Four Jewish Organizations Among Baltimore’s Top 100 Workplaces

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and Congregation, Jewish Community Services, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc. have been named as “Top Workplaces” in 2014 by The Baltimore Sun.

 
The daily newspaper recognizes 100 companies each year with information drawn from employee surveys and bases its results on employee evaluations of their companies. The ranking originated with the company WorkplaceDynamics, based in Exton, Pa., in 2006, which partners with 30 publications across the country to process the surveys for companies interested in collecting the information. In its fifth year, more than 4,000 organizations participate nationally.

 
The survey questions are based on three themes: organizational health; engagement and motivation in the workplace; and general satisfaction with the employee’s position in the company, management and salary.

 
“What’s most impressive about being named a top workplace is that it’s all because of our employees,” said JCS executive director Barbara Gradet. “They clearly feel very passionate about what they do. Every single member of our staff plays a critical role in helping people to improve their lives.”

Ulman Plots Next Move

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.

Nearly two weeks after his eight-year term as Howard County executive came to an end, Ken Ulman is waiting to announce what his next move will be.

“One way or another I will be very involved in making a positive difference in the state of Maryland,” he said. “I hope to focus on innovation, the 21st-century economy, making sure Maryland is a real leader in the innovation economy [and] pushing forward solutions to our challenges whether that be in the private sector or the public sector.”

On Monday, Dec. 1, Republican Allan Kittleman was sworn in as the next county executive. While Ulman, 40, hoped to be heading to Annapolis in January as lieutenant governor under Anthony Brown, with the election of Larry Hogan and Boyd Rutherford, Ulman finds his future open to possibilities.

“I will be heavily involved [in the state] in one way or another and hope to announce very soon,” the Jewish Democrat said.

To that end, Ulman met Gov.-elect Larry Hogan at an Annapolis restaurant last week, according to The Washington Post. The two discussed economic development and a Hogan spokeswoman told the paper the meeting was productive.

Ulman has also met with his successor, with whom he spent some time discussing ongoing projects, such as the development happening in Town Center in Columbia.

As far as the gubernatorial election goes, Ulman attributes his ticket’s loss to a number of things.

“I think a big part of that was certainly the mood of the country,” he said, referring to the Republican momentum that gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate and expanded its majority in the House of Representatives. “One thing you learn is that the higher up you go, there’s a more direct correlation with what’s going on in the country and the national mood.”

He also thought that after an “intense” primary, it was hard to continue that momentum leading up to the general election. While he didn’t directly say the tax hikes during the O’Malley-Brown administration — something critics of Brown often pointed to — contributed to the Democrats’ loss, he believes the economy and the continuing impact of the past recession played a role in voting.

“I think it’s incumbent upon elected officials to better connect the taxes that people pay to things that make a difference in their lives,” Ulman said. “To me, it’s not about taxes being too high or too low, it’s about demonstrating that people are getting value for their tax dollar.”

In Howard County, Ulman felt like he had that kind of rapport with his constituents. Between being one of the first counties to have once-a-week compost pickup, building a significant broadband network, launching telemedicine in schools, facilitating business development and high-tech opportunities and funding development in Columbia, renovations at the Merriweather Post Pavilion and transitional housing for inmates reentering the community, he feels he has given county residents their money’s worth.

“I feel like over the last eight years, we’ve done a number of things that have really sent that message both to our own citizens and to folks outside of Howard County, that you can count on Howard County to be a leader,” he said.

Columbia residents had a close relationship with the former county executive, according to Milton Matthews, president and CEO of the Columbia Association, the nonprofit organization that operates parks, recreational facilities and community centers in Columbia.

“His support for CA initiatives and his presence at many events in the community are reflective of a growing and collaborative relationship between CA and Howard County government,” Matthews said in a statement. “Ken was instrumental in our partnerships with county government, the business community and other stakeholders, which is
essential in the pursuit of our goal of making Columbia an even better place to live, work and play.”

Ulman also left an impression on his fellow Jews, having been a consistent presence at the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s events, including the annual Yom Hashoa commemoration. He was also involved in getting Elta, the Israeli company that makes the Iron Dome radar system, to come to Howard County, said Michelle Ostroff, the federation’s executive director.

“He was very instrumental in making that happen and that was a great thing for the county, great thing for Israel and a great thing for the Jewish community in general,” said Ostroff.

With a lot of support in his home county, would he consider running for office again?

Said Ulman: “I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Brewing Bromance: Men Learn to Open Up on Israel Mission

Making new and  lasting connections was the goal for these men, who made the trip to Israel.

Making new and
lasting connections was the goal for these men, who made the trip to Israel.

You’re a middle-aged guy. You’re established in your career. Got a great wife, beautiful kids. But none of your friendships nowadays are anywhere as deep or profound as the ones you had in school.

Last month, about 100 men tried to rekindle that old bromance during a week in Israel. Far from career and family, encouraged to be “open” by tour facilitators, they found that almost forgotten depth, said Salvador Litvak, a trip participant, Los Angeles filmmaker and Accidental Talmudist blogger.

“I was doing it with a bunch of guys my age, at a similar place in life,” said Litvak, 49. “You make those dear friends the way you do in school or college.”

The Momentum Men’s Trip was organized by the Rockville-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, which runs similar Israel tours for women. The men’s trip gave husbands of women’s trip alumnae a taste of their spouses’ experiences — just with more action, according to Lilach Cohen-Holden, digital communications manager for Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.

“The idea is not to get them to cry and to be emotional, but to make a connection,” she said.

The tour included usual Israel fare — kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel, and visits to Yad Vashem and Masada — plus Shabbat lectures such as “Who are you: Body or Soul?” at the Aish HaTorah World Center.

Participants found their inner dude while jeeping, driving all-terrain vehicles and rappelling. Long days ended with barbecues, drum circles, dancing and singing. “Guys were getting in touch with parts of themselves they didn’t know existed,” Litvak said.

Far from the ones they loved, the men drew together — “You just put your arm around a guy,” Litvak said — and left with the feeling that they had become better husbands and men.

The next men’s trip is scheduled for June 2015. For information, go to jwrp.org.

 

 

Jews United for Justice Comes to Baltimore

Molly Amster is the new Baltimore  executive director of Jews United  for Justice.

Molly Amster is the new Baltimore
executive director of Jews United
for Justice.

Molly Amster found her dream job at Jews United for Justice.

Whether it was working on a sheep dairy in Wisconsin and teaching schoolchildren about where their food comes from, working at Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI) and bringing together African-American and Orthodox girls to talk about identity or planning BBYO conventions in high school, Amster has been building momentum toward her new position for nearly her entire life.

“I knew I wanted to be doing social justice work in this city. I’m really committed to Baltimore,” she said. “I knew I wanted to help create positive change, really lasting structural change.”

And when she saw that Jews United for Justice was looking for a Baltimore executive director, she thought, “This is perfect. This is exactly what I need to do.” She started on Sept. 2 and has since met with other nonprofits, activists and potential partners to inform JUFJ’s campaign selection process and built a base of nearly 50 people hoping to be involved.

“We’re looking to create an intergenerational progressive Jewish community in Baltimore,” she said.

JUFJ formed in Washington, D.C., in 1998 to concentrate on issues of local concern through a Jewish lens.

“In the past few years in the D.C. area, we’ve helped to win higher minimum wage, paid sick days for all workers in the district, marriage equality, [getting] the Maryland DREAM Act on the ballot and key funding for safety-net programs like homeless services through a fairer tax system in the district,” said Jacob Feinspan, executive director of JUFJ. The organization is now working on issues of affordable housing and paid family leave in D.C.

With a JUFJ community already established in Montgomery County, where the group has worked on the DREAM Act, marriage equality and paid family leave, and organizations asking the group to come to Baltimore, it was an obvious move. A Baltimore presence coupled with the Montgomery County branch will also allow the organization to build more clout in Annapolis.

“We know that Baltimore faces many of the same challenges that the D.C. area faces of huge income and opportunity gaps, and we think that the Jewish community can and should be part of the response,” Feinspan said.

And for the woman who will be leading the charge in Baltimore, advocacy runs in the family.

Amster’s great-grandparents and grandparents were members of the Jewish Labor Bund, a Jewish socialist group, and Workmen’s Circle, respectively. Growing up, her mother worked as a social worker and spent most of her career working in the Jewish communal field. She also grew up in what she described as an “egalitarian, conservative, socially progressive” synagogue, Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville.

“Those values of justice and equity were very much instilled in me as a kid,” she said.

In addition to celebrating Shabbat each week along with the Jewish holidays, the Amsters would host about 30 people for Rosh Hashanah and other celebrations.

Amster, 31, a Montgomery County native, spent time in high school and college in various community organizing and advocacy capacities. In high school, she served as the D.C. Council president for B’nai B’rith Girls, in which she had the “formative experience” of booking her chapter’s convention as a high school freshman, which she said was her first time creating her own Jewish community. She was also involved in a program that offered peer education on dating, domestic violence and bullying in high school.

In college, Amster ran a girls mentoring program called All Kinds of Girls and worked for the Main South Community Development Corporation, which left a significant impression on her. Main South, a neighborhood near Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where Amster attended college, had a reputation for being downtrodden and dangerous.

“That was the first time where I really saw how power works in a real way in neighborhoods,” she said. “I think also it was a good lesson — rather than just dismissing the neighborhood as [awful] and full of problems and danger — to work in solidarity with the people who are living there to try to make it better and to use my power and privilege to aid in that effort.”

After spending a year at the London School of Economics and Political Science and traveling to Scotland, Amster got interested in farming. That led her to work on a grass-based cow dairy in northern New Jersey and then a sheep dairy in Wisconsin. Through those experiences, Amster taught people about where their food comes from and what it takes to raise food, and she learned a lot about the environmental impacts of raising food. That led her to Baltimore, where she became a member of the Pearlstone Center’s first summer staff at the farm.

“I was interested to hear what Judaism had to say about the environment and agriculture. Those were the things that were really important to me at the time and made me feel connected,” she said. “I was interested to learn about stuff I wasn’t taught in Hebrew School.”

From Pearlstone, Amster went to CHAI, where she spent the past seven years. Most recently, she was working with public schools to develop resources and establish new partnerships but brought political organizing into it. Through that effort, CHAI joined the Baltimore Education Coalition and worked to get additional funding for school construction in Baltimore.

JUFJ was the perfect place to continue working for structural change, she said. Since starting, Amster has been forming a coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals, including Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue.

“There is a hunger for Jewish progressive activism that is not being tapped in Baltimore,” said Basik. “There is this hunger, or pent-up energy, to express ourselves politically.”

Kol HaLev has been around for seven years, and the congregation has grown developmentally each year, but the social action piece is still missing, Basik said. He hopes JUFJ can help get that off the ground at his synagogue.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he plans to have a working relationship with Amster’s organization.

“We want them to have input on our decision-making processes,” he said. “They represent a segment of the Baltimore community. … We will take that into consideration as we develop policy.”

Baltimore’s JUFJ chapter will decide what specific issues it plans to tackle in its first year at a community meeting in February.

Issues on the table include paid sick leave, police brutality and criminal justice reform, returning citizens’ quality of life, water privatization in the city and the Curtis Bay incinerator, a proposed trash incinerator in the south Baltimore neighborhood that has a number of environmental and neighborhood concerns, Amster said.

For more information, contact Molly Amster at molly@jufj.org or visit jufj.org.

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Zirkin Will Lead JRC

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) moved up the ranks of the Maryland General Assembly last week.

 
Zirkin, who represents the Owings Mills and Reisterstown area of Baltimore County, will replace Attorney General-elect Brian Frost as chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senate President Mike Miller (D-District 27) announced on Dec. 3. The appointment reportedly makes Zirkin the youngest senator to chair any of the Senate’s four standing committees on policy.

 
The committee is one of the most watched in the state legislature. In years past, it has tackled issues such as the death penalty, same-sex marriage and gun control legislation. Zirkin is a trial lawyer with a practice in Owings Mills that specializes in dog bites, car accidents, DUIs and divorce. He served as a member of the House Judiciary Committee from 1999 to 2007, when he was sworn in as a state senator.

 

He sat on the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee from 2007 to 2010 before moving to the judicial proceedings committee in 2011. In the 2014 session, Zirkin sponsored bills decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and requiring social service providers to disclose information about child abuse to health care practitioners, both of which were passed. He also sponsored failed legislation that attempted to expand access to kosher wine in the state by establishing kosher wine selling permits.

 
Montgomery County’s Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. (D-District 18) was named vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. In the 2014 legislative session, Madaleno was a vocal supporter of a bill backed by the Baltimore Jewish Council that called for financial penalties for state universities that use schools funds to participate or support, whether directly or indirectly, in a boycott of Israeli institutions.

 
Baltimore City Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-District 40) was also named Senate majority leader.

Ner Tamid Offers Jewish Culture with a Twist

Several years ago, Ner Tamid and Rabbi Yisrael Motzen began to offer monthly programming to new families that resulted in a healthy growth of the synagogue’s community, though not everyone was satisfied.

“The rabbis started to hear, ‘What about us? We’re not so interested in magic shows and reptiles anymore,’” from the parents of the young adults, said Bill Saks, a more-than-40-year member of Ner Tamid and co-president of the Brotherhood and event planning committee.

The result is Jewish Culture with a Twist, a series that offers innovative programs geared to a baby boomer audience or “anyone with kids you don’t have to stay home for” Saks said.

The planning committee includes members from the Ner Tamid Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Book Club and Beautification committees that meet and design the approximately once-a-month programs, which, according to Saks, all include a social and educational or cultural component and “food, of course — we’re Jewish.”

Two events have been well attended so far, he reported. The first was a Persian night with culinary delicacies, Persian relics, artwork and Rabbi Emanuel Goldfeiz as speaker, and last week, they hosted a Czech Jewry night with a film screening, a presentation from the cultural attaché of the Czech Republic and special pastries.

The programs are always Jewish in nature and meant to be engaging to their membership, but all events are open to the public, said Saks.

Next month is the screening of “Under the Same Sun” on Jan. 11, a fictional account that looks at what might happen if peace were to break out between Israelis and Palestinians. The event includes a discussion led by the organization Search for Common Ground.

For more information, visit nertamid.net/category/events or call 410-358-6500.

 

United Stand

At least four protests took place in Baltimore on Tuesday, Nov. 25, the day following the grand jury announcement, including those at Morgan State University, the University of Baltimore School of Law, McKeldin Square and Baltimore City Hall.

At least four protests took place in Baltimore on Tuesday, Nov. 25, the day following the grand jury announcement, including those at Morgan State University, the University of Baltimore School of Law, McKeldin Square and Baltimore City Hall.

Throughout the past four months, between officiating bar mitzvahs and weddings and leading her congregation, Rabbi Susan Talve, of St. Louis’ Central Reform Congregation, has been traveling north to Ferguson, Mo., to join the protests.

“There was moral outrage,” Talve said of the nights immediately following last week’s announcement that charges would not be brought against police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in August. “I’m not calling it violence.”

Talve has been one of a group of St. Louis-area clergy who have made it their mission to be present at all of the protests. Dressed in matching orange vests, they march alongside community members day and night in an effort to show Ferguson’s citizens that they are not alone. They have even undergone training in de-escalation techniques.

“That’s our place. Our place out there is to lift up the voice of the young people, to keep them safe and to de-escalate when we need to. And we’ve been able to do that,” she said.

On Nov. 25, a day after the grand jury’s decision, a Washington University student protesting in Ferguson asked Talve why she was there.

“We’re here to make sure that everybody who messes with you knows that they are messing with us,” she told the young man. “We want the world to know, and we want St. Louis law enforcement to know, that when they profile you, that they have to be accountable to us.”

Talve is especially proud of the response of some in the Jewish community. In October, Talve said, the community hosted an event aimed at focusing on the moral message brought by the events in Ferguson. More than 20 rabbis attended the weekend rally from all over the country.

“We pray for peace. We pray that the voices of the youth will not be silenced by police violence and media ignorance. We pray for the day when people of color do not have to fear the police,” read a statement from T’ruah, a rabbinic organization that focuses on human rights and helped organize the rally. “We must use our resources to amplify those voices and to share their words with our own communities.”

“In the Jewish community, this is an issue for us because we know what it is to be profiled, even in America,” said Talve. “We know what it is to be profiled throughout the world and the reason we were involved in the civil rights movement 50 years ago is the same reason we need to be involved today.”

For its part, the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council has been working to collect books to send to the library in Ferguson for area children, many of whom have been out of school since Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Nov. 17. The council also worked in conjunction with another local synagogue and church to staff and supply a safe place for people to get food, charge their phones and pray, and it has started a #fergusonifnotuswho hashtag on Twitter to collect messages of support, said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, JCRC executive director.

In Baltimore, there were at least four protests on Tuesday, Nov. 25,

the day following the grand jury announcement. That morning, Morgan State University students marched around campus. At the University of Baltimore School of Law, students lay down in chalk outlines and chanted “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” which has become a mantra at Ferguson protests.

Two protests were held that evening downtown, the first of which took place at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor and was organized by Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the People’s Power Assembly.

“We’ve got to send a message that what happened in Ferguson, Mo., was completely unacceptable, and it was a true miscarriage of justice,” said Elder C.D. Witherspoon of City Revival Ministries. “We hope to send the message that Jim Crow Jr. is indeed very much alive and well and that we have to double our efforts, lock arms and come together like never before to ensure that we fight the good fight of the faith.”

Others hoped the protests would bring to light problems in the criminal justice system.

“People of color are overwhelmingly affected by police brutality and law enforcement policies that treat them like the enemy, and I think that’s an unfair and terrible thing to have to live with,” said Baltimore resident Michael Hanes. “The mobilization around [Michael Brown’s] murder is bringing a lot of attention to it, and so I hope more people will look at the broader problem; this isn’t unique. It’s not about a bad cop; it’s about a police system that does this regularly, that regularly abuses people.”

“These are our people that are out on the streets and are not feeling safe,” said Talve, noting that the Jewish community includes many black and other minority members. “But even if it wasn’t our people, we need to be there for all of the people. This is an American value, a Jewish value, and I’m very proud of my city, I’m very proud of St. Louis, that the people here are giving voice to something people have called for a long time, and we’re taking the civil rights movement to a new level.”

 

hnorris@jewishtimes.com
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Solidarity and Support

A group of about 170 lay leaders and supporters from Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) recently returned from a seven-day trip in Israel
to show their support and appreciation, in person, to the women and men of the IDF.

FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide financial support for the education and well-being of IDF soldiers and the families of fallen soldiers. It’s created about a dozen programs to support many aspects of a soldier’s military experience, including before, during and after his or her time of service.

“[Mission participants] directly see the impact of their support,” said Dr. Philip Berry, regional executive director for the Midatlantic FIDF chapter. “It’s important for the [soldiers] to understand they’re not just protecting Jews in Israel but Jews worldwide and also non-Jews — a strong growth point within the organization — and for them to know that there are people thousands of miles away who care so deeply for their well-being.”

The group visited several bases and met with dignitaries such as Israel’s newly elected President Reuven Rivlin and Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, IDF chief of the general staff.

This was the sixth mission for Bobby Cohen, chairman of the Washington, D.C., FIDF chapter.

“This mission was really about the soldiers who fought in Gaza, their stories and their bravery,” said Cohen, 70, of Potomac. “At every dinner there were soldiers on crutches and with broken arms, but every single one wanted to get back to their units. That’s how unbelievably brave the kids are and how unbelievably positive the country was in supporting them in the war.”

The group visited the newest IDF base being built in the Negev desert, an artillery base, an intelligence base, a navy base and an air force base complete with close-up views of F-16 aircraft.

Berry, who became involved with FIDF about two-and-a-half years ago when his son joined the Israeli military, said what really stood out during the visit was “the number of kids from around the world who volunteer and serve in the IDF” and that they “are so young but have such responsibilities compared with kids in the U.S., like commanding Iron Dome [batteries] and patrol boats.”

Cohen said a highlight for him is the opportunity to support the IMPACT program, which provides 1,000 academic scholarships per year to soldiers in need. At a final banquet gala, the group met some of the scholarship recipients.

“We met two of our soldiers,” said Cohen, who donates to the program with his wife, Lorraine. “[One of them] grabbed me around the neck and started crying. He’s studying to be an accountant. He wouldn’t let me go; he wouldn’t stop crying.”

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Yesha Council Pushes for Alternative Solutions

Benny Kasriel, mayor of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, speaks to a group of European politicians. (Provided)

Benny Kasriel, mayor of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, speaks to a group of European politicians. (Provided)

Israelis living in the West Bank have a message to politicians and world Jewry: The two-state solution is no solution.

Members of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization that represents the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and, up until the 2005 Israeli disengagement, Gaza, have ramped up outreach in an effort to open up dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I would say we’re less trying to advocate a particular solution to the conflict other than to suggest the two-state solution, as its been understood for last 20 years, is not workable and has been proven unsuccessful and has only made peace more elusive and further away,” said Elie Pieprz, director of external affairs for the council.

While statements such as Pieprz’s are rarely heard from American politicians and not generally accepted in the organized Jewish community, the Yesha Council is hoping to engage those who don’t share similar views with op-ed pieces, public forums, stories from the settlements and mission trips to the settlements.

“We neglected the outside world, including the Jewish community in America and Europe,” Dani Dayan, the council’s chief foreign envoy, said of the settlement movement’s previous outreach strategy. “We are talking to engage both in the political arena, the media arena and the Jewish arena.”

Both Pieprz and Dayan attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in National Harbor, Md., last month, where Vice President Joe Biden was among the speakers advocating for the two-state solution.

“We do not have an illusion that we will come and convince everyone, but we are in the business of shifting perceptions and dispelling stereotypes of the so-called settlements,” said Dayan. “Slowly and surely and we hope steadily to change the course of the political discourse also in the Jewish community.”

Around the same time of the GA, Raphaella Segal, assistant mayor of Kedumim in Samaria, was speaking to Jewish communities in Pittsburgh and New York. The 61-year-old, who is one of the founders of Kedumim, speaks about what the communities of the West Bank are like — such as the industrial factories where Jews and Palestinians work side-by-side — and explains how important the communities are to the strength and future of Israel.

“I think the majority of the politicians, they are against us. It’s very unpleasant,” she said. “In Israel there’s a kind of awareness and awakening to understanding this [two-state solution] is not going to work. On the other hand, the pressure is greater after the Gaza war.”

In addition to networking with diplomats and international media, the Yesha Council takes elected officials on tours of the region. U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, whose congressional district includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, went on one such trip this past May. He told the Tazpit News Agency that the trip was eye-opening.

“We met with Israeli residents who just want to live their lives, to coexist with their neighbors,” Harris told Tazpit. “They want to leave politics out of it. It was impressive to see how these communities actually function and how well they get along with their surroundings.”

Among the places Harris’ group saw on its trip was Ariel University, an Israeli university located in the West Bank that has Jewish and Arab students and faculty members.

“So many of their expectations are just shattered,” Pieprz said of the trip.

He believes that if alternatives to the two-state solution were considered and that if political leaders accepted the conflict might not be solved in the immediate future, there could be discussion about improving living conditions of Palestinians and rebuilding trust between the Israelis and their neighbors.

Although the Yesha Council isn’t advocating for a particular solution, Pieprz points to security checkpoints when discussing what could improve. He mentions looking at the security barrier around Tel Aviv and discussing what checkpoints could be taken down.

“Even some other things like making sure that when we have checkpoints, it’s done in a way that’s respectful to the Palestinians,” he added. “Avoid having young people in their 20s in a position of authority to those in their 50s and 60s. There’s things like that Israel could be doing that could make things a little better.”

He also mentioned renovating refugee camps, since there is an assumption that Palestinians in those camps would be losing their political refugee claims if they returned home, and therefore probably won’t, he said.

“Let’s go see what we can do in the interim without anyone giving up any political bargaining chips,” he said. “I think that Israel can do some very positive tangible things on the ground in the short-term, which might lead to an environment where we see a positive resolution to the conflict.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Farrakhan at MSU

120514_FarrakhanNation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan spoke at Morgan State University late last month, unsettling some in Baltimore’s Jewish community.

Farrakhan, who gained notoriety in the 1950s as Louis X in the NOI movement, preaches self-sustainability and black empowerment, but his remarks on homosexuals, whites and Jews have made him the subject of criticism.

“Farrakhan is an anti-Semite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power,” reads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s online entry on Farrakhan.

In his Nov. 22 speech here, Farra-khan praised the Palestinians’ efforts to fight what he deemed an oppressive and well-equipped enemy, but he made no direct reference to either Jews or Israel. Nevertheless, for some, the invitation from Morgan State alone hints to some problems between the school and the Jewish community.

“Ultimately, Mr. Farrakhan’s participation at the Black United Summit International represents a failure of judgment on the part of Morgan’s Student Government Association that is no less objectionable for it being a legitimate exercise of the SGA’s right of free expression,” wrote Jay Bernstein, host of Shalom USA Radio, in a Nov. 19 Baltimore Sun op-ed.

“While leaders of the university cannot (and should not) bar Minister Farrakhan from speaking, they also cannot permit their silence to be taken as tacit endorsement of his presence on campus.”

“I’m actually saddened and disappointed that they would decide to invite someone who has such a bad history of racial relations with not just the Jewish community,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Abramson said he expressed his concerns to Morgan State officials in the spring, when he first heard about a plan to invite Farrakhan to speak, but he understands the right of the school to host the NOI leader and Farrakhan’s right to speak at MSU. Abramson said he asked school officials what the point of bringing Farrakhan was.

El Hajj Cooper, executive director of Morgan State’s Student Government Association, which co-sponsored the event, said the decision to bring Farrakhan was voted on by a committee of sponsors and finalized in August. When asked about any pushback from the Jewish community, Cooper noted that Farrakhan’s message at Morgan State made no reference to Jews and said he hadn’t heard about the Jewish community’s opposition to Farrakhan.

Speaking just two days ahead of the announcement that a grand jury would not indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, Farrakhan focused much of his talk on a response to the events in the St. Louis area.

“The young, they’re God’s people and they’re not going down peaceful,” he told a crowd that some news outlets estimated numbered about 2,000 people. “You may not want to fight, but you better get ready. Teach your baby how to throw the bottle if they can.”

Abramson urged accountability at the school.

“People have to be held accountable for what they do or don’t do,” he said. “If it comes time that, you know, somebody decides that they don’t want to appropriate dollars, that’s for them to do and not for me to do.”

Abramson said he has plans to follow up with the school about his concerns as well as speak with Del. Jill Carter (D-District 41), who attended the talk.