Rocky Rosen Leaves behind lifetime of inspiration 91-year-old worked as a fitness instructor until weeks before his death

Allen “Rocky” Rosen (left), pictured with wife Ruth and JCC of Greater Baltimore President Barak Hermann, worked at the JCC for more than six decades.

Allen “Rocky” Rosen (left), pictured with wife Ruth and JCC of Greater Baltimore President Barak Hermann, worked at the JCC for more than six decades.

Allen “Rocky” Rosen may be gone, but his significant impact on his community and family can never be erased. From founding a camp to helping Russian families immigrate to the United States to helping people live healthy lives into his 90s, Rosen inspired and helped generations of people.

The longtime JCC fitness instructor, teacher, philanthropist and great-grandfather passed away on Saturday, Jan. 31, at the age of 91.

“He just took the time for everybody all the time,” said Lynn Rosen-Stone, his daughter who is fitness supervisor at the Owings Mills JCC. “It was never just, ‘Hi, how are you?’ It was, ‘Let me see how I can help you.’ He was just full of love and compassion for everybody.”

Following in Rosen’s footsteps, Lynn’s sister, Karyl Rosen, is a JCC fitness instructor, and her daughter, Kenzie, manages Anytime Fitness in Lutherville.

Allen “Rocky” Rosen (center) is honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Maryland legislators (from left) Dana Stein, Bobby Zirkin, Dan Morhaim and Jon Cardin. (Photos provided)

Allen “Rocky” Rosen (center) is honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Maryland legislators (from left) Dana Stein, Bobby Zirkin, Dan Morhaim and Jon Cardin.
(Photos provided)

Paul Lurie, vice president of fitness, recreation and aquatics at the JCC, said Rosen was a fixture, having worked there for more than 60 years.

“He had a passion in life for helping people and making them better,” Lurie said. “He really was an icon of the kind of people we like to have on staff and the kind of people we like to have as members.”

Born in Philadelphia, Rosen earned his bachelor’s degree and Master of Education degree from Temple University. He played football there and was offered a tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles, but he chose to teach physical education instead. After teaching elementary and high school in Philadelphia, Rosen came to Baltimore in 1949 with his wife, Ruth, who survives him, and began teaching physical education in Baltimore City schools; he also became the youth adviser at Beth Tfiloh. He taught in city public schools for more than 30 years, mostly at Fallstaff and Pimlico elementary schools and Pimlico Junior High School.

Soon after coming to Baltimore, Rosen started working for the Jewish Education Alliance, a predecessor to the JCC. He worked as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at the JCC into his 90s. In his 80s, he began bodybuilding and won several body building championships. He also participated in the Senior Olympics, winning gold medals into his 90s.

“He really was an icon of the kind of people we like to have on staff and the kind of people we like to have as members.”

After working at Beth Tfiloh camps, Rosen was inspired to open his own camp, Camp Wonderland, which he and his wife operated on their land for more than 20 years. That same site later became home to a camp for diabetic children.

While teaching, working at the JCC and running a camp, Rosen also found plenty of time for volunteer work. He was a scout master, an adviser at B’nai B’rith, a volunteer and instructor in first aid, small-craft water safety and lifeguarding at the American Red Cross, a lieutenant in the Baltimore Civil Air Patrol and public relations chairman at the American Camping Association, and he raised money for American Red Magen David for Israel. Through the JCC, he sponsored three Russian families to help them re-establish their lives in America. He and his wife were honored by Israel Bonds.

Rosen received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of Maryland and was inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2011. He also had a JCC award named after him.

“Rocky was an inspiration to everyone who ever encountered him,” JCC of Greater Baltimore president Barak Hermann wrote in a letter to members. “We will continue to honor his memory by recognizing JCC members with the Allen ‘Rocky’ Rosen Fitness Award, which honors members who exemplify Rocky’s commitment to the JCC by living a healthy lifestyle that includes a strong focus on fitness, wellness and community.”

Hope and Appreciation Inaugural Times of Israel Gala focuses on best, brightest

In what was decidedly planned by organizers as a nonpolitical event, former Israeli President Shimon Peres raised eyebrows Sunday night at the inaugural Times of Israel Gala in New York City when he seemingly lambasted current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent calls for Jews under attack in Europe to settle in Israel.

“Don’t come to Israel because of a political position,” he said during a question-and-answer session with Times of Israel’s founding editor, David Horovitz. “Israel must remain a land of hope and not a land of fear.”

The comment appeared to be a rebuke of Netanyahu, who earlier in the day urged Jews in Denmark to make aliyah after the murder of a Jewish guard outside a Copenhagen synagogue. That call dovetailed with a similar statement the prime minister made after the attacks on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris.

Peres, though, offered a vision not of fear, but of a world that would eventually embrace Jews and all minority peoples. If Peres’ 20-minute session during the gala’s banquet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel could be boiled down to one word, it would be hope, with the former president and prime minister — who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts alongside the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to bring peace to the Middle East — invoking the principle of “hope” several times.

“I believe we will have peace with the whole Arab world,” he said. “A person has a choice: Either be a person of hope or be a coward.”

When the topic turned to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, he again seemed to contradict Netanyahu, who has sparked the ire of the White House by pursuing a March 3 speech before Congress to personally plea for increasing sanctions on the regime in Tehran.

“I don’t think any single country can stop Iran from having bombs,” said Peres, who accepted the evening’s Lifetime Leadership Award from World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder.

While Peres’ remarks provided a high point for politicos and foreign policy experts, the rest of the event was dedicated to honoring two citizens who gave their lives in defense of the Jewish state — American-born Max Steinberg, who died during Operation Protective Edge last summer, and Druze policeman Zidan Saif, who was shot during a terror attack on a synagogue in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem — remembering the three teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists and highlighting Israeli accomplishments in the entertainment, sports, defense and scientific disciplines. Honorees included actress and model Gal Gadot, legal expert Alan Dershowitz, Danny Gold, known as the “Father of the Iron Dome,” and Israel’s singer of the year, Miri Mesika.

“I thought we needed to spend some time reminding ourselves why Israel is worth fighting for,” said Horovitz. “This evening was about taking a rare pause to appreciate Israel.”

Regional Publisher of Jewish Newspapers, Baltimore Style Magazine Expands, Re-brands

Bringing its print products and custom media division under one corporate identity, the publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times, Washington Jewish Week and Baltimore Style Magazine has rebranded itself as Mid-Atlantic Media, LLC.

The formation of Mid-Atlantic Media late last year consolidates the holdings of Owings Mills, Md.-based Clipper City Media and the Rockville, Md.-based WJW Media Group. One of the first actions of the new company was to acquire the Pikesville, Md.-based Smart Shopper, Inc., a direct mail response upscale magazine with zoned publications in Baltimore County, Howard County and Anne Arundel County.

In addition to its publications, the company also operates Mid-Atlantic Custom Media, a boutique design, content generation, sales and marketing division; its clients include The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh, Pa., and corporate organizations in the engineering, healthcare and education fields such as Friends School of Baltimore, Garrison Forest School and Dixon Valve & Coupling Co. With a combined circulation of 250,000 households, each of Mid-Atlantic Media’s publications and affiliates cover the must-know people and challenging topics in Maryland, as well as targeted, in-depth news coverage of Jewish communities in the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and western Pennsylvania areas.

“Our publications strengthen and build core communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and deliver an impressive ROI for our advertisers,” said Craig Burke, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Media. “We look forward to continuing to grow our custom media offerings, as well as expanding our reach into other markets.”

Originally formed in 2010 as WJW Media Group, the company purchased the assets of Alter Communications in 2012 and spun off the division as Clipper City Media. In acquired Smart Shopper in December 2014.

Why There is No Chabad House in Havana

Rebeca and Alberto Meshulam, 70 and 78, respectively, in front of a portrait of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Meshulams host Lubavitch emissaries at their Havana apartment throughout the year. (Josh Tapper)

Rebeca and Alberto Meshulam, 70 and 78, respectively, in front of a portrait of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Meshulams host Lubavitch emissaries at their Havana apartment throughout the year. (Josh Tapper)

HAVANA — On the freshly painted, salmon-colored walls of Alberto and Rebeca Meshulam’s apartment, two portraits of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, frame the entranceway leading to a wide, airy vestibule.

Miniatures of the same portrait sit atop a glass-covered countertop near an image of the Meshulams’ son, Moises, taken at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Buenos Aires that he attended for a decade. Despite the iconography, and their kosher kitchen, the Meshulams are not strict adherents of the Hasidic movement.

But in Cuba, a country without a permanent Chabad outpost, the Meshulams — he’s a retired physician, she’s a homemaker — are proud supporters. Their home in this city’s tranquil Nuevo Vedado neighborhood has become a de facto headquarters for the handful of mostly Latin American Lubavitch emissaries who visit the island on major Jewish holidays.

The Meshulam family home is, according to Rebeca, the “beit Chabad for Cuba.”

There are reasons Chabad doesn’t have a house of its own, stemming from a years-long dispute with Cuba’s 1,500-member Jewish community. Indeed, over the past eight years, relations between Chabad, the haredi Orthodox outreach organization, and Cuban Jewish leadership have deteriorated to the point where Lubavitch emissaries will not step foot in the city’s Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel. Meanwhile, Havana’s Conservative Beth Shalom, the largest synagogue in Cuba, decries Chabad’s ongoing presence here as illegal.

The roots of the hostilities lie in differing interpretations of halachah, or Jewish law, especially over the question of who should be considered Jewish. While exact figures are unknown, there is a high rate of intermarriage inside the Cuban Jewish community, according to Beth Shalom president Adela Dworin, who knows of only 20 or so Cubans — including herself — born to two Jewish parents.

Chabad emissaries won't step foot in Havana's Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel. (Josh Tapper)

Chabad emissaries won’t step foot in Havana’s Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel. (Josh Tapper)

But since 1992, when the country changed its constitution to allow for freedom of religion, hundreds of Cubans have been converted by visiting Conservative rabbis, Dworin said. Chabad, however, does not recognize non-Orthodox conversions.

Shimon Aisenbach, the director of Chabad’s Cuba operation, Chabad Friends of Cuban Jewry, or CFCJ, acknowledged that emissaries have barred Cubans they don’t consider halachically Jewish from their programs — a practice Dworin called “discriminatory.”

In recent years, Chabad has also drawn the ire of some in the Jewish community here for skirting a Cuban law that requires all visitors on religious missions to carry religious visas. Each year, dozens of American and Canadian Jewish missions — sponsored by synagogues and Jewish organizations such as B’nai B’rith — arrive in Cuba lugging bags of clothing and medical supplies.

The Lubavitch emissaries who enter Cuba from across Latin America and Canada come instead with tourist visas.

Máriem Martinez Laurel, the press secretary and cultural attaché at Cuba’s embassy in Ottawa, acknowledged that religious travelers sometimes sneak into Cuba on tourist visas by deceiving their local consulate.

“If they are going to do religious work, this is not correct,” said Martinez Laurel, who had not previously been aware of Chabad’s work on the island. “They cannot do any religious work with a tourist card.”

Aisenbach, who runs CFCJ out of a basement office at his home in a suburb north of Toronto, said his group submitted religious visa applications in the past but they were never processed in a timely fashion. When asked why CFJC no longer applies for religious visas for its emissaries — or attempts to establish a permanent residence on the island — Aisenbach said he believes that Cuba’s Office of Religious Affairs would rule against Chabad, given Dworin’s close ties to the government.

“The government knows about me and knows about my work,” Aisenbach said.

CFCJ has worked in Cuba since 1991, the same year that many international Jewish organizations, including the American Joint Distribution Committee, rushed in to provide aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s chief benefactor at the time.

According to Aisenbach, that first year Chabad shipped nearly 2,000 pounds of clothing and medicine, shoes and Spanish-language prayer books to Jews across the island. In 1998, Chabad reported that it had imported seven tons of kosher food over the previous five years.

In those early years, Chabad was tolerated, even embraced.

At Adath Israel, a two-story building behind a barbed-wire gate in Old Havana, pictures of Lubavitch emissaries posing with synagogue members adorn the foyer walls and many of the synagogue’s prayer books come from a Lubavitch publisher. Aisenbach said he had strong ties with Adath Israel’s former president, Alberto Silverstein, who welcomed his emissaries into the congregation.

But by 2007 Silverstein had stepped down and a conflict had arisen with the synagogue’s new leaders. Aisenbach said members of Adath Israel told him flatly they didn’t care if their religious leaders were not halachically Jewish. (The current president, Jacob Berezniak-Hernandez, declined an interview.)

During the High Holidays that year, the congregation insisted that a man whose mother was not Jewish blow the shofar, sources said. For Aisenbach, such disregard for the precept of Orthodox Judaism, which holds that Judaism is passed down through the mother, was unbearable.

Adela Dworin has been president of the Beth Shalom synagogue since 2006 and serves as the Cuban Jewish community's government liaison. She opposes Chabad's traveling to Cuba on tourist visas rather than religious ones. (Josh Tapper)

Adela Dworin has been president of the Beth Shalom synagogue since 2006 and serves as the Cuban Jewish community’s government liaison. She opposes Chabad’s traveling to Cuba on tourist visas rather than religious ones. (Josh Tapper)

“How do you reconcile calling yourself an Orthodox shul?” Aisenbach said. “There is no reconciliation because you can’t play with the Torah.”

Following the episode, CFCJ discontinued aid to Adath Israel.

A fissure developed along similar lines between Chabad and Beth Shalom in advance of a CFCJ-run Purim party three years ago. Hosting the event at a rented location in Havana, Lubavitch emissaries refused entry to dozens of children who had received Conservative conversions. Shortly before the party was to begin, Aisenbach said, government officials arrived at the venue to shut it down.

Following that incident, Aisenbach said he called Ted Sokolsky, then-president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, which arranges to send kosher-for-Passover food each year and organizes the paperwork for young Cuban Jews to participate in Birthright Israel programs, begging him to upbraid Dworin on CFCJ’s behalf.

Aisenbach said Sokolsky then threatened Dworin with a rollback in aid if she did not tolerate Chabad activities in Cuba — a claim that Sokolsky emphatically denies.

“The government knows about me and knows about my work,” Aisenbach said.

“I just encouraged all groups to set aside their differences and demonstrate good will towards each other,” Sokolsky, now a special adviser with UJA, said in an email. “No one needed that kind of infighting.”

While Dworin said she respects Chabad, “because they are very, very religious,” there seems little hope of reconciliation between the Hasidim and the Cuban Jewish establishment. Their practice of entering as tourists, she said, reflects poorly on Cuban Jewry, which maintains a cozy relationship with the government, twice hosting President Raul Castro for Hanukkah celebrations at Beth Shalom.

“It’s not nice,” Dworin said. “They can harm the Jewish community.”

Sitting in her living room rocking chair, Rebeca Meshulam leaned forward and brushed aside concerns about the consequences of associating with a religious group that enters the country without government authorization.

Meshulam and her husband, who are both in their 70s, are happy to provide their home as a base, at whatever cost.

“Nobody can tell me what to do,” she said, her husband nodding along. “We are Jewish, and we make religion how we think we have to do it.”

Denmark Synagogue Attack a ‘Wake-Up Call’

From the window of the Jewish Community of Copenhagen’s crisis center, Finn Schwarz can see his country changing before his eyes.

Hours after the slaying of a guard outside the Danish capital’s main synagogue early Sunday morning, two police officers toting machine guns were on patrol outside the center — a common sight in France, Belgium and other trouble spots for Jews, but which resistant authorities in Denmark had previously considered both excessive and unpalatable.

“I think this attack was a wake-up call,” said Schwarz, a former community chairman who has lobbied the authorities for years, often in vain, for greater security. “What we have long feared happened and we will now see a changed Denmark. We have never seen this much security and guns before.”

The deployment of armed officers at Jewish institutions came within hours of a shooting at a Copenhagen cafe where a caricaturist who had lampooned Islam was speaking. One person was killed at the cafe in what Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called a terrorist attack.

Later that night, Dan Uzan, a 37-year old volunteer security guard, was with two police officers at the Great Synagogue when a gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing Uzan and wounding the officers. The trio were standing guard over approximately 80 people who had gathered for a bat mitzvah celebration in a building behind the synagogue. Guests reportedly took shelter in the basement after the shooting and later were escorted out under heavy guard.

On Sunday morning, Danish police killed a 22-year-old man in a shootout who they said was a Muslim extremist responsible for both shootings. The shooter was later identified as Omar El-Hussein.

Throughout the day Sunday, heavily armed police officers remained deployed across the capital and beyond as authorities hunted for accomplices.

The attack comes amid an escalation in anti-Semitic incidents in Denmark, including one this summer in which several individuals broke into a Jewish school just weeks after the conclusion of Israel’s seven-week conflict with Hamas in Gaza. No one was hurt in the incident, but some weeks earlier Jewish educators had instructed students not to wear yarmulkes or other identifying garments to school.

“This reality and the attack hurt the Jewish community both by encouraging emigration and by forcing people to distance their children, for security reasons, from the Jewish community, its schools and institutions,” Schwarz said.

Yet Danish authorities often resisted requests for greater security measures, an issue that Rabbi Andrew Baker raised last September during a visit to Denmark in his capacity as the representative for combating anti-Semitism of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Noticing the absence of the sort of security arrangements familiar in Paris and Brussels, Baker asked Danish officials whether they were worried about an attack on Jewish institutions.

“The officials I met recognized the risks but said that Denmark had a ‘relaxed approach to security,’ as one interlocutor put it, and that having armed police in front of buildings would be too disturbing to the population at large,” said Baker, who also serves as director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

“I was taken aback because I never encountered in other countries this argument of rejecting security measures while fully acknowledging the threat,” Baker said. “I left knowing it was only a matter of time before I got the call.”

Schwarz said authorities had improved security around Jewish institutions after the slaying last month of four Jews at a kosher market near Paris. But he said there remains a gap of tens of thousands of dollars between the security funding sought by the community and what the government is offering.

“I think the heavy security is good, but I’m also sad to see it because a Denmark where armed officers stand outside [the] synagogue doesn’t seem like the peaceful country I know and love,” Schwarz said. “But it’s necessary.”

Denmark has approximately 8,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.

EJC officials stressed that the problem of Jewish security is not Denmark’s alone and called for continent-wide countermeasures, including legislation that provides national governments with improved tools to counter the threat.

“We are dealing with a pan-European problem which is being dealt with individually instead of on a pan-European basis,” said Arie Zuckerman, a senior EJC official who oversees the group’s Security and Crisis Centre. “This is part of the reason our enemies are the ones that have the initiative.”

EJC President Moshe Kantor called on the European Union to establish an agency devoted to fighting anti-Semitism.

“European governments and leaders who in the name of upholding liberties refrain from acting effectively against terrorists are endangering those very freedoms because they are exposing them to the terrorists’ attacks,” Kantor said.

Back in Copenhagen, Dr. Ilan Raymond, a Jewish physician and father of two, spoke of an uncertain road ahead.

“What happened Sunday is a shock that will stay with us for a long time,” said Raymond, who learned of the attack while on vacation abroad when his 16-year-old son sent him a text message that read “I am alright.”

The attack “will have a profound effect and may cause some to leave,” Raymond said. “It’s early days.”

The Resilience of Alan Gross

Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20. (Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom)

Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20. (Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom)

At The President’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20, Alan Gross raised his hand high in the air in a sign of triumph as television cameras zoomed in. At a welcome-home event at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville that same month, the man who spent five years in a Cuban prison wore a perpetual smile and drank Champagne toasts to his freedom with more than 400 well-wishers at his side. And on his Facebook page, Gross has shared smaller joys, including visiting Starbucks for the first time since 2009, eating at Ben’s Chili Bowl and obtaining a learner’s driving permit.

Yet, it was just this summer that the District resident was giving up hope, refusing all visitors to his cell but his wife. He had lost 100 pounds and was suffering from numerous health ailments. The 65-year-old man was serving his fifth year of a 15-year sentence for crimes against the state when suddenly on Dec. 17, he became a free man.

Gross is not speaking publicly about his incarceration in the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital in Havana. But at Temple Beth Ami, Gross told the crowd he maintained his sanity by composing songs, drawing, creating word puzzles and reading.

Five years is a long time to be locked up in a foreign country, isolated from loved ones and denied the comforts of home.

What kind of psychological outcome can Gross can expect?

People who suffer acute, or short-term, trauma, tend to recover quickly. But when it comes to chronic, or long-term, adversity such as Gross endured, it is harder to recover, according to several trauma experts.

“Sometimes after a chronic adversity,” a person can adjust and move on, “but it takes a while,” said George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. Bonanno also heads the Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab at Columbia.

Adjusting so quickly after spending five years imprisoned in Cuba would make Gross “an unusual man,” Bonanno said. “Just to be right-away OK, that’s pretty quick,” Bonanno said.

The fact that Gross was working to bring Internet access to Cuba’s small Jewish community as an employee of the Development Alternatives Inc. of Bethesda, which receives funding and contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, may indicate that Gross has the strength to cope with adversity, Bonanno said. Working in those difficult circumstances takes a strong person, he said.

There are ways to cope and adapt to adversity that enable someone to recover more quickly than others, said Manuel Reich, a Pittsburgh psychiatrist who is Jewish. “If you have a very strong will to live, a healthy optimism, if you are able to do that, someone like that figures out how to live in prison and adapt.” Some people just know how to take lemons and make lemonade, Reich said.

Gross may have weathered the experience by finding someone to confide in there — a prison guard or one of his two cellmates — and that could have been the key to his seemingly quick recovery, Reich surmised.

Gross has displayed on his Facebook page some of his drawings, both current and ones created while in Cuba, that show him interacting, or at least being, with other people. Even in the drawings where he is by himself, “he is staring at someone” not shown in the picture, Reich noted.

“Engagement with others — I assume that’s how he survived. Engaging with others, keeping busy” are important, Reich said. “When someone is in a survival state of mind, they become very creative with their activities and their thinking.”

In another drawing, Gross is seen sitting on a hospital bed, a cigar in a nearby ashtray. The phrase — there is not much more time — is written in Spanish on the wall. Gross is fiercely staring out at something not in the picture frame. His arm that is holding a cane has a series of numbers drawn in black that strongly resemble the tattoo etched into the arms of Holocaust victims sent to Auschwitz.

“I think he was very deliberately trying to describe himself as a victim. A tattoo on the arm is kind of iconic in terms of 20th-century Jewish thinking,” Reich said. “Everybody cringes” when they see someone with a number tattooed on their arm.

He may be expressing his feelings on paper rather than in public. Many who have spoken with him since his release are amazed by his sense of humor.

It’s possible that sense of humor never left Gross throughout his ordeal. “He may have been joking and smiling in prison” in his efforts to keep speaking with other people, Reich said.

However, Gross may be experiencing a short-lived state of euphoria, Reich said. Not only is he enjoying his freedom, but he also has become a celebrity in not just the local Jewish community but also a wider arena in which he was featured during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union.

The incredible high that Gross may be feeling may result in “a letdown,” Reich said.

Reich sees this letdown in children who receive organ transplants. For a while they are the center of attention, sometimes their town holds fundraisers to pay for their medical needs, and then all of a sudden, they are no longer in the news and no longer a celebrity.

“Many of them become depressed,” Reich said, adding, “You see that with celebrities” no longer in the limelight.”

Pointing to the seven-day Jewish mourning period, Reich said being with others helps a person in the short term, delaying the pain caused by the death of a loved one until they have finished sitting shiva and are alone.

There also is a possibility that Gross is experiencing reaction formation, which Reich described as a defense mechanism whereby a person portrays the opposite of what he is feeling.

Without ever meeting or speaking with Gross, it is impossible for him to know what Gross is experiencing, and it is likely he may be experiencing a mixture of many of these emotions, Reich said.

For now, Gross appears to be doing quite well. Dr. Steven Sharfstein, president and CEO of the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, called Gross’ upbeat attitude “unusual. Probably, he’s a very resilient person. There are people with very strong personalities who can go through a lot” and still be able to return to their normal life.

“There are a substantial number of people who are like this, but they are not the majority,” Sharfstein said. “Most people are not like that.”

The psychiatrist said even if the conditions Gross lived under were not horrific, he still must have undergone “real stress and deprivation.” He may have suffered depression, but “underneath it all is this real resiliency,” which Sharfstein said can be attributed to a combination of genetic makeup and prior life experiences.

If Gross is quickly returning to his old life, Sharfstein said it means Gross is naturally resilient. “He has that personality, and it is a great personality to have,” he said.

Proposed Stevenson Road Chabad Faces Opposition Synagogue would serve area’s Russian Jews

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky plans to build a 4,000-square-foot synagogue on this Stevenson Road property. (Marc Shapiro)

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky plans to build a 4,000-square-foot synagogue on this Stevenson Road property. (Marc Shapiro)

A Pikesville neighborhood is up in arms over a proposed Chabad synagogue that would be built on a three-acre property on Stevenson Road.

The Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad-Lubavitch congregation for Russian immigrants, plans to build a 4,000-square-foot, one-story synagogue in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road.

While congregants would be excited to have a building of their own — Ariel currently operates out of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan’s space on Old Pimlico Road — and think it would be a boost to the neighborhood, surrounding residents contend that they would rather see a house built on the land and don’t want the additional traffic and activity on what they say is already a busy and dangerous street.

“My wife and I are concerned about traffic safety, pedestrian safety and potential runoff, and so we’ve been involved in the community efforts to oppose it, be it by helping plan meetings, talking to neighbors about it,” said Dana Stein, who lives in the next house north of the property. While he is a state delegate — the Democrat represents the 11th District — Stein said he is acting a homeowner, not as a politician, and cleared his involvement in the opposition with the legislature’s ethics adviser. “Our expectation was at some point we’d have a couple of houses that were built there, not a nonresidential use.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, the spiritual leader of Ariel, said he and his family will actually live in the existing structure on the property. He shared his plans to build the synagogue at a meeting in January to be a good neighbor but believes he has the right to build what he wants to build.

“We are going ahead with our plans. People in this meeting, many of them were mistaken thinking we were coming to ask for permission,” he said. “We don’t need their permission. I came to this meeting to be a good neighbor.”

Although Belinsky would not say when he plans to file his new plans with the county (previously submitted plans were scrapped), his proposal calls for the synagogue with 20 parking spots in the back. The building would serve as a place to celebrate Shabbat and host Sunday school, which currently has 16 students, as well as life-cycle events and Jewish celebrations. Belinsky said he would plant trees around the property and put up a fence and is willing to work with neighbors to come to an agreement.

But Ken Abel, the property’s neighbor to the south, said this is not what he signed up for when he moved from Worthington Park to Stevenson Road last February. He expected a quiet neighborhood, where he wouldn’t see much at the end of the day other than people pulling into their driveways after work.

“I think anybody in my shoes wouldn’t want to look outside and basically look at an institution, be that a synagogue, a church, a mosque, where there’s a lot of people milling around; they’re coming in and coming out,” he said. “I think anyone who lives in a neighborhood or a semi-neighborhood like myself wouldn’t assume next door to them would be an active, vibrant gathering place.”

While Belinsky’s plans would have to pass county regulations, federal law is on his side. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 protects houses of worship and religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws, allowing for the building of synagogues in residential areas.

But because Baltimore County has received so many letters about the synagogue, any plans submitted to county zoning must be reviewed directly by Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, or W. Carl Richards Jr., zoning review supervisor, Richards said.

Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland, is not surprised by the opposition, having faced it himself when he wanted to build his current facility more than two decades ago.

“I think it’s a natural not-in-my-backyard” issue, he said. “There is always opposition to anything new in the community. There is fear, there is ignorance, misconceptions, and it’s not unexpected or unusual.”

Kaplan said it took him five years and “quite a bit of money” to overcome the opposition he faced. But he recalls one man, a neighbor of his property, who vowed to fight the development because of the detrimental effect it would have on his property value. After the property was built, the man later thanked Kaplan for the gift of being able to sell his house at $10,000 higher than he bought if for.

“When you have development in general, especially community institutions, it’s a boon for the neighborhood,” he said. “The more investment you have in a neighborhood, the better off it is.”

Several of Belinsky’s congregants attended last month’s meeting expecting to hear a diversity of opinions. Val Gorodisky, who came to the United States from Ukraine in 1991, said he was shocked.

“The meeting was not about opinions. They didn’t ask for opinions,” he said. “It was about how they’re going to fight the synagogue.”

Stein said there is a petition with about 200 signatures on it opposing the synagogue.

While it’s a far cry from the experiences of Jews who lived in the Soviet Union, Belinsky’s congregants are no strangers to fighting for their Judaism. Gorodinsky, who lives within walking distance of the proposed building, said Judaism only happened underground in Soviet Russia.

“That’s one of the most important reasons why we came to the States, because I don’t know any other countries other than Israel where the Jews can be so free and they can express their faith and practice and not be hated by everybody else,” he said.

Inssa Steinberg, who immigrated 25 years ago, said she tried attending other synagogues when she arrived here but was put off for not being “Jewish enough.” All she knew when she arrived in the United States was that she was Jewish but didn’t know what it meant to be Jewish. Through Belinsky, Steinberg and her family “know” Judaism, she said.

“We know our traditions,” she said. “We know what Passover is, the other holidays, what a sukkah is, what a Shabbaton is, what Shabbat is. We didn’t have all of this in Russia.”

Belinsky underscores the need for his building with the low affiliation rate among Russian Jews.

“When we came here, every Jewish organization and synagogue in town tried to reach out to us,” he said. “That effort was really not successful, it did not bear any fruit.”

And while he is determined to build, his opposition is also determined to fight his proposal. Abel said he expects appeals to be filed on either side when the county makes a decision on Belinsky’s plans.

“He and his lawyer believe they can build what they want to build. We believe they are wrong and unequivocally they are not allowed to build what they want to build,” he said. “One of us is going to be right and one of us is going to be wrong.”

A Public Concern Health officials gather in Baltimore to address measles outbreak

Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, speaks to the efficacy of vaccines at a special measles symposium held Monday. ( Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, speaks to the efficacy of vaccines at a special measles symposium held Monday. ( Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

Baltimore’s medical establishment stood shoulder to shoulder on Monday, Feb. 9 to declare unequivocally: Vaccinations work.

Standing in front of her colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, Mercy Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, Sinai Hospital and other regional partners at the special Measles Symposium at the Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly appointed Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen did not mince words when it came to state health care workers’ stance on childhood vaccination.

“We stand here as pediatricians and public health leaders of Baltimore City and County to express our solidarity with the importance of childhood vaccinations,” said Wen. “For the last 10 years we have had zero cases of measles in Baltimore. That means zero deaths, zero injuries, zero hurt children, zero tragic families; we have come so far only to see measles take hold again,[and] we cannot be complacent.”

The nation’s recent measles outbreak traces to Disneyland in Southern California but has quickly spread. The Centers for Disease Control released findings Monday indicating that from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, 121 cases of measles were reported across 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Wen, who began her new role just a month ago, dealt with a suspected case of measles in an infant her first week on the job. Though it turned out that the child had been vaccinated and had not put others at risk, Wen practiced vigilance, cautioning that an outbreak “could happen to anyone, anywhere.”

Maryland, clarified Dr. Laura Herrera Scott, deputy secretary of public health services at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, does not allow exemptions from across-the-board vaccinations for philosophical reasons. It does, however, accept medical and religious exemptions.

“We have seen, practically, patients start their immunization schedule and then patients filing that religious exemption and then stopping those immunizations,” Scott acknowledged, “but that’s only 0.1 percent when we look across all 24 jurisdictions in Maryland.”

She added that Maryland’s immunization rates from kindergarten through grade 12 runs between 97 and 99 percent. Vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and not every person can receive a vaccine; therefore, measles could still crop up, she cautioned. Health officials have floated several ideas to combat a potential outbreak, including exempting children from school when their parents choose not to vaccinate on medical or religious grounds.

Despite the seemingly high rate of immunization in school-age children, more work needs to be done to track the immunization rates of preschool-age children, Scott said.

Citizens should not take the state’s relatively robust public health for granted, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for public health and training at the Bloomberg School. Sharsftein, who was health secretary under the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley, was echoed by Dr. Gregory William Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services, who said, “Let’s cease the measles. … We can do consultation with our hospitals; we can do consultations to our day-care providers, with our schools 24 hours a day, so if anyone has any questions, they can call the local health department and we can discuss that.

“We have to educate and train the public and our staff as it relates to any type of measles or measles outbreak,” he continued. “We administer the vaccine to our children in our health clinics, also in our school wellness-based clinics. We do surveillance, we do monitoring all the time, and, obviously, we have to evaluate and investigate any potential case of measles.”

With would-be presidential candidates Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey publicly questioning the nation’s vaccination stance, it was fitting that former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California addressed the symposium to give his views on the politics of vaccines.

Let’s cease the measles. … We can do consultation with our hospitals; we can do consultations to our day-care providers, with our schools 24 hours a day.

“When you have a matter that threatens the public, government has an important role to play. This is not a partisan issue,” said the former congressman, noting that there has been broad bipartisan support for immunizations. In the 1980s, he said, legislators from both sides of the aisle rejected budget cuts put forth by President Ronald Reagan to the federal vaccination program.

It was also through bipartisan support that led to the establishment of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault program that compensates families who claim injury from vaccinations. The existence of the fund is pointed to by anti-vaccine groups as proof that vaccines are unsafe; in his remarks, Waxman contended that the fund had to be created to incentivize manufacturers to produce vaccines without fear of being sued. Furthermore, he said, the trust, which is funded by a tax on vaccines, runs at a surplus.

Daniel Salmon, deputy director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Bloomberg School, addressed parental concerns and what can be done to encourage vaccination, such as providing corrected information, taking a presumptive position rather than a participatory position and educating women during pregnancy.

Parents want self-disclosure — “Have you vaccinated your own children?” — said Dr. Debra Roter, a professor at Hopkins. Physicians and parents need to build partnerships and physicians must firmly confront misinformation without coming across as condescending.

Several presenters were hesitant to recommend pediatricians dismissing families that refuse to vaccinate either in part or in full, as that is likely to ruin any future hope of those families reconsidering, and it can push them toward physicians or alternative health care practices that do not follow official recommendations.

As the symposium wound down, two physicians came forward to explain why they signed onto the Baltimore Statement on Childhood Vaccinations, which codifies the stance of the state’s health community.

Dr. Steven J. Czinn, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said, “I am a pediatrician, but I am also a parent of four beautiful children. As parents we have an obligation, a responsibility to keep our children out of harm’s way, so I’d like to address my comments to parents who have not vaccinated or have not vaccinated against measles: I ask you to contact your healthcare providers today.”

Dr. Joseph Wiley, chief of pediatrics at Sinai Hospital and a pediatric oncologist, said he fears for his patients who are susceptible to vaccine-preventable illnesses. He concluded with a personal story.

“I haven’t missed a day from work for illness in 31 years, but the sickest I ever was in my life was when I was 5 years old and I had measles,” he said. “I would never want to see anyone go through that. We have the ability to prevent that from happening in the future to our children.”

A Neighborhood’s Fix Epidemic opiate crisis hits home

Over the course of the past few weeks, Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood has become a ground zero of sorts for the debate surrounding how to handle a problem that many say has taken over the city: the resurgence of heroin.

Tensions ran high last week when residents and local professionals packed into the Mount Washington Conference Center for a public meeting concerning a proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation center just steps from the neighborhood’s main business district.

The Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which currently operates out of an office on West Road in Towson, has requested to lease a building on Newbury Street in Mount Washington to open a second treatment center. MARC, which was founded in 2013, serves primarily middle- to upper-class patients and families suffering from addictions ranging from alcohol abuse to drug use.

This building on Newberry Street near Kelly Avenue has become a heated point of contention between the lease-seeking Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and Mount Washington residents. (Heather Norris)

This building on Newbury Street near Kelly Avenue has become a heated point of contention between the lease-seeking Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and Mount Washington residents. (Heather Norris)

While they emphasize their center is essentially a counseling center that addresses the roots of clients’ addictions, they do prescribe Suboxone, a drug that inhibits the ability of opiates to take effect. The proposal to use the vacant building at the corner of Newbury and Kelly streets is awaiting a decision on zoning pertaining to the number of parking spaces needed to operate a medical clinic, but Mount Washington residents arrived at the meeting ready to do battle.

Representatives from MARC faced questions that ranged from plans for landscaping to how many of their patients reside in Mount Washington and rebuffed accusations that they had been evicted from their original Towson office and that they were misleading the community about the kinds of treatment they offer. The owners told attendees that they had no plans to change the exterior of the building they are seeking to rent, that they could not disclose ZIP codes of patients, that their Towson location is still in operation and that, though they do prescribe Suboxone to aid in the treatment of opiate addicts, they do not distribute the drug out of their offices. Still, several neighbors were far from happy about the possibility of a center for addicts opening up down the road.

“They need help, and they need it here,” Mike Gimbel, former Baltimore County drug czar and current adviser to MARC, told the crowd of concerned residents. Still, many expressed doubts about whether addiction was really a problem in their neighborhood.

But odds are it is, say many experts in the field of addiction treatment.

In summer 2014, the National Geographic channel, in its “Drugs, Inc.: The High Wire,” put into words what many people had known for a long time: Baltimore has a serious heroin problem. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is expected to declare a state of emergency over heroin any day, dedicated part of his State of the State address earlier this month to discussing the situation.

“Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, it has become an epidemic, and it is destroying lives,” Hogan told the General Assembly on Feb. 4, adding that he has tasked Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford with leading the charge to tackle what he called an “emergency” in the state.


One out of every 10 city residents is addicted to the highly dangerous drug, estimates the White House’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. While that number has been disputed by some officials, consensus nonetheless is that the rate of addiction is extremely high. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimoreans accounted for half of all people admitted to treatment programs statewide for heroin addiction in 2012. In that same year, Baltimore City saw more than twice as many heroin-related deaths than any other place in the state. With easy access to extremely pure forms, experts predict that the trend will only grow.

Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS) is a New York-based organization that helps addicts and their families around the country. Unlike previous heroin spikes, the heroin being sold on the streets today is exceptionally pure, JACS experts say. As a result, it’s both more powerful and more potent. Also, users are finding alternative ways to ingest the drug into their system. Instead of shooting liquid heroin into their veins through a needle, kids as young as early teens are simply snorting or smoking the drug, alleviating some of the sense of danger surrounding it and making it more appealing to a wider clientele.

“The heroin producers and distributers have made heroin a purer, more powerful substance,” said Jonathan Katz LCSW, director of the Rita J. Kaplan Jewish Community Services for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York. “In other words, it’s not cut as much as it used to be with all kinds of adulterants that required it to be injected to get a high.”

That lack of syringes and needles, he added, can sometimes lead to a false sense of security for the user, making the chances of overdose greater.

The proposal to open the treatment center in Mount Washington cuts to the core of what many experts are urging people to acknowledge: Heroin is no longer the inner-city drug people still picture it as. Many of the city’s addicts come from affluent areas and live relatively privileged lives.

“More money just means better drugs,” said Daniel Brannon, founder of Right Turn/IMPACT, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment program based in Park Heights. A Baltimore native and recovering addict, Brannon himself was one of the first clients at the former Jewish Recovery House, which has since closed. Of the three men who moved into the center together on the first day in 1996, he says he is the only one who lived long enough to get clean.

The Jewish community, he said, has made major strides over the past decades in acknowledging addiction as a problem that exists in the Jewish neighborhoods.

“It used to be that in our communities, in Jewish communities, people didn’t want to talk about it,” said Brannon. “But addiction is everywhere.”

What many people who oppose the opening of treatment centers in their neighborhoods don’t realize, Brannon contends, is that the centers are places where people are not doing drugs. Residents of communities being eyed by potential rehab centers have a choice, he insisted: “You can have our houses or you can have crack houses.”

I feel bad for the people here tonight, because if their kids end up in trouble, where are they going to go?

The expansion of local treatment options also means more people could get the help they need, said Brannon. Instead of having to pay for a stay at a center in Florida or California, Baltimoreans could pay half the price and receive treatment just minutes from home.

“People have families, people have jobs,” he said. “But at the same time, they need help.”

Howard Reznick LCSW-C, senior manager of prevention education at Jewish Community Services, said the path to the current state of Baltimore’s heroin crisis is chartable.

“Societies go through phases of the drug of choice,” said Reznick. The path to Baltimore’s heroin addiction can be traced through a series of societal changes dating back to the 1950s.

In the ‘50s, Reznick said, valium became the drug of choice for suburbanites and the upper class. Then, in the ‘70 and ‘80s, so-called “uppers,” such as cocaine, surged in popularity. In the 1990s and 2000s, pain medicines, such as oxycodone, became popular again. In some ways, Reznick said, the new spike in heroin use is an extension of the painkiller trend.

A person doesn’t simply wake up one day and start taking a drug like heroin, he said. While every addict’s journey is unique, Reznick described what he called a “well-worn path” to heroin addiction as experimentation with prescription painkillers that eventually leads to the user’s tolerance reaching a level that makes it nearly impossible to achieve that high with the kinds of drugs they can find in friends’ and family members’ medicine cabinets. Seeking a more powerful, cheaper alternative, they turn to heroin.

Unlike cocaine addicts, who generally can sustain an addiction for an average time of three to four years before going over the edge, opiate addicts can live with the addiction for decades.

“You can walk for a much longer time than you can run,” said Reznick of the difference between addictions to uppers compared to the addiction to downers.

Last year, JCS teamed up with a number of other local organizations to form the Jewish Recovery Network, which includes MARC. The organization supports the center’s plans to open an office in Mount Washington.

Although the network focuses a lot of attention on educating school children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in hopes of preventing addiction before it begins, easily accessible treatment is an important tool in any community’s ability to combat addiction.

“It’s obviously incorrect,” said Reznick of the reputation of heroin as an inner-city drug. While the majority of addicts JCS sees are in their 20s, Reznick said it is not at all uncommon for 16- and 17-year-olds to turn to the JRN for help.

“This doesn’t discriminate,” said MARC adviser and former county drug czar Gimbel after the Mount Washington meeting. After an hour-and-a-half of tense debate, his frustration with the lack of community support for the center was clear.

“I feel bad for the people here tonight,” he said, “because if their kids end up in trouble, where are they going to go?”

MIDC to Highlight Wearable Technology

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The Maryland/Israel Development Center is bringing together companies involved in data, fitness and health care to examine opportunities in wearable technology. The Tuesday, Feb. 17 event will feature presentations by Under Armour, Johns Hopkins University and the Israeli embassy.

“As technology gets smaller and smaller, we’re all carrying around computers with us in the forms of our phones. The same technology is being put in wristwatches; they can put it in necklaces,” said Steve Brooks, chief innovation officer at Sage Growth Partners, who is moderating a discussion at the event. He also serves as co-chair of the MIDC’s life sciences committee. “There really is a race to enter this field.”

For Sage Growth Partners, a health care firm, the interest is in measuring health indicators in real time to get baseline readings on overall health, get pre-emptive warnings about risks and measure disease states. For other emerging issues, such as aging in place, putting sensors in homes can detect movement and possible emergencies such as falling.

“It’s putting sensors in places they’ve never been and having real-time ability to monitor,” Brooks said.

Under Armour is already utilizing wearables.

“Under Armour Connected Fitness is the world’s largest health and fitness community, reaching approximately 120 million registered users,” Mike Maglin, general manager of Under Armour’s digital product, said via email. “It is an open platform that is device (wearable) agnostic and brings together data from hundreds of devices that share into the Under Armour platform of digital apps including UA Record, MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal.”

And like Sage Growth Partners, Under Armour looked to Israel for wearable technology.

“The Israeli market is fantastic,” Brooks said. “There is some brilliant technology coming out of there. It’s so innovative, and they have such big support from the government.”

In the fourth quarter of 2014, Under Armour hosted its annual “Future Show,” which focuses on using digital technology to make athletes better. Maglin said there was a strong showing from Israeli companies, and Under Armour is continuing to explore those relationships.

The quicker this technology develops, the more vulnerabilities can present themselves. Avi Rubin, professor of computer science and Johns Hopkins University and technical director of the university’s Information Security Institute, will be on hand to discuss security issues.

“I’m going to talk a little bit about security for embedded devices and why the proliferation of ‘the Internet of things’ has led to increased security risks,” he said. “Everything from the thermostat to the refrigerator gets an IP address. You have devices being built somewhat experimentally that are being sold and developed more quickly than there is the ability to analyze their security.”

He said that often these devices can be used to proliferate attacks against other systems and leave the attacker more hidden. While the Israeli market moves faster, Rubin thinks the country might be more aware of these issues.

“I think that Israeli companies, just because of the nature of life in Israel, tend to be more focused on security than Americans, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to deal with the same issues,” he said.

MIDC chairman Rob Frier sees the threats and the opportunities in the technology.

“It’s a really interesting connection in hacking, security, Israeli companies and wearables,” he said. “It’s a really nice blend of related technologies.”

Anat Katz, commercial attaché for the Embassy of Israel will also speak about wearable technology being developed in Israel.

⇢ MIDC’s “Wearable Technology” is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 at Sage Growth Partners, 3500 Boston St., Suite 435, Baltimore. Free for members, $25 for nonmembers. Visit