Our Obligation

122614_hunger1“May the odds be ever in your favor,” Effie Trinket says in the early scenes of the first “The Hunger Games” movie, but for many in Howard County the odds are not in their favor, and issues of hunger, poverty and housing are of daily concern.

With that in mind, Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia used the movie as a leaping-off point to examine area hunger as part of its participation in Human Rights Shabbat, an initiative of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

On Dec. 5, a few days ahead of International Human Rights Day, 150 participants walked into a Beth Shalom transformed into the world of “The Hunger Games” with the sanctuary taking on the feel of the wooded coal-country home of heroine Katniss Everdeen and the social hall taking on the look of an opulent Capitol gala.

The evening began with 60 people joining together for Shabbat dinner and discussion. On each table, Adam Kruger, youth director and family programmer, placed a Capitol-produced propaganda photo and talking points that posed such questions as: “What was the intention behind this propaganda? Does this remind you of any time in Jewish or world history?”

The children seated at Rabbi Susan Grossman’s table were perceptive and insightful, she said. “We actually do a unit on the Holocaust with the kids in school, and they got it immediately with the elements of propaganda there.”

At a table with younger children, an image of young girl dressed in tattered clothes and with dirty hands grasping an apple elicited a discussion of hunger at home and in the world.

In many ways, the poverty and desperation displayed in the “The Hunger Games” books and movies is a “social commentary on our times,” said Grossman, who invited Anna Katz, cold-weather shelter coordinator for Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, to speak to the community.

While the kids were whisked away for separate age-appropriate programming, adults gathered in a religious school classroom to listen as Katz detailed startling numbers. Behind the manicured landscapes of wealthy Howard County are thousands who live on the edge. Last year, 22,000 individuals were served by Grassroots, which runs a family and men’s shelter, motel shelter and cold-weather shelter, offers 24-hour crisis intervention and runs a day resource center, she said. That need has not abated.

Beth Shalom has a longstanding partnership with Grassroots, but the presentation has the congregation’s social action committee looking into ways to further help the crisis center.

Beth Shalom’s social hall was transformed to take on the look of an opulent capitol gala from “The Hunger Games.” (Submitted by Beth Shalom)

Beth Shalom’s social hall was transformed to take on the look of an opulent capitol gala from “The Hunger Games.”
(Submitted by Beth Shalom)

Following Kabbalat Shabbat services, Grossman gave a presentation on “What ‘The Hunger Games’ teaches us about Jewish values,” which focused on the obligation to feed the hungry and care for the poor and correct income disparity, as well as the idea of self-defense, enshrined in Jewish texts.

When the discussion turned to tithing, one astute elementary school student asked: What if you are very rich? Can you give more than 10 percent?

Grossman replied that the “very rich” should give 20 percent, the comfortable should give 10 percent, the poor should give 5 percent, and the very poor should give two pennies.

“You should always give something, but no one should give so much that they impoverish themselves,” she said. “Judaism is a religion of deed, not just of faith, so we have to live what we believe.”


Alphabet Soup

Happy refugees at Farchana in Chad spell out “Thank You HIAS!”  (Photo by Glenna Gordon/HIAS)

Happy refugees at Farchana in Chad spell out “Thank You HIAS!”
(Photo by Glenna Gordon/HIAS)

The announcement last week that HIAS, the century-old Jewish immigrant and refugee aid organization, will relocate its headquarters from New York City to Silver Spring is just another sign that the Jewish organizational universe is changing.

Once known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the agency has responded to the end of Jewish refugee immigration into the port of New York by refocusing on refugee advocacy Washington, D.C.

In doing so, HIAS is joining an exodus of religion-based immigrant agencies, said Mark Hetfield, HIAS president and CEO.

“All of us started in the Ellis Island days when almost all immigrants came through New York and all migration organizations and refugee organizations were based in New York,” he said. “Then, over the 1990s, that gradually started to change, and now five of the nine refugee organizations [sanctioned by the U.S. State Department] are already based in the Baltimore-Washington area.”

Those organizations include: the Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service (LIRS), World Relief (Evangelical), the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Church World Service (mainline Protestant), Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

In the Jewish community, HIAS’s shift is part of a growing trend of organizations shedding old identities when their original missions have been filled. That often includes streamlining names to avoid referring to those outdated missions. The result can sometimes seem like an alphabet soup, with the Anti-Defamation League becoming the ADL and the American Jewish Committee rebranded AJC — not to be confused with the American Jewish Congress.

Hetfield said that one of the motivations for the upcoming move was a belief that HIAS could have a greater impact by being closer to Congress, the State Department and other federal agencies where immigration and refugee policy is made.

Although HIAS already has a small advocacy contingent in Washington, bringing the leadership, experts and program staff to the area is intended to better assist this advocacy wing shape immigration and refugee policy, he said.

According to Charity Navigator, which gives HIAS its highest rating for transparency and accountability, 65.3 percent of the agency’s annual budget of $25 million comes from government grants — from the State Department, the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Still welcoming the stranger
From its establishment in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century, HIAS’s primary goal was to facilitate the immigration and resettlement of Jews coming to the United States — the majority of whom were escaping persecution in Europe, Russia and later the Soviet Union. But with the end of immigration from the former Soviet Union, during the last 20 years, HIAS shifted to apply its experience in resettlement and to non-Jewish refugee communities worldwide.

HIAS says this new work is based on the biblical commandment to welcome the stranger as well as the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or social justice.

“After doing it for our own community almost exclusively for over 120 years, we’re now in the position where we can do it for others,” said Hetfield. “We and others feel that it is important to have the Jewish community, not just the various Christian communities, taking part in refugee protection and refugee resettlement.

“It would be a tragedy, it would be a shandah [scandal] to have the Jewish community absent from refugee protection programs in the United States when every other faith community is represented,” he added.

HIAS’s expansion and rebranding included making the group’s acronym its official name. Hetfield said the word “Hebrew” is exclusionary and outdated, much as the word “colored” is to refer to African-Americans.

Not only will HIAS join other refugee aid organizations in Washington, it will also compete with other Jewish organizations involved in advocacy and claiming to be the “Jewish voice” on this or that political issue. Each group is fighting to carve out a niche for itself in what some think is an oversaturated market of advocacy groups, none of which seems to close down when its job is done.

But Jewish historian and Brandies University professor Jonathan Sarna sees a cycle in the growth of American Jewish institutions.

“There are periods in American Jewish history that had a great growth in organizations, and certainly as the community grows from a quarter of a million in 1880 to a community that is going to be about 3.5 million in 1920, it’s not surprising they needed new organizations for that community,” said Sarna.

“And, of course, we’re seeing a lot of new organizations in our own day, where young people look around the world of startups and say ‘I want to change American Jewish life, but I don’t want to work with these great big organizations. I’m going to start something little, hopefully it will take off.’”

Sarna added that although there are many examples of Jewish organizations failing to evolve and shutting down, there is a phenomenon that “Jewish organizations come into existence but are not so easy to put out of existence.”

The March of Dimes goes on
The event that most recently strained the Jewish organizational world was the crash of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme in 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession. Many Jewish organizations lost significant investments with Madoff.

“Nonprofits have a way of self-preservation,” said Alan Ronkin, regional director of the Washington, D.C., office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “The March of Dimes was founded to cure polio. And miraculously, Dr. Jonas Salk cured polio. Now, in theory, the March of Dimes should have gone out of business, but their leadership decided that they had a great way of helping people, so they expanded their mandate to all childhood diseases, and to this day they still exist and help children.

“Sometimes you do see that nonprofits evolve to adapt to a changing world, and those that don’t disappear,” he added. “So in some ways, having the larger, sort of aircraft-carrier nonprofits that are very solid and hard to get rid of is a good thing because they have longevity and can last through times of crisis.”

Ronkin sees the proliferation of aid, benevolence and advocacy organizations in the Jewish community as a sign of success and the will to use this success to help others.

But are there enough donations to keep so many of these behemoths afloat? Yes, said Ronkin. Despite the number of old and new active Jewish organizations, they are managing to raise more money than they ever have. Only, there is a change in where the money comes from and what it is for.

“We’re raising more money but from fewer people,” he said. “In the past, American Jews gave almost exclusively to Jewish organizations. Many in our community have diversified their philanthropy such that they can give to a host of mainstream organizations in the general community that wouldn’t have accepted them years ago.

Ronkin also said that today, even though organizations are receiving more money on average, there has been a rise in designated giving: money given for specific projects or programs. This sometimes makes it harder for administrators, who would traditionally allocate money within the organization to where they felt it was most needed.

With so many organization such as HIAS moving to the Washington, D.C., area and the ones already there, Sarna points to another trend — the increasing importance of Washington.

“There has been a significant migration because I think American Jews increasingly believe that they have to engage with government in order to really demonstrate power,” Sarna said. “The sense of Washington of being where the power is is very strong, but I would say that this has something to do with the migration of power from New York to Washington nationally. Government is increasingly recognized as being big and powerful, and you’ve got to be there.”

SAFE and Sound

Michelle Mills, director of Adult Day Services/Care Management for Levindale, says programs like SAFE are helping a vulnerable population.

Michelle Mills, director of Adult Day Services/Care Management for Levindale, says programs like SAFE are helping a vulnerable population.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, approximately 8,000 baby boomers will turn 65 years old, per day, for the next decade. AARP also reports that one in 10 healthy adults over age 60 claim some type of neglect or maltreatment — physical, psychological or emotional — and this is most likely to happen in their home by a relative or trusted companion.

These statistics are behind the creation of SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders, a new program co-administered by three agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. CHANA (Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women), the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital and Jewish Community Services (JCS) have joined forces to provide much-needed support and education to elderly victims, their families and professionals in Northwest Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“When a lot of people think of elder abuse, they assume it takes place in a nursing home or is inflicted by a paid caretaker,” said Ellyn Loy, SAFE’s director at CHANA. “The fact is, abuse and neglect of the elderly is usually committed by an unpaid spouse or family member, and that makes it a more difficult problem to handle,” she said.

“You can fire a paid caretaker and you can move someone to a different facility, but it is more complicated when it is a family member,” said Michelle Mills, director of Adult Day Services/Care Management for Levindale. “It can be a situation where a family member is continually yelling or berating a person,” said Mills. “And there is physical abuse like pushing or shoving. But physical abuse for an elder can also mean keeping their walker or glasses in a place where they can’t reach them. There is a lot of controlling behavior just as there is in other types of domestic abuse, but it plays out differently with elders.” Mills added, “The caretaker might justify the controlling behavior by saying, ‘You don’t understand. If I don’t take her walker away, she will wander around and get into trouble. I can’t watch her all the time.’”
Elders dependent on others can also find themselves victimized by trusted caregivers who exploit them financially. Financial exploitation “looks different in different situations,” said Loy.

“It could be a situation when an elder needs a higher level of care and the caregiver won’t arrange for it
because he or she wants to save the money for him or herself. Or sometimes a caregiver gets power of attorney and manipulates the elder’s money.”

Loy said that another scenario may be the elder meets someone who starts out helping them or filling a need but then takes advantage of the situation. “For instance, maybe the new friend says, ‘You don’t need that nurse, I’ll move in and take care of you instead,’” explained Loy. “At some point, when the elder realizes something is wrong, there is guilt and concern about what he should do. Often, the elder is afraid to tell his children what is happening.”

That’s when the SAFE staff hopes the elder or someone with the elder’s best interests at heart will contact the program. In addition to education, SAFE provides assessment, counseling, social services and also provides a safe shelter place that is adaptable as to location and level of care required.

“Whereas most shelters are geared toward younger people,” said Mills, “SAFE’s shelter is especially targeted toward elders who require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).”  Another difference in the SAFE shelter model is that it is not housed in a dedicated space. Instead, elders who meet the criteria for admission are sheltered at Levindale’s hospital or another skilled nursing facility, if a bed is available at the time of assessment.

“When they are admitted,” said Mills, “we have a SAFE team made up of staff from CHANA, Levindale and JCS come out to do an assessment and create an action plan. For example, we might ask, ‘Do we need to get a protective order? Do we need to stop checks?’”

If a bed isn’t available at the time of admission, Mills said the SAFE house staff makes alternative arrangements to protect the elder. In addition to providing a safe haven, SAFE staff will also provide counseling and help elders to apply for social programs such as permanent housing and Meals on Wheels.

“It’s a great partnership,” said Loy. “CHANA knows domestic violence and trauma, JCS knows counseling and entitlements, and Levindale has expertise in providing a safe environment.”

SAFE is good news for the community, said Mills. “Programs like this have a great impact and are helping the most vulnerable population.”

Ahead of Her Time

Betty Waghelstein (Submitted by Shelley Morhaim)

Betty Waghelstein
(Submitted by Shelley Morhaim)

Glass-ceiling-shattering business woman Betty L. Waghelstein, former owner and president of Luby Chevrolet and Luby Honda, passed away Nov. 26 at Roland Park Place of complications from a broken hip. She was 89.

Betty Arlene Luby was born in Denver to Sam Luby Sr., founder of Luby Chevrolet, and May Luby, a homemaker. She was raised in Miami, where she graduated from Miami Senior High School in 1942.

Seeking an all-women college, Waghelstein enrolled in Goucher College and studied sociology and economics. She graduated in 1946.

While enrolled at Goucher, her “college mother” brought her to Rosh Hashanah services at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where she met Dr. Frank S. Cole. The two had a whirlwind romance and became engaged just before Cole deployed overseas with the Army Medical Corps.

“He saw her and knew that was the girl he was going to marry,” said daughter Shelley Morhaim. “It took her a little longer to decide.”

The couple wed in 1945 and moved to Jonquil Avenue and later to Seven Mile Lane in Northwest Baltimore. In 1950, Cole gave up his practice and joined his father-in-law in the car business, eventually establishing the Luby Chevrolet Co. of Baltimore on Highland Avenue in 1952. When Cole died unexpectedly in 1967, Waghelstein took over as president.

Though her husband had left the business to her, the manufacturers were reluctant to do business with a woman.

“GM wanted her to sell, which would have been a forced sale,” said Morhaim. “They did not want to give her approval. My grandfather, who was retired, moved to Baltimore for six months to run it with her until she could prove herself. They couldn’t say no to him,” because of his successful record.

Not only did Waghelstein prove herself, she expanded the business, adding a Honda dealership to the Luby franchise in the early 1970s.

So unusual was it for a woman to be in charge of a successful dealership that when Waghelstein was nominated by the Maryland Automotive Dealers Association for Time magazine’s Dealer of the Year Award, the plaque she received had all male pronouns.

“Needless to say, we had to have the plaque sent back to have it properly amended,” said Joseph Caroll, past president of the state dealers association, who served with Waghelstein.

“She was the first woman to be a member of our board of directors,” said Caroll. “She became not only a colleague but friends with everybody she came in contact with, including me.

“I think the greatest recognition,” he continued, “was that nobody even thought of her [as] male or female, they just thought of her as Betty Waghelstein, who was a good business woman and a lady.”

The longtime Pikesville resident belonged to Beth El Congregation.

She collected antique maps — a hobby she passed on to Morhaim — and traveled extensively. She shared her globetrotting with her grandchildren, taking three granddaughters on a trip to Italy and a grandson to Prague.

When stateside she subscribed to the Everyman Theatre, the Baltimore Symphony and Center Stage.

Waghelstein was chair of the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital during its merger with Sinai Hospital and the forming of LifeBridge Healthcare. She sat on the boards of Goodwill Industries, Hutzler’s department store and the Central Scholarship Fund, and she served as a mentor to aspiring business women.

“She really believed in giving people a chance to fulfill their dreams and their plans,” said Morhaim.

Despite her busy schedule, Waghelstein put her family “first and foremost,” said Morhaim. “She really was the matriarch, even being a business woman and being busy, family was her first priority.”

Waghelstein married Dr. Julius M. Waghelstein, former chief of medicine at Franklin Square Hospital, in 1969. He passed away in 1981.

Waghelstein is survived by her children, Shelley Morhaim, Stephen Cole and Nancy Abrams, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A private family memorial is scheduled for this weekend.



‘A Rabbi of Rabbis’


Rabbi Harold Schulweis helped found several organizations, including Jewish World Watch. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Malkah. (Photos Courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom)

LOS ANGELES — As a path-breaking thinker, innovator and activist, Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ role extended far beyond his base as the spiritual leader of his Los Angeles-area congregation.

“Harold Schulweis was widely regarded as the most successful and influential synagogue leader in his generation, a public intellectual who redefined what it is to be a Jew, an author and passionate orator who met injustices and suffering with action,” said Rabbi Edward Feinstein, his friend and colleague at Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Encino.

Schulweis died Dec. 18 following a long struggle with heart disease. He was 89.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said in a statement that Schulweis’ “vast knowledge of Jewish tradition, combined with his tremendous passion and his palpable gift of empathy, made him a force for American Jewry to reckon with.”

Schulweis fueled a series of innovations, first at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and then at Valley Beth Shalom, which he led for nearly 45 years. His pioneering initiatives included establishing “chavurot” whose members formed small groups within the larger congregation for closer personal connections, a model of lay-clergy cooperation, and a counseling center for congregants and the community.

He opened the synagogue doors to all by actively including children and young adults with disabilities, Jews by choice and unchurched Christians and by welcoming gay and lesbian Jews.

Together with the late activist Leonard Fein, who died earlier this year, Schulweis founded MAZON, a Jewish Response to Hunger, to help alleviate hunger and poverty in America.

In the 1960s he established the Institute for Righteous Acts, now the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, to recognize the thousands of men and women, predominantly Christians, who aided and rescued Jews during the Holocaust, often risking their own lives.

The creation of the institute and foundation offered an insight into Schulweis’ modus operandi.

Years earlier, he had met a young Jewish academic whose family had been saved by German Christians. On inquiry, he learned that these Christians and numerous other rescuers, many now impoverished, had never been recognized or aided by the Jewish community. In response, he founded an organization to help the otherwise forgotten rescuers in practical and concrete ways.

A decade ago, Schulweis initiated the Jewish World Watch to fight contemporary genocides and mass atrocities.

He enlisted as co-founder one of his congregants, attorney Janice Kamenir-Resnik, to assume the leadership of the fledgling effort. Jewish World Watch has grown into the largest anti-genocide grassroots organization in the world, with some 30,000 to 40,000 donors.

Kamenir-Resnik recalls the quandary posed by Schulweis when he phoned her in 2004: “We always ask, Where were the gentiles when Hitler killed 6 million Jews? … What will you say to your grandchildren when they ask what you did during the genocide in Rwanda.”

In response, Kamenir-Resnik quit her partnership in a law firm and now works full time, without salary, running Jewish World Watch.

The call from Schulweis, and her friendship with him, “has transformed my life and has changed my philosophy of what it means to be a Jew,” she said. “Nothing I have done in my life has been more meaningful and has had a larger impact.”

As a religious thinker, Schulweis developed the concept of “theological humanism” as a middle ground between traditional beliefs in, or denial of, God’s omnipotence.

Schulweis was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, the son of a ferociously anti-religious editor of the Yiddish daily Forverts and grandson, on his mother’s side, of Rabbi Avraham Resak, a Chasidic Jew who gave the youngster his first Talmud lessons.

122614_shulweis2His more formal education continued in New York at Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary (where he met his future wife, Malkah) and New York University.

In the hours after his death, prominent members of the Los Angeles Jewish community spoke of their deep sense of loss.

Rabbi Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center, said he once introduced Schulweis to an audience, saying in part, “Harold Schulweis is a rabbi. This is a little like saying a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin.

Schulweis, Herscher said, “is a rabbi of rabbis. … He has, as much as any rabbi in our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance and renewed purpose.”

Gerald Bubis, a scholar and peace activist who knew Schulweis for over six decades, observed that Schulweis could spin out an idea, and “through a process of osmotic absorption,” rabbis and laymen not only accepted the idea, but implemented it in their synagogues and institutions.

Bubis said Schulweis turned down many prestigious positions, notably president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a major academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism in America.

“Harold wanted to be in a setting where he would have an immediate impact,” Bubis said of the rejections.

Schulweis wrote nine books and hundreds of articles. More than 750 audio, video and document copies of his writings, sermons and teachings can be accessed at the Schulweis Institute Library Online.

He is survived by Malkah, his wife of 64 years; three children, Seth Schulweis and Alyssa (Peter) Reich, both of West Los Angeles, and Ethan (Cindy) Schulweis of Beit Hashita, Israel; and 11 grandchildren.

Ulman Heads to College Park

Former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will announce his next position soon, he says.

Former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will announce his next position soon, he says.

Former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced Monday that he will serve as an economic development and innovation strategist for the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ulman’s newly formed consulting firm, Margrave Strategies LLC, will provide a variety of economic development, planning and visioning services to institutions, businesses and organizations. Margrave’s principal initial client is the University of Maryland College Park Foundation.

“University of Maryland, College Park can reach its full potential and become a true engine of innovation and economic growth for Maryland,” Ulman said in a statement. “As a proud graduate of the University of Maryland, I look forward to helping [University President] Dr. Wallace Loh achieve his vision for the university and for the community, which benefits the entire state.”

The University of Maryland College Park Foundation drives investments in the campus and leverages private funds to help the university become a top research institution.

Margrave will work to enhance UMd.’s role as a catalyst for innovation, and Ulman will work to diversify revenue streams, foster investment in startups as well as university programs with growth potential, bring investment to the University Research Park and further develop the Route 1 corridor.

“I have often said the future of this university is tied to the future of the surrounding community, and we must make investments that spark economic development in College Park,” Loh said in a statement. “We are pleased Ken is bringing his expertise from smart economic growth in Howard County here to our university and community.”

Ulman, who was the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate under Anthony Brown, was, at 32, the youngest county executive ever elected in Maryland in 2006. His second term wrapped up earlier this month.

President Praises Community Efforts to Free Gross

December 17 remarks from President Barack Obama on the release of Alan Gross:

“I wanted to begin with today’s wonderful news. I’m told that in Jewish tradition one of the great mitzvahs is pidyon shvuyim. My Hebrew’s not perfect. But I get points for trying. But it describes the redemption. The freeing of captives. And that’s what we are celebrating today because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.

Alan’s dedicated his life to others. To helping people around the world develop their communities and improve their lives. Including Israelis and Palestinians. He’s a man of deep faith who once worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Five years ago he was arrested by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans, including Cuba’s small Jewish community, access information on the Internet. And ever since, those who have loved and cared for Alan never stopped working to bring him home.

Judy, his wife of 44 years and their daughters, including his oldest daughter who walked down the aisle without her dad on her wedding day. His mother, who passed away this year without being able to see her son one last time. His whole family, including his sister-in-law Gwen Suarez who joins us here today (looks her way and waves to acknowledge her presence: Hey Gwen). His rabbi. His friends at his congregation in Maryland, Om Kolel, who kept him in their prayers every Shabbat. Jewish and other faith leaders around the country and around the world, including his holiness Pope Francis. And members of Congress and those of us in the United States government.

And Alan’s fought back. He spoke out from his cell. He went on a hunger strike. With his health deteriorating his family worried that he might not be able to make it out alive but he never gave up and we never gave up. As I explained earlier, after many months of discussion with the Cuban government, Alan was finally released this morning on humanitarian grounds.

I spoke to him on his flight. He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me (laughter). I told him he had mustard in his mustache. I couldn’t actually see it (more laughs in audience). Needless to say he was thrilled and he landed at Andrews in a plane marked United States of America (applause).

He’s going to be getting the medical attention that he needs. He’s back where he belongs in America with his family, home for Chanukah and I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday with its message that freedom is possible than with the historic changes that I announced today in our Cuba policy (loud cheers). These are changes that are rooted in America’s commitment to freedom and democracy for all the Cuban people, including its small but proud Jewish community.

Alan’s remarks about the need for these changes was extremely powerful.”

Gender Gaps, Job Availability Examined

About 400 people attended the banquet Sunday night at the Association for Jewish Studies’ 46th annual conference at the Hilton Baltimore, where Jonathan Sarna revealed details from a soon-to-be-published survey of members. (Marc Shapiro)

About 400 people attended the banquet Sunday night at the Association for Jewish Studies’ 46th annual conference at the Hilton Baltimore, where Jonathan Sarna revealed details from a soon-to-be-published survey of members.
(Marc Shapiro)

While diversity has greatly increased at the Association for Jewish Studies — around half of the organization’s approximately 3,000 members are female and 17 percent identify with a religion other than Judaism — disparities still exist in the academic discipline.

“Today women actually outnumber men among our recent Ph.D.s,” AJS president Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, announced last weekend during the organization’s 46th annual conference in Baltimore. “That said, our survey reveals that women have not yet achieved anything like equality in terms of salaries. Female members of the AJS earn lower salaries at universities and garner less outside income beyond the university than men of the same mark. The extent of the disparity is shocking.”

According to AJS data, men who earned their doctorates between 1980 and 1994 make an average of $128,000 per year, while their female colleagues make $100,000. Similarly, those who have earned doctorates since 2005 make an average of $65,000 per year as men and $59,000 per year as women.

The data came from a survey of AJS members that was completed by 1,790 respondents, about 60 percent of the organization, according to Steven M. Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College who helped conduct the survey.

“It’s only by revealing [salary disparities] that we have a chance of bringing about any kind of equality that I think most people in this room assume should exist between what men make and what women make,” Sarna said after his speech at the Sunday night banquet at the Hilton Baltimore.

Keren McGinity, a research affiliate at the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis and a board member of the AJS’s Women’s Caucus, said the disparities are indicative of larger forces at work.

“The pay disparities in academia and outside it are a reflection of the unfortunate reality that the social construction of traditional American gender roles is still deeply rooted,” she said via email. “The fact that American white women continue to earn only 78 cents to the dollar that white men earn for the same work — while shouldering more of domestic labor and childcare — influences perceptions and salaries within Jewish studies.”

The AJS survey also tackled issues that transcend gender, including “the question of decline” in the field itself, Sarna said.

“Anecdotally, we have all heard stories of declining enrollment, smaller numbers of majors and minors, fewer employment possibilities, and at my own university, I have to say these disturbing trends are quite evident,” he said.

In terms of course enrollment, 49 percent of survey respondents from North America reported little to no change, 23 percent reported a small decline, 7 percent reported a large decline, 17 percent reported a small increase, and 4 percent reported a large increase. Sarna said the greatest reports of declining enrollments were at Jewish seminaries, where 48 percent of faculty surveyed experienced declines in course enrollment.

“Not exactly an indication of imminent catastrophe,” Sarna said, noting that the decline is selective and not clear-cut. He noted that the humanities’ share of all degrees completed has dropped from 14 percent to 7 percent between 1966 and 2010.

Sarna then addressed the future.

Vacancies in the field exist, he confirmed, but the total number of tenured positions in Jewish studies is stable. The AJS advertises about 30 tenured or tenure-track positions each year, he said.

The bad news, he said, is that there are more job seekers than there are jobs, and professors are choosing to retire later in life or not retire at all. The average age of tenured professors in the United States — professors in all disciplines — is 55 at many universities, including Brandeis. More than 25 percent of faculty there are over 60.

Cohen said this means limited opportunities exist for those entering the field.

“The chances of being employed in academia are significantly less than when many of us entered the field 30 to 40 years ago,” he said. “When I entered the field in 1974, upon graduation I had three job offers. So now people have zero job offers [or] one job offer.”

Cohen said the field will lose people who otherwise could be productive in academia, but he and Sarna agreed that the discipline need not stigmatize those who take their doctorates elsewhere.

“A freshly minted Ph.D. who takes a job outside the academy is not a trader to the cause,” Sarna said. “Instead, he or she may actually be expanding the reach of Jewish studies, building bridges to the larger community and fulfilling an important component of our core vision while fostering greater understanding of Jewish studies scholarship.”

McGinity said it’s important for those entering the field to find ways to use their knowledge in creative ways.

“The market economy requires that scholars think more like entrepreneurs than our predecessors,” she said. “There will always be opportunities to contribute to the production and dissemination of new knowledge in meaningful ways, but how one does so has to change for everyone to succeed.”

‘Gratitude for Every Breath’

Rabbi Zvi Dov Slanger and Swiss Embassy official David Best hold a plaque given to the Swiss government. Also pictured are Michael Elman (left) and Sen. Ben Cardin. (Israel Orange Studios)

Rabbi Zvi Dov Slanger and Swiss Embassy official David Best hold a plaque given to the Swiss government. Also pictured are Michael Elman (left) and Sen. Ben Cardin.
(Israel Orange Studios)

More than 700 people gathered Sunday night to celebrate the life and work of Rabbi Zvi Dov Slanger, who 70 years ago escaped the horrors of the Holocaust and went on to dedicate his life to the study and transmission of Torah.

Born in Budapest, Slanger and his immediate family were among those Jews fortunate enough to escape to Switzerland aboard the “Kasztner Train,” the only mass ransom of Jews during the Holocaust. The passage was not direct; for five months, Slanger endured the misery of Bergen-Belsen until the negotiations were finalized. Finally on Dec. 7, 1944, the train crossed into freedom in Switzerland.

From there, the family journeyed to Israel, where Slanger studied under renowned scholars, including Rabbi Elya Lopian. He arrived in the United States in 1965 and became involved in various schools. He founded the Bais Hamedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore 18 years ago.

Just after 6 p.m. attendees of the Gala of Gratitude in Slanger’s honor took their seats at elegantly dressed tables that filled the Beth Tfiloh Congregation ballroom. On stage, the guests of honor sat behind long rows of raised tables.

Gala co-chair Dr. Michael Elman opened the evening by expressing “exceptional, extra thanks” for the life and work of Slanger before turning the microphone over to fellow co-chair Howard Tzvi Friedman, who introduced U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.

“It is a real honor to be in your presence, and we thank you for the life that you live,” Cardin said, addressing Slanger. “Thank for the legacy you’ve left, the standards you’ve set.”

The Maryland Democrat went on to recognize Switzerland for its part in saving Slanger’s life and for their advancement of human rights.

“In the depths of the Holocaust, there were heroic acts and courage displayed,” said Cardin, who presented a plaque to Swiss Embassy official David Best. “There weren’t any other countries in that area that opened up their doors” to let in Jews.

Best thanked his government and his country.

“My country, which has been spared of the horror of two world wars, is committed [to human rights],” said Best.

As a surprise, Best presented Slanger with copies of the documents from when Slanger entered Switzerland, noting, “You were a very handsome 10 year-old boy!”

Always the teacher, Slanger gave a lesson on whom God shows favor and the importance of gratitude. He related a wartime story of Jews who were starving “and yet, they were thankful and blessed Hashem even when they were still hungry.”

“Gratitude, being grateful for every breath of life … such people deserve special favor,” he said, adding that in committing himself to Jewish
education, he was “trying to follow in footsteps of giants of great generations.”

Before the gala’s close, Elman announced that Slanger’s school has appointed an architect to construct a new building for the institution. The groundbreaking is expected in the spring or early summer of 2015.

Suburban Orthodox Launches $5M Capital Campaign

Growth in recent years has prompted Suburban Orthodox Congregation to launch a $5 million building campaign, the congregation’s rabbi, chairman and president announced in a Dec. 12 email to congregants.

“The time has come to write the next chapter of our congregational narrative,” read the message, which was signed by Rabbi Shmuel Silber, chairman of the board Mel Pachino and congregation president Jack Gladstein. “We have [thank God] outgrown our current facility on many levels and we must begin to plan for our future.”

The email said that consultations with architects and builders led congregation officials to the conclusion that new construction would be the best way to maximize use of the property. On Monday, Dec. 8, the board of directors unanimously decided to launch the campaign and approved an initial
expenditure to develop architectural plans and engineering studies for the purpose of pricing out a new building.

“We are at an important crossroad. We have the opportunity to grow as a kehilla and as individuals. We have the opportunity to create a physical home that will enable us to pray, learn, perform chesed, serve our youth and socialize in a comfortable and beautiful fashion,” the officials wrote. “Our current facility does not represent the true vibrancy of our kehilla and the holy potential we possess.”