BDS are underway in Maryland, Tolle said. In the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session, language was included in the budget that condemned academic boycotts of Israel. Halber also sees the need for coordinated national efforts to combat BDS, and the Jewish community needs to let it be known that this resolution does damage the relationship between the Jewish community and the UCC.

A variety of other Jewish organizations expressed their disappointment with the UCC vote.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Israel Action Network called the resolution “deeply skewed” in a joint statement.

“The UCC General Assembly Synod decision occurs in the face of relative silence to the humanitarian catastrophe currently facing Christians and other minorities in many other Middle East countries as well,” the groups said. “The resolutions evidence a lack of recognition of the steps Israel takes to protect religious minorities in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Israel is the only country in the region with a growing indigenous Christian population.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called the vote “a travesty and a tragedy.”

“The UCC has voted to support the anti-peace BDS movement that will not improve a single Palestinian life but only succeeds in encouraging those seeking to demonize and weaken the Jewish state and her supporters around the world,” Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement.

Even the UCC’s newly elected general minister and president expressed mixed emotions.

“I will be obligated as the officer of this denomination and by mandate of General Synod to speak publicly the action taken here. But I will do so with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply,” he said according to various reports. “And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.”

Candy King Turns 100 Beloved employee Matthew ‘Toots’ Cohen celebrated by colleagues, family

Clockwise from bottom left; family and colleagues from George J. Falter Co. candy distributor Chris Bitzel, Frank H. Falter III,  Fred Parsons Jr.,  Aimee Falter, Alice Falter, Frank H. Falter Jr. , Frank H. Falter IV and Morgan Falter surround Toots Cohen at his party, hosted by the company. (Melissa Gerr)

Clockwise from bottom left; family and colleagues from George J. Falter Co. candy distributor Chris Bitzel, Frank H. Falter III, Fred Parsons Jr., Aimee Falter, Alice Falter, Frank H. Falter Jr. , Frank H. Falter IV and Morgan Falter surround Toots Cohen at his party, hosted by the company.
(Melissa Gerr)

While holding court in a room with about 50 of his (very recently) former colleagues and donning a sporty Tommy Hilfiger striped jersey and double-red racing-striped black silky sweats, Matthew ‘Toots’ Cohen basked in the outpouring of affection from George J. Falter Co. candy distributor employees last month and regaled the crowd with his tales “from the old days” of work and a century of life experience.

Cohen’s family came down from Brooklyn, N.Y., when he was 2 years old, so he calls ‘Bawlmer’ his home, pronouncing it like a true-blue local. He grew up on East Lombard Street, where he said he was “always out working,” even at an early age.

On Saturdays in elementary school, Cohen worked at the Ira Lebow Candy Company at Baltimore and Eden streets, where he would “buy broken candy from the manufacturer and put them in little bags. I used to make a big half dollar doing that,” recalled Cohen. Lebow had a daughter Cohen’s age, so “after the shift, I’d take her to Broadway movies, buy a hot dog and a chocolate soda” and still have change from his earnings, he said.

Cohen began working part time when he was just 15, in 1930, at one of the dozens of candy wholesalers in the area, helping out in the stock department and gradually worked his way up. It was at Broadway Candy & Tobacco, on Aliceanna and Broadway streets in what is now Harbor East, where Cohen spent more than 30 years as a salesman. He retired from there, then went to F.A. Davis, another wholesale supplier where he worked another 25 years.

“When I was with F.A. Davis, they were bought out and they had an efficiency expert come in,” said Cohen. “They said they don’t need me, they let me go. They still send me a cigar now and then,” he said with a laugh.

Though Frank H. Falter Jr., the CEO of George J. Falter company, the oldest candy distributor in Maryland, knew Cohen well when they worked “on the street” as salesmen decades ago, it wasn’t until a chance candy transaction that Cohen became Falter’s employee.

“I made a wrong turn on 695, I wanted to get a couple boxes of Valentine’s candy,” said Cohen. “So I figured I might as well go to Falter’s, I know them.” When he arrived, Falter Jr. said to Cohen, “Your money is no good here.” That was in 2002.

Falter Jr., who hired Cohen almost on the spot said, “He’s respected and admired by his peers, his customers and the employees. He’s more than a salesman, he’s an advocate for his customers.”

Those customers, over the years, have become close friends too, including Gamith Desilva, and his wife, Getha, who attended the birthday celebration. They own the 7-Eleven convenience store at 9100 Liberty Road and have known Cohen for about 20 years. They still bring him meals and spend time with him about once a week.

Fred Parsons Jr. (left) and Buddy Bernstein show off the birthday cake to Toots. (Melissa Gerr)

Fred Parsons Jr. (left) and Buddy Bernstein show off the birthday cake to Toots. (Melissa Gerr)

“He’s more than a salesmen, he’s like a father to me,” said Desilva. “He’d come to my office and give advice. He does his job, but it’s not like a ‘job’ — he’s goes out of his way” for his customers.

Nisar Chaudhri, owner of the 7-Eleven at 1801 Reisterstown Road at Hook’s Lane, made Cohen’s acquaintance in 1973 when he was the sales rep that serviced his store.

“He was living not too far [away] so he would come and spend time in the store, and within a very short time he became a family friend,” said Chaudhri. Cohen and Lillian, his late wife of 64 years, would accompany Chaudhri’s children on outings, and “my kids started calling him a grandpa,” he said.

Years ago, Cohen took Chaudhri’s son, Saquib, to an Orioles game. Cohen lost track of the car in the lot, but Saquib, only about 4 years old at the time, took Cohen by the hand and led him to back to the car.

Cohen brought my son home and said to me, “He’s going to be a doctor, he’s a smart boy.” In fact, Saquib just completed his residency at Long Island Jewish Hospital, said Chaudhri, and added that Cohen has attended all of his children’s weddings.

Just a few years ago, when Cohen’s 1970 Buick died suddenly, Chaudhri gave him his son’s BMW; he didn’t need it since he was at school. “He’s like a part of our family,” he said.

Mark Horwitz, vice president of sales at George J. Falter, said up until just a few months ago, Cohen was attending sales meetings where “he loves getting the samples” and that a couple of customers will still call him directly if they’re in need of something fast. Cohen still has a sweet tooth too and favors Hershey’s chocolate.

Frank Falter III, president of George J. Falter Co., said they award the Toots Cohen Salesperson of the Year plaque to a top performer each year, and Cohen himself has received numerous awards from candy and tobacco associations. He added Cohen is “a genuine polite person with a lot of character and a man full of a lot of wisdom.”

I’ll tell you like I tell ‘em all. A nice breakfast in the morning, a nice lunch, smoke a nice little cigar, read the newspaper, make a few phone calls and have sex at night.

At the birthday celebration as employees and friends were swapping stories, Chris Bitzel, operations manager said, “I learned a lot from Toots; he’s kind of like my Yoda. He taught me if you like what you do, it’s not work, it’s pleasure, and you’ll be successful.”

Leslye Fitterman, Cohen’s niece, said the family planned a separate party for him over his birthday weekend. She said Cohen’s “ability to connect to all kinds of people” stands out to her most and how he is “loyal and committed to his family.”

“He has joy in his heart, has a great sense of humor, and he’s a role model for all of us who know and work with him,” said Falter Jr. “We’re all just awestruck by him; he’s someone you just want to be around more and more. His stamina is incredible.”

Cohen secret to that stamina and longevity is simple.

“I’ll tell you like I tell ‘em all,” said Cohen. “A nice breakfast in the morning, a nice lunch, smoke a nice little cigar, read the newspaper, make a few phone calls and have sex at night.”


What Next? Orthodox Jewish groups brace for consequences of gay-marriage ruling

070315_consequencesWASHINGTON — The name that keeps coming up when Orthodox Jewish groups consider the consequences of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision extending same-sex marriage rights to all states has little to do with Jews or gays.

Bob Jones University, the private Protestant college in South Carolina, lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 when the Supreme Court ruled that its policies banning interracial dating on campus were “wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption.”

Orthodox Jewish organizations, several of which publicly dissented from the Jewish community’s broad endorsement of the high court’s decision, now worry that similar consequences could befall Jewish organizations that decline to recognize gay marriage.

“It remains to be seen whether gay rights advocates and/or the government will seek to apply the Bob Jones rule to all institutions that dissent from recognizing same-sex marriage,” Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union, said in an email.

The groups point to an exchange in April between Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration solicitor general, and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who asked whether a school could lose its tax-exempt status if it opposed gay marriage?

“I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue,” Verrilli replied. “I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is going to be an issue.”

How much of an issue is what is now exercising Jewish groups. Will Jewish schools lose their tax-exempt status if they don’t recognize gay couples? Could they become ineligible for government grants? Or face discrimination lawsuits for teaching the traditional Jewish perspective on homosexuality?

Abba Cohen, who directs the Washington office for Agudath Israel of America, called the court’s ruling an “ominous” sign.

“When an impression is given that religious views are bigoted and are vilified, and that [their adherents] really should be given the status of second-class citizens, once you’re dealing in that kind of atmosphere, you don’t know what kind of disadvantages and disabilities people will suffer,” Cohen said.

After the court’s decision was released on Friday, an array of Jewish groups were rejoicing, including several that had joined briefs in favor of same-sex marriage. But the Orthodox groups — including Agudah, the O.U. and the Rabbinical Council of America — expressed worry.

“We are deeply concerned that, as a result of today’s ruling, and as the dissenting justices have pointed out, members and institutions of traditional communities like the Orthodox Jewish community we represent may incur moral opprobrium and risk tangible negative consequence if they refuse to transgress their beliefs, and even if they simply teach and express their religious views publicly,” said a statement from Agudah, which had filed an amicus brief opposing same-sex marriage.

The justices themselves acknowledged the possible fallout for religious groups. Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the First Amendment protected religious groups that wished to advocate their view that same-sex marriage is illegitimate. But in their dissents, Chief Justice John Roberts and Clarence Thomas said such protections were insufficient.

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage …,” Roberts wrote. “There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

Marc Stern, the counsel for the American Jewish Committee, which also filed an amicus brief in favor of same-sex marriage, said immediate consequences were unlikely at the federal level. But on the local and state levels, there would be challenges, Stern said, especially in areas where the gay community has a strong political presence.

“Will a state or city official take the decision to remove a tax exemption? In San Francisco, it’s a possibility. In New York City, it might happen,” said Stern, who pointed out that he was speaking as a legal analyst and not expressing the AJC’s views.

Another potential challenge cited by Diament is whether groups that reject gay marriage might become ineligible for government grants. Diament cited a debate that erupted during the administration of George W. Bush a decade ago over whether drug rehabilitation programs run by proselytizing religious groups should be eligible for funding through the White House’s faith-based initiative.

“We also can anticipate a fight akin to what we had in the context of the Bush faith-based initiative — whether institutions must recognize same-sex marriage to participate in government grant programs,” Diament said.

The Agudah’s Cohen wondered whether Jewish adoption agencies might be prohibited from limiting placement to heterosexual couples, or if schools run by religious groups that reject homosexuality could be subject to discrimination lawsuits.

“If you teach what the Torah says about homosexuality, and you admit all kids to your schools, are you creating a hostile environment?” he asked, noting the possibility that some of the children might have same-sex parents or, as they grow older, realize their own orientation is gay.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and a supporter of the Supreme Court ruling, said such concerns are overblown.

“We will continue to advocate for a healthy balance for religious institutions honoring their traditions and values and needs for a society to protect and defend all people,” Pesner said. “It’s important that faith groups are able to treat people equally and uphold their traditions.”

Nothing Suspicious Found in JCC Bomb Threat

BrandEMailMastheadThe Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills was evacuated Monday night after a reported bomb threat. The building was searched and nothing suspicious was found, according to a statement from Baltimore County Police.

“The initial investigation into this incident has indicated that an unknown suspect called the facility and stated that the building was going to blow up,” the statement said.

Police responded to the JCC, located at 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., at 7:51 p.m. Monday. After evacuating and searching the building, people were allowed back inside when nothing suspicious was found.

Police ask anyone with information about the incident to call 410-307-2020.