BREAKING NEWS: Two Reported Killed, Hostages Taken at Paris Kosher Market

010915_france-marketSeveral people are being held hostage at a kosher supermarket in Paris. and two are reported dead.

The hostage situation began shortly after noon at a kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes in Paris’ 12th arrondissement, according to Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

“Ten people are being held hostage and one person, probably a member of the Jewish community, was wounded in the takeover,” he said.

AFP, the French news service, said two people are reported dead.

Witnesses said the shots were fired from an automatic assault rifle. The shooter then retreated into the supermarket, witnesses said.

The person holed up inside the kosher supermarket is believed to be connected to the killing of a police officer in the suburb of Montrouge south of Paris on Thursday, Zenouda said, citing police sources.

Police locked down schools in the vicinity.

The killer in the Montrouge attack shot the officer and wounded another person after his vehicle was involved in an accident, French media reported. He then fled the scene. Police believe they have identified the shooter and were searching for him, Le Monde reported.

Citing police sources, Le Figaro reported that police found a link between the suspect of the shooting in Montrouge and two men they suspect of murdering 12 people on Wednesday at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly.

Reports said police have released photos of two people wanted in the shooting of the police officer, a man, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and a woman, Hayat Boumeddiene.

Two men who are suspected of staging the attack have taken at least one person hostage and are holed up in a printing shop north of Paris, Le Monde reported.

A Budget Problem


Gallup 2014 Maryland Scorecard. Click image for a larger view.

With an approaching budget deficit in the $600 million range, both experts and state political figures predict 2015 to be the year of the budget.

“Unless the estimates are wildly off and the state’s able to generate a lot more revenue than they expect, I think the budget is going to be the first, the second and the third issue” facing legislators in Annapolis, said Irwin Morris, American politics professor and chair of the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

Adding pressure to the situation, Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan ran on a platform of cutting taxes for Maryland’s residents and businesses. Combined with the state’s need for revenue, many are predicting a lively budget process. While state legislators may not add to the budget, they can suggest decreases or restrictions of appropriations.

The state has dealt with deficits in the past, said Morris, but none on this scale. He predicted that the governor-elect will try to make the toughest cuts this session in the hopes that seemingly easier cuts in the future may be what stick in voters’ minds in the next election cycle.

“What concerns me a little bit is that the estimates for the deficit have grown,” said Morris. “I think this may be a little bit more problematic than in the past for several reasons, because you have a cut-taxes platform that the governor ran on and because it looks like the size of the deficit is growing.”

John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, said he expects there to be some battles on the floor about the budget, specifically with what services to cut. He expects some of the taxes and fees that were passed during outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s tenure, such as the stormwater management fee popularly known as the “rain tax,” as well as corporate tax rates, to be under fire.

“Large decisions have to be made about where that extra money is going to be coming from,” Bullock said.

Local representatives such as Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) don’t expect it to be an easy process. The budget gap is substantial, he said, and there isn’t much more excess the legislature can trim from the budget. He expects Hogan may look to change the K-12 education formula to help recoup some funds, but that would be controversial in the legislature, Stein said.

Stein said at least one fallout from the shortfall will be higher college tuition rates, especially since higher education will likely not see additional state funding. Local governments seem to be nervous about their state funding as well, he said.

“My take is that [the legislature] will be willing to work with [Hogan] where we can, at least with respect to budget issues,” Stein explained, adding that there are likely to be concerns in both parties about the budget.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41) agreed that the budget would be the primary focus of the session.

“We’ll see what his priorities are” when Hogan submits his budget Jan. 23, said Rosenberg. Until the budget is proposed, he added, it is difficult to predict how much controversy may arise from it and how the legislature will react.

Though he thinks the budget will be the biggest issue, he doesn’t think the task of balancing it will prove as insurmountable as some are depicting.

“We have had similar budget deficits at the outset of the session, and we have done what we needed to do to truly balance the budget and maintain the Triple-A bond rating from Wall Street,” Rosenberg insisted.

Another issue Rosenberg anticipates making an appearance in the 2015 session, which begins Jan. 14, is pre-kindergarten funding. As part of a deal encouraging the expansion of early education, Maryland receives millions of dollars in federal funding every year. Starting soon though, the state has to find a way to match the federal funds with state funding. Anticipating a possible challenge, Rosenberg said the legislature may have to prepare itself to fight on behalf of the program.

Rosenberg also expects the Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, on which he sits, to find itself readdressing some of the issues it dealt with in the past as the new governor works to follow through on campaign promises to reform the state’s regulatory processes.

“We do have a host of issues that weren’t issues during the campaign, where the governor-elect has not had to say, ‘This is what I would do if elected governor,’” said Rosenberg. “Over the four-year period, inevitably, there will be a host of issues that come up, legitimate issues that the legislature will address and so will the governor, and we’ll both be judged, both branches will be judged, on how we deal with that host of issues over the next few years.”

In the meantime, said Rosenberg, social service programs are left to wait and hope that their funding won’t be subject to budget cuts. Constituents of his who have children in public schools are concerned about the potential for cuts to school funding, he said, city residents in his district are worried about funds for the ongoing improvement projects in the Mount Washington schools, and Jewish residents who send their children to day schools are concerned about keeping what funds those schools do receive from the state. Additionally, he added, there is concern about state funding that supports programs run by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Click image for a larger view.

Click image for a larger view.

At a recent meeting of the Baltimore Jewish Council, deputy executive director Cailey Locklair Tolle said the council will be watching the budget closely, especially funding for agencies of The Associated.

“We are making sure that people within the governor-elect’s administration who are helping to craft the budget are very aware of our priorities,” she said. “Our message is being carried in as many ways as we can possibly carry it.”

She and other BJC officials have been meeting with Hogan since last January.

Tolle also highlighted some of the BJC’s budget priorities. Those include funding for power upgrades and climate control at Sinai Hospital; a diabetes medical home extender program; an increase in funding for the Maryland Israel Development Center that would allow a member in Israel to work full-time for the organization; the Supportive Community Network, which helps keep seniors in their homes; domestic violence prevention programs; and the Elder Abuse Center, among others. The BJC is also focusing on mental health and nonpublic school funding.

Another major change is the 2015 session will be the influx of new legislators. With redistricting and retirements, a total of 58 new delegates and 11 new senators will take office this month. Del.-elect Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who will sit on the Appropriations Committee, is one of those newcomers.

“As a new member of the Appropriations Committee I’m in a good position to be helpful to the Jewish community’s funding priorities,” Hettleman said via email, adding that she plans to advocate on behalf of some of the BJC’s priorities such as funding for upgrades to Sinai Hospital and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, maintenance of Northwest Hospital’s domestic violence program and support for the MIDC.

A former government relations director for the BJC, Hettleman said she will also back financing for programs for the elderly in the northwest Baltimore region.

In addition to getting to know her fellow legislators and attending various orientations for her new role, Hettleman has been fielding calls and emails from citizens of her district.

“Residents of the 11th District have begun to contact me about their constituent service concerns,” she said. “I’ve also been hearing from them about specific topics such as animal rights, state services for the disabled community and concerns about the budget. A church in the community that is seeking state aid for their refugee resettlement efforts has also asked me to help them.”

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) ran unopposed in the fall election, but will begin his new role as chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session. Prior to the appointment, he served as a member on the committee for four years.

In addition to the budget, Zirkin anticipates much of 2015 to be spent smoothing out technicalities in laws passed in the last legislative session. In particular, he believes there is still a lot of work to do on the medical marijuana front and the state’s handling of a 2012 decision declaring that indigent defendants are entitled to legal representation at bail hearings. Last session, Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh, who was then chair of the committee, addressed the problem by applying a computer system that sets bail. Zirkin said he expects to revisit the issue in the next few months.

New issues he said the General Assembly will likely have to tackle in 2015 are hydraulic fracturing and police body cameras, two controversial topics.

The idea of equipping police officers with body cameras has been steadily gaining steam across the country in the wake of several claims of police brutality and excessive force in the summer and fall. In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed a bill that would have required officers to wear cameras last month, but went on to say that she supports the concept and wants to see it implemented efficiently.

“When worn effectively, body cameras can increase accountability and transparency for our police force, but we need to make sure that we address a number of concerns, ranging from cost to privacy,” Rawlings-Blake said in October.

On hydraulic fracturing, a technology also known as fracking, Zirkin, who is vehemently against it, said he hopes the state follows in the footsteps of New York state’s recent ban.

“It would be a health and environmental disaster,” he said of allowing fracking, which uses water and chemicals to extract natural gas from below shale rocks, to begin in Maryland. “I think it’s a horrendous thing to do.”

Stein, who takes on two new assignments this session as vice chair of the environment and transportation committee as well as chair of the subcommittee on natural resources and agriculture, expects a front row seat to both the debates over fracking and stormwater management fees.

“Our committee will be ground zero for those debates,” he said. “I know there will be legislation to create a moratorium pending a review of public health outcomes of fracking.”

He plans to introduce a renewable energy bill that will provide incentives for business to produce renewable thermal energy, a bill putting limitations on how long a dog can be tethered outside in extreme weather conditions and a bond bill that would support a forthcoming capital campaign for renovations at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department.

Stein’s District 11 colleague Del. Dan Morhaim (D) also plans to work on some environmental issues. He plans to look into microbeads, a microscopic plastic used in toothpaste and soap that is non-biodegradable. His students at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health made a presentation on the issue, which Morhaim wasn’t previously familiar with.

“You can’t pollute the environment at the bottom of the food chain,” he said. “If you think of all the toothpaste and soap used every single day and all that’s washed into the rivers and the bay, what’s going to happen?”

While Morhaim has generally been opposed to fracking, he is introducing a fracking disclosure bill that would require fracking companies — were fracking to go forward — to disclose chemicals they use and what they know about them to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This would allow health providers to evaluate certain conditions if they happen to arise in people near fracking sites.;

‘A Real State’

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel in November 2013. Fabius has said France does not want “a symbolic recognition of a virtual state” of Palestine. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel in November 2013. Fabius has said France does not want “a symbolic recognition of a virtual state” of Palestine. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

When Britain’s Parliament voted in favor of recognizing Palestine in October, Elie Barnavi, a former Israeli ambassador to France, dismissed the motion as mere symbolism.

Reflecting many Israelis’ view of the string of nonbinding motions on Palestinian statehood adopted by European parliaments in recent weeks, Barnavi said the vote should be seen as a gesture of growing impatience with Israeli settlement policy and Jerusalem’s perceived responsibility for failing to reach a peace agreement.

But in at least one country, the trend appears to be having an impact.

In the run-up to the French parliament’s vote urging the government to recognize Palestine on Dec. 2, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced a two-year deadline for the successful conclusion of peace negotiations, after which France would recognize a Palestinian state.

In recent weeks, Fabius has promoted the initiative in talks with other European Union member states, which also forms the basis for one of two draft resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now being prepared for a vote at the United Nations Security Council.

“We do not want a symbolic recognition of a virtual state,” Fabius told French lawmakers on Nov. 28, just days before the vote. “We want a real Palestinian state.”

Israel has long suffered in public opinion across Europe, where it has struggled to stave off mounting calls for divestment and the labeling of goods produced in its settlements.

But since October, there have been signs that governments are beginning to embody those sentiments in legislation. The French vote follows similar measures undertaken by the parliaments of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Sweden, and comparable steps are pending in Denmark and Slovenia.

Last week, the European Parliament voted to recognize Palestinian statehood “in principle” and called for the advancement of peace talks. Hours later, 126 countries meeting in Geneva at a summit organized by the Swiss government condemned the occupation of Palestinian lands. The same day, a European Union court removed Hamas from the EU list of terrorist organizations, citing a legal technicality.

“The [parliamentary] votes were the opening shot for a host of events singling out Israel for criticism,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Sweden, which in October became the only European country to formally recognize Palestine. “With every parliament that joins, the motion’s effect is compounded and this creates an anti-Israeli atmosphere where each element fuels the other.”

None of the relevant governments adopted their parliaments’ calls to immediately recognize a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with Israel and sharing Jerusalem as a joint capital, as doing so would have closed the door on the commitment by those governments to facilitate a negotiated solution. But it doesn’t mean the motions are falling on deaf ears.

Daniel Shek, a former Israeli ambassador to France, said the move by Fabius essentially was a tradeoff offered to lawmakers eager to punish Israel. Rather than recognize Palestine outright, France would push again for peace talks — but this time with a clear deadline.

“France’s government would try again to encourage dialogue,” Shek said, “but unlike previous times would not make it open-ended.”

The decision by Sweden to unilaterally recognize Palestine did little to change diplomatic relations between Stockholm and Ramallah, as Sweden in 2012 had already upgraded the level of Palestinian diplomatic representation in the kingdom from mission to embassy. But it did prompt criticism from other European leaders, including Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, who last month said recognizing Palestinian statehood right now would not help jump-start peace talks.

Israeli leaders have roundly condemned the Swedish move and the votes taken in other European parliaments, with some like Mazel even suggesting that they could spark Palestinian violence. But Shek says the votes may in fact have a silver lining.

“While they place Israel in an uncomfortable situation, they also reaffirm support for the two-state solution at a time when it is being eroded,” Shek said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Israel.”

Helping Hands

Sam Seliger, Eli Kuperman and Amelia Oliver present their finished prosthetic hand. (Provided)

Sam Seliger, Eli Kuperman and Amelia Oliver present their finished prosthetic hand. (Provided)

In keeping with Sam Seliger’s sentiment that “ helping people is really important to me,”  he invited his bar mitzvah guests to participate in a service project as part of his celebration. The prosthetic hands Seliger and his friends assembled will be sent to help land-mine victims and others in countries around the world.

On the Sunday after his bar mitzvah, Seliger and 50 friends in teams of two and three made 19 hands in about two hours at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. He explained that the design of the hand is intentionally easy to assemble, easy to use and cost efficient and that each piece does specific things so it’s important to assemble it exactly right. There is a video and written instructions of the 13 steps for assembly.

“Then there’s a bag the hand goes into, and we decorate the bag,”  said Seliger, whose parents are Andrea LeWinter and Stephen Seliger, “and we take a picture of the group [that made each hand], and that goes into the bag as well. So it looks nice, and [the recipients] see this picture of who made it.”

The idea came from a family friend, Judy Saunders, who suggested the project after her husband, Josh, participated in a similar event as a team-building exercise at his work facilitated by Odyssey Teams, Inc. The company provides service-based leadership development training to corporations, organizations and other groups, and Helping Hands is one of several team-building projects they offer.

Seliger, who attends Ellicott Mills Middle School, had been considering a few different service project ideas, but he liked Helping Hands best. But the cost, at $1,500 for 10 hand construction kits, was a challenge he would have to address. That’s when the project became a real family affair.

Seliger researched Helping Hands and found out that at its origin was industrial designer Ernie Meadows. He and his wife, Marj, lost their daughter, Ellen, in a car accident when she was 18 years old, and Ernie wanted to create a legacy to their daughter’s memory; he designed the LN-4, a low-cost, light, durable and functional prosthetic hand.

The parents started the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, dedicated to provide a “prosthetic hand to every person who wants one and can benefit from it, and do so at no charge,”  according to its website, and that “no one will profit from the production or distribution” of the hands. To date, more than 17,000 prosthetic hands have been distributed to 75 countries.

Hannah Treger (left) and Isabella Kushner work on completing another one. (Provided)

Hannah Treger (left) and Isabella Kushner work on completing another one. (Provided)

Seliger discovered that Rotary clubs were instrumental in securing initial funding for production of the hands. Even though Odyssey Teams is now the major corporate partner with the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, Rotary International still provides considerable funding and assemblage of the prosthetic hands.

Here begins the family connection: Seliger’s grandmother, Barbara LeWinter, is a Rotarian. She encouraged her grandson to reach out to local Rotary clubs to secure funding in order to make his bar mitzvah project happen.

“He put together a presentation and went to Rotary clubs since they were a primary funder,”  said Seliger’s mother. She added, “I was a proud mama that he wanted to do a service project instead of a standard bar mitzvah bash.”

Ultimately, the Ellicott City Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Columbia, the Rotary Club of Williston-Richmond, the Rotary Club of Howard West and the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent donated funds. In total, Seliger raised $3,300 but not without the creative help of yet another family member, his cousin, Dana Janik.

Janik’s jewelry is inspired by American Sign Language, so her designs are fashioned after tiny hands in different meaningful sign language shapes. Seliger thought that selling the jewelry could also help raise money, and the connection of hand signs had resonance for him. Seliger sold jewelry at school, community events and was also invited to sell at a rotary club function.

Even at 13 years old, Seliger is no stranger to philanthropy. He regularly participates in raising money for the Ronald McDonald House by swimming laps through a single night with his swim team — last year, he completed 444 — and this month will mark his fourth year participating on the Owen United team for the Polar Bear Plunge, which raises money for the Special Olympics.

Seliger said that while he was building the hands with his friends, “I was thinking it’s going to really help people, and I hope to inspire other people to build them.”  He added that afterward a Hebrew school friend said she wanted to do a service project as part of her bat mitzvah party too.

“That’s what I wanted to hear,”  he said. “It got the message across.”

Going to Pot

010915_marijuanaAs Americans across the country watched the ball drop in New York’s Times Square last week, some, especially in states such as Washington and Colorado where recreational marijuana use was legalized last year, likely celebrated the passing of 2014 by lighting up a joint in lieu of, or in addition to, pouring a glass of champagne. But were their minor children as likely to sneak a toke of marijuana as they were to spike their cokes with shots of Jack Daniel’s?

In 2015, the “drug talk” that parents are strenuously encouraged to have with their children at increasingly younger ages isn’t what it used to be. With medical marijuana legal in 23 states, including Maryland, and possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use decriminalized in 18 states, Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just say no” no longer seems adequate to many. Add to this the fact that many of today’s parents, including President Barack Obama, have at least tried pot — and support its legalization — it would seem that the dreaded “drug talk” with one’s kids is now more dreadful than ever. Or is it?

Howard Reznick, senior manager of prevention education at Jewish Community Services, acknowledges that legalization and decriminalization of marijuana does put the drug more on par with alcohol, making it seem more acceptable.

“It’s reflective of the baby boomers now in charge of the legislative agenda and their positive experiences with marijuana,” said Reznick. “But, as in the cases of alcohol and cigarettes, just because it is legal doesn’t mean it is healthy.”

For Owings Mills mom R.S., who chose to remain anonymous for this article, addressing the issue of the legalization of marijuana with her daughter, S.S., is of immediate concern. S.S. will start college in Colorado this fall.

“We’ve had numerous conversations, more like monologues on my part,” she said. “But that’s OK, as long as she hears me.”

R.S. also sends articles about the dangers of synthetic marijuana to her daughter whenever she comes across them.

“I’ve said to her, ‘I know when you go to college, you’re likely to drink, and since you’re in Colorado, you may smoke pot.’ I also tell her that I hope I will be the first person she calls if she is ever in a jam, because I will be there for her, whatever it is,” said the mother. “I think that by recognizing she is going to do it, she is more apt to listen.”

Reznick agreed that parents will have better results if they stay away from outdated theories about the dangers of marijuana, assume that their children may experiment with it and have ongoing discussions about what they can expect if they choose to use the drug.

“Discussions about the risks and benefits of marijuana, and alcohol and cigarettes, should be part of ongoing discussions between parents and children,” urged Reznick. “We are long past the days of ‘Just say no.’ That technique has really lost credibility over the past two decades.”

Reznick said it’s more about making choices and knowing the consequences.

“Marijuana can be fun, it can be an appetite stimulant, some get paranoid, and others get relaxed. It helps some people to become more introspective and creative,” he said. “But as with all substances, if we come to rely upon it, we can have problems.”

Ettah Angster, mother of 15-year-old Serena, a student at Dulaney High School in Timonium, knows quite a bit about the negative consequences of substance abuse. In her professional life, Angster, who has degrees in counseling and correction services for youth and whose job involves helping mentally ill substance abusers find housing, has seen firsthand how addiction destroys lives.

“I look at pot the same way as alcohol and cigarettes,” said Angster. “In talking with my daughter, I have always stayed away from the legal side of the issue. I focus on chemistry, the way they impact the brain and body, especially in a female.”

And though Angster realizes that most people who use pot will not become addicted, as a parent, she has strived to keep Serena clean and sober until she is old enough to make an educated choice on her own.

“So far, it seems to have worked,” she said. “My daughter has a clear sense of purpose. She has a really good group of friends who are healthy. She doesn’t have the desire to sneak around and do drugs.”

Stevenson parents Karen and Andy Segal also believe that talking with their children, Ben, 17, and Annie, 14, both students at The Park School, about the consequences of drugs and alcohol use is an important parenting responsibility. Karen Segal noted that their talks with the teens have remained “pretty much the same regardless of the changing laws.”

“It is not so much about what Andy and I believe or don’t believe [about marijuana], it’s more that we want them to know that anything they might do that results in legal trouble, school trouble or trouble with their thinking gets postponed until they are developmentally able to make those choices on their own,” Segal said.

Reznick echoed Segal’s comments regarding the value of postponing marijuana use at least until children reach full adulthood.

“As with alcohol and other drugs, when kids use them, it affects their developing brains significantly,” he said. “We tell kids that using drugs or alcohol before their brains are fully developed puts them at much higher risk of problems than postponing it.”

Reznick’s other advice to parents? “Listen, listen, listen!”


So, What is the Law?

It was hard for people of any age to miss last year’s news, when recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older became legal in Colorado and Washington. In the coming year, it will also become legal in Oregon and Alaska.

In Maryland, and especially in the nearby District of Columbia, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2010, residents have also seen major changes in marijuana legislation.

By 2014, medical marijuana possession was legal in 23 states and D.C. with Maryland being the 21st to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Marijuana has also been decriminalized in 18 states including D.C., where in 2014, the City Council decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, revising the penalty for possession of up to 1 ounce with a $25 civil fine. In April 2014, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that reduces the penalty for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana to a civil fine, the amount of which will depend upon the number of prior offenses.

Exclusions May Apply

Marylanders planning to travel to Israel while maintaining their life insurance may face a bumpy road ahead. As one local insurance agent found out recently, the state’s 2005 law protecting consumers from discrimination based on past travel does not protect those who wish to travel in the future.

“It’s really discriminatory,” said Kenneth Birnbaum, a Baltimore insurance agent whose client was told he would not be covered for anything happening to him while visiting certain parts of Israel. In filling out the application required for coverage by Transamerica, Birnbaum’s client revealed that he planned on traveling to Israel soon — his son currently studies in Jerusalem. When Birnbaum heard back from the insurance company, it was to inform him that his client’s travel plans would result in a lapse of coverage.

The situation, Birnbaum said, was disconcerting. If the applicant had left the future plans off the form and then something had happened while he was overseas, his dependents could have faced a penalty, but disclosing the information resulted in the company refusing to cover him while he was in Israel.

This practice is not uncommon. Insurance providers take all kinds of factors into account when making decisions about coverage. In many states, insurance companies refer to the State Department’s travel advisory list to determine what travel will affect a person’s coverage. Unfortunately for many, in September Israel was placed on the list with a warning for all travelers to avoid the area, placing it in an insurance gray area.

“Travel to a destination where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an alert or warning or where there is an ongoing armed conflict involving a foreign army is deemed a valid basis for refusing to offer or limiting coverage,” read a 2008 release from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in response to travel issues. Although there is no active war taking place in Israel, it’s placement on the State Department’s list could be enough for some providers to apply exclusions to coverage in the Jewish State.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41) is confident the listing is temporary and should not result in the hassle it has proven to be for travelers.

In 2005, Rosenberg helped pass legislation forbidding insurance providers in Maryland from “refusing to insure, refusing to continue to insure, limiting the amount or extent or kind of coverage available to an individual or charging an individual a different rate for the same coverage solely for reasons associated with an applicant’s or insured’s past lawful travel experiences.” The law was one of several passed in different states around the country at that time and followed a swath of claims of people being denied coverage or charged excessive premiums because of travel to Israel, including one instance where a Florida congresswoman was denied insurance because of future plans to travel to Israel.

“There is no express prohibition in Maryland law or regulation, however, against an insurer inquiring about, and underwriting based on, future travel plans,” said Vivian Laxton, director of public affairs for the Maryland Insurance Administration, via email. She added that many companies do not underwrite based on future travel, but those who do are still within their legal bounds.

Rosenberg, who co-sponsored the 2005 legislation, believes a new standard for determining what kind of travel is really dangerous should be put in place. He said he plans to introduce a bill to address the problem early this legislative session.

“We got [the 2005 legislation] passed and … we want to build on that,” said Rosenberg. “It makes sense to forbid this kind of discriminatory action by the insurance industry. … It makes as much sense to do it for future travel as for past travel. It’s the same logic, same argument.”

For the Love of Books


Jacob Benesch, 9, shows off “Quake,” which he will review as a member of the PJ Our Way Design Team. ( Randi Benesch)

Jacob Benesch loves books. The Ilchester Elemenary school fourth-grader can quickly rattle off a few of his favorite titles — “Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson,” “Ungifted” — and has difficulty narrowing down his favorite genre.

It is no surprise then that Jacob, an outgoing 9-year-old from Ellicott City, was chosen to represent Baltimore on the 2014-2015 PJ Our Way Design Team.

PJ Our Way continues the legacy of the PJ Library, which has gifted more than 5 million Jewish books to children ages 6 months to 8 years over the course of nine years. As part of the effort, each month children ages 9 to 11 who live in pilot communities are invited to choose a book and connect with others online through

Jacob and nine of his peers, plus a teen adviser and PJ Our Way director Catriella Freedman, meet via Google hangouts once a month — “After Sunday school,” said the boy — to discuss the titles to which they have early access. Jacob is the only Maryland representative; the next closest Design Team member lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., he pointed out. Each team member is responsible for spurring online dialogue by creating and sharing videos, reviews and author interviews.

Said Freedman, “We’ve thought a great deal about how to engage older readers by giving them more say in what they read and then giving them creative platforms to talk to their peers about the books.”

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, in conjunction with the Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, selected Jacob this past fall based on his responses to an application that posed questions such as, “What do you think it means to be Jewish?”

For Jacob, part of being Jewish is attending Hebrew school four hours a week at the Columbia Jewish Congregation in Howard County and spending time at the JCC, where his mother, Randi Benesch, is the managing director of arts and culture.

He also submitted a video review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” to wow the selection committee.

“I described the beginning, middle and end, and offered suggestions, like if you like ‘The Hobbit,’ then you’ll like this book,” said Jacob. He layered in special effects “to make it look cool” and included the “Harry Potter” theme song, all on his own, a feat his mother verified.

He intends to create a video review of “Quake” as his first Design Team project. The story — no spoilers — takes place in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 where a young Jewish boy searches for his family in the rubble.

“I’m so proud of him, for him to be a part of a national program and connect with Jewish kids who have a passion for reading,” said Benesch’s mother, noting that Jacob and his younger sister have a collection of Jewish books through the PJ Library that they might not have had otherwise.

Jacob is far from the stereotypical bookworm. He comes across as a well-rounded young man: a musician who plays cello, recorder, guitar and hand bells and sings in the school choir; an athlete who holds a blue belt in karate, plays baseball and participates in a fall hitting league; and a bit of a gamer who is “really into Minecraft.”

Overall, he thinks PJ Our Way is “kind of cool, because a lot of kids my age don’t like reading. … But through the [Design Team] I get to talk to kids who have the same passion for books.”

This is an “amazing gift [that] the Harold Grinspoon Foundation has given to Jewish kids. We are so grateful for it,” said Randi Benesch.

BREAKING NEWS: Jewish Cartoonist Among Parisian Dead

Celebrated French Jewish cartoonist Georges Wolinski was killed in the attack on the Paris headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

Celebrated French Jewish cartoonist Georges Wolinski was killed in the attack on the Paris headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

An attack on the Paris headquarters of a French satirical magazine has left at least 12 people dead, including the Jewish caricaturist Georges Wolinski.

Two of the reported fatalities in Wednesday’s attack were police officers, according to the French daily newspaper Le Monde. Ten others were wounded, five of them seriously.

Details of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices are still sketchy, but witnesses said the two assailants knew exactly whom to target at the magazine, which has published a series of satirical cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

The gunmen, who wore masks, cried out “Allah is the greatest” in Arabic and announced that the attack was to “avenge the prophet,” Le Monde reported. They fled the scene; a massive manhunt was underway to find them.

Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine’s editor in chief and one of those killed, had been under police protection for years because of death threats resulting from his caricatures of Mohammed, including one showing him being decapitated by Muslim fanatics for being an infidel.

Wolinski, 80, a Tunisia native who moved to France as a teenager, also was a cartoonist at the magazine and was known for his cynical and at times vulgar style. After entering journalism in the 1960s, he went on to work at leading French publications such as L’Humanite, Le Nouvel Observateur and Paris Match.

One of Wolinski’s cartoons, published in a 2002 compilation of his works, shows a Muslim girl walking with her mother down a war-ravaged street in the Middle East. The daughter asks what it means to be a free woman. The mother replies by presenting her daughter with a copy of a book titled “Hello Sadness.”

“It’s clear that this was a planned attack against Wolinski and the other cartoon artists,” said Richard Kenigsman, a well-known Jewish caricaturist and painter from Brussels. He cited an attack and multiple threats against Charlie Hebdo since 2006 for publishing caricatures deemed offensive to Islam.

Corinne Rey, a designer at the magazine, was forced under death threats to let two gunmen into the offices after she returned from bringing her daughter to kindergarten. The assailants made her punch in the security code and proceeded to shoot four caricaturists — Wolinski, Charbonnier, Jean Cabut and Bernard Verlhac — along with eight others in a gunfire spree that lasted five minutes.

According to L’Humanite, the assailants also killed two of Charbonnier’s police-assigned bodyguards along with two other officers, one of whom was executed on the street outside the magazine’s offices while begging for his life.

The killers were native French speakers who said they were affiliated with al-Qaeda, Rey said.

Footage from the scene posted on the website JSSnews showed the two heavily armed men exiting a black car and shooting a rifle at a police officer near the building. One of the assailants then approached the officer and shot him in the head.

Police officers responding to the deadly shooting at the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, Jan. 7, 2015. (YouTube)

Police officers responding to the deadly shooting at the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, Jan. 7, 2015. (YouTube)

Police had guarded Charlie Hebdo regularly since 2011, when the offices were firebombed. The fire consumed the paper’s archive and caused massive damage, according to Michel Kischka, a Belgian cartoonist who knew three of the four cartoonists killed.

“Perhaps they failed to understand how well trained and adept at killing their enemies are,” Kischka said. “But after the 2011 fire, I know that they understood their determination to kill.”

To several observers, the attack on Charlie Hebdo — the bloodiest in France since 1835, according to Le Monde — was part of a wider fight against free expression.

Kenigsman said the assault was “an open act of war and an import of the conflict in the Middle East to France which focuses on satire because it’s the one thing that fanaticism cannot contain.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said the shooting was an attack on “the European way of life which has already seen Jewish children gunned down at school and people murdered in cold blood while visiting a museum in Brussels.”

French President Francois Hollande, speaking live near the scene of the shooting, called it a terrorist attack. Hollande, who noted that the magazine was threatened several times in the past, added that “we need to show we are a united country.”

French authorities “will punish the attackers,” he said. “We will look for the people responsible.”

Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said in a statement, “France must wake up to the danger of Islamism and the terror it brings all over the world: In Paris, Toulouse, Sarcelles, Brussels, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, jihadists are acting on the same radical Islamist ideology that is used to manipulate them.”

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of AJC Paris, echoed that sentiment, saying in a statement that the attackers targeted not just people, but also the “laudable values of an open, democratic society they embodied.”

“There can be no compromise with such murderers and their heinous world view,” said Rodan-Benzaquen.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent his condolences to the French people and said that Israel sympathizes with France’s pain, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Joshua Runyan contributed to this report.

Pass it On

Felicia Graber (David Stuck)

Felicia Graber
(David Stuck)

Born in 1940, five months after the Nazis invaded her native Poland, Felicia Graber has never thought of herself as a Holocaust survivor, but now she is a leader among that community.

“It’s not unusual for child survivors to deny that they are survivors,” said Graber, 74, who lives in the Park Heights neighborhood with her husband, Rabbi Howard M. Graber. “The adult survivors were always saying, ‘You’re so lucky. You were too young to remember what happened.’”

But while she might not remember all the details, Graber came to understand that the events of the Holocaust had affected her profoundly.

When Graber was 2 years old, her father managed to secure false identification papers so that she and her mother could leave the Tarnow Ghetto and escape deportation to a concentration camp. After they were smuggled out of the ghetto, she and her mother survived the war by moving around the country, posing as Catholics. Graber’s mother took on an entirely new identity and trained herself and her toddler to act convincingly. Meanwhile, Graber’s father spent the war years in hiding. Graber was 7 years old before she learned she was Jewish.

After the war, Graber, her parents and her younger brother left Poland, settling first in Brussels, and then in Frankfurt. After completing high school in England, Graber returned to Frankfurt where she met her husband of 55 years, a military chaplain. After marrying, the couple had two children before they immigrated to the U.S. Graber attended college and graduate school earning a master’s degree in teaching. She taught high school for more than 20 years. The family lived first in N.Y., then North Carolina and Pennsylvania and they finally settled in St. Louis in 1972. Two years ago the Grabers moved to Baltimore to be near their son and his family.

As early as her teens, Graber recalled wanting to visit Poland. “I wanted to see my roots, my town, my house … But she was afraid to make the trip while the country remained under communist rule,” she said. Later, she found it difficult to find a group trip that would accommodate her religious requirements. In the late 1990s she was finally able to visit. “It was a very emotional trip,” she recalled.

“Then something made me want to get in touch with other hidden children,” she said.

Graber contacted the Hidden Child Foundation, part of the Anti-Defamation League then attended conferences of the World Federation of Child Survivors and became more involved.

“I also became a docent at the Holocaust Museum [and Learning Center] in St. Louis,” said Graber. “Slowly, with the help of the curator there, I started speaking to groups about my experiences.”

In the late 1990s, Graber decided she wanted to start her own child survivor group in St. Louis. “A friend suggested I speak to the [St. Louis] Jewish Light, and I was interviewed for the paper shortly before Pesach that year.”

Graber was visiting Baltimore during Pesach and when she arrived home there were four messages from four women.

“They said, ‘I didn’t know there were other child survivors here.’ We bonded immediately and became sisters instantly,” recalled Graber.

Slowly the word spread and others joined the group.

“We realized we weren’t getting any younger, so we decided to reach out to the second generation,” she said, and in 2006, she helped to form a second generation survivors group. At first it was difficult to attract the busy young people and Graber noted that “just a handful of older second generations” attended the meetings. But gradually word spread and more people became involved.

In 2010, the child survivor and second-generation groups, which were still relatively small, merged, to become the St. Louis Holocaust Survivors and Descendants.

“I was the chair and the force behind it,” said Graber. “When I left, I heard the group was having some problems. Second generation groups struggle all over the country.” She added, “The good part is that now the group is being led by two second generation survivors.”

Graber, who now lives in Baltimore and is a member of Agudath Israel and Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, is determined to bring together second generation Holocaust survivors in her adopted city.

“I started talking to Jeanette [Parmigiani, director of Holocaust Programs for the Baltimore Jewish Council] and I was asked to join the Holocaust Remembrance Commission. During one of our meetings, I suggested we start a group for second generations,” said Graber.

She said the group’s chair, Alice Matsas Garten and vice-chair, Heller Kreshtool were both supportive of the idea.

“Felicia has come to us from St. Louis with a lot of experience gathering survivors and descendants,” said Garten, 46, whose father is a Holocaust survivor from Greece. “Although the idea of getting the next generation to become more active in Holocaust education has been tried before, it hasn’t really taken off. As survivors are aging, it is becoming more and more important that they become involved in educating the community.

“The group will be very inclusive and open to Jews of all different levels of observance,” she added.

“We want them [the second generation survivors] to take over for us when we can no longer tell our stories,” said Graber. “Once we are gone, Holocaust deniers will take over. We can’t allow the 6 million to be forgotten.”

The group will hold their inaugural meeting on Sunday, Jan. 11 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC. For more information or to RSVP by Jan. 5, call 410-542-4850 or email

JT Publisher Acquires Smart Shopper

010915_JT-LogoMid-Atlantic Media, LLC, which publishes Baltimore Jewish Times, Washington Jewish Week and Baltimore Style Magazine has expanded its media holdings with the acquisition of the Pikesville, Md.-based Smart Shopper, Inc.

Smart Shopper, a direct mail response upscale magazine with zoned publications in Baltimore County, Howard County and Anne Arundel County, was sold by Gary Frahm. Craig Burke is CEO of Mid-Atlantic Media.

“After 25 years, it was time for me to reposition myself,” said Frahm. “Craig Burke and Mid-Atlantic Media made for an ideal acquirer. With their strong presence in central Maryland, Smart Shopper’s brand of high-end direct mail is in good hands.”

The transaction became effective Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, culminating roughly two months of negotiations. The sale price was not disclosed. As part of the acquisition. Mid-Atlantic Media has retained some key Smart Shopper employees.

Mid-Atlantic Media was recently formed to consolidate the holdings of Clipper City Media and WJW Media Group. In addition to its publications, it also operates a substantial custom media portfolio with offices in Owings Mills, Md., and Rockville, Md. It plans to run the Smart Shopper property from its Owings Mills location.

While emphasizing a “business as usual” approach for the near term, Burke stressed that the acquisition fit right in with Mid-Atlantic Media’s strategic plans.

Smart Shopper was attractive to us because of the great job it does helping advertisers attain impressive ROI,” explained Burke. “Our research and market expertise tell us that Baltimore-area consumers find it to be a useful vehicle for saving while shopping for luxury goods. As such, the Smart Shopper brand has many synergies with our current core products.

“It’s our goal to expand the product to core markets and develop its digital features,” continued Burke.