Home Run for Cardin

Amendments targeting European anti-Israel trade activities were adopted unanimously in the House and Senate finance committees last week.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) authored amendments discouraging European trading partners from engaging in boycotts of Israel or Israeli-controlled territories. Cardin’s amendment was accepted in a 26-0 roll call vote at the April 22 Senate Finance Committee markup of the Trade Promotion Authority Bill and was followed by unanimous approval of a similar measure in the House Ways and Means Committee the following day.

Sen. Ben Cardin: “Trading partners who want to do business with us should not marginalize Israel.” (Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Sen. Ben Cardin: “Trading partners who want to do business with us
should not marginalize Israel.” (Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The amendments further discourage actions by “potential trading partners that directly or indirectly prejudice or otherwise discourage commercial activity solely between the United States and Israel” and provide language to “seek the elimination of state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prospective trading partners.” Cardin affirmed that his amendment uses much of the same language of the U.S.-Israel Trade Enhancement Act of 2015 he put forth with Portman in March.

The negotiating objectives pertaining to trade with Israel apply only to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with European countries and not the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement currently being considered with Asian trading partners in mind.

Roskam’s amendment sought to blunt criticism of the U.S.-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act from groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now. In a statement, both organizations characterized congressional protection of goods from the Israeli-occupied West Bank as counter to American policies critical of Israel’s military and civilian presence there.

“We view the [bill] as not simply unhelpful to the effort to combat” the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, “but contrary to longstanding U.S. policy opposing settlement of the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. In particular, the bill perpetuates and validates one of the BDS movement’s most harmful fallacies: that Israel and the territory it occupies in the West Bank should be treated as one and the same.”

Pushing back on such criticism, a Roskam staffer with knowledge of the legislation said that the language adopted in the amendment pertaining to “Israeli territories” was not a political statement on a two-state solution or final borders, but a reflection of the reality that Israel does have authority over settlements.

“[Our trading partners] should not be imposing political solutions [on Israel],” said the staffer. “We are negotiating the largest free-trade agreement, and we want to ensure that [our trading partners] are not participating in politically motivated boycotts against our trading partners.”

Cardin echoed the staffer’s assertion.

“The thrust of this amendment is to deal with governmental actions, not individuals,” he said. “Individuals can do whatever they want to do. Trading partners who want to do business with us should not marginalize Israel.”

He pointed to past trade deals with Oman and Bahrain as a model. In those cases, an upgrade in trade status was predicated on requiring the Gulf countries to reject boycotts of the Jewish state.

“This is not an unusual move,” said Cardin.

Further language from Roskam’s original requires the president to submit to Congress a report on “politically motivated acts of boycott, divestment from and sanctions against Israel” no later than 180 days after the act’s enactment.

AIPAC, for which fighting Israel boycotts is a legislative priority, heralded the progress of Cardin’s amendment, saying in a statement that it “applauds the important steps that Congress has taken this week to defend Israel against pernicious economic efforts by foreign governments that unfairly single out and boycott our ally.”

The Zionist Organization of America offered similar praise.

It remains to be seen if the amendments, which must still be voted on in both chambers, will cause complications with European trading partners. The European Union officially opposes boycotts of Israel, but there has been a renewed push for distinctly labeling goods made in settlements. In April, 16 foreign ministers wrote a letter to EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, asking her to advance the process of labeling Israeli goods produced in Jewish settlements as “Made in the West Bank.”

“You get push back on everything,” said Cardin. “If they want to be our trade partners, they shouldn’t participate in these anti-trade policies.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

My Israel Puzzle Project

In celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, more than 100 students from area congregational schools filled the auditorium of the Park Heights JCC on Sunday to participate in the My Israel Puzzle Art Installation and Collaborative Project hosted by the Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The students were asked to reflect on what Israel means to them and express those feelings artistically by decorating giant foam puzzle pieces. The pieces will be installed in the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Yom Yerushalayim, May 17, and remain open to viewing through May 27 alongside puzzle pieces created in Baltimore’s sister cities of Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel.

 


Photos by Esther Apt

Free-Range

Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, the Silver Spring parents under investigation for allowing their children, ages 6 and 10, to walk around town without adult supervision, believe they are raising their children to become responsible adults, but their free-range parenting style, which has resulted in two recent run-ins with police, is controversial.

“Free-range is for chickens and cattle, not for children,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children.

“Free-range parenting is not parenting at all,” he said. “We are awfully tired of hearing about naïve adults who put their child in harm’s way to learn at the child’s expense.”

Danielle Meitiv with her children in a family photo. (Provided)

Danielle Meitiv with her children in a family photo. (Provided)

But a hands-off approach to raising children has its supporters. A petition to the Maryland General Assembly on the website change.org urges legislators to “focus on real instances of child neglect” and let parents “responsibly raise” their own children. It had 923 signatures as of last week.

Several people who know the Meitivs described them as caring parents who don’t buy into the stranger-danger theory that encourages children to shy away from anyone they don’t know. Nor are they helicopters parents who hover closely, scrutinizing every move their children make.

“No question about it. They take care of their kids very well,” said Manuel Lopes, who lives across the street and has known the family more than five years.

“In a nutshell, [their parenting is] coming from a very good and thoughtful place,” said someone close to the family who did not want his name used, as he was not authorized to speak for them.

According to him, Danielle Meitiv feels so strongly about free-range parenting that she wants to make a statement. There is a “justice component” to their free-range parenting, he said.

“They see poor people, people of color” who have their children taken from them by the state because they may have left them alone to go to a job interview that could raise the family out of poverty. These families don’t necessarily have the same societal standing or financial means to fight any charges against them.

“They are fighting on behalf of so many others,” he said. “They are fighting for a cause.”

Also, he said, both parents are scientists and live in a data-driven world. The Meitivs talk about how the risks of anything happening is less than in years past. People talk of what a dangerous world it is — pointing anecdotally to the latest reported crime — but “in fact, the data suggests otherwise,” he said.

Attorney George Heym, a former child abuse prosecutor in Pennsylvania, agreed. “I can tell you from my experience dealing with child abuse cases on a daily basis for a number of years, abduction is far and away the least frequent crime that you see against children. And of those abductions, stranger abductions are the most minor percentage of that,” he said. “The vast majority of child abductions involved custody disputes.”

Fear of abduction may have been on the mind of the caller who was walking his dog when he phoned Montgomery County police at 5 p.m., Sunday, April 12, and said he saw two children in the area of Fenton and Easley streets. He told police the children seemed OK and even petted his dog but that he decided to follow them.

Throughout the emergency call, he alerted police where the children were walking and what they were passing, according to the audio of the call that was released to the public.

An officer answering the call found the children by the Fenton Street parking garage, according to a news release from county police. “The officer observed a homeless subject, who he was familiar with, eyeing the children,” it said.

The officer contacted Child Protective Services “per established protocol. Under Maryland law, police officers who become aware of circumstances involving possible child abuse or neglect are mandated to contact representatives of Child Protective Services,” according to the statement.

The children were taken to CPS offices in Rockville, and an investigation was begun by CPS and detectives from the county police’s Special Victims Investigations Division. That investigation is ongoing. The children were picked up by police Dec. 20 in a similar incident.

According to the Meitivs’ attorney, Matthew Dowd, a partner with the law firm of Wiley Rein , Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, were playing outdoors and were only “three short blocks from their home” when they were stopped by police.

“The police demanded that the children get into one of the police cars, under the misleading ëassurance’ that the police would take them home,” according to a written statement from Dowd. Instead, according to Dowd, the children were detained in a police car for almost three hours and kept from their parents for more than six hours.”

“The police never called Danielle or Alexander,” the statement continued. “Nor did they allow Rafi and Dvora to call their parents.”

The family is considering filing a lawsuit, claiming that their rights as parents were violated.

Following advice from their attorney, the Meitivs declined to be interviewed.

Under Maryland law, children must be at least 8 years old before they can be left alone in a house or car. However, there is no law specifying how old children must be to walk alone outdoors. Neither Virginia nor the District of Columbia has set a specific age when a child can be left alone legally.

The parents “are thoughtful, outgoing, personable. They seem to have their stuff together,” said a neighbor.

He called the matter “totally overblown,” and called free-range parenting a real issue. “I think what’s blown out of proportion is that stranger-danger thing,” he said.

Theirs is a safe neighborhood, said another neighbor. The children “seem real prepared.” A life where kids can go to the park and have fun on their own, “that’s the kind of world I want to live in,” said Sandy, who didn’t want her last name used.

The homes surrounding the Meitivs’ are well-tended. Brightly colored tulips bloomed in front of many front yards. The Meitivs have a garden with bright green lettuce leaves already emerging. Yet, their home, which sports a mezuzah on the door, is in clear sight of Fenton Street. A laundromat, 7-Eleven and Greyhound bus station are within a very short walk.

Within a 15-minute-walk is the home of the new Silver Spring library and downtown Silver Spring. It’s the kind of neighborhood that Silver Spring civic associations boast about — suburbia with an urban touch.

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book, blog and movement known as Free-Range Kids, says allowing  children to play outside alone isn’t negligent or abusive; it’s even common in other countries.

“I think that we’ve become so convinced that any time a child is not directly supervised, they are in incredible danger,” she said.

Free-range children are not automatically neglected. Rather, Skenazy said, they learn “that their parents believe in them.” Free play and free time “is really good for developing a lot of characteristics that we like to see in our children like problem-solving, confidence, focus. All those things happen when they have to figure out things for themselves.”

Skenazy said Jewish parents are required to do three things for their children. “One is have them study Torah. Two is teach them a trade. And three is teach them how to swim.” Learning a trade and how to swim “recognizes that our job as parents is to create self-sufficient adults. The Torah doesn’t say our job is to give our children water wings,” she said.

Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, said parenting should be a combination of doing and stepping aside: “There’s a happy medium. Parents should not be watching their kids every step. Parents should not be buying helmets for when [their children] learn to walk. Parents should not be letting their kids wander around whenever, wherever.”

Good parents “assess what is a reasonable level of responsibility,” he said. Most kids can walk around their neighborhood, but are they prepared should something arise, he questioned.

“Kids are individuals. Parents are individuals. And you need to figure out what’s right for your family as well as their safety,” Bilek said.

spollak@midatlanticmedia.com
jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

Not Homegrown

Out-of-town organizer for rally in Baltimore has extremist background

Lawyer Malik Shabazz, founder and president of Black Lawyers for Justice in Washington, D.C., is organizing his second event in Baltimore, a national rally to be held at City Hall this Saturday, May 2, for which he is expecting a “massive” turnout. The first was a demonstration April 25, that began peacefully as it wound through West Baltimore into downtown but then broke out in violence as crowds dispersed.

“Shabazz specializes in arriving at these very fraught events and exploiting them,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors and battles hate groups and other extremists and has its roots in the anti-segregation movement.

“We’re looking at an incredibly tense situation [in Baltimore] that could go either way and Malik Shabazz could only make things worse. He’s not there to find a resolution or calm things down, just the opposite.” Potok added, Shabazz has regularly and publicly demonstrated that he “is a truly amazing over the top anti-Semite, anti-white and anti-gay conspirator.”

The local group People’s Power Assembly had already planned a 1 p.m. march for Saturday prior to Shabazz’s announcement of his rally, said Sharon Black, a volunteer and spokesperson for the organization. She said PPA will ask Sandtown residents (where the march will happen) directly which route they prefer the march to follow, she said. Black added that PPA is “not in touch” with Shabazz and she has “no idea if Shabazz” has contacted members of the local community for their input in the rally plans.

Black emphasized the focus of the PPA march is to attain amnesty for more than 300 young people that have been jailed since demonstrations started more than a week ago and to indict and convict the six police officers involved in the alleged questionable arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray.

Doni Glover, Sandtown resident, editor of Bmore News and owner of DM Global marketing, was surprised to find out he was a local sponsor to Shabazz’s upcoming rally, as it is listed on the BLFJ flyer that appears on the organization’s website.

“I met [Shabazz] and was very disappointed,” said Glover, “They wanted me to lead the press conference [yesterday] but after he disrespected me I left.”

Glover said he is wary of Shabazz because “nobody knows where he’s from” and asserts that being in front of television cameras is his priority. “You don’t come into someone’s community and attempt to manhandle fully capable human beings. … We’re trying to save our city. We are more than capable.”

On the SPLC website, Shabazz has a profile that includes several of his inflammatory public statements in the section titled Extremist Files, which are ongoing reports SPLC maintains to track activities of individuals that demonstrate hateful language or actions.

The profile includes the call and response Shabazz led before an event at Howard University in 1994, a few years before he became  leader of the New Black Panther Party.

Shabazz: “Who is it that caught and killed Nat Turner?”
Audience: “Jews!”
Shabazz: “Who is it that controls the Federal Reserve?”
Audience: “Jews!”
Shabazz: “What? You’re not scared, are you?”
Audience: “Jews! Jews!”
Shabazz: “Who is it that controls the media and Hollywood?”
Audience: “Jews! Jews!”
Shabazz: “Who is it that has our entertainers … and our athletes in a vice grip?”
Audience: “Jews!”

Said Potok, “I cannot imagine any positive aspect to Shabazz visiting Baltimore.” Though he is not criminally responsible, he said, Shabazz “has an extremely lengthy track record of instigating hatred and violence.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

‘The Whole World Is Seeing This’

After a week that saw peaceful protests turn to riots and looting, members of the Baltimore Jewish community are concerned about the future of their city as well as what the world is seeing.

“We really were seeing a majority of very nonviolent protests. Our city has a very long history of being involved in nonviolent protests. This was really personal for a lot of people who feel like Baltimore has come a long way,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “When we see something like [rioting and looting], it completely detracts from where we started from.”

Tolle’s comments came Tuesday morning, a day after afternoon clashes with police in West Baltimore turned to looting, car fires and damage to businesses and properties that stretched from Mondawmin to Fells Point.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. “I am devastated.”

Photos by Melissa Gerr and Ilana Goldmeier.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Andrew Busch said it worries him what the world outside of Baltimore may be seeing, but it does not surprise him.

“Baltimore becomes the same as any other place dealing with a tragic crisis in that it’s hard to convey the complexity of the message,” he said. “I think what most of us are looking at locally is knowing there is the worst and the best. The people who have [peacefully] protested far outweigh, numerically, the people who then turned to riot.”

The city has been on edge since the death Freddie Gray, 25, who was arrested on April 12 and died on April 19 after suffering injuries while in police custody. It is not known when and how he sustained the injuries.

It was late Monday night when Tolle thought about how far and wide images of Baltimore were being broadcasted.

“My first thought when I had turned on WJZ was, ‘Is this also airing on CNN?’ I switched over to CNN and came to the realization that this isn’t just our local news, the whole world is seeing this,” she said.

The previous week saw smaller demonstrations that culminated on Saturday, April 25, when thousands of people chanted and waved signs as they marched from West Baltimore toward City Hall. When the protest got near downtown and near Camden Yards, the dispersing crowd turned violent as police cars were vandalized, business windows were broken, cars stuck in traffic were damaged and fights broke out between protesters and baseball fans at a bar outside the stadium.

Calm turned to chaos Monday afternoon, the day of Gray’s funeral, after a call for a “purge” spread through social media and what appeared to be school-aged individuals quarreled with police in the Mondawmin area, according to news and police reports. They threw rocks, bricks and bottles at officers; a car was set of fire, and later, residents ransacked Mondawmin Mall. But before the looting began there, businesses in the area of North and Pennsylvania avenues were attacked, including a CVS pharmacy, which was set on fire. Businesses on the west side of downtown were looted, their windows smashed. A large fire at Federal and North Gay streets destroyed a building that was under construction by a local church that was to become senior housing.

Spector maintained that recent events shed light on problems in the city that must be dealt with.

“I think that what has been swept under the rug, or not really tended to, is right in our face right now,” she said. “We can’t be blinded, we can’t give it a pass, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to these people who have nothing to lose but something to gain. We’re going to figure out how to fix this.”

At least 15 police officers were injured by Monday night, according to reports. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Tuesday. (Baltimore City already has a curfew of 9 p.m. for those 14 and under.) City schools were closed Tuesday as were many businesses and offices, some of which closed early after opening in the morning. The Orioles postponed Monday’s and Tuesday’s games, and while many fans were peeved, Orioles COO John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, offered thoughts via Twitter that were widely praised and circulated.

“The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards,” he said in several tweets. “We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

We can’t be blinded, we can’t give it a pass, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to these people who have nothing to lose but something to gain. We’re going to figure out how to fix this.

On Tuesday, with threats of more “purges” on social media to be held in areas such as Northern Parkway and the Owings Mills Mall, which did not occur, many organizations took action. A large number of Jewish day schools and the Park Heights JCC closed early. Baltimore County Public Schools canceled after-school and evening activities. CareFirst’s office in Owings Mills, located in the tower office buildings adjacent to the mall, closed early as well.

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen of Chabad of Owings Mills was still going to hold a minyan at 2 p.m. at one of the office buildings by the mall, although he said some people will not be there and security will be beefed up. He also evacuated the Torahs from the Chabad facility as a precaution.

While Monday was chaotic and there were “hotspots” until the following morning, before dawn on Tuesday dozens were out in the streets helping clean up the city. Cleanup on North and Pennsylvania avenues, which experienced looting and fire Monday, started before dawn when a diverse group of people from the neighborhood and beyond showed up.

A front-loader earlier in the day moved large pieces of trash, and the city brought in a large dumpster around 9 a.m. that residents used to dispose of bags of trash, broken doors and twisted metal shelving from stores. People were sweeping and hauling trash, while others gave out free drinks and snacks.

Molly Amster, Baltimore director of Jews United for Justice who attended Saturday’s protests, said her organization was heartbroken after Monday’s violence. She was out helping cleanup efforts on Tuesday.

“The message that is being sent by everyone, regardless of what types of actions they’re taking, the message is our system is broken,” Amster said, adding that she condemns Monday’s violence. “The issue of police brutality and the lack of accountability that we see when it occurs is what people are asking to be addressed and be fixed.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore started accepting donations to benefit the neighborhoods affected by Monday’s violence and is working with churches, community centers and civic organizations to property distribute that aid. Through Jewish Volunteer Connection, The Associated also sent volunteers to help clean up.

“For generations, The Associated has been there in the good times and bad,” its president, Marc Terrill, said in a prepared statement. “We know that soon, with everyone playing a role, we will rebuild Baltimore into the community of strength and charm for which it is known.”

On Tuesday morning, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young held a news conference where unidentified gang members pleaded for the violence to stop. Videos and photos of members of the Bloods, the Crips and the Nation of Islam coming together to condemn violence circulated social media the day before.

In news conferences on Monday night, Young, Rawlings-Blake, Hogan and Spector referred to Monday’s rioters as “thugs.”

“This is not what Freddie Gray’s family wanted,” Young said, noting that the riots remind him of the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “These are thugs who are seizing upon an opportunity to show their anger, their distrust and their frustration at the police department, and this is not the way to do it.”

Councilman Brandon M. Scott was blunt: “I am simply pissed off,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake added, “It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who was out at the protests on Saturday with Jews United for Justice, did not think the same people who peacefully protested Saturday were responsible for Monday’s destruction.

“This seems to be a social media instigated that quickly turned violent,” he said. “It’s different people, not community leaders, not the social justice community. It’s a reflection of the overall racial tensions in Baltimore, but the comparisons need to stop there.”

Burg was firm that there are problems that need to be addressed, but Monday’s events were not the right way.

“There’s no excuse for people stealing [and] throwing rocks and bricks at police,” he said. “It’s never helpful, never called for.”

In Northwest Baltimore County on Monday night, Shomrim was at work on a plan in case the violence migrated north to the Orthodox community, where things were quiet, spokesman Nathan Willner said.

“The biggest concern is that most of the police resources are deployed to the harbor and where the riots are taking place, which means our community would have less resources,” Willner said around 9:45 Monday night. “We are at a high alert. We are making sure that our responders are available.”

Less than five miles from several of Monday’s incidents, the Harbor East area was relatively quiet. A handful of restaurants hosted dining patrons, but almost everything was closed, including the 24-hour CVS.

Deirdre, a Baltimore County native and a manager at Gordon Biersch Brewing Company on Lancaster Street in Harbor East, was moving large tables and chairs inside from the patio with help from her staff.

“We’re just trying to get closed up so everyone can get home safely; we don’t know where all of the commotion is happening or where it’s coming [from],” she said. “We’re [bringing in] and locking up our patio furniture, anything that can be lifted and thrown is now locked up. We never do this. We usually lock things up with cords and master locks. So right now we’re getting everything safe.”

At the same time, neighbors helped each other clean up broken glass, board up windows and stand guard just half a mile away on Broadway in Fells Point, where a 7-Eleven, another convenience store and a MetroPCS mobile phone store was broken into and looted.

Because of the protests on Saturday, Rabbi Ariel Fishman, his wife and their son walked back from Lloyd Street Synagogue Saturday mid-afternoon
to Judaic Heritage, near University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he is director.

“We decided to walk down Lombard thinking we’d be off the main Pratt Street protest traffic, but we still saw tons of people pouring out,” he said, noting that some wore anonymous Guy Fawkes masks. “It didn’t feel unsafe, but there were a lot of people moving out of that area.”

“Some of the people had a pain and sadness on their faces,” said Fishman. “I always think of what MLK said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ And that resonates with Jewish ethics, to love all people, love all creation. It’s a concept that has a firm hold in Jewish tradition.”

Tolle expressed concerns over what impact this week’s events may have on the city from things such as business insurance, taxpayer costs and the city’s economic future. But there needs to be dialogue, she said.

“These are conversations we need to have about how to better our community,” she said, “how we can come together and make sure this doesn’t happen again and address the issues that started all this.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com, mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Telling Tales

The Stoop Storytelling series returns to Bolton Street Synagogue after a sellout event last year, and this year’s lineup for “It’s Still Complicated: Stories about the Joys and Oys of Contemporary Jewish Life” includes three area writers more likely to be read on the page than seen on stage.

In just seven minutes, each storyteller will regale the audience this weekend with their Jewish-themed true-life tale from a wild bachelor party with a Jewish rock-and-roll legend to being married to a Nobel Prize winner.

Evan Serpick, the editor of Baltimore City Paper who grew up in Pikesville and admittedly “hated going to Hebrew School,” will recount the afternoon when he and fellow partners in crime, Andy, Josh and David, devised an involved scheme — including fake blood, because that’s what fifth-graders do — in an attempt to avoid one more grueling day of studying the aleph bet.

As a former adjunct professor at Towson, Serpick said he’s comfortable talking in front of people but performing a story is different.

“One thing I like about writing is you really have time to think about your words carefully,” said Serpick, who is also a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. “But when speaking in front of a crowd, you’re stuck with what comes mind.” So he’s rehearsed somewhat but expects the details of the fateful day to play out for the audience as vividly as they have in his memory.

Stoop creators Laura Wexler and Jessica Myles Henkin host their main series at Center Stage, now in its 10th year, and also regularly partner with organizations to create storytelling events tailored to a specific audience.

“I seriously think the Stoop is one of my favorite things about Baltimore,” said Jennifer Mendelsohn, a columnist for Baltimore Style magazine who will share her story about an emotional family reunion, more than 100 years in the making. So when Wexler and Henkin agreed to host at Bolton Street, “the love for my synagogue and for the Stoop came together.”

Telling stories is an inherent part of being Jewish, said Bolton Street Synagogue’s Rabbi John Franken, adding, “The story in Jewish culture is the instrument par excellence for teaching a lesson, and [the stories are] frequently entertaining, engaging and memorable.”

Memorable accurately describes Rona Kobell’s 18 months spent as a reporter in the small town of St. Joseph, Mo., where she said “being Jewish was more of a novelty” than in her hometown of Squirrel Hill, a place Kobell referred to as the Pikesville of Pittsburgh. Kobell will relate her experience covering stories such as a cross burning and an interview at the Hoof and Horn steakhouse, where she was questioned about leaving a pork chop uneaten on her plate.

“When you’re a reporter you want to foster a connection with people. You want to have some commonality,” said Kobell, now an environmental staff writer for Chesapeake Bay Journal and host of WYPR’s “Midday on the Bay.” “So there was this awkwardness where you don’t want to be rude, but at the same time, you don’t want to eat the pork chop.”

Get the rest of Kobell’s story as well as other personal anecdotes from Jewish Museum of Maryland director Marvin Pinkert; comedienne Meshelle; Bolton Street Synagogue president Marc Hartstein; and Johns Hopkins University executive Nancy Riess.

Proceeds from the May 2 event will benefit Bolton Street Synagogue’s educational and social action programs.

Falk Leaves Hopkins Hillel for AIPAC

After more than four years with Johns Hopkins University’s Hopkins Hillel, assistant director Jonathan Falk left his post April 19 to become associate area director in Baltimore for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“It’s a great opportunity for him; he was ready for the next step,” said Hopkins Hillel director Rabbi Debbie Pine. “He was an amazing presence with deep, close ties to students and staff, and we’re sad to see him go, but we’re happy for his next opportunity.”

Pine said although Falk was offered the AIPAC position several weeks ago, he negotiated to stay with Hillel until after the busy time of Passover. A search for a new assistant director is hoped to produce results within the next couple of weeks, she said.

A native Baltimorean, Falk returned to his hometown when he started at Hopkins Hillel, first as program director. He is an alumnus of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where he majored in business and religion with a concentration in management and Jewish thought.

Rabbi Darren and Avital Levin, who for the past two years have served as the Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus representatives at the Hillel, will also be leaving, said Pine. Half of the Hillel’s staff will be new in the fall, so “it’s a big transition for us.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

White House Honors Lubavitcher Rebbe

050115_chabad_brief

President Barack Obama presents a ceremonial copy of the Education and Sharing Day Proclamation to a delegation from the American Friends of Lubavitch in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A delegation from Chabad-Lubavitch was welcomed in the Oval Office on Monday to commemorate Education and Sharing Day, USA, which honors the life’s work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Established by Congress in 1978, every year on Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson’s birthday, the day recongizes the late rabbi for his contributions in the “fields of education and morality, ethics and justice,” according to the White House’s blog. In particular, the annual proclamation acknowledges the emphasis Schneerson placed on girls’ education.

In part, the proclamation reads, “In an era where a woman’s education was not valued the same as a man’s, the Rebbe worked to tear down barriers that stood in the way of girls who wanted to learn.”

The delegation that met with President Barack Obama included leadership of the American Friends of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbis Abraham and Levi Shemtov, Rabbi Yossy Gordon from Chabad on Campus, veteran teacher Rebbetzin Chave Hecht and two children from Tzivos Hashem, the Chabad-Lubavitch children’s organization.

The delegation presented the president with a menorah bearing an inscription that read, “Mr. President, you represent the middle flame, which stands on a higher plane, dedicated in service to others and the greater good, carrying the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation upon your shoulders.”

In turn, Obama presented the delegation with a framed commemorative copy of this year’s proclamation, which was signed on March 31. According to the White House blog, in his remarks, Obama called “combating rising anti-Semitism a moral obligation.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Locals Lend a Hand During Baltimore Unrest

Tov PizzaWhile some members of the Jewish community were out in west Baltimore helping clean up trash and debris on Tuesday morning after protests over the death of Freddie Gray turned to rioting and looting, others did their part in northwest Baltimore.

Wednesday morning, members of the Northwest Citizens Patrol were out at the Orthodox day schools during drop-off.

“We were helping at the Orthodox schools to make sure everything was fine,” said Neil Schachter, the organization’s president.

The previous day, with threats of “purges” circulating social media, which did not occur, Frank Storch brought food and water to law enforcement officers staging at Mondawmin Mall, which experienced looting and clashes between what appeared to be high school students and police on Monday.

“I met up with two former Baltimore County SWAT members and decided to go to the Mondawmin Mall to the staging area where the various police departments and National Guard were set up,” Storch said via email. “I spoke to Ronnie Rosenbluth from Tov Pizza, and David Cohen of Kosher Bite, and we coordinated fresh hot food for the hungry officers. They even had a choice of hotdogs, hamburgers or pizza, with of course, lots of bottled water to go around. We fed hundreds of officers.”

MCVIn Owings Mills, northwest Baltimore County-based motorcycle club, Motorcycle Club Five (MCV), which has several Jewish members, bought 40 pizzas to send downtown. Two of their members, Steve “Precher” Dorn and Mark “Bolt” Bevard are police officers.

“It pulls at our heart strings … the fact that they’re really putting their lives and safety really on the line through the craziness,” Carl “Diesel” Galler, co-vice president and one of the founders of the club. “We did hear that a lot of these guys were doing 16-hour shifts without getting a bite to eat under stressful circumstances.”

Through the club’s charitable arm, MCVcares, club members purchased about 40 pizzas and met Dorn in Owings Mills. He then got the pizzas to officers working downtown.

“We wanted them to go directly to these guys on the frontline,” Galler said.

Peaceful protests turn to rioting and widespread looting

Photo from DowntownAfter a weekend of peaceful protests with some isolated violence, Baltimore fell victim to rioting on Monday that saw looting and car fires and masked youths throwing rocks at firefighters and police and clashing with other civilians.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents Northwest Baltimore, said of the widespread damage. “I am devastated.”

According to news and police reports, calm turned to chaos Monday afternoon after a call for a “purge” spread through social media and what appeared to be school-aged individuals quarreled with police in the Mondawmin area. They threw rocks, bricks and bottles at officers; a car was set of fire and later, residents ransacked Mondawmin Mall. But before the looting began there, businesses in the area of North and Pennsylvania Avenues were attacked, including a CVS pharmacy, which was set on fire.

Businesses on the west side of downtown were looted, their windows smashed. A large fire at Federal and N. Gay streets destroyed a building built by a local church that was to become senior housing.
At least 15 police officers were injured by Monday night, according to reports. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency. State Troopers, National Guard and law enforcement agencies from around the state were called to the city. City police were fully deployed and leave was cancelled for officers.

The city has been on edge since the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was arrested on April 12 and died on April 19 after suffering injuries while in police custody. It is not known when and how he sustained the injuries.

Molly Amster, Baltimore director of Jews United for Justice, who attended protests on Saturday, said her organization was heartbroken after Monday’s violence.

“We started Jews United for Justice in Baltimore because we believe that our Jewish community can and must be on the front lines of efforts to address the unconscionable economic and racial inequality in our city,” she said in a statement. “We have followed the leadership of our partners in the black community and joined with thousands of Baltimoreans to call for justice for Freddie Gray and for critical reforms to our city and state’s criminal justice system.”

Before the rioting that occurred on Monday, she accused the media of focusing too much on how rage is expressed than on the causes underlying that rage.

“Fundamental changes are required to instill trust between the police department and the community that it serves,” she said in her Monday statement. “But tonight, our hope is for peace and safety for everyone in our city.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong citywide curfew starting Tuesday night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Baltimore City Schools were closed Tuesday. Rawlings-Blake, Hogan, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Spector referred to the rioters as “thugs.”

“This is not what Freddie Gray’s family wanted,” Young said, noting that the riots reminded him of the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “These are thugs who seizing upon an opportunity to show their anger, their distrust and their frustration at the police department and this is not the way to do it.”

Councilman Brandon M. Scott was blunt: “I am simply pissed off,” he said.
Rawlings-Blake added, “It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

Less than five miles in three directions from the epicenter of the unrest, the Harbor East area was relatively quiet Monday night. A handful of restaurants hosted dining patrons, but almost everything was closed, including the 24-hour CVS store.

Deirdre, a Baltimore county native and a manager at Gordon Biersch Brewery on Lancaster Street, was hoisting large tables and chairs inside from the patio with help from her staff.

“We’re just trying to get closed up so everyone can get home safely, we don’t know where all of the commotion is happening or where it’s coming,” she said. “We’re [bringing in] and locking up our patio furniture, anything that can be lifted and thrown is now locked up. We never do this. We usually lock things up with cords and master locks. So right now we’re getting everything safe.”

At the same time neighbors helped each other clean up broken glass, board up windows and stand guard just half a mile away on Broadway and Pratt Street in Fells Point. It was there that a 7-11 store, another convenience store and a mobile phone dealer was broken into and looted.

Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who was out at the protests on Saturday with Jews United for Justice, did not think the same people who turned to localized violence that afternoon — fans at Camden Yards were told to shelter in place and a business at the Inner Harbor was vandalized as tensions flared between protesters and police — were responsible for Monday’s destruction.

“This seems to be a social media instigated that quickly turned violent,” he said. “It’s different people, not community leaders, not the social justice community. It’s a reflection of the overall racial tensions in Baltimore, but the comparisons need to stop there.”

Burg was firm that there are problems that need to be addressed, but Monday’s events were not the right way.

“There’s no excuse for people stealing, throwing rocks and bricks at police,” he said. “It’s never helpful, never called for.”

In northwest Baltimore County on Monday night, Shomrim was at work coming up with a plan were the violence to migrate north to the largely Orthodox Jewish community, where things were quiet, spokesman Nathan Willner said.

“The biggest concern is that most of the police resources are deployed to the harbor and where the riots are taking place, which means our community would have less resources, Willner said around 9:45 p.m. Monday night. “We are at a high alert. We are making sure that our responders are available.”

JT Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan contributed to this report.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com
mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com