Bernstein to Rejoin Zuckerman Spaeder

Zuckerman Spaeder LLP has announced that outgoing Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein will rejoin the firm on Feb. 2, following the completion of his term in office.

Bernstein was a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder from 2004 to 2010 until he was elected Baltimore City State’s Attorney. In that capacity, he managed an office of more than 400 prosecutors and support staff responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses throughout the City of Baltimore.

“Gregg is widely admired and is a terrific lawyer,” said Martin S. Himeles Jr., managing partner of Zuckerman Spaeder’s Baltimore office. “He has long been a good friend and was a valued partner, and all of us are delighted that he will be rejoining the firm.”

As the City State’s Attorney, Bernstein spearheaded a number of major initiatives to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the office and, as a result, improve public safety throughout the city. He created the Major Investigations Unit to pursue repeat, violent offenders; established community prosecution teams dedicated to each of the city’s neighborhoods; and launched the Special Victim’s Unit to prosecute sex and domestic violence offenses more effectively. Bernstein also expanded the State’s Attorney’s Office’s diversion programs for select nonviolent defendants.

“The past four years as Baltimore City State’s Attorney have been an extremely rewarding and fulfilling experience, and I look forward to beginning this new phase of my professional career with the strong and talented lawyers at Zuckerman Spaeder,” said Bernstein.

RSFHA Expands to Southeast

RS&F Healthcare Advisors (RSFHA), a health care and business consulting services firm, has expanded its reach to include the Southeast U.S. with its new Palm Beach, Fla., office.  RSFHA’s practice management consultants and certified coders work with physicians, clinics, practice groups and hospitals to increase revenue, maximize profitability and reduce risk through operational best practices.

“With the significant change and growth of the health care industry due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we have seen a sharp increase in the demand for our services, particularly in Florida,” said Nancy Smit, a partner with RSFHA.  “With its high percentage of Medicare beneficiaries, Florida has been targeted in Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services efforts to detect fraud and abuse in Medicare claims.  Recovery Audit Contractors have already recovered over $20 million from physicians, and predictions are that number will increase substantially over the next 24 months. The best way for physicians to protect their practices and prepare for these audits is to document and code properly, which is one of the many services we proactively provide our clients.”

RSFHA offers a comprehensive suite of services to address the strategic, operational and accounting needs of health care organizations. Services offered comprise strategic planning, including merger and acquisition advisory, business planning, corporate structure analysis and capital formation; specialized health care services, including compliance plans and coding audits, revenue cycle management, fee schedule and RVU analyses and PCMH recognition/ support; practice organization, including marketing, human capital evaluation and IT; and accounting and tax services, including audits, estate planning, tax strategies and partner disputes.

Fleet Feet Honored

Fleet Feet Sports, a locally owned and operated running store in the Baltimore area, has been honored as a Top 4 finalist for Store of the Year out of more than 800 running specialty stores nationwide.

The announcement comes from Competitor magazine, which each year partners with trade publication Running Insight to identify the best 50 running stores in the country. Honored as a Top 50 nominee since 2011, Fleet Feet Sports was a Top 4 finalist for the first time in store history.

“This is a testament to our staff and vendor partners for the hard work, enthusiasm and determination they exhibit day in and day out,” co-owner Bobby Levin said. “It is an honor to
be included with so many other independent running stores that share the same passion and commitment to improving the health and wellness of our local communities, and we look forward to continuing to help Baltimore stay healthy and active.”

O’Malley Commutes Death Sentences

Gov. Martin O’Malley (Chuck Kennedy/Krt)

Gov. Martin O’Malley
(Chuck Kennedy/Krt)

Gov. Martin O’Malley effectively closed the book on the death penalty in the state last week with the announcement that he will commute the sentences of Maryland’s last four remaining death row inmates.

“The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand,” O’Malley said in a statement. “In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.”

The move came on the heels of outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler’s much-publicized November opinion that the state no longer possesses the authority to carry out the executions.

“Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, the recent repeal of capital punishment in Maryland nevertheless demands that we pursue a prison sentence that ensures Jody Lee Miles dies behind bars, where he belongs,” Gansler said in a statement, referring to one of the inmates.

O’Malley’s announcement was met with anger by victims’ family members, but the governor insisted the commutation was the least painful option available.

“Gubernatorial inaction — at this point in the legal process — would, in my judgment, needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns, and without any hope of finality or closure,” he said.

In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state to revoke the death penalty. The 2013 law made it impossible to sentence anyone in the state of Maryland to death, but it did not address the five remaining inmates on death row at that time.

Super Lawyers Recognized

Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, P.A. have announced that Baltimore-based members Irving E. Walker and Gary H. Leibowitz were selected to the 2015 Maryland Super Lawyers list for their work in business bankruptcy. In addition, Walker was honored as one of the Top 100 attorneys in the state.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multiphased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. No more than 5 percent of attorneys in Maryland were recognized.

Walker, managing partner of the firm’s Baltimore office, advises and represents businesses facing financial difficulties and requiring financial
restructuring.

Leibowitz, a member of the Bankruptcy & Corporate Restructuring and Litigation departments at Cole Schotz, maintains a national practice concentrated in the areas of corporate bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, commercial litigation and sports law.

Hogan Announces More Officials

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (Lloyd Wolf)

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan
(Lloyd Wolf)

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has announced four senior officials who will join his administration when he takes office on Jan. 21.

The appointments, announced last week, include Al Redmer Jr. as Maryland Insurance Commissioner, Stephen Moyer as Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, George W. Owings III as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and John C. Wobensmith as Secretary of State.

“All four individuals bring a wealth of experience to their respective roles,” Hogan said in a statement. “I am pleased to have them as a part of the team.”

Redmer, a managing member of Redmer Insurance Group, served on the Maryland Insurance Commission from 2003 to 2006 and was a 13-year member of the Maryland General Assembly, where he served as House Minority Whip.

Moyer spent 24 years with the Maryland State Police, where he served as a lieutenant colonel and deputy secretary. He also served as deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and as security director for the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Owings, a Democrat, served as a delegate for almost 20 years, and was Majority Whip in the Maryland House of Delegates. He is also a Vietnam veteran and served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2004 to 2007.

Wobensmith worked with five U.S. presidents, served as the senior Defense Department representative in Turkey and has served on various boards and commissions in Maryland, including the Anne Arundel County School Board. He has more than 40 years of national security experience.

The four new appointees join about a dozen officials appointed earlier in December.

The Buzz on Drones

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Like small buzzing, flying pests, drones seem to be everywhere these days: a technology waiting for mass acceptance by filling newspaper columns, YouTube videos and the nightmares of those Americans who see them as a privacy and safety disaster waiting to happen.

They’ve been touted as the answer for jobs that are too dirty and dangerous for people. They’ll deliver our online orders to us.

But what if one cuts up your face, as a drone carrying mistletoe inside a TGIFridays did earlier this month, slicing a photographer’s nose and lip? Or if a police department drone photographs through your window inside your house? Or if you look up from your backyard barbecue and see a drone hovering overhead?

Welcome to the brave new world of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as drones are also called. Government regulators are playing catch-up on writing rules, as businesses line up to be licensed to fly drones commercially. Meanwhile, sales of drones for hobbyists are taking off this holiday season. Amazon is selling more than 10,000 drones a month, Bloomberg reported.

One Jewish organization that embraces drones is Chabad-Lubavitch.

On its Facebook page, Chabad of the Space & Treasure Coasts in Florida, posted a video interspersed with aerial drone footage of its Chanukah car parade and snow festival on Dec. 18. A drone also made an appearance at the 31st annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries this past November, flying high over the movement’s headquarters in Crown Heights to capture video of the thousands of black-hatted shluchim assembling for a group photograph.

Yosef Shidler, owner of CJ Studios, who shot the Chabad conference, began using drones a year-and-a-half ago.

“You can get incredible footage with them, incredible shots you can’t get any other way,” he said.

“Five years ago the technology didn’t exist, and now we’re pioneering it,” said Shidler, noting that his Brooklyn-based business is one of the few offering aerial drone shots as part of wedding and bar mitzvah packages. Even if only a snippet of the drone-caught footage makes it into the final cut, it can make all the difference, he added. But there is a learning curve. Shidler and his employees are continually experimenting with different shots and flying the drones higher so as not to distract from ceremonies.

But for now, the skies largely belong to hobbyists, who are allowed to fly drones without a license. The pilot must always be in eye contact with the drone, which must not climb higher than 400 feet — about 40 stories. To avoid accidents, drones cannot be flown within a five-mile radius of airports.

But the FAA has limited policing power, and the agency recently reported that since June, there have been 175 incidents of drones flying into restricted airspace. Of these, 25 almost collided with an airplane or helicopter.

New FAA rules are not expected for a couple of years. This puts the United States behind countries such as Canada and Japan, which have regulations in place for the use of drones in national airspace.

What if, in the absence of laws and regulations, a drone hits and injures someone. Who is responsible and who can sue?

Roger Schechter, professor of law at George Washington University, said the legal system has experience dealing with new technologies. What liability law does is create an analogy with an older technology to cover the new one.

“The analogy here is easy,” he said. “It’s aircraft.”

A bigger question, one for the courts to decide, is whether the rules of negligence or strict liability should be applied to damages caused by drones.

“In American accident law, you have to prove the other party committed a careless act,” or was negligent, in other words. With drones, which are controlled remotely by a pilot or preprogrammed to fly, “you can imagine an operator who’s done something wrong.”

Strict liability covers things that are inherently hazardous and cannot be made safe — like the use of explosives. “Some have suggested that [because] drones are dangerous that they should be held strictly liable,” Schechter said.

In a yearlong study, The Washington Post found that 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, “a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic.”

The practical effect of strict liability is that it would be more expensive to operate a drone, Schechter said. “Amazon would take on insurance and pass the cost onto consumers.”

Would the photographer have a case against TGIFridays for the drone that attacked her face?

It depends on whether the accident was foreseeable, Schechter said. “You are not required to compensate for unforeseeable consequences.”

In an era when our phone meta-data is accessible to the government, where cities bristle with security cameras, is that old American right, the reasonable expectation of privacy, outdated?

Schechter sounds pessimistic. “The first week the drones are out there, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Once drones become commonplace, the expectation changes.”

It is “tempting,” Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at University of Washington School of Law, wrote onconcurringopinions.com, “to conclude that drones will constitute one more nail in the heavy coffin of privacy.”

But Calo wrote that “the proliferation of drones in our skies” could lead to just the opposite — a time when “all of our amorphous fears about new technology watching us are suddenly reified and immediate.”

He continued, “It is for this reason that I believe drones could end up being good for privacy law.”

Howard Melamed is in the business of detecting illegal cellphones in prisons. With his engineering background and expertise in cellphones, antennas and signal enhancement, the South Florida resident founded OpenSky Drones in July.

Drone cameras can inspect buildings for structural integrity and check energy levels of cellular towers, work that is dangerous for people to do, he said. “This is an industry that’s going to be huge,” he said. “We can remove risk from humans. This is what drones are good for.”

The smallest drones in his squadron are 12-inches wide and have four blades. The largest are 3 feet in diameter with eight blades.

It irks him that he’s prevented from sending up his drones while he waits for the FAA to rule on his application for a commercial operation. Meanwhile, any hobbyist can buy a drone and fly it.

“How can we have a society where we have hobbyists who have no license, no insurance, but they limit the commercial guys?”

Melamed argues that this is a violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizens equal protection under the law.

If Melamed ran the FAA, all drone flyers would be required to have insurance and have ground-school pilot training. Law enforcement would shift from a federal to a local responsibility.

“We want hobbyists taken out of the equation,” he said. “In Canada, I can apply for a license and fly a drone. We can just copy Canada.”

Instead, the FAA approves commercial drone use on a case-by-case basis. Five companies were approved this month. Melamed said “there are 100 other applications out there.”

Melamed built on his work of cellphone detection and developed what he called “DDD technology — drone detection and defeat. It can detect a drone coming into a prison and electronically take it out of the sky.”

He dismissed fears that drones will lead to the loss of privacy (“there are privacy laws for that”) and that they present a danger to the public (“what are the chances of a baseball being hit out of a park and hitting a car?”).

He suggests drone parks be created for hobbyists, the way skateboard parks and firing ranges allow dangerous activities to be practiced safely and away from the public.

How easily will drones make the transition from delivering missiles in war zones to delivering espresso machines from Amazon in suburbia?

The answer is up in the air.

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com
mapter@jewishtimes.com

Opinions Divided on Subminimum Wage

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Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press

Advocates and employers of disabled individuals are divided on a section of federal law that allows certified agencies to employ those with disabilities below minimum wage. Some want the program phased out, some would like to see increased oversight and program improvements, while others simply want the issue studied further.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress passed in 1938, included section 14(c), which allows employers to pay wages that may be below the federal minimum to those who have disabilities that impair their productive capacity. Employers must hold 14(c) certificates to take part in this program, and there are 47 such employers in Maryland, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

At a December meeting, the Baltimore Jewish Council passed a policy statement calling for a task force to study the issue.

“The Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) urges renewed consideration of Maryland policies, practices and implementation of section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), also known as the subminimum wage. BJC recognizes that there may be unintended consequences that may be involved in any changes to the current law,” the statement says. “We recommend formulation of a comprehensive solution that ensures the best outcomes for those who would be affected by the law’s application in Maryland. We call for the establishment of a broadly represented statewide task force to study the issue in a timely fashion.”

In October, the BJC held a forum on the issue that included representatives of the National Federation of the Blind, the Maryland Disability Law Center, Arc of Maryland as well as 14(c) certificate holders Arc of Baltimore and Chimes.

Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the BJC wanted to hear all sides of the issue, and especially hear from someone who uses a 14(c) certificate and could explain possible complications from completely eliminating subminimum wage.

“Although we certainly advocate on behalf of the community that has disabilities … we aren’t experts on the issue, and they have eliminated subminimum wage in some states and there were a lot of concerns around that,” Tolle said. “We want to see all the stakeholders on the issue come together and then collectively make a decision.”

14(c) doesn’t specifically authorize subminimum wages, it authorizes commensurate wages, which are calculated based on the prevailing wage in a particular job in a geographic area and a “productivity percentage,” the percentage of work a disabled worker gets done compared to that of a non-disabled worker. While commensurate wages can be above minimum wage, they can also be below.

In early 2015, advocates expect the TIME Act — Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act — to be introduced in Congress. It will be a reintroduction of H.R. 831, formally known as the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities, under a new name. It is sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, whose son suffers from Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition involving changes of the X-chromosome that result in intellectual disabilities in males.

Rose Sloan, a government affairs specialist at the National Federation of the Blind, advocates for the bill, which she said would phase out the 14(c) certificates over a period of three years. After one year, for-profit entities would no longer be able to use their certificates, public and governmental organizations after two years and nonprofits after three years. She said about 95 percent of the roughly 3,000 certificates belong to nonprofits.

She and her organization would like to see more real-world job training for disabled people, something she feels a lot of nonprofits have a moral responsibility to do with or without at 14(c) certificate.

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Kelly Hughes at Cardinal Health

“The National Federation of the Blind feels that the payment of subminimum wages is an antiquated, discriminatory and immoral practice,” Sloan said. “You cannot pay them less because they are not less; they are not second class or third class.”

But a study conducted by The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services said “no action should be taken toward the program’s elimination” and said “14(c) is a necessary, although less than optimal, component in the employment of individuals with disabilities.” The study, published in June 2013, concluded that further data needed to be gathered by relevant agencies to judge whether or not to eliminate 14(c).

“Undoubtedly, there are workers with disabilities in the 14(c) program who receive benefits that allow them to be productive and achieve economic self-sufficiency, both in integrated and sheltered settings,” the study said. “However, the lack of accountability and oversight from the Department of Labor makes it difficult to demonstrate the true effectiveness of the program. At minimum, [DOL] should improve oversight of section 14(c).”

Nancy Pineles, a managing attorney in the Maryland Disability Law Center’s developmental disabilities unit, said her organization has not taken a position on 14(c) action, but would like to see improvements, particularly in the area of “sheltered workshops” and non-integrated programs. These workshops are where many advocates say the lowest wages can be found, where disabled workers are sometimes not integrated with non-disabled workers and spend their time working on menial tasks.

“We’d like to see people … with disabilities out of facility-based programs,” Pineles said. “We want people to get out and find real jobs.” Part of that is changing the employment community, she said.

“The employment community needs to be more receptive to hiring people with disabilities, and the employers may need some kind of support as well in understanding how to work with people with disabilities,” she said, noting that there is some support at the state level that could be stepped up.

Stephen Morgan, executive director at Arc of Baltimore, co-chairs the Arc of Maryland’s Fair Wages Work Group, which is studying 14(c), in particular the eight of Maryland’s 10 Arc chapters that hold certificates as well as what has happened in states that have eliminated 14(c) programs. The group has yet to make recommendations, but wants to avoid any precipitous federal action and doesn’t think there needs to be any state-level action at this point, something a lot of advocates agree with.

“We don’t want any action — executive order or legislation — that would serve to reduce any individual’s participation in employment,” Morgan said. “What we’d rather do is [find if] there is some action that can in fact increase their wages, increase their participation in employment so we can accomplish the end result of reducing subminimum wage payments while not taking opportunities away from people.”

About 12 percent of the Arc of Baltimore’s 1,000 adult participants in its day employment program are in “individual competitive jobs” which include filing and document management at law firms and general office work, jobs at the University of Maryland Medical Center, library jobs, shipping and receiving, grocery baggers, car prep at dealerships, landscaping and janitorial work. There are two other programs the Arc runs, Project Search and Career Catalyst, that work with the disabled population that is almost done with school and those who have been out of school for a number of years with career preparation and job placement.

Chimes Maryland, the state’s largest not-for-profit provider of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, employs 1,200 people with disabilities in Maryland, according to Martin Lampner, president/CEO of Chimes International. Of those, less than 250 people are in workshops earning $.32 or more, about 300 earn $3 to $7.24 and about 650 earn up to $11 an hour. Some work includes janitorial work at BWI Airport as well as work at Chimes-run food carryout services, the mission of which, Lampner said, is to get people experience that will transfer to jobs at Baltimore-area restaurants.

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Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press

Because Chimes works with a population that can be severely disabled, the organization would like to see better enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which would ensure “reasonable accommodations” for those with disabilities in the job market, as well as further study of the 14(c) program. Lampner’s concern with eliminating 14(c) is that those with disabilities, particularly severe and cognitive disabilities, would lose access to employment.

“When reasonable accommodation is not feasible, the best alternatives are either a better-enforced 14(c) or adoption of new regulations and initiatives to ensure that people with the most significant disabilities — who still want to work — have the right to work and an environment wherein they can gain the dignity that comes from the work,” Lampner said via email.

Morgan reiterated that this long-contested issue does not have an easy solution.

“If there’s any preliminary recommendation from the work group, it’s almost that we’re drawing a line in the sand,” he said. “We don’t want anybody to go backwards, we want to go forwards.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Deaf Patron Launches Lawsuit

Jessica Gill, who is hearing impaired, filed a suit against the Hippodrome for failing to provide a captioning device so she could see a musical production.

Jessica Gill, who is hearing impaired, filed a suit against the Hippodrome for failing to provide a captioning device so she could see a musical production.

When Baltimore resident Jessica Gill contacted the Hippodrome Theatre in January, she hoped that by December the venue could come up with a plan to accommodate her hearing impairment so that she could see “Newsies.” But after months of emails, when opening night came on Dec. 2, no such accommodations had been made.

Gill has severe-profound hearing loss, which means she has lost most of her hearing, but has some residual hearing that hearing aids can support.

“I rely on lip reading to contextualize what I am hearing, as hearing and comprehension are two different things,” she said via email. “It’s sort of like speaking to someone who speaks a foreign language: You can hear them but you can’t understand them. Lip reading helps me make sense of what I’m hearing.”

What Gill needed, since a vast stage and the nature of musical performance means lip reading isn’t an amicable solution and she doesn’t speak sign language, was captioning.

After communication with the Hippodrome did not lead to a definitive answer, Gill contacted the National Association for the Deaf and filed a civil lawsuit on Dec. 1, alleging that the theater did not comply with two parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The suit was filed against Key Brand Theatrical Group, which operates the venue, the Hippodrome Foundation and the Maryland Stadium Authority, which gives the theater annual funding.

The suit alleges that Key Brand and the Hippodrome violated Title III of the ADA, which says that no individual should be discriminated against because of a disability and prevented from enjoying the goods and services of any public place. It also alleges that the Maryland Stadium Authority violated the law’s Title II, which says that no individual with a disability should be denied the benefits of the activities of a public entity or be subject to discrimination by such an entity.

A spokesman for Key Brand Entertainment would not comment about the specifics of the suit but did release a statement.

“We are sensitive to the needs of our disabled patrons and are committed to ensuring that all patrons can enjoy performances at the Hippodrome,” spokesman Chris Boneau said. “We have received the complaint and cannot make further comment until we have fully evaluated the allegations made in it.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority referred comment to the state attorney general’s office, which could not be reached for comment.

Gill first reached out to the Hippodrome in January, when she heard “Newsies” would be coming to the Baltimore venue. She, her sister, who is also hearing impaired, and their youngest cousins are big fans of the Disney movie and watched it as children.

“I kept meaning to see it in New York, where it was captioned, but once I found out it would be doing a national tour, I figured I could see it closer to home … with captioning,” Gill said.

Having grown up in New York City, Gill’s parents frequently took her and her sister to Broadway as kids. If they hadn’t seen the movie version of the production, it was harder for them to follow the story by relying on body language and character interaction.

In 2009, she discovered captioning in theaters and saw “Wicked,” which she said was an eye-opening experience.

“It was just amazing to get all the little quips and jokes that I had missed out on hearing over the years at various shows because I couldn’t understand what the actors were saying,” she said. “More recently, I have attended a few shows at Center Stage in Baltimore that had captioning. It’s hard to put into words how wonderful it is seeing live theater and knowing that I’m getting as much out of a performance as my hearing companions and perhaps more.”

The suit is asking the court to issue an injunction that would require the defendants to provide individuals with disabilities full access to their programs and activities, provide and display captioning at the Hippodrome and disseminate written policies to ensure that captioning is provided and displayed.

“In an ideal world, all theaters would recognize that ‘disability’ is a fairly broad term,” Gill said. “For each disability, there’s a range of reasonable accommodations to meet the varying needs of each individual. Everyone should be able to see a show when they want to see a show, without restrictions.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Israeli Families Brought Together for Final Night of Chanukah

Yonatan and Andrea Grinberg direct children during a recital rehearsal as part of the Baltimore Bows  program. By Melissa Gerr

Yonatan and Andrea Grinberg direct children during a recital rehearsal as part of the Baltimore Bows program.
By Melissa Gerr

Dreidels spun, candles glowed and stories captured the imaginations of young children, as Israeli families joined together to celebrate the final night of Chanukah.

The party, co-sponsored by The Macks Center for Jewish Education, the Israeli-American Council, and BioAbroad, attracted 120 adults and children to the community room at the Park Heights JCC on Dec. 23.

Amalia Phillips, director of Israel and Overseas Education for the CJE, characterized the packed two-and-a-half hour event, which featured candle lighting and songs, activity stations for children and a setting in which parents could meet each other, some for the first time, as a huge success.

It’s important, Phillips emphasized, for Israelis living here, whether temporarily or for extended stays, to be connected to Baltimore Jews, to their Jewish identity and to their Israeli identity. The party was the first of its kind, with several others in the planning stages.

“I think that it was nice for people to meet other people who have young families and are getting together around the same values, shared values,” said Phillips. “You could hear people talking, making playdates, and the children were excited as well.”

Michal Arad, a volunteer with BioAbroad, a nonprofit established in Boston in 2006, concurred with Phillips assessment of the events’ success, noting that local BioAbroad job fairs and events typically see 100 people in attendance. BioAbroad assists Israeli academics that study or work in the U.S. to find employment back in Israel and to make connections with other Israelis during their stays in North America.

Reut Friedman, Israel associate for CJE, brought her three children, ages 12, 9 and 5 to the event.

“They were very excited to have other Israelis who spoke Hebrew and English” to play with, she said.

The Friedman siblings were among the 40 children who made edible chanukiot, decorated and played with dreidels, and listened to local storyteller Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff.

Friedman hopes this event and others will help Israeli families “to be engaged into the Jewish community, which is very warm and engaged and connected to Israel.”

Added Friedman, “It’s always nice to have a little bit of home especially during the holidays when your family is so far away.”