URJ Partners with Behrman House

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) announced new partnerships with Behrman House Publishing and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) to provide long-cherished and innovative publications to the Reform Movement and beyond. Under the guidelines of a new strategic plan, the URJ,
which published a variety of materials including Torah commentaries, religious school curricula, study
materials, Jewish fiction and poetry, cookbooks, children’s books and more, will discontinue its in-house publishing operation.

The URJ’s titles will now be handled by Behrman House Publishing and the CCAR. Michael Goldberg, who served as publisher and editor-in-chief of the URJ Books and Music division for the past six years, will now serve as the director of Knowledge Management on the URJ’s Strengthening Congregations team.

Under the agreements, the URJ will partner with CCAR and Behrman House in three discrete areas: Behrman House will take on the URJ’s educational materials, including the CHAI and Mitkadem curricula that are used in more than 300 Reform congregations; Behrman House will become the publisher of the URJ’s study guides for b’nai mitzvah students as well as the rest of the URJ Press catalog of nearly 400 titles, including books by Rifat Sonsino, Tina Wasserman and many more acclaimed authors; and the CCAR will become the publisher of a number of specific titles, primarily Torah commentaries, from the URJ Press, including the best-selling The Torah: A Modern Commentary edited by W. Gunther Plaut, the ground-breaking The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (co-published with Women of Reform Judaism) and the highly regarded three-volume A Torah Commentary for Our Times by Rabbi Harvey Fields.

Glory Days In L.A.’s Koreatown, Wilshire Boulevard Temple bets big on the past for its future

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s new campus will take up an entire block.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s new campus will take up an entire block.

LOS ANGELES — The time has long since passed when the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s address on its namesake boulevard was considered glamorous.

Now the surrounding blocks are the clamorous heart of Koreatown, with all its urban grit: traffic snarls, hulking office buildings, electronics shops, dentists, and banks with signs in Korean and some in Spanish. Here the Wilshire Boulevard Temple — the grand Byzantine-revival synagogue built in 1929 — seems like a relic of another era, before this city’s prospering Jewish community moved west and north, leaving the neighborhood to subsequent waves of immigrants.

But these days, the temple complex is alive with its own dust and clamor. Construction workers are toiling to put up new buildings and renovate old ones, part of a multiyear capital project that has restored the polish to the once-neglected sanctuary building. The religious school is full, and a new elementary day school is growing with each school year.

When all is said and done, the Reform congregation’s expansion project will have taken more than a decade to build and cost nearly $200 million. The Glazer Campus, as it is called now, will fill an entire city block.

If successful, the project will be not only a stunning rebirth for a complex that once seemed at risk of moldering into obscurity, but a large and expensive commitment to Jewish presence in the type of diverse urban neighborhood that the American Jewish community once seemed on the verge of abandoning.

“This is really an urban synagogue that has decided to commit to the urban core of a city,” said Rabbi Susan Goldberg, one of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s eight rabbis to be assigned full-time to the eastern campus. “It’s a different way of seeing our strong Jewish identity as one identity in this multicultural community of L.A.”

That commitment to the urban core was, at one point, in serious doubt. When Steven Leder took over as senior rabbi in 2003, the temple was large and prosperous, with not only the original temple complex but a gleaming new full-block campus 10 miles away in wealthier west Los Angeles, a pair of campgrounds and a conference center in the Malibu hills. The membership was more than 2,000 families.

However, there were festering problems at its original home. The synagogue building was deteriorating from years of neglect, and the size of the kindergarten class at the accompanying east side religious school was zero. Synagogue leaders debated whether it was time to sell the building.

But Leder had fallen in love with the sanctuary from the first moment he walked into it in 1987, when he first interviewed to work at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. He had no intention of selling.

“I said to the board, we have to make this decision, but if you guys really think it’s best to sell it and become an exclusively west L.A. congregation, you should look for another senior rabbi,” he said. “I’m not going to be the one who turns that place into a church.”

Besides, Leder saw signs of opportunity. He had noticed, and a demographic study for the temple confirmed, that younger Jewish families had again started moving to the east side. The key was to attract them, and that meant more than simply restoring the old synagogue — the result, he believed, would be a beautiful but empty building.

Working with the firm of architect Brenda Levin starting in 2005, the congregation developed the ambitious master plan for the campus — a restored synagogue, a new Jewish early childhood center, a new Jewish elementary school, a social service center, an athletic field, a community gathering space and more.

It was a plan that would require the synagogue to buy up the rest of its city block and embark on a massive fundraising campaign, sustained through the Great Recession that has raised $126 million toward an apparently unprecedented total estimated at $180 million to $190 million.

“There’s nothing comparable in my experience,” said David Mersky, a fundraising consultant who has worked with a number of synagogues on fundraising campaigns and consulted briefly with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The closest reference he could recall was a $30 million drive by Central Synagogue, a congregation on the East Side of Manhattan, for a 2001 restoration.

(Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side spent some $50 million on its new building, which opened in 2013. Funds for that congregation included proceeds from a land swap, and a fundraising push that included an anonymous $20 million donation.)

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is undergoing a restoration and expansion  project that, when complete, will have taken more than a decade and cost  nearly $200 million. Above, the synagogue’s sanctuary.

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is undergoing a restoration and expansion
project that, when complete, will have taken more than a decade and cost
nearly $200 million. Above, the synagogue’s sanctuary.

Large and expensive projects are nothing new to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. When the 1929 building was constructed, the synagogue was known as the “Temple to the Stars,” and its list of contributors to the building fund in the lobby includes Hollywood studio honchos such as Jack Warner, B.P. Schulberg and Louis B. Mayer.

These days, the membership leans more toward professions such as real estate, law and finance, sources close to the congregation said, although it is still home to members such as former Disney board member Stanley Gold and “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender.

But as in the past, the synagogue’s members have opened their deep pockets. Erika Glazer, the daughter of shopping mall developer Guilford Glazer, donated $30 million to the restoration and expansion, as well as another $6 million for a new early childhood center. An anonymous donor gave $10 million, and a total of 30 donors have made gifts of $1 million or more.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s new campus will take up an entire block.

The temple is in the midst of building a four-story garage that will house parking for 450 cars and a full-sized playing field on the roof. On the ground floor will be the new Karsh Social Service Center.

The parking garage, field and school buildings are expected to open in September, and the social service center early next year. Plans are still being developed for the final construction phase, a five-story building that will likely include a banquet hall, cafe, offices and only the second non-Orthodox mikvah in Los Angeles.

The germ of the idea for the social service center came from a desire to build a new space for the temple’s
28-year-old food pantry, which lacks proper cold storage and dedicated distribution space. But the idea quickly expanded as the temple sought to join with existing organizations in the community to create a walk-in center that could serve as a one-stop shop for a variety of social service needs.

The synagogue is planning to partner with the Korean Health, Education, Information, and Research Center, which runs a nearby health clinic, to open a dental and vision clinic — medical services that are not provided by emergency rooms and thus are in intense demand among poorer residents. An array of nonprofit legal centers, including Bet Tzedek and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, will offer low-cost or pro bono legal services on issues ranging from elder care to citizenship. And over time, the temple hopes to add additional services ranging from grief counseling to resume mentoring.

“If we are nothing more than a landlord that charges no rent, we are a failure,” said Rabbi Beau Shapiro, who is overseeing the planning for the social service center.

Steve Leder, senior rabbi at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, saw  opportunity in the synagogue's  deteriorating landscape.

Steve Leder, senior rabbi at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, saw
opportunity in the synagogue’s
deteriorating landscape.

On that front, the early signs are positive. A January workshop for citizenship applications held at the temple was so popular that it attracted more volunteers than the number of clients the organization had brought for the occasion. One of the volunteer lawyers was so moved by the applicant he was helping that when he discovered that she didn’t qualify for a fee waiver for her citizenship application, he arranged for his law firm to cover the cost.

“We were like, ‘Oh my God, we hit the jackpot here,’” said Nasim Khansari, the citizenship project
director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, who ran the workshop.

Johng Ho Song, the executive director of the nearby Koreatown Youth and Community Center, said he
has been impressed with the temple’s outreach to community groups like his own and expressed hope that the temple’s collaborative vision could become a model for institutions in other neighborhoods as well.

“They’re making a very conscious decision to work together and share their resources, which is very unusual here,” Song said. “I think they’re really trying to demonstrate that they like to be involved with the community, they want to be part of community, and they want to make a positive impact.”

That, in turn, could help nurture a closer relationship between the temple members and the surrounding community.

“It builds partnership, it builds trust in the community,” Song said. “It’s an opportunity to break down some of the differences and cultural stereotypes.”

At the same time, Rabbi Goldberg has been tasked with reaching out to the east side’s burgeoning Jewish community, a task that ranges from teaming with organizations such as East Side Jews to create events from living room Havdalahs to monthly Friday night services where everyone sits on the grand sanctuary’s bimah to make the space feel more intimate.

So far, the signs for the new campus are positive — synagogue membership has been stable at around 2,400 members, and Leder notes that the age of membership is trending younger, as new families joining replace older congregants who have died. The schools are at capacity with waiting lists.

If Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s very expensive bet does pay off in the long run, it will be because what were once thought to be its greatest vulnerabilities — the massive old sanctuary and the diverse, teeming neighborhood around it — prove to be unique strengths.

Leder argues that the synagogue and the social service center, on opposite sides of the block, represent the two portals into Judaism — worship and engagement with the problems of the world.

“All we have to do is open our doors,” he said.

Umami Not Closing

More than a month after the restaurant put up signs saying it would be closing, Umami Bistro remains open. And it will stay open, according to an employee of the restaurant and the developer who operates the shopping center Umami Bistro has called home for several years.

A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant but would not identify herself said the eatery had “no plan to close at all” last week.

The restaurant also never gave required notice that it would be closing to its landlord, according to America’s Realty President and CEO Carl Verstandig, whose company owns and operates Club Center, located off of Reisterstown Road just south of Old Court Road.

“Their lease is very specific, they would have had to notify us,” he said. “They never gave any of that notice.”

In early April, the restaurant announced that it would be closing its doors, but it remained open. Verstandig said he ate there last week and the restaurant was fully operational.

A Facebook page for Umami has varying reviews, ranging from one star to five. Many customers have posted that the food is great but the service is not. There is also a lot of chatter about the restaurant potentially going out of business.

“Going out of business is good for business,” one person posted.

Some people, such as Chana Friedman, just don’t go because of the service.

“I don’t enjoy their customer service so I don’t go,” she said. “I prefer to give my business to other restaurants that have customer service.”


Increased Inclusion at Area Synagogues

Two local congregations have taken new steps to make Shabbat more accessible to individuals on the autism spectrum.

The Kolker Room of Beth El Congregation was filled with the sounds of children singing prayers and playing musical instruments at the May 2 Shabbat service led by Rabbi Faith Cantor and accompanied by Josh Bender on guitar. Alongside regular chairs were oversized pillows and rocking, floor-level ergonomic chairs. Oversized books explaining the synagogue and service were made available as were stickers and other fidgets.

No one batted an eye when a child needed to burn off some energy; in fact, light physical activity, such as mimicking crossing the Red Sea, was built into the program. The children and their families followed along with familiar Shabbat prayers shown in large Hebrew and transliterated lettering on a projector screen.

In creating the hour and a half long sensory-friendly Shabbat service, Cantor reached out to practitioners at Kennedy Krieger, the Shafer Center for Early Intervention and Pathfinders for Autism among others. Cantor hopes to repeat the service in the future as part of Beth El’s new “We Fit” campaign aimed at being more inclusive of autistic individuals and their families.

Last month, Har Sinai Congregation incorporated autism awareness into its “Shabbat Rocks!” Friday night service. Worshippers clad in blue as part of the Autism Speaks “Light It Up Blue” initiative filled the sanctuary. Even the band, Chai-Jinx, Har Sinai’s in-house rock band — comprised of the rabbi, cantor and a number of musically gifted congregants — wore blue.

Jo-Ellen Unger, director of congregational learning, explained that in an effort to make the prayers more accessible, two large projection screens were set up on either side of the ark with the Shabbat prayers shown in large lettering in Hebrew, transliteration and English translation.

For Unger, whose son Micah, 12, is on the spectrum, having the congregation come together in this way was especially meaningful.

“My son loved it. He was bouncing in his seat clapping around to the music,” said Unger. “For him, he loves that sensory stimulation. The most important thing to us was to honor the fact that it was Autism Awareness Month and put it in the forefront through worship and the congregation’s support.”

In mid-April, Har Sinai co-sponsored a shop for a cause event alongside Pathfinders for Autism, a local autism advocacy organization.


BT Dahan Community School Earns Green Certification

Students at Beth Tfiloh celebrated Tu B'shvat while incorporating environmental issues into the meal. (Photo provided by Beth Tfiloh)

Students at Beth Tfiloh celebrated Tu B’shvat while incorporating environmental issues into the meal.
(Photo provided by Beth Tfiloh)

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School has announced its certification as a 2015 Maryland Green School by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education.

“We are gratified to see the results of the incredible work that went into making this happen,” BT’s director of education, Zipora Schorr, said.

Founded in 1999, the Maryland Green Schools program educates students in pre-K through grade 12 schools on responsible environmental practices and promotes general environmental awareness.

For a school to qualify, it must demonstrate sustainable environmental management practices, provide an environmental education curriculum, offer professional development opportunities and take part in community engagement on a regular basis over the course of two years.

The school’s environmental club, HIPEA (Helping Implement the Promotion of Environmental Awareness), took a leading role in encouraging the school to pursue Green School certification. The club was responsible for campuswide clean-ups, meatless Thursdays, walk/bike-to-school days and more.

“[Green School certification] was something that had been on the radar screen for a long time but finally got off the ground with their involvement,” said Schorr.

BT alumnus Corey Gold helped to spearhead the Environmental Club’s participation in the certification process.

“Though it is gratifying to see the efforts of many over the past several years recognized, what’s much more exciting is the impressive progress BT has made in building a more environmentally conscious community,” said Gold.


Hall of Fame Jewish Baltimoreans to be honored at fifth induction ceremony

Lenore “Lyn” Pancoe Meyerhoff (Provided)

Lenore “Lyn” Pancoe Meyerhoff (Provided)

For their contributions to the arts, business, education, philanthropy and community building, 10 Jewish Baltimoreans will be inducted into the Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame at the JCC.

The fifth set of inductees, men and women, living and deceased, from all streams of Judaism, will be honored at a reception and ceremony May 20 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills.

Among the living honorees are Lois Blum Feinblatt and Barry Levinson.

Feinblatt, born Lois Hoffberger, was part of the first group of female psychotherapists trained at Johns Hopkins University in a “new and unorthodox way” and spent more than 40 years as part of the Sexual Behaviors and Consultation unit. At 94 years old, Feinblatt continues to work part time and is active in the community, having recently started the Teachers Democracy Project with the stated goal of enhancing the professional lives of Baltimore City public school teachers. Feinblatt’s first husband, Irving Blum, who died in 1973, will also be honored for his role as the first president of the Associated Jewish Charities (now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore) and Welfare Fund of Baltimore.

The Baltimore-born Levinson is best known for his work as a movie director and producer. Baltimore played the backdrop to several of his films, including “Diner,” “Avalon” and “Liberty Heights.” He won an Oscar for best director for his 1988 film “Rain Man,” which starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.

Lenore “Lyn” Pancoe Meyerhoff and Rabbi Mark G. Loeb are among those honorees who have already passed. Their families will be in attendance at the ceremony on their behalf.

Meyerhoff was active locally, nationally and internationally. In Baltimore, she and her husband, Harvey, worked to build Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and helped fund the Meyerhoff Digestive Disease Center at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

She was a staunch Israel advocate and took pride in being on a first-name basis with many of Israel’s leaders. In 1983 and 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Meyerhoff a citizen delegate to the United Nations.

Loeb led Beth El Congregation from 1980 until June 2008. The synagogue’s center for lifelong learning is named in his honor. The rabbi was a civil rights activist, served as the national president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and co-founded the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

Rounding out this year’s inductees are: Laurence M. Katz, former dean of the University of Baltimore Law School; Julian “Bill” Lewis, longtime Baltimore school teacher and director of athletics; Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., president of the Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation; Jerome “Jerry” Schnydman, president of Beth El and a former lacrosse star at Johns Hopkins University; and Morton “Sonny” Plant, deceased, who was instrumental in the success of the 1992 JCC Maccabi Games hosted in Baltimore.

“They are people who have devoted their lives, either in the past — some are deceased — to a certain field and have absolutely excelled and have become very well-known leaders in their field,” said Debbie Vogelstein, event co-chair.

The Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame at the JCC was established in 2008 as a way to “keep alive the memory of these remarkable individuals for the benefit of all future generations.”

From left: Robert De Niro; director Barry Levinson and writer Art Linso (File photo)

From left: Robert De Niro; director Barry Levinson
and writer Art Linso (File photo)

Past Hall of Fame inductees include such noted Jewish Baltimoreans as Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, Rabbi Jacob B. Agus, past leader of Beth El Congregation, and Judge Ellen Heller, the first woman in Maryland to hold the position of Circuit Administrative Judge.

Over the course of four months, Vogelstein explained, the 20-member selection committee pored over hundreds of applications before narrowing the field to 25. The committee members were responsible for researching and presenting on the nominees before the list was whittled down through a series of blind ballots to this year’s 10 honorees.

On Wednesday evening, attendees will have an opportunity to mingle with the guests of honor at a dessert reception and have their photos taken before proceeding into the theater, where Ron Shapiro, renowned sports agent, best-selling author and 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, will emcee the ceremony. A professionally produced video giving insight into the lives of each honoree will be shown, and the guests of honor, or the family of those deceased, will be given citations and recognized by the community.

“It’s inspirational,” said Vogelstein of the evening’s events. “You’ll see in the videos how the Jewish factor has played a part in the honorees’ lives through tikkun olam, the desire to make a difference in the world by excelling in a certain field.”

Vogelstein, a mother of eight, noted that the ceremony can be particularly impactful on youth, both in terms of inspiration and through the raising of needs-based scholarship funds.

“While this event will  showcase to our community how our Baltimore and Jewish roots and values have played formative roles in the lives of our most successful and prominent people, it also raises crucial funds, through sponsorships, ads and ticket sales, for scholarships for the JCC’s hallmark children’s programs, which engage, connect, guide and stimulate our Jewish community’s younger
generation,” said Vogelstein.

For children who aren’t formally affiliated with a synagogue or Jewish summer camp, she continued, participation in JCC programming allows them “to be connected to the Jewish community.”

Tickets are $50 in advance and $60 at the door. Children and young adults can purchase a steeply discounted $10 ticket, provided they are accompanied by a paying adult.


The Obvious Choice Relief for Britain’s Jews as Cameron elected to second term

LONDON — A large chunk of Britain’s Jewish community breathed a sigh of relief on May 8, when David Cameron secured a second five-year term as prime minister. The Conservative’s win of an outright majority in the House of Commons shocked the nation, as nearly all pre-election polls suggested that the Labour party led by Ed Milliband and the Conservatives, who have ruled in coalition with the Liberal Democrats for the last five years, were running neck-and-neck.

Unlike in America, where a majority of Jews regularly vote for Democratic candidates, Jews in the United Kingdom are less likely to follow one particular party.

Prior to the election, nearly 70 percent of British Jewish voters said that they would vote Conservative, according to a poll conducted in April by Britain’s main Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle. Only 22 percent of respondents said they would cast their vote for Labour. Statistics indicating how the Jewish community actually voted are not yet available.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for Israel brought in the Jewish vote. (Paul Edwards/Newscom/The Sun/News Syndication)

Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for Israel brought in the Jewish vote. (Paul Edwards/Newscom/The Sun/News Syndication)

For Jewish voters who place a strong emphasis on a candidate’s support for Israel as well as on other issues that affect the community, Cameron was the obvious choice. With him now in power for the next five years, Britain’s Jews can expect his support for traditional Jewish causes to continue, analysts predict.

“We are particularly delighted that the vast majority of those in the prime minister’s newly formed cabinet are longstanding friends of Israel,” said James Gurd, political director of the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel.

It’s not only on Israel that Cameron won praise from the Jewish community. His government has been equally supportive of the Jewish community’s domestic concerns. After the recent terror attacks in Paris, Home Secretary Theresa May spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism, saying, “We must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom.”

Under her watch, the government increased security funding for Jewish communal institutions.

Over the last five years, the government has also defended kosher animal slaughter, known as shechita, which has increasingly come under fire from animal rights activists, and supported funding for “faith schools,” a category which includes many Jewish institutions.

The Conservative record stood in contrast to Miliband’s perceived hostility toward Israel.  Miliband, who is Jewish, spoke out strongly against Israel during the conflict in Gaza last summer.

Calling Israel’s actions “unacceptable and unjustifiable,” he criticized the Cameron for his “silence on the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians caused by Israel’s military action.” The comments, which were perceived by some as political posturing, led many Jews to feel that he didn’t appreciate Israel’s challenges and pushed away potential voters as well as long-time Labour supporters.

“I feel I don’t recognize the party of principle and serious government that I knocked on doors and delivered leaflets for. It has let me down,” wrote the former director of the lobbying group Labour Friends of Israel, Kate Bearman, in a piece published in the Chronicle in August. “I simply don’t think Labour is fit to govern when its leadership issues simplistic statements that are at odds with the realities Israel faces.”

Miliband further alienated Jewish voters in the fall with his support for a symbolic House of Commons vote recognizing a Palestinian state.

“The ultimate irony is that here’s a Jewish leader who the Jews couldn’t bring themselves to vote for,” said David Mencer, a political consultant and former head of Labour Friends of Israel. “It didn’t have to be that way. He chose this.”

After the election, Miliband resigned from his party chairmanship.

Other U.K. political parties have been even more vocal in their opposition to Israeli policies and actions. The Green Party supports a cultural boycott of Israel. The centrist Liberal Democrat party came under fire from Jewish groups for failing to discipline MP David Ward, who regularly made provocative statements against Israel, including one tweet in July that read: “The big question is — if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? — probably yes.” The third largest party in parliament, the Scottish Nationalist Party, has voiced its support for the unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Although the polls were too close to call for much of the campaign, the end result came as no surprise to some political veterans.

“The Jewish community holds a fascinating place in society, because if you win it over then it’s likely you will win general election,” said Mencer. “It’s what Tony Blair did in ’97 and what Cameron did in 2015. The Jewish community is aspirational, has traditional values, is socially conscious and has a belief in helping those less fortunate. If a candidate can win over the Jewish community then it’s likely that it will win the election.

“This is exactly what Cameron has done,” continued Mencer. “He has positioned his party to be center right rather than extreme right.”

Though it may be a bellwether, Britain’s Jewish community is small, numbering around 270,000, or .5 percent of the population, a fact which led Jonathan Boyd to discount the community’s power.

“Even if [Jews] were to vote as a bloc, which they do not, their capacity to influence the outcome is extremely limited,” said Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

That being said, in at least two swing London constituencies where Jews are concentrated, Hendon and Finchley and Golders Green, there were strong majorities for Conservative candidates despite polls predicting a dead heat. In Hendon, the Conservative candidate, Matthew Offord, won by 3,724 votes, a significant jump from the 106 that put him over the top in 2010.

In the end, it was the stark contrast between the heads of the two parties that inspired many Jews who had not previously voted to head to the polls.

“I voted Tory for both Jewish and economic reasons,” said Corinne Tapnack, a 39-year-old London resident who voted for the first time on Thursday. “I felt the Tories should stay in control of the recovery given how much progress country has made. Plus I didn’t feel Miliband portrayed himself as a friend of Israel. I didn’t feel like he would be the right person to represent the Jewish community. His tendencies didn’t lie toward supporting Israel and he made that clear.”

A native of Baltimore, freelancer Rachel Stafler lives in London.

The Debate on Policing Jewish organizations in position to help make change

Interfaith St. Louis community members gather in song during last year’s 9/11 commemorative concert that focused on reconciliation. (Provided)

Interfaith St. Louis community members gather in song during last year’s 9/11 commemorative concert that focused on reconciliation. (Provided)

WASHINGTON — From roundtable discussions to protests and prayers to candid talks with law enforcement officials, American Jewish communities are joining in the debate about community policing in the wake of several high-profile deaths of unarmed black men while in police custody.

Officials were short on specifics, but several said that protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray on April 19 have sparked a determination to confront the tensions between police and minority communities.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella public policy body, last week called for a “new national conversation” about police tactics.

“At this critical time in our nation’s history it is abundantly clear that a conversation not only needs to be had between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities — particularly the African-American community — but within our own communities,” JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a statement.

In several communities, Jewish organizations with strong ties to both the African-American community and law enforcement see themselves as well positioned to help bridge differences.

In Baltimore, where violent protests led the mayor to impose a curfew on the city for several days following Gray’s death, the local chapter of Jews United for Justice appealed to its members in the legal profession to volunteer “as a legal observer … or as a hotline volunteer” during the protests.

In Detroit, the Michigan Round Table, an umbrella body for minorities in which local Jewish groups take part, called an emergency meeting following the Baltimore protests. Heidi Budaj, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the meeting was mainly an opportunity to share reactions to what was unfolding in the Maryland city.

“These incidents are bringing to the forefront in our discussions feelings that may have been hidden for many, many years,” Budaj said. “All of us want to resolve any issues before it turns into Ferguson or Baltimore.”

Through its various law enforcement training programs addressing bias and hate crimes, among other topics, the ADL has long forged close relations with local police departments. At its national conference here over the weekend, the ADL featured a session about police-community relations and the organization’s role in improving them.

In Detroit, Budaj said the Jewish community is also part of a coalition, Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, that has held monthly meetings with area police about police brutality and other “touchy issues.” The group rallied members, including 14 rabbis from Baltimore and Washington, to join in protests in Baltimore on May 1.

In Ferguson, Mo., a city near St. Louis, protests following the shooting last summer of Michael Brown by a local police officer were a major catalyst for a renewed national debate about police relations with the African-American community.

“What we’re focusing on is healing what’s broken and building a St. Louis that is safe, equal and just for all,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in St. Louis, which helps organize an annual 9/11 commemorative concert that last year made reconciliation its focus.

The Ferguson protests also drew attention to the increased militarization of local police departments.

“To suggest we need police looking like they did in Ferguson, it’s outrageous,” Gutow said. “When you see the blue uniform of police it should be a sign of friendship.”

The expanded availability of military-grade hardware to local police departments coincided with a growing concern about counterterrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. John Cohen, who until last year was a senior counterterrorism official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the war footing adopted by police departments after the attacks put community policing on the back burner.

After race riots in the early 1990s, “there really was a broad and energized movement within the policing discipline to expand local community cooperation focused on preventing crime, improving life,” said Cohen, now a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice in New Jersey who is helping to direct a project examining attacks on faith communities. But after 9/11, he said, “there was a shift in priorities.”

Jewish groups “benefited greatly” from the shift, according to Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community. Concerned that Jewish institutions were prime targets for terrorism, Jewish groups won significant grant money from the Department of Homeland Security — including 97 percent of all funds doled out in 2012 under the department’s Non-Profit Security Grant Program, according to a report that year in the Forward.

Goldenberg praised law enforcement agencies for the “extraordinary amount of time” spent assisting Jewish communities. A degree of militarization was inevitable, he said, to face terrorists at home and abroad.

“Police officers a decade ago were carrying 357s with six shots and rounds on their belts, and they found themselves being confronted by adversaries with automatic weapons,” Goldenberg said. “The paradigm has changed.”


Jewish Midshipman Dead, Tech CEO Missing in Amtrak Derailment

Rachel Jacobs, with her husband and child. Photo credit: JTA

Rachel Jacobs, with her husband and child.
Photo credit: JTA

One Jewish midshipman was killed and a the CEO of Philadelphia tech company is missing after an Amtrak train derailed Tuesday night.

Midshipman Justin Zesmer, from Far Rockaway, N.Y., was one of the seven people killed when Amtrak Northwest Regional train 188 derailed, according to reports. Another 200 were injured.

Rachel Jacobs, the CEO of ApprenNet, a Philadelphia tech company, is among those reported missing.

According to the Naval Academy’s website, Zesmer, 20, was the vice president of the Jewish Midshipman’s club.

“He was his high school’s valedictorian and was just finishing his second year as Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy,” Zesmer’s family said in a statement to the Yeshiva World News. “He was a loving son, nephew and cousin, who was very community minded. This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with our close family and friends. At this time we ask for privacy from the media.”

Jacobs commuted regularly via Amtrak, friends told reporters. Amtrak has not been able to determine whether she was onboard.

Jacobs reportedly used a 10 pass, instead of a regular ticket, which allows passengers to board at any time.

Karl Okamato, Jacobs’ friend and co-founder of ApprenNet, told CNN Jacobs left a meeting with the intent to board train 188 and no one has heard from her since 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Although commuters are sympathetic to the victims of the derailment, some said they still plan to ride Amtrak.

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

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

For Silver, taking the train isn’t the scary part. What scares her is the idea that a meeting was scheduled to take place only hours after the derailment to decide if Amtrak should receive a $252 million budget cut.

In the wake of the accident, Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) issued statement saying he voted against the 2016 Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill.

Silver believes public infrastructure needs to be as well-funded as possible. Amtrak’s 2013 national report states they had 86,000 riders daily and a total of 31.6 million passengers in the fiscal year.

Amtrak has set up an incident hotline for those who believe their friends or family may have been on regional train 188. That number is 800-523-9101.

Check jewishtimes.com for the latest updates.

Continuing a Legacy Day school thrives in former Beth Jacob building

Children wearing crowns decorated with glitter rode their bicycles and scooters into the courtyard of their school on Park Heights Avenue and dashed inside for an icy treat and further Lag B’Omer celebrations.

Whether children would be seen at all in the large building that was once the home of Beth Jacob Congregation, a pillar of the local Jewish community, was uncertain just a few years ago. But through generous community support, including the donation of the building itself, the children’s school, Cheder Chabad, has grown nearly three-fold.

Beth Jacob Congregation sprang to life in Upper Park Heights in 1938, according to “The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook” by Kerry M. Olitzky, in response to the community’s desire for a modern Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood. The congregation was first housed in a building on Park Heights Avenue and Pinkney Road. The Manhattan Avenue property was purchased in 1940 and was used as the sanctuary until 1953.

In that year, Beth Jacob dedicated its first permanent home, which was expanded in 1965. The original house was converted into a gym for the congregation’s 750 pupil-strong Hebrew school, led by Dr. Sidney Esterson.

Steve Bond, who attended that school from 1949 to 1957 and became a bar mitzvah in 1956, described the bustling institutions and the vibrant congregation as a success. Children attended class two days a week, either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., with everyone gathering on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Throughout Beth Jacob’s storied 69-year history, it had five spiritual leaders. Dr. Louis L. Kaplan served from 1939 to 1944, having previously served as the president of Baltimore Hebrew College, now the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University. He went on to be involved with the founding of the conservative Beth El Congregation and Beth Am Synagogue. Kaplan was followed by Rabbi Uri Miller, who led Beth Jacob from 1945 to 1972 and also served as president of the now-dissolved Synagogue Council of America.

According to David Green, a former Beth Jacob member whose parents joined the synagogue in the late 1940s, Miller was a strong advocate for civil rights and was present for several historical moments in the fight for equal rights.

“Our rabbi was on the podium in Washington, D.C., the day Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech,” said Green. “When Dr. King gave his speech, he left his copy of the speech on the podium; it blew off and Rabbi Miller picked it up.”

Rabbi Nahum Ben-Natan began assisting Miller in 1972 and became senior rabbi upon Miller’s death. Rabbi Ronald Schwartz was appointed in 1984. Rabbi Gavriel Newman succeeded him and led Beth Jacob from 1998 until 2007. The congregation was further served by Cantors David Jacob and Ben Zion Weiss.

Ohr Knesseth Israel-Anshe Sphard Congregation, established in 1887, merged with Beth Jacob in 1993 — the sign outside the building still bears the lettering from the merger — and brought the membership to more than 800 family units. But toward the turn of the century, membership was on the decline. The once-bursting Hebrew school was closed down. The membership was advancing in age, and the survival of the congregation was in question.

Robert M. Klein, a lifelong resident of Baltimore and the last president of the congregation his parents, Sol and Eva Klein, had helped found decades before, led the congregation through the difficult task of deciding its future.

Bond, who served as the final chairman of the board, said, “We knew we couldn’t survive where we were, something needed to transpire. With the congregation, the average age was something like 78 years old, so … in order to do something positive for our congregants, [to give them] some place to go, we needed to find either a merger or what, start new? Didn’t make sense.”

In March 2007, Beth Jacob joined with Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville. Nearly 300 Beth Jacob members made the move which made Beth Tfiloh, at least according to contemporary reports, the largest modern Orthodox synagogue in the nation at the time.

“We made a nice arrangement with Beth Tfiloh, who was gracious and made us very welcome,” said Bond.

Beth Tfiloh paid tribute to the rich educational history of Beth Jacob by renaming its religious school the Beth Jacob Hebrew School at Beth Tfiloh. The ner tamid and massive golden doors that once led to Beth Jacob’s aron kodesh are on display alongside a plaque detailing the history of the congregation in the Beth Jacob wing at Beth Tfiloh.

What was to become of Beth Jacob’s building with its iconic arches was for several years, an unsettled question.

For a while, even prior to the move, the building was rented to Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, but it too moved on. The girls’ school now sits off of Park Heights Avenue north of Strathmore Avenue.

In the same year that Beth Jacob was joining with Beth Tfiloh, Cheder Chabad opened in the basement of Tuvia and Alisheva Givre’s home. Just 12 preschool children were enrolled at the time. The next year, a house with an adjoining backyard to Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon’s synagogue, Bais Lubavitch, was purchased on Cross Country Boulevard. That year, 30 children were enrolled in the preschool. The location served the school for a time, but it was clear that the young institution would expand rapidly as more Lubavitch families decided to make Baltimore their home.

“People have been touched in a very real way by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” Lisbon, director of the Cheder, said, referring to Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who passed away in 1994. “Parents who moved here want children to be exposed to that emphasis on continuing the Rebbe’s legacy.”

Though he noted that families do not have to be part of the movement to send their children to the school, the vast majority of students at the Cheder identify with Chabad-Lubavitch.

It’s meant to be, absolutely meant to be. It’s like when you sell a home, you only want the people to have joy. Same with Beth Jacob. We want the education to thrive … Jewish culture we have in Baltimore [to thrive].

In 2012, Dr. Paul Volosov, who had come into possession of the former Beth Jacob building, offered to let Cheder Chabad use the renovated building rent-free for a year. The preschool and boys’ elementary school, then encompassing just grades first through third, moved in. By the end of the year, Volosov had donated the building to the school and a girls’ elementary school was added. The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore helped facilitate the transition and subsidized a new HVAC system.

Today, approximately 170 children attend the preschool, boys’ elementary school grades first through fifth and girls’ elementary school grades first and second. Next year, a sixth grade will be added for the boys and a third grade will be added for the girls. JEWELS, the Jewish Education Where Every Level Succeeds inclusive preschool, which specializes in teaching children with special needs, rents space in the building.

To sustain the school’s growth and continue renovating the building, the schools is hosting the Cheder Chabad Building Inaugural Dinner on June 4. During the reception and dinner, several community members will be honored, among them Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health who will receive the Humanitarian Health Care Leadership Award; and the Dr. and Mrs. James Frenkil Charitable Foundation, which will receive the Community Service Award for its gift of an infirmary to the Cheder.

Mordechai Hackerman, who grew up at Beth Jacob and was valedictorian in its Talmud Torah, will be honored with the Pillar of Torah Award for his generosity to the school.

Naftoli “Talis” Brody and his wife Sarah have been named parents of the year.

Of the community they have been a part of since their third-grade son was 21⁄2 years old, Talis said, “Every time I go there, whether I’m dropping off or picking up … I feel like I’m contributing to the community. I certainly feel very close to the community by being able to participate in the school.”

Though the building has undergone renovations on the interior — the sanctuary is now the school’s multipurpose room, while a rear portion became girls’ classrooms — Lisbon and his 40 staff members say they are respectful and appreciative of the building’s past occupants. They have worked hard to be a “cornerstone of the neighborhood,” Lisbon said.

That Beth Jacob’s former home is again bustling with Jewish education brings comfort to synagogue alumni, who will be collectively recognized as guests of honor at the June gala.

“It was a very special place at a very special time, and I only have good feelings about it,” said Green, who graduated from the Beth Jacob Hebrew School in 1968. “Rabbi Lisbon asked me, ‘Well, what kind of feeling did you get in the sanctuary?’ It’s like a family feeling. It was a very significant place to be.

“It’s meant to be, absolutely meant to be,” added Green. “It’s like when you sell a home, you only want the people to have joy. Same with Beth Jacob. We want the education to thrive … Jewish culture we have in Baltimore [to thrive].”

“I’m delighted that it is being utilized for Jewish purposes and I’m delighted that they’ve elected to honor Beth Jacob’s original presence there,” echoed Bond. “As long as someone remembers Beth Jacob, we will live on.”

For more information, go to mycheder.com/dinner