Gansler Looks Ahead

Outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler received at least 60 job offers from various law firms after he lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. (Provided)

Outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler received at least 60 job offers from various law firms after he lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. (Provided)

On June 25, calls started pouring in to Doug Gansler’s office with job offers. Maryland’s attorney general didn’t need to use a head hunter to get about 60 propositions, which came from firms of all sizes, from small practices to multinational firms with thousands of lawyers.

After losing the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by more than 100,000 votes on June 24, going back into private practice is an obvious move for the outgoing attorney general.

“It’s funny, people say, ‘What are you gonna do next? You’re gonna go be a lawyer?’” Gansler said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, I’ve been a lawyer since I took the bar in 1989.’”

On Tuesday, Gansler announced he’ll be joining BuckleySandler LLP when his term is up on Jan. 12, 2015 and Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh takes over. Gansler will be a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, where he will work in its government enforcement and litigation practices and also help clients comply with and manage regulations on issues such as consumer protection, cybersecurity and privacy.

“I’ll do what lawyers do,” he remarked.

At a recent law symposium, Gansler said life in his office is just business as usual as he enters the final months in his eight-year tenure as Maryland’s chief lawyer.

“I’ve been a prosecutor for 22 years, and in two months, I won’t have that,” Gansler told a crowd of law students at the symposium, hosted by the University of Baltimore School of Law last week.

The attorney general was there to debate the use of DNA in criminal law. Facing two opponents of the widespread use of DNA databases, Gansler looked right at home arguing on the side of the government.

In the past couple of weeks, Gansler said proudly, his office released a plan to reduce sexual violence on public and private college campuses in the state of Maryland and has taken the position to rescind the death sentences of Maryland’s four remaining death row inmates and keep them in prison for life, something that, though he adamantly defends his proposal, drew criticism from victims’ families.

Confronted with a complicated problem, and no protocol tied to the 2013 law abolishing the death penalty in Maryland, Gansler said he had to make a judgment call and “do the right thing.” The governor’s office has the power to convert the death sentences to life without parole, but outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley has taken no such action to date.

Gansler is also working on transitioning his office to Frosh. With 56 divisions of the office, there is a lot for Frosh to learn, but Gansler said he’s confident in his successor and that Frosh’s character, ethics and judgment will make him a great attorney general.

“He’ll be literally enforcing many of the laws that he’s helped draft,” said Gansler. “I don’t get the sense at all that he’s coming in with some sort of political agenda or political motivation.

“He’s a mentschy guy,” added Gansler. “He’ll do well.”

Gansler’s two-term tenure included the establishment of the Office of the Attorney General’s first Gang Unit, appointments of the first director of Civil Rights and the first Special Assistant for the Environment, major mortgage settlements, digital privacy initiatives and the outgoing attorney general’s landmark opinion on same-sex marriage, which made him the first statewide elected official to publicly support marriage equality.

Prior to becoming Maryland’s attorney general, he served as Montgomery County’s State’s Attorney, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and as a civil litigation attorney in private practice.

In an interview, Gansler — whom some political observers have already named as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018 — highlighted his work on mortgage foreclosure settlements that resulted in more than $1.7 billion in consumer relief and assistance, restricting the sale of mixed caffeinated alcohol beverages such as Four Loko, and his role as president of the National Association of Attorneys General from 2012 to 2013.

“I think we really elevated the national discussion around the issue of privacy in the digital age,” he said of his tenure at the organization.

As Gansler enters the private sector rather than the governor’s mansion, he said he’s not spending any time worrying about what he could have done differently in the primary, which he said was stacked against him from the start.

“I don’t think that Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy could have won the primary I was in,” Gansler said in a serious tone, “given the landscape and given the establishment and the entire Democratic machine just wanting to coordinate the lieutenant governor as the next governor.”

And he isn’t surprised, he said, that Republican Larry Hogan ultimately won the general election. He said he tried telling people that Brown on the ballot would mean losing the governor’s race as well as other offices all over the state. Like Hogan, Gansler drew attention to the “tax burden and the economic malaise the state is in.

“You can’t be the 49th state in economic growth, in personal income growth, having jobs fleeing the state on a daily basis with an increasingly depleted tax base, yet continue to raise taxes 40 straight times, if not more, and think that’s the panacea for the economic problems of the state,” he said. “And people obviously got that, and so I wasn’t surprised at all that the Republicans won.”

He also thinks Brown’s negative campaigning — which he said attempted to define Hogan and failed to truly define what Brown stood for — also played a role in the outcome.

Although his attention is shifting to his new job, it’s difficult for Gansler to imagine a future without public service.

“I love politics,” he said. “I really believe that government can and should help people. I’ve been involved in politics since I was 13 years old, and it’d be difficult to imagine not staying engaged or involved.”

John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, said that Maryland voters have probably not heard the last of Gansler. It’s more difficult to remain in the public spotlight while out of office, he pointed out, but he still has name recognition, and his positions did resonate with segments of the electorate.

“I don’t think he’s done. I anticipate there’s more things he’d like to get done in elected office,” said Bullock. “I’ll be as interested as anyone else to see what happens.”,

Har Nof: ‘Scenic’ Home to Families, Learners

Standing above the western approach to Jerusalem, the neighborhood of Har Nof lies far from the Israel capital’s center.

In English, Har Nof means “scenic mountain,” a nod to the hills on which the neighborhood sits. Home to a large number of yeshivas and seminaries, it is known for its haredi Orthodox population and was once the address of Shas Party leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

“The immediate knee-jerk reaction of Israelis when they hear Har Nof is that it’s the Shas crowd,” said Dan Arbell, an American University professor who teaches for the school’s Center for Israeli Studies.

But although the Shas Party represents the Orthodox Sephardic population of Israel, Har Nof is also home to a large contingent of Orthodox Ashkenazi families.

The neighborhood itself is populated virtually entirely by Jews, said Arbell, and the nearest Arab centers are about a 20-minute drive away. The area also has a large population of immigrants from English-speaking countries, according the GoJerusalem, an Israeli travel agency.

Compared with other majority Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Har Nof is less densely populated. Where other neighborhoods have shopping centers and restaurants, Har Nof comprises family residences and learning intuitions. It is also a newly developed area, having only been established about 30 years ago, said Arbell.

The synagogue where Tuesday’s attack took place, Kehilat Bnei Torah, Arbell said, is an Ashkenazi synagogue.

Right-Wing Secessionist Wins Council Seat

He was denounced by Governor-elect Larry Hogan; he was asked by several members of the GOP to break ties with a secessionist organization that has been labeled as a neo-Confederate hate group; he sang “Dixie” at a Southern secessionist conference; and he believes the word of God and the Bible should guide civil law.

And with his election to the Anne Arundel County Council, Michael Anthony Peroutka’s rise to elective government has sparked trepidation and alarm from religious leaders in the county’s Fifth District. Although his power to incorporate his beliefs into civil law is limited at the County Council level, some worry about him demoralizing or derailing the council and preaching intolerant views; others believe his election shows a lack of engagement in local politics.

“Certainly as the rabbi of a Reform congregation and therefore one who doesn’t take the Bible word-for-word, to have a person who focuses his attention on the Bible and God’s word as ultimate authority, that is not what I consider to be something which a person in my congregation can accept, regardless of their political affiliation,” said Rabbi Ari Goldstein of Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold. “Not to mention that we certainly have strong, strong aims toward social action and strong aims toward equality; and in the way I have experienced [Peroutka] to this point, I am concerned he does not share those same values.”

Peroutka was elected with 53 percent of the vote in the Nov. 4 election, defeating Democrat Patrick Armstrong for the seat, which represents Severna Park and Arnold.

Susan O’Brien, who managed Armstrong’s losing campaign, still considered the election somewhat of a victory.

“It should have been a slam dunk for the Republicans,” she said, noting that a Democrat hasn’t been elected to the council seat in the historically Republican district in decades. She added that “barely a penny” should have been spent to win this election during the Republican wave that was seen nationwide. According to an Oct. 19 campaign finance report, Peroutka had spent $190,000 of his own money on his campaign.

O’Brien said District 5 is “one of the highest educated, wealthiest, whitest districts in the state of Maryland” and a lot of people move there for the schools — four of the state’s top 10 elementary schools are in the district.

“We did our best to make sure people knew the risk and what was at stake with this election,” she said. “When you have such a connection to the public school system that you move … when we try to explain to people that this is a gentleman who’s called public schools a ‘cesspool’ and wants to bring creationism into schools … then they still vote blindly down the ballot for all ‘R.’”

The Peroutka campaign did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Peroutka, a 62-year-old attorney, ran for president in 2004 as a candidate for the Constitution Party, and has called Maryland’s General Assembly “ungodly” because of its legalizing same-sex marriage. According to reports, in October 2013, he referred to the Republican Party as “worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism” and told Tea Party activists to withdraw from it, although he joined the GOP this year.

Peroutka is involved with the Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based League of the South, an organization that seeks “to protect the Anglo-Celtic core population and culture of the historic South” by establishing “a free and independent Southern republic,” according to its website. The Southern Poverty Law Center, whose website notes a pro-slavery quote from a League of the South board member, considers it a neo-Confederate hate group.

The newly elected councilman also runs the Pasadena-based Institute on the Constitution. According to its website, Peroutka believes: “There is a God, the God of the Bible. Our rights come from Him. The purpose of civil government is to secure our God-given rights.” On the day of the election, he posted a column titled “No Jesus, No Rights!”

His candidacy inspired the Stop PAC, which spent $25,000 on brochures, according to a campaign finance report.

A robo-call presumably from the Peroutka campaign told residents to thank Armstrong “for his bravery in coming out of the closet” and supporting the Fairness to All Marylanders Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Armstrong, 31, is openly gay.

“Transgenders can now openly and freely go into any bathroom of their choice based on their confused gender identity,” the call said. The number it told residents to call was Armstrong’s mother’s phone number.

Armstrong is an active member of the Anne Arundel Young Democrats and County Democratic Central Committee. He decided to run after David Whitney, a pastor who works with and shares the views of Peroutka, announced his candidacy for the council seat as a Democrat. Armstrong left his job at Party City, where he traveled to struggling stores to help turn them around, to run in the race. O’Brien expects him to return to that job.

The battle between Armstrong and Peroutka caught the attention to the Baltimore Jewish Council.

“The Baltimore Jewish Council is strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, and comments made by newly elected Councilman Peroutka are alarming,” deputy executive director Cailey Locklair Tolle said via email. “We sincerely hope the Anne Arundel County Council will do its best to quash legislation that would threaten this important balance.”

The election race also had faith leaders who don’t normally endorse or denounce political candidates breaking character. Goldstein said this election may have been the first time he spoke to his congregation about politics in and out of the sanctuary other than conversations about President Barack Obama and his Middle East policy. (Peroutka has said the United States should not be intervening in Israeli affairs.)

At least one Christian leader in the district also got political.

“I did let [congregants] know that one of the candidates in District 5 is a member of the League of the South and held some otherwise extreme views,” said the Rev. Stephen Tillett, pastor at the predominantly African-American Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church. “He is essentially expecting our civil government to function as an arm of the church.”

While Tillett, who is president of the Annapolis Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, chocks up the election to uninformed voters voting on the party line, he can’t help but remember Anne Arundel County’s checkered past, which includes at least two Ku Klux Klan marches in Annapolis in the 1920s and ’30s.

“The comported racial history, as Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice termed it, ‘America’s birth defect’ with respect to racism in the U.S., there was unfortunately a strong strain of it in Anne Arundel County,” he said.

He also mentioned the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police’s donation to the defense fund for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. The $1,070 donation was the largest at the time. With that in mind, Tillett said this piece of recent history, along with Peroutka’s election, indicates “an environment that has racist undertones at the very least.”

“We’re working to overcome that, and there are certainly people in the community of all views who understand that there’s no place for that, but it’s a process and we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

Goldstein similarly noted some “under-the-curtain” anti-Semitic views in Anne Arundel County, but he thinks Peroutka’s victory can be attributed to uninformed voters and party-line voting.

This troubles O’Brien, who hopes the election is a wake-up call to voters.

“If you can’t get the highest-educated, wealthiest community to wake up, what will we do?” she said. “Maybe it’ll make people realize that maybe you need to do a Google search for five minutes before you vote for someone.”

One member of Beth Shalom who considers himself Republican and conservative, said Peroutka’s power to employ his views as a councilman will be very limited.

“Some of the things he believes in are really irrelevant on the local level,” said Dave Fox, who added that he did not vote for Peroutka.

“At this point he just needs to care for the people of his district,” said Tillett.

New Life for Old Jewish Landmark

For local historian Deb Weiner, the 19th-century Hebrew Orphan Asylum building "shows how the (Jewish) community was becoming more affluent."

For local historian Deb Weiner, the 19th-century Hebrew Orphan Asylum building “shows how the (Jewish) community was becoming more affluent.”

Baltimore historic preservationists and those hoping to improve the lives of some of the city’s poorest residents were pleased by the recent news that the Hebrew Orphan Asylum building in West Baltimore would soon be refurbished and put to good use.

The building, believed to be the oldest existing Jewish orphanage in the country, was built in 1815 as a country home, later used as headquarters for the Baltimore City and County almshouse and became home to the children of poor Jewish immigrants after it was purchased and donated by William Rayner, an affluent German Jewish businessman in 1873.

“I think it’s an incredibly important building,” said local historian Deb Weiner of the Romanesque-style building designed by architects Edward Lupus and Henry A. Roby. “After B’nai Israel and the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it’s probably the most important building to the Baltimore Jewish community.

“It represents the era, in the 19th century, when Jews started to build charities,” Weiner continued. “It shows how the community was becoming more affluent and could afford it.”

With Rayner leading the charge, the orphanage was established under the auspices of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, one of the city’s earliest charitable organizations. In 1874, it burned down; it was replaced two years later with funds quickly raised by the Jewish community. Though it was started for German Jewish orphans, it also served Eastern European Jews who arrived in later years, said Weiner.

As was typical for the time, most of the children housed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum weren’t truly orphans, she explained. “Most were kids whose parents were too poor to care for them. Sometimes a family would have eight kids and they would put the two youngest in the orphanage temporarily.

“Many times, these were the children of single-parent homes,” she added. “Very few stayed for their whole childhoods.”

Although the orphanage was strict and regimented, records from the days when it was in operation suggest that it was a relatively pleasant place to grow up.

In the early 1900s, said Weiner, Eastern European immigrants started their own orphanage on the East Side, where it was more accessible to Jewish neighborhoods in East Baltimore.

The two orphanages merged in 1921, shortly after the Jewish Children’s Bureau was established as an umbrella organization for existing child welfare agencies. The community again raised funds to build a brand new orphanage on Belvedere Avenue.

The new orphanage, known as Levindale, was built amid protestations from social workers who warned that child-care trends were shifting away from orphanages toward the foster care model. Levindale Orphanage closed in 1923, and its mission changed to what it has been ever since — a home for the elderly.

Meanwhile, the original Hebrew Orphan Asylum building was sold to the West Baltimore General Hospital. It was used for that purpose until 1945, when it was acquired by the Lutheran Hospital of Maryland. The Lutheran Hospital moved in 1989, and the building sat vacant and in disrepair until it was purchased by Coppin State University, a member of the University System of Maryland, in 2003. Though the university took steps to stabilize the building’s structure, it lacked the money to rehabilitate it. The building seemed doomed for destruction.

“We got involved when there was a proposal to demolish the building,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and a board member of the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation. “Then Coppin State got a new president who thought the building was an asset.”

Hopkins and his colleagues worked with Coppin State to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

“It was a slam-dunk,” said Hopkins, “since the building was so significant both architecturally and historically.”

With support from Coppin State, in 2012, the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation, Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and architectural firm Kann Partners were granted a $2.5 million tax credit from the Maryland Sustainable Communities Tax Credit program. A state study later concluded that the neighborhood around the building was one of the five least healthy in the state, leading Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to announce that the neighborhood would encompass one of five new Health Enterprise zones.

The Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation will now restore the building and create a full-service medical facility called the Center for Health Care and Healthy Living.

Hopkins couldn’t be happier that the project is rapidly moving forward.

“The drawings are done, and we were just cleared to put the project on the agenda of the Board of Public Works,” he said. “Between the superlative history of the building and the revitalization [it represents] for the neighborhood, there has been nothing but support for this project at every level.”

Proposed Development on JCC Property Sparks Concern

The Worthingron Park Homeowners Association met with officials from The Associated about a proposed 56-house development on the campus of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC.

The Worthingron Park Homeowners Association met with officials from The Associated about a proposed 56-house development on the campus of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC.

A proposed 56-home development to be built on vacant land in the confines of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus has generated concerns among neighbors and community organizations that would rather the see land preserved than developed.

While Worthington Park residents, some of whom will be 300 feet from the development, are concerned about home values and traffic, other community advocates are concerned about the density of the neighborhood.

“The way they’re going about putting it through is having a very negative impact on [the] neighborhood,” said Cheryl Aaron, zoning committee chair of the Greater Greenspring Association. “Nobody would be upset if for some reason it didn’t go through.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore will propose a development plan for 56 detached homes that will each sit on a quarter of an acre. The homes will have two-car garages, basements, large first floors as well as second floors and could have up to 3,800 square feet of internal space, according to Larry Rosenberg, who has been presenting plans at public meetings in a volunteer capacity as a member and past chairman of The Associated’s real estate committee. It’ll be a minimum of 18 months before Baltimore County approves a plan, Rosenberg said.

He, along with The Associated’s COO and CFO, Mark Smolarz, discussed the plans at a recent Worthington Park Homeowners Association meeting.

Among the concerns of Worthington Park residents were home values, traffic and the possibility of a previously deferred water tower resurfacing.

“I thought there was a very positive dialogue between us and The Associated,” said Jared Mandell, secretary of the homeowners association. “I think any homeowner is concerned about keeping up the value of their home just as a general premise.”

The nearest the development would be to Worthington Park is about 300 feet, Rosenberg said. There is already a buffer area with trees, but the plans call for planting more evergreen trees to provide additional barrier space. There will also be a bike path from the new community to the JCC, and it might extend into Worthington Park.

As for the water tower, residents were referring to an 850-foot structure that was proposed for the corner of Bond Avenue and Timber Grove Road in Reisterstown. After protest from residents, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz indefinitely deferred construction of the tower and reallocated the $6 million budgeted for it to the other projects. There is no indication that The Associated’s proposed development would make the water tower an issue again.

Home values could potentially increase with the new homes being priced around $500,000, Rosenberg told residents. “If anything, these new houses will help raise the value of your houses.”

As for the traffic, Rosenberg said part of the plan may include a roundabout at Garrison Forest Road and Associated Way, but alternatives are being considered as well.

The Associated will seek a builder to buy the property through an open-bid process once the development plan is approved by the county.

The portion of the 150-acre property that the new development will be built on was rezoned in 1992 to allow a variety of buildings, including 90,000 square feet of office space, which The Associated decided not to pursue.

Smolarz referenced statistics that indicated the number of households in Owings Mills has remained the same over the years, but the number of people in those households has declined, as children have grown up and moved away. Rosenberg said downsizing, moving to a place with less steps and less maintenance may be attractive to those who want to stay in the same neighborhood.

While some organizations have retained legal counsel, Worthington Park decided not to join them for the time being. The association asked Rosenberg and Smolarz to consider making the new community restricted to those 55 and older.

Rosenberg said planners were considering targeting the development to that age bracket but will discuss with The Associated’s board about officially restricting the development.

“We went away with absolutely that message,” Rosenberg said. “We are listening to the community. It certainly is possible.”

Rosenberg emphasized that The Associated has more than $100 million invested in the land between the JCC and Weinberg Village.

“We certainly want to do everything to enhance the overall community because for one thing, we own a lot of property there and will continue to,” he said. “We want to make sure that what’s built there continues to enhance the assets that we have there. We have a large stake in it.”

Aaron said the age-targeted or age-restricted aspect of the community doesn’t matter.

“It’s still 56 big houses on 25 acres on less than a quarter-acre lot each,” she said. “There seems to be a mantra going that there is a need for that type of housing for that age group, but at 55 I don’t know that I’d want to be taking on a home of that size either physically or financially.”

The Greater Greenspring Association retained counsel in partnership with the Valleys Planning Council. VPC executive director Teresa Moore said they are concerned about traffic as well as the intensity of the development.

She sites an agreement made by The Associated in the 1990s when the property was up-zoned that allowed further expansion of the JCC and made way for Weinberg Village.

“A lot of people think that’s enough,” she said. “This just feels like stretching the bounds of that agreement.”

She said the council will likely oppose the development proposal when it is submitted to the county.

Rosenberg said The Associated is operating within the confines of zoning and planning requirements.

“We’ve done everything to make sure we do this by the letter of the law,” he explained. “To that extent, I think we’re trying to be a good neighbor.”

Story and photo by Marc Shapiro


‘Meeting People Where They Are’

Millennials greet each other at the 2014 GA, where there was much discussion about how to keep young Jews engaged in the community. Photo by David Stuck

Millennials greet each other at the 2014 GA, where there was much discussion about how to keep young Jews engaged in the community.
Photo by David Stuck

Ever since last year’s Pew Report on American Jewish life offered a sobering assessment on young Jews’ affinity for Jewish communal institutions and causes, the question of how best to attract and retain the young has taken on a new sense of urgency among communal leaders.

That focus toward youth engagement and retention was on full display during several panel discussions and conversations earlier this week at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in National Harbor.

Breakout sessions included one titled “Why Are They There and Not Here? Keeping Young People Engaged” and a sub-plenary on Monday night was dedicated to “Generation #Hashtag: Jewish Life on Campus.” A presentation Tuesday was called “Beyond Happy Hour: Solutions to the Young Adult Challenge.”

Throughout the conference, those wearing Taglit-Birthright Israel buttons abounded, Masa Israel alumni sported ribbons and representatives of college Hillels, members of J Street U and Jewish sorority sisters and fraternity brothers roamed the halls.

In a packed room during a Monday afternoon breakout, Andrew Borans, executive director of the historically Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, Rabbi Zvi Drizin, founder and director of the Intown Chabad in Dallas, and Jonathan Kessler, leadership
development director for AIPAC, presented “Doing Jewish in College and Beyond: How the Pros Engage Young Jews.” That discussion was moderated by Michelle Hirsch of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Borans began the session by asking participants to stand up and move 12 inches to the right, then 12 inches again. That is how college students vote, with their feet, he said.

“You’re competing against cell phones and something more fun,” said Borans. “[The students] are not being rude, that’s their generation.”

AEPi’s success comes from teaching leadership and from requiring students to pay for programming and services, because when students have skin in the game, they are more invested in the outcome and the event. The idea of paying to participate, counterintuitive in a time when so much programming is free, was echoed by the other panelists.

Drizin spoke to the lack of communities available to young adults when they leave university, and that even the most active Jewish students can slip through the cracks. “Guys like me, and our wives, and women are going around and creating little communities,” he said, referencing the work of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries serving young adults in locales across the country.

Drizin further emphasized that what millennials “crave above everything is authenticity” and to be taken seriously and not simply be viewed as a future donor.

Kessler rejected the notion that young Jews do not care.

“Apathy does not exist. Jewish young people are interested in everything,” he said. To up participation, the personal connection is key. “The four most important words you can say is, ‘I need your help.’”

Brett Cohen, IMPACT campaign chair for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore who attended several of the millennial-focused panels, said, “I think that when we talk about young adult engagement and retention, it needs to be about meeting people where they are.”

Added Cohen: “We need to educate young adults about how the Federation already touches their lives. Second, we need to show how their dollars and their time — which are so valuable — have an impact.”

What’s Next?

111414_ga-cover_lgAmid surveys and studies suggesting North American Jewry may be a culture in decline, more than 3,000 Jewish leaders from all over the globe gathered near Washington, D.C., this week for the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, hoping to stem the tide of anti-Semitism, disengagement and political disagreement.

While the three-day event, which ran Nov. 9 to 11 and featured presentations from Vice President Joe Biden and Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan, offered opportunities for Jewish solidarity and new global connections, addressing issues threatening the Jewish community was at the forefront. Speakers touched on European anti-Semitism, the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and the future of Jewry in North America, among other topics.

Attendees navigated through long security lines and explosives-sniffing dogs to attend the opening plenary session on Sunday, which featured personal stories, high-quality video, set changes and a star-studded lineup.

Several people lined up on the stage and shared their emotional experiences of when Jewish federations became a part of their lives, from a young woman who protested as a teen in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s with her father as they stood up for Soviet Jews to a couple that met at a federation National Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat who are now married with two children and “have become a federation family.”

There was a young woman who explained that, although she didn’t receive a Jewish upbringing from her Methodist mother and Jewish father, attending a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip “changed my life. Visiting Israel connected me to something I didn’t even realize I was missing,” she said.

Then, an Israeli woman living one mile from Gaza said her “family is a federation family, but not in a traditional sense.” Her home was under rocket fire, “but the federation was there,” she said. “You came, you helped us … and now you’re helping us rebuild and recover.”

National Public Radio political correspondent Nina Totenberg interviewed Breyer and Kagan, who spoke humorously and candidly of their work on the nation’s high court. “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd and NBC foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell discussed fallout from the recent elections and foreign policy.

GA 2014 co-chairs Gail Norry and Howard Friedman set the tone for the GA crowd, with the theme “The World Is Our Backyard.”

“Immerse yourself in the issues,” said Friedman, a past chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “This year’s GA will remind us of why federation is relevant and critical, and it will send us all home to our own backyards with a common agenda for the greater Jewish world.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, offered another challenge to GA attendees.

“We disagree better than any other people in the world,” said Sacks. “What we need is not agreement; what we need is that feeling that we’re all connected to one another and we’re all responsible for one another.”

That responsibility played out in break-out sessions such as “Reality Check: Life in Europe Today.” Moderator David Brown, chair of the JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Committee, said he wished they didn’t have to hold such a session.

“Unfortunately, I don’t believe ‘never again’ is actually the reality on the ground,” Brown said, indicating that realities in Europe are similar to the environment that gave birth to the Holocaust.

Jewish leaders from Spain, the Netherlands and Israel discussed what Jewish communities in their countries are doing to combat rising anti-Semitism.

The growing Muslim population of Europe was the subject of some debate, as David Hatchwell Altaras, president of the Jewish Community of Madrid, Spain, told conference attendees he fears the projected growth in the Muslim population could mean the spread of more anti-Semitism, even in politics.

“It’s not a problem of Europe, it’s a problem of all of us,” he said. “To say that we had a tough time this summer is definitely an understatement. … It’s going to be much tougher in the future, but we have no choice.”

Click here for JT Media Coverage of the 2014 JFNA General Assembly

Esther Hilah Voet, director of the Center for Information and Documentation Israel in the Netherlands, said that Jews are scolded for pro-Israel views in her country.

“If you are a Jew who first put out that you are critical about Israel and you don’t have an understanding of their dilemmas, you are a good Jew and then you are accepted,” she explained. “If you don’t and then you stand up for Israel, you’ve got a problem.”

Voet has been called a “Zionist witch” who “has blood on her hands,” she said. “What you see right now is either you have people who don’t have the courage anymore or you have people who are tired. They are tired of defending Israel or simply don’t have the courage to again and again start the discussion.”

Altaras had his own theories as to why anti-Semitism had resurfaced.

“I think it’s a result of it being 60 years after the Shoah,” he said. “You couldn’t be anti-Semitic after that. After a certain amount of time, the anti-Semites started to look at ways to get back into this. … Anti-Semitism is tied to anti-Zionism. It’s the new way to be an anti-Semite.”

On the issue of anti-Semitism among the Muslim community, Akiva Tor, head of the bureau of world Jewish affairs and world religions for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offered up that it may be the responsibility of European governments to deal with this population, which isn’t necessarily culturally assimilated.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the GA Tuesday afternoon by video from Jerusalem, he spoke about what some feel is a very real anti-Semitic threat to the Jewish people: Iran.

“Our goal must not be merely preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons today, we must also be preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons tomorrow,” he said. “Unfortunately, the international community is reportedly ready to leave Iran’s nuclear program largely intact.”

But when Vice President Joe Biden spoke on Monday, he made it clear Netanyahu was not alone in that mentality.

“I’ve heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran, let me say to you clearly in a ‘Biden-esque’ way: we will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period,” Biden said.

While Iran is a complex enemy, in both the Netherlands and Spain, Altaras and Voet said the key is education, especially educating the younger generations about the Holocaust in a way that elicits empathy.

“Six million is an abstract number,” she said. “Only when you get close and personal to real conversations, the real story, that’s when you come to the heart.”

Voet also touched on the BDS movement, which she’s seen in Dutch academia. BDS was the topic of one hour-and-a-half-long session, hosted by the Israel Action Network.

“The BDS movement does not promote itself as the ‘Wipe Israel off the Map Movement,’” said Noam Gilboord, director of community strategy at IAN. Instead, he continued, it models itself as a civil rights movement to attract populations Gil-boord identified as “vulnerable,” such as women, minorities, liberal academics, young people and mainline Protestants.

The session divided the packed room into three groups assigned a different scenario: One faced a BDS vote within an organization of college professors; another addressed a hypothetical BDS conference hosted at a local church; and a third involved a vote by students at a local university to divest from and boycott Israeli institutions.

Each group worked together to identify the messages they wanted to send to the group at the center of each scenario, the messengers they wanted to deliver that message and the way in which they wanted to communicate.

“It’s a situation where the more people know about it, the more likely it is we will prevail,” said Stephen Stone, a professor of medicine at Southern Illinois School of Medicine.

Though his medical school has not had any BDS-related incidents on campus, Stone was interested to see how IAN suggested handling cases, should they arise.

“There’s nothing similar to this in our area … yet,” said Stone, but “it’s certainly a concern.”

Other sessions looked at attitudes toward Israel Defense Forces soldiers, the living conditions of Israelis in the southern portion of the country, and the inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish communal programming.

“We need to be making sure there is a space for the disabled,” said Janet Behrend Livingston, who serves as co-chair of The Associated’s Caring Commission. “They need to be welcomed and accepted. It’s important that people with disabilities should be at the table when decisions are being made.”

Livingston has worked in the community to expand access for those with disabilities and said Baltimore does a good job including those with disabilities. But, she added, “We all can do better.”

A longtime veteran of GA conferences, Livingston said this year’s event stood out from years’ past. “They really made these stories personal,” she said of organizers’ decision to allow those who benefit from federation initiatives to speak on the subject rather than those on the operations side of the community.

For Barak Hermann, president of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, and Mark Neumann, chair of The Associated, the real benefit came in the relationships built with members of other Jewish communities across the country.

“It’s pretty amazing that we have a JFNA that brings this many people together,” said Neumann. “We all learn so much from each other.”

Echoed Hermann: “[It’s inspiring to realize] there are other people like me who go to bed at night worried” about the same issues.

Phyllis Seaman, who traveled from Naples, Fla., to attend this year’s GA, said the number of young people milling about and sitting in on the talks was encouraging.

“That’s the next generation. That’s leadership,”  she said at a reception honoring the work of Howard Friedman and Linda Hurwitz, JFNA national campaign chair. “I was overwhelmed.”

But one of the young community members present, Towson University junior and Hillel member Brett Kaufman, said he had hoped to see a bit more substantial student presence.

“Why am I the only one here?” he asked, referring to other Jewish students from the region.

With a multitude of sessions devoted to engaging young people and combating some of the challenges they face as young Jews however, Kaufman was glad for what chance he did get to interact with students from across North America.

“I [met] students that are more involved that I am,” he said. “I am not alone in my desire to make an impact.”

Melissa Gerr and Melissa Apter contributed to this report.,

Budget Watch

According to the BJC's Arthur Abramson, Governor-elect Larry Hogan has been receptive to his organization's needs.

According to the BJC’s Arthur Abramson, Governor-elect Larry Hogan has been receptive to his organization’s needs.

Are government programs aimed at helping Maryland’s most needy in danger following the gubernatorial victory of Republican Larry Hogan, who ran on a platform of reducing taxes and has a constitutional mandate to balance the state budget?

Although entitlement programs are often the first ones on the chopping block when an administration aims to tighten purse strings, area Jewish leaders aren’t worried yet.

“Obviously, it’s too early to tell,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

About a month ago, Halber had what he described as a long breakfast with Hogan.

“I found him to be a person with a great passion for this state and somebody who wants to bring about change,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe the governor-elect, a real estate executive who has never held elective office, will be rolling back women’s rights or making substantial cuts to the programs that Jewish social service agencies have worked hard to obtain.

“The man really doesn’t have a social agenda that will offend the Jewish community,” said Halber. “His main focus is going to be the economy.”

Even if the incoming Republican administration did target social service programs, Halber went on, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly would never sign off on such measures.

All in all, he’ll likely follow in the footsteps of Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, in whose cabinet Hogan served as appointments secretary, in his dealings with the Jewish community, said Halber.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, agreed. He said that the BJC has a longstanding relationship with Hogan, who in previous interviews with the <i>Jewish Times</i> has stressed that he will continue the work of outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to foster business relations between Maryland and Israel.

“I think we’re going to see a governor who’s a very strong proponent of all those many different positions taken by his predecessors on Israel and, who knows, maybe even have a chance to offer some new initiatives of his own,” said Abramson.

Like the JCRC, the BJC will keep an eye on the governor’s budget to make sure that local Jewish initiatives get the funding needed to remain in operation. Abramson said that in talks with Hogan, the governor-elect has been extremely receptive to the BJC’s needs and has mentioned a desire to travel to Israel with Jewish communal leaders early in his tenure.

Leaders from the Maryland/Israel Development Center are also confident the new governor will support their initiatives.

“He’s interested in economic development and that’s exactly what we do as well,” said Rob Frier, MIDC Chairman.

Data on how members of the Jewish community voted in the gubernatorial election are hard to come by, although a national study of voters conducted by J Street confirmed long-held assumptions about Jewish voters’ affinity with the Democratic Party. Drawing on a sample of 800 Jewish voters’ responses to questions about Congressional races, the study found that 69 percent voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district, even though the economy — a major Republican focus in 2014 — was the top issue among those voters polled.

The study did not shed any light on the phenomenon of split-ticket voters, a cohort that played a hand in Hogan’s victory. In Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, voters overwhelmingly re-elected Democrats to the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. But Hogan still received 51 percent of the vote.

In Montgomery County and Baltimore City, where the bulk of the state’s Jewish community resides, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown handily defeated Hogan. In Montgomery County, Brown bested Hogan 157,500 to 94,000, according to the state Board of Elections. The Democrat’s margin in Baltimore City was about 3 to 1, with Brown getting 102,200 votes to Hogan’s 30,000.

In Baltimore County, however, Hogan came out on top, receiving 153,500 votes to Brown’s 100,000.

Susan Turnbull, chair of Jewish Women International and the former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party from 2009 to 2011, said that if the Jewish community wants to count on Hogan as an ally, it will have to educate the new governor on why specific programs and policies are important.

Whether it’s a Democratic or Republican governor, “the issues remain the same issues,” she said. “The needs remain the same needs.”

What’s in a Name?

The Ammunition Hill light-rail station was the scene of a terrorist attack on Oct. 22.

The Ammunition Hill light-rail station was the scene of a terrorist attack on Oct. 22.

JERUSALEM — It doesn’t have a name, so what do you call it? And if you can’t name it, how do you deal with it?

There’s no question “it” is happening, the evidence overwhelming.

What started with stone throwing after the murder of 17-year-old Jerusalemite Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2 has been increasing exponentially, culminating in two attacks on Monday within six hours of each other. One took place at a train station in Tel Aviv, where a soldier was stabbed and died of his wounds that night.

The other attack occurred at a bus stop on Highway 60, a 15-minute drive due south from Jerusalem near the bedroom community of Alon Shvut. One woman was killed when the terrorist drove his car into waiting passengers, then jumped out and stabbed them. Near the bus stop is the hitchhiking station where three Israeli teens were kidnapped before being murdered in June.

The Tel Aviv terrorist was affiliated with Hamas, the Gush Etzion killer with Islamic Jihad.

In the two weeks prior, we’ve had two attacks in Jerusalem along the light-rail tracks. The death toll included two Jews, an Ecuadorian woman on the path to converting and a 38-year-old Border Police captain from the Druze Village of Beit Jaan.

As David Brinn wrote in The Jerusalem Post:“It used to be unsafe to board a bus; now it’s unsafe to stand at a bus stop or light-rail station.”

In between those light-rail attacks, we had an assassination attempt on American-born Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an activist advocating for freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount. He was shot four times at point-blank range. His condition at Shaare Zedek Hospital is improving.

And this list does not include Palestinians throwing rocks at passing cars or the light-rail train on a daily basis for four months; riots in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods; and clashes on the Temple Mount necessitating its closure twice in two weeks to all worshippers — something Israel has not had to do since the beginning of the second Intifada 14 years ago.

And now six dead in the last three weeks.

So while there’s no denying Israel is under attack, the ongoing conversation is over what to call it, an attempt by Jerusalemites to wrap their arms around incidents that remind them of the second Intifada: What is its name?

The Palestinians first called it “the Abu Khdeir Intifada,” but that didn’t stick. Like the adding of “-gate” to any political disaster or scandal, the fallback moniker for Palestinian violence always leads to word “intifada.”

What most Israelis are fearful to acknowledge is calling it the “third Intifada” — another Palestinian uprising. That phrase conjures up memories of suicide bombers, exploding buses and cafes blowing up every other week, if not every week, when more than 1,100 Israeli civilians were killed between 2000 and 2005.

Some disagree. Sima Kadmon, a senior political commentator at Yediot Achronot, wrote: “If it looks like an Intifada, acts like an Intifada and sounds like an Intifada, it’s an Intifada. But there are those who see the evidence before them, and hear the clamoring voices, and still refuse to call it by its name.”

She was pointing at police Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino, who said at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee meeting last week that there was no Intifada in Jerusalem, that the public was just being intimidated.

The same denial has been repeated by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. But Aryeh Amit, former Jerusalem police chief, went the other way: What is happening in Jerusalem right now, he told Arutz 7, isn’t an Intifada but a war.

Some members of Knesset (MK) weighed in on the debate on Monday.

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, the American-born member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, declined to give it a name.

“I call it extremist leaders riling up the crowd,” the former Silver Spring resident said. “And we have to bring out the voices of the more moderate leadership and quiet things down. The moderate Arab leadership doesn’t want this.”

Do you see a third Intifada coming?

“No. First of all, the wording itself doesn’t matter to me so much. But I really believe that from everything we’ve seen, it’s little flare-ups.”

MK Ya’akov Litzman, of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, doesn’t care. “I don’t know how they call it — Intifada, war, whatever it is. I know that people are getting killed, and the government has to do something.”

Litzman’s wrong. Yes, it’s not as important as the terrorist acts themselves. But the name becomes important because it’s part of the narrative, and that’s a major battle as well. Was it the Second Intifada or the Oslo War?

Prof. Shimon Shetreet calls it “a wave of terror,” but that’s all. The 68-year-old Hebrew University law professor has lived in the capital since coming to Israel at age 3. He served as an MK from 1988 to 1996, holding three cabinet minister portfolios, and was a deputy mayor of Jerusalem and member of the City Council from 1998 to 2003.

Shetreet wouldn’t even use the term Intifada. “At the moment I don’t think it is justified to call it the name that is suggested by some. At the moment it’s a wave of terror, a wave of disorder, a wave of protest.”

Asked what level it would it take to call it the third Intifada, he paused. “I think in terms of terminology, you need to have information that the Palestinian Authority is taking an active part in initiating these types of activities.”

For the last two weeks, the terrorism has taken on two brand-new, hip names: the “light rail Intifada,” and the “car driving Intifada.” And now the names come with cartoons visual aids, and a social media campaign to recruit others. Hamas and Fatah websites display caricatures, photos, and instructions on the best way to carry out such attacks.

There’s also a new song going viral that urges Palestinians to use cars to commit terrorist attacks against Israelis. One video version of the song “Run over [the settler]!” has more than 385,000 views on the “Quds News Network” Facebook page with lyrics such as “Run [them] over, destroy, annihilate, blow them up,” and suggestions to “lay an ambush on the road and run them over.”?

It’s not officially the third Intifada yet, maybe because it doesn’t involve suicide bombers. But it does have suicide drivers. And whether or not it is a third Intifada, it doesn’t look like it’s going away.

Biden Pledges Continued Support for Israel

Vice President Joe Biden Photo by Melissa Gerr

Vice President Joe Biden
Photo by Melissa Gerr

Among the many personal connections Vice President Joe Biden has made in the Jewish community, he holds that of Elie Wiesel close to his heart. The Holocaust survivor, author, activist and professor said something that has stuck with Biden for a long time.

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Wiesel told Biden, who recalled the encounter during a speech before Jewish community officials Monday. Those words have inspired Biden in how he teaches his family about the Holocaust, and they have provided a foundation to his foreign policy in regard to Israel and Iran, said Biden.

The vice president spoke at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly after being introduced by Holocaust survivor and advocate Nesse Godin.

Biden, one of several Democrats among a slate of presidential hopefuls who could be on the ballot in 2016, began by referencing his early connections to the Jewish community, including campaigning for the Delaware state Senate out of the Wilmington JCC. His unwavering support for the Jewish community began at age 13, he said, when he learned about the Holocaust at the family dinner table.

“[I was] never fully understanding why there was even a debate in the Jewish community about why there should be a State of Israel,” he said.

He now teaches his children similar lessons and has taken all three of them to Europe for their 15th birthdays with the first stop being the Dachau concentration camp in Germany “to not only show them what man and humanity is capable of, but also more importantly to let them witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit,” Biden said.

He credited Jewish federations across the United States with continuing to bear witness, something he said is getting harder, as the Holocaust becomes more distant.

“Silence is never acceptable,” he said.

To that end, Biden is working to address the needs of Holocaust survivors in America, 25 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line, he said, and has held hearings about anti-Semitism in Europe despite criticism. He noted that anti-Semitic speech all too often gets disguised as opposition to Israeli policies.

“Too often in too many countries, opposition to Israel’s military operation crosses the line,” he said. “The president and I stand with you. … We make it clear that Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter of debate. It is not negotiable.”

Biden said he and President Barack Obama will continue to support Israel’s security, something he sees as necessary for the security of the United States.

“Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent one. It’s more than an obligation we have, it’s a security necessity,” he said. “We will never, ever abandon Israel out of our own self-interest.”

As he spoke of Israel, which he said has no friend like the U.S., and vice-versa, he turned to Iran and used the opportunity to refute critics of the Obama administration’s overtures to Tehran to achieve a deal on the
Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

“I’ve heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran, let me say to you clearly in a ‘Biden-esque’ way: We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period,” he said.

He assured the audience that as the Nov. 24 deadline for signing a nuclear agreement approaches, the U.S. will not sign a bad deal.

Of course, no discussion of Israel’s security would be complete without addressing the ongoing conflict with Palestinians. While Biden said part of securing Israel’s safety includes a two-state solution, he also sees opportunity for Israel and its Arab neighbors to battle emerging and longtime common threats together. And he is hopeful that it could change the political landscape of the Middle East.

“Israel and nearly all its Arab neighbors … find themselves on the same side in a fight against violent Islamist extremists like [the so-called Islamic State] as well as a regional struggle against Iran,” he said. “They have all this in common and shame on us if we are not as nimble and as capable as our grandparents [in] taking advantage of this.” JT