Best of Both Worlds

070414_waxmanAfter moving to the United States from Scotland in 1998, Richard Waxman saw a country built upon opportunity. And today, more than ever, Waxman is getting a renewed taste for that same thirst for success that brought him to this country more than 16 years ago.

His newest venture started, like many ideas, at a Shabbat dinner table. The Waxmans of Reisterstown sat alongside family friends and heard the worries and troubles from an acquaintance’s aging mother who was downsizing and needed help with such an overwhelming endeavor.

A few weeks later, Waxman took a leap. After many difficult conversations with his wife, Melanie, Waxman decided to leave his job as a vice president of Clear Channel Outdoor. Waxman then founded Principle Lifestyle Management, a concierge and lifestyle management firm dedicated to “bringing the professionalism, diligence and attention to detail of the British and mix it with the American thirst for success and achievement of potential,” as explained on the Reisterstown company’s website.

“I felt as if I was in a now-or-never time in my life,” said Waxman, whose son’s October bar mitzvah is quickly approaching. “I left a very stable company, job and income, but I felt like it was time to build something of my own; the reality is that there’s really no good time to start a business.”

Waxman said he finds in the local Jewish community comfort to cope, especially with the uphill battle fought by a new business. Noting the various different Jewish communities he has lived in, “Baltimore is simply the best,” Waxman said.

“Local businesses are the core of the community, and we want to be a part of the core, both within the Jewish community and broader Baltimore community as a whole,” he added.

In between meetings with prospective clients, Waxman described his company’s focus: “We’re defining time as a commodity, and it’s the most precious of commodities. Once people view time as we see it, I think people will realize how much we can simplify and de-stress the lives of our clients.”

The services Principal Lifestyle Management provides are divided between virtual tasks, hands-on tasks and third-party tasks, which consists utilizing a long list of local experts to assist in completing whatever needs to get done. All third-party vendors are fully licensed and undergo extensive background checks, says Waxman.

Melanie Waxman speaks candidly about her husband’s new business venture and her positive outlook regarding the uncertainty that looms ahead.

“His attention to detail I find intensively annoying, but it has only served him success,” she said with a chuckle.

When recounting the many late-night conversations the couple had prior to Richard leaving his stable and high-level job, Melanie remained exceptionally supportive. “At the end of the day, I have no doubt that he will be successful because he won’t let anyone down, especially himself,” she said.

One of Waxman’s clients, Brown Capital managing director Marty Steinik, effuses support for Waxman, noting that PLM is saving him “headaches, time and money.”

After buying a new house recently, he needed many jobs done but didn’t have the time to manage the various large-scale and time-consuming projects, so Waxman simply took care of everything.

“Richard is simply the best solution in town and the level of trust and commitment between him and myself is extensive and unparalleled,” said Steinik.

Aware that trust between Waxman and his clients is central to the sustainable success and growth of PLM, Waxman said, “If we handle a roofing project, it’s going to be handled the same way as if it were a room on my house protecting my family. Period.”

Living nearly half of his life in the United Kingdom and the other half in the United States, Waxman notes the often-overlooked cultural and socioeconomic undertones ever-present in both countries. Through PLM, Waxman seeks to capitalize on the most redeeming qualities of the British and American mindsets in order to create a quick yet obsessively meticulous service to his clients, he said.

After catching his breath, Waxman smiled and plainly said, “There’s nothing I can’t do.”

Justin Hayet is a local freelance writer. He can be reached at jhayet1@binghamton.edu.

Family Business

A true family business, Acme Paper is operated by three generations of Attmans. From left: Edward, Ron, David and Steven Attman stand with Keith, Michael, Scott and Andy Attman outside Acme’s Savage office. (Provided)

A true family business, Acme Paper is operated by three generations of Attmans. From left: Edward, Ron, David and Steven Attman stand with Keith, Michael, Scott and Andy Attman outside Acme’s Savage office.
(Provided)

For the Attman family, paper is the past, present and the future

The family has owned and operated Acme Paper & Supply Co., Inc. for almost 70 years, spanning three generations of family.

“We all grew up in the business,” said David Attman.

“It was sort of like your bar mitzvah present, you would get to go to work,” added Ron Attman.

Ron and David, along with their brother, Steven, are all vice presidents at Acme. Their father, Edward, founded the business in 1946 with his wife, Mildred, after he returned from serving in the Army during World War II. Edward’s father and mother operated Attman’s deli on Lombard Street in downtown Baltimore, working what Edward described as “never-ending days,” while his mother wanted her son to try something else. He decided to give paper a shot.

“It never spoils, it doesn’t get out of shape and it never goes out of style. People will always need paper products,” said Edward Attman, who at 94 is still a major part of the company’s operations. “It made sense.”

The Attmans founded the company in a garage in downtown Baltimore. Acme specialized in paper towels, toilet paper, napkins and butchers’ meat wrapping paper. They worked mostly with delis, drugstores and small corner stores. In the 1960s, they started making headway in the health care business, manufacturing cleaning equipment and accessories, a business that they have continued to make advances in in the years following.

“That was a big turning point for our business,” said Ron. From health care, the company began venturing into stadiums and hotels. Kitchen equipment, which makes up its own division at Acme, is one of their fastest-growing areas, said the family.

When the green movement began, stressing reusables over disposables and electronic records over paper receipts, the Attmans adapted.

“It’s been a big opportunity,” said Ron of the rise of environmentalism.

“You wouldn’t think so, right?” added Steven.

When the U.S. House of Representatives was looking for American-made renewable products a few years ago, they looked to Acme. The company has even launched green options for each of their divisions and consults with customers on how to become more environmentally friendly.

Most recently, the company has landed contracts as the provider for Maryland Live! Casino. Acme provides sanitation equipment and branded disposable products to the casino, as well as the rights to designing and building some of the venue’s restaurants.

On any given day, visitors can find eight Attmans at the company’s corporate headquarters in Savage.

“Not only do we work together, but we play together,” said David. In many ways, each day in the office is like a mini-family reunion. “Not a lot of families can do that,” he added.

Each of the brothers is a graduate of the University of Maryland and Talmudical Academy and lives in Pikesville. Big football and baseball fans, they often attend Maryland, Ravens and Orioles games together, and when they’re not working or attending games, they like to play golf together, all the while talking about business, of course.

The Attmans aren’t the only family at Acme, either. One of the aspects of their business they’re most proud of is the number of employees they have who are relatives, with brothers and sisters or fathers and sons working side by side.

“I think that’s a great compliment, that people would bring their families here,” said Ron.

Food With a Side of Companionship

David Slotnick, Phyllis Freiman, Geri Minkin, Norma Fedder, Shelly Baernstein and Dena Gerber take a break after packaging kosher meat meals for delivery. (Provided)

David Slotnick, Phyllis Freiman, Geri Minkin, Norma Fedder, Shelly Baernstein and Dena Gerber take a break after packaging kosher meat meals for delivery.
(Provided)

Between talk about grandkids and sips of coffee, a group of about a dozen men and women gather every Monday through Friday to start their day by helping make sure the community’s most fragile get what they need, packing kosher meals and delivering them throughout the community.

The food won’t go to a shelter or a school, but rather to a group of Baltimore-area residents enrolled in Central Maryland’s kosher Meals on Wheels program.

Meals on Wheels has been delivering kosher meals to observant Jews who struggle to cook or shop for themselves since 1960. Inspired by programs developed to help Londoners during World War II and, later, Philadelphians interested in helping the frail live at home longer, Ernestine McCollum of the Maryland Home Economics Association and Beatrice Strouse from the Baltimore section of the National Council of Jewish Women founded a kosher food delivery program in Baltimore. Since then, the program has grown into Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, which serves some 3,000 clients in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties.

Each day begins at exactly 8 a.m. for the volunteers who help keep the program running, some of whom volunteer once a week, others as often as three times a week. After they put on their hair nets and aprons, they get to work on the dairy portion of the meals. Each person has a station along the production line: One woman gathers the fresh fruit, another puts the pre-packed juice into each bag, another still packs containers of pasta salad.

After they have finished sorting the dairy, volunteers go straight into packaging the meat meals which, on Fridays, contain all of the Shabbat staples, like matzah ball soup and potatoes, in portions large enough to often last through part of the weekend.

At 10:30, the shifts switch and the delivery volunteers replace the kitchen volunteers, though some kitchen workers will occasionally elect to make delivery runs as well. Each delivery person takes a route with anywhere from seven to 13 addresses on it. Over the course of the next hour and a half, the drivers, sometimes husband-and-wife or coworker teams who choose to deliver together, stop at every single house or apartment on their list and drop off the packages.

The people the organization feeds range in income and age. Some, said Ellen Falk, director of volunteer services, are young but were born with or acquired later in life disabilities that make shopping and cooking on their own difficult. Others are older and need the extra help. For all of their clients, she said, Meals on Wheels is largely responsible for allowing them to live at home rather than a care facility, something that has become increasingly helpful at a time when many Americans are struggling with the rising cost of assisted living.

Financial assistance in paying for the meals is based on a sliding scale, said Falk, and any one delivery route can run the gamut from high-end condominium to low-income house.

Doreen Garron estimates that she and her husband have been receiving the meals to their Park Heights condominium three days a week for about a year.

“It took a long time to convince you know who,” she said gesturing
to her husband. But now, both are happy. “It’s a very nice feeling of relief, that I don’t have to shop for [food] or cook for it,” she said. On days when they don’t get Meals on Wheels deliveries, she said, they mix it up and order out from local restaurants or stores.

For Maxine Soloman, the food delivery has resulted in her eating more than she has in a long time.

“I’m not much of a cook anyway,” she joked, adding that some of her friends who participate don’t like some of the food, but she’s happy just to get a balanced meal she doesn’t have to make herself. “Meals on Wheels, for me, is great.”

For Falk, who spends most days traveling from site to site checking in on the volunteers and trying to raise awareness about the program, the ability to tag along on deliveries is one of the perks of the job. In addition to getting to know the volunteers, some of whom joined the team as a result of family members’ having received the meals in the past, she enjoys the chance to talk with the clients.

“Regardless of what kind of day you’re having, it just turns everything around,” she said.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Ashkelon Delegation Meets with Mayor

Members of the Ashkelon delegation visit with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Members of the Ashkelon delegation visit with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership got a boost recently when the visiting Ashkelon delegation sat down with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“We’re trying to see what emerges, just some sort of collaboration, at a municipal level,” said Nina Rosenzwog, Baltimore chair of  the organization. “So the whole meeting focused on the whole
concept of inter-city relationships and how to increase the value to both cities.”

Officials from the city of Baltimore, six representatives from Ashkelon and members of The Associated: Jewish Community  Federation of Baltimore and Baltimore Jewish Council all attended the June 18 meeting, which lasted about a half hour.

In addition to discussing ways to work together more effectively, the group from Ashkelon taught the mayor about the Israeli coastal city and exchanged gifts representative of both cities. For Rawlings-Blake, the visitors presented a replica of an old wine decanter to symbolize Ashkelon’s status as Israel’s historical wine center. The mayor returned the gesture with glasses featuring the Baltimore city skyline.

Though the cities do not have an official sister city agreement, Rosenzwog said the partnership, which was established 11 years ago, between the two port cities allows for many Baltimoreans and Ashkelonim to feel a personal connection to a Jewish population halfway around the globe.

“The goal is to make sure that Israel remains relevant,” she said. “And it’s working.”

A Monumental Past

History repeats itself: At times, those words issue a warning, but in the case of historic Mount Vernon Place’s restoration and renovation, echoing the past appears to be the driving force of its future.

Located at the intersection of North Charles and Monument streets at the first crest up from the harbor in Baltimore City, Mount Vernon Place’s apex is the nearly 200-foot-tall monument to the nation’s first president that has been closed since June 2010. The area, named to honor George Washington’s birthplace, is the city’s first designated historic district and the only place in the city that is a registered national landmark of not just one building, but a whole district.

The monument and the surrounding garden squares to its north, south, east and west have, over the last several decades, fallen into disrepair beyond what the city can support financially or administratively. So a group of citizens came together and formed the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy to restore and renovate part of a neighborhood that greatly impacts the cultural and economic interests of Baltimore and Maryland.

MVPC is the first-ever conservancy to be adopted in Baltimore, though the model has been used across the country with success, explained Andrew Frank, who at the time of its adoption was deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development and currently serves on the MVPC board. He said that Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for quality public spaces, was hired to make recommendations for Mount Vernon Place improvements by a group called Friends of Mount Vernon Place. One of the first things recommended was to start the conservancy.

A conservancy is a private group that becomes the steward for a piece of land or other entity; in this case it is the public areas of Mount Vernon Place and does not include the surrounding buildings. A conservancy must work with public entities — within guidelines and regulations — and is usually formed because the city or state does not have the resources for renovation or upkeep. The MVPC board is made up of people from all across Baltimore City and Baltimore County, not just residents of Mount Vernon.

“We will take on the obligation to design, restore and raise the money and maintain the spaces,” said Frank. “It’s modeled after a conservancy in New York, but basically the concept got support from the city, and with other strong partners the conservancy will take [the restoration project] on. [MVPC] is also responsible for the programming, educating, advocating, care and maintenance needed to make these open spaces special and sustainable.”

Cathy Rosenbaum is the marketing and administrative consultant for MVPC. Rosenbaum works closely with all its volunteer board members and committees, especially Lance Humphries, chair of the restoration committee.

Humphries, who loves delving into the past to discover “the world that people made and what they lived in,” left his home state of Michigan for college knowing he wanted to move somewhere “older and with more history.” He chose Virginia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business, then a master’s and Ph.D. in art history. His dissertation work led him to study a famous Baltimorean, Robert Gilmor Jr.


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

Grassroots memorial
Gilmor, known as the first major art collector in this country and one of the first patrons of American artists, is well represented at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Historical Society, two places Humphries frequented to conduct his research. Gilmor was also the driving force behind creating the George Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Place, the cornerstone of which was laid on July 4, 1815, 199 years ago this week. It was the first monument in the country built to honor the nation’s first president and the democratic ideals for which he stood.

The honor of placing the monument was not won by the City of Baltimore, but by its residents.

A volunteer “board of managers” made up of about 20 residents and led by Gilmor, petitioned the Maryland Legislature for permission to hold a lottery to pay for the monument.

“So now you have this group of Baltimoreans petitioning the state legislature in 1809, 10 years after [Washington] died, saying, ‘We want to build a monument to honor our first president,’” recounted Humphries. “They got it approved, and they made it happen.”

He added that a monument had been slated for creation after Washington died, but Congress had not followed through on the plans.

“It speaks to cultural development in the U.S., that the first monument of this scale — and this was a huge endeavor — was not a national federally funded project,” explained Humphries.

The residents went on to erect the city’s Battle Monument commemorating the Battle of Baltimore and its impact on the War of 1812. Such a focus on commemorating the past led President John Quincy Adams to give Baltimore the nickname “Monumental City.”

“These were huge civic accomplishments,” noted Humphries.

When about $100,000 was secured from the earmarked lottery, the Washington monument project was awarded to designer Robert Mills, who decades later, designed the nation’s second and larger monument to the first president within view of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

In Mount Vernon Place, the monument is made from white marble extracted from a quarry just north of the city and features a 178-foot Doric column with 228 interior steps. It was completed about 1820, judging from the earliest written records in newspaper accounts of its visitors. In 1829, the 16-foot, 6-inch statue of George Washington, honorably resigning his commission as commander in chief as referenced by the scroll he holds forth in his hand, was completed by Italian sculptor Enrico Causici and hoisted to the top. In the end, like many design and construction projects of its size, building costs crept well over the budgeted amount, and more financing became necessary.

Collective Anguish

At the hitchhiking post in the West Bank where teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar were abducted, Israelis light memorial candles after the discovery of their bodies in a field near Hebron. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

At the hitchhiking post in the West Bank where teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar were abducted, Israelis light memorial candles after the discovery of their bodies in a field near Hebron. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Members of the Jewish community in Baltimore and around the Jewish world expressed anger and sadness in response to the news that the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, three Israeli teenagers kidnapped on June 12 while hitchhiking near Hebron, were discovered Monday by the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli government identified Hamas,  which the United States considers a terror group, as responsible for the deaths.

In a statement on behalf of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, its president, expressed the organization’s “shock, heartbreak and outrage.”

“Once again, Hamas has revealed its true colors: This group blatantly disregards human life, and it doesn’t even refrain from hijacking innocent teenagers,” he said. “Those who committed this heinous crime must be hunted down and brought to justice.”

Lauder went on to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization that must be “dismantled,” and he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remove all officials with links to Hamas from his government immediately. Lauder also encouraged the international community, especially the United States and the European Union, to freeze all financial support for the Palestinian Authority until Hamas is excluded from all government bodies.

In Baltimore, community leaders and members expressed similar sentiments.

“As part of a global Jewish family, the entire Associated family is heartsick over the tragic loss of these three young boys,” said Howard E. Friedman, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We cannot even begin to imagine the pain that their parents and communities feel at this tragic loss of precious lives. Our hearts are extended to the grieving parents, the people of Israel and with Jews around the world as we come to terms with this senseless disregard for human life.”

In Howard County, Michael Siegal, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s board of trustees, also responded with a statement.

“It is simply unimaginable that anyone could commit such a heinous and despicable act,” he said. “As Jews, as mothers and fathers, as sons and daughters and simply as people, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad at this time. There is no reason — none — why a tragedy like this should have occurred. The Jewish Federations stand alongside our brothers and sisters around the world and in Israel in condemnation of this senseless murder, and we pray that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice.”

Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses-Montefiore Anshe Emunah Greengate Jewish Center said the news was “heartbreaking,” especially for the boys’ parents. “I hope their faith can see them through.

“I don’t think the prayers were in vain though,” Shapiro added, referencing the outpouring of support around the globe that saw vigils and Psalm recitations in the days following the abductions. “The Jewish community coming together in prayer and hope was beneficial to the three boys, even if they were not living. Their souls benefited from all our prayers. We must pray that those who did this are brought to justice.”

Reached at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Andrew Busch said that the congregation has been hanging yellow ribbons and mentioning the missing teens during services since they were kidnapped almost three weeks ago.

“It’s especially sad to think that the boys’ parents believed their sons were alive all this time and now have to find out that clearly they weren’t,” said Busch. “BHC joins the whole community in our sadness.”

Tzippie Mahr, a receptionist at the Owings Mills Rosenbloom JCC, said she felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her when she heard that the boys’ bodies had been recovered.

“I’m shattered and frightened for everyone,” she said. “Not every prayer is answered in the best way.”

Rafi Kristall-Weiss of Pikesville was also at the JCC when he learned the boys’ fates.

“I was in Israel last week and if there is anything positive that has come out of this [tragedy] it is that prayers for the boys brought unity to the [Israeli] nation,” he said. “I saw people, nonreligious and religious, praying for them. Friends of mine took on extra mitzvot to honor them.”

“It [the news] is very fresh,” said Dor Ben Hamo, a student who is visiting Baltimore from her home in Israel. She and Keren Amsalem, also an Israeli student, are both working as counselors at the JCC’s Noah’s Arc Camp this summer. Amsalem said she had been receiving calls and Facebook messages since the news of the boys’ murders was released.

“We all hoped they would come back,” said Ben Hamo. “We send regards to their families, and we hope there is no more of this.”

One Pikesville resident who didn’t give his full name shared a Hebrew phrase: “Baruch dayan haemes.” Their souls should rest and be lifted to the highest point in heaven.” JT

sellin@jewishtimes.com

A Divided House

Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett, was one of five politicians who spoke at the annual Herzliya Conference last month. (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett, was one of five politicians who spoke at the annual Herzliya Conference last month.
(Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

HERZLIYA, Israel — Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Livni don’t agree on much.

Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, sees the West Bank as an inseparable part of the Jewish state and wants Israel to annex its settlements there. Livni, the justice minister, says Israel can remain a Jewish democracy only by evacuating settlements.

But on one thing they agree: Israel must break its status quo with the Palestinians.

Bennett and Livni were two of the five politicians who presented a range of responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last month at the annual Herzliya Conference, an elite gathering of Israeli politicians, military officials and security experts weighing in on the central issues facing Israel.

Their debate exposes the cracks in Israel’s diverse governing coalition. But the biggest division in Herzliya wasn’t between hawks and doves; it was between the politicians who prioritized addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the military officials who all but ignored it.

The assessment of the military leadership differed little from last year’s conference, despite the recent collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the subsequent unity agreement between the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist group by most of the West.

Those developments, which the politicians treated as major changes, were mentioned only in passing by military officials, who focused instead on threats emanating from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

“We’re in a Middle East that’s undergoing a jolt,” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said in a speech that focused mainly on tensions on Israel’s borders. “Dramatic instability is a constant in this region, and we need to be ready.”

While the military officials were focused on missiles, strategic threats and regional alliances, the politicians were concerned mainly with Zionist values, domestic politics and international legitimacy. One after another, the leaders of five major Israeli parties put forward widely divergent proposals for how Israel should proceed following the failure of peace negotiations.

Bennett suggested partial annexation of the West Bank. Finance Minister Yair Lapid advocated staged withdrawal. Livni and Labor party Chairman Isaac Herzog called for a more aggressive approach to negotiations.

Each speaker criticized the others. Lapid and Bennett, once political allies, called each other’s proposals “delusional.”

“The era of Oslo has ended,” Bennett said. “Now the time has come to admit that it simply didn’t work. We need to think in a different way to create a better reality.”

Lapid said the absence of a two-state solution to the conflict could lead to Israel’s destruction and called for Israel to present a map of proposed borders ahead of resumed negotiations.

“There’s no reason to have settlements that won’t be in the territory of Israel in any final agreement or to invest millions of shekels in areas that will be part of the Palestinian state,” Lapid said.

The only politicians who weren’t especially bothered by the current state of Israeli-Palestinian affairs were Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Interior Minister Gideon Saar, both of the ruling Likud party. Both dismissed the idea of territorial compromise and blamed the failure of the talks on the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“I think we made a mistake with land for peace,” Yaalon said. “The conflict is not about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s about the existence of a Jewish national home.”

One issue of broad consensus among conference speakers was the need to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Speakers were skeptical that negotiations between Iran and world powers to scale back Iran’s nuclear program would succeed.

“It’s clear to us that this regime has not given up the option of a nuclear military capability and is striving toward it,” Yaalon said. “And it thinks it will succeed in this through negotiations with the West and a charm offensive.”

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Likud member, said a nuclear-armed Iran constitutes a far greater danger than the stalemate with the Palestinians.

“If a difficult scenario comes to be 10 years from now, with Iran holding tens of weapons, all peace plans will be a total failure,” Steinitz said. “With a nuclear Iran, even [Israeli President] Shimon Peres will need to store away the peace plans.”

Classroom Controversy

The “Arab World Studies Notebook,” an anti-Israel text, has appeared in the public school curriculum of Newton, Mass. (Amazon/JNS)

The “Arab World Studies Notebook,” an anti-Israel text, has appeared in the public school curriculum of Newton, Mass.
(Amazon/JNS)

An anti-Israel text that school officials and some Jewish organizations say was removed from a Boston suburb’s public school curriculum during the 2011-12 academic year was being distributed to students longer than the aforementioned parties let on, new research shows. Furthermore, references to the controversial text remain on a website that is routinely visited by those students to access materials for class.

The Boston-based advocacy group Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) said in late May that the “Arab World Studies Notebook” (AWSN), a Saudi-financed text on Middle East history that falsely claims Israeli soldiers murdered hundreds of Palestinian nurses in Israeli prisons, was still being used in at least three separate classes during the 2012-13 school year in the public school system of Newton, Mass.

In a letter to Robert Trestan, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) regional director, and Jeremy Burton, executive director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston, Newton School Committee Chair Matt Hills wrote that APT’s allegation is “without merit.”

“The ‘evidence’ submitted [by APT] is a course outline, developed by a new teacher in the summer of 2012, with a section on Islamic dynasties,” wrote Hills. “The new teacher initially included the AWSN readings on Islamic dynasties in the early syllabus. However, a veteran teacher saw the outline and ensured that the new teacher understood that the AWSN could not be used, and the readings were removed and never distributed. At no time was the AWSN used.”

But Hills’s claim that the AWSN was removed during the summer of 2012 is seemingly refuted by a downloadable lesson plan that remains on the independent website of teacher Faye Cassell, of Newton South High School’s history and social science department. The lesson plan contains two assignments called “Arab World Studies reading” — references to the AWSN — due Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, 2012. The Microsoft Word document containing the lesson plan was last edited during the academic year on Sept. 22, 2012 and shows that Cassell’s lesson was scheduled to begin two days later.

Although the website is not officially affiliated with Newton South, Cassell uses the site to distribute materials to her students, meaning those students may still come across the references to AWSN. The teacher’s 2013-14 lessons plans, however, are not currently posted on the website. In a public records request, APT obtained the same lesson plan that can be accessed by visiting this webpage on Cassell’s site. The lesson plan can also be downloaded here.

“The teacher who created the lesson plan kept a website for her classes where she told students, ‘Here you will find all the lesson plans, handouts and assignments for 9th Grade Ancient World History,’” Ilya Feoktistov, APT’s research director, said. “The same exact version of the lesson plan that we showed to the ADL and JCRC is to this day still up on her website, and the AWSN readings are still in the lesson plan. They were never removed before being distributed to students through the website. Furthermore, the lesson plan was finalized just hours before the beginning of classes listed in the lesson plan, not during the previous summer as Hills alleges.”

The ADL and JCRC, however, parroted the Newton School Committee’s stance and criticized APT after receiving Hills’ letter, which responded to those groups’ inquiry into the AWSN issue. In a joint statement on June 6, ADL and JCRC said Hills’ letter indicates how “APT’s assertion, like others before it, turned out to be inaccurate.”

“Mr. Hills reports that, in fact, AWSN was not actually used in connection with the syllabus in question in 2012 or at any time since the committee represented it was no longer being used,” ADL and JCRC stated.

The groups proceeded to lament, “The leveling of accusations ought to take place considerably more scrupulously than has occurred in connection with this matter. Careful, responsible, and civil discourse is far preferable to exaggerated or misleading accusations that are unsupported by the facts.”

Advertisements placed in Boston-area newspapers by APT last fall called out Newton school officials over the alleged presence of anti-Israel materials in the curriculum not limited to the AWSN. The ads claimed the appearance of texts in Newton schools including “A Muslim Primer,” which claims that astronaut Neil Armstrong converted to Islam, but that the anti-Muslim U.S. government warned him “to keep his new religion to himself or he could be fired” from his government job; ”Flashpoints: Guide to World History,” which asserts that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the capital of Israel, and that Jerusalem is the capital of “Palestine;” and other materials.

In that instance, too, the ADL attempted to dismiss APT’s findings, joining leaders from the JCRC and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Boston’s Jewish federation) in a November 2013 statement which said that “based on a careful review of the materials at issue by ADL and JCRC, there is substantial reason to believe that the allegations made in the [APT] ad are without merit.”

At the same time, the ADL had refused to make its own findings on the teaching materials public. Furthermore, ADL officials contradicted themselves on the existence of an ADL report on Newton schools. Regional director Trestan told The Jewish Advocate newspaper at the time that a report of an ADL investigation did not exist, regional board chair Jeffrey Robbins had said, “It’s an internal report. People do this stuff internally all the time. … It involves all kinds of proprietary research.”

The ADL would eventually release its report on Dec. 30, 2013. The report again targeted APT’s ad campaign, stating, “While APT’s ad suggests that Newton uses the volume the “Arab World Studies Notebook” as a textbook to teach hate and extremism, it emerged that the reading that was singled out for criticism was highlighted by one teacher who used it on a sole occasion in 2011 when it was actually used to teach about bias, and not in the context of advancing a political viewpoint. the “Arab World Studies Notebook” has since been removed from Newton schools.”

In a January 2014 response to the ADL’s report, APT said the report “cannot be the original report presented to Boston Jewish leadership” and “appears to have been prepared in response to public doubts about the existence of any ADL report.”

“Despite previous ADL claims that its Newton schools report cannot be released due to the fact that ‘it involves all kinds of proprietary research,’ there is nothing that can be considered proprietary about the weakly researched content of the report released on December 30th. … Jewish leadership relied on a sham report by ADL, which was based primarily on trust in the Newton School officials’ verbal assurances to ADL leaders,” APT stated.

APT’s Feoktistov said this week that once the school year ends June 26, the group will attempt to gain insight into more recent Newton lesson plans by filing a public records request for the school system’s 2013-14 curricula.

A Sobering Experience

Two inebriated teens in Tel Aviv sleep it off on a “blanket” made of bubble wrap by Parents Awake. (Provided)

Two inebriated teens in Tel Aviv sleep it off on a “blanket” made of bubble wrap by Parents Awake.
(Provided)

TEL AVIV — It’s midnight here and two balding men in blue vests are on the move. Someone has sprayed tear gas at a club two blocks away.
Outside a club known as The Mossad, located in a warehouse in the dilapidated Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentin, groups of high school students mill about sporting stylish haircuts, revealing clothes and dazed expressions.

A boy in a black shirt and jeans lies passed out on the sidewalk, as a woman in a blue vest makes sure he has not suffocated on his own vomit. Nearby, two girls in black tank tops sit on the curb drinking water from plastic cups.

“How old are you?” another blue-vested woman asks one of the girls. “Where are you from? How are you getting home?”

Fifteen. From Modiin. She would be going home on the same bus that brought her here.

“When?”

5 a.m.

It’s the middle of a long night for the blue vests, members of a group of Tel Aviv parents who patrol clubs looking for kids who need help — anything from a cup of water to a call to emergency services.

Known as Parents Awake (Horim Erim in Hebrew), the group was founded in 2009 after four teens died in a drunk-driving accident on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway. In the Tel Aviv area alone, some 200 volunteers split into six patrols each weekend. There are 150 such squads across the country.

The squads typically patrol areas where they are likely to find groups of inebriated teens. But on nights like this one, when two clubs in the same neighborhood are holding massive parties for teens at the end of the school year, the volunteers converge on one spot.

“Stay in pairs,” Tzvika Koretz instructs a team of 18 parents, most of them middle-aged and graying. “We don’t want anyone alone in a dark alley. We’ve had someone stuck alone with a vomiting girl. That’s not healthy.”

Koretz, 50, is the founder of Parents Awake. By day he’s a north Tel Aviv lawyer. But wearing his vest and a no-nonsense expression, he looks like a beat cop about to break up a house party.

After Koretz’s pep talk, the parents split into two groups, each heading to one of the two clubs hosting parties that night.

Outside The Artist, a club housed in a gray brick building with steel beams and no outside marking, Koretz’s wife, Einat, cordons off a rectangular area with police tape and sets down her supplies. Next to her, three 16-year-old boys wearing matching T-shirts and identical haircuts with the sides shaved stumble around arm in arm.

“This is a banging party!” yells a boy named David, insisting he didn’t drink.

Soon, one calls the other a son of a whore, and they begin fighting.

No alcohol is served in the club — most of the crowd is under Israel’s drinking age of 18 — but Koretz says many of them drink en route to the party on buses organized by the clubs’ publicists. If they want a couple more drinks, they’ll step into an alley to polish off a bottle before heading inside.

In the club, a bass beat pounds so hard it vibrates up one’s leg. Neon strobe lights flash down on kids grinding against one another. A bar sells soft drinks, but it’s nearly deserted. In a room behind it, couples are making out.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, Einat Koretz says that couples have taken up the ladies’ room, doing more of the same.

“The problem is the whole culture of the atmosphere,” Tzvika Koretz said. “There’s not a lot of positive energy here.”

Ideally, Koretz tells the volunteers, police would have met the party buses as they arrived, located the alcohol and poured it out — standard operating procedure for nights like these. But the police presence in the area is thin, and teens arrive from outside the city with the alcohol already in their bloodstream and out of the cops’ reach. At the club, police only intervene when the situation grows violent.

While it unequivocally opposes underage drinking, Parents Awake is a volunteer group with no power to enforce the law. The group is funded by the city and the national Public Security Ministry, but it has no official legal standing and cannot force anyone to stay with them or even to stop drinking. The most they can do is call the police or paramedics.

Outside The Artist, David, the boy who an hour earlier insisted he hadn’t imbibed, is throwing up on the pavement. When he’s done, volunteers lay out a strip of bubble wrap for him to lie down on and offer him a cup of water. Now he admits having had “nine or 10 drinks of Finlandia” vodka.

Next to him, a boy stretched out on bubble wrap begins twitching
and drooling. Parents Awake dials an ambulance, and when the paramedics come, they call his mother to get permission to put him on a stretcher. Instead, she sends his grandfather to take him home, along with his 13-year-old brother, whom they extract from the club.

By 1 a.m., the teens have cleared out from in front of the clubs and some of the Parents Awake volunteers go home. At The Mossad, the only one left on the curb is the girl from Modiin waiting for her 5 a.m. bus.

“You know you helped kids,” Koretz said. “If you weren’t there, they would have been thrown onto the street without anyone to help them.

“But you also go to sleep with a stomachache. It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world. It’s hard to sleep after that.”

Israel needs security fence along Jordan border, Netanyahu says

In light of recent changes in the Middle East, Israel needs to construct a security fence along the length of its border with Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, the Israel Defense Forces would be the entity protecting Israel in Judea and Samaria, including the Jordan Valley.

Israel “must stabilize the region west of the security line in Jordan,” Netanyahu said, adding that the territory of a future Palestinian state, up to the Jordan River, would have to remain under full Israeli security control for many years.

The prime minister said the Palestinians should have “political and economic control in the territories they control, but simultaneously there must be a continuation of Israeli security operations in these territories to ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups.”