‘Hard Choices’

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown here meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, reveals in her book “Hard Choices” that Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, pushed hard for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank as a condition for starting peace talks with the Palestinians. (File photo)

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown here meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, reveals in her book “Hard Choices” that Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, pushed hard for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank as a condition for starting peace talks with the Palestinians.
(File photo)

“Hard Choices,” the title of a recently released foreign policy memoir by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, comes across as surprisingly ironic. While dedicating a chapter of her 656-page autobiography to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attendant peace negotiations, Clinton, even in her own words, appears to be a passenger in the peace efforts, rather than a driver of them.

As with most U.S. politicians aspiring to high office, Clinton is diplomatic on the subject that for more than a half a century has been seen by successive presidential administrations as the holy grail of diplomacy — resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As expressed here, Clinton’s views on the conflict are typical for a high-ranking American politician. Her answer: a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with equitable land swaps; a Jerusalem divided between Israel and a future Palestinian state; and security arrangements and an end to settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories. Clinton tries very hard in this book to be complimentary and critical toward Israel and the Palestinians in equal measure.

“I deeply admired the talent and tenacity of the Israeli people. They had made the desert bloom and built a thriving democracy in a region full of adversaries and autocrats,” writes Clinton, describing her first trip to the region near the end of husband Bill Clinton’s first term as Arkansas governor. “In the West Bank, I got my first glimpse of life under occupation for Palestinians, who were denied the dignity and self-determination that Americans take for granted.” She goes on to claim she was an “early voice calling publicly for Palestinian statehood,” even before the George W. Bush administration made it official U.S. policy to do so in 2001.

Clinton maintains this sentiment throughout the book’s Israel chapter while at the same time invoking the “demographic crisis” motif often used by diplomats to coax the Jewish state into making concessions as the justification for urgency.

“Because of higher birth rates among Palestinians and lower birth rates among Israelis, we were approaching the day when Palestinians would make up a majority of the combined population of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and most of those Palestinians would be relegated to second-class citizenship and unable to vote,” she writes. “As long as Israel insisted on holding on to the territories, it would become increasingly difficult and eventually impossible to maintain its status as both a democracy and a Jewish state. Sooner or later, Israelis would have to choose one or the other or let the Palestinians have a state of their own.”

Most of the action in this section of Clinton’s book takes place in the final months of 2010, detailing efforts by Clinton and the administration to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sit down together for a conversation, which failed to produce any results. Clinton concedes that relations between the hardline Netanyahu and the Obama administration were tense during this period. At least in part, she blames her former boss for this, thus absolving herself.

“For the Israelis, we requested that they freeze all settlement construction in the Palestinian territories without exception. In retrospect, our early hard line on settlements didn’t work,” Clinton writes. “Israel initially refused our request, and our disagreement played out in public, becoming a highly personal standoff between Presi-dent Obama and Netanyahu, with the credibility of both leaders on the line.”

Clinton writes that this demand hardened Abbas’ position at the negotiating table, as the Palestinian leader could now credibly argue that halting settlements was not simply a Palestinian demand but a precondition laid down by the United States and the White House’s official position. This move by the United States snatched a major bargaining chip out of the hands of Israeli negotiators.

Curiously, it wasn’t Clinton’s State Department, former Sen. George Mitchell (special envoy for Middle East peace) or Ambassador Dennis Ross insisting on this hard-line stance on settlements, according to the book, but Rahm Emanuel, the Jewish former White House chief of staff and onetime civilian volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces.

“[Emanuel] had a deep personal commitment to Israel’s security. Drawing on his experiences in the Clinton Administration, he thought that the best way to deal with Netanyahu’s new coalition government was to take a strong position right out of the gate; otherwise he’d walk all over us,” she writes. “Mitchell and I worried we could be locking ourselves into a confrontation we didn’t need, that the Israelis would feel they were being asked to do more than the other parties, and that once we raised it publicly Abbas couldn’t start serious negotiations without it.”

It seems that those consequences alone should have been enough for America’s top diplomat to vocally oppose the decision, but Clinton falls in line.

“But I agreed with Rahm and the President that if we were going to revive a moribund peace process, we had to take some risks,” she continues. “So that spring I delivered the President’s message as forcefully as I could, then tried to contain the consequences when both sides reacted badly.”

Sales of “Hard Choices” have been underwhelming, even when compared with Clinton’s first pre-presidential campaign book, “Living History,” perhaps owing to the genre itself (foreign policy memoirs aren’t exactly beach reads) or Clinton’s failure here to stake out a new position of her own on the Middle East crisis. Readers will leave with the same impression with which they entered: Despite Clinton’s much-reported distancing of herself from the Obama administration, her attitude and policy remain nearly indistinguishable from Obama and the Democratic Party platform — and most American Jews. Those hoping for a change in American foreign policy toward Israel may be disappointed to discover that “Hard Choices” offers the same choices. Others may be relieved to see how HRC would offer, at least in this regard, a third Clinton presidency.

JNS.org contributed to this story.

Lone Soldier Fund Serves Thousands

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy’s organization provides inspiration and support to nearly 6,000 lone soldiers. (Provided)

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy’s organization provides inspiration and support to nearly 6,000 lone soldiers. (Provided)

Talk about having a large family. Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy has his hands full. An officer who is part of an elite unit within the Israel Defense Force’s paratrooper brigade, Levy is also founder and director of Tzvika Levy’s Lone Soldiers.

For the past 25 years, Levy has held this post, a position in which he has served as a
father figure to thousands of men and women from all over the world.

Since war broke out in Gaza last week, Levy has been shuttling between military bases, bringing encouragement and much-needed supplies to his lone soldiers. In a phone call with the JT on Monday, Levy said, “We need underclothes, T-shirts, socks, hats and towels.”

The nearly 6,000 lone soldiers Levy’s organization supports hail from 40 countries and came to Israel voluntarily and by themselves to serve in the Israeli military. In addition to providing necessities and emotional support, Levy’s job entails finding homes and surrogate families for the soldiers, most of whom have left their home countries for no reason other than their desire to protect the Jewish state.

Levy, who is endorsed by Eddie Rogers of the Friends of the IDF Baltimore Chapter’s board of directors, praised the lone soldiers for their bravery and commitment, stressing the fact that “no one asked these people to come. They came because of their love for Israel.”

Levy said that nearly half of the lone soldiers who join the IDF choose to serve in dangerous combat positions.

For more information, visit LoneSoldierIDF.com or the organization’s Facebook page.


To The Rescue

071814_chocolateThose who enjoy kosher baking can breathe a collective sigh of relief: There’s a new pareve chocolate chip in town.

The spring of 2012 was a tough one for those who appreciate a good, chocolaty homemade dessert after a meat meal. Food retailer Trader Joe’s brutal announcement that May — that its popular pareve chocolate chips would thereafter be certified kosher/dairy — sent local bakers into a frenzy.

Because the bags sold by Shop Rite are also pareve, things in Baltimore weren’t as bad as in Pittsburgh, where people were buying up the chocolate morsels by the case from two Trader Joe’s locations and freezing them for an anticipated string of proverbial rainy days. But the work of Pittsburgher Chana Shusterman has nevertheless benefited kosher bakers here.

Back in 2012, Shusterman ordered four cases of the Trader Joe’s chocolate chips and shared them with about 10 friends. At the time, she was optimistic that consumer pressure on the chain would convince the retailer to make whatever changes were necessary for its venerated brand of chocolate chips to qualify again for the kosher/pareve certification.

But when that didn’t happen, Shusterman took matters into her own hands.

Finding no reasonably priced, high-quality vegan and pareve chocolate chips in the local market, the high school teacher and software business owner set out on a mission to fix the problem.

“During that first year, I really thought there would be availability somewhere,” Shusterman said. “But when there wasn’t, I did some investigating. I looked into who were the top chocolate manufacturers, and I was able to taste a few brands.”

She was looking for a dairy-free, allergen-free chocolate, with no fillers and a high percentage of cocoa.

Once she found the right chocolate, she got to work researching bagging and printing companies and kosher certification entities.

The result: California Gourmet-brand vegan, gluten-free chocolate chips with a 45 percent cocoa content and certified kosher/pareve by the OK. A 10-ounce bag goes for $2.89.

The California Gourmet chocolate chips are available at two-dozen stores in six states, including Seven Mile Market and Pomegranate in Brooklyn, N.Y., and can be ordered online at californiagourmet.net.

“The taste is excellent,” Shusterman said. “They are very smooth, and good for melting.”

Lila Weiss, owner of Murray Avenue Kosher in Shusterman’s home town, is happy to be carrying the new product, she said.

“You know how some chocolate chips taste waxy?” Weiss said. “These are chocolaty.”

The product, which has been on her shelves for about four weeks, is “moving nicely,” Weiss said, adding that the other brands of chocolate chips she
carries are “a little more expensive.”

While the Shop Rite brand of pareve chocolate chips is available at Seven Mile — and is somewhat less expensive than Shusterman’s product — California Gourmet seems to be attracting buyers who have been missing the Trader Joe’s brand, said Moshe Boehm, the general manager of the store.

“Trader Joe’s had a following,” Boehm said. “There are many, many other chocolate chips out there. But for those people who liked the Trader Joe’s chocolate chips this is a big deal. I’ve heard from a few people that this replaces Trader Joe’s. These are definitely serving a need. They are definitely something that people are interested in.”

For Rivky Bukiet of Baltimore, known, she said, for her homemade chocolate chip cookies, California Gourmet chocolate chips have been just what she had been looking for since the Trader Joe’s product went dairy.

“I couldn’t find a substitute, something of good quality and pareve,” she said.

When she got her first taste of California Gourmet chocolate chips at her sister’s house in New York, “she couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Thrilled to discover they were being sold in Baltimore, she is now using them in all her baking, from pumpkin muffins to peanut butter balls to her famous chocolate chips cookies.

“I’m really excited to share this with all my friends,” she said. “I know when people taste this, they’ll want more.”

Toby Tabachnick is senior writer at The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On Target

An Iron Dome missile battery is in place near Tel Aviv. (Flash 90)

An Iron Dome missile battery is in place near Tel Aviv. (Flash 90)

SDEROT, Israel — In less than two weeks, Israel has endured more than a thousand rockets.

Yet, the casualty toll so far from a rocket strike during the conflict is one Israeli citizen.

In many ways, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge — its third Gaza operation in six years — is much like previous Israeli campaigns in the territory. Israel has used airstrikes to exact a toll on Hamas and has massed troops on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion.

So far, Israel has conducted nearly 1,500 airstrikes over Gaza, with 166 Gazans having died as of Monday.

But in the absence of Israeli fatalities, this conflict has been like no other in the country’s history. Despite Hamas rockets that travel farther than ever, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets heading toward population centers, and early-warning sirens and shelters have protected residents.

Iron Dome was first used during Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas, though the system has added batteries and been more fully developed since. In that conflict, six Israelis were killed, five of them from rocket fire.

Hamas’ total failure this time to kill Israelis — though several have been injured by rockets — has allowed most Israelis to continue their daily lives. And even amid discussion of a cease-fire, it has given the army breathing room to continue its mission.

“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, addressing Israeli citizens. “Regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well. You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time, and we need both your support and your discipline.”

Israel’s goal in this conflict is to destroy Hamas’ rocket stocks and launchers while reasserting the Israel Defense Forces’ military deterrence. Meanwhile, the Israeli home front has been guarded by Iron Dome. Within seconds of when a rocket is launched, Iron Dome identifies the type of missile fired, maps where it came from and where it will land, and — if necessary — fires a missile to knock it out of the sky.

The missile defense system has managed to intercept about 90 percent of its targets.

“If anyone hit nine of 10 in the Major Leagues, he would be cast in gold and sent to Cooperstown,” Eran Lerman, deputy chief of Israel’s
National Security Council, told a Jewish Federations of North America delegation Monday, referring to America’s baseball Hall of Fame.

Lerman hailed Israel’s “remarkable ability to defend ourselves technologically.”

Experiencing loss of life from war has been central to the Israeli experience. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, is a solemn occasion for the country. Civilian and military deaths have been a key part of the calculus of when to begin and end military campaigns.

With Protective Edge, Israel has so far experienced a new kind of conflict.

But Amichai Cohen, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote that Iron Dome could lead to more blame being assigned to Israel because its civilians are less exposed to harm than is Gaza’s population.

“Given the real, yet much smaller threat that rockets pose to Israeli civilian lives after the invention of Iron Dome, there is a real question of whether the IDF’s freedom of action has been curtailed,” Cohen wrote in an email sent out Monday by his institute. “Is the IDF, in effect, penalized for this life-saving technology?”

One place that doesn’t benefit from Iron Dome is Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has been absorbing Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2000. Because Sderot is only about a half-mile from the Gaza border, Iron Dome doesn’t have time to intercept the rockets. Residents have 15 seconds from the time of a warning siren to run for shelter.

Speaking to leaders of North American Jewish community federations who came to show solidarity with the city, Sderot’s mayor, Alon Davidi, encouraged the Israeli army to fight until it eliminates Hamas’ offensive capabilities. He said that the long-range rockets now being fired into the rest of the country have made millions of Israelis understand what Sderot has had to endure.

“All of the country feels what it means to want to save your life,” Davidi said. “In Tel Aviv they have two minutes. We have 15 seconds. We have a joke: If we lived in Tel Aviv we could take a shower and make coffee” before seeking shelter.

“We pray the army can do the job and succeed with the operation,” he added.

Many Israelis would likely welcome the respite from running to bomb shelters that a cease-fire would provide. But Talia Levanon, head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, said that if this operation ends like Israel’s last in 2012, there will hardly be a break in the conflict for Sderot.

Whether “it’s called an operation or it’s called a war, we need to seek shelter with my children and grandchildren, “ Levanon said. “Right now we speak of a cease-fire. We’ll wait a year or two years for it to happen again. We’re always licking the wounds of the previous operation and preparing for next time.”

Beginning of the End?

Jewish Agency Chairman  Natan Sharansky (left) joins  the organization's head of  French operations, Ariel Kandel, at a Paris synagogue on July 2. (Alain Azria)

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky (left) joins the organization’s head of French operations, Ariel Kandel, at a Paris synagogue on July 2.
(Alain Azria)

PARIS — On their 40th wedding anniversary, Avital and Natan Sharansky went sightseeing in the City of Lights.

But the Sharanskys didn’t follow the trail of countless couples who come here to kiss at the Eiffel Tower or slip so-called love locks on bridges over the River Seine. Theirs was an itinerary that demonstrated a different kind of commitment.

“Avital is taking me to see all the places where she organized protest rallies for my release,” Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said at his organization’s Paris headquarters.

There were about a dozen such places. To Sharansky, French Jewry’s strong mobilization on his behalf 25 years ago symbolizes both what Israel stands to gain and what Europe stands to lose, as French immigration to Israel reaches record levels.

Home to Europe’s largest Jewish population of 500,000, France surpassed the United States last year to become the world’s second-largest source of Jewish immigration to Israel, with 3,263 emigrants making aliyah — second only to Russia. This year, 5,000 French Jewish immigrants are expected in Israel, well over double the 1,917 that made the move in 2012.

Such figures should be music to the ears of Sharansky, 67, a former Israeli Cabinet minister who spent nine years in a Soviet prison for his attempts to immigrate to Israel and has led the Jewish Agency — the organization principally responsible for facilitating global aliyah — for four.

Yet, his happiness over his organization’s success is mixed with sadness over the vulnerability it reflects in a robust community that many fear is nearing extinction. Some, including Sharansky, believe French aliyah heralds the end of Jewish life in Europe.

“Something historic is happening,” Sharansky said. “It may be the beginning of the end of European Jewry.”

It is an observation that brings no joy to Sharansky, himself a Europe-born mathematician and chess prodigy who has revolutionized the Jewish Agency by expanding its traditional focus on aliyah to include strengthening Diaspora Jewish identity — a move he said was merely “contextualizing” aliyah but which critics feared would de-emphasize it.

“I think it’s a tragedy for Europe,” he said. “What is happening in France, the strongest of Europe’s Jewish communities, reflects processes taking place elsewhere in Europe. I keep asking people if Jews have a future in Europe.”

Sharansky was cheerful in his encounters with soon-to-be Israelis like Oury Chouchana, a 36-year-old lawyer who is preparing to leave next week to study Hebrew at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem — the same Hebrew immersion program where Avital Sharansky studied 40 years ago.

“It may interest you to hear that Etzion is a serious, serious shidduch scene,” said Sharansky, using the Hebrew term for a marriage match.

The mixed blessings of French aliyah were apparent at a sendoff ceremony Wednesday for several hundred emigrants at the Synagogue de Tournelles. The ceremony took place a few days after the Le Monde newspaper published an emotional plea against aliyah by the well-known Jewish author and activist Marek Halter.

“Will you cede to those seeking our disappearance? Will you leave this home of ours to jihadists and the National Front?” he wrote, referencing the rising far-right party that many French Jews believe has anti-Semitic undertones.

Halter’s piece was a rare call to arms in a community whose leaders are encouraging French Jews to leave. At the sendoff, Richard Prasquier, a former head of the CRIF French Jewish umbrella group and current president of the Jewish National Fund branch in France, shared his “intense pride” in his daughter’s successful aliyah and encouraged the new immigrants to “take away with you our culture and plant it in Israel.”

Joel Mergui, the president of the French Consistoire, the community organ responsible for religious services, spoke at the sendoff of his own “mix of joy and pain” at the fact that three of his four children live 2,000 miles away from him in Israel.

French Jewry is “unique in how leaders don’t perceive aliyah as a threat that could weaken their communities, but as the first installment in building that community’s new future in Israel,” Sharansky said.

This is “remarkable,” he added, “and could never come from federation heads in the United States, where community leaders are committed to ensuring a Jewish future in America.”

At the sendoff ceremony, Lionel Berros, a religious Jew who will immigrate in two weeks, was feeling a more personal version of the mix of melancholy and joy Sharansky described.

“When I was a child, I could leave home wearing my kippah,” said Berros, who is moving with his wife and daughter to Netanya. “Now I wear a baseball cap and my daughter leaves home only to go to school. I don’t want her to grow up like that. So I am sad to leave, but also happy.”

Like many French Jewish parents, Berros is never at ease when his daughter is at school — not since the 2012 murder of a rabbi and three children by a Muslim extremist at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The attack was one of 614 anti-Semitic incidents documented that year by the community’s SPCJ security unit. Of those attacks, 14 percent happened within 10 days of the Toulouse murders.

Sensitive to this sentiment, community leaders have made no secret of their concern for the community’s future.

In a recent interview about anti-Semitism levels, CRIF President Roger Cukierman described French Jews as trapped between the National Front Party, which beat all other parties in the May elections for the European Parliament, a steady increase in violent hate crimes by Muslims and secularist initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and circumcision.

“Behind the figures,” Cukierman said in reference to anti-Semitic attacks, “there is a difficult climate.”

Custody of Five Girls Awarded to Father in Israel

Five Israeli girls who have been living off and on in Maryland since 2010 will return to Israel and live with their father, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled on July 1.

Judge Yvette M. Bryant awarded Yoel Weiss sole legal and primary physical custody of the five girls, who are between the ages of 5 and 14.

Their mother, Yocheved Weiss, who lives in Baltimore, will have telephone and video chat visitation with the three younger children no less than twice weekly. She was not granted physical access to the children.

Divorce cases are pending in Baltimore and Jerusalem. Yocheved Weiss filed an appeal to the custody decision on July 9. A visitation hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19 in Baltimore.

The case, originally filed by Yocheved Weiss in November 2012, ultimately hinged on the court’s judgment that Yoel Weiss appeared to be a more nurturing caretaker to the children, several of whom testified that they wanted to return to Israel and not live with their mother.

Attorneys representing both parties could not be reached for comment about the decision.

The family first came to Baltimore, moving from Ramat Beit Shemesh in the foothills of Jerusalem, in the summer of 2010 to help out a member of Yocheved Weiss’ family. Joel Zuckerman, an attorney for Yoel Weiss, said in a previous interview that he thinks the couple was having problems when they first came to the United States. The father, the only member of the family without dual citizenship, arrived with a six-month tourist visa, which was not extended. His wife would not help him apply for a green card, Jerusalem court documents show.

Bryant wrote in her decision that Yocheved Weiss was dishonest about the move to Maryland and did not intend to return to Israel.

The couple separated in August 2011, at which point Yocheved Weiss was granted a restraining order and temporary custody. In October 2012, Yoel Weiss, who was living illegally in the U.S., flew back to Israel with the three oldest daughters without telling his estranged wife.

Yocheved Weiss “was dishonest regarding her plans (essentially lying to the entire family) when she moved the entire family from Israel, and [Yoel Weiss] was sneaky with his plans to return the children to Israel,” the judge found. “The court does not find that [Yoel Weiss] intended to deprive [Yocheved Weiss] of access to the children since she has dual citizenship and has the ability to return to Israel. The court finds the parties’ respective acts of treachery, as applied to this custody matter, is a draw.”

Yoel Weiss had previously been granted temporary custody by a regional rabbinical court in Jerusalem, but the three girls were later sent back to America in April 2013 after the Baltimore City Circuit Court awarded Yocheved Weiss temporary custody and ordered their return.

According to Bryant’s order, the girls were to be permitted to return to Israel after they met with two court agencies last week. After the custody ruling and prior to their return, they stayed with a family friend in Pikesville, as arranged by their father.

The court also ordered all five girls, Yoel and Yocheved Weiss undergo psychological evaluations in order to make visitation recommendations. The two oldest daughters refused to have contact with their mother and were not included in her visitation rights.

During the custody hearing, which took place over the course of five days in April and May, the court heard testimony from various members of the Jewish communities in Baltimore and Israel as well as several of the girls, who painted a picture of Yocheved Weiss as a mentally and physically abusive mother who yelled at and threatened her children and was disruptive in several school environments. During the case, the court issued an order prohibiting Yocheved Weiss from discussing the case with her children or showing any disappointment with her children’s testimony.

Jamie Metzler, a clinical social worker who spoke with the two oldest daughters, said they reported to him that Yocheved Weiss spoke to them angrily and humiliated them and that it had been going on for at least two years.

Sharon Dienstock, a teacher and adviser from the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, testified about a time that Yocheved Weiss was “loud and angry” and came backstage before a performance on Jan. 11, 2014, threatening to ground her oldest daughter if she didn’t pose for a picture with her mother. The Pikesville woman who the girls were staying with prior to their return to Israel testified that she was once threatened with a restraining ordered by Yocheved Weiss for saying hello to the girls at a public library.

Sara Itzkowitz, founding principal at the Bnos Yisroel School of Baltimore, testified that Yocheved Weiss came to the building with her second youngest daughter and caused a scene, telling her daughter that Itzkowitz was the person preventing her from going to school and wearing a uniform like her friends. She had to be escorted out by a rabbi.

A cousin who the two oldest girls went to live with in May 2013 said the children, who had not re-enrolled in fall 2012, did not attend school until around Thanksgiving that year.

Naomi Kornfeld of Ramat Beit Shemesh said that when Yoel Weiss returned to Israel with three of the girls, they were welcomed back into the community and quickly reintegrated. The girls were relaxed and happy and traveled with their father, she said.

Court documents noted that not once did Yocheved Weiss mention that she loves her children or that she wanted to help them mature. The court had trouble finding her credible since her testimony differed from others and sometimes contradicted her own.

“This court finds that [Yoel Weiss’] home is the home that offers the greatest assurance that each day will afford the same level of nurture, security, consistency, steadfastness with the children’s practice of the family’s faith, extracurricular opportunities, exposure to extended family members whom they enjoy, adventure and a mental and physical abuse-free environment,” Bryant wrote.

For more background on this case, read “Fate of Five Girls Hangs on Circuit Court Case,” May 16.


The Meaning Behind the Fast

Attendees at Iftar, a community break-fast meal at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, hosted by the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council. The council offers dinner each night during the 30 days of Ramadan. (Photo Melissa Gerr)

Attendees at Iftar, a community break-fast meal at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, hosted by the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council. The council offers dinner each night during the 30 days of Ramadan. (Photo Melissa Gerr)

Now in its 10th year, the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council hosted guests from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. communities for a special Iftar dinner, the traditional meal breaking the fast that occurs daily during the month of Ramadan. About 200 people from within and beyond the Islamic community attended the July 10 event at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, including clergy who were invited to speak about the significance of fasting in their respective religions.

“Calling a fast day in a time of crisis is a way to relieve the crisis,” Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. said in offering the Jewish view, noting that fasts have been traditional responses to plagues and droughts for thousands of years. The practice of refraining from food and drink has also been used to commemorate catastrophe such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, he pointed out.

Finally, explained Feinberg, the holiest day of Yom Kippur offers a chance to practice self-denial for more than 24 hours as a sign of repentance, presenting “a day in which [Jews] try to live totally on a spiritual plane.”

The Islamic Society’s great hall was partitioned by a 7-foot high white cloth into men’s and women’s sides. GBMC director Raees Kahn welcomed the crowd and introduced Muhammad Jameel, president-elect of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Jameel explained that fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, acknowledging that fasting began with Abraham, first mentioned in the Book of Zechariah.

Jameel said that during Ramadan, fasting is observed because a person must be as pure as possible in every sense.

“One must restrain from evil speech and hearing evil things,” he said, adding that Islam requires more charity during the month.

“God says, ‘The one who is closest to a fellow man is the one who is closest to me,’” explained Jameel. “You must be more sympathetic, more considerate” during Ramadan.

On the women’s side of the divide, Krayna Feinberg joined Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Amy Bram, director of Camp Milldale, in a conversation with Islamic Society members on the similarities and differencesbetween Judaism and Islam.

Another of the interfaith speakers, Rev. Fred Weimert, president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, acknowledged that fasting is not a significant tenet or a sacrament in Christianity. But he said that the Lenten practice prior to Easter of denying something essential for 40 days could be seen as a type of fasting.

“Fasting is a hungering for the homesickness of God,” said Weimert.

The Islamic Society hosts a break-fast meal for each of the 30 days of Ramadan, with between 200 to 300 people attending during the week, said Mahmood Sajjad, manager of the center’s Café Al-Rahmah. Attendance can grow to 500 people on the weekends.

The light meal began with juice, a fresh date, watermelon and pukora, a fried delicacy of potato and spinach. After a brief prayer service, a main meal consisted of Chinese noodles, Chinese rice, a chicken dish and pita bread. There is not a traditional Iftar menu, because Muslims descend from so many countries, explained Nasrim Rahman, who runs the Islamic Society’s Sunday school and a homeless shelter for women and children.

“Sharing is the main thing,” said Fauzia Tariq, a member of the Islamic Society for decades, who attended with her three children. “The stronger your faith, the easier it is for you,” she said of the fast.


Restaurant Association Announces New Officers, Members

The Restaurant Association of Maryland has announced new officers and directors to its board of directors. Their board term is effective July 1. Officers hold their post for one year, while directors have a three-year term.

The new officers are Sherry Giovannoni, owner of The Fish Market in Clinton; Eric King, owner of the Shanty Grille in Ellicott City; Dan Stevens, owner of Houlihan’s in Columbia and Waugh Chapel; Joe Barbera, owner of AIDA Bistro in Columbia; Kathie Sewell, regional VP of Golden Corral; and Brian Boston, owner of the Milton Inn in Sparks and Highland Inn in Highland.

The new directors are Mary Ellen Hammond, VP of finance at DavCo Restaurants, which operates over 150 Wendy’s; Michael Holstein, owner of Quench in Rockville; Lee Howard, owner of Urban BBQ in Rockville and Silver Spring; Erin McNaboe, VP of marketing for the Rams Head group; Bryan Kight, district manager of Ecolab; and John Corso, president of Coastal Sunbelt Produce.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland is a 2,000-member statewide trade association whose purpose is to promote, protect and improve the food-service industry in Maryland.

ScholarChip Coming to Owings Mills

ScholarChip, a New York-based company recently awarded a contract from the Baltimore County Public School system, has signed a lease with St. John Properties, Inc. for 7,560 square feet of space at 9 Easter Court, a LEED-designed, single-story, 30,120-square-foot office building contained within Dolfield Business Park in Owings Mills.

ScholarChip has pioneered technology and products that are used by school systems around the country to monitor attendance and support safety protocols for students and faculty members. The company anticipates employing approximately 20 workers at this new regional office during the first year of operation, with the possibility of increased hiring as new contracts are won.

Beginning with the fall 2014 school year, ScholarChip will supply 126,000 students and staff members of the Baltimore County Public School system with smart ID cards that will be used to take real-time attendance, both in the classroom and at the entrance to the school building. The system automatically reconciles attendance data, assisting personnel in establishing a school environment that is conducive to improving student behavior and school safety. All data is recorded near to real time in cloud-based reports. ScholarChip technology and products are used by Carver Technical Vocational High School in Baltimore City.

Kidney Foundation Honors Owings Mills Volunteers

071814_bbriefs_kidney-volunteersThe National Kidney Foundation of Maryland recently presented its Ambassador Family of the Year Award to Rose and Jeffrey Karlan at its annual volunteer awards reception at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

“We could not exist without our volunteers whose efforts help us to make the community aware of the life-sustaining role the kidneys play in health and of the risk factors and real dangers presented by kidney disease,” said NKF-MD Board Chairman Christopher Simon.

“Over the past year-and-a-half, this Owings Mills couple has so graciously allowed the foundation into their lives and to share the memory of their son, Harrison, who died as an infant from renal failure. In 2013, the Karlans raised over $20,000 for their walk team, Harrison’s Heroes, and were the top family-and-friends team in the country.”