Weinberg Early Childhood Center Opens

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and The Johns Hopkins University opened the Weinberg Early Childhood Center, an innovative space — and the first of five such centers that will be created in Baltimore City — designed to care for infants and educate parents.

The event, which took place on Sept. 10, featured Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Ronald J. Daniels, president of The Johns Hopkins University; Gregory E. Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools; and Ellen M. Heller, chair of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

“This new library and early childhood education center will give more Maryland children the tools they need to climb the ladder of opportunity toward success,” said Brown. “Every child deserves the opportunity to get a world-class education. By working together to invest in our schools and through the dedication of our partners in the private sector, like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, we’re making real progress toward that goal.”

The Weinberg Early Childhood Center, located in the Henderson-Hopkins School in East Baltimore, is a 30,000-square-foot facility that will focus on children, birth to age 5, their families and community. The center will include a family support center and health and wellness suite ensuring that the children there will have the support and services they need to reinforce the development of their language, literacy and math readiness skills.

Jemicy Head Joins Stevenson Council

Ben Shifrin, head of Jemicy School in Owings Mills, was selected by Stevenson University President Kevin J. Manning to serve on the President’s Advisory Council at the university.

Stevenson University, known for its distinctive career focus, is the third-largest independent undergraduate university in Maryland with more than 4,400 students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, and adult bachelor’s degrees at locations in Stevenson and Owings Mills.

The President’s Advisory Council was formed to provide a forum for discussing important developments and issues about Stevenson University and is comprised of community leaders, including alumni. The group meets twice a year. At each meeting, a key issue is presented for discussion, and PAC members give valuable feedback.

Weinberg Gives $340K to Charity

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States, hosted its eighth annual Employee Giving Program in which 17 employees presented $20,000 to a Maryland nonprofit.

The charities included: Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare, Inc.;  Baltimore School for the Arts Foundation; Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore; CHANA; Community Conferencing Center; Community Support Services for the Deaf, Inc.; Dayspring Programs, Inc.; Franciscan Center, Inc.; Job Opportunities Task Force, Inc.; Maria’s Hope d/b/a CUPs Coffeehouse & Kitchen; Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, Inc./ “Bridges-Baltimore”; Next One Up Foundation; People Encouraging People; Sarah’s House; TurnAround, Inc.; Urban Alliance Foundation, Inc.; and Westminster Rescue Mission, Inc.

Leadership Howard County Selects Ostroff

Michelle Ostroff

Michelle Ostroff (FeeBee Photography)

Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, has been selected as a member of the Leadership Howard County Class of 2015.

Forty-nine individuals were selected for the 10-month program that is designed to empower and connect community leaders and keep them engaged in the critical issues facing Howard County and the region. The class members represent business, nonprofit, government and educational organizations.

The leadership program was launched in 1985 to develop capable, well-informed individuals committed to devoting their time and resources for community improvement. The program addresses countywide issues in monthly, daylong seminars, where these concerned citizens meet with established leaders in business, government and community services.

Goldman Joins Berkshire Hathaway

Joel Goldman

Joel Goldman

Joel Goldman has joined Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Homesale Realty as a full-time Realtor and member of the Yerman Witman and Gaines Team.

A resident of Baltimore, Goldman will specialize in residential sales throughout Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

He attended Vassar College in New York, where he received a B.A. in political science and a Juris Doctorate. He was previously a journalist with The Times of Israel. Goldman will work at Berkshire Hathaway Homesale Realty’s Baltimore Metro office located at 1425 Clarkview Road.

Holocaust Refugee Shares His ‘Small Slice of History’

A local book club examined the life of Si Kalderon, whose story is among many mentioned in “Haven,” Ruth Gruber’s account of rescuing 982 refugees from 18 countries as World War II raged.

Kalderon, who was just 9 years old when he fled the Holocaust aboard the troop transport Henry Gibbins and sailed for Ellis Island, addressed the Sept. 30 gathering of the Lonsmen ladies, a group of wives whose husbands are part of the Lonsmen Motorcycle Club.

A native of Trávníček, Serbia, Kalderon told the women of his experience at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, N.Y., the only refugee camp in the U.S. Gruber, who at the time was a special assistant to the secretary of the interior, quotes Kalderon in her book.

“We were so lucky to be a part of that group,” said Kalderon. “We were in the right place at the right time. Now, Ruth Gruber is 102 years old, and I feel like a native Baltimorean.”

At Fort Ontario, rescued families were not allowed to leave — their immigration statuses were not resolved until 1946 — but residents did their best to create a close-knit community.

“The children went to school, the men worked, and the women cooked and cleaned,” said Kalderon. “When we were finally released, we decided to go to Baltimore, and I have lived here ever since.”

This summer, the Lonsmen, a predominately Jewish biker club in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, attended the Ride to Remember at the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center in Oswego to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Henry Gibbins voyage.

Lonsmen lady Irene Gellar ran into Kalderon at the event and knew she wanted more people to hear his story.

“I couldn’t believe I ran into someone from Pikesville out of all the hundreds of people,” said Gellar, a teacher at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville. “After talking with him, I convinced him to come speak at our book club. We all read the book, and we wanted to speak with him in person about his experiences.”

Bringing maps, pictures and books to Gellar’s Pikesville home, Kalderon gladly shared his story.

“This is a great group of ladies, and I am honored to discuss my small slice of history with them,” said Kalderon.


New Mediterranean Restaurant Coming to Owings Mills

From left: Eli Hershko, Ronen Barokas and Sam Hilel plan to open Mediterranean restaurant Cilantro in Owings Mills later this month. (Provided)

From left: Eli Hershko, Ronen Barokas and Sam Hilel plan to open Mediterranean restaurant Cilantro in Owings Mills later this month. (Provided)

Although Ronen Barokas went to culinary school in Israel and worked as a chef there and in New York City before coming to Baltimore two years ago, he still asks the rhetorical question, “What is Israeli food?”

“We take it from all over the world, and we make it better” is his answer.

The Israeli native hopes to drive that point home, when Cilantro opens its doors later this month in Owings Mills.

The fast-casual restaurant will open in the 1,700-square-foot space that used to house Quinzo’s at Brookside Commons in Owings Mills New Town. Barokas and partners Sam Hilel and Eli Hershko, also Israeli natives, hope to bring the flavors of their home country and their heritages to the restaurant. With Barokas’ parents coming from Turkey, Hilel’s from Bulgaria and Hershko’s from Romania, the food will be a fusion of Mediterranean tastes.

“Israel, because it’s so small, there’s so much variety,” Barokas said.

In addition to traditional-style falafel, for example, the menu will include spicy, smoked roasted red pepper and white bean falafel. The restaurant will also serve chicken, ground beef and lamb shwarma sandwiches, a variety of salads and kids’ meals.

“The flavored falafel,” Hilel said, “I think only in Israel I saw this.”

The restaurant owners are being specific with their suppliers, including using an Israeli baker, to make sure they have fresh ingredients, much like Israel. The restaurant will not carry any kosher certification.

Hilel and Hershko were introduced to Barokas through a mutual friend. Although the two of them come from a retail background, Hilel said they wanted to start a business they could really put their hearts into.

Hilel said that Israelis and Jewish people in the community often talk to him about how there aren’t many places to get authentic Israeli cuisine.

“There are places in Pikesville, but in Owings Mills, not really,” Hershko said.

Cilantro will be a neighbor of the Hummus Corner, also located on Lakeside Boulevard on the other side of Owings Mills Boulevard. That restaurant also features falafel and shwarma and draws on recipes from the owners’ home country of Lebanon. Hilel is confident the two restaurants can co-exist.

“We bring our own style,” he said, “the Israeli flavor.”


Baltimore City College Celebrates 175 years

Baltimore City College will commemorate its 175th anniversary on Oct. 25. (Melissa Gerr)

Baltimore City College will commemorate its 175th anniversary on Oct. 25. (Melissa Gerr)

Baltimore City College in northeast Baltimore, Maryland’s oldest public high school and third oldest in the nation, celebrates 175 years this month with a series of events culminating with a black-tie gala on Oct. 25.

The kick-off event outside the school’s second home — “the castle on the hill” that was erected in 1939 — included statements from some of the institution’s notable alumni, including Sen. Ben Cardin, Class of 1960, and local entrepreneur and BCC Hall of Fame member Martin “Marty” Resnick, Class of 1949. Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clarke and Shanaysha Sauls, chair of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, were also in attendance, and local artist Greg Otto, Class of 1961, unveiled his original artwork for the commemorative poster.

The school’s original location was at Centre and Eutaw streets and opened in 1839 with 46 students.

The building in northeast Baltimore closed in 1976 because of much-needed costly repairs and was almost lost to demolition for then-nearby Memorial Stadium parking. Clarke recalled civic and community efforts to repair the school and said, “We added the requirement that when we reopen it [in 1978], girls will be admitted,” inciting loud applause from the crowd.

Cardin added that BCC can “brag that three members of Congress are City alumni.” In addition to himself, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger attended City College.

Principal Cindy Harcum, Class of 1988, recounted comments from graduates who return to visit after starting college.

Their professors ask them, “Who taught you to write like that, to research, to read critically?” Harcum said. “University is not a shock for our students because they know how to learn.”

The school’s 175th gala celebration will take place Oct. 25 at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley.


Beyond the Stutter

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Ben Goldstein (Provided)

Despite all of his accomplishments, Ben Goldstein of Baltimore still finds it difficult to order a cup of coffee.

Since early childhood, Goldstein, 24, has had a stutter. Despite his speech impediment, he spent a year in Israel teaching English, graduated with almost a 4.0 grade point average from college and received a full scholarship to a Top 25 law school. Trading in his law aspirations for a career in speech pathology, Goldstein is determined to help others reach their full potential.

“When I was younger, I spent my whole day thinking about stuttering,” said Goldstein. “I would plan my day around it. I would go to a grocery store and try to avoid speaking as much as possible. Now, I realize stuttering is just one small part of me.”

According to the Stuttering Foundation, more than 68 million people worldwide stutter, 3 million in the United States. Stuttering affects males four times as much as females. While there is no cure for stuttering, patients can alleviate symptoms through therapy.

“Stuttering is a neurological and genetic disorder and is not caused by psychological factors,” said University of Maryland clinical professor and speech-language pathologist Vivian Sisskin. “However, therapy aims to change the way stutterers think and potentially lessen the stutter. Many people try to hide their stutter through avoidance. Paradoxically, avoidance intensifies the stutter. Instead, we teach them to advertise it. That reduces fear.”

Growing up in Finksburg, Goldstein attended Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s elementary and middle school and the Park School for high school. On top of normal grade-school pressures, he experienced an added layer of anxiety due to his stuttering.

“I used to avoid answering questions in class or ordering certain foods at restaurants with my friends,” said Goldstein. “For much of my life, I thought I was the only person in the world who stutters. Therapy was my turning point.”

Once Goldstein began his undergraduate career at the University of Maryland, he started working with Sisskin and joined an adult therapy group. A regular in the group, Goldstein now serves as a mentor for new members.

“Ben is a leader in the stuttering community,” said Sisskin. “He developed a joy of communicating and is very open about his stutter. Ben is able to define many of his own problems with stuttering and has become his own clinician.”

Through therapy, Goldstein has learned how to live with stuttering. Comparing stuttering to asthma, he explains that stuttering can reach high or low points depending on the context and conditions of the situation.

“If you run a marathon, your asthma may increase. If I get up and speak in front of a large crowd, my stuttering may increase. The worst that can happen is that I’ll get embarrassed. And no one has died of embarrassment yet,” he said.

Taking a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, he opted for 10 months abroad as an Israel Service Fellow through Masa Israel Journey. Living in the mixed city of Acre, a northern Israel town that is 70 percent Jewish and 30 percent Arab, Goldstein taught students English in an underprivileged school along with 16 other American Jews.  As well as stuttering, Goldstein also had to conquer a language barrier.

“My first day of school, I learned how to say ‘I stutter’ in Hebrew,” said Goldstein. “At one point, I had trouble getting some words out and felt blocked. One of my first-grade students came up to me and gave me a hug. I wish everyone had a reaction like that.”

Using creative techniques such as singing to his students and using a stuttering puppet to entertain the children, Goldstein confidently led his class. Goldstein recalled that one of his scariest experiences was presenting a speech in front of 600 people at a Masa event.

“I was asked to present on behalf of my program,” he said. “I went up there and stuttered continuously. However, I did it. Many people asked me if I was scared to go to Israel with my stutter. I had challenges there, but so did everyone else. I’m not going to let one part of my life define me.”

Now studying to be a speech pathologist, Goldstein assists four students as part of his course load.

“I work with teenagers right now to help them tackle everyday problems,” said Goldstein. “One of my kids is a 12-year-old nonverbal student on the autism spectrum. We are working with him on making sounds and one day say basic words. Years ago, I walked into the University of Maryland as a speech client. Now, I am working as a student clinician. It is hard to believe.”

As both his teacher and his speech pathologist, Sisskin believes that Goldstein has a bright future in speech pathology.

“Due to the fact that Ben has experienced speech problems himself, his clients will look up to him,” said Sisskin. “Younger students will see that Ben is a cool guy who happens to stutter. They will model themselves after him.”

Seeing speech pathology as his calling, he aims to change lives through therapy.

“Vivian (Sisskin) changed my life, and I want to be that influence for someone else,” said Goldstein. “Going through life with a stutter is not easy, but if I can provide support, I will feel fulfilled.”


‘A Great Beacon of Light’

Zelig Brez (left), director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community proudly stands atop the 22-story Menorah Center with a community board member. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Zelig Brez (left), director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community proudly stands atop the 22-story Menorah Center with a community board member.
(Cnaan Liphshiz)

DNEPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — Five months into the war that turned him into a refugee in his own country, Jacob Virin has already attended 20 Jewish weddings — including those of his son and two other relatives — at the $100 million JCC of Dnepropetrovsk.

Towering over the skyline of this industrial metropolis, the 22-story Menorah Center is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe and a symbol of the remarkable Jewish revival here after decades of communist repression.

But with eastern Ukraine descending into chaos in recent months, the center has assumed a new symbolism. With one of its two hotels serving as temporary housing for some of the hundreds of refugees displaced by fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels, and a recent mass wedding for 19 Jewish couples held on its roof terrace, the center has become an emblem of Jewish survival during the current crisis.

“More than any other single complex, the Menorah Center has empowered the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk to better serve as an anchor for Ukrainian Jewry in difficult times and as an engine for Jewish renewal,” said Zelig Brez, the community’s director.

Completed in 2012 with funding from two Jewish oligarchs, the Menorah Center is a leviathan. Its 450,000 square feet of floor space includes a swanky event hall, a synagogue with black marble interior, a large Holocaust museum, luxurious ritual baths for men and women and several kosher restaurants and cafes.

At night, powerful spotlights illuminate the center’s seven domes, making the large complex on Sholem Aleichem Street look much like its namesake.

The Menorah Center in Dnepropetrovsk is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe.  (Jewish Community of Dneproperovsk)

The Menorah Center in Dnepropetrovsk is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe.
(Jewish Community of Dneproperovsk)

“The idea here is also to build a presence, a great beacon of light that tells the Jews of Ukraine: “We are here. Come join us. The time for hiding is over,’ ” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, the energetic chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk and one of the Chabad movement’s most senior envoys to Ukraine.

During the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in the 1940s, German troops murdered 20,000 Jews in and around Dnepropetrovsk, essentially annihilating the community. Many Jews who escaped eastward returned after the Red Army defeated the Nazis, but the Kremlin’s anti-Semitic and anti-religious ideology kept Jewish life underground here until Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Following the fall of communism, Dnepropetrovsk emerged as an engine for Jewish life in Ukraine. Some 15 percent of the country’s Jewish population lives here, and the city boasts several unique Jewish amenities, including the only matzah factory in Ukraine and a workshop for ritual scribes. The community’s partnership with Jewish communities in the Boston area is also the object of pride here.

Kaminezki says the Menorah Center is the largest JCC in Europe. Navigating the maze of elevators that services the building’s seven wings, he pops into a gourmet kosher restaurant with heavy cherrywood tables to chat with a donor having lunch.

Before returning to his office, Kaminezki shows off the center’s main passageway, which at lunch hour fills up with a mix of religious Jews and non-Jews, including women in short skirts and high heels who come to visit medical clinics, hair dressers or the bank — all of which rent space in the center.

The vast structure “is meant to accommodate the needs of this growing community not only now, but also in the future,” Kaminezki said back at his penthouse office overlooking the Dnepro River.

Student Nastya Moscalenko attends a class at the Menorah Center, which also includes medical clinics, shops and a bank. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Student Nastya Moscalenko attends a class at the Menorah Center, which also includes medical clinics, shops and a bank. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

With such an impressive presence, the Menorah Center has become the Jewish community’s de facto embassy, hosting visits from ambassadors and diplomats, including the U.S. State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy, Ira Foreman, who visited in April.

Non-Jews sometimes refer to the center as the Kolomoisky building — Igor Kolomoisky, a Jewish billionaire, funded the building with fellow Ukrainian billionaire Gennady Bogolyubov, the president of the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk.

A banker who has poured millions into Jewish causes, Kolomoisky has become something of a national hero since making sizable donations to the ill-equipped Ukrainian army in its battle against pro-Russian separatists. In April, Kolomoisky was appointed governor of this strategically crucial region.

Brez, the community director, says he is more concerned with using the Menorah Center to leave a mark on the lives of local Jews than to impress foreigners or non-Jewish locals. So earlier this month, Brez helped arrange the mass wedding on the center’s roof, among them his son’s in-laws. Several of the couples had already wed decades ago but never had a Jewish ceremony.

“The community sheltered us, but also made us a family, right here at the Menorah Center,” said Virin, the editor-in-chief of the main Jewish paper of Donetsk, the embattled eastern city that has become a flashpoint in the fight between Ukrainian forces and the rebels.

The day after the mass wedding, Brez was back on the roof for the marriage of Baruch and Nastya Moscalenko, who met last year through a Jewish studies program at the Menorah Center. Although her family is secular, Nastya Moscalenko began attending classes at the urging of her friends.

“Baruch is from a more religious background,” she said. “We traveled in different circles, so I don’t think we would’ve met if not for Menorah.”

Kaminezki takes a more historical view of the center’s significance.

Gesturing toward a neglected yard in the building’s shadow, he indicates the spot where secret police agents in 1939 arrested the city’s chief rabbi, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the father of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The younger Schneerson, revered by Chabad devotees all over the world, spent much of his adolescence in Dnepropetrovsk but left for good after his father’s arrest.

“Those who didn’t want the rebbe and other Jews here now have a 22-story building celebrating their tradition,” Kaminezki said. “That’s the story of Ukraine’s Jews.”