Volunteers for Israel Will Work on IDF Base

At the end of this month, 10 men and nine women — ranging in age from 28 to 80 — will be traveling to Israel, but not on a leisure trip. Volunteers for Israel in the U.S, in conjunction with Sar-El, an Israeli-based volunteer organization, will send the group to work for two weeks on an Israel Defense Forces base to help with everything from cleaning and repairing military equipment and re-packing supplies for Israeli soldiers in the field to working in the kitchen.

Sar-El is one of three IDF-approved organizations that connect volunteers to work on-base. Lawrence Feldman, VFI national president, will be volunteering this month for the fourth time with his wife, Joan.

Feldman explained that volunteers must fill out detailed paperwork including medical forms, and VFI interviews each participant “so they know what they’re getting into, and for us to make sure they’re appropriate for the program.” Participants must be capable to complete tasks that would be required on a military base such as walking a mile in extreme heat or lifting 20 pounds. “They’re here to help the army,” he said.

VFI sends volunteer groups twice a month throughout the year. Volunteers receive reduced airfare and free room and board. Once arrived, volunteers are issued IDF uniforms, stay in army barracks described as sparse lodgings and wake up at 6 a.m. each day. Feldman added, people “don’t go for the food.”

But there are many repeat volunteers, and it’s an incredibly powerful experience for all who attend, he said. Volunteers work side by side with Israeli soldiers and have an opportunity to know them socially and get a taste of IDF from inside the country, not just through the news.

“It gives you an opportunity to help Israel with your own hands,” said Feldman. “It is a unique and tangible way.”

BT Students Interview Driver of Kidnapped Israeli Boys

Students in Ella Shaked’s journalism and Hebrew class at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School were given a special opportunity, when they interviewed the last Israeli to see two
of this summer’s three kidnapped Jewish teens alive.
Rouven Maimon spoke with BT 12th-graders in late September about his experience driving Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel to a bus stop from which they were later kidnapped and then murdered, sparking this summer’s conflict between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel. The interview, which was conducted in Hebrew over video chat, came about after Shaked learned that one of her students, Dean Shalem, was the nephew of Maimon. Although the students were well aware of the summer’s events in the Middle East, the interview, said Shaked, allowed for a unique learning opportunity about a serious subject in a way that let them also practice their language and writing skills.
“The students were very serious when they finished the interview,” said Shaked. Through Dean, who facilitated the interview for the class, students asked when Maimon first learned that he had been the last to see the teens alive and about the interrogation he sat through with the police. The car in which the young men were later kidnapped, he told the students, was at the bus stop when he dropped them off.
“I remembered only after they published the picture of the burnt car in the newspaper,” Maimon told the class, according to student reports. “That’s when I recognized the car.”He told the students that he will continue to provide rides to those who need them, but the experience taught him to stress to his own son to be careful when accepting rides from strangers.
Shaked’s class has interviewed many Israelis before as part of their Hebrew and journalism studies. They usually brainstorm questions together before the interview and then work in groups of two or three to write a story — in both English and Hebrew — based on the information they receive.


Homegrown Author to Release Book in Pikesville

Owings Mills-native Michelle Madow will be hosting an international book release party of her novel “Diamonds in the Rough” on Oct. 19 at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Pikesville.
“Diamonds in the Rough” is the second installment of “The Secret Diamond Sisters” trilogy, which she was inspired to write while walking through her favorite hotel in Las Vegas, the Wynn.
Now 27, Madow resides in Boca Raton, Fla., where she writes books that fall into the young adult fiction genre.
“I’ve been a writer forever, but I realized it was something I wanted to do professionally when I was a junior in college. I was taking an Intro to Creative Writing class, and when I turned in my first assignment, my classmates and teacher loved it and wanted to read more,” she said. “I never thought I could complete a novel, but I realized I would never know if I didn’t try.”
She graduated cum laude from Rollins College in Orlando with a degree in English in 2010.
Madow is a tireless promoter of her work. She is active on social media networks and has toured America to promote her books and encourage high school students to embrace reading and writing.
Madow, a 2005 graduate of the Park School, received the Charles Hyde Pratt Award for Excellence in Creative Writing in 2010.
The Sunday afternoon event takes place from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
— Stacy Karten

Firing Back

Hasan “Jay” Jalisi, a Democratic candidate for District 10 delegate, has responded to the petition filed earlier this month by a Republican challenger intent on removing him from the Nov. 4 ballot on the basis that he is not a resident of the district he seeks to represent.

“I live in Owings Mills, within the boundaries of my 10th legislative election district,” Jalisi asserted in an email last week. “The allegation that I do not is a pure fabrication and a malicious attempt by the Republican candidate to influence the election, which he otherwise cannot win. My driver’s license shows my Owings Mills residence as my place of domicile, and I am registered to vote from there as well.”

Jalisi said he was not aware of the petition until days after it was filed.

“I condemn the negative politics by the Republican candidate — who has run twice before for the same seat and lost both times — and look forward to winning the general elections on Nov. 4, and thereafter working for the benefit of the residents of my district in the Maryland General Assembly.”

Jalisi ran for District 11 representative on the Democratic Central Committee in 2010 and lost with only 6 percent of the vote. In June, he secured a spot on the general election ballot by winning the primary for delegate in neighboring District 10.

The suit, which was filed on Oct. 7 in Anne Arundel Circuit Court by Republican candidate William Newton, claims that Jalisi lives in District 11, not District 10. The Democratic primary race for delegate in District 11 ended in a landslide victory for incumbent Dels. Dana Stein and Dan Morhaim, as well as newcomer Shelly Hettleman, the former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin. Del. Adrienne Jones was the only incumbent in the Democratic primary for District 10 delegate.

The JT first reported discrepancies in Jalisi’s residency claims in June, citing property and tax records that suggest the Democratic candidate’s primary residence is an address on Greenspring Avenue in Lutherville-Timonium rather than the address he has used in campaign filings on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills. Jalisi has been receiving a homestead tax credit at the Lutherville address, which is valued at almost $575,000, since 2009. The tax credit is only applicable to a person’s primary residence.

Jalisi recently told The Daily Record that the reason for the confusion is that he and his wife separated in 2013 and he moved out. But his wife has been spotted with Jalisi numerous times during the campaign.

Maryland law makes it difficult for a candidate to be disqualified for reasons relating to residency, especially if — as in Jalisi’s case — the candidate owns multiple properties in the area. The deadline to challenge the residency of a candidate is just days after the deadline for declaring one’s candidacy and election law requires only that the candidate be domiciled in the district in which they run for office, a legal standard that does not necessarily mean that their primary residence is in the district.


Freundel Took Towson Students to Mikveh

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

A rabbi and Towson University professor who was arrested on Oct. 14 on voyeurism charges for allegedly setting up a hidden camera in a mikveh had at least two students take part in the bathing ritual, according to a former student.

Nicole Coniglio, a senior mass communication major, told student newspaper The Towerlight that she toured Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown for a religious studies class she was taking with Freundel. While on the tour, she and other students were asked to shower in the mikveh, and while she declined, two of her Jewish classmates accepted.

Freundel is accused of setting up a hidden camera disguised as a clock radio in the mikveh. He is suspended from all faculty responsibilities at Towson and suspended without pay from his synagogue.

Towerlight editor-in-chief Jonathan Munshaw, who was in Freundel’s honors seminar on Judeo-Christian medical ethics, said certain students were supposed to discuss a trip to Kesher Israel on the day Freundel was arrested, but the professor never showed up to class.

“The arrest occurred in D.C., so even as a reporter, I was, frankly, behind the story,” Munshaw said. He wrote a piece later that afternoon, but since removed himself from reporting on further developments. He said the next class was “emotionally draining.”

That class resumed on Tuesday with Rabbi Avram Reisner of Chevrei Tzedek teaching.

“At the end he just said ‘this is obviously a very unfortunate situation. I’m very disappointed’ and just opened the floor to everyone who wanted to share their thoughts,” Munshaw said of the new professor.

University spokesman Ray Feldmann said the university is currently gathering information from current and former students of Freundel and offering resources to those with questions or having difficulty processing what happened.

“A lot of students are very upset, feel like he was a good professor,” Feldmann said, “somebody they admired and looked up to.”

The university is also encouraging students who may have information that could aid in the police’s criminal investigation to report it to university police, who may then refer them to Washington, D.C., police.

“Anything Dr. Freundel is accused of doing in D.C., we don’t believe he did anything like that at Towson University,” Feldmann said.

Freundel started teaching at Towson in the fall of 2009 as a tenured professor, Feldmann said. At some point, the university will have to determine if that status will continue, he added.

While there have been no complaints against Freundel in the past – the university even looked at past student evaluations – and learning opportunities outside of class are encouraged, Feldmann said taking students to the mikveh was “where it would have crossed the line.”

“We encourage our faculty to create off-campus learning activities for our students,” he said. “The mikveh portion of a class trip is something we would not have condoned or sanctioned had we known about it.”


Baltimore Bound

102414_coverstory-Ariel-BedineAccording to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, approximately 3,600 new Jewish families have moved to Baltimore over the past three years. With 15 Jewish day schools and 17 preschools from which to choose, many are lining up to join the thriving Jewish community.

“We just love Baltimore,” said new arrival Howard Goldstein. “The whole community is so tightknit. There are numerous Jewish schools, synagogues on every block and of course, the delicious kosher supermarket Seven Mile Market. This community is very unusual and special. There is no place like it.”

According to The Associated’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, the number of Jewish households in the greater Baltimore area has increased by 16 percent over the past decade. While 54 percent of all Baltimore Jews hail from Maryland, 10 percent of new Baltimore residents come from outside the United States, with 4 percent from the former Soviet Union.

Reporting that 47 percent of Jewish children to 4 years old are enrolled in a Jewish preschool or nursery school, that more than 40 percent of children are enrolled in Jewish day school and that almost all are enrolled in some sort of Jewish educational program, one likely conclusion of the study is that Jewish families are attracted, among other draws, to Baltimore for the schools.

Ariel (right) and Dvir Bedine are loving their Beth Tfiloh education. (Photos Provided)

Ariel (top) and Dvir Bedine are loving their Beth Tfiloh education. (Photos Provided)

“The schools play a huge role in why Baltimore is so top-notch,” said Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland/Mid-Atlantic Region. “My job is to advocate for Jewish rights, and my office opened up seven years ago. I am proud of how strong the Baltimore Jewish community has grown.”

Since he promotes and lobbies for policies benefiting the Jewish community, such as for the adoption of universal pre-K programs in Maryland, he is thrilled by how the Baltimore Jewish community is prospering. After growing up in Silver Spring and attending Ner Israel High School/Rabbinical College in Baltimore, he decided to establish his home here.

“As a Baltimore resident myself, I can see how Baltimore entices the greater Orthodox community,” said Sadwin. “The housing and tuition prices are affordable, and there is a lot of harmony between the different groups. With Washington, D.C., and Baltimore City so close, Baltimore provides tons of job opportunities for residents. I also think The Associated and its various programs play a big role in growing the community.”

But the attraction isn’t solely among Orthodox families.

As the only egalitarian Jewish Day School in the Greater Baltimore area, Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS) serves grades K through 8 in a coeducational, small classroom environment.

“Many people find out about Krieger Schechter from word of mouth,” said Liz Minkin-Friedman, the school’s director of community outreach and engagement. “This year, we had families move to Maryland from Massachusetts and Virginia. Many of our families learn about our school from colleagues when they move to Baltimore for a job. Others hear about it from mothers at the playground.”

Owned by Chizuk Amuno Congregation, KSDS caters to all Baltimore Jews. It boasts a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, and according to Minkin-Friedman, one of the biggest draws is its dual-language curriculum.

“We teach 40 percent in Hebrew and 60 percent in English,” she said. “Our curriculum involves both general and Judaic studies. We are part of a national movement, and we provide a strong Jewish foundation for our students.”

After sending her children to a Solomon Schechter Day School in Boston, new Baltimore resident, and parent of two, Vicki Williamson felt that KSDS was the most natural fit.

“We moved to Pikesville over the summer because we wanted to be closer to our extended family,” said Williamson. “Krieger Schechter was exactly what we were looking for. They match up perfectly with our Jewish values, and I think the academics speak for itself.”

Howard and Sally Goldstein recently moved to Baltimore to find programs for their two younger adopted children. The family of six moved from St. Louis, Mo., and enrolled the pair in the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

“My wife and I always wanted more children, so we adopted two children from Texas: one Hispanic and one African-American,” said Goldstein. “We had to send our first two children away for school when we lived in Missouri because there were no strong Jewish schools in our area. We didn’t want to repeat that with our younger two.”

102414_coverstory-Sarit-GoldsteinSince their older child attends the University of Maryland, College Park, they believed that Baltimore was ideal for its proximity.

“We have a multicultural family, and Beth Tfiloh truly caters to our children’s needs,” said Goldstein. “Even though our children look different, they have never felt out of place. We heard rave reviews about Beth Tfiloh from students and alumni and thought it would be perfect for our children.”

Shifra Weinstein, who moved to Baltimore 10 years ago from Riverdale, N.Y., stressed that Baltimore has many educational options. Before she moved to the area, she went “school shopping” in three different communities in three different states. The moment she came to Baltimore, she knew she found her new home.

“We were looking for all-girl schools at the time,” said Weinstein. “I remember visiting Bnos Yisroel on my own. Immediately, I wanted to send my girls there. I called my husband that day and said, ‘That’s it, we’re moving!’”

While Weinstein could not wait to send her five daughters to the Bnos Yisroel School of Baltimore, first-week classroom complications reassured Weinstein that she made the right choice.

Howard and Sally Goldstein’s two adopted children, Sarit (above) and Elisha, feel at home in Baltimore. (Photos Provided)

Howard and Sally Goldstein’s two adopted children, Sarit (above) and Elisha, feel at home in Baltimore. (Photos Provided)

“My daughter, Yocheved, started getting sick during the first week,” she recalled. “She is asthmatic, and we realized she was having problems with the school building since her classroom was in the basement. I called up the principal, Sara Itzkowitz, [and I] panicked. We did not want to switch schools now.

“[Itzkowitz] said, ‘Give me two days. We’re not losing you.’ She then hired an industrial cleaning purifier,” continued Weinstein, who went on to serve as president of the school’s parent-teacher association for three years, “and our daughter never had a problem with asthma in the school again. At Bnos Yisroel, the kids come first. After Yocheved’s first year, she was never in a basement classroom again. Mrs. Itzkowitz made sure of it.”

Three years ago, Odeya and Jeremy Bedine moved to Bethesda from Atlanta for job opportunities. Falling in love with Beth Tfiloh and the Baltimore Jewish community, the family left their D.C.-area home and moved to Pikesville in May.

“Pikesville is the full package,” said Bedine. “While we looked at schools in D.C., nothing quite fit like Beth Tfiloh. My husband was commuting back and forth from Baltimore to D.C. before landing a job in Columbia, but we knew it was worth the commute.”

As families move to Baltimore for the schools, Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI) helps new arrivals transition into the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Park Heights. In the last fiscal year, 32 percent of families seeking housing assistance from CHAI were out-of-towners.

“Last year, we helped many families moving into Baltimore,” said Rachel Elliot, CHAI’s director of organizational advancement. “We helped seven from out of state and two from Baltimore County. Of the out-of-staters, we assisted three families from Israel, two from New Jersey, one from Canada and one from Iran.”

Providing $253,000 in loans and assistance and another $80,000 in grants for new home buyers, CHAI’s mission is to make Baltimore easier to afford.

“We know that many Jews want to live in Baltimore. We try to make it easier for them,” said Mitchell Posner, executive director. “Many of our houses have two sinks and multiple bedrooms for large families. We are set up for the Jewish migration.”

Concentrating on Northwest Baltimore, CHAI also rebuilds playgrounds, creates neighborhood programming and provides home-buyer counseling. In 2014, CHAI implemented 38 enrichment programs in Baltimore schools with a total of 893 participants.

“Many people move to Baltimore for the schools. We want to keep the community strong once they arrive,” said Posner. “We have renovated over 20 houses and even knock on doors to ask people in the community how we can best serve them.”

With the kosher restaurants, numerous synagogues, several Jewish community centers and educational choices, Bedine said it’s easy to be comfortable amid such Jewish infrastructure.

“People who are from Baltimore have no idea how special it is,” said Bedine. “We moved here for the schools, but we stayed for the community. It took a long time to find, but we are most definitely home.”


The Heat’s On

A now common sight in Southern California are dried-up rivers. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A now common sight in Southern California are dried-up rivers.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Devorah Brous’ San Fernando Valley home is shaded by green trees, studded with 19 fruit trees and patrolled by a pair of affable chickens that strut around the backyard. But at the moment, she is eager to show a visitor her dying lawn.

Comparing the withering grass with a thriving orange tree a few feet away, Brous, the founding executive director of the Jewish environmental organization Netiya, says, “It’s survival of the fittest.”

For Netiya — Hebrew for “planting” — and other Jewish environmental groups, California’s debilitating drought has tied together a number of issues that have been gaining prominence in the Jewish activist community: sustainability, social justice and ethically and environmentally responsible food production. Their efforts range in size and scope.

In San Diego, the local branch of Hazon had children paint rain barrels that will capture rainwater for irrigation as part of the environmental group’s Sukkot festivities.

Meanwhile, in Pescadero, south of San Francisco, the environmental education group Wilderness Torah hosted a panel discussion on water usage as part of its annual Sukkot on the Farm festival. After the panel, there was a ceremony based on an ancient Temple rite in which the high priest would draw water from the spring and offer it at the altar in hopes of bringing seasonal rains.

Participants circling around a fountain “bless the waters of the world and call in the rain,” said Suzannah Sosman, festivals manager for Wilderness Torah. Last year’s Sukkot festival came amid a downpour.

But the main thrust of the work of Jewish groups working on drought relief is water conservation, capture and reuse.

“I don’t think people are necessarily aware of how to save water other than turning off their faucets when they’re brushing their teeth,” Sosman said.

Netiya, which organizes religious communities to create sustainable gardens on underused institutional lands, has installed gardens at 11 congregations around Los Angeles, including at Ikar, where Brous’ sister, Sharon, is the founding rabbi. All the gardens include drip irrigation, a technique invented in Israel to conserve water during the irrigation process.

This summer, Netiya conducted a series of five workshops focused on water conservation and gardening.

Devorah Brous and her son play with one of their chickens. Brous always begins her workshops with relevant readings from the Torah. (Anthony Weiss)

Devorah Brous and her son play with one of their chickens. Brous always begins her workshops with relevant readings from the Torah.
(Anthony Weiss)

At a recent workshop, volunteers helped install a water-capture system that will disperse rainwater on the grounds of a Los Angeles church.

At another Netiya event, attendees helped put in place a greywater irrigation system at the home of Devorah Brous that recycles used water from her washing machine and funnels it to her herb garden.

“Every time I turn on the faucet, I’m thinking about all the water that’s not going back into my landscape,” Ashley Sullivan, who is Jewish and who attended the greywater installation, said. ”We use so much perfectly good water once, just rinsing our hands.”

For other organizations, water conservation is not simply a response to the drought but a perennial concern.

Urban Adamah, an urban farm and educational center in Berkeley, not only uses drip irrigation, but also began roughly a year ago to grow some of its plants using aquaponics, a system that utilizes 80 percent less water than conventional agriculture.

“Even though we’re in a drought now, we’re sort of in a perpetual state of drought in California,” said Adam Berman, the executive director of Urban Adamah. “Our mission is to teach sustainable agricultural practice, of which water conservation is a key part, even in good years.”

Brous, in turn, hopes to spark a broader conversation in the Jewish world about the relationship between food and the environment. In the process, she plans to reach out to Stewart and Judith Resnick, billionaire residents of Beverly Hills, in a bid to bring them into a conversation about food and resources.

The Resnicks are among the largest landowners in California’s Central Valley, as well as among the largest growers of water-intensive crops such as almonds, pistachios and pomegranates. (A request for comment placed with the Resnick-owned Roll Global Corp. was not returned.)

“Are these boutique perennial crops things that we should be growing in California, or should we grow something else?” Brous asks rhetorically. “There are questions we should be asking.”

Judaism originally grew out of the life of a desert people, and though much of Jewish life has long since moved into towns and cities, its foundational texts still speak of ethical principles for caring for land and water. Brous begins her workshops with relevant readings from the Torah, as well as the Koran and the Christian Bible, and she hopes that they can serve as the basis for a renewed Jewish conversation about water, food and environment.

“It’s still in the text,” she said. “It’s extraordinary spiritual soil to grow from.”


Security Sweep

Despite Rabbi Barry Freundel’s alleged crime, the National Capital Mikvah did not close and remains fully operational. (ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)

Despite Rabbi Barry Freundel’s alleged crime, the National Capital Mikvah did not close and remains fully operational. (ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)

Washington, D.C.-area mikvahs are grappling with security concerns in the aftermath of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s highly publicized arrest on voyeurism charges. Freundel is accused of setting up a hidden camera in the shower room of the National Capital Mikvah in order to spy on women who changed there before taking the ritual plunge.

There are seven ritual baths in the Washington region, and they are responding in different ways to the shocking revelations. (Chabad Lubavitch Mikvah-Northern Virginia Region could not be reached for comment before press time.) The scene of the alleged crime — the National Capital Mikvah — never closed and is currently fully operational. However, director Sarah Barak says that major security precautions have already been implemented, and more are in the works.

The locks have been changed, the police have searched the mikvah to make sure there are no recording devices, an expert security firm is going to do a second search and a halachic expert will conduct a third security search and also ensure that the mikvah’s religious integrity is still intact.

The decision to keep the mikvah open was made after consulting with Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, former rabbi of Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring who now lives in Israel. Breitowitz said that the mikvah is still kosher and is fine to use.

The Mikvah Emunah Society of Greater Washington, which operates two ritual baths in Montgomery County — Wallerstein in Kemp Mill and Ballard Street in Woodside — is planning a security sweep at its Wallerstein location, and male volunteers no longer will be permitted to enter the mikvah without a female counterpart. Ballard is managed by women. Mikvah Emunah held two women-only events on Monday evening to address concerns and answer questions from the community.

James Mesis, a New Jersey-based private investigator, security specialist and editor-in-chief of Professional Investigator Magazine, says hidden cameras are increasingly harder to find because they can be as small as a period at the end of a sentence.

“You can hide a pinhole camera or the body of the camera behind anything, and you just need a tiny, tiny little hole that’s the size of a button-thread hole to be able to look through,” said Mesis. “So unless you have the right equipment to find these hidden cameras, you’d never find them.”

Freundel allegedly hid a camera inside a Dream Machine digital clock radio.

Rabbi Barry Freundel

Rabbi Barry Freundel
(Courtesy Towson University)

Mesis recommends hiring a professional Technical Surveillance Countermeasure (TSCM) technician. “Establishments, what they need to do — on a regular basis — is have a TSCM technician come in who’s been properly trained and is credentialed with the proper equipment and just do an inspection of all of the target locations,” said Mesis. “And what I tell people, wherever a person could be in the form of undress is an area where you want to search. You don’t really need to search anything other than areas where somebody is going to be undressed.”

But some mikvahs do not plan yet on hiring a professional security firm. A representative from Mikvah at the Jewish Family Center in Olney said there are no additional security arrangements in place yet. The mikvah is sporadically used, so it isn’t as urgent as some other facilities.

Mikvah at the Silver Spring Jewish Center does not plan to increase security.

Rabbi Herzel Kranz calls Freundel an “aberration,” adding that there is a “deficiency in this human being — a mishegas that goes through people’s heads.”

He doesn’t seemed concerned that Freundel’s behavior could be replicated at his mikvah.

“Are we lacking for pornography in the United States? Something is screwed up here. We are bringing holiness here, conversions,” he said. “There is no bigger contradiction than that.”

Adas Israel Community Mikvah in Cleveland Park, which welcomes more than 400 immersions per year and describes itself as the D.C. area’s only “progressive and pluralistic” mikvah, scheduled a security sweep immediately after hearing the news about Freundel’s arrest.

“The Adas Israel Community Mikvah remains in solidarity with every other mikvah affected by recent events while continuing to offer meaningful and secure experiences to the entire community,” said Naomi Malka, mikvah director and ritual coordinator.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Lubavitch of Maryland, said that Mikvah Ateres Yisroel in Potomac has had a longstanding policy that its mikvahs be operated exclusively by women for women, with a rabbi serving as the halachic authority. “Security is always a concern, and we review and upgrade the system from time to time as technology improves.

“The mikvah is one of the oldest and most important institutions in Jewish life,” said Kaplan, “and we are confident that despite the recent horrific episode, the institution of mikvah will continue the remarkable comeback it has made over the past few decades.”

Suzanne Pollak and Dmitriy Shapiro contributed to this report.


Hoffberger Takes Stock

 LeRoy E. Hoffberger (File photo)

LeRoy E. Hoffberger (File photo)

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Baltimore history without talking about the Hoffberger family. Natives and transplants alike are aware of the family’s historic ties to the Orioles and the National Brewing Company, former producers of Natty Boh, Charm City’s beloved hometown beer. The Hoffberger name graces buildings on college campuses, hospitals, synagogues and museums across the region.

The family made fortunes manufacturing and distributing ice, coal and fuel oil. They were sole or major shareholders in businesses such as the Baltimore Transfer Company, the Pompeian Olive Oil Company and Grecian Formula as well as real estate developers and supporters of the city’s arts, educational, medical and Jewish communal organizations.

In his new memoir, “Measure of a Life: Memoirs, Insights and Philosophies of LeRoy E. Hoffberger,” Hoffberger, 89, reflects upon his childhood, young adulthood, career and philanthropic endeavors. In the process, he gives readers an engrossing, honest and introspective history of the life of a man, a family and a city.

When he first began to write, in his early 80s, Hoffberger said it was a means of testing his memory. In recent years, he had noticed that he was having some short-term memory lapses, and he wanted to see whether his long-term memory was still sharp.

“When I got to page 100, I said, ‘Hey, I’m getting pretty good at this,’” said Hoffberger. “One hundred years from now, what will my great-grandchildren know about me? They might be able to find information about my education, my professional successes and failures, my philanthropy. But they may want to know who I am, my insights and philosophies, my struggles with clinical depression; what I have done with my life considering both my talents and my disabilities. God puts us on earth for a purpose. How did I deal with the hand that God gave me?”

He grew up in Baltimore, the son of Jack and Mildred Hoffberger, and the younger of two brothers. His father’s grandparents, Sarah and Charles, immigrated to Baltimore from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1881. Jack Hoffberger was one of seven brothers, and by the time LeRoy was born, the brothers had already achieved some success in the business community. The family lived in the Forest Park section of Baltimore, next door to four of Jack’s brothers and their families. As he grew up, the extended Hoffberger family remained closely knit.

“My generation of Hoffbergers had been raised to understand that we were to work in one of the family’s businesses,” he wrote.

After serving in a Navy officers training program during World War II, Hoffberger completed his education at Princeton University. When he graduated in 1947, his father asked him to get his law degree so that he would be qualified to work in his Uncle Sam’s law firm, which provided counsel to the family’s many business interests. Hoffberger agreed, and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1950. Following in his Uncle Sam’s footsteps, he gravitated toward real estate. He made many investments but was most proud of the development of 2,000 acres of farmland in Montgomery County 25 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

“Today, Germantown,” Hoffberger said proudly, “is the third largest urban area in the state and home to 80,000 people.”

In his role as an attorney, Hoffberger also became active in fundraising for Democratic candidates, helping to get Sen. Barbara Mikulski elected. A highlight in his political career came in December 1973, when he was on President Richard M. Nixon’s “second enemies list.”

“This meant that I, along with 574 other Americans, was to be harassed by the IRS for having played an active role in Sen. George McGovern’s
unsuccessful run for president,” he wrote in his memoir. “My Democrat friends and I considered this a badge of honor.”

Though his career was flourishing, a bout with depression required Hoffberger take time off from his work.

Although he would soon return to his job, Hoffberger’s anxiety and depression required treatment with psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication throughout his life.

His service to the Jewish community was another source of personal pride.

“Soon after I began working for Uncle Sam’s company, I was told that he wanted me to be very active in the Jewish community,” he recalled. “He even told me what board he wanted me to join. It was Levindale [Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital]. I served 60 years on that board, was a board president and am still an emeritus.”

Recognizing that not everyone who was elderly needed to be in a nursing home, he and Bob Weinberg built Concord House, now known as Weinberg Gardens. When The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore created Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI), Hoffberger became the new agency’s first president.

“I was incoming president of The Associated when the battle over whether to open the JCC on Shabbos began,” he recalled. “It was a 30-year battle.”

Although at the time Hoffberger was a Reform Jew, he felt The Associated needed to represent all parts of the Jewish community and feared that opening the JCC on the Sabbath would alienate the Orthodox community.

“It seemed like hypocrisy to me that the JCC was closed on all these obscure Jewish holidays but open on Shabbos,” he said.

After his marriage to his second wife, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, with whom Hoffberger founded the American Visionary Art Museum, he became more interested in Judaism. Hoffberger left Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and joined the Conservative Chizuk Amuno Congregation. As he became more religiously observant, Hoffberger became more concerned by statistics that showed increasing levels of intermarriage and assimilation among American Jews. He discovered the work of Rabbi David Fohrman and raised money to launch the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies so that more peopl could benefit from Fohrman’s lectures.

Perhaps Hoffberger’s way of life is best described by the handwritten message printed on the jacket of his memoir. In contrast to the words of authors such as C.S. Lewis, who wrote: “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind,” Hoffberger wrote: “What we leave behind is far more important than how far we get ahead.”


Unlikely Mix

The Bible Players Andrew Davies (top) and Aaron Friedman combine Torah, comedy and improv to bring Jewish stories and values to life for young audiences and adults. (Provided)

The Bible Players Andrew Davies (top) and Aaron Friedman combine Torah, comedy and improv to bring Jewish stories and values to life for young audiences and adults. (Provided)

The Bible Players, also known as Andrew Davies and Aaron Friedman, love Jewish teachings for their rich stories, interpretations and values. They also love comedy and understand its effectiveness as a method of engagement, and they bring that surprising combination to their performances.

“It all started on a rainy day,” when they worked at Camp Ramah, recalled Friedman, 32, stand-up comedian and artistic director. The camp director asked Friedman and Davies to quickly devise an activity that could entertain 200 campers indoors and keep attention away from the gray weather.

“We wracked our brains, wrote scenes, came up with some Jewish [improvisational] games, and that started the whole ball rolling,” said Friedman. The campers had a great time, and the Jewish comedy duo received repeat requests for material, so they knew they were on to something.

Officially begun in 2011, the Bible Players now tour about twice a week to different synagogues, Jewish day schools and organizations around the country representing all Jewish denominations and even at some churches.

“The goal of the show is to use theater and improv to live out the Jewish values,” explained Davis, 30, artistic director and trained in improvisational comedy. “We want to make everyone laugh, have a good time, and we love the stories and values that we grew up with, so if we can make people laugh and learn about those values at the same time — that’s the idea.”

Davies and Friedman grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and met at Akiva Academy, now known as Barrack Hebrew Academy, while in a production of “The Music Man,” and have been friends and collaborators ever since. Now they live in New York City and work hard to keep their performances fresh, often using pop culture references, and they cleverly infuse ancient Jewish stories with modern-day relevance.

“There’s an amalgam of thousands of years of Jewish learning” to draw from, said Friedman, who marvels at how his double major in creative writing and Jewish philosophy is
relevant to his “real job.”

The Bible Players’ shows might include a Jewish tale sung in rap style, musical “Mitzvah Moments,” dancing, singing and always lots of hands-on participation, which they consider key for the enjoyment of the audience, but also to allow the Jewish content and values to take root. Most of the audience participation comes through improvisational games.

Davies said that mastering improvisation, which he’s practiced for over a decade, transformed many aspects of his personal life and saw that it worked to teach Torah stories and values as well.

“You have to be a great listener,” said Davies. In improv “you need to hear what someone is saying and add on to it. … You have to say, ‘Yes, and …’ but a lot of time [in life] we spend saying, ‘No, no thanks, I’m not interested.’

“But improv forces you to say yes, jump in and build stories,” he continued. “It’s a community, and you have to work together with others” to make it happen.

Rabbi Stuart Seltzer, director of congregational education at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, has invited the Bible Players to perform multiple times, including a performance for a family Shabbat weekend Nov. 15.

“They provide a methodology that integrates the arts and Torah study to reach students on their level, in a different way,” said Seltzer. “The language of biblical text is difficult, so they unpack it in a way the kids can understand.”

A interactive story the pair share with audiences is called “Kindness at the Well” in which they combine three biblical stories that start at a well — Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Moses and Tsipora — who all meet and become partners because of acts of kindness performed at a well. It creates lots of fun and physical comedy for the audience, said Davies, and the message is “even though [today] we don’t meet people at a well, we still form relationships through those acts of kindness.”

“Luckily, Andrew and I are both very immature for our age,” said Friedman laughing, in reference to the constantly updated pop-culture references in their material. “We do keep aware of what kids are watching, write parody songs of what songs are popular. … It’s how you stay relevant.”

Davies and Friedman hear comments such as, “These guys make Torah cool,” and “I hated coming to Hebrew school but my kids love coming to your shows.” On return engagements, in anticipation of their arrival they’ve been met by groups of kids delivering their latest Bible story learned with rap, emulating the Bible Players’ methods. In addition to Chizuk Amuno, they’ve performed at Johns Hopkins Hillel and Temple Beth Ami Hebrew School in Rockville.

Seltzer said he likens the Bible Players’ performances as another lens through which kids can experience Jewish holidays, texts and values. He added that through the arts, students can ask themselves deep questions and find their own interpretations.

“I think [what we do is] important because I really want to make Jewish kids proud of our culture and our heritage and the stories we’ve inherited and have been passed down for so many generations,” said Davies. “I love passing down that tradition.”

For more information about the Bible Players and to see video of their shows, visit thebibleplayers.com or contact Aaron Friedman at (347) 994-9386 or TheBiblePlayers@gmail.com.