Lawmakers Look Back on Session Hogan nixes education funding in favor of state pensions

The stakes were high in this year’s General Assembly session in Annapolis. Not only did Maryland have a new governor in Republican Larry Hogan, who ran on a campaign of bipartisanship and trimming government waste, but there were also 58 freshman legislators.

Northwest Baltimore City and County legislators, including freshman Delegate Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), said the session was productive, although it ended with a standoff between Democrats and Hogan over millions of dollars in education funding.

Lawmakers had set aside $68 million in funding that would go to Maryland’s costliest school systems, including $11.6 million to Baltimore City. Last week, Hogan announced that money would be going to the state’s underfunded pension system.

State Capitol building, Annapolis, Maryland, (Photo Newscom)

State Capitol building, Annapolis, Maryland, (Photo Newscom)

“It’s disappointing that the governor’s not releasing that money for education. During the session, he had said, ‘If the people in the legislature can find more money for education we’re willing to do that,’ ” said Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11). “So the legislature did find additional funding and [he’s still] not releasing it, and given all that’s happened in Baltimore — which will lose [$11.6] million because of this — I think it’s especially important to fund education and to provide this additional amount of funding.”

Minus the last two days of the 90-day session and the weeks that followed, dealings between the governor and the legislature transcended party politics.

“For 88 days of the session, it was very much a bipartisan session,” Stein said.

Although budget issues took front and center at the end of the session, legislators from the area passed bills on a variety of issues.

Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) introduced House Bill 490 to aid in the rollout of legally sanctioned medical cannabis in Maryland. Hogan signed it on Tuesday.

The Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission, a pet cause of Morhaim’s, has been working to get a medical cannabis program up and running in Maryland, and critics have argued that it’s taking too long. The bill eliminates what many see as a barrier for some doctors — a reporting mechanism that will be shifted to dispensaries — and adds licensing for processors, an entity not previously mentioned in legislation, who can turn cannabis into other products.

“It’s basically a series of revisions to the medical cannabis law and the net effect is to really allow the commission to move forward,” Morhaim said of the bill.

During the session, which concluded last month, Morhaim also sponsored a bill that would phase out the manufacture and sale of personal care products and medicines containing microscopic pieces of plastic that are non-biodegradable. As chairman of the Government Operations Subcommittee, he also pushed for reform to the Maryland Public Information Act, which would create more oversight and standardize how the public can access government records.

Another bill Morhaim introduced slapped a one-year moratorium on the sale of powdered alcohol to give the state time to review problems and potential uses of the product.

Hettleman championed the cause of combatting sexual assault on college campuses and got a bill she introduced on the subject passed. Hogan signed it on Tuesday.

“I really hope it will go a long way to help people on campus be safer,” said Hettleman.

Her bill would remove at least one barrier to reporting incidents of assault by giving students who come forward as witnesses or victims some immunity from possible student conduct investigations (such as for an alcohol violation), establish formalized agreements between higher education institutions and crisis centers and mandate sexual assault climate surveys on Maryland college campuses.

Stein thought the legislative session was good from an environmental standpoint. He is vice chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee, which successfully got a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — a controversial oil extraction procedure popularly known as fracking — passed in the assembly.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), though, said the moratorium didn’t go far enough.

“My earnest hope is that we do not ever allow fracking in the state of Maryland,” he said.

It was his Zirkin’s first year as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, an 11-member group that included four Republicans new to the state Senate. But Zirkin said they worked together to tackle a variety of issues: His committee passed divorce law reform to make it easier for couples to avoid legal entanglements, passed two major expungement bills that allow low-level, nonviolent offenders to clear their records of certain offenses and passed foster care reform that helps people prepare for life after care.

Zirkin’s committee also helped with efforts to decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia, while raising fines for smoking in public as a deterrent, and passed bills on domestic violence and added protections for victims in the context of protective orders.

District 11 legislators successfully lobbied for several capital projects, including $75,000 for a state-of-the-art educational center at the Greenspring Montessori School, $250,000 for an expansion of the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company firehouse, $200,000 for a new nature and environmental educational center at Robert E. Lee Park and $65,000 for the renovation of the Gilead House shelter at St. Mark’s on the Hill.

Across the city line, Delegate. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) saw a near-decade effort conclude with a win. A bill he got passed gives the Maryland attorney general authority to seek a court injunction when presented with evidence of a violation of election law that could change an election outcome.

Previously, only the U.S. attorney general had that power under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Looking from the outside, Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Hogan made promises to the organization about its priorities and went above and beyond in meeting them. In addition to funding for BJC priorities and programs — everything from the medical home extender program to funding for the Maryland Israel Development Center — additional funding was allotted for Holocaust survivors aging in place.

While issues that don’t get through the complete legislative process in one session often come up the next year, several lawmakers mentioned that questions over assisted suicide and police accountability will certainly reappear in the next session.

Tolle said the BJC lobbied against a bill that would have legalized “physician-assisted suicide.”

“We brought in rabbis representing all parts of the Jewish community,” she said. “That position is unanimous from Reform to Orthodox.”

While there were a variety of police accountability bills, some legislators expect the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights to come back up next year.

Jews United for Justice, among other organizations, advocated for reform on LEOBR, which some said is too protective of officers. The reform advocated for this year would have changed the process for filing a complaint against an officer and how police misconduct investigations are handled.

Rosenberg, among others, said recent events in Baltimore surrounding Freddie Gray’s death underscore the importance of examining these issues.

“I think we still need to re-examine [those laws] and see what is appropriate, to see to what extend police get different treatment than other people,” he said.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Perfect Fit Peace Puzzle Project connects global Jewish family

Surrounded by pictures of Theodor Herzl and Israeli flags, a crowd of friends, parents and art lovers perused a decorated wall Sunday at the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of the local installment of the Peace Puzzle Project.

Created by New York-based artist Tim Kelly, the traveling group art exhibition asks people from all over the world to decorate an individual white puzzle piece. Each piece is eventually sent to Kelly, who has collected more than 10,000 unique items.

“There are no rules to how you make it,” said Kelly. “You just have to make it meaningful to you.”

Here in Baltimore, the Macks Center for Jewish Education coordinated the effort and titled the exhibit the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project.

Amalia Phillips, director of Israel and overseas education at the CJE, played a leading role in Baltimore’s part of the project.

Susannah Feinstein, right, presents Amalia Phillips with a certificate for the Macks Center for Jewish Education from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in recognition of the launch of the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project. ( Justin Katz)

Susannah Feinstein, right, presents Amalia Phillips with a certificate for the Macks Center for Jewish Education from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in recognition of the launch of the My Israel Peace Puzzle Project. ( Justin Katz)

“Each puzzle piece tells a story, and some of them come from hospitals, where patients draw messages of resilience and hope,” said Phillips. “And some come from rural America, where a grandmother asks for 10 puzzle pieces so she can explore with her grandchildren what really matters.”

Students in Baltimore and its sister cities Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel decorated their pieces in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut by making them with one question in mind: What does Israel mean to you?

Susannah Feinstein, neighborhood district liaison for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, presented a certificate of recognition to the CJE at the project’s unveiling. Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector also presented a certificate to the CJE on behalf of the Baltimore City Council.

Phillips worked closely with contacts in both of Baltimore’s sister cities to ensure the museum exhibit would have international representation.

“[The project] was important for us now that Ukraine is facing war. It gave a feeling of not being left outside,” said Jenny Spektor, who worked with Phillips from Ukraine.

Sigal Ariely has been coordinating with Phillips from Israel.

“When I saw our children’s pieces in Ashkelon just before we shipped them to Baltimore, they were individual, colorful pieces,” said Ariely. “When I saw the whole art piece hanging on the wall, it was stunning!

“We are very proud to be part of this worldwide art project that connects us all to one global Jewish family.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

In the Epicenter of Unrest Pikesville developer hopes to redevelop parts of West Baltimore

After the protests that turned violent with clashes between residents and police, looting and fires in the Penn North area as well as other parts of the city, Pikesville developer Carl Verstandig got a phone call from Burt Greenwood.

The third-generation owner of Greenwood Towing in Penn North wanted to see if Verstandig would be interested redeveloping a vacant warehouse.

“We have been in this area since 1970 and don’t expect to move anytime soon,” Greenwood said. “We are very committed to the community, and we are committed to ensuring that the people who live and breathe here have the same basic infrastructure that people do in the county.”

The impoverished neighborhood was the epicenter of unrest after the police custody death of Freddie Gray. Things exploded on Monday, April 27, with looting and fires that included the burning of the local CVS.

To Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, the neighborhood represents opportunity.

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, plans to redevelop a vacant warehouse in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Penn North. (Marc Shapiro)

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty,
plans to redevelop a vacant warehouse in the West Baltimore
neighborhood of Penn North. (Marc Shapiro)

With more than 30 years of experience buying distressed and vacant commercial properties around the country and turning them around, Verstandig wasted no time reaching out to potential tenants to fill the 100,000-square-foot warehouse on Greenwood’s property.

Several clients have already expressed interest in the property: Roses department store, an international grocer, McDonald’s, a local café, a national health clinic, a laundromat and a men’s clothing store, Verstandig said. He estimated his company will put about $4.5 million to $7.5 million of initial investment into the property but is hoping for some incentives from the state and city.

To entice tenants, Verstandig is offering the first year rent-free, then five years of discounted rent at $5 per square foot, whereas most of his city properties rent for $10 a square foot. He’s also offering tenants a three-year kick-out, so they can leave if they’re not making money at the end of the period.

The nearest shopping center with similar services — Mondawmin Mall, which was also looted that Monday afternoon — is more than a mile away.

“A lot of people there don’t have transportation, so they’re sort of lost without those services,” Verstandig, a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, said of the neighborhood.

The property was home to two different health facilities, first a University of Maryland Clinic that opened about 15 years ago, then a Baltimore City health clinic, which closed about two years ago when its grant money ran out, Greenwood said.

Outside of the real estate opportunity, Verstandig has a connection to the area, having grown up about three miles from Greenwood’s property in East Baltimore, above the grocery store his parents owned. During the 1968 riots, his family’s business stayed open and gave food out to the neighborhood.

When rioters came to destroy the business, local residents intervened and stopped them, Verstandig said.

“So I’ve got a certain allegiance,” he explained. “I also like that a day after the rioting or looting that the neighborhood on Pennsylvania and North got out and started cleaning up and chipping in.”

Greenwood, whose family’s business opened on East North Avenue in 1925, remembers feeling a similar sentiment as an 8-year-old during the 1968 riots to what he felt during the recent unrest.

“When I started to see what was going on in front of me, it frightened me, but it didn’t frighten me in a way that I was scared of where I was,” Greenwood recalled, adding that he thought, “Wow, this is big. This means people aren’t happy with what is happening here.”

Looking at the recent events, Greenwood remarked, “It happened, so something had to make this happen, make it erupt.

“It’s not a total loss if people turn their head and say, ‘Hey, why did that happen?’”

Verstandig and Greenwood might not be the only ones with hope for Baltimore’s future, according to Susan Yum, a spokeswoman for the city’s economic development nonprofit Baltimore Development Corporation.

“Not a single project that we know of that has been in the pipeline has dropped out,” she said. “In fact, some have said that they want to double down and move even faster.”

Verstandig is also looking at about 10 vacant storefronts on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Fulton Avenue, he said. He’s trying to track down the owners so he can redevelop the properties.

“They need some positive energy,” Verstandig said of the neighborhood. “I think Baltimore’s going to rebound and, hopefully, stronger than ever. … Hopefully out of this horrific situation something positive will come.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Fitting Tribute Gov. Mandel celebrates 95th birthday

Hundreds came out to celebrate former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel’s 95th birthday on Wednesday, May 13, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel.

The event — a Who’s Who of Maryland politics — featured Maryland and federal elected officials, judges, clergy and out-of-state legislators and functioned as much as a tribute as it did a roast.

“One of the things I like most about him is he makes me feel so young,” Gov. Larry Hogan joked.

Mandel, who served as Maryland’s 56th governor from 1969 to 1977, was the state’s first and only Jewish governor. His term — he was elected by the Maryland General Assembly when then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew stepped down to be vice president under Richard Nixon — was prolific, influential and somewhat controversial. Prior to that, he was a member of the House of Delegates, where he served as speaker from 1963 until 1969.

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (Marc Shapiro)

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (Marc Shapiro)

Mandel is credited with reorganizing the state’s executive branch into departments with supervising secretaries, revamping the court system, establishing mass transit and dedicating resources to school construction. Although his term ended with him in jail on racketeering and mail fraud charges, the sentence was later commuted by President Ronald Regan, and his conviction overturned.

“No other governor has ever had as much of a lasting impact on all three branches of Maryland government as Gov. Marvin Mandel has,” Hogan said, before getting back into roast mode. “Of course, I’ve only been governor for 110 days, so the jury is still out.”

His birthday celebration featured tributes from the likes of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, among others.

Those who spoke remembered Mandel as a mentor and trailblazer.

“He’s someone that, when I first got started in this business, explained how to bring people together,” Busch said. “It’s a difficult task.”

Alex Williams, a retired district court judge and one of the first four African-American jurists appointed in Prince George’s County by Mandel, spoke about the former governor getting black leaders involved in the political system.

“He was just a bold person that was determined to make sure that there’s inclusiveness and diversity,” Williams said. “He just believed that the right thing to do was to open the doors so that people of all walks of life could have an opportunity to [perform] public service.”

Mandel, after more than an hour of remarks by speakers, spoke to the crowd. He said he wrote a 10- to 11-page speech, but threw it away that morning so he could speak more candidly.

“I just can’t tell you the great feeling that you get when you hear people express their gratitude and appreciation,” he said. “Thank you for everything.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac blessed Mandel just before dinner was served and spoke about his memories of the election of Maryland’s first Jewish governor.

“I still recall a sense of pride for those of us in the Jewish community,” he said.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Now What? With White House set to approve Iran deal, options to shape outcome remote

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), left, joins Ben Cardin (D-Md.)  at a news conference in the Capitol’s Senate studio after the chamber passed the Iran Nuclear Review Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom)

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), left, joins Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at a news conference in the Capitol’s Senate studio after the chamber passed the Iran Nuclear Review Act.
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom)

WASHINGTON — The Iran deal may not be done, but bids by its opponents to shape it are all but buried.

Skeptics of the nuclear negotiations have all but given up on a congressional role before the June 30 deadline for an agreement between Iran and the major powers.

“I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can do now to ensure a better deal,” Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank consulting with Congress and the administration on Iran, said in an interview.

Attempts to limit sanctions relief on Iran, to roll back further its uranium enrichment program, and to link the deal to changes in Iranian relations with Syrian and Yemeni leaders — all goals sought by skeptics — are off the table, at least for now.

Last week, the House of Representatives approved a bill mandating congressional review of any deal in a 400-25 vote. That measure was approved by the Senate in a 98-1 vote a week before. President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign it into law.

In order to secure the necessary bipartisan support, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worked with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to strip out what the Obama administration had deemed “poison pills”: provisions that would determine what a deal looked like, for instance requiring Iran to give up its backing for terrorism. Instead, the bill simply gives Congress an up or down vote on the deal. Even if the Congress disapproves, Obama has veto power.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which for two decades has led efforts to isolate Iran, signed off on the formula.

“Our priority is to make sure the bill gets passed with the strongest bipartisan majority as soon as possible so that Congress is guaranteed the opportunity to pass judgment on the final agreement,” an AIPAC source said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still hopes to influence the outcome.

But how Netanyahu plans to go about shaping a better deal is unclear. He thought his best bet was speaking to Congress, and risked a rupture with the Obama administration when he accepted an invitation to address the body in March without consulting with the White House.

That avenue is now closed, according to opponents of the deal. Congress, under the Corker-Cardin bill about to pass, may disapprove of the deal but is not likely to garner the two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a presidential veto of its disapproval.

“It won’t be easy for Congress to override a presidential veto of a joint resolution of disapproval on a final Iran agreement,” a senior GOP congressional staffer said. “It’s not even certain the Senate will get cloture for a resolution of disapproval,” the staffer added, referring to the 60 votes needed to end debate.

In the House, 151 Democrats signed a letter to Obama supporting diplomacy with Iran. The letter did not directly address the Iran deal, but leading the signatories was Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader. Leaders rarely sign letters, and her signature was a signal that Pelosi had more than the 149 votes required to avoid a veto override.

Dylan Williams, the vice president of government affairs for J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that helped circulate the letter, said Democrats — and probably a handful of Republicans — would not want to kill a deal that comported with the terms governing the talks now underway, including an invasive inspections regime, an enrichment rollback and staggered sanctions relief.

“Sufficient numbers of Democrats will understand it’s a choice between the agreement and a complete breakdown in diplomacy and international sanctions,” Williams said.

Once a deal was in place — as early as next fall, given that Congress has up to 52 days to review a deal after the June 30 deadline — the avenue to register opposition would be the law’s requirement that the president certify to Congress Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days.

Without existing sanctions in place, it would be difficult for Congress to reverse a bad deal, even should it find Iran is not compliant, Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Dubowitz said, noting the difficulties of corralling businesses and other countries into reimposing sanctions.

“The administration is putting the United States on a trajectory where it will be very difficult for a future president or Congress to fundamentally change the terms of this deal,” Dubowitz said.

“It will be very difficult if not impossible to reconstitute the sanctions regime, and then there will be only be two options” should Iran breakout to a nuclear weapon. “One is to concede an Iranian nuke; two is to use force to forestall that possibility.”

Melissa Apter contributed to this report.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Dreams Derailed As Amtrak resumes service, communities cope with loss

With mandated Federal Railroad Administration safety measures and rail improvements in place, Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor reopened Monday, just shy of one week after a deadly train derailment north of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station claimed eight lives and injured more than 200 people.

Among the dead were two Jewish victims, Rachel Jacobs, 39, the CEO of Philadelphia-based online education firm ApprenNet, and Justin Zemser, 20, a New York-native and second-year midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Funerals were held for Zemser on Friday and for Jacobs on Monday.

(Photo LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

Amtrak train derailment May 12.
(Photo LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

The investigation into the disaster will take months, with investigators seeking an explanation as to why Northeast Regional Train 188, traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City, was speeding along at a reported 106 mph before encountering the sharp curve in North Philadelphia. News reports have also focused on the possibility of a projectile or other object striking the engineer’s compartment shortly before the accident, but a larger issue, according to rail safety consultant José Marquez, is the lack of safety systems that could have prevented the derailment.

“There were control systems in place, but not in both directions,” said Marquez, a former safety manager for Tren Urbano in Puerto Rico. “Why put it on one direction and not the other? That is very peculiar.”

Marquez was referring to technology known as automatic train control, which had already been in use for southbound trains and, due to new federal directives, is being added to all northbound lines. The system detects when a train is traveling above the speed limit and sends a signal to the engineer. If the engineer fails to act, the system will automatically apply the train’s brakes.

Risk assessment of all the curves along the Northeast Corridor and increased wayside speed limit signage to provide “a redundant means to remind engineers and conductors of the authorized speed” were also included in the federal requirements put in place last week for Amtrak to resume service.

Marquez, who said National Transportation Safety Board investigators are “top of the line and everyone in the industry respects them,” said that future rail travel will likely be safer as a result of the investigation.

“There is a saying, every safety rule is written in blood. Any time something happens, [an] industry looks into it to find out what’s wrong,” he said. “From every tragedy we learn something. … If people think these reports end up in a desk somewhere and no one reads them, they are wrong. We read them and share them, discuss it among ourselves and throughout our systems.”

There is a saying, every safety rule is written in blood. Any time something happens, [an] industry looks into it to find out what’s wrong. From every tragedy we learn something.

William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, is among the commuters who regularly ride Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, who numbered 750,000 last year. Shortly after the May 12 derailment — he was going the other way on the Amtrak line — he spoke about how the risk of an accident is not something that crosses most riders’ minds.

“As I was hearing the news and watching the [footage] on TV, I could very much picture the bodies being thrown around and the laptops flying through the air and the sense of panic,” said Daroff. “I can just imagine how unprepared any of us are for that to occur.”

Samantha Silver, a Washington-based journalist from Baltimore, takes the MARC train to Union Station on a weekly basis.

“I was flabbergasted,” Silver said upon hearing about the accident. “I took the 6:20 p.m. train [that night], so I probably just missed [Train 188].”

Fred Jacobs, senior vice president at AKRF, Inc., an environmental and engineering consulting firm, travels to New York from Baltimore on average once a week, and has done so for the past 13 years.

Also read, Despite Tragedy, Rail Travel Is a Safe Bet.

In order to return to Baltimore after the Amtrak accident, he took the Bolt Bus for the first time. Jacobs said it was “OK in a pinch,” but “I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.” It took longer, was less comfortable and had fewer amenities for professionals, though on that day there were many suit-clad “Acela riders who had to get out of town,” he said. Jacobs chose to video conference into a meeting he had to facilitate in New York the next day and “it wasn’t good,” he lamented. “You lose a lot.”

Weldon Spurling, a medical student who recently began commuting daily from Washington to Baltimore, still saw taking the train as relatively safe compared to other activities.

“Whatever hysteria is being brought up by this train accident or any other type of accident with mass transit, I would suggest that [you instead] consider your lifestyle, what you do, what you eat, what you smoke, what you drink,” he said. “Worrying about riding on a train or flying in a plane is the least of your concerns.”

Silver shared his sentiment.

“You take risks in life,” said Silver. “There is nothing any of those people could have done.”

For Silver, taking the train isn’t the scary part. What worried her was a meeting took take place only hours after the derailment to determine whether Amtrak should receive a $252 million budget cut. The Obama administration called for boosting Amtrak funding to $2.45 billion, but on May 13, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee blocked a bid by Democrats to increase the federally-subsidized carrier’s budget by more than $1 billion, including $556 million targeted for the Northeast Corridor. The Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines to slash Amtrak’s funding.

Daroff said while he will be more cognizant of safety factors, he will be boarding an Amtrak train again soon.

He said, “At the end of the day I’m sure statistically it’s more dangerous to cross the street in Rockville than it is to take a train.”

Justin Zemser, who was about to complete his second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, also died in the crash.

Justin Zemser, who was about to complete his second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, died in the crash. (Provided)

Lives lost

Among the dead, Zemser, the Naval Academy midshipman, was traveling home to visit his family in the Rockaways.

Zemser was completing his second year at the academy, said Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a chaplain at the academy. Sherwin has known Zemser and his parents, Howard and Susan, since the day Justin arrived in Annapolis.

“Justin was a regular at services; he was here almost every week and actively participated,” said Sherwin. “He was a member of the Jewish Midshipmen’s Club and was recently elected incoming vice president” after serving a year as secretary.

In addition to knowing Justin through faith-related activities, Sherwin got to know him “as a fun kid.” Zemser, known to friends as Z, traveled with a group to Israel in March led by Sherwin and sponsored by the Friends of the Jewish Chapel.

The 10-day interfaith trip comprised religious activities, touristy outings and a day spent with the Israeli navy that included a visit to the Golan Heights led by a colonel who fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

“He was deeply moved,” Sherwin said of Zemser. “He asked a lot of questions and really dug in throughout and engaged with the trip. It affected him on the personal Jewish level and in the larger world view.”

Prior to the May 15 funeral, Justin’s uncle, Richard Zemser, encapsulated his nephew’s short life.

“He did more things in his young 20 years,” he said, “than anybody can imagine.”

Zemser was goal oriented, said the uncle, deeply dedicated to education and encouraging of such traits in others. He was co-captain of his high school football team, class president and valedictorian at Channel View School for Research in Rockaway Park, N.Y. At the Naval Academy, he was set to mentor incoming freshman and had his sights set on becoming a Navy SEAL.

“The bottom line is he was looking for what he can do to make the world a better place,” said Richard Zemser. “No question. That’s why he was in the academy, that’s why he wanted to serve his country.”

Midshipmen in crisp white uniforms carried Zemser’s flag-draped casket at the funeral in Hewlett, N.Y. More than 400 people attended another service May 17 at the Commander Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy. Commandant Capt. Bill Byrne and company officer Capt. Brandy Soublet spoke at the service, as did Ross Gilchriest, Zemser’s best friend and Navy football teammate.

Sherwin said the hour-long Jewish-themed service was intentionally accessible to everyone.

“We wanted to be true to who Justin was,” said the rabbi, who described leading the service as difficult. “I was having a hard time emotionally, but that’s what we do. … We get together and celebrate someone’s life.”

Todd Waldman (left) lost his wife, Rachel Jacobs (pictured), to the deadly Amtrak train derailment May 12.

Rachel Jacobs (Provided)

Rachel Jacobs, the daughter of former Michigan state Sen. Gilda Jacobs, was commuting home to her husband and 2-year-old son in Manhattan when the train derailed. In statements to the media, friends and family members remembered her as loving and attentive, a person who devoted her life to education and social justice. A private service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York memorialized her life.

“We will continue to honor her,” her husband, Todd Waldman, said at the service, according to the New York Daily News. “Remember how each and every one of you shaped her world.”

Songs that were special to the Swarthmore College and Columbia Business School graduate were played at the memorial, including The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which she sang to her son; the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels”; and Journey’s “Faithfully,” the first dance at her wedding.

“When we think about what it means to be Jewish, it’s very much focused on building community,” Jacobs once said in describing Detroit Nation, a nonprofit group she co-founded in 2010 to help Detroit-area natives stay connected and involved even if they didn’t live there.

A funeral for Jacobs was held Monday in Michigan, where she was buried in her hometown of Ferndale.

JTA contributed to this article.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com, jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com, mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Park Heights, Slade Avenue Mansion for Sale

The mansion at Park Heights and Slade avenues is now up for sale by Yaffe Real Estate for $1.35 million. (David Stuck)

The mansion at Park Heights and Slade avenues is now up for sale by Yaffe Real Estate for $1.35 million. (David Stuck)

The mansion at Park Heights and Slade avenues is once again on the market for $1.35 million.

The property, which sits deep in the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish community, was initially purchased by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA to be renovated and used as a mosque.

Dr. Faheem Younus, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, did not give precise reasons on why the property is now up for sale, only that it was a decision made by the faith group’s corporate headquarters.

Younus also said that the community has been very welcoming, and he hopes that those positive relationships can be maintained.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, which sits across from the mansion, played a role in promoting an interfaith dialogue between the two communities after the initial purchase.

“We understand their decision to relocate again to be totally internal. We have had warm relations with them,” said the synagogue’s Rabbi Andrew Busch. “As they choose to base their community elsewhere, we hope and assume that our relations will continue.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Art Teacher Wins iPad in Manischewitz Contest

A local art teacher won an iPad Air 2 Plus and a $500 Visa gift card for her entry into Manischewitz’s #MANIMACS contest.

Glyndon resident Debra Rogers, who teaches art at Cromwell Valley Elementary School in Towson, made a sheep using chocolate almond macaroons, marshmallows and icing.

“I thought my sheep was pretty darn cute,” she said. “His little eyes were looking at the camera.”

She plans to use the iPad in her classroom to take pictures of her students’ art, which she uploads to a platform that allows parents to purchase their kids’ creations.

For the contest, Manischewitz encouraged people to post their creations on social media using the contest hashtag #MANIMACSENTRY.

“Getting crafty and coming up with unexpected characters made from consumers’ favorite Manischewitz Macaroons was really fun for us to see,” Nora Sordillo, senior associate brand manager for the Manischewitz Company, said in a statement. “We are really proud of the winner and looking forward to next year.”

Rogers said she made a sheep for several reasons. Her daughter, who is now grown and just had a baby, loved the “Lamb Chop” show growing up and still loves sheep as an adult. Rogers just made a cake for her baby shower that had a sheep on top of a tower. She had also taught her students about the Chinese New Year and 2015 being the Year of the Sheep.

Parents and teachers from her school helped make her sheep a finalist, and then it was selected by Manischewitz judges as one of the winners.

Rogers kept her sheep refrigerated because she didn’t have the heart to destroy it … at least until after the contest.

“He was really yummy,” she said. “It was a really tasty little finale.”

While Rogers in not Jewish, her Jewish friends told her that they get sick of macaroons by the end of Passover, around the same time Rogers has trouble buying them in supermarkets.

“I think they should sell them year-round,” she said, “because not everybody gets sick of them.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Comptroller Addresses BJC Luncheon

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot addresses the Baltimore Jewish  Council on May 14. (Justin Katz)

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot addresses the Baltimore Jewish Council on May 14.
(Justin Katz)

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot had a clear message for residents at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Politically Connect luncheon on May 14. The biggest challenge facing Maryland?

“Money is not the issue,” said Franchot. “The issue is management.”

It was a line Franchot repeated several times through the course of the event, during which the Democrat spoke about the state’s economic transition as well as the executive one — Republican Larry Hogan was sworn-in as governor in January, succeeding Democrat Martin O’Malley — and how it is affecting Marylanders. Franchot favors easing the process of economic recovery, in particular, through tax moratoriums and procurement reforms.

He also stressed the importance of financial education to forestall such problems as high consumer debt. According to a 2013 report by TransUnion on credit card debt, Maryland ranked eighth highest in the nation with an average citizen-held debt of $5,345.

“We must ensure our children receive the practical skills necessary to better prepare for life ahead to arrive at what I call financial readiness,” Franchot said.

Franchot noted that Maryland does not have financial-readiness programs in its schools, while some institutions in Virginia have implemented curricula that impart basic financial knowledge. That state, he pointed out, is doing better than Maryland in such financial areas as debt, delinquent mortgages and bankruptcies.
When the floor was opened for questions, Dr. Henry Meier, who has traveled throughout the country, asked Franchot why Maryland, notorious for its high taxes, has what he thinks are some of the worst road conditions in the country.

“Money is not the issue,” Franchot answered. “The issue is management.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Weinberg Foundation Awards $400K in Post-Riot Grants

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation awarded $400,000 in emergency grants to 10 Baltimore-area nonprofits following the riots that took place after the death of Freddie Gray last month.

The foundation, which provides $100 million in annual grants to nonprofits that serve low-income and vulnerable people in the United States and Israel, awarded the money to organizations in Baltimore that it already funds. Those organizations deal with a range of programs that provide food, job training and help in school.

The awards, announced May 13, are in addition to $960,000 to support summer youth programs for Baltimore City. With these new grants, the foundation will be investing almost $1.4 million in Baltimore City this summer.

Included in the most recent grants are funds to the Center for Urban Families, Vehicles For Change, Maryland New Directions, Maryland Food Bank, Action in Maturity and Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

spollak@midatlanticmedia.com