IDF Launches Gaza Operation

071114_israelFollowing days of rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza, Israel on Monday launched a “continuous, methodical and forceful campaign against the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip,” according to a government announcement.

Dubbed Operation Protective Edge, the air campaign came as IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz requested the call-up of 40,000 reserve troops — on top of the 1,500 reserves already summoned Monday — to replace conscripted forces in the West Bank and the Golan Heights and allow them to be deployed to the Gaza border.

The goal of the mission is to “limit the impact and limit the capabilities of launching rockets from Gaza,” which jeopardize the safety and well-being of the State of Israel and its civilians, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Tuesday during a conference sponsored by The Israel Project.

“I’ve been asked numerous times today, ‘What will it change?’ And my response is, ‘What is the alternative?’” Lerner said. “We can’t let Hamas — this terrorist organization that is ruthless — dictate and keep a million people in Israel hostage. Hold them hostage and at their mercy. It’s something that a responsible government has to act upon.”

According to Lerner, in a 24-hour period, 130 rockets were launched at Israel. At almost the same time, the IDF attacked approximately 140 sites in Gaza, ranging from “rocket launchers, concealed rocket launchers, militants, their dwelling spots, where they hide out and where they carry out their command and communication for their operation.”

Lerner did not rule out a ground offensive in Gaza.

Hamas has approximately 10,000 rockets and the ability to reach Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem and its periphery, Lerner said. As he was speaking, rockets aimed at Tel Aviv had been shot down by the Iron Dome defense system. It was the first Gaza rocket to reach Tel Aviv airspace since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, according to the Jerusalem Post.

During the call, Lerner also received reports of five Palestinian terrorists entering Israel by sea on a beach just north of Gaza. Israeli forces killed all five.

Above Netivot and Ashdod, Iron Dome shot down 12 rockets. In Ashdod, residents fled for shelter, as rocket sirens sounded and eight people were injured. Beersheba — Israel’s largest southern city — and Ofakim were also subjected to Gaza rocket fire, with most rockets either striking open fields or intercepted by Iron Dome. Early warning sirens went off in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, but they were apparently false alarms.

Shortly after the operation began on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it was time to “take off the gloves” against Hamas.

“We must be prepared to go all the way, and a ground offensive is also on the table,” Netanyahu said.

“This battle will not end in just a few days,” added Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Students taking their English final exam in Beersheba on Monday had their test interrupted by sirens warning of an impending attack. Elisha Peleg, principal of Beersheba’s AMIT Wasserman High School, said both the high school students taking the test and sixth-graders who were in the school for summer camp “displayed remarkable resilience and acted responsibly.”

Classes at the Sapir College in the rocket-battered southern city of Sderot were canceled Tuesday and Wednesday, and Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba announced there would be no final exams on Tuesday. In Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gan Yavne and the surrounding area, gatherings at the beach, performance halls and any other places where the number of people could reach dozens were temporarily banned. Summer camps in Ashkelon and Ashdod were canceled until further notice.

Israeli residents have expressed their fears of a further escalation in rocket fire.

“It’s scary, you hear that terrifying sound a rocket makes as it flies over you,” said Sabrina Cohen of Netivot. “It conjures these horrible world-is-ending thoughts, and then suddenly the explosion, no less scary, when [the] Iron Dome [system] intercepts the rocket. Why does this have to be our routine?”

Amid the announcement of Operation Protective Edge, some Israeli government officials called on the IDF to retake Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 under former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial disengagement plan.

“The Islamist terror base [in Gaza], with its thousands of rockets pointed at us, didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of our mistakes, pulling out of Gaza and letting Hamas run in the [2006 Palestinian] elections,” Likud Knesset member Ze’ev Elkin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel’s Channel 2.

In late June, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated a similar position, saying at the time that only a limited operation in Gaza “just strengthens Hamas.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said he hopes the IDF enters Gaza on the ground so that the terrorist group, which had already claimed responsibility for the latest barrage of rockets, can kidnap Israeli soldiers.

“As long as the occupation attacks, we’ll respond, and it will pay the price for its crimes. Our will won’t break,” Abu Zuhri vowed, adding, “I hope the occupation makes this error and enters Gaza in a ground operation, so that we’ll have an opportunity to abduct soldiers.”

JTA News and Features and contributed to this report.

‘Let Pollard Go’

An Israeli right-wing demonstrstor holds  a picture of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish  American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying  on the United States, during a 2008  demonstration in Israel. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

An Israeli right-wing demonstrstor holds a picture of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying
on the United States, during a 2008 demonstration in Israel.
(JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

With a little more than a year until convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is eligible for parole, a group of 10 prominent legal scholars has sent a letter to President Barack Obama arguing for Pollard’s early release.

The group of nine scholars and professors at top universities, led by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister, sent the letter on June 20 outlining why the president should release Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who was given a life sentence in 1987 for selling classified information to Israel.

The letter calls for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served. “Commutation is more than warranted if the ends of justice are to be served, the rule of law respected and simple humanity secured,” they wrote, stating 10 arguments, both legal and humanitarian, why Pollard’s punishment is unjust.

“The sentence is immorally excessive,” Dershowitz said in a subsequent phone interview.

Pollard pled guilty to espionage in a bargain with the prosecution to avoid receiving a life sentence.

U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced him to life anyway after being presented with a “damage-assessment memorandum” by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Pollard sentence “is a violation of a plea bargain,” Dershowitz said, adding that “it’s important that the president know the facts, or that whoever is giving the recommendation knows the facts. So we wrote it basically as a mini-legal brief, and moral brief, so that the president or his surrogates can know the 10 reasons basically why legality, morality and just ordinary decency requires that he be released immediately.”

Shortly after the letter was delivered to the White House, outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, on a visit to the White House, presented the president with what he later called an “offer” about Pollard. Obama said he would direct the attorney general to study Pollard’s case.

Dershowitz said the public has been misled that Pollard committed treason, which is punishable by a life sentence or the death penalty under U.S. law. According to Dershowitz, the aiding of an ally, as in Pollard’s case, does not carry a life sentence and in cases where spies from other nations have been caught and tried by the U.S., the maximum sentence has been six-to-eight years, of which actual jail time averages between two and four years.

Dershowitz also pointed to the misinformation provided by the government and high-ranking intelligence officials, many of them Jewish, to scapegoat Pollard.

“Secretary Weinberger, who hated Israel with a passion largely because of his own Jewish heritage which he was embarrassed about and despised, allowed personal vendetta to get in the way and he committed perjury in his affidavit,” said Dershowitz.

Another high-level official who called for and remained committed to Pollard receiving a life sentence was Adm. Sumner Shapiro, then-director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Attempts by supporters and Israeli government officials to ask for presidential clemency date back to President Bill Clinton but have so far failed due to opposition from U.S. officials.

Dershowitz said that Jews in high government positions have long been sensitive to accusations of having dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel. This caused Jewish officials to lean “over backwards to try to prove their patriotism.”

Other justifications against Pollard’s release include accusations that he sold secrets to apartheid-era South Africa. Dershowitz called it a “false and racist” charge intended to sway the trial judge, who was African American.

At the time of Pollard’s sentencing in 1987, federal law required parole eligibility for those serving life sentences after 30 years with good behavior. Now 59, Pollard is eligible for parole on Nov. 21, 2015. But, as Dershowitz said, Pollard’s release is not guaranteed.

From Odessa with Love

It was early on a Monday morning, but youngsters at Camp Milldale were full of pep. About 80 5- to 10-year-olds and their counselors were gathered in the Big Max all-purpose room, and spirits ran high. Janna Zuckerman, program manager of the Center for Jewish Camping at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore was trying to get their attention in order to introduce two visitors who had come a long way to bring a piece of Ukraine to Reisterstown.

Irina Gokhman and Dima Garkavluk arrived in Baltimore last week from Odessa, Ukraine. Their trip to the U.S. was funded through the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, a program of The Associated. Gokhman and Garkavluk, both in their mid-20s, work for the Jewish Agency for Israel, which sponsors programs for Russian-speakers in the Former Soviet Union, North America, Germany, Australia and Israel.

The programs promote Jewish culture and unity through a continuum of immersive Jewish experiences, said Andrew Razumovsky, co-chair of The Associated’s Baltimore-Odessa Partnership committee. Razumovsky explained that particularly in the Former Soviet Union, summer camps are a major focus of the program, introducing 3,000 Jewish youth to Judaism and Israel though week-long summer camps.

According to JAFI, the Former Soviet Union was once home to 800,000 Jews. Now that number has dwindled to approximately 160,000, although JAFI estimates that three million Russian-speaking Jews reside elsewhere in the world. According to the organization’s website, these Russian-speaking Jews barely participate in “mainstream” Jewish life. The programs JAFI offers are designed to increase their Jewish involvement.

After they were introduced to Milldale’s youngest campers, Garkavluk told the youngsters a popular Odessan fairy tale. Afterward, Gokhman asked for questions and reactions from the children. Then she explained they would be making group collages to illustrate the story. There was organized chaos as materials were distributed and counselors tried to direct their charges’ attention to the task at hand. A few minutes later, campers were busily cutting and pasting old issues of the JT. Then it was time for the children to present their work.

Soon after the presentations, the campers filed out of the all-purpose room, and another group of campers filed in. Gokhman and Garkavluk would spend the rest of the day and the next at Camp Milldale and the following Wednesday with campers at the Owings Mills JCC’s Maccabi Sports Camp and Top Notch Teen program.

So far, both young adults said they are enjoying their visit to Baltimore and their first time in the U.S. In addition to visiting the JCC Camps, Gokhman and Garkavluk spent Shabbat with other young adults at Moishe House, toured the Jewish Museum of Maryland, met with Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders and visited Washington, D.C. They admitted that they were nervous prior to leading the storytelling activity at Camp Milldale.

“In Ukraine, we are used to working with much smaller groups,” said Gokhman. Yet, after meeting the campers, Gokhman and Garkavluk agreed they were no different from the children in Odessa.

Before his trip to the U.S., Garkavluk said he only knew about the U.S. through “film and cereals.”

“I like Baltimore,” he said. “It’s quite interesting and has more to [offer] than a lot of other cities.”

Garkavluk said he learned about Judaism when his grandmother began bringing him to visit the Jewish programs in Odessa when he was 5 years old.

“When I was 15, I realized I wanted to be a camp counselor to bring practical knowledge to Jewish kids,” he said. “Many of the children in Odessa don’t study at Jewish schools. They have many questions [about Judaism]. I try to teach them basic Jewish [facts] that are relevant to their lives.”

Gokhman said her family had always celebrated Jewish holidays, but she did not attend religious schools when she was a child. After she went on a JAFI-sponsored Birthright Israel trip, she knew she wanted more of a connection to Judaism and Israel.

“I decided I wanted to create something, to have an impact by bringing Jewish education to Odessa,” she said.

Baltimore Remembers the Lubavitcher Rebbe

More than 600 people marked the 20th anniversary of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson’s passing. (Provided)

More than 600 people marked the 20th anniversary of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson’s passing. (Provided)

More than 600 people showed up at Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall last week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

A joint effort of Chabad-Lubavitch centers throughout the greater Baltimore area, the June 29 event brought together Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, and radio talk show host Dennis Prager to discuss the Rebbe’s influence on individuals’ lives and the world at large. Weinreb spoke about how his interactions with the Jewish leader changed his life, as well as the Rebbe’s scholarship.

Following each speaker’s talk, members of the Peabody Conservatory performed a musical tribute composed by Jared Weissbrot.

“You had really two perspectives, which I thought was extremely interesting,” Chabad of Maryland regional director Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, who hosted the event, said afterward. “Rabbi Weinreb shared a very personal story by special request and then spoke about the Rebbe’s extraordinary contribution to Torah knowledge, which people are not aware of. Then you had Dennis Prager speaking from a much more general Jewish point of view and the incredible impact the Rebbe had on Jewish life.”

The day after the Baltimore event, tens of thousands of people from across the world descended on Cambria Heights, N.Y., to visit the Rebbe’s resting place at the Old Montefiore Cemetery.

Baltimore Mourns For Hope

The search for Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach came to a bitter end, but in the eyes of those gathered at Beth El Congregation last week, hope, in spite of sorrow, remains.

Hosted by the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the July 2 memorial service brought the Baltimore Jewish community together to collectively grieve and honor the lives lost.

“We are mourning as a community,” said Beth Goldsmith, co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “It’s what we do; it’s the point of shiva.”

But the gathering was about more than mourning, said Goldsmith, who has been involved with communal affairs since 1978 and travels to Israel at least three times a year.

“The only hope is that with every senseless death, people stand up and make a difference,” she said. “The time for peace is now.”

The memorial commenced with a reading and song of Psalm 121, “God, Our Guardian,” by Cantor Roger Eisenberg. Following was a solemn but hopeful musical selection by clarinetist Dr. Eyal Bor, who had just one night to prepare for the piece adapted from the violin. Cantor Emanuel Perlman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation sang the traditional “El Male Rachamim” prayer.

“[I felt] shock and horror [learning] about the deaths of these children,” Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Howard County Hospice said in her remarks. “This was senseless, cruel violence.”

Scheinerman chanted Psalm 23 as photos of each of the boys were given to all in attendance. Her prayer interpretation, along with a rendition of “Sim Shalom” by Cantor Thom King and the Beth El Choir, provided a visibly emotional backdrop. Several members of the audience fought back tears.

“As family from afar, we gather to provide strength and support for loved ones,” said Scheinerman. “It is too easy to retreat into fear; though we are not unscathed, we are not bitter. This psalm shows our grief and sorrow but also our hope.”

The ceremony took place as the discovery of the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, presumably a revenge attack by Israelis, sparked riots in the eastern sections of Jerusalem.

“This is not our way, and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement. “I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”

Amid the rising tensions, Rabbi Chaim Landau, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, promoted a message of peace.

“There needs to be time to heal, and we need more speakers to speak at the nation to realize that the biggest act of revenge against the Palestinians is silence and kindness,” Landau said at the Beth El service.

At the conclusion of the service, yellow ribbons that had been displayed after the Israeli teenagers went missing in June were replaced with black ribbons.

“It’s a tragedy for anyone to lose a life,” remarked one attendee.

“We are never far when something happens to a Jew. It’s felt very strongly. We embrace the concept ‘every Jew is responsible for another,’” said Landau. “Distance is not a representation of how far we are, especially with news and social media represented.”

Andy Katz, assistant administrator at Beth El, said that the service was very much a communal gathering.

“[This service] strengthens the bonding and also allows us to grieve and find outlet in our own surroundings,” he said.

Lauren Root is a local freelance writer.

Keeping Them Safe


The Iron Dome missile defense system launches an intercepting missile near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Tuesday, the first day of Operation Protective Edge.
(David Buimovitch/Flash90)

According to Israel Defense Forces reports, the Islamist terror group Hamas launched as many as 170 rockets from Gaza into southern Israeli communities Monday and Tuesday, including Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon. The onslaught provoked the commencement of Operation Protective Edge, a military offensive that so far has resulted in the launching of approximately 50 targeted missile strikes on sites in Gaza.

In preparation for a possible ground offensive, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz called up 40,000 reservists for deployment, and bomb shelters opened in Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba with many more to planned to open in Tel Aviv. Sirens warning residents to take cover sounded in area towns throughout Tuesday.

Beth Goldsmith, co-chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Israel and Overseas Committee, said that the situation for those living in Ashkelon has become increasingly frightening and — especially for those who do not have safe rooms in their homes — very uncomfortable.

“All of the summer programs, schools, camps have shut down [in Ashkelon], and many parents are staying home with their children,” she said. “Those who don’t have shelters in their homes are relocating. When the sirens go off, you have only 15 seconds to get to a safe place.”

Goldsmith said that The Associated has been monitoring events on the ground.

“One Israeli group we support called AMEN, a volunteer program to engage at-risk teens, has been manning the shelters helping to calm and engage the children there, trying to minimize their trauma,” she related. “We also have staff based in Israel who are running things and keeping us apprised of what’s going on. We certainly hope this does not go any further.”

While there are no Associated-sponsored travel groups in Ashkelon, two programs, the Associated-supported Onward Israel for young adults and the Baltimore Zionist District Teen Experience, currently have about 50 young adults participating in programs elsewhere in Israel.

Onward Israel’s 26 participants are halfway through their program and for four weeks have been living in individual dorm rooms on the Tel Aviv University campus, said Mary Haar, director of the Israel and Overseas programs for The Associated. During most days, the college-aged students work at internships tailored to their interests as part of the program. They also participate in group trips and other events.

“They had a group trip today in Tel Aviv learning about Israeli society, and when they arrived home about 5:30 p.m. there had been a rocket [aimed at Tel Aviv] intercepted by the Iron Dome,” said Haar, referring to the Israeli anti-ballistic missile system. “There was a siren, they went to the shelter [within the dorm].”

Haar added that during a warning siren, it is typical to stay about 10 minutes in a shelter until receiving further instruction.

She said that the students are no longer in the shelter but have been asked to stay in the dorm until further notice from the Onward Israel professional security team, which includes IDF and other security liaisons. The security professionals check in with all group participants, said Haar, and assessments will be made in terms of any travel to internships throughout the week or for other necessary instruction.

“It is definitely an ever-changing situation,” said Haar, “and safety and security is the highest priority for our participants. We, of course, hope it quiets down and calms down quickly.”

At press time, several Onward Israel participants, two of which are from Baltimore, had chosen to leave Israel and travel back to their homes.

Rabbi Michael Meyerstein, executive director of BZD, said his office is in daily communication with partners in Israel.

“We rely on them to be our eyes and ears on the ground,” he said. “We constantly update our parents so that they can feel a bit more comfortable about their children’s situation.”

Meyerstein said BZD can alter the program, which includes 26 teens from Maryland and one from New Jersey, almost at a moment’s notice and re-direct students to a different part of the country or change the itinerary even for part of a day, if necessary.

Associate Director Fran Sonnenschein explained the group just came off of a three-day stay at a Beit Kama kibbutz in southern Israel, and she had just spoken with a parent of one of the teens on their program.

“They spent a couple of hours in a bomb shelter,” she said, “and one student was Skyping with her mother.

“Right this moment, they’re at Mitzpe Ramon — they didn’t go where they were originally going; now they are much farther south,” she added.

Pikesville Run/Walk serving up kosher breakfast

Participants race in last year’s Pikesville 5K Run/Walk. (Provided)

Participants race in last year’s Pikesville 5K Run/Walk. (Provided)

This year, for the first time, the Pikesville 5K Run/Walk will cater (literally) to participants who maintain a kosher diet.

“I noticed a lot of Orthodox friends were talking about the races they run, and it suddenly dawned on me: At the Pikesville 5K, the only things they can eat are apples and bananas,” said Jessica Normington, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. “So I reached out to Sherri Zaslow [director of marketing and sales] at Tudor Heights Senior Lifestyle to discuss the possibility of having kosher food at the post-race party. She thought it was a great idea, so Tudor Heights will be providing a kosher breakfast.”

Kosher food offerings after this year’s 14th annual race — which benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults as well as the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce — will include eggs, French toast and offerings from Goldberg’s Bagels.

Normington said the race typically attracts about 800 runners and walkers with an additional 400 family members. The event will take place July 13 at the Woodholme Center and will include activities such as face-painting and moon-bouncing for children, a DJ and prize drawings for sports equipment and gift certificates.

Although online registration is closed, Normington said that it is still possible to register in person at Charm City Run stores in Timonium and McHenry Row and Fleet Feet Sports in Pikesville.

For more information, visit

Appel, Bromberg Named Kidney Champions

Dr. Jonathan S. Bromberg and Dr. Lawrence J. Appel

Dr. Jonathan S. Bromberg and Dr. Lawrence J. Appel

The National Kidney Foundation of Maryland has named Drs. Lawrence J. Appel and Jonathan S. Bromberg as its 2014 Kidney Champions.

The physicians were chosen for their accomplishments in the medical and surgical world, related to kidney health and transplantation.

“We are delighted to honor these prestigious doctors who have made significant contributions in the field of kidney disease research and organ transplantation as our 2014 Kidney Champions,” said NKF-MD Vice President Christie Vera. “Their personal sacrifices will continue to have a lasting impact on the future of kidney health and the success of organ transplantation for generations.”

Appel is the C. David Molina professor of medicine and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, a joint program of the School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.

Bromberg is professor of surgery and microbiology and immunology and chief of the Division of Transplantation at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Harbour School Wins $25K for Meals on Wheels

The Harbour School at Baltimore’s Harbouring Hope for Hunger campaign was chosen as a winner of LEAD2FEED, a nationwide student challenge created by the USA Today Charitable Foundation and the Lift a Life Foundation with assistance from the Yum! Foundation, which encourages service learning directed to solving world hunger.

In conjunction with the school’s Museum Day 2014 — Solutions in World Hunger — Siri Wenrich, English and language arts teacher in Baltimore, created Harbouring Hope for Hunger. Her team of students worked throughout the school year to find solutions for world hunger, and they won $25,000 for the charity they chose, Meals on Wheels. Their project was chosen from 1,500 entries nationwide.

The Harbour School is a Maryland State Department of Education-approved nonpublic special-education school, serving publicly funded students in grades one to 12 from 14 school systems and the District of Columbia.

Abilities Network Fetes Board Members

David Paulson and Maxine Seidman

David Paulson and Maxine Seidman

Abilities Network presented Board of Directors Service Awards to two individuals who have served on its board for 10 or more years.

Headquartered in Towson, Abilities Network is a nonprofit organization that provides individualized services to people in Maryland with disabilities.

Maxine Seidman, one of the honorees, joined Abilities Network’s board in 2000 and serves as president. She also is a member of the walkabout abilities committee, the 50th anniversary steering committee and the Project ACT (All Children Together) advisory committee. She owns Play Keepers, which provides after-school care.

David Paulson, the other honoree, joined Abilities Network’s board in 2002 and serves on the 50th anniversary steering committee and the executive committee. Specializing in acquisitions and dispositions and select tenant and landlord assignments, he is senior vice president of Blue & Obrecht Realty.