Life Insurance Bill Withdrawn

Legislation that would have forbidden life insurance providers from increasing rates or limiting coverage based solely on an individual’s future lawful travel plans has been withdrawn.

“After discussing several options with members of the Health and Government Operations Committee, I have reluctantly decided that we cannot pass an acceptable bill at this session,” said Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41), who sponsored the bill.

A resolution that would satisfy the interests of both those pushing for the legislation and life insurance providers seemed possible after the Feb. 26 committee hearing in which representatives from the insurance industry testified that they would be willing to support the bill, provided the inclusion of some amendments.

Upon reviewing the amendments, however, Rosenberg said he could not reconcile both parties’ demands.

The bill “is based upon model language provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners,” said Rosenberg. “I have informed the chairman of [the committee] that I will research how this language has been implemented in other states and whether those jurisdictions have considered the changes proposed to [the bill] by the life insurance industry.”

Current Maryland law forbids life insurance providers from using past travel as grounds for raising an insured’s rates or limiting their coverage. Rosenberg said he became aware that future travel was still a legal reason to disrupt coverage when a local insurance agent brought to his attention the case of a Jewish Marylander who was told by his insurance provider that he would not be covered for portions of a trip he had planned to visit his son in Israel.

Rosenberg said that though the bill is no longer on the table for 2015, he plans to continue conversations with committee leaders and insurance industry representatives in the hope of passing the legislation in the 2016 session.

Children ‘Had Faces of Angels’

An Orthodox Jew stands near  the burial plots for seven children from the Sassoon family before their burial in Jerusalem on March 23. The seven children died early on Saturday when flames ripped through their Brooklyn home in one of New York City’s deadliest fires in years, officials said. Police identified the children who died as Yaakob Sassoon, 5, Sara, 6, Moshe, 8, Yeshua, 10, Rivkah, 11, David, 12, and Eliane, 16. (BAZ RATNER/REUTERS/Newscom)

An Orthodox Jew stands near the burial plots for seven children from the Sassoon family before their burial in Jerusalem on March 23. The seven children died early on Saturday when flames ripped through their Brooklyn home in one of New York City’s deadliest fires in years, officials said. Police identified the children who died as Yaakob Sassoon, 5, Sara, 6, Moshe, 8, Yeshua, 10, Rivkah, 11, David, 12, and Eliane, 16. (BAZ RATNER/REUTERS/Newscom)

The Brooklyn father who lost seven of his eight children in a home fire called his kids “a sacrifice” to the community.

Gabriel Sassoon sobbed as he tried to recite the names of his late children during a eulogy Sunday at a Jewish funeral home in the heavily Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.

“They all had faces of angels. Hashem knows how much I love them,” Sassoon said, according to the Post.

He was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed his home shortly after midnight Saturday. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.

The children were buried Monday in Jerusalem.

“They were a burnt offering,” Sassoon said of his children. “I lost everything in the fire. Seven pure sheep. Those are my seven children.”

His wife, Gayle, and one of his daughters, Tziporah, 15, escaped the blaze by leaping from the house, but on Monday were fighting for their lives in the hospital, unaware of the seven deaths.

About 1,000 people lined the street outside the Shomrei Hadas funeral home for the service Sunday, according to the Post. Inside, an overflowing crowd of mourners wailed for the lost children, who ranged in age from 5 to 16.

Gayle Sassoon reportedly had planned to take the children out of town for the weekend — to her parents’ home in southern New Jersey — but stayed home because of a snowstorm that hit the New York area.

The fire trapped the victims in the second-floor bedrooms of their home, The New York Times reported.

Robert Katz, a Rockville resident and a consultant for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that in a house fire of that magnitude, usually more than one thing goes wrong. Therefore, he strongly urged that anything left burning while residents are away or asleep should be located far from anything that can catch fire.

He advised families to make sure their smoke detectors are working properly and that every member of the family knows exactly what to do in case of a fire. Homes should be equipped with fire extinguishers, he added.

Other safety considerations to remember include making sure circuits aren’t overloaded and that a towel or any fabric that may be covering a pot lid not be anywhere near the fire element, Katz said.

It’s important that people immediately call their fire department rather than try and extinguish the flames themselves as they waste valuable time and may make the fire worse, Katz said.

Sometimes an observant person may be reluctant to use a telephone on Shabbat, but Katz stressed that it would be a sin not to call for help as it could be life-saving.

A hot plate, often the size of a cookie tray, is one of the least expensive ways to heat food and is plugged in throughout Shabbat, explained Rabbi Uri Topolosky, chair of the Beltway Vaad.

Alternatives include ovens that have a Shabbat mode, which enables the heat to be regulated overnight, he said. Also used are warming trays that are often built into a pull-out drawer.

Jewish Times Website Introduces Paid Subscription Access

On April 6, the Baltimore Jewish Times will introduce a paid subscription model to access its digital portfolio, including both the website and the publication’s digital magazine. A username — your email address — and password will be required for access.

Paid print subscribers will have full website and digital magazine access included as part of their subscription package for no additional fee. Print subscribers must provide their email address and select a password either by visiting or by calling subscriber services at 410-902-2300 and selecting option 3. Subscribers are encouraged to do so before April 6.

For digital readers without a subscription, the annual price for unlimited access will be $19.95 per year. A digital subscription may be setup before April 6 and readers are encouraged to do so for uninterrupted access. To subscribe go to or call 410-902-2300 and select option 3 for assistance.

“Introducing a subscription model to the Baltimore Jewish Times digital portfolio is another step in our strategy to build a healthy digital brand,” said Bill Sims, the publication’s director of circulation and audience development. “The growth in readership and positive reader comments pertaining to our expanding digital content are encouraging.”

Seder on the Circus Train

Many young children dream of running away to join the circus, but few grow up to spend their days crisscrossing the United States on tour with the Greatest Show on Earth.

As head chef and pie car manager of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus blue unit, Matthew Loory spends 48 weeks of the year riding the rails, preparing nearly 1,000 meals a week for the performers, animal trainers and circus support staff, all while juggling his Judaism.

The Longwood, Fla., native who grew up seeing the circus in Orlando from age 2 to 22 joined the circus in January 2013 after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2012. At 24 years old, he is the youngest pie car manager as far back as can be found on record. (“Labor laws were a lot different when P.T. Barnum was in charge,” he joked.)

Loory’s day starts early. With one of his five crew members, he’ll start prepping for breakfast at 5:30 a.m. on board the pie car senior, the 110-foot long train car that contains the kitchen and eating booths. The pie car opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m. so he can begin prepping the main line meal, one for pie car senior and one for pie car junior, the food truck that is stationed backstage during performances. Pie car senior opens back up at 6 p.m. and remains open until an hour after the last act comes back from the arena, explained Loory.

Matt Loory joined the circus in 2013. (Provided)

Matt Loory joined the circus in 2013. (Provided)

Among his specialties are Japanese spaghetti and meatballs, which consists of udon noodles served with Asian flavored meatballs and wasabi Alfredo sauce, and chimicurry sauce, a play on chimichurri mixed with Indian spices. He frequently posts pictures of his culinary exploits on his Twitter account under the apt handle, @barnumandbagel.

The work is demanding — the pie car is open 365 days a year to accommodate those performers who live on board year round — but rewarding.

“What’s been a draw for me is more the lifestyle than the job,” said Loory. “I’ve literally seen the entire country by rails, which is something most people can’t say. We go where highways don’t. …When you’re rolling through some of these national parks on the train it’s right there, it’s live, it’s incredible.”

Not to mention the daily sights of seeing the trapeze artists, the Chinese National Acrobatic Troupe and, of course, the elephant walk.

“The elephant walks are one of my favorite parts of the job,” said Loory. “When someone new comes on, you can see the illumination on their face as they see their first walk.”

With such a busy lifestyle, it can be difficult to observe the Jewish holidays, but for Loory, whose earliest memories include rolling matzah balls in the kitchen with his mother and who was an active participant in BBYO, spent a high school semester in Israel and taught in his home synagogue Congregation Beth Am’s religious school, Judaism is a priority.

He and some of the estimated eight or nine Jews on board — “not quite enough to make a minyan,” he said — have been able to attend Kol Nidre services the past two years and last year began hosting Seder onboard the pie car using haggadahs and a Seder plate layout printed from the web.

“Last year we were in Virginia and the pie car was closed for the evening — it was a dark day, a day when we don’t have any shows — and I spent the whole day slaving over the stove,” said Loory.

“It was also the first time I led the Seder. It was the first time since my bar mitzvah that I felt ‘today I am a man.’”

The guests, including a few curious non-Jews, feasted on roast chicken, matzah ball soup, kugel and Loory’s mother’s matzah toffee recipe.

As the first two nights of Passover fall on performance days this year, Loory said the circus Seder will likely be held on the fourth night.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents: Legends will be performing at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore through April 5.

Character Building Lower East Side candy king holds firm against changing neighborhood

Decades ago, Economy Candy was one of several Jewish businesses along Rivingston Street.

Decades ago, Economy Candy was one of several Jewish businesses along Rivingston Street.

NEW YORK — Walking into Economy Candy on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it’s hard to know where to look first. To the foil-clad chocolate rabbits standing sentinel atop sacks of chocolate eggs? The stacks of kosher-for-Passover jelly rings and chocolate pops across the narrow aisle? The facing bins spilling over with peanut butter chews and saltwater taffy?

Make your way to the back of this Willy Wonka-esque store, past more of the 2,000 varieties of candy it sells, and the walls are lined with dispensers ready to release a rainbow of gumballs and jellybeans.

At a time when venerable Lower East Side companies like Streit’s Matzos are selling their increasingly valuable land to developers and departing, the decidedly old-school Economy Candy is holding firm.

Mitchell Cohen, who took over Economy Candy from his father two years ago after leaving his job at a leading investment bank, spent every Sunday he wasn’t in Hebrew school, and each school vacation, helping his parents at the store. Now he gets a regular stream of calls from people wanting to buy the building.

“We’re part of the neighborhood,” said Cohen, 29. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Cohen’s grandfather, Morris “Moishe” Cohen, started the business in 1937 as Economy Shoe, a repair shop with a pushcart in front selling candy and dried fruits. When Moishe, whose family had emigrated from Greece, returned to the Lower East Side after serving in the Army, he and his brother-in-law took over the place and renamed it Economy Candy.

Moishe Cohen’s family lived for a time on the third floor of the building that houses Economy Candy, back when it was a tenement. He died in his sleep last month at 97.

Today, Economy Candy inhabits all three stories, with the upper levels used for storage and packing web orders. The retail space on the first floor is full of candies of every imaginable variation and is a thriving, if slightly bedraggled, remnant of the old Jewish neighborhood amid the hipster hotels and pricey boutiques that share Rivington Street with bodegas and bars.

Back in Moishe’s day, Lower East Side streets bustled with hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants. There were six or seven other candy stores in the immediate vicinity, said Mitchell Cohen.

“Now we’re one of the only family-owned Jewish businesses left,” he said. With the departure of Streit’s, which baked its last Passover matzah on Rivington Street on March 1, the only other one left is Russ and Daughters, the legendary lox-and-bagels shop run by its founder’s great-grandchildren.

A few other Jewish food purveyors remain — Katz’s Delicatessen, Yonah Schimmel knishes, Kossar’s bialys and The Pickle Guys (who took over the famed Guss’ pickles) — but none are run by their founding families. The dairy restaurant Ratner’s shut down in 2002 and the property is now being marketed as a development site.

Today, it is  among the last  of Jewish-owned food shops on the Lower East Side.

Today, it is among the last
of Jewish-owned food shops on the Lower East Side.

“The Lower East Side has gone through so many transformations since my great-grandparents — and everybody else’s — lived there a century ago that our ancestors would plotz if they saw it,” said Julie Cohen (no relation to Mitchell), director and producer of “The Sturgeon Queens,” a documentary about Russ and Daughters. “But when I’m down there I can still feel the spirit of what it used to be.”

Today there are some 14,000 Jewish households in the neighborhood, said Laurie Tobias Cohen, the executive director of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, which runs tours of the area. The preponderance of residents are Chinese, Puerto Rican or African-American — and those who can afford the million-dollar apartments going up.

Still, Tobias Cohen said, between synagogues, shtiebels and new Jewish-owned boutiques and galleries,

“There’s still a lot of Jewish life kicking on the Lower East Side.”

On a recent wintry afternoon, a constant stream of shoppers flowed through Economy Candy’s aisles. Manny Rodriguez, who described himself as a regular at the store, had just purchased a fistful of Clark bars.“I come more than I should,” he said.

Hand-dipped chocolate-covered graham crackers and chocolate-coated jelly rings are perennially popular, Cohen said, with orders coming in from all over the country. Earlier that day, someone had ordered 300 pounds of orange jelly fruit slices.

Green tea-flavored Kit Kats, which a number of customers had come in requesting after trying them in Japan, were Cohen’s biggest challenge: None of his usual distributors knew how to get them. He called Asian grocery distributors to no avail. Eventually he found one in Queens who could procure them and he placed an order for 300 bags. They were gone in two weeks.

The current candy crush is for English Cadbury chocolates, which are newly unavailable in the United States. The main ingredient in the American version is sugar. But the ones made in England list milk as
the first ingredient, and devotees are fanatically loyal to their Flakes and Maltesers.

Hershey, which owns the American rights to Cadbury, has brought trademark infringement claims against a major distributor of the British product, which stopped importing them. Cohen stocked up as soon as he heard. And while he still has some on his shelves, he knows they won’t last long.

Mitchell Cohen  is a rarity: His  family founded  the candy store.

Mitchell Cohen is a rarity: His family founded the candy store.

Unlike some of his Jewish customers, Cohen isn’t overly nostalgic for the bygone Lower East Side.
His grandparents had left the neighborhood when his father was still young, and he was raised on Long
Island. But Cohen is getting married in May and he hopes to have children who will one day take over Economy Candy, as he always knew he would. Rivington Street will likely be different when they do.

“A lot of the stores — whether they’re old or new, candy shops or jewelry designers — are quirky one-offs where you can find the owners working behind the counter. And there are still a few places that
drag their shmattes out onto the street to sell at a bargain price,” Julie Cohen said.

“So even though most of the residents and retailers aren’t actually Jewish anymore, I guess I’d say the whole place is still actually pretty Jewy.”

The Changing Face of Poverty Cities, no longer the only centers of poverty, bequeath its effects to suburbs

A little more than a year ago, Mrs. Y and her husband were both employed full-time. They were able to pay their bills, including the mortgage on their Pikesville home, and support their teenage daughter and baby boy.

But in February, with her human services employer downsizing quickly, Mrs. Y lost her job. Her husband, who worked in sales and marketing, had been looking for a job for a year when his employment ran out a couple of months ago. The couple, both in their 30s, are surviving off of their tax refunds.

“I need to have a job by after Passover,” Mrs. Y, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “Financially, we’re okay until the end of April, beginning of May.”

The job market they face is not an easy one to navigate. Mr. Y is finding a lot of sales jobs seeking to pay in commission only with no base salary, something he won’t do because he has a family to support.

“My issue with finding a job right now is that I’m overqualified for many of the places I’m applying to,” Mrs. Y said, “and directors don’t want somebody who’s overqualified.”

The family is not alone in their situation. In recent years, poverty has migrated from inner cities to places once mostly insulated from the grasps of socio-economic hardship: the suburbs.

032715_coverstory_associated“People don’t think it’s in the northwest corridor here, but it definitely is,” said Ed Hartman, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Reisterstown, which works to prevent homelessness through various forms of assistance.

Baltimore’s Jewish community, largely concentrated in the corridor stretching from Pikesville through Owings Mills up to Reisterstown that Hartman refers to, saw a jump in financial hardship, according to studies conducted in 1999 and 2010 by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

In 1999, less than 1 percent of survey respondents said they could not make ends meet and 26 percent said they were “just managing.” In 2010, 3 percent said they could not make ends meet and 30 percent said they were just managing. In the 1999 study, 31 percent of respondents reported that they had extra money on hand, but that number dipped to 10 percent in 2010. (Another 10 percent said they are “well off” in 2010, which was not a reported category on the 1999 report.)

At the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, members receiving financial assistance has fluctuated between 792 and 906 between 2011 and 2015, with 849 member units (a unit can be an individual or family) receiving $405,294 in assistance in the fiscal year ending in 2015, according to figures provided by the JCC. The organization receives 19 percent of its funding from The Associated and more than $500,000 of that money goes to scholarships that include membership as well as preschool, afterschool care, camps and Maccabi participation, according to JCC president Barak Hermann.

Baltimore is not the only Jewish community whose members are dealing with increased financial insecurity. In the 2010 Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Community Study, 5 percent of respondents said they could not make ends meet and 30 percent said they were just managing. In New York, 32 percent of people living in Jewish households in the eight counties in and around New York City live in poor or near-poor households, according to the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York. Ninety percent of the poor households and 84 percent of near-poor households were located in New York City.

Statewide in Maryland, 13.3 percent of residents live in or near poverty, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Students on Free and Reduced-Priced Meals (FARM) in Maryland increased from 31.7 percent in the 2003-2004 school year to 45.3 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, according to Maryland Department of Education data.

The Free State has similarly seen a 53.5 percent increase in participants in the its Food Supplement Program (FSP) from September 2009 to September 2014, increasing from 511,673 participants to 785,630 participants, according to Maryland Hunger Solutions, which culled data from the Maryland Department of Human Resources. The FSP is Maryland’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federally-funded initiative formerly known as Food Stamps. During that period of time, counties that saw the largest increases were (in order) Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore, at 98.1 percent, 88 percent and 87.7 percent, respectively.

At Jewish Community Services’ offices in Owings Mills and Park Heights, the need for social services in the community is plain to see.

“They’ve seen a massive increase since the downturn of the economy,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

In the last five years, mental health visits at JCS have increased more than 60 percent, with 14,689 individuals in Fiscal Year 2009 to 23,445 in FY 2014. JCS clients whose services were funded by Medicaid and other public medical programs more than doubled from 98 in FY 2009 to 211 in FY 2014, Tolle said.

Financial assistance given out by JCS has also increased over the years, rising from $1.26 million in 2008-2009 to $2.6 million in 2013-2014.

As economic distress has increased in the Jewish community, the numbers of Marylanders in the Food Supplemental Program and students on Free and Reduced-Priced Meals have gone up.

Tracey Paliath, director of economic services at JCS, attributes the increase in the need for her organization’s services to a variety of factors. Some clients recovered slowly from the recession and after having gone through a lot of savings to stay afloat, got jobs that paid less post-recession. While parents helped children and children helped parents, with those situations extending for long periods of time, some families found themselves with multiple economically stressed generations. In other cases, people on disability as well as non-essential employees were fired first when companies downsized, she said.

“We’re seeing all of those phenomena in our offices,” Paliath explained. “Families are really stretched to the max. To find a job that will pay you what you will need to get paid is almost a full-time job in itself.”

According to Maryland State Data Center figures, the average salary of jobs lost during the recession was $71,000; the average salary of jobs that came back after the recession is $51,000, Maryland Food Bank representatives said.

At the Maryland Food Bank, which served 425,000 people about 37 million meals in 2014, providers are seeing a rise in both under-employed people and highly educated clients.

“We are definitely seeing a diversification of the people that are accessing the charitable food assistance network,” said spokeswoman Meg Kimmel.

In the Jewish community, officials and statistics attest, people are still recovering from the economic downturn of seven years ago.
In The Associated’s 2010 study, 43 percent of Jewish households reported that they were negatively impacted by the downturn, including 18 percent that reported a job loss. In the year prior to the survey, 12 percent of households reported someone seeking job or career assistance and 6 percent reported seeking assistance for a housing problem, housing assistance or housing advice.

Mrs. Y has recently gone to JCS offices for help on her resume and cover letter, as well as making herself more marketable in social media settings. JCS has also linked her with specific job opportunities, she said. Her family is also receiving FSP assistance and help from the Ahavas Yisrael Charity Fund, which provides food, shelter, clothing and basic living needs for needy Baltimore residents.

Eli Schlossberg, executive trustee at Ahavas Yisrael, said there has been an increased need for the organizations’ services as the community has grown. He added that Orthodox Jews, the largest percentage of his organization’s clients, face the added economic costs of a religious lifestyle.

“In the Orthodox community … the major issue that confronts families is the educational costs,” he said. “I think [families] tighten their belts all the way around. That’s a sacrifice they’re making, but what they feel is it’s of utmost importance.”

Ahavas Yisrael also runs a kosher food bank.

Mrs. Y, who is Orthodox, has thought about not keeping kosher to save money, but does not see it as a viable option.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “I go to ShopRite and I look at their steaks on sale for 99 cents a pound and say, ‘I wish I could [do] that.’ It’s just not worth it.”

Poverty moves to the ‘burbs
A few miles up the road from JCS’ Owings Mills offices, Ed Hartman is seeing more people living in single-family homes and condominiums come into the Community Crisis Center. Along with an increased demand, the area has given way to the ancillary effects of poverty, such as crime and drug use.

Last year, the center served 1,446 families and delivered more than 6,660 units of service, which can be anything from food assistance to utility assistance to help finding a job. Since Hartman first came to the center three years ago, the number of units of services has increased by about 500, he said. The center gives out 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of food a month from its pantry, Hartman said.

The clientele has changed a bit, too. The heroin epidemic has hit some of the center’s clients, Hartman pointed out. About once a month, he said, he’s seeing sex workers coming in who have been abused by a client or a pimp. He said prostitution is becoming more prevalent in the Reisterstown Road/Liberty Road corridor.

In northwest Baltimore County, the problems get compounded by several factors, as Hartman sees it. There’s a lack of affordable housing combined with a surplus of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, many of which may not give 40 hours a week to avoid having to pay for health insurance. Many jobs are not accessible by the area’s lackluster public transit system. With average apartment rent in the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon area at $1,000 a month, combined with the job opportunities, after utilities, health insurance, clothing and food are factored in, Hartman is not surprised to see his center’s demand increased.

A low paying hourly salary at less than full time doesn’t cover the costs of living, he said. “It just doesn’t add up.”

According to Maryland Poverty Profiles, created by the Maryland Alliance for the Poor in conjunction with Catholic Charities, the Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated, 9.1 percent of Baltimore County residents lived below the poverty line in 2012. Twenty-three percent of county residents lived below 200 percent of the poverty line, an adjusted poverty threshold since many argue the federal guidelines are extremely low.

Although Maryland’s 13.3 percent poverty rate is the third lowest among the states, it has the highest deep poverty rate among the 50 states, with 38 percent of its low-income residents living in deep poverty, which means they are earning below 50 percent of poverty guidelines, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“When you’re living in a pocket of poverty, it’s very hard to escape that,” Tolle said.

While this can apply to city residents, a Pew analysis found pockets of poverty in rural western Maryland, miles away from economic growth centers and government-run safety net programs.

The suburbs are also home to more areas with poverty rates of at least 40 percent, according to a Brookings Institution study, “The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012.” In the year 2000, suburban tracts (census-recognized subdivisions) accounted for 4 percent of tracts with poverty rates of at least 40 percent. The number increased to 6.3 percent during the 2008-2012 study. During the same time periods, suburban tracts in the 20 to 40 percent poverty rate increased from 23.3 percent to 32 percent. Concentrated poverty still remained highest in big cities.

“However, suburban communities experienced the fastest pace of growth in the number of poor residents living in concentrated poverty over this time period,” the study concluded. “Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of suburban poor living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 139 percent — almost three times the pace of growth in cities.”
Jewish advocacy
As poverty rates grow in the suburbs, social service organizations are having to play catchup.

“Because of the notions by some communities that they want to insulate themselves from the poverty — a very common thing for affluent communities — it has directed the social services over the decades to specific areas,” said Jared Feldman, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The problem in my hometown, Los Angeles, is there is a tremendous concentration of social services downtown. There isn’t the same breadth across the rest of the city. You couple that with transportation difficulties and it becomes a lot harder for folks to access some of those services.”

JCPA has a Confronting Poverty Initiative that works on a variety of issues, including early childhood education, early childhood nutrition programs and health care for children. At the same time, the initiative is also looking at ways to make sure parents of those children have sustainable jobs and adequate childcare services.

“The problem is we need more social services and we need to figure out how to make them super effective,” Feldman said.

The organization also advocates for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, an annual bill taken up by Congress that provides funding for student meals outside of school and during the summer.

The Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AFJCA) also advocates at the federal level on poverty-related issues, including on the Farm Bill, which funds SNAP. The Maryland Food Bank advocates for these programs as well.

The AFJCA also focuses on seniors, and successfully got $2.5 million in this year’s federal budget for services to Holocaust survivors; it also has worked on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which helps with a variety of services for the nation’s senior citizens.

“We are seeing more people today who are outliving, in many cases, their resources,” said Lee Sherman, the AFJCA’s CEO. “So thankfully, they’re living longer, but their savings are not lasting as they’d anticipated.”

A Brookings Institution study found that “Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of suburban poor living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 139 percent — almost three times the pace of growth in cities.”

According to the BJC’s Tolle, the amount of seniors in Maryland has increased by 42 percent in the past 13 years. People older than 65 now outnumber school-age children, she said. At the same time, funding has not increased in many areas serving this population.

In The Associated’s 2010 study, 27 percent of Jewish seniors living alone had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty standard.

Sherman said with poverty rising among seniors and in the suburbs, it is important to talk about the changing face of poverty as a means of spreading awareness.

“Our agencies are always stretched with funding. The needs of the community consistently outstrip the financial resources that are available,” he said. “So, difficult choices always have to be made in serving a variety of different populations.”

As for Mrs. Y, she’s keeping a positive attitude as her husband tries to start a business and she looks into starting her own nonprofit.

“Everything is temporary,” she said, “and that’s what I’ve been taught.”

My Family Story Local eighth graders delve into their family histories

Through musical displays, videos and visual arts, local eighth grade students related their personal family history and connection to Judaism as part of the My Family Story project, a global educational program sponsored by Beit Hatfutsot — The Museum of the Jewish People.

Two Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School students, Rivi Goloskov and Eitan Murinson, were selected to advance in the international competition. Goloskov’s “Fighting for Judaism” and Murinson’s “The Special Guests” will be sent to Beit Hatfutsot in Israel as one of approximately 200 projects to be judged and narrowed down to a pool of 40 winners, who will be invited to tour Israel and meet Jews from different communities worldwide.

Lizabeth Shrier, sixth grade humanities and eighth grade ancient history teacher, explained how the projects displayed at the Jewish Museum of Maryland through March 15 dovetailed with the first eighth grade ancient history unit: identity. The students, she continued, were given free rein with artistic expression and what aspect of their heritage they wanted to share. All eighth graders participated.

Shrier, alongside music teacher Russell Kirk, creative arts department director Jason Dougherty and art teacher Shelly Spector — who all helped the students craft their projects — saw tremendous engagement and growth from her students.

“From day one there was a real buy-in where students were excited to explore their own families and their own histories,” said Shrier. “Then I saw kids who didn’t have a lot of interest at first — ‘my family doesn’t have any interesting stories to tell’ — but after digging deeper, talking to family members, they opened up and saw there was so much more to their families.”

Goloskov, 13, created a piece using photos and newspaper clippings from her great-grandfather’s scrapbooks. Mickey Goloskov, she discovered, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of World War II’s deadliest battles, and also served as a photographer, capturing moments of the war for the regiment newspaper. Among the discoveries that touched her most was a postcard penned by her great-grandfather that read, “Went to synagogue this morning and prayed for the first time with tefillin.”

Noting that many soldiers ceased to practice their religion after witnessing the horrors of war, Goloskov said, “Overall, it was a great experience to learn about my family history, to know that my family stuck with Judaism is inspiring to me.”

“‘Fighting for Judaism,’ that one stood out to me right away,” said Valerie Thaler, a BT high school Jewish history teacher who judged the displays alongside fellow BT high school teacher Paul Bolenbaugh, a Johns Hopkins University professor, a Jewish Museum board member and Shula Bahat, CEO of Beit Hatfutsot of America.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector also took time to tour the exhibit.

“Basically, what stood out to me was the amount of depth the project had,” said Thaler. “It made me want to go and read the whole scrapbook.”

Murinson, 14, described his project as a hybrid that combined media and music. He connected the musical heritage of his great-great grandparents, who worked the vaudeville circuit from New York to Chicago, with the band his parents played in called The Special Guests that gave musical presentations at Jewish venues around Baltimore.

To honor his family’s musical heritage, Murinson created a stage and performed two songs: “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” and “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” the former a popular tune from his great-great grandparents’ era and the latter a standard from his parents’ repertoire.

Thaler said that with Murinson on stage, “it was very much like you were a viewer and you were experiencing the show.”

Though Murinson is no stranger to performance — he plays piano, sings and recently participated in the high school production of “Les Miserables” — he was in shock when his project had won.

“I was in disbelief. I actually had to go to the nurse,” said Murinson. “I’m really amazed that my project is going to be shown on this [international] stage. I’m ecstatic!”

He also appreciated getting an opportunity to view his classmates’ projects.

“Everybody put so much work into their projects. It was really great to be able to reach into my family’s history at Beth Tfiloh,” said Murinson. “I think we’re in a great environment and all the kids really enjoyed it.”

“Opening night was emotional,” said Shrier. “Often there were three generations of families there who were all feeling so connected to one another and feeling connected to their Jewish identity.”

What’s Next for the Israeli Left? J Street Conference presses forward on two-state solution, support for liberal parties

Stav Shaffir is a young Labor Party legislator. (Photo by David Stuck)

Stav Shaffir is a young Labor Party legislator. (Photo by David Stuck)

WASHINGTON — When self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street selected “A Clear Choice for a Better Future” as the theme of its fifth annual conference, organizers hoped that the Israeli election results would have shown a leftward shift. So with the decisive March 17 victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the run-up to the election seemingly pledged to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, the mood at the March 21-24 gathering could easily have slipped into despair.

Instead, the speakers and the 3,000 attendees at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center rallied for renewed hope in a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Knesset member Stav Shaffir, of the Labor Party, summed up the mood, saying, “I’ve been here twice before and every time, I grow in hope and encouragement. This time, it seems, I will have to do some encouraging [because] since I arrived in the United States, I’ve heard a frustration that I haven’t heard in the past. Beyond frustration, almost despair. The frustration is natural; this is not the result we had hoped for.

“But despair,” she continued, “this we cannot afford.”

Shaffir admitted that the Israeli left fell short for not giving “Israelis a clear enough picture of what dream we have for a better future,” but she was hopeful for the future and the role American Jewry can play in a two-state solution.

Like Shaffir, left-wing members of the Knesset expressed their frustration with the outcome of the election, taking digs at Netanyahu throughout their addresses. But they saw a silver lining in having a strong left-wing opposition.

Tamar Zandberg, of the Meretz Party, which earned four seats in the Knesset, said in a meeting with the press that in the election last week, votes were not transferred from center-left to the right, as there will be no left-leaning party in the new coalition government.

Netanyahu’s previous government had Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni as justice minister, but now, added Hilik Bar of Labor, the prime minister will not benefit from a “center-left fig leaf.” He predicted that the right-wing government would descend into battle over who, either Netanyahu’s Likud Party or one of several parties further to the right, is the king of the right wing.

For her part, Nabila Espanioly, an activist with the Arab Hadash Party, pledged that the so-called Joint Arab List, a coalition of Arab parties that emerged from the elections as the third-largest power in the Knesset, would continue to work together in the opposition.

Whither the White House?
Of course, the moment conference attendees were waiting for was an address by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who as expected, addressed Netanyahu’s pre-election declaration against a Palestinian state and a comment on Election Day urging Likud voters to come to the polls to counteract the effect of Arabs voting “in droves.”

Though the prime minister walked back his two-state solution statement during an interview late last week, President Barack Obama on Saturday rejected the clarification.

“After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution,” said McDonough, “as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established.

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made,” he continued, “or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat earned rounds of applause. (Photo by David Stuck)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat earned rounds of applause. (Photo by David Stuck)

The White House, he said, is reevaluating its policy toward Israel and the Palestinian territories, but he did not further elaborate on that point.

McDonough did underscore the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, specifically through the U.S. backing of the Iron Dome missile defense system and the scheduled delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to Israel next year.

Aaron Levin, chair of J Street Baltimore, was among those who left the conference feeling “hopeful and energized.” He thought highly of the White House chief of staff’s address.

“[McDonough] affirms some basic American values of democracy and U.S. commitment to a negotiated agreement,” he said. “Americans can play some role in [a two state solution], in changing the conversation in the American Jewish community.”

Though Iran was far from the centerpiece of the conference, McDonough did take time to reiterate the president’s position on the ongoing multilateral negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program and to excorticate Congress members who wished to impose more sanctions on the Islamic republic as potentially harmful to the deal currently under negotiation.

As part of J Street’s Advocacy Day on Tuesday, Levin visited Rep. John Sarbanes (D- District 3) to ask for his support in the negotiations and support for the two-state solution.

At closing plenary was chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who participated in a brief panel discussion with Bar and former U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk and moderated by Ethan Bronner, managing editor of international news for Bloomberg.

Erekat, who emphasized that the Palestinian Authority was nearing collapse because of tax revenue being withheld by Israel, earned loud applause.

“I will do everything in my power to maintain the two-state solution,” he said. “Not for Israel, but for my grandchildren.”

Erekat’s appearance at the J Street conference was the reason cited by Hillel International CEO and President Eric Fingerhut as to his withdrawal from the conference, which drew an estimated 1,100 college students. According to J Street U members, in the middle of their student session Sunday night, they received an email from Fingerhut.

“I’m deeply sorry that my decision to not speak there hurt you. I admire your dedication to Israel, to the Jewish people and to Jewish life on campus,” Fingerhut wrote. “Hillel has worked hard and successfully to build inclusive, welcoming Jewish communities on campus that help strengthen Jewish identity and deepen a commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. That this incident has made you doubt that commitment is of great concern to me and only serves to push us to rebuild your trust.”

Fingerhut concluded by inviting the students to speak with him in person, an invitation several hundred students took him up on Monday when they marched from the convention center to Hillel International’s headquarters.

Crowding the sidewalk in front of the Schusterman International Center, the students cheered as Yaakov Malomet, co-president of the J Street U chapter at Brandeis University, declared that Fingerhut’s email missed the point.

“We’re here because we want to work together with Hillel International for a two-state solution and a secure Jewish democratic state,” he said.

Other speakers followed suit, declaring that the conversation with Jewish communal leaders needs to change. They then unveiled a proposed public agenda calling on Hillel to divulge the donors “tying [Hillel’s] hands” and Hillel’s “plan to address that dynamic,” and asking how J Street U can “be partners in this effort?”

Their protest completed, the students left letters asking for an on-the-record meeting between the J Street U National Student Board and Hillel International’s Board of Directors prior to the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. In one last parting shot, the students left sticky-notes on the windows and doors of the Hillel building with the words “Dear Eric Fingerhut you cancelled on [student name].”

According to a J Street Twitter post, Fingerhut agreed to the meeting shortly after the march completed.

White House Goes After ‘Occupation’

White House Chief of Staff James McDonough

White House Chief of Staff James McDonough

WASHINGTON — After remaining largely silent since 2011 on what borders a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would encompass, the White House once again reanimated its call for the borders of two future states to be based on “1967 borders.”

Delivering the keynote address to around 3,000 attendees at this year’s policy conference for the left-wing pro-Israel organization J Street, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough laid out the administration’s current position on where it believes the two sides have the best chance at dividing the territories.

“In the end, we know what a peace agreement should look like. The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” said McDonough. “Each state needs secure and recognized borders, and there must be robust provisions that safeguard Israel’s security.”

McDonough, though a bland and unemotional speaker, delivered a no-holds barred direct attack on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu statement prior to national elections last week that a Palestinian state would not be born under his watch. McDonough peppered his speech with multiple references to what he called “Israeli occupation.”

“An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state,” McDonough continued. “President Obama still firmly believes what he said in Jerusalem two years ago — that peace is necessary, just, and possible. Peace is necessary because it is the only way to ensure that a secure State of Israel is both Jewish and democratic.”

President Barack Obama last invoked the 1967 borders during a 2011 speech preceding a visit by Netanyahu to the White House, creating a firestorm among pro-Israel groups in the United States and stern admonition from Netanyahu during the visit; at the time, he called such borders “indefensible.”

Until now, including throughout Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts at peace negotiations in early 2014, the administration has largely avoided publicly supporting a return to the 1967 lines.

The speech by McDonough comes less than a week after Netanyahu and his Likud party won a decisive victory over a unified bloc made up of Israeli parties spanning the center-left to far left of Israel’s political spectrum.

Netanyahu’s pre-election response to a question posed by Israeli media that a two state solution would not be reached under his leadership has been widely attacked by Jewish groups in the United States and has been invoked multiple times by administration officials. Although Netanyahu walked back his statement in appearances on multiple U.S. media outlets last week, the administration said that it remains uncertain which statements reflect Netanyahu’s true intentions and whether the United States can depend on his honest cooperation in any future attempts at reviving negotiations.

In his phone call to congratulate Netanyahu on his electoral victory — which, coming two days after election is being viewed by many as a snub to Netanyahu — the president, while clarifying the United States’ support for the safety and security of Israel, told the prime minister that the administration will begin a process of reevaluating the relationship between the two nations.

“I think that it’s the position of the United States that we do take [Netanyahu] at his word,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said during his daily press briefing on March 20. “But he was quite clear that he did not envision a scenario where a Palestinian state would be established while he was the prime minister of Israel. And that I do think that calls into question his commitment to a policy objective that has been in place for a number of years now.”

Earnest implied that possible changes to the U.S.-Israel relationship could include the United States discontinuing its role as the lone veto against perceived anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N. Security Council, including moves by the Palestinian Authority to unilaterally seek international recognition of statehood.

Senior Hillel executive resigns

WASHINGTON — The controversy over Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut’s withdrawal from J Street’s annual conference has claimed its first victim: David Eden, the group’s chief administrative officer.
According to Fingerhut, Eden has left Hillel to work as a consultant and to resume “other projects” he was working on “prior to joining the Hillel family.”
Reports of Eden’s departure began swirling on March 12 after New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer tweeted about hearing of the resignation. Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, who spoke to Washington Jewish Week on the condition of anonymity, say Eden quit his post at the major organization dedicated to fostering Jewish life on campus under pressure to resign after his handling of his boss’ scheduled appearance and withdrawal from the J Street conference that was held in Washington this week.
Asked by WJW on March 9 what triggered Fingerhut’s pullout from the March 21-24 conference, Eden blamed it on J Street’s invitation to Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to speak at the gathering. Erekat has compared Israel to the Islamic State and threatened an economic boycott against Israel, Eden said. “Eric [Fingerhut] holds participation in events to a rigorous standard,” he stressed. Both the State Department and Israel deal with Erekat as the chief Palestinian negotiator, however.
Eden was the point of contact for the media during the several controversies that have rocked Hillel in the past two years, including the decision by students at Swarthmore College, an elite liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, to reject Hillel International’s guidelines against welcoming those it deems are anti-Israel, anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. Swarthmore Hillel voted this month to end its affiliation with Hillel International and take the name Kehilah.