Fleeing Anti-Semitism in France, an African Jewish Family Makes Aliyah

George and Amy Camara, with two of their four children, arrive in  Israel, Nov. 2, 2016 (Courtesy of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

George and Amy Camara, with two of their four children, arrive in Israel, Nov. 2, 2016 (Courtesy of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

As a Jewish family originally from the Ivory Coast, Amy and George Camara and their four children felt somewhat immune to the rising anti-Semitic thuggery in France.

The Camaras, relieved to leave their war-torn African country, settled in the northern French city of Lille in 2012. Because they fit no one’s Jewish stereotype, they said they were able to live as Jews without fear — despite, in recent years, the rise in attacks on French Jews from a small segment of Muslim extremists.

But the Camaras soon discovered that belonging to both the African and Jewish minorities also came with its own set of challenges, said Amy, the 53-year-old daughter of an Ivorian father and a French Jewish Holocaust survivor. The difficulties prompted the family to again pack their suitcases and leave France — for Israel, the only country where this unique Jewish family says it can live comfortably according to their identity.

For the Camaras, whom Amy describes as “proudly Jewish but not too observant,” life in France wasn’t “truly comfortable,” she said.

Precisely because no one from their immediate environment thought they might be Jewish, “people, even friends, would say the most awful lies about Israel and Jews in our presence,” Amy said.

“There was no single incident that made us decide to leave, it’s more of a cumulative effect,” she said.

Last week, the Camaras and their kids — aged 25, 22 and twins who are 15 — landed at Ben Gurion Airport aboard  a flight organized by the  International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

“The bottom line is that Israel is the only place for us to live as Jews comfortably, safely and freely,” Amy said ahead of her immigration, or aliyah, to Israel.

That comfort and freedom was paramount, given the  remarkable survival story of Amy’s mother, 78-year-old Solange Shuster. Given up for adoption as a toddler by her French Jewish parents who sought to save her from the Nazis, she was the only member of her immediate family who survived the Holocaust. She met her Ivorian husband in France and moved with him to Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city and economic engine, after their marriage in 1967. (Shuster now lives in France.)

Amy Camara recalls a happy and safe childhood in Africa, where she and George, a commercial airline pilot, raised their children as Jews. But life took a turn for the worse in 2002, when the Ivory Coast was plunged into its first civil war. When another armed conflict broke out in 2011, the Camaras decided to leave  “because of a combination of factors that meant we could no longer live safely there,” Amy said.

Unfortunately, the Camara family chose the wrong year to move to France.

In 2012, the murder of four French Jews in Toulouse by an Islamist gunman ushered in what the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, has called a “wave of jihadist murders and other attacks” that has had a deep impact on the feeling of safety of many of the 500,000 Jews living in France.

Amid repeated attacks on Jewish targets — French Islamists have killed 12 Jews in France and Belgium in three major attacks since 2012 — some 20,000 Jews have left France for Israel, including nearly 8,000 people who came in 2015 alone. That figure, a record, was more than four times the number of French Jews who came in 2011.

Aliyah from France has slowed down this year, with only some 4,000 Jews making the move to Israel in the first 10 months of 2016. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky attributes the decrease to “some improvement in the security  situation” due to the robust  response by French authorities to anti-Semitic attacks.

The Camaras arrived in Israel on a flight with some 50 Jews who were also making aliyah. According to Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Camara family’s story “is a special one that weaves within it the story of the Jewish nation as we go from the Holocaust to rebirth, ending in Israel,” he said.

The day prior to the Camaras’ arrival, the group brought  approximately 300 Jews from Ukraine to Israel, including refugees from the rebel-held east. Eckstein’s organization has brought more than 4,000 people to Israel since it began directly organizing aliyah two years ago.

In Israel, Amy and George plan to settle in Ashkelon, a coastal city with some 6,000 Ethiopian Jews — the country’s seventh-largest population of members of that community.

While Amy has heard claims by some Ethiopian Jews that they face discrimination in  Israel because of their skin color, she is optimistic that she won’t encounter any racism in the Jewish state.

“I think a lot of it depends on whether you perceive yourself as a victim,” she said. “I’ve never felt excluded by any  Jewish community, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, so I expect we’ll integrate easily in Israel, God willing.”

It’s Trump Van Hollen Wins Senate Race

Donald Trump (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr, creative common license http://bit.ly/1dsePQq)

Donald Trump (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr, creative common license http://bit.ly/1dsePQq)

After a bitter race for the White House between two of the most unpopular candidates in recent times,  Republican Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.

The New York businessman was called by the networks as the winner having captured Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes at 2:30 a.m., giving him 276 electoral votes — six more than needed to win the presidency.

Of the many shocking twists and turns to the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s victory may come as the largest of all. Trump took experts by surprise, winning almost all of the key swing states in the race including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. Almost all projections had Clinton winning the majority of these states.

Clinton had consistently led in the polls throughout the race, although sometimes within the polls’ margin of error. Polls heading into Tuesday showed her leading Trump by an average of three points, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Trump had stated repeatedly that the election is “rigged,” and during the third presidential debate said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election. A campaign ad released Sunday drew criticism from some Jewish groups as trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The ad attacked the “political and economic machine of the world,” and showed images of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellin, billionaire and Clinton supporter George Soros and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jews.

“There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote in a statement Monday.

Being an Orthodox Jew affects how I look at party platforms, and for me, conservative values are more in line with my own.

— Shelly Weinreb, Mount Washington resident

“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, wrote in a statement about the ad.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told CNN that he thought the ad was “something  of a German shepherd whistle” to the Jewish community.

“It clearly had sort of Elders of Zion kind of feel to it, international banking crisis — plot or conspiracy, rather — and then a number of Jews,” he said on “State of the Union.”

Clinton had held an 11-point lead over Trump in mid-October. Her lead widened after a leaked video from 2005 showed Trump making sexually predatory comments about women.

But her lead shrank in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s announcement on Oct. 28 that he would reopen the investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

Also read, At JCC and Krieger Schechter,  Students Also Vote

As the potential for a Trump victory seemed ever more likely, Jewish Democratic voters in the Washington area began to worry at the notion of the businessman occupying the oval office.

Chris Madden, a 17-year-old volunteer for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) Senate campaign said while watching the  results trickle in at a watch party in Silver Spring that he was “feeling on edge” about the outcome. “This is the first election that I’ve been of age to participate in and I’m worried about the direction of the country,” he said.

Hillary Clinton (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Outcome aside, Jewish voters outside polls expressed a sense of exhaustion and resignation.

On her way out of voting at the polling station at North Oaks Retirement Community, Pikesville native Cindy Kleiman, who supported Clinton, said, “I’m so glad it’s over.”

She noted: “The best part of the election were the ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches.”

Others, however, expressed much more enthusiasm about the candidates and issues themselves.

Arik Shalom, 41, an African-American Jew who lives in Baltimore, said the most important issue to him this election cycle has been national security. He strongly believes Trump will make good on his promise to secure the borders and keep ISIS terrorists from invading the country.

“[Trump] is really saying what needs to be said and not standing on the side of political correctness,” Shalom said. “He’s saying what people really want to read and what people want to really have changed.”

Over at the Cross Country Elementary School, Mount Washington’s Shelly Weinreb also felt connected to the Orthodox community in her decision to vote for Trump.

[Trump] is really saying what needs to be said and not standing on the side of political correctness.

— Arik Shalom, Baltimore resident

“Being an Orthodox Jew affects how I look at party platforms, and for me, conservative values are more in line with my own,” she said.

Weinreb’s identity largely impacted her concerns for everything from the economy to national security “and of course, Israel,” she said.

“These are tremendous issues,” Weinreb said. “It’s a pivotal election as far as the direction the country is moving in.”

Maryland voted solidly for Clinton. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was elected the state’s next senator, succeeding Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who will retire in January after five terms. U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-District 7), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-District 2) and John Sarbanes (D-District 3) won their reelection bids.

Chris Van Hollen (File photo)

Chris Van Hollen (File photo)

Van Hollen, who represents the state’s 8th congressional district, defeated Republican Kathy Szeliga, 55, the minority whip in the state Senate Tuesday night. When the race was called shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., the 40 people who had showed up to his watch party by then cheered and campaign staff hugged to celebrate what was an expected victory.

“I want to thank you for uniting behind the common purpose that every Marylander and every American is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to have a fair shake in the United States of America,” Van Hollen told supporters at the Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring. “That’s what brings this extended family in this room together.”

Van Hollen, 57, noted that “this election has been different than any other election because it’s not just a difference in policy and public platforms,” referring  to Trump.

“And I know that by the end of the night that we will make sure that across America that hope will triumph over fear in the USA,” he said.

Van Hollen’s election to the Senate means that he will “find himself in the center of leadership,” said Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Swers noted that Van Hollen served on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and helped the party raise money for candidates, a position he served at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I think that he was looking to move up in the party leadership,” she said.

Swers also pointed to Van Hollen’s  experience as a ranking member of the Budget Committee while Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the committee chair. Van Hollen’s ability to reach across the aisle is a strength, she thinks, but likely won’t change the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“He was in the House and that didn’t get any more bipartisan,” she said.

Swers said Van Hollen has big shoes to fill in succeeding 30-year veteran Mikulski, but that he has a good chance of being re-elected in six years. She said that he could accomplish much in the area of campaign finance reform, an issue he is particularly passionate about.

“I think he could have a long legacy in the Senate,” she said.

Mathew Klickstein and Justin Silberman contributed to this report.

Election 2016 Coverage:

Pugh, Cohen Carry Baltimore Vote

Community Kibbitz: At the Polls

At JCC and Krieger Schechter, Students Also Vote

Trump Supporters at Goldberg’s Trouble Customers

At JCC and Krieger Schechter, Students Also Vote

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jcc-election-ksds

Students at the Owings Mills JCC’s early childhood education center (top) and Krieger Schechter Day School (above) learned about the political process and voted at school. (KSDS: Photo provided; JCC: Photo by Daniel Nozick)

As the election drew closer and educators thought about how much information their younger students must be getting bombarded with, local Jewish schools took the opportunity to educate children from pre-school to elementary about the voting process and the presidential election.

“A couple months ago, I was very concerned about all the negativity that has been surrounding this election — the lack of civility, the bullying,” said Ilene Meister, director of early childhood education (ECE) at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. “I was wondering how that would impact the children because they will be hearing parents talk and watching television, so I decided that I really wanted to make this a positive experience for the children because this election really is about their future.”

Her goal was to set a good standard for the students, enable them to understand that it is important to vote and that they each have a voice. In class, students learned about what a president does, about the importance of voting and that someday they might have to advocate for a candidate or cause of their choice.

“We created little voting booths for the kids to go to,” said Meister. “We didn’t talk so much about the candidates, it was more about the process.”

It is worth noting that students in the ECE are voting for the actual candidates in the election. Deciding whether or not to do so was highly contentious, but Meister wanted to make the mock election as realistically as possible.

“We discussed who these candidates were and what their positions were in terms of their titles,” she explained. “We looked at Trump was a businessman, at how Clinton was an activist. We just addressed what their job was, we wanted the students to understand that they too, at some point, could be president of the United States.”

Students learned that they had a choice — that not every country allows their citizens to have a choice and because of that, it is a duty and responsibility to vote. Polling in the ECE involved the kids  going into the voting center with a voter registration card, circling a candidate in a private booth and taking a sticker that says “I Voted.”

“We have to remember that we are voting for the future of these children and we have to embrace it,” said Meister. “Many schools are avoiding the election like the plague, but children are assaulted by everything from bumper stickers to TV ads, so we want to let them learn about the subject in a positive way rather than keeping it hush-hush.”

Students in the Krieger Schechter Day School’s lower school also participated in a school-wide election unit that included primary elections in the Sweet and Salty parties, a third-party candidate — celery sticks represented the Green Party — and explored issues such as democracy, voting rights, campaigning, branches of government and the election process. Students voted on a referendum to choose what local charity should receive last year’s student council surplus, and decided to donate the surplus to fighting hunger.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Election 2016 Coverage:

It’s Trump

Pugh, Cohen Carry Baltimore Vote

Community Kibbitz: At the Polls

Trump Supporters at Goldberg’s Trouble Customers

Pugh, Cohen Carry Baltimore Vote

Catherine Pugh takes the stage to declare victory in Baltimore’s mayoral race. (Photo by Mathew Klickstein

Catherine Pugh takes the stage to declare victory in Baltimore’s mayoral race. (Photo by Mathew Klickstein

Catherine Pugh had been preparing for this moment her entire life.

“Y’all look excited!” a beaming Pugh, 66, said to a loud procession of cheers from the audience, packed in the expansive Radisson Hotel Baltimore Downtown-Inner Harbor ballroom Tuesday.

At 10:25 p.m. on election night, Congressman Elijah Cummings — who won his reelection bid — announced it: “We have a new mayor.”

In two of Baltimore City’s most highly anticipated election races, voters threw their support behind Democrats Pugh, who represented Maryland’s 40th District for three terms in the state Senate, for mayor and Zeke Cohen for 1st District councilman.

As of Wednesday’s press time, Pugh won with 119,204 votes (57.1 percent). Republican Alan Walden, a former WBAL news anchor and longtime Jewish Baltimore resident, and Green Party nominee Joshua Harris, an international nonprofit communications specialist, captured 20,960 and 20,936 votes, respectively, or 10 percent each. Write-in candidates, including former Baltimore Mayor Shelia Dixon, earned 22.8 percent of the vote at 47,598.

In the 1st District race, Cohen, 31, won in a landslide, defeating Republican challenger Matthew McDaniel, 28, by garnering 66.5 percent of the vote with 11,491 votes. Another Jewish council candidate, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, 27, won the race for the District 5 seat, collecting 92 percent of the vote against write-in candidate Derrick Lennon with 13,763 votes.

Prior to bringing Baltimore’s 50th mayor on stage, Cummings said that Pugh has been readying herself for the role throughout her storied career and that she “is a woman who loves our great city.” He concluded that “she has done it all, but the most important thing is that her heart is in the right place.”

Pugh went on to speak not only about her lifelong work that has led up to her becoming mayor, but also about the need to re-establish what could perhaps be “the greatest city in the country.”

Her speech touched upon the 76,000 unemployed Baltimore residents who need jobs, the 3,000 homeless persons living on the street who need housing and the need for a more diverse and inclusive government as well as community policing that will allow for respect for the people and respect for the police as well.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” Pugh declared.

In order to accomplish her goals, Pugh told the JT that she will be looking to the likes of “one of our youngest and most dynamic members of my team,” referring to Schleifer.

Pugh said that, as she mentioned during her acceptance speech, it will be part of her job to empower her council members such as Schleifer, who continues to be a substantive leader in the Jewish community and region at large.

When asked how her win may further impact Jewish Baltimore, Pugh reiterated that her talk of diversity and inclusivity in her acceptance speech includes said community, “because this is a very large city, and I’m not just the mayor of one religion or race or culture, but all of them together.”

Zeke Cohen won the City Council’s 1st District seat. (Photo by Justin Silberman)

Zeke Cohen won the City Council’s 1st District seat. (Photo by Justin Silberman)

“One of the reasons I supported her,” Schleifer told the JT, “is that we share a lot of the same values and how we see the direction of the city moving, what’s needed to get us there.”

“We’re both community leaders and business owners,” Schleifer continued, noting that such “similar backgrounds” lead them to be equally vested in the growth of the city and that “Pugh will be a mayor of all communities in Baltimore.”

Baltimore City worker and Pugh supporter Tiffany Foster said Pugh’s connections to the state will help to embolden Baltimore’s representation on such a level, making Pugh “a bright light in a time of darkness” in reference to what Foster saw as an imminent presidential win by Donald Trump, who she did not support.

City Council president Bernard C. “Jack” Young was in concert with both Schleifer and Pugh in telling the JT that the new mayor “is for all communities and neighborhoods in Baltimore.”

Young stated that in order for Pugh to succeed, once again, all Baltimoreans — “including our Jewish friends,” he was sure to note — “will need to roll up our sleeves and get to it.”

Elsewhere in the city, Cohen, a Canton resident, and his supporters celebrated at Points South Latin Kitchen in Fells Point. He laid out his priorities for the city, which include creating more jobs for Baltimore’s youth, pushing for universal pre-kindergarten and advocating for affordable housing and a higher minimum wage.

“I think we’re going to bring a lot to the city in terms of fresh, new and innovative ideas,” Cohen told the JT. “I know there is a lot of untapped potential development and resources in the city, and I look forward to working with my fellow council members on bringing that change.”

At Cohen’s victory party, his supporters, many of whom were dressed in gold-and-purple T-Shirts with his name across the front, expressed their excitement about Cohen’s vision for the city.

Kent de Jong, 55, a 1st District native and Cohen supporter who resides in Greektown, said he hopes to see Cohen help improve Baltimore’s bus system and fill the mass transit void caused by the cancellation of the Red Line light rail project.

“I think Zeke has a natural born leadership instinct and leadership characteristic that really can help make this city a better place for everyone,” said de Jong, a retired engineer who teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park. “He had a very inclusive, welcoming campaign [and that] is one of the things that drew me in.”

Joshua Thomson, 28, who has served in a full-time role as Cohen’s field director since June and also resides in the 1st District, said Cohen has fully focused his attention on the community’s needs.

“I am excited about the future, both for Zeke as a city councilman and what that also means for the 1st District,” Thomson said. “We have had a blast going out and speaking with the residents, hearing their concerns, so it’s something we have enjoyed with the two-way dialogue.”

Cohen also had plenty of star power in his corner on Tuesday night, with 2nd District City Councilman Brandon Scott and state Delegates Antonio Hayes and Sandy Rosenberg joining in the celebration.

Rosenberg, who sponsored Cohen through Teach For America, said he has offered Cohen advice at every turn throughout the election process as he prepares to take office.

“I said to him — as I say to remind myself and others — the best politics is to do the job well,” Rosenberg said. “That’s the next step for him.”

Thoughts from the Polls

While Baltimore City residents voted mostly along party lines, and that of the Democratic Party, not all voters backed the entire ticket.

Dottie Villa, a Baltimore resident and registered Democrat, said she backed Clinton for president and Walden for mayor on her ballot.

Villa said she voted for Walden, 80, because she is fed up with the stronghold Democrats have had in the city. No Republican has been elected to a city office position since Mayor Theodore McKeldin in 1963.

Villa said she could just not muster up the support to get behind Pugh or Dixon.

“I’m just sick of how this city is being run,” Villa said. “We’ve got to get rid of all the people in there and put somebody knew in [the mayor’s office].”

At most polls, a sense of distaste for the overall election could be felt, especially at Pikesville High School, where a growing contingent of voters were irate about what they saw as the facility’s gross lack of voting machines.

With lines lasting as long as 90 minutes or more, voters were leaving in droves, with some complaining the paucity led to a particularly challenging experience for the elderly, people with disabilities and those with children.

“The turnout has been massive,” said Reisterstown’s Andy Alperstein standing outside the polling station. “Voters have been complaining. And there’s no parking spots!”

Mike Heisler and his mother Roslyn Heisler were upset that there wasn’t enough focus on local politics in the election.

“For me, these issues are very important,” Roslyn said. “People are focused on the presidential election for obvious reasons, but we need to know more about what’s going on with the judges in the area too, because those are the kinds of things that touch people in the area on a more direct level.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com, mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Election 2016 Coverage:

It’s Trump

Community Kibbitz: At the Polls

At JCC and Krieger Schechter, Students Also Vote

Trump Supporters at Goldberg’s Trouble Customers

Van Hollen Wins Maryland Senate Race

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD.) GREETS A VOTER AT THE TEMPLE EMANUEL POLLING STATION IN KENSINGTON. VAN HOLLEN WAS DECLARED THE WINNER IN THE RACE TO SUCCEED SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD.) (DANIEL SCHERE)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD.) GREETS A VOTER AT THE TEMPLE EMANUEL POLLING STATION IN KENSINGTON. VAN HOLLEN WAS DECLARED THE WINNER IN THE RACE TO SUCCEED SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD.) (DANIEL SCHERE)

Chris Van Hollen will be Maryland’s next senator, replacing retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who will retire in January after five terms.

Van Hollen, who represents the state’s 8th congressional district, defeated Republican challenger Kathy Szeliga, 55, the minority whip in the state Senate Tuesday night. When the race was called shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. the 40 people who had showed up to his watch party by then cheered and campaign staff hugged to celebrate what was an expected victory.

“I want to thank you for uniting behind the common purpose that every Marylander and every American is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to have a fair shake in the United States of America, Van Hollen told supporters at the Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring. “That’s what brings this extended family in this room together.”

Van Hollen noted that “this election has been different than any other election because it’s not just a difference in policy and public platforms,” referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“And I know that by the end of the night that we will make sure that across America that hope will triumph over fear in the USA,” he said.

Van Hollen’s, 57, election to the Senate means that he will “find himself in the center of leadership,” said Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Swers noted that Van Hollen served on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and helped the party raise money for candidates, a position he served at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I think that he was looking to move up in the party leadership,” she said.

Swers also pointed to Van Hollen’s experience as a ranking member of the Budget Committee while Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the committee chair. Van Hollen’s ability to reach across the aisle is a strength, she thinks, but likely won’t change the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“He was in the House and that didn’t get any more bipartisan,” she said.

Swers said Van Hollen has big shoes to fill in succeeding 30-year veteran Mikulski, but that he has a good chance of being re-elected in six years. She said that he could accomplish much in the area of campaign finance reform, an issue he is particularly passionate about.

“I think he could have a long legacy in the Senate,” she said.

The polling site at Leisure World’s Clubhouse I in Silver Spring was quiet Tuesday morning when resident Rafael Mevorach, 70, left after casting his ballot. Asked about the election season that was ending, he summed up his thoughts with three words:

“Oh, my God!”

Mevorach said he supports Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Gwen Fehringer, 79, also a resident of Leisure World in Silver Spring, said she voted for Republican Donald Trump.
But she had no illusions about the election settling the country’s divisions.

“I think it’s the most contentious election I’ve ever seen, and no matter who wins they’re going to have half the people hating them and it’s going to be very difficult for whoever wins,” she said.

After a bitter race between Clinton and Trump, arguably the two most unpopular candidates in recent years, voters outside the polls expressed exhaustion and resignation.

“It’s a nasty election,” said Cindy Kleiman, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville, on her way out of voting  “I’m so glad it’s over.”

She noted: “The best part of the election were the ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches.”

For Scott Kleeman, who was voting in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Penn Wynne, the fireworks between Clinton and Trump left him suffering from sensory overload.

“It’s enough with the commercials. It’s enough with the negative campaigning,” he said. “It’s been a huge disruption.”

Clinton, 69, has consistently led in the polls throughout the race, although sometimes within the polls’ margin of error. Polls heading into Tuesday showing her leading Trump, 70, by an average of three points, points, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Trump had stated repeatedly that the election is “rigged,” and during the third presidential debate said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election. A campaign ad released Sunday drew criticism from some Jewish groups as trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The ad attacked the “political and economic machine of the world,” and showed images of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellin, billionaire and Clinton supporter George Soros and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jews.

“There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote in a statement Monday.

“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, wrote in a statement about the ad.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told CNN that he thought the ad was “something of a German shepherd whistle” to the Jewish community.

“It clearly had sort of Elders of Zion kind of feel to it, international banking crisis — plot or conspiracy, rather — and then a number of Jews,” he said on “State of the Union.”

Clinton had held an 11 point lead over Trump in mid-October. She lead widened after a leaked video from 2005 showed Trump making sexually predatory comments about women.

But her lead shrank in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s announcement on Oct. 28 that he would reopen the investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

If elected as the 45th president of the United States, Clinton would be the country’s first woman president and the first spouse of a former president to win the White House.
Maryland Senate race

In the battle for retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) seat, District 8 Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) prevailed against Republican Kathy Szeliga, 55, the minority whip in the state Senate. News organizations declared Van Hollen the winner based on exit polling soon after the polls closed.

Van Hollen, 57, will “find himself in the center of leadership,” said Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Swers noted that Van Hollen served on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and helped the party raise money for candidates, a position he served at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I think that he was looking to move up in the party leadership,” she said.

Swers also pointed to Van Hollen’s experience as a ranking member of the Budget Committee while Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the committee chair. Van Hollen’s ability to reach across the aisle is a strength, she thinks, but likely won’t change the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Swers said Van Hollen has big shoes to fill in succeeding 30-year veteran Mikulski, but that he has a good chance of being re-elected in six years. She said that he could accomplish much in the area of campaign finance reform, an issue he is particularly passionate about.

Nation Votes, Heaves Sigh After Bitter Election

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during United States presidential election 2016. (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Gage Skidmore)

The polling station at Leisure World’s clubhouse in Silver Spring Tuesday morning was quiet, when resident Rafael Mevorach, 70, left after casting his ballot. Asked about the election season that was ending, he summed up his thoughts with three words:

“Oh my God!”

Mevorach said he supports Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Leisure World resident Gwen Fehringer, 79, said she voted for Republican Donald Trump.

But she had no illusions about the election settling the country’s divisions.

“I think it’s the most contentious election I’ve ever seen, and no matter who wins they’re going to have half the people hating them and it’s going to be very difficult for whoever wins,” she said.

After a bitter race between Clinton and Trump, arguably the two most unpopular candidates in recent years, voters at the polls Tuesday expressed exhaustion and resignation.

The same emotions could be felt by Jewish voters in other nearby cities.

“It’s a nasty election,” said Cindy Kleiman, who lives in Pikesville, on her way out of voting at the polling station located at North Oaks Retirement Community. “I’m so glad it’s over.”

She added: “The best part of the election were the ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches.”

For Scott Kleeman, who was voting in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Penn Wynne, the fireworks between Clinton and Trump had given him sensory overload.

“It’s enough with the commercials. It’s enough with the negative campaigning,” he said. “It’s been a huge disruption.”

Clinton, 69, has consistently led in the polls throughout the race, although sometimes within the polls’ margin of error. Polls heading into Tuesday showing her leading Trump, 70, by an average of three points, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Trump had stated multiple times that the election is “rigged,” and during the third presidential debate refused to accept the outcome of the election. A campaign ad released Sunday drew criticism from some Jewish groups as trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The ad attacked the “political and economic machine of the world,” and showed images of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellin, billionaire and Clinton supporter George Soros and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jews.

“There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote in a statement Monday.

“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL,

wrote in a statement.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told CNN that he thought the ad was “something of a German shepherd whistle” to the Jewish community.

“It clearly had sort of Elders of Zion kind of feel to it, international banking crisis — plot or conspiracy, rather — and then a number of Jews,” he said on “State of the Union.”

Clinton’s lead shrank in recent weeks, partially due FBI Director James Comey announcement on Oct. 28 that he was reopening the investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Clinton had held an 11 point lead over Trump. She drew ahead after a leaked video from 2005 showed Trump making sexually predatory comments about women.

If she is elected as the 45th president of the United States, Clinton would be the country’s first woman president and the first spouse of a former president to win the White House.

 

Maryland Senate Race

In the battle for retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) seat, District 8 Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is expected to win fairly easily against Republican Kathy Szeliga, 55, the minority whip in the state Senate. Van Hollen defeated District 4 Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in the primary.

If Van Hollen, 57, is elected to the Senate, he will “find himself in the center of leadership,” said Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Swers noted that Van Hollen served on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and helped the party raise money for candidates, a position he served at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I think that he was looking to move up in the party leadership,” she said.

Swers also pointed to Van Hollen’s experience as a ranking member of the Budget Committee while Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the committee chair. Van Hollen’s ability to reach across the aisle is a strength, she thinks, but likely won’t change the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“He was in the House and that didn’t get any more bipartisan,” she said.

Swers said Van Hollen has big shoes to fill in succeeding 30-year veteran Mikulski, but that he has a good chance of being reelected in six years. She said that he could accomplish much in the area of campaign finance reform, an issue he is particularly passionate about.

“I think he could have a long legacy in the Senate,” she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

At Top Israeli University, Students Favor the Least Flawed Candidate in US Election

From left: Maor Seri, Ahmed Fahoum and friends hanging out on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

From left: Maor Seri, Ahmed Fahoum and friends hanging out on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

JERUSALEM – As Americans prepare to elect their next president, Israelis are watching.

Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, are probably paying closer attention than most.

On Sunday, the day before the start of fall classes for most of the students, the Mount Scopus campus was quiet. Students hung out in the university’s cafes and snaking gardens. Some sat in diverse groups that included Arabs and Jews — an uncommon sight off campus.

More than a dozen students from a wide range of religious and political backgrounds spoke with JTA about the American election. Few expressed much enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. But it was hard to find anyone who would admit to preferring Donald Trump, her Republican rival.

Polls of Israelis have shown they prefer Clinton to Trump by a double-digit margin. Only on the political right does Trump get more support, and even then to the tune of less than 50 percent.

Tamar Hermann, who leads surveys for the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, including on the American election, said the controversy surrounding the vocal anti-Semites among Trump’s supporters and his perceived failure to decisively disavow them is likely dampening Israelis’ affection for him.

“The main thing that influences people here is a candidate’s attitude toward Israel and the Jewish community. They always look from this perspective,” she said. “It’s very difficult for them to look at world affairs in any other way.

“There are right-wing communities where you can find clear support for Trump. But the liberal atmosphere at university blurs that support. When they grow up, students may again be more influenced by the views of their community.”

Outside the Hebrew University administrative building, Maor Seri, a Jew, sat in the grass with his friend Ahmed Fahoum and a group of other Arab-Israeli students. All of them were sure Trump would be the next president of the United States.

Seri, 27, is working on a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy. Born and raised in Jerusalem, he described himself as religiously traditional and politically center-left, with a special interest in advancing the rights of Mizrahi Jews like himself. He was a medic in the Israeli army and now teaches Bible at a local high school.

He said he was dismayed by the political rise of Trump, whose “anti-democratic” rhetoric he once believed to be beneath the United States. But Seri said his experience suggests Trump will win the election.

“The language and the tone of the election are very low, like in Israel. I used to think in the United States, no one would dare say things like this,” he said. “It’s how right-wing leaders are coming to power all over the world, not just in Israel. I think it’s very dangerous.”

img_6132

From left: Reham Shalbe, Rachel Har Shalom and Shauna Dubitsky taking a break from studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

Fahoum, a 26-year-old graduate student and research assistant in Middle Eastern studies, agreed. A self-described left-wing secular Muslim, he grew up in eastern Jerusalem. Whereas his friends described themselves as “Palestinians,” despite being citizens of Israel, he said he considered himself a “Palestinian Israeli.”

He said he supports Clinton because “it’s the sane choice” and Trump is a dangerous “chauvinist, sexist liar.”

“I wanted to see Bernie Sanders there [as the Democratic nominee],” he said.

“Because he’s a Jew?” Seri joked.

“Yeah, yeah. Semites go for Semites,” Fahoum said.

“My father is supporting Trump because he hates the United States,” he continued. “He knows if Trump gets elected, the U.S. will lose its leading role in the world.”

At a nearby cafe, four women were studying for an occupational therapy program. Two were Arab Israelis and the other two were religious Zionists. The Arab students — one secular, the other clad in a hijab — supported Clinton. The Jewish women said their families supported Trump, but they were unsure where they stood.

Shauna Dubitsky, 20, is from Beit Shemesh and works in customer service for the City of David, a controversial group that aims to increase the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem. Although religious women are exempt from army service, she did national service with at-risk children. An American citizen who moved to Israel with her family at age 6, she registered but ultimately did not vote.

“I think Trump is insane, but Hillary is not good for Israel. So I can’t make the call,” Dubitsky said.  “I don’t know the details, but all the stuff he’s said about women and Jews and minorities is upsetting.”

While Israel is the most important issue for her, she cares about the United States, too.

“My family is still there. But if it were up to me, they’d all move here,” she said. “Anyway, it would be nice to have America be what it should be.”

img_6151Roi Shtainkvit, 19, was having a cigarette with a friend. They are both taking a preparatory course for medical school ahead of their army service. Shtainkvit is an Orthodox Jew and lives in Beit Shemesh with his family, where he works for a catering company. He described himself as a political centrist.

“I support Hillary. There is nothing special about her. Trump is just a little crazy. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to the United States and that it will affect the world,” he said. “The Democrats are always good for Israel.”

Trump becoming the presidential nominee, he said, was like a tiny far-right political party winning half the Israeli vote. Shtainkvit said he was not alone in his opposition to Trump in his Orthodox community, and that many of his family members and friends felt the same way.

“All our teachers hate Trump,” he added.

Neta was sitting outside on the grass with a friend. Uniquely, she was more than willing to tout a Trump presidency — albeit without providing her last name. A 22-year-old secular Jew from Jerusalem, she is studying history. She served in an intelligence unit of the army.

“I want Trump to win, and he’s going to win,” Neta said. “He’s smart. He’s honest. He’s patriotic. He’s going to fight Islamic terror. He’s just right about everything he says.”

Like President Barack Obama, she said, Clinton lacks a plan for dealing with Islamic terrorism and refuses to even use those words to describe it.

“They just say: Peace, togetherness. Togetherness, peace. Peace, togetherness. Trump is saying it, that he’s going to side with Israel, stand with Israel. He understands what Islamic terrorism means,” Neta said.

“If Obama won’t call them terror organizations it gives them legitimacy, and people expect us to make peace with them. People don’t expect the U.S. to make peace with [the Islamic State group].”

(Obama has suggested the term “Islamic terrorism” unnecessarily vilifies Muslims. Clinton has said she is “happy” to say “radical Islamism,” but that “it matters what we do more than what we say.”)

Asked about Trump’s controversial remarks about women, including the audio recording of him bragging about sexually aggressive behavior toward them, Neta said the controversy was overblown.

“I knew he was a bit sexist and chauvinist even before the election because I watched ‘The Apprentice.’ But he would be a good president,” she said. “I think every Israeli prime minister in the past did things that today we would call sexual assault.”

When her friend protested that Trump was an “extremist,” Neta said Meretz, the left-wing party he supports, was too.

“You support the extremists you like,” she said.

Haim Isaacson, a 25-year old computer science major at the Open University, was studying in the Hebrew University library. He is haredi Orthodox and lives in Beit Shemesh. Like most haredi men, he did not serve in the Israeli army. But he plans to join the half of that demographic that works rather than studying full time at a yeshiva.

Isaacson said he does not follow politics and will not vote in the presidential election despite being an American citizen.

Asked if he was worried by the prospect of Trump winning, he said, Talmudically, “Yes and no. America is always up for new things. It could go either way.”

How to Survive the Election

(Brain/Gears: ©iStockphoto.com/paci77; Political icons: ©iStockphoto.com/artvea)

(Brain/Gears: ©iStockphoto.com/paci77; Political icons: ©iStockphoto.com/artvea)

It is a challenging time,”  affirmed Dr. Matthew Torres, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Counseling Center.

This echoes the American Psychology Association’s recent finding: Of adults in the United States over the age of 18 surveyed, 52 percent reported the “2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

“Societally, we’ve become so strident and bifurcated,” said Torres. “A lot of people are  expressing fear about, ‘What happens if this person wins [the election]?’ Or fear about the country splitting.”

This splitting leads to a sense of helplessness, Torres feels, in the alienation and consternation that results from those who “don’t understand how these people in their family or neighborhood could possibly think differently than they do.”

As for a possible culprit, it was in January 2013 that President Barack Obama worried that what he called an “empathy deficit” may in fact be a larger political problem than the  financial deficit.

According to a 2010 breakdown by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, today’s college students are in fact 40 percent less empathetic than those of 20 or 30 years ago.

This determination was made by the institute after analyzing data culled from 14,000 students over a three-decade period  including the fact that said students — those taking on the reigns of society today — were less likely to agree with a statement such as, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.”

Theoretically what can result by this lack of empathy is a kind of cognitive dissonance that evaporates one’s compunction about attacking or fearing those they no longer view as people, but as villains or monsters to be violently opposed or fled from in apoplectic panic.

According to a Jan. 3 article by the Esquire editorial staff  via a survey commenced in partnership with NBC News with a body of 3,000 respondents, as many as “half of all Americans are angrier than they were a year ago.”

“We the people are pissed,” the article reads. “The body politic is burning up. And the anger that courses through our headlines and news feeds — about injustice and inequality, about marginalization and disenfranchisement, about what they are doing to us — shows no signs of abating.”

One possible engine for this brand of “hyperbole” (as Torres qualified it) is social media. The resource’s propensity toward “emotional arousal” over “novel information” might be riling up the populace in a way that leads, as the APA found, 54 percent of those engaged to report experiencing election-related stress, versus the 45 percent of those who do not use social media and reporting on the same.

Although he noted that his 14-year-old daughter uses social media in a positive way, Torres worries that the digital tool also “allows for people to get great access to one side of the story of what their circle sees and so they’re not getting an even, balanced flow of news. They’re only getting what their friends are sending them.”

This is problematic, in the view of Pikesville resident Diane Bravmann, a licensed clinical social worker for more than 25 years, because “no matter what our political philosophy is, it’s important to be open and listen to all sides. When we listen to more sides, we are able to deal with the results and have more of a grasp of how we deal with how the election turns out.”

But what of the putative  necessity of a kind of “righteous anger” or needful fear? That idea promulgated by the familiar bumper sticker, “If you’re not afraid, you’re not paying attention”?

“Yes, people have a right to express anger,” Torres said, “but ideally, people will do this in a respectful, productive manner. I think it can be helpful to be vehement in your  position, but that doesn’t mean having to attack or be aggressive or insulting.”

“It’s OK to be angry, but it’s important to figure out what you can do with that anger that’s positive in order to not destroy yourself or others,” said Bravmann, who does believe “change has to happen, but good people are getting hurt and that’s not justifiable.”

There’s certainly a place for working toward making the world a better place and for being cautious of larger concerns than those of one’s own direct sphere of influence. But it’s as important to do one’s best to make healthy mental and physical choices.

Beyond the elementary idea of working toward protecting oneself against the onset of ennumerable physical ailments — many of which are significantly on the rise these days — such as heart disease, diabetes and the like, Bravmann (who focuses much of her work on the physical health of her clients) has found that “wellness and nutrition go together.”

“There’s no question it’s related,” Torres said. “You take care of one and you’re taking care of the other. Exercise has been shown to have a great  effect on mood and depression. If you’re eating healthily, you’ll be more active, your mood will be better, you’ll have more and better energy, more of a chance for a positive mindset.”

Bravmann suggested that those interested in meditation should attempt to attend one class in order to receive some guidance before trying to perform the act on one’s own.

It’s a matter too — rather like going to the gym for the first time — of flexing one’s meditation muscle, so to speak. Doing it for 30 seconds one day, 60 the next.

“It’s almost heretical, but one thing we recommed to students is to turn off media,” Torres said. “Take breaks from the exchange, step away from it, engage with people in real life where the focus isn’t on ‘big issues.’ If they’re going home for Thanksgiving, they might  decide not to talk about politics for some period of time. ‘Let’s focus on other things in our lives.’ It doesn’t always have to be front and center.”

Here, Torres is in concert with the APA, which also recommends that lessening media consumption may be a palliative to one’s stress this time  of year.

“Turn off the computer, turn off the phones, have an activity that doesn’t involve electronics or whatever, whether it’s walking, yoga, swimming … it doesn’t matter,” concurred Bravmann.

Torres was sure to add that along with spending time with friends and family, it’s important to remember that if real support is necessitated, people should let others know they are struggling.

“A lot of people are scared, upset and anxious right now because of the election,” he said. “So it’s a good time to receive support, including from mental health institutions.”

Between paranoia and naivete, between victimization and demonization there exists a place of practical, healthy equanimity where one can recall that we are all individual human beings governed by the same wants and needs, capable of the same empathy and sympathy, but also resilient and uniquely powerful in our own ways.

“Whatever happens on Nov. 8,” the APA asserts, “life will go on. … Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.”

“The lights aren’t going to go off,” Bravmann concluded. “This is all part of a flow of everyday life, even though it may seem — and can be — dramatic and traumatic. But we move on. We will move on. Obviously, we live in the present … with an eye toward the future.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

The 2017-18 School Calendar Debate

Howard Libit

Howard Libit

Baltimore County Public School officials are currently involved with deciding the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. Three calendars have been proposed. A noteworthy aspect of the potential schedule change is that one of the three proposed calendars suggests that school will be in session on Rosh Hashanah, which falls on Spet. 21 and 22 in 2017. (Yom Kippur is irrelevant, as it falls on a weekend in 2017.)

“School systems can only close on religious holidays for operational reasons,” explained Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “They cannot close just for  religion. For county schools, they do not ask students about religion, so we have to use data available about absences on the holiday to justify schools closing on that day.”

Libit said that there are roughly 12,000 Jewish children under 18 in the area. Although he cannot say what percentage are in private schools or are under 5 years old, he believes that it is reasonable to conclude that a large percentage of those students will be absent on Rosh Hashanah.

Another statistic he cited is that last year, nearly 240 teachers in the county missed work  on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. A significant portion of Baltimore County teachers are Jewish, and Libit believes that these teachers must be more religious than the others. Therefore, he concluded that a much more  significant portion of school employees would be absent on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, as it is more common to practice on that day.

With the logistical challenge and operational issues that would arise from having to find substitutes for so many teachers, Libit is confident that a strong case can be made for closing schools on Rosh Hashanah next year for operational reasons.

“I think the facts are on our side, and the community is with us and supportive,” he said. “A number of board members who I spoke to were supportive, and I hope they are swayed by our arguments and the numbers.”

An Unorthodox Jewish View

Shulem Deen (Courtesy of Beth Tfiloh)

Shulem Deen (Courtesy of Beth Tfiloh)

At 42, Brooklyn-born Shulem Deen could fill a book with his tumultuous tale of having grown up within the insular world of the Skverer Chasidic sect before, as he terms it, being cast out and cut off from everything he knew.

Deen has done just that with his memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return,” published in March 2015.

Deen has been using the launch of his book as a platform to continue speaking out about the issues he addresses in print and was invited to discuss his life at Beth Tfiloh on Wednesday, Oct. 26 to a packed audience intrigued by his unique but not altogether singular take on the Jewish  Orthodox community.

According to a 2016 survey by Nishma Research, many formerly Orthodox Jews feel they were similarly alienated from their community when — like Deen — they began expressing doubt about some of their culture’s core values, including those involving the status of women.

“I’m not necessarily the hero of my story,” Deen confessed to the JT. “I wrote about things that I’m not necessarily proud of; I wrote about acts that were not necessarily legal. I was a husband, a teacher, a father, and I wrote about how I was not exactly an exemplar of those things.”

Explaining that he had always wanted to be a writer, Deen admitted that he  realized at a point after his break with his sect that “a nobody without an M.F.A.” such as himself would only end up with a novel “languishing in obscurity” if he were to somehow get one published.

After telling his personal story to a friend of a friend who happened to be a literary agent — who confirmed that a novel from a first-time “nobody” writer wouldn’t do well on the market — Deen was told he should give his own memoir a shot.

“I really came to the memoir with the sense that this would be the wisest thing I could do if I wanted to be a writer,”  Deen said.

shulemdeencoverPutting himself on the line  was in some ways relatively easy for Deen, who revealed he has been in therapy on and off for the past 13 years, elaborating that much of this medical assistance was based on whether or not he could afford it at the time.

Subsequent to his departure from his community, Deen struggled financially as a computer programmer barely making ends meet. There was a difficult divorce, there was a custody battle, there was an everyday coping with his own sense of “haves versus have-nots” that connected him with others going through such tumult.

This connection gave Deen something of a purpose and larger sense of self-worth.

“I wanted to engage with material that would make people laugh, cry, feel something,” he said. “This is what I feel is the purpose of art: to create something that will give another human a kick in the tuchus, to move them. And I think the only way I can do it is by writing.”

Deen also feels strongly about the necessity of a kind of “warts and all” telling of such dire tales as his, opening up in a surprisingly and refreshingly forthright manner during his interview.

At one point, he admitted that his lack of circumspection may have been based on his “just having gotten back from the gym.”

As provocative as some see his book controversial in its similarly raw depiction of the Chasidic community, Deen was certain to add that he wrote his book without “intended malice” toward his former sect.

His book was written in a “more temperate tone,” he said, noting that before he left it, he found the community detailed to be one he embraced greatly and which uplifted him … prior to his eventual discovery  that there was another world outside of the which had reared him.

Today a secular Jew still feeling a sense of connection to the culture overall, Deen concluded that the reason he could be so honest about his experience without relegating his material to a simple binary of “good versus evil” is that “I am forthright because I’m not a bull———-.”

Such “brutal” rawness led to a thin pallor of controversy hovering over Deen’s presentation  at Beth Tfiloh.

“There were definitely some rumblings,” said Pikesville resident Michon Zysman, who attended the event and has been a member of Beth Tfiloh for the past four years.

shulemdeen2Zysman, herself originally affiliated with the frum community when she was younger, said there were audible gasps from some members of the audience, which she said was denominationally mixed.

When Deen spoke about his frustrations about how, of his five children, the three girls could speak and write English fluently, whereas the two sons who had been studying in yeshiva 12 to 14 hours a day could not, Zysman said a few in the audience were visibly shaken.

“He’s obviously very articulate,” Zysman said, adding that from her own personal experiences, she understands why he would be “pushing back”  in some ways on his former community.

“It was only an hour,” she said. “And it wasn’t as though people were saying, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe he said that!’ But he certainly wasn’t holding anything back.”

Though Zysman said that Deen’s caustic bluntness makes him someone she’s not exactly sure she’d like as a person, his story — “which is not unique; I think it happens a lot” — was one that made her go home and read his entire book over the subsequent weekend.

“This struck a note, and I really do believe it’s  because a lot of Jews have issues and questions and doubts, and they found it interesting to see how someone else approaches this issue,” said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, who has been with Beth Tfiloh for the past 38 years.

“Quite honestly, I did not hear those gasps,” he said.

“Perhaps that’s because I was too busy agreeing with him. I take pride in the fact that Beth Tfiloh is open to  diverse opinions and that there is always something to learn even from those with whom we may disagree.”

“I’m really happy I went,” Zysman said. “I think it’s great Beth Tfiloh did it. I can’t picture another congregation in this area doing something  like that.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com