The Struggle Continues

Ilya and Luba Tolkachov and their 22-month-old son live in a tiny one-room Kiev apartment, which they share with with Ilya’s mother. (Ben Sales)

Ilya and Luba Tolkachov and their 22-month-old son live in a tiny one-room Kiev apartment, which they share with with Ilya’s mother. (Ben Sales)

KIEV — In a crowded room of the Tolkachov family’s tiny apartment here, a couch and twin bed sit kitty-corner from each other, sandwiching a small crib. In another corner, a wooden table is cluttered with a computer and some toys.

Since October, three generations of the Tolkachov family — grandmother, parents and 22-month-old baby — have all slept in this one room. To keep clean what little space they have, everyone takes off their shoes when they come in.

The Tolkachovs weren’t always poor. Ilya, 26, worked for an import-export business in Lugansk, the war-torn city in eastern Ukraine. His wife, Luba, 28, was an administrator at the local university. Ilya’s mother, Maria, lived nearby with her husband, a retired Ukrainian army officer. In his spare time, Ilya gave photography lessons at the local branch of Hesed, a Jewish senior citizens center.

Last summer, the family began hearing explosions near their home in Lugansk. Ilya claims they saw Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 fall out of the sky in July after being shot down over Torez, Luba’s hometown.

After the crash, the family packed some clothes and went to visit Luba’s family in Kiev, intending to stay no longer than a few weeks. They have yet to return home.

“Everything that we have, we needed to leave in Lugansk,” Ilya said. “Our flat, all of our belongings, our memories, we have to leave in Lugansk. This is just one more step to a better life.”

So far, that better life has remained elusive. Ilya managed to find a job in his field, but due to the economic crisis that hit Ukraine because of the war, they make rent only with aid from Jewish organizations. His father remains in Lugansk, scared that he could be forced to re-enlist if he moves.

The Tolkachovs’ story is common among Jewish refugees in Kiev who fled their homes in the embattled eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist forces have been fighting the Ukrainian army since last spring. Safe from bombs and gunfire, in the capital they face different hardships.

The Ukrainian hryvnia has lost more than half its value against the dollar just since January, shattering the economy and making even staple foods expensive. Refugees say it’s hard to find work or places to live in Kiev, where many locals view them as hostile elements — culturally Russian imports from a separatist region who have brought crisis upon themselves. According to the United Nations, nearly 1 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced as of February.

“There’s a stereotype that people don’t want to give those people apartments for rent or give people a job,” said Anna Bondar, public relations manager for the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, in the Kiev region. “They think in the beginning that these refugees were not against the situation, and many of them are pro-Russian, and that’s why they’re blaming them.”

JDC has aided more than 600 Jewish refugees in the Kiev area with help from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has poured more than $19 million into Ukraine since December 2013. Through the local branch of Hesed and Beiteinu, a JDC center for youth and family programs, JDC provides newly arrived families three to six months of subsidies for food, clothes, toiletries, medicine and rent totaling up to about $250 a month. The centers also host programs for the elderly and families, as well as a Sunday school.

Nina Tverye, who left the eastern city of Donetsk with her grandson in July and attends Hesed’s day programs for the elderly, said “it makes it feel better” to spend time with other refugees. Tverye said refugees spend all their time talking about the war.

“From this we start the day, and with this we finish the day,” Tverye said. “We are always discussing what is happening.”

Children from the Russian-speaking east face the added challenge of integrating into Ukrainian-speaking schools. At Or Avner, a Chabad-run elementary and middle school in Kiev, 15 refugees have been absorbed into a student body of 160, and the school provides tutors to help with the language difficulty as well as clothes and daily hot meals to take home.

But though a psychologist visits the school weekly to meet with refugees, the school has treaded lightly in explaining the war to its students. Teachers are afraid of wading into a controversial subject, so they stick instead to biblical tales on the importance of welcoming guests.

“Children are very sensitive, so when the parents are tense — they lost their job, the future is in question — we receive frightened, nervous, foreign children,” said Elka Ina Markovitch, the school’s founder. “When a child comes from a stable family, they still react in as calm a way as possible. An unstable family reacts unstably.”

Jewish aid workers all say the Jewish community harbors less animosity toward Jewish refugees than Kievans in general. But the burden of helping Jewish refugees has fallen to international groups like IFCJ rather than local Ukrainian Jewish organizations.

Donetsk Rabbi Pinchas Vishetsky, who has seen his city’s community dwindle from 10,000 before the war to 2,000 now, left for Kiev in August. He now manages the Donetsk community’s religious, educational and charity programs from afar, largely through IFCJ funding. He has given up hope of returning anytime in the near future.

“The Ukrainian Jews are in a complex situation, they’re in a complex economic crisis,” Vishetsky said. “They need to take care of the local Jewish community before they take care of communities affected by war. I hope God will do what’s needed. I have stopped hoping and started living with reality.”

Carole Sibel, Rock Star Philanthropist

Carole Sibel held “virtually every leadership position possible”  at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. (Provided)

Carole Sibel held “virtually every leadership position possible”
at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

There’s no debating that Carole Sibel was a true champion. From the Jewish community to the animal advocacy community to the arts community and to the medical community, Sibel’s impact and otherworldly fundraising abilities were felt all over Baltimore.

“She’s like irreplaceable,” said Sheldon Stein, president and CEO of Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where Sibel served on the board for more than two decades. “For the right cause, Carole was able to get Mr. Scrooge to write a check.”

Sibel passed away from cancer on March 27 at the age of 79. She is survived by her husband, Hanan “Bean” Sibel, three children, Steven and Todd Sibel and Cara Cohen and seven grandchildren.

Her funeral service, held on March 30 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, was attended by close to 1,000 people and was more “a celebration of her life,” Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg said.

“What made this funeral, in my mind, was not how many people as much as the diversity of the people,” Wohlberg said. “Diversity touched upon everything that she touched: rich, poor, old, young, black, white, gay, straight, singers, dancers — they were all there. This was not a Pikesville senior home.”

Stein said the service was a “Who’s Who of Maryland VIPs” including CEOs, Jewish community leaders and politicians.

Even Wohlberg had been touched by Sibel’s philanthropy: She chaired the annual Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School scholarship fundraiser Spotlight in 2006, which featured speaker Oprah Winfrey.

“You name it, it was her cause. She loved to be of help, she loved to be of service. That was her thing,” Wohlberg said. “It wasn’t for fame and glory because at a certain point, you don’t need it. You’ve done enough. But she never stopped. This is what kept her engine running.”

Her daughter, Cara Cohen, isn’t even sure she knows all the things her mother did.

“She was pretty unbelievable,” Cohen said. “I always remember being surrounded by many, many different people because she was involved in so many different things.”

Their house was always hosting meetings, parties or other gatherings. And Sibel’s kids grew up not just surrounded by humans, but also by animals. Their mother was very involved with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and was serving on its board at the time of her death. Cohen recalled a time that someone left a cat in a basket on their porch.

“Somebody put it there because they knew she would keep it or find a home for it,” Cohen said.

Zoo President and CEO Donald Hutchinson said he goes back 20 years with Sibel, when they were both on the zoo board.

“Those things that she felt strongly about, she probably felt more strongly than any other mere mortal,” he said. “I think the most interesting thing about Carole was she was willing to go back to all of her friends over and over again.”

Hutchinson said Sibel saw the value in the zoo as an historical institution as well as a place that helped certain animal species survive and that offered families educational experiences. She came to all the board meetings and took on various special projects. When the zoo added its raven exhibit, Sibel sold the Adopt-a-Raven program to hundreds of people, Hutchinson said.

“She was unwavering in her opinions, so if she felt committed to a cause, you might debate the cause, but you could not debate the commitment,” he said.

In addition to these causes, Sibel was a force at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and was a regular its events and fundraisers. Marc Terrill, the organization’s president, called her “tenacious and resolute.”

“Carole has held virtually every leadership position possible at The Associated and organizations we value a connection with. I’ve known her for over two decades. She was the first chair of the board when I served as president,” he said. “Her contributions to The Associated and the Jewish community and community at large, I know, will endure for generations to come, simply because of how she lived her life. She cared for the vulnerable, believed in the power of ideas.”

While a void most certainly will be felt in her passing, Stein hopes Sibel’s family can find comfort in her impact.

“I just hope they feel the positive that she did in the community and recognize that Baltimore is definitely a much better, stronger city because of the work that she did for everybody,” he said.

A Gaffe at the Gordon Center

The March 11 to 15 run of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” garnered five complaints.

The March 11 to 15 run of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” garnered five complaints.

When “Old Jews Telling Jokes” came to the Gordon Center for a series of performances in March, five actors paid tribute to Jewish humor. A handful of audience members got more than they bargained for, walking out after an offending joke involving Jesus on (and off) the cross.

The joke, as told by producer Phil Roy, involves a father turning his nail business over to his sons. The first ad he sees has a picture of Jesus on the cross with the line, “They used Levinson’s nails.” The father, outraged by his “idiot sons” tells them to fix it, and the next ad is a photo of Jesus lying near the cross with the line, “They should have used Levinson’s nails.”

Edward and Debra Grace of Timonium were two of the patrons who walked out because of that joke. The Gordon Center said they received five complaints.

“That really crossed the line,” said Edward Grace, who noted the couple is older and not generally a fan of the “X-rated” humor found in the production. “We wouldn’t have complained about anything, even though there were a lot of four-letter words.”

In a letter the couple sent to the Jewish Times and the Gordon Center, Edward Grace equated it to joking about the Holocaust.

“I am sure a ‘joke’ about the suffering during the Holocaust would not be tolerated, as it shouldn’t be, and neither should this,” he wrote.

Roy, who is Jewish, said the joke is innocuous, and people working on the production are sensitive to jokes that would offend non-Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, it has to with the two idiot sons,” Roy said. “I’ve produced something like 50 shows since 1972, and there’s no show that you can do that somebody isn’t going to have a problem with.”

Randi Benesch, managing director of arts and culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, which operates the Gordon Center, pointed out that “Old Jews Telling Jokes” was not presented by the Gordon Center, but the show rented the theater for its showing. Benesch said the show was not vetted prior to its showing.

“We have such a variety of rentals from jazz concerts to gospel choirs. It would be difficult to see everything before its production,” she said, noting that some shows run for the first time at the Gordon Center. “This experience has me thinking that — especially for plays where there could be controversial content — that we should be reviewing the scripts before we take it on.”

This experience has me thinking that — especially for plays where there could be controversial content — that we should be reviewing the scripts before we take it on.

Benesch has reached out to the patrons who complained about the show and offered them complimentary tickets to upcoming shows.

“It’s not at all reflective of what we’re trying to achieve at the Gordon Center,” she said. She even spoke with Roy, who said he’s taking the joke out of the Providence, R.I., show, but it will still be part of the show in other cities.

“The joke was in New York for the entire two-year run,” Roy said. “The author told me he had one complaint.”

In its eight-week Philadelphia run, there were two complaints. Five complaints in the Baltimore run, which was held from March 11 through March 15, surprised him.

“Our Catholic director specifically left [the joke] in, and the Catholic director from San Diego when we did the show there left it in,” he said.

Roy has brought shows to the Gordon Center for the past five years. While he was surprised at the number of complaints, he thinks audience members should have been ready when they came to the show.

“The show is like 60 percent adult humor,” he said. “We say it right in the ads. Adults only.”

Hate Crime or Not?

Last month, a Jewish George Washington University student posted a swastika to his fraternity’s bulletin board after returning from a spring break trip to India, where the swastika is considered an ancient good luck symbol.

It didn’t have the effect he intended. GW President Steven Knapp referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, which is currently investigating.

But is it a hate crime or an obnoxious prank? If the incident had occurred at George Mason University in Virginia or the University of Maryland, the answer could be different.

“A hate crime simply occurs when you have a traditional crime like assault or arson or whatever it might be which is motivated by a hatred for somebody based upon a protected characteristic such as race or gender or religion or in some situations sexual orientation or sexual identity, but the underlying thing is there must first be a crime,” said GW law professor John F. Banzhaf III.

What constitutes a hate crime varies by state, and the statutes could be the difference between an ordinary criminal prosecution and the penalty enhancement associated with a hate crime.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania enhance penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice toward someone’s race, color, religion or national origin.

Washington’s statute is the most wide-ranging when it comes to bias-related crimes. It also includes increased penalties for crimes motivated by “the accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, homelessness, physical disability or matriculation or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.”

A conviction for a hate crime — it’s typically added to other charges — has the potential to lead to significant consequences at sentencing.

Criminal defense attorney Lonny Bramzon, who represented a client accused of a hate crime in Washington, said that transgender is a protected status under the city’s hate crime law and his client was accused of stabbing a transgender person.

A guilty verdict can bring up to “one-and-a-half times the maximum fine authorized for the designated act” and imprisonment “for not more than one-and-a-half times the maximum term” applicable to the original crime in the District.

“There were comments made before and after that led the government to believe that it was a bias-motivated crime,” said Bramzon of allegations against his client. “The crime was motivated by this sort of bias or hatred against somebody for who they are, whether it be religion or gender identity; in this case, it was gender identity.”

But the charges may have beendifferent if the crime had occurred in Virginia or in Maryland or Pennsylvania, where being transgender is not a protected status under their hate crime laws.

Maryland also enhances penalties  if a bias-related crime is committed against a homeless person. The law refers to crimes committed “because of another’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin or because another is homeless.”

“What the Legislature has said is, ‘Look, if you’re committing a crime against someone and you are doing it because you hate them for their gender or whatever is on the list … then that’s going to be a separate crime that is going to carry more’ ” time, said Curtis Zeager, assistant state’s attorney for Montgomery County.

“If the underlying crime is a felony, the hate crime itself is going to be a felony, and it’s going to carry 10 years. If the underlying crime is a misdemeanor, the hate crime is going to be a misdemeanor and it’s going to carry three years. And if it’s a murder, the hate crime charge is going to be 20 years,” said Zeager.

Virginia’s statute “imposes additional penalties if a person intentionally selects the person against whom a simple assault or assault and battery resulting in bodily injury is committed because of his race, religious conviction, color or national origin.”

Assault and battery is a misdemeanor in Virginia punishable by up to 12 months in jail or a $2,500 fine.  But if the crime is found to be motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, religion or national origin, then the charge is upped to a felony that is punishable by up to five years in jail. The sentence must be at least six months with a mandatory incarceration of 30 days.

The Old Dominion also forbids intentionally intimidating a person or group by burning a cross “on the property of another, a highway or public space,” placing a swastika “on any church, synagogue or other building or place used for religious worship, or on any school, educational facility or community center owned or operated by a church or religious body” and displaying a noose on another’s private property without permission or “highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”

“Pennsylvania does not have a ‘hate crimes’ statute per se,” said Rebecca D. Spangler of the district attorney’s office in Allegheny County. It instead has a crime of ethnic intimidation.

The statute makes it a criminal offense “if, with malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals” a person commits an underlying crime listed in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code such as aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief or criminal trespass.

“If an individual is charged and convicted of ethnic intimidation, the permissible sentencing range is greater than for the underlying crime,” Spangler said.

For example, simple assault is a misdemeanor and is subject to a maximum of up to two years imprisonment. But when committed as ethnic intimidation, the maximum prison term is up to five years.

Was there an underlying crime that occurred at GW?

“Posting a swastika is not a hate crime,” said Bramzon. “It can be offensive, distasteful and punishable,  but that’s not a crime.”

Suzanne Pollack and Dmitriy Shapiro contributed to this report.


American Muslims are expected to be more numerous than American Jews by the year 2035, according to a new study.  (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

American Muslims are expected to be more numerous than American Jews by the year 2035, according to a new study.
(Adam Berry/Getty Images)

In 20 years, there will be more Muslims in North America than Jews, according to a new Pew Research Center report. The report, which was released April 2, also found that more American Jews are leaving Judaism than non-Jews are joining the Jewish people.

According to “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” Muslims will overtake Christians in the last quarter of the 21st century as the globe’s largest religious group. In the United States, Muslims will comprise 2.1 percent of the population in 2050, up from 0.9 percent in 2010. Jews, meanwhile, will fall to 1.4 percent of the U.S. population from 1.8 percent in 2010.

The Pew study also offered a detailed look at the sizes of national Jewish communities around the world, how fast the communities are expected to shrink or grow, and Jewish fertility rates.

There were nearly 14 million Jews around the globe in 2010, with expected growth to 16 million by 2050, according to the study — a lower growth rate than the general world population. Overall, Jews comprise roughly 0.2 percent of the world’s population, with about 44 percent of Jews in North America; 41 percent in Israel, the Middle East and North Africa; 10 percent in Europe; and 3 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

By 2050, 51 percent of Jews are expected to live in the Middle East — almost all in Israel — and 37 percent in North America. The number of Jews in Europe is expected to decline more precipitously and outpace general European population shrinkage, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the study showed that globally there were 1.6 billion Muslims in 2010 and a predicted growth to nearly 2.8 billion in 2050 — from 23 percent of the population to 30 percent. In 2050, nearly three of every 10 people will be Muslims.

Today, the United States and Israel have about the same number of Jews, though there is some debate among Jewish demographers over which country is ahead. The Pew study counted 5.7 million Jews in the U.S. and 5.6 million in Israel, but other studies have shown more than 6 million Jews in each country, and Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Israel had 6.2 million Jews in 2014. In any case, Israel is expected to pull unambiguously ahead in the coming years.

The study counted as Jews those who self-identify as Jewish when asked their religion. It does not include so-called Jews of no religion — those who have Jewish ancestry or consider themselves partially Jewish but say they are not Jewish by religion.

Nearly 95 percent of all Jews live in just 10 countries, according to the study. Except for Israel, none of those countries is more than 2 percent Jewish. The 10 countries with the most Jews are, in descending order, according to Pew, the United States, Israel, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, Argentina, Australia and Brazil.

Jewish fertility rates are highest in Israel (2.8 children per woman), whereas Jewish fertility rates in North America (2.0) and Europe (1.8) are below replacement level (2.3). In the United States, the Jewish fertility rate is 1.9 children per woman.

In every region examined by Pew, the Jewish median age was older than that of the general population. In the world overall, the median age was 28, compared with the Jewish median age of 37. In North America the median age is 37, with the Jews at 41.

While the study showed that the spread of secularism is expected to continue and the number of atheists projected to rise, religious people are expected to grow as a proportion of the global population because they tend to have more children.

In Europe, Muslims are expected to grow to 10 percent of the population in 2050, from 6 percent in 2010.

In the United States, Americans of no religion are expected to grow from 16 percent in 2010 to 25 percent by 2050, and Christians are expected to shrink from 78 percent in five years to 66 percent by 2050.

The Fight Is On

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)  (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was defiant in his news conference Wednesday evening, telling the media and cheering supporters in both English and Spanish at a Newark hotel ballroom that he will fight the indictment brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier that day — maintaining his innocence as he has throughout the drawn-out investigation that led to it and saying that he was “not going anywhere.”

“For nearly three years, I’ve lived under a Justice Department cloud; and today I’m outraged that this cloud has not been lifted,” said Menendez. “I’m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me. But I will not be silenced. I am confident [that] at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”

A federal grand jury in Newark, N.J. indicted Menendez on charges of public corruption after a more than two-year Department of Justice investigation into the senator’s misuse of his office on behalf of longtime friend and donor, Florida-based ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was also indicted.

Menendez, 61, will face charges connected to a “bribery scheme in which [he] allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen, also 61, in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests,” according to a DOJ statement citing Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell of the department’s criminal division and special agent Richard Frankel of the FBI’s Newark division.

Menendez and Melgen were both charged on 13 counts: one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Travel Act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.

The DOJ listed specific accusations against Menendez in its statement.

These examples included accusations that Menendez accepted close to $1 million in “lavish gifts”; accepted “flights on Melgen’s private jet” or first-class commercial tickets to vacation at Melgen’s private Caribbean villas and other exotic locations; and received campaign contributions — more than $750,000 — from Melgen. In return, Menendez is accused of using his “Senate office to influence the outcomes of ongoing contractual and Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars” on Melgin’s behalf “and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends.”

“Government corruption, at any level of elected office, corrodes the public trust and weakens our democratic system,” said Caldwell. “It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it.”

Menendez, who says he has been personal friends with Melgen for decades, accused prosecutors at DOJ of not knowing “the difference between friendship and corruption.”

“[They] have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something improper,” he said.

As the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — as well as serving as the committee’s chairman prior to the GOP Senate takeover following the 2014 midterm elections — Menendez has played a key role in Senate foreign policy initiatives.

Considered a hawk even when compared with some Republicans, Menendez’s stance on how the United States should conduct its foreign policy and fight against radical extremist terrorists often put him at odds with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

His fierce opposition to the U.S.-led P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran and advocacy for additional sanctions on the Islamic state in the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act — which President Barack Obama threatened to veto on multiple occasions, including in two consecutive State of the Union speeches — made him a pariah to his party’s own administration.

Yet, these efforts made him a star among many in the pro-Israel community, for both Jewish Democrats and Republicans. During his 2012 re-election campaign, he was the top recipient of donations from pro-Israel individuals and groups, who gave him a total of $346,470, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) came out in full support of Menendez, pointing to its strong working relationship with the senator and praising his devotion on both domestic and foreign policy matters important to the AJC and many in the American Jewish community.

“Sen. Menendez has stood up for victimized nations, persecuted minorities and the least fortunate here at home. From AJC’s vantage point, our nation has been strengthened significantly in so many meaningful ways by the senator’s long record of public service,” the AJC said in a statement. “Regarding this week’s news of a federal indictment, unless and until the government proves its case, the senator is presumed to be innocent.

“We, therefore, intend to continue to work with him closely, as we have throughout his tenure. His leadership on pressing policy issues is too important to be silenced on anything less than proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In his keynote address at last month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, Menendez was enthusiastically received with numerous standing ovations. In his speech, he predicted the coming indictment, insinuating that the investigation was part of the Obama administration’s attempts to silence him. Many audience members shared this sentiment.

“I can tell you one thing: As long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region and the national security interests of the United States, Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon,” he said. “It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch. That is why I will not yield to those who wish to break me. For so long as I have a voice and a vote, I will not yield to those who wish to break my resolve on stopping Iran’s elicit nuclear program and on preserving the unshakeable bond between Israel and the United States.”

Despite his influence on the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez abdicated his position last week so that his legal difficulties would not be a distraction to the committee’s work, according to a letter he sent to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Menendez said he hoped that this move would only be temporary.

Although retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was the next most senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was tapped to take Menendez’s spot.

Like Menendez, Cardin is viewed favorably by the pro-Israel community but is regarded as less outspoken and abrasive than his predecessor.

“Cardin is somebody who has the bona fides as it relates to Israel and as it relates to Iran that are impeccable,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America. “I think he’ll be a millimeter more deferential to the administration, but he’s not someone who is going to be content with Congress not having oversight [of the final P5+1 agreement].”

Cardin’s low-key demeanor matches that of the mild-mannered chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who, unlike some other Republican senators pushing for immediate, additional economic sanctions to pressure Iran to agree to a more favorable deal, has sided with Democrats in support of giving the administration time to complete negotiations.

Schechter Hires New Head of School

Krieger Schechter Day School has named Rabbi Moshe Schwartz as the new head of school for the 2015-2016 academic year, only the third person to hold the position in the school’s history.

For the past five years, Schwartz has served as head of school for the Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, N.J. He earned his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and his master’s degree in Jewish education and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 2007.

According to Michele Brill, KSDS board chair, Schwartz was selected for his “demonstrated skills and insights and innovations at [Kellman Brown] that he could bring to Krieger Schechter.”

“He really connected with our search committee, with our parents — we had parent forums where he spoke about his educational philosophy — and he really connected with our faculty who thought he would be a great asset to the school,” said Brill.

Added Chizuk Amuno Senior Rabbi Ronald Shulman, “We’re very excited that Rabbi Schwartz is coming. We think he will be a good fit for our community because of his passion for Jewish education and his track record of advancing school community.”

A 23-member search committee, comprised of faculty, current and alumni parents and Chizuk Amuno Congregation leadership, was formed in the fall to find a replacement for the outgoing head of school, Bil Zarch.

According to Brill, Zarch’s departure was a “family decision.” His future plans could not be ascertained, and he did not respond to requests for comment.

In his new leadership role, Schwartz will lead the lower and middle school administrative teams, serve as a fundraiser, work with faculty to facilitate innovation in the classroom and be a voice for the school in the community, Brill said.

Schwartz’s appointment will begin July 1. His wife, Aviva, and their three children, Elie, Liba and Rina, are reportedly excited by their upcoming move to Baltimore.

Addiction Recovery Center Abandons Mount Washington

The Maryland Addiction Recover Center, which caused a stir earlier this year when it decided to pursue a second location in Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood, has dropped those plans in favor of staying in Towson.

“It is a little bigger,” Zachary Snitzer, director of business development for MARC, said of the new location the center is pursuing. While the plan for the Mount Washington location was to use the space as a second center in addition to MARC’s primary location on West Road in Towson, the new plan will likely consolidate all of MARC’s services into the new, larger location, said Snitzer.

Although the company faced a large outcry of public opposition to the Mount Washington location, Snitzer would not say whether that played a role in the decision to drop the plan. The company also faced a shortage of parking spaces at the northwest Baltimore City building.

Snitzer said the group found the new Towson location about four weeks ago, around the same time they decided to relinquish their goal for the city location. He expects the new location to open in mid-April.

Pondering the Future

Whether it be through parties, free food or even stipends, Jewish college students are being constantly courted by a number of different campus organizations at almost every local college. The organizations doing the courting? They’re not fraternities or sororities, they’re the many Jewish organizations vying for students’ attention.

Towson University and Goucher College each have at least two Jewish organizations on campus, Johns Hopkins University has at least three and the University of Maryland has more than four. With all the demands on college students’ time and other Jewish organizations looking to capitalize on things such as holiday parties and Shabbat dinners, these groups have to be creative. Every group the JT talked with said it tries to avoid overlapping its programing with that of other similar groups, but when everyone celebrates the same holidays and shares similar passions, that can be difficult.

Jessica Rudin is an engagement intern with Towson University’s Hillel. Her title means that in between classes and homework and regular social activities, she must devote time to engaging with her peers and persuading them to attend Hillel programming.

“I have been involved in Hillel since my freshman year,” said Rudin. “The assistant director, Noam Bentov, reached out to me and said, ‘Would you be interested in this position?’ And I said of course I would.”

Engagement interns, launched by Hillel International six years ago, are the latest in decades of efforts to engage college-aged Jews in Jewish life. In the past couple years, statistics showing that age bracket as the least engaged in Judaism have resulted in an increased emphasis on reaching those attending universities around the country.

Rudin describes her job, for which she receives a stipend at the end of each semester, as bringing Jewish life to the Towson campus. When she meets Jewish students, whether through class or through mutual friends who are not involved in Jewish life on campus, she invites them to join her at an event. The advantage she has over traditional Hillel staff is twofold. First, she is speaking to her own peers, and second, some of the events she’s had the most success with are Shabbat dinners hosted alongside her roommate — another Hillel intern — right at her own apartment.

“It’s always been a success,” she said. “We usually have like 20, 25 people at our apartments, and it’s kind of crazy. It’s just fun to see everyone come
together from different social networks, like, ‘Oh, you’re in my class. I had no idea you were Jewish.’”

Along with the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has come the realization for many that college students tend to be the most perceptive to things such as criticism of the Jewish state. This year’s General Assembly of Jewish federations devoted many hours to breakout discussions that focused solely on combating the movement on college campuses. And the effort is not misplaced.

Student governments at 15 U.S. college campuses voted to approve resolutions in the 2013-2014 school year that called for a divestment from Israel. One petition for divestment at a Florida school collected more than 10,000 signatures. Approximately 400 anti-Israel events took place on college campuses that same school year, according to an Anti-Defamation League report.

But Jewish campus organizations over the past couple of decades have been persistently ramping up their presence and influence on college campuses nationwide, said Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

“If you go back to the 1960s and early 1970s, the sense was that college was an absolute wasteland for Jews,” said Sarna. With many in the Jewish community publicly linking the college years to the loss of engagement and interest in Judaism among young Jews, the larger Jewish community responded by pouring resources into campus programs and establishing Jewish leadership positions at colleges and universities.

“The world has changed almost 180 degrees,” said Sarna. “Many students discover Judaism at the university. Departments of Jewish studies, programs in Jewish studies excite students,  and a revitalized Hillel does much to bring students in. Chabad on Campus has been very influential on many of the campuses where it exists.”

“College is an incredible time of transition,” echoed Maiya Chard-Yaron, assistant director of the University of Maryland’s Hillel. “For a lot of students, they’re exploring who they are as adults, and we’re here for them to help them navigate that.”

Chard-Yaron said the engagement interns she and her staff have recruited at Maryland have been instrumental in the success of the organization. She likes the idea of empowering students to host their own programming and utilize organic relationships the students have built during their time on campus to grow Hillel and engage more students.

The work, she said, is about building relationships. Some of the most successful programs Hillel hosts are largely social, but there is an understanding that Jewish values inform everything they do.

“We believe that all of that falls under the umbrella of community,” said Chard-Yaron.

At Goucher College’s Hillel, Rabbi Josh Snyder reaches out to new students before the school year even begins to make them aware that there is a Jewish group on campus.

Even the busiest college students are looking for connections and relationships, he said, and Hillel can provide them with that.

“The question,” he said, “is how to become a priority in their life.”

While Hillel’s events are decidedly tailored to a Jewish crowd, the group welcomes participation from non-Jewish students as well. That way, students on the verge of coming to an event have the option of bringing any friend along, should that make them feel more comfortable.

At Maryland’s Meor, a campus group that emphasizes learning rather than cultural gatherings, Rabbi Ari Koretzky chides the lack of what he considers to be real Jewish learning taking place in many college Jewish organizations.

“A lot of other programs do social stuff,” said Koretzky. “Our purpose is to connect students to Judaism.”

He describes Meor as taking a different approach than Hillel.

“There are a lot of great groups doing a lot of great things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you can socialize in any group.”

In addition to trips to Israel and Poland, Meor emphasizes its plethora of Jewish education classes available to students. But getting students to willingly spend their free time in yet another class can be difficult.

College is an incredible time of transition.

“We do offer a stipend to ensure that the students stick with the classes,” said the rabbi. The organization’s 10-week “immersion experience” requires students to attend one two-and-a-half-hour class each week in addition to attendance at a Jewish wedding.

“It’s always difficult,” said Koretzky of engaging students at Maryland. But after 11 years on campus, Meor has learned that hard work produces results.

Koretzky estimates that some 500 students are involved in Meor, and Shabbat dinners are often attended by more than 50 people. Shabbat dinners, he said, are some of the best ways to attract the interest of new students.

“Shabbat is a low-barrier entry point,” said Koretzky.

From there, the group uses things such as social media to stay in touch with the students to encourage them to attend other Meor programing.

With a plethora of parties and events and other student organizations on campus, “we have to make sure we’re on their radars,” he said.

For his part, Sarna notes that the use of stipends and other methods of paying students for their involvement might look disingenuous at first glance, but the end result is often worth the means.

“Maybe at the beginning you give a reward to people who do Jewish study, but the hope is that this will create lifelong habits and excitement that people will continue to read and study on their own,” he said.

“Most of us brought up our children in the same way; that is to say they were given some kind of reward for good deeds in the hope that later in life that will come naturally.”

Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, who runs the shared Towson University-Goucher College Chabad House, has found that sometimes even using social media isn’t sufficient.

“We really depend on a good product,” said Rivkin. “We try to give people what they’re looking for.”

For Rivkin, the level of comfort many students exhibit around him is a measure of his own success.

“They’re going to treat us as a home,” he said. Instead of relying on things such as Facebook event invites, he said he simply devotes himself to being present on campus, so that students may seek him out whenever they wish.

Like many other campus organizations, Chabad does offer opportunities for students to be compensated for their time, but the majority of students come for programs for which they cannot be paid to attend.

In the end, he insists that the center’s success comes from finding the balance between social and religious events. Many events offer a mix of both.

Said Rivkin: “You’ve got to fulfill a need.”

JUFJ to Focus on Rent Court Reform

Jews United for Justice, which recently expanded to Baltimore in the fall, has named its first campaign issue as Rent Court Reform.

“‘Rent Court’ is a judicial process specifically addressing tenant-landlord issues,” according to a news release from JUFJ. “The court is overwhelmed by the volume of cases heard (about 1,000 per day), with judges moving cases quickly and not hearing tenants’ issues with properties not up to code.”

Recent studies cited by JUFJ show that two-thirds of low-income Baltimore residents live in rental housing that isn’t up to code.

“Even as many celebrate Baltimore City’s renaissance and new construction, tens of thousands of Baltimoreans face inadequate, unsafe and unaffordable housing,” the release said.

JUFJ held its community meeting on Sunday, March 29, where 63 people voted to make Rent Court Reform the Baltimore JUFJ Chapter’s campaign. The other option was police accountability. While participants could vote on a scale of 1 to 3 on how involved they’d be in one issue, more people said they’d take up leadership in Rent Court Reform.

Molly Amster, JUFJ’s Baltimore director, could explain why the group voted this way from what she heard in her small discussion group on that Sunday.

“One of the biggest things I heard was they liked that the rent court campaign was really hands-on and local,” she said. “This provides an opportunity for us to be a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in the progressive community.”

The group still plans to work on police accountability issues, as it already has in Annapolis.

The campaign will begin with JUFJ assisting in a rent court study in conjunction with the Public Justice Center and Right to Housing Alliance, which is being funded by the Abell Foundation.

“This will give our grassroots community members a hands-on opportunity to observe Rent Court and interact with tenants and landlords to learn about their experience and needs,” the release said. “Once the study, concludes, the Abell Foundation will publish a report with recommendations for change, which will inform the next phase of the campaign.”