Exodus to Egypt

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr. was instrumental in getting food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community at a time when thousands were dying of starvation. (The World’s Work via Wikimedia Commons.)

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr. was instrumental in getting food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community at a time when thousands were dying of starvation. (The World’s Work via Wikimedia Commons.)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the expulsion of thousands of Jews from Turkish-ruled Palestine to Egypt, in a dramatic reversal of the historic exodus from the Land of the Pharaohs to the Land of Israel. But from that tragic episode in 1914 would emerge a Jewish fighting force that would help liberate the Holy Land from the Turks.

Turkey entered World War I in October 1914, joining Germany in its fight against Russia, England, and France. In Turkey’s eyes, all Russian citizens, including the many Russian-born Jews living in Palestine, were now enemy nationals. Fueled by wartime hysteria and Muslim religious sentiment, the Turkish authorities in the Holy Land turned against the country’s foreign-born Jews. On Dec. 17, the Turkish governor of Jaffa, Beha A-Din, ordered the mass expulsion of the 6,000 Russian-born Jewish residents of that city.

Over the course of the next three months, thousands more Russian-born Jews were expelled from Palestine or fled just ahead of the deportations. By the spring of 1915, more than 11,000 Russian Jewish exiles were living in British-occupied Egypt.

Yaakov and Frieda Brodetzky were among the deportees. “My parents were newlyweds when the expulsion was ordered,” Moshe Brodetzky, 88, of Los Angeles, said. “They spent their ‘honeymoon’ — and the next three years — in exile in Egypt.”

With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria. “My father earned a living by becoming a teacher in a Talmud Torah that the refugees established for their children,” Brodetzky noted.

Back in Turkish Palestine, the rest of the local Jewish community struggled to survive. Some, including two of Frieda’s brothers went into hiding to avoid being inducted into the Turkish army, where anti-Jewish discrimination was rife. Others, such as future Israel Prime Minister Moshe Shertok (Sharett), sought to ingratiate themselves with the authorities by volunteering to serve in the armed forces.

Frieda’s father devised a unique way to elude the Turkish censors and communicate with his exiled daughter. “He would write a message on the inside of a bandage, which would be wrapped around the arm of someone who was traveling from Jerusalem to Egypt,” Moshe Brodetzky explained. “My mother saved those bandages for the rest of her life. When she passed away more than a half-century later, we found some of them among her treasured possessions.”

A number of Palestine’s Jews were forced into Turkish labor brigades, where they paved roads and worked in stone quarries without pay, barely subsisting on meager food rations. Zionist political parties were outlawed, and newspapers were shut down. When David Ben-Gurion — who would later become Israel’s first prime minister — protested these measures, he too was deported to Egypt.

With thousands of Palestine’s Jewish farmers trapped in Egypt, their crops back home withered on the vine. To make matters worse, wartime naval blockades prevented the importation of many foods. As a result, from 1915 to 1916, thousands of Jews in Palestine died of starvation or diseases aggravated by the lack of food.

Henry Morgenthau Sr., America’s ambassador to Turkey, played a critical role in rescuing Palestine Jewry from utter devastation. He persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to let U.S. ships bring food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community, even though that technically meant providing supplies to a country with which the U.S. was at war.

In a remarkable historical twist, the Jewish refugee camps in Egypt became the birthplace of a Jewish armed force that would help take back the land of Israel from the Turks. Advocates of the creation of a modern-day Jewish army found large numbers of eager volunteers among those exiled.

These recruiting efforts were spearheaded by Russian Zionist leader Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, war hero and Zionist pioneer Yosef Trumpeldor and a fervent Christian Zionist, the famous British lion hunter, Col. John Henry Patterson. The latter personally signed up the first 500 volunteers in the Gabbari camp. “Even many years later, my father still vividly recalled and told me about the stirring speeches that Jabotinsky gave to inspire the refugees to sign up,” Brodetzky recalled.

The British agreed to create a relatively small unit known as the Zion Mule Corps, then expanded it into the Jewish Legion, consisting of five full battalions. It was the first Jewish army in nearly 2,000 years. The legion played an important role in the battles that brought about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks in 1918.

Jabotinsky served as a lieutenant in the Jewish Legion. Other legionnaires included Ben-Gurion, future Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Zionist leader Berl Katznelson and future Jerusalem mayor Gershon Agron.

Jewish Legion members took part in the defense of Jerusalem against Arab rioters in 1920. After the British disbanded the legion, some of its veterans joined up with the Jewish underground militias that ultimately fought for the creation of Israel.

The Brodetzky family, for its part, in the 1920s lived in Michigan City (Indiana), Chicago and Brooklyn, where young Moshe became active in Hashomer Hadati, the youth wing of the Mizrachi movement (today known as the Religious Zionists of America). The family returned to British Palestine in 1934, and Moshe later served with the Irgun Zvai Leumi, headed by Menachem Begin, in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

It was historical irony, twice over: The first generation of Jews exiled to Egypt had helped bring about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks, and the second generation played its own part in freeing the land of Israel from the British three decades later.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

The Freedom Summer of 1964

Heather Booth protests for voting rights in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer. (Wallace Roberts)

Heather Booth protests for voting rights in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer. (Wallace Roberts)

At the Freedom Summer anniversary conference in Jackson, Miss., the activists who registered black voters and taught in Freedom Schools under the threat of violence 50 years ago stood up to introduce themselves.

It took three hours to hear what they did in the Magnolia State back in 1964 and have gone on to do in the half-century since.

“Almost everyone had a social justice connection,” said Heather Booth, who went to Mississippi as a college freshman from New York before moving on to a career as a nationally prominent liberal activist. “The former volunteers went on to work as teachers, environmental activists and in the field of health care.”

Organized by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, Freedom Summer sent mostly white college students to Mississippi to confront the violent racism in the state.

In the summer of 1964, some 1,500 volunteers worked registering blacks to vote, teaching in Freedom Schools and organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which aimed to challenge the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention that year.

Jews were represented among the young civil rights volunteers in numbers far exceeding their share of the population.

Debra Schultz, the author of “Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement,” said that like other SNCC activists, Jewish Freedom Summer volunteers were motivated by a desire to hold the country to its full promise of democracy. Many were inspired as well by their Jewish and often left-leaning backgrounds.

“Among particularly ‘Jewish’ motivations, we can cite: an identification with another racialized people and a passion for racial justice, born of the
recent experience with the Holocaust,” Schultz said.

Booth said that she came to Mississippi a year after visiting Israel, where she made a commitment at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to struggle for justice. Schultz noted that her synagogue had funded the $500 bail money required to participate in Freedom Summer in the case of an arrest.

The first days of Freedom Summer saw the murder of three civil rights workers — Jewish New Yorkers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and black Mississippian James Chaney, who had been investigating the burning of a black church. During the weeks-long search for the workers, the bodies of eight murdered black men were found in the Mississippi countryside before the discovery of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner’s remains.

Tension and danger lurked throughout the summer.

There were another four people critically wounded, 80 activists beaten, 1,000 arrests, 37 churches and 30 black homes or businesses bombed or burned.

Booth recalls feeling frightened all the time that summer.

“But it was also very exhilarating,” Booth said. “There were nightly meetings at black churches, with a lot of singing.”

In Shaw, Miss., where blacks were neglected, Booth said she felt honored that her hosts generously gave up their beds for her and three other volunteers.

“In the black part of town, there were no toilets, no sewers and no street lights,” Booth said.

Booth continued her activism after Freedom Summer. She became involved in the women’s movement, founding Jane, an underground abortion counseling and referral service in Chicago. She went on to serve as the founding director of the NAACP National Voter Fund and Americans for Financial Reform. She also coordinated grassroots efforts to win passage of President Obama’s first budget.

Based in Washington, D.C., she currently consults for and advises a variety of liberal advocacy groups.

At the anniversary conference in late June, Booth was one of more than 200 former Freedom Summer volunteers in attendance. They met with nearly 2,000 younger activists.

Larry Rubin, a veteran labor movement activist who came to the reunion from Takoma Park, Md., worked on the SNCC staff as a young man from 1961 to 1965, first in southwest Georgia. In early 1964, he went to Mississippi to set up the infrastructure for Freedom Summer.

Rubin said that when he trucked donated books to the Freedom Schools, he was pulled over, roughed up and arrested by police who expressed anti-Semitic sentiments. (But when he came back to Mississippi later as a labor organizer, he recalled, a policeman who had once threatened to kill him if he ever again showed his face in his town praised his efforts to unionize a local business.)

When local blacks faced harassment, he said, all the civil rights workers could do was offer to report it to the federal government.

Rubin left the SNCC in 1965 as it was turning toward Black Power and whites were being pushed out of the organization. Rubin recalls feeling a sense of relief, like he was dismissed and could go home.

He returned to university studies to learn more about his Eastern European Jewish roots, just as the Black Power movement was encouraging African-Americans to embrace their heritage.

Rubin, who grew up in Philadelphia, said his civil rights work was influenced by his parents, who taught him to fight for social justice because of what his grandparents went through fleeing Europe.

But while many volunteers were Jewish, their backgrounds were not necessarily at the forefront within the movement.

“In the 1960s we didn’t discuss being Jewish, and we didn’t bring up our motivation for getting involved in the movement,” Rubin said. “There was no space to discuss Jewishness.”

Bob Moses, the well-known black civil rights leader and Freedom Summer organizer, said that he was not aware at the time of participants’ Jewish identities.

“I didn’t know if Freedom Summer people were Jewish,” he said.

At the anniversary gathering, however, it was a topic of discussion, with a breakout session focused on Jewish participation. Also, concurrent with the reunion, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life organized events on Jewish involvement in civil rights and social justice activism.

Freedom Summer volunteer Annie Popkin said her family was very aware of discrimination because her father was shut out of Harvard Medical School due to quotas that limited the numbers of Jewish students. At times her family embraced their Jewishness. Other times they turned away from it, seeing it as a painful liability, she said.

She said she was “so ready to go” south when organizers recruited students like her at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass.

Popkin started early in her activism. When she was 12 or 13, Popkin said, her mother took her to a picket line to demand fair housing in her hometown on New York’s Long Island after a black family who moved into the white section had their house burned.

Later, in ninth grade, she and a friend organized pickets of Woolworth’s in New York City in support of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the South. Once when she was picketing, Popkin said, a woman shouted at her, “You’ll make my husband lose his job, and that’s not nice of you!”

“I realized I was not going to be a nice 1950s girl,” Popkin said in a telephone interview from her home in Portland, Ore., where she works as a counselor.

By the time of her Freedom Summer orientation in Oxford, Ohio, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner had already disappeared. Freedom Summer organizers feared the worst.

But Popkin remembers feeling optimistic as hundreds of black and white SNCC volunteers locked arms, held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

“Just imagine if everyone in the country could feel this spirit and see this vision. Wouldn’t people want to end segregation?” she recalled thinking.

Popkin calls her optimism naive.

“It was so moving to be part of the embodied vision of beloved community we were creating in working together, singing together, risking our lives together, believing together,” she said. “We knew what was right, and we spent our days and nights organizing for it.”

She went to Vicksburg, Miss., where she gathered signatures for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She witnessed the threats and reprisals — economic and physical — that kept blacks from attempting to register to vote.

“We got to see the strong consequences of what we were doing,” Popkin said.

Popkin, who went on to become involved in the women’s movement and teach women’s studies at various universities, pointed to the value of recalling the experiences of rank-and-file civil rights activists like her.

“There’s been a media emphasis on leaders in the civil rights movement and not the individuals who participated,” Popkin said. “All of our stories can be inspiration. If we could make change at 18, 19, 20, so can others today.”

Family Owned & Proud of It

Levinson Funeral Home (Photographs by Alan Gilbert)

Levinson Funeral Home (Photographs by Alan Gilbert)

For most people, a bad day at the office might involve bad coffee, an angry customer or a tidal wave of emails. For the Levinson family, all of that pales in comparison to burying a child, something it does on a relatively regular basis.

“There’s no room for mistakes here,” said Matt Levinson, the fifth generation of Levinsons to enter the business.

At a time when large corporations dominate the funeral industry, Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home is a rarity. When Matt joined the staff full time in 2005, the business entered into rare company. A 2012 USA Today article cited estimates that out of the 5 million family businesses in the U.S., one in three is operated by the second generation. Only one in every 500 is sixth-generation run.

While Levinson’s has become a Baltimore institution over the century it has existed, the situation is different elsewhere.

The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that the employment of funeral service workers will grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, and revenue, which has been steadily increasing across the industry, is expected to increase to $16.2 billion by the end of 2014. But while the funeral industry has been gaining steam, the number of funeral homes in the United States has been gradually declining. In the decade between 2003 and 2013, the number of homes registered with the National Directory of Morticians Redbook slipped by more than 2,200.

Part of the reason behind the decrease might be the growth of large funeral service companies that often purchase privately owned funeral homes and cemeteries, forcing regional competitors out or merging smaller businesses together.

Waves were made 40 miles south in the fall when Service Corporation International, the nation’s largest funeral service provider, sought to acquire Stewart Enterprises, the country’s second-largest funeral service provider.

At the center of the unrest in Washington was the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home of Silver Spring, which was owned by Stewart Enterprises and had a contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee that ensured the availability of low-cost funerals to those who requested it. The community feared that SCI would not renew the contract, and the cost of burying a loved one would skyrocket. The merger has since been permitted by the Federal Trade Commission on the condition that the new combined company sell off 91 of its locations.

Elsewhere, SCI has gained a reputation for complaints of deceptive sales tactics, desecration of graves and mishandling remains of the deceased, according to a July 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer article that cited lawsuit settlements of $14 million, $80 million and $100 million in California and Florida.

Also read, “How much does a funeral cost?”

In the 1990s, the Levinsons say, SCI tried to purchase the funeral home, but the Baltimore community convinced the family to decline the offer.

“We’re proud to still be family owned,” said Matt, adding that not a lot of communities have the option of a family-owned Jewish funeral home available to them anymore when they find themselves having to bury a loved one.

Beth El Congregation’s Rabbi Steven Schwartz has officiated funerals all over the mid-Atlantic but said Sol Levinson sets the bar on Jewish funeral services.

“Levinson’s is the cream of the crop,” said Schwartz. Going to other funeral homes after working with Levinson’s, he added, is “like a different world.”

A major part of why the family’s business has been so successful, Schwartz speculates, in addition to the professionalism the company brings to every occasion, is how involved the Levinsons are in the Baltimore Jewish community.

“In Baltimore you have the whole dynamic of everybody in the Jewish community knowing everybody else,” said Schwartz. “There’s something nice about it, and when you go into Levinson’s, they know your family, probably. It’s that sense of community.”

New Lease on Life

Not many people who battle drug addiction and Hepatitis C live to tell about it. Yet, 62-year-old Baltimorean and former county drug czar Mike Gimbel fought and conquered both.

Mike Gimbel, a Hepatitis C survivor, battled back from heroin addiction (below, when he was admitted to rehab) to a 25-year career as director of Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse. (Photos provided)

Mike Gimbel, a Hepatitis C survivor, battled back from heroin addiction (below, when he was admitted to rehab) to a 25-year career as director of Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse. (Photos provided)

Gimbel, a former heroin addict, spent his teenage years leading a double life. By day, he was a typical Jewish boy from Pikesville. By night, he was scouring the streets of Baltimore for drugs. Nearly bankrupting his family, Gimbel spent about $250 a day to satisfy his drug habit.

“I had no idea what long-term damage I was doing to my body,” he said. “To be honest, I’m lucky I made it to 20.”

After several near-death overdoses, his parents convinced him to admit himself to Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center in Santa Monica, Calif. “I was so far gone that I overdosed on the airplane to the treatment center,” he said. “My dad is my Schindler. He, along with my mom, saved my life and gave me a second chance.”

Gimbel returned home sober seven years later and quickly made a name in the drug-prevention world. Transformed from Jewish junkie to drug czar, Gimbel became the first director of Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse in 1980 and served for 25 years. Despite nearly 43 years of sobriety and a career in drug prevention, Gimbel feared that repercussions from his drug abuse would steal years away from his life. A doctor’s diagnosis confirmed those fears.

In 1998, Gimbel learned he had contracted Hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles during his years of drug use. Though he had no physical symptoms, his liver enzyme levels were rapidly increasing. He enlisted the help of gastroenterologist Anurag Maheshwari at Mercy Medical Center to carefully monitor his health until the right treatment came along.

“It was like playing Russian roulette,” said Gimbel. “I wanted to bet my chances and hold off for the best cure possible. In July, Dr. Maheshwari told me about a new drug being developed, Sovaldi. I asked him when it would be approved by the FDA. He told me Dec. 6, 2013. I made an appointment for Dec. 7.”

With an 80 to 90 percent cure rate, Sovaldi is a medical breakthrough for patients with Hepatitis C. Developed by an American biopharmaceutical company, Gilead, Sovaldi is an NS5B inhibitor, which means it prevents the Hepatitis C virus from replicating in the body’s RNA.

A single Hepatitis C virus can multiply up to a million copies in a day, but the drug can stop it from multiplying and ultimately cure the disease, said Maheshwari.

“For the first time, we have a treatment that cures Hepatitis C quickly and with fewer side effects,” said Maheshwari. “We always knew Hepatitis C is a curable disease, but Sovaldi is a potent inhibitor. In just 12 weeks of medication, patients are done with Hepatitis C for life.”

Sovaldi on its own will not cure Hepatitis C. For 12 weeks, Gimbel took one Sovaldi daily and two RibaPaks, an antiviral medication that reduces the amount of Hepatitis C virus in the body, and one weekly injection of PEGASYS, an interferon protein that augments the patient’s immune system. Within one month, his Hepatitis C was undetected in his blood work.

082214_hepatitis1“It is still surreal to me,” said Gimbel. “I still can’t believe it. They monitored my blood work for 12 more weeks once I went off Sovaldi. After all these years, I cannot believe [my Hepatitis C] is finally gone.”

However, Sovaldi comes at a steep cost.

Priced at $1,000 a pill, the total cost for Sovaldi is $84,000 for the prescribed 12-week period. Once patients add in costs for other medications and medical assistance, Hepatitis C treatment can easily top $150,000. Not all patients can afford treatment; Gimbel’s insurance covered his costs.

In 1991, Joel Bernstein was doing his job as a physician’s assistant at Sinai Hospital.

“With one simple needle cutting my thumb, I got stuck with Hepatitis C,” said Bernstein. Since then he needed and received a liver transplant, endured fevers of more than 105 degrees and suffered from general bad health. Bernstein has been unemployed since 1998 due to the disease.

Bernstein cannot afford insurance that would cover the costs: “It is hard knowing there is a magic pill to cure me but that I cannot get it,” he said. “I do not have the funds to cover $1,000 a pill.”

It is no surprise to Maheshwari that Sovaldi comes with such a large price tag. “They have a short window of time where they have a monopoly,” he said. “There are similar medications being developed to Sovaldi that will be approved later this year. As the competition heats up, the price will go down.”

Bernstein hopes to raise money to fund his treatment despite its high cost.

“My Hepatitis C is active and progressive,” said Bernstein. “It is a full-body disease and affects all aspects of my health. If I could cure my Hepatitis C, it would be a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I would frame my blood results and bow down to them every night.”

More than three million Americans suffer from Hepatitis C. Passed through blood transmission, Hepatitis C can be spread by sharing needles and sexual contact, among other ways. Nicknamed the silent disease, Hepatitis C can lie undetected for decades without proper testing.

According to a United States Health and Human Services’ 2011 report, 65 to 75 percent of infected Americans remain unaware of their Hepatitis C status. Conversely, Hepatitis C has surpassed HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplantation in the country.

“I was a ticking time bomb,” said Gimbel. “If I had not gotten tested, I never would have known I had it. I especially encourage the baby boomers, individuals born between 1945 and 1964, to get screened because that generation makes up more than 75 percent of Hepatitis C victims.”

Maheshwari also emphasized the importance of getting tested and raising awareness about Hepatitis C.

“We come across patients who either do not know that they have it or feel like they have to live with the disease forever,” he said. “Hepatitis C is a curable disease, and there is no reason to live with it for the rest of your life. With new medical breakthroughs like Sovaldi, you can get cured in 12 weeks.”

For Gimbel, access to Sovaldi has been like a new lease on life.

“I feel like I’ve cheated death twice, said Gimbel. “I was lucky enough to survive my heroin addiction, but I never thought I would be cured of Hepatitis C. I always figured I would need a liver transplant or die of liver disease. It is a medical miracle.”

Allie Freedman is a local freelance writer.

In It Together

Nadav Korman (middle left) and Andy Sokal (middle right) pose with their  instructor, Jennifer Lake, and Lake’s  father, the founder of CSA, Douglas Lake, after receiving their black belts. Below: Sokal and Korman test for their black belts at he Owings Mills JCC. (Photos Provided)

Nadav Korman (middle left) and Andy Sokal (middle right) pose with their
instructor, Jennifer Lake, and Lake’s
father, the founder of CSA, Douglas Lake, after receiving their black belts. Below: Sokal and Korman test for their black belts at he Owings Mills JCC. (Photos Provided)

History was made last Sunday at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center when two martial arts students tested and achieved their black belts in karate.

After more than a decade of study, practice and hard work, Nadav Korman, 18, and Andy Sokal, 23, completed the final stage of their testing Sunday morning with friends and family looking on.

“It was the greatest experience,” said Korman.

“It was really awesome and unique,” added Sokal.

Both men began their journey to the black belt level around age 10. For Korman, it was a way to learn how to defend himself against school bullies and get active. For Sokal, it was a way to learn life skills that could help him cope with his autism.

Korman’s parents signed him up at the age of 8 after trying unsuccessfully to get him involved in other sports and to combat lower school bullying, which got so bad that he suffered a broken back after being shoved down some stairs. Through it all, karate offered Korman an outlet and a group of friends he could rely on.

082214_blackbelt2Sokal began lessons at 10 years old. He took a liking to the sport from the start, he said, and the opportunity to teach it, which both have done for years, has only grown his love of karate.

“I’m really proud of it,” he said of being able to teach young students.

Their teacher, Jennifer Lake, head instructor at the Comprehensive Survival Arts (CSA) Martial Arts and Wellness School at the JCC, couldn’t think of a time when she had been more proud of any of her students.

“It was really emotional for me,” she said of watching the pair complete the final part of their test last weekend. “It was the culmination of years of hard work.”

That work involved getting to the karate studio at about 6:45 every morning to work out until students arrived for lessons, which they taught. After classes were over for the day, the pair would put in another half hour of practice before heading home. They also incorporated running, tai chi, kickboxing and other training into their own workouts to improve their strength and stamina.

For Lake and CSA, it was the first time in six years that the program gave out a black belt. For the younger kids in the classes, Korman and Sokal are an inspiration, she said. But while the final test showed off both men’s mastery of the physical skills involved in karate, they said the accompanying mental and emotional benefits of years of karate were, in some ways, even more gratifying than the ability to precisely execute each move.

At the end of this month, Korman will leave Baltimore for yeshiva in Beit Shmesh, where he knows no one. As part of his schooling, he must give back to the community in some way, so he plans to teach karate to underprivileged children. Though he’ll have to start over in a new place, the ability to spend a portion of his time in a familiar setting doing what he loves makes him more confident.

For Sokal, the nest stage involves swapping his sweats for business attire, as he begins to search for a job in the computer science industry. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Towson University in the spring and said karate has given him the confidence to approach the workforce head-on. Because of karate, he said, he no longer fears public speaking, and he has the self-assuredness he needs to approach job interviews with confidence.

“[Having a black belt] is a good thing to put on a resume; it shows that you have discipline and you can work hard whenever they ask you to,” he said, adding that a few stripes on the new black belt might also look nice.


Inspired Silver

Jeweler Doron Cohen creates delicate silver filigree jewelry inspired by Torah and Kabbalah. His studio is based in Safed, Israel, and he is touring the East Coast this month. (Provided)

Jeweler Doron Cohen creates delicate silver filigree jewelry inspired by Torah and Kabbalah. His studio is based in Safed, Israel, and he is touring the East Coast this month. (Provided)

From the cobblestone steps of the Old City to Jewish community centers across the East Coast, Doron Cohen, owner of Doron Gallery and highly acclaimed filigree jeweler, transports the spirit of Safed, Israel to America this summer.

Born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, Cohen followed in the footsteps of his parents, Yemenite jewelers.

“I was inspired by a dream,” said Cohen. “I woke up that night and told my parents I wanted to learn their art. Within two weeks, I was handcrafting my own jewelry. It was in my blood.”

He launched his jewelry career at the age of 23 and made fast strides in the art of filigree —  a delicate metalwork process. He then opened his own studio in Safed’s famed artist colony 13 years ago.

One of Safed’s premier jewelers, Cohen is currently in the midst of a U.S. tour that he hopes will boost sales to make up for this year’s decline in business due to Operation Protective Edge. Leaving his wife and 10 children in Safed, Cohen is venturing up and down the East Coast for three-and-a-half weeks with assistance from 17-year-old Baltimore native Eliezer Vogel, his manager and coordinator for the sales. Vogel and Cohen met last year in Safed, when Vogel took a summer job at an art gallery, working to save up money for a second year at Yeshiva.

“The idea of the sale is to bring the jeweler from Northern Israel to you,” Cohen said. “With tourism dropping in Israel this year, I came to the tourists instead of waiting for the tourists to come to me.”

Since the onset of Operation Protective Edge, tourism has plummeted significantly in Israel. Small cities such as Safed rely primarily on tourist traffic to support their economy. According to recent reports, Israel is forecast to lose roughly $500 million in income for the third quarter due to a sharp decline in tourism during the peak summer season. As a favorite stop among Taglit Birthright and other organized groups, Cohen personally experienced an 80 percent drop in income due to the dwindling number of tourists visiting Israel this summer.

“Due to Operation Protective Edge, we went from having packed stores to one or two customers a day,” said Cohen. “This is not normal for Israel in the height of tourist season. Israel lost over one million tourists this year due to canceled trips.”

As one of Safed’s most popular jewelers, Cohen hopes his unique artwork will attract customers on the road in the U.S. While some stops have been successful, others have been sparse.

“We have relied mostly on social media, websites and word of mouth,” said Vogel. “We’ve grown our Facebook page tremendously and publicize our events as much as possible there.”

Vogel handles the business side of the tour, and Cohen focuses on the products.

Cohen combines technique, talent and Torah in his handcrafted art and intertwines spiritual Kabbalah values with innovative filigree ideas. Jewish mysticism influences many of his designs.

“My jewelry comes with good energy,” said Cohen. “I find beauty in the Torah and Kabbalah content. Safed is the birthplace of Kabbalah, so my art should reflect it.” Cohen added that when pop icon Madonna visited Safed, the mayor called upon him to create a gift, and he chose a necklace that combined a Star of David and Tree of Life. “Out of all the artists in Safed, I was honored he picked me.”

Other works are inspired by biblical stories, and some pieces represent popular Jewish symbols. For example, his popular Chamsa (Jewish protection symbol) and Shema rings are some of his bestsellers.

Selling both his own handiwork and selections from other Safed artists, Cohen’s traveling jewelry store features necklaces, bracelets, rings, pendants, Kiddush cups, mezuzot, candlesticks and other Judaic pieces. Setting up one-day sales throughout the East Coast, Cohen’s stops include Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Rockville, among others.

“We call the sale, ‘East Coast Straight from Israel,’” said Vogel.

“He doesn’t just sell you his jewelry, he sells you his blessing,” said Yisroel Vogel, Eliezer’s father and supporter of Cohen. “His jewelry radiates positivity and spirituality.”

Cohen stopped at the Owings Mills JCC and Park Heights JCC last week and will be back in Maryland on Aug. 28 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a one-day event at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (6125 Montrose Road, Rockville). For more information, visit dorongallery.com.

Allie Freedman is a local freelance writer.

Three JCC Lifeguards Honored

JCC lifeguards Jalina Ray (left), Andrew Minkin and Jennifer Siegel have a new appreciation for the importance of their jobs. (Provided)

JCC lifeguards Jalina Ray (left), Andrew Minkin and Jennifer Siegel have a new appreciation for the importance of their jobs. (Provided)

Earlier this summer, JCC lifeguards Andrew Minkin, Jalina Ray and Jennifer Siegel’s skills were put to the test. Fortunately, all three of the Red Cross-trained lifeguards passed with flying colors, saving the life of a young boy.

When Ray spotted an 8-year-old swimmer, wearing a mask and snorkel, who seemed to be struggling in the pool, she consulted with Minkin. “I couldn’t really tell if he was just playing under water, or in danger and we didn’t want to alarm everybody,” said the 19-year-old. Minkin dove in and pulled the boy out of the water while Ray activated the team’s emergency-action plan.

Once the boy was out of the pool, Minkin began a preliminary assessment while Siegel, the lifeguard for the JCC’s aquatics camp, assisted. “I laid the boy flat on the ground and checked for breathing and a pulse, while Andrew prepared a CPR mask and cleared the area,” recalled Siegel, 18.

After receiving the rescue breaths, the youngster, who was not breathing on his own, began vomiting, so the lifeguards turned him on his side to clear his airway. The team notified emergency medical services and administered emergency oxygen until EMS arrived to take him to the hospital.

It was later determined that water had entered the boy’s snorkel, leading to an asthma attack. As he attempted to catch his breath, he removed his snorkel under water, inhaled more water and then lost consciousness.

“I knew that I had a huge responsibility but it didn’t faze me that I was saving a life,” said Siegel. “I was doing what I was trained to do and none of the guards hesitated about how to assist him,” said Siegel.

“Initially, I was in shock,” said Ray. “I have worked as a lifeguard for the JCC for five years and never had a save. At the end of the day, the training really did come in handy. I’m happy to say we got him out in time.”

Siegel agreed. “I’m happy that our outcome was a good one. It felt good knowing that we saved a life, especially that of an 8-year-old. I feel very differently about being a lifeguard after this. I definitely understand the importance of our job after experiencing firsthand, that a lifeguard can change the outcome of a life or death situation.”

Due to their skillfulness, Minkin, an incoming senior at McDonogh School who’s in his third year of lifeguarding at the JCC, Ray, an incoming sophomore in veterinary science at Tuskegee University who’s in her fifth season as a JCC swim instructor and lifeguard, and Siegel, an incoming freshman at Penn State who’s in her third season as a JCC swim instructor and lifeguard, were honored by the American Red Cross in a ceremony at the JCC on Aug. 14. All three received certificates and pins in recognition of their heroic efforts and lifesaving skills.


Prize-Winning Provisions

082214_StatefairDr. Steven Adashek is expert at many things: from birthing babies to baking bread. The latter has garnered him much attention from judges at the Maryland State Fair, where, in 2011, he won the highest Home Arts honor possible, the prestigious Hellen Burns Smyth Award — the “best of” across all possible categories — for his challah bread, his first-ever entry in that division. Yes, there is a challah division.

But Adashek’s state fair reputation began years earlier in 2004, all because he couldn’t pass up a deal, eight quarts of strawberries for $8, at a farmers’ market.

“My wife said, ‘What are you going to do with all of that?’ and I said, ‘I’ll make jam!’” recalled Adashek, who loves baking, cooking and entertaining in his specially designed kitchen at the Lutherville home he shares with wife Aimée, an accomplished concert flutist and the development director at Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. The jam turned out so well, their sons, Michael and David, 12 and 15 at the time, insisted Adashek enter into the state fair competition.

There were competitors dropping off a lot of jars of jam and baked goods, said Adashek with a smile, and “then here’s this Jewish boy who walks in with one jar of jam. I won second place [$4 and a ribbon], and I was hooked.”

The following year with his first baking entry — ethereal chocolate mousse cake with bittersweet chocolate sauce (a dessert recipe he converted for Passover use) —he won fourth place in the Ghirardelli chocolate contest. Adashek, who has missed only one year since he began submitting entries, has since collected dozens of ribbons and prizes for his jams and baked goods.

“It’s therapy, it’s my creative soul that gets energized when I cook,” said Adashek, who began his culinary love affair at 14 when he worked at Davido’s Pizza outside of Chicago and learned to bake dough, make pizza and cook. “And I’ve carried that love ever since.”

Adashek, an OB/GYN, is also a mohel and has performed hundreds of circumcisions, “and at the end of every bris there is motzie, so there’s always a challah and it’s often homemade by someone,” he said.  “After tasting so many over the years, one of them was so good I asked for the recipe.”

Adashek added a special signature touch. The secret ingredient, he divulged, is blood orange syrup, and not surprisingly, he makes his own. Again at his sons’ encouragement, he entered the challah in 2011, and it landed him the Smyth grand prize that included a blue ribbon the size of a dinner plate and a Lucite plaque bearing his name.

This year, Adashek will enter his blood orange syrup and blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, peach and cherry jams as well as his oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Adashek and his wife, members of both Beth Am Synagogue and Oheb Shalom, create a special meal every Shabbos. “I love to cook, and I love to share,” he said. “I think food brings people together.”

The Maryland State Fair begins Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 1. For tickets, hours and parking information, visit marylandstatefair.com or call 410-252-0200, ext. 227.

Ellen Saks’ World of Needlepoint

As advertised, the Maryland State Fair has something for everyone, and that stands true for competition as well.

Ellen Saks, a secretary at Torah Institute of Baltimore and member of Ner Tamid, won in the needlepoint division for the first time in 1986 and has continued to collect ribbons ever since. She has even conducted needlepoint demonstrations at the fair as a member of the needlepoint guild.

“I find it very therapeutic, it’s very relaxing,” said Saks. “And I love to see my artwork on my walls. At one time I had all 12 Chagall windows [12 inches by 16 inches in needlepoint] on my walls.”

Saks’ hands are almost always busy with needlepoint or knitting, whether waiting in a doctor’s office, attending a meeting or watching TV. The finished sizes range from 2 inches by 2 inches to 36 inches by 48 inches. She custom designs pieces for friends, gives them as gifts and also donates knitted baby caps to the maternity ward at Sinai Hospital. She uses silk, metallic or rayon threads but no longer uses wool due to allergies. Saks said she loves designs with lots of colors, sometimes adjusting the patterns to her tastes, and will use “anything but yellow. I don’t like yellow.”

The needlepoint designs are mapped out on graph canvas, usually 12 holes to an inch, but Saks prefers to work with 18 holes to an inch canvas, making her handiwork even more intricate and challenging. Sometimes Saks creates original designs like one that “just came to me while sitting there, with stars and geometric shapes,” she said, remembering an emergency room visit for husband.

In 2011 she branched out and entered the state fair’s Christmas category.

“So I entered a [three-dimensional] dreidel, and I placed first or second,” she said. Saks said there were no other Jewish pieces entered in the Christmas category, but in other categories she’s seen tallit bags and Jewish scenes of Jerusalem. Each year, she suggests to the state fair administration they change the name from Christmas category to something more inclusive, and they acknowledge it but haven’t changed the name yet. This year, Saks will enter a purse, a beaded necklace as well as several pieces of needlepoint.

Reverse Birthright

Students of the University of Haifa's Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies participate in a 10-day U.S. trip.

Students of the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies participate in a 10-day U.S. trip.

Gur Alroey, chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the Israeli school’s pioneering Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies, has likened a 10-day United States trip for the program’s students to “Reverse Taglit,” referring to the free Taglit-Birthright trips of the same length that bring diaspora Jews to Israel.

Last month, the Ruderman Program’s inaugural class of 21 graduate students took part in that immersive U.S. journey, attending lectures, meeting community leaders and touring historical and religious sites that reflect the American Jewish experience.

“The focus is American Jewry, to examine this community as a group that stands in its own right, independent of Israel,” Alroey said.

In August 2013, JNS.org was the first outlet to report the formation of the American Jewish Studies program, which launched with a $2 million combined investment from the University of Haifa and the Ruderman Family Foundation. The foundation, headquartered in Israel and Boston (Haifa’s sister city), prioritizes the issue of Israel-diaspora relations.

The master’s degree program’s curriculum surveys American Jewish immigration history, modern foreign policy and governmental structures, gender issues and the religious makeup of American Jewish communities. But the highlight, according to some participants, is the 10-day U.S. trip.

The Israeli students who arrived in America on June 22 were eager to embrace American culture. Two students in the group, Ayala Shanee and Hila Madar, had never visited the U.S., and their excitement was palpable. “[New York City] is big, it’s overwhelming, so diverse and so human,” Shanee said. Madar described her first experience at an American salsa nightclub, saying, “I was impressed by the way people interacted and the diversity of the people on the dance floor. It gave me confidence.”

Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University (NYU) and the Ruderman Program’s primary contact in New York City, said U.S. Jewry “would be what it is even if there were no Israel.”

“Obviously, Israel has had an impact, but the basic foundations of Jewish American life were formed in an American context,” she said.

Against the backdrop of that historical context, discovering the true nature of the unique American Jewish population is the challenge faced by the Ruderman Program’s students and professors alike.

“The group [of students] has a strong Israeli mindset,” Alroey said. “They are a product of the Israeli education system, the exams, etc. It’s very difficult for some of the students to accept that there is a Jewish existence outside of Israel.”

The group toured Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum in New York as well as the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The students also gathered for a morning lecture at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, director of the JCC’s Center for Jewish Living.

“We provide people with links, connections and ways of exploring Jewish identity,” Cohen said of the JCC. Asked whether there is an equivalent resource in Israel or if the JCC is something unique to Jewish life in America, Cohen’s answer was multifaceted.

“There is a distinction in the lifestyle and practices, but also many similarities,” she said. “People don’t want their Jewish identity defined for them in either country, yet they are looking for more meaningful ways to connect.”

Describing her impressions of the differences between Israeli and American culture, Madar said, “Here you can’t push in line. In Israel, you push. In some ways, I want this structure for Israel.” Her observations demonstrate the mentality of the graduate program’s students as they embarked on their American adventure. Many of the students are seeking outside perspectives as a way to reflect on their experience growing up and living in Israel. Sometimes, their findings can be surprising.

“[On one day of the trip] we met with a number of rabbis representing different denominations,” Diner said. “One student asked, ‘If you’re an Orthodox Jew, why don’t you live in Israel?’”

Commenting on the meeting with the rabbis in a different context, Madar reveals that her deep-rooted connection to Israel is based in Judaism.

“In Israel our perspective is intertwined with Jewish life,” she said. “We see a tree and we know that Elijah sat under that tree. We have a strong connection to the land.”

Almost a year after its formation, founders of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies say it has made significant strides — bolstering dialogue between allied nations and Jewish populations, while providing a mechanism for Israelis to reflect on their homeland. Program funding is secure through next year, and Alroey is astonished by the interest he has received.

“The demand is unbelievable. Without any advertising, we already have 25 students for next year, and applications pour in,” he said.

“The United States of America is Israel’s greatest and most important ally,” Ruderman said. “Yet, Israeli leaders have very little knowledge about their American Jewish cousins. They simply don’t understand the nature and challenges facing the American Jewish community. I believe that the Ruderman Program in American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, the only academic program focusing on the American Jewish community at any Israeli university, will play a large role in educating Israel’s leaders of tomorrow on this most vital community for Israel’s future.”

Is the GOP the pro-Israel party?

RNC’s Matt Brooks sees a  shift in Democratic support  away from Israel.

RNC’s Matt Brooks sees a
shift in Democratic support
away from Israel.

A new Pew Research Center poll showing Republicans more sympathetic than Democrats to Israel has Republican Jewish activists crowing and their Democratic counterparts questioning whether the poll gives an accurate picture of support for Israel.

“For years, public opinion polls have documented the large gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats, with Republicans being far more supportive of Israel,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Committee, said in a news release. “This poll shows a gap of 27 points.”

Conducted from July 8 to July 14, the week Israel began its air operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip but before its ground invasion, the poll asked, “In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more — Israel or the Palestinians?” Possible answers were: Israel, Palestinians, both, neither, don’t know or refused to answer.

The survey of 1,805 respondents showed that 73 percent of Republicans sympathize with Israel in the conflict compared with 44 percent of Democrats.

The results mark a change from the same question asked in a poll in April, when 68 percent of Republicans sympathized with Israel and 46 percent of Democrats did.

A closer look reveals further divides. Respondents who consider themselves conservative Republicans support Israel by 77 percent, compared with 68 percent of moderate Republicans. Among Democrats, 48 percent of moderate Democrats support Israel, compared with 39 percent of liberal Democrats.

Brooks, in the news release, issued July 15, called the poll results during a time of war “a sad and sobering confirmation of the Democrat party’s shift over time away from support of Israel, especially at its grassroots. If support for Israel ceases to be bipartisan, the U.S.-Israel relationship — which is of so much benefit to both countries — will suffer.”

But Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said that while Middle East hostilities continue, it’s more important to highlight the unity of the Jewish community than discord. “I think that talking about polls and policies now, in the midst of a crisis, is a misdirection of energy.”

Moline said that he recently spoke with Brooks, his RJC counterpart, and that they both agreed that Jewish unity should trump political brinksmanship at the moment.

Still, he said, “it doesn’t surprise me that, having found a single piece of news that fits their agenda, the Republican Jewish Coalition put out a news release. It doesn’t surprise me at all. But I don’t think this is the time for us to start debating how you get a poll to shift one way or another.”

Other Democratic supporters of Israel suggest that the poll’s wording distorted the results. U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who is Jewish and one of the strongest pro-Israel voices in the House, questioned the use of the word “sympathize.”

“The word sympathy tends to ask: ‘Who do you think is downtrodden and having a difficult life?’” said Sherman. “Look, the average Israeli lives a pretty good life [compared to] our image of the average Palestinian.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) agreed that some Democrats are siding against Israel for well-meaning, but ill-informed, reasons.
“I think people on the left side of the political spectrum are moved by the sight of innocent civilians getting killed and injured,” said Waxman. “More of that has happened on the Palestinian side and [voters are] seeing people that were not combatants” being injured or killed.

“They may not have the perspective that Israel cannot tolerate a constant bombardment that is coming in from Gaza and [the Israelis] have no other choice than to hit back,” Waxman said.

He added that the opinions reflected in the poll numbers are not shared by his House colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who consistently and, usually unanimously, pass bills and resolutions in support of Israel.

Sherman said, contrary to the poll results, threats to support for Israel come from both right and left.

“You have on the Republican side the Rand Paul isolationists, who are probably the greatest threat as a practical matter to U.S. support for Israel. And you have on the left, and have always had on the left, people who are misguided because they want to support the underdog and they think that because the average Israeli is richer than the average Palestinian, and because Israel is the most powerful military west of the Jordan,” they need to sympathize with the Palestinians.

Another problem, according to Sherman, is what he calls the “Kent State Rorschach test.” The shooting of students at Ohio’s Kent State University who were protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War by the Ohio National Guard was a defining moment for many liberals, he said.

“There are some liberals who don’t bother to figure out who’s right or wrong in any conflict. They just root for the scruffy-looking students and root against the uniformed military. Because they see everything as a Rorschach test reminding them of Kent State,” said Sherman.

According to Sherman, voters lacking information could easily jump to conclusions based on their bias.

“When I see a bar fight, I don’t bother to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong,” joked Sherman, who is bald. “I just root for the bald guy.”

JNS.org contributed to this story.