Police: Ner Tamid Children Not at Risk in Child Pornography Bust

After a Ner Tamid member and employee was arrested on child pornography charges, the congregation’s rabbi and its Montessori school president sent a letter out to congregants and parents assuring them that their children were not at risk.

“The Baltimore Police have made it clear, thus far, that no illegal activity took place on the synagogue or school’s premises,” read the letter, which was sent on June 18. “Most importantly, the authorities have assured us that they do not believe that the safety of our children was at any point compromised.”

Jonathan J. Lewin, 44, of the 6600 block of Edenvale Road in Baltimore, is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. There is no evidence that Lewin had physical contact with those in the photographs, according to Baltimore County Police.

Ner Tamid Rabbi Yisrael Motzen said he was “rather shocked” when he heard the news and felt he had to tell congregants along with parents with students at the Montessori school, which is housed at Ner Tamid.

“If there’s any risk to anybody at any time, then as a synagogue and part of the community, we have an obligation to warn [congregants] of any potential issues,” he said. “Thankfully, the police have confirmed that, as of what they know right now, they don’t believe any illegal activity took place on our premises, and we are grateful and thankful that’s the case.”

Lewin was a member and a part-time employee who helped the synagogue’s custodial staff, Motzen said.

A May 16 investigation by a detective with the Baltimore County Police Department Crimes Against Children Unit found that a source at the home on Edenvale Road was sharing pornographic images of children. The detectives obtained a warrant to search the home and seized numerous hard drives, some of which had child pornography on them. Lewin, who was found to be responsible for the images, was taken into custody during the search on June 12.

Lewin was released on $75,000 bail, and the incident is still under investigation.


Baltimore Joins Three Yellow Ribbons Campaign

(From left): Lainy LeBow-Sachs, president of the BJC, Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect of The Associated, and Jason Blavatt, co-chair of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas Committee, tie three yellow ribbons around the Weinberg Park Heights JCC’s sign.  (Provided)

(From left): Lainy LeBow-Sachs, president of the BJC, Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect of The Associated, and Jason Blavatt, co-chair of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas Committee, tie three yellow ribbons around the Weinberg Park Heights JCC’s sign. (Provided)

As Israeli police and military continue their search for three teenagers who were kidnapped on June 12, the Baltimore Jewish community continues to show its support for the families and the Jewish state by joining the Three Yellow Ribbons campaign.

The campaign, started by the Embassy of Israel to the United States, has Jewish organizations tying three yellow ribbons around their signs and from trees.

“Nobody in Israel or anywhere else in the world should experience what these boys are facing,” said Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “They’re our boys, we don’t just think of them as three boys in Israel.”

Yeshiva students Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped on June 12 from Gush Etzion in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he holds the Palestinian Authority, which recently formed a government with Hamas, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas responsible.

Hurwitz, along with Baltimore Jewish Council President Lainy LeBow-Sachs and co-chair of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas Committee Jason Blavatt, tied three yellow ribbons around the Weinberg Park Heights JCC’s sign Monday morning.

“This is what the Jewish community does,” LeBow-Sachs said. “People are going to tie ribbons all over until those boys are let go.”

Rabbi Chaim Landau, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, read a prayer in the form of a poem for the group after the ribbons were tied.

“Oh God, please bring back our boys, and let us say, amen,” the prayer ended.

The hashtag #BringBackOurBoys went viral on social media after the kidnapping. Prior to the yellow ribbon campaign, synagogues throughout the Baltimore area held psalm recitations, and Jewish organizations such as The Associated and the Jewish Federation of Howard County expressed their support for Israel and kidnapped teens’ families and denounced the kidnappings.

At the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Monday morning, Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond was joined by JCC of Greater Baltimore President Barak Hermann, Jewish Community Services Executive Director Barbara Gradet and The Associated’s Chief Planning and Strategy Officer Michael Hoffman, as she and Chana Siff, associated director of Israel and government relations for the BJC, tied ribbons around the JCC’s sign.

“All of us who have children get what those families are going through,” Gradet said. “These teens are our children too.”

Hoffman said the ribbons serve as reminder that the boys are still missing.

“They need to stay in our thoughts,” he said.


New Outlook for Myerberg

062714_seniorclassesIt’s not news that people are living longer and staying healthier than ever before. Baby boomers don’t feel like senior citizens, they don’t behave like senior citizens, and they may not envision themselves spending time at a senior center. At the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Pikesville, board and staff members get it. About two years ago, the center, which is open to people 55 and up, removed the word “senior” from its title, and according to director of life-long learning Autumn Sadovnik, the center’s name isn’t the only thing that’s evolved.

“The Myerberg Center is no longer a place where people just come to have lunch and play cards,” said Sadovnik. “We just had 25 people in an advanced aerobics class. One member, who trained at our fitness center, is now riding his bike across Europe. We are growing and diversifying our offerings in fitness and wellness, academics and the arts,” she said. “It’s become a place where people can come and do the things they may have not had time to do when their work schedules were heavier.”

Some members, Sadovnik added, still have full-time jobs, and the center is expanding its hours to accommodate them. For example, now the fitness center is open three evenings per week, and the center is beginning to schedule fitness classes in that time slot as well.

The Myerberg Center’s summer program lineup reflects the changing needs and varied interests of its members.

Sadovnik said the program kicked off on June 2 with a program called, “Down Memory Lane with Camp Louise.” Former campers saw a slide show with photos from Camp Louise from its earliest days to today and shared a traditional camp lunch.

“We served sticky buns with cottage cheese,” a treat Sadovnik, a 1990s-era Louise camper, said was once a camp tradition. “The women saw photos of themselves and their mothers! It was really a great day.”

On June 8, the Myerberg hosted its annual Grace Schnitzer summer art show, and on July 25, members will have lunch and be treated to a performance by the Tzofim Israel Scouts.

Other new and expanding programs include the Bagel Boys men’s club, technology workshops and classes such as introduction to poetry, Tai Chi, digital photography and conversational Yiddish.

The Myerberg’s Dorothy Orfus Stein art program is already well known for its high quality. The center has also formed partnerships with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Baltimore Zionist District and the Creative Alliance, enabling innovative programs that include the museum’s salon series, Creative Alliance’s intergenerational lantern-making workshop and a series called “Israel Promise and Politics” taught by Israeli scholars and AIPAC and BZD members.  There will also be an expanded music program, a genealogy course and a World War II program taught by a survivor of the Japanese occupation.

The Myerberg Center’s state-of-the-art fitness center, built in 2008, may be the best deal in town. The 2400-square-foot facility features strength-training equipment, cardio machines and free weights. For $30 per hour, members can work with one of the center’s personal trainers. The cost for membership at the Myerberg Center is $42 per year, and membership at the fitness center costs $315 per year. Fitness classes include aerobics, circuit training, Zumba and yoga. And although much of the center’s new programs are geared toward the “younger” set, the Myerberg Center hasn’t forgotten its older and frailer population. They also offer chair Zumba, chair Pilates, seniorcize and a new miniseries called Exercise for Strong Bones. “That program has really taken off,” Sadovnik noted. “Sometimes women who haven’t worked out before think they can’t do it. But that shouldn’t stop them. Everyone who signed up for the strong bones series ended up registering for aerobics. Not only do we see people living longer, they are living better.”

Other area senior centers are also offering new and innovative programs for the summer months. At Pikesville Senior Center, July programs include wellness-themed programs such as a lunch and learn program on reflexology, a brain fitness presentation and a Salad Extravaganza on July 9. For the politically minded, the center will sponsor a Q&A session with Sue Cohen, a representative for Congressman Michael Sarbanes, on July 8. On July 14, members can attend a Jewish history discussion with Rabbi Dovid Lefkowitz, director of senior Jewish learning at the Etz Chaim Center. The Pikesville Senior Center also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, where classes in Zumba and yoga are offered.

Area community colleges waive tuition for adult learners over 60 years old. Offerings include arts courses such as painting and drawing, computer literacy courses in social media and Adobe photoshop, history and politics. With campuses located in Hunt Valley, Catonsville and Owings Mills, as well as online, the courses are easy to access.

And don’t forget the JCC. Both locations offer group fitness, acquatics and ceramics classes specifically geared toward older adults, said Melissa Berman. In addition, the JCC presents its Warm Houses programs, which “are designed to develop connections among seniors to create a support system and connected community,” said Berman. “Groups gather weekly in their homes, in their own comfort zones, [and seniors have a chance] to participate in conversational activities and educational activities. Participants also gather monthly for large-scale special programs with featured presenters and opportunities to interact in a larger group setting.”

Warm Houses programs take place at Weinberg Village and other residential facilities along the Park Heights Avenue corridor.

For more information, about summer programs for seniors, contact the Edward A. Myerberg Center (myerberg.org) at 410-358-6856; the Pikesville Senior Center (baltimore countymd.gov) at 410-887-1245; and the JCC (jcc.org) at 410-356-5200.


Brown, Hogan Best Opponents



Supporters of Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown entered the crowded University of Maryland’s Samuel RIGS IV Alumni Center Tuesday night already prepared to celebrate his win in the Democratic primary race for governor.

“We’re ready to party,” declared Marilyn Kresky-Wolff of Potomac, long before the official election results began appearing on the huge television screen supporters had gathered to watch. Brown beat his nearest opponent, Attorney General Doug Gansler, 51 to 24 percent.

Brown and his running mate will  face off against Republicans Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., a Cabinet secretary under former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, and attorney Boyd Rutherford in the Nov. 4 general election. The Hogan-Rutherford team won the Republican primary with 43 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidate teams.

Sporting a bright blue Brown-Ullman T-shirt, Jen Brock-Cancellieri of Baltimore couldn’t contain her excitement about Brown’s primary victory. “I think that he has the commitment to the issues I care about like clean air for every Marylander, protecting families from pesticides and investing in renewable energy,” said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

When the votes were in, a jubilant Brown took the podium as the Democratic nominee, and as he has done throughout his campaign, waxed hopeful about a Maryland that offers great schools for all and quality middle class jobs. He offered few specifics about his plan on the campaign trail, however, and offered no more on election night. He told a cheering crowd: “It’s up to all of us to decide what the future will look like over the next four years.”

Meanwhile, at the Marriot Hotel and Convention Center in North Bethesda, Gansler spoke to a dwindling, but warm audience.

“If today’s voting and turnout shows anything, it is that people are very frustrated in our state,” Gansler told the 100 or so supporters who had gathered inside the hotel’s ballroom. “The middle class is being squeezed by taxes going up and getting less from a government that is supposed to work for them.”

Calling himself a fighter, Gansler conceded that he had lost this bout: “We fell short today, not from a lack of hard work or conviction or dedication. We worked hard, you all worked hard … But tomorrow we wake up, we shake off the dust and we each do what we can to help others build a better life here in Maryland,” he continued. “That’s our mission, that’s our cause and that’s our fight.”

Turning already to that upcoming race in his victory speech, Brown promised that his party would create a better future for all Marylanders, while predicting that Republicans would whittle away the achievements the O’Malley administration made by cutting taxes and public programs.

Brown and running mate Howard County Executive Ken Ulman led in the polls right from the start of the campaign, maintaining their often-double-digit lead throughout the race. Brown campaigned on his record as a member of the O’Malley administration and his intention to bridge the gap between rich and poor, institute universal prekindergarten and create new jobs. Brown often cited health care reform as a major focus of his campaign despite the dismal start of Maryland’s new health-insurance exchange, for which he was the point person.

U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 4th District, was a strong Brown supporter right from the start. “I think Anthony Brown has demonstrated the temperament, the integrity and the leadership to move our state forward,” Edwards said.

If victorious — and Maryland has only elected one Republican governor in the past 48 years — Brown will become Maryland’s first African American governor. The fact that Brown is African American and Gansler is Jewish did not appear to have much of an impact on the race, agreed Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and Karen Barall, Mid-Atlantic director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.

The JCRC has good relations with both Brown and Gansler, according to Halber, who noted that both men have had “a ton of exposure” and have attended many Jewish events. About 10 years ago, the JCRC took Brown to Israel, Halber recalled, adding that he believed that regardless of whether Brown or Gansler had been victorious, the Jewish community is “well situated. We have friends and allies in both” political camps. Also, Halber said, both men were “predisposed toward helping the Jewish community.”

The JCRC asked all the candidates for governor five questions earlier this year, including what they believe can be done to strengthen business ties between Maryland and Israel. “As governor, one of my first trade visits will be to Israel, in order to further strengthen our trade and business  relationships,” Brown responded, adding that the O’Malley-Brown team had increased the state’s annual grant to the Maryland/Israel Development Center from $100,000 to $275,000 currently and invested $20 million in Israel bonds.

In February, Brown attended a meeting with the Orthodox Union and spoke of his vision of universal prekindergarten that included nonpublic schools and the importance of tight security in schools.

On election morning, Ira Ungar, who voted at the Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Kemp Mill, said that Brown’s reputation for integrity would be prove to be his biggest selling point as a candidate.

Brown graduated from Harvard University, where he was a member of the Army ROTC. After graduation, he spent five years flying helicopters with the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Division in Europe. He then returned to Harvard law school, where one of his classmates was Barack Obama.

After law school, Brown clerked for Chief Judge Eugene Sullivan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. He then practiced law before becoming a member of the Maryland House of Delegates in the 25th District.

During his second term as a delegate, Brown was deployed to Baghdad in 2004 for 10 months where he delivered humanitarian assistance, receiving a Bronze Star for his efforts.

He returned to the House of Delegates, where O’Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore at the time, asked him to be his lieutenant governor.

Dmitriy Shapiro and Simone Ellin contributed to this report.

Frosh Wins Primary

Surrounded by his supporters, Maryland state Sen. Brian Frosh, the Democratic Party nominee for attorney general, delivers his victory speech on Tuesday night at the Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase. (Marc Shapiro)

Surrounded by his supporters, Maryland state Sen. Brian Frosh, the Democratic Party nominee for attorney general, delivers his victory speech on Tuesday night at the Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase. (Marc Shapiro)

Brian Frosh had trouble getting to the stage at his election party Tuesday night to give his victory speech. The Democratic candidate for Maryland attorney general was bombarded with hugs and handshakes as supporters cheered, applauded, took photos and cellphone videos.

“You guys won this election,” Frosh, a state senator, told those gathered at the Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase. “I will do everything I can to make sure that people in Maryland are safe in their neighborhoods, in schools, at home, online, that people have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, they’re free from frauds and cheats and scams, and I will fight like hell for justice.”

Frosh defeated Dels. Jon Cardin (District 11) and Aisha Braveboy (District 25). He will face two challengers, a Republican and a Libertarian, in the general election.

“We ran a great race, we ran a positive race,” Cardin told supporters at his election night party in Baltimore. Moments before, he had called Frosh to congratulate him on the victory. “I hope that [Frosh] will look out for the interests of all Marylanders.”

Frosh, for his part, said he’d seek the advice of Cardin and Braveboy.

“I’d like to emphasize a number of things: public safety, environmental protection, consumer protection [and] equal opportunity,” he said. “I’m looking for ways to protect Marylanders and improve their lives.”

Frosh, an attorney with a private practice in the Washington, D.C., area, has been representing his Montgomery County district in the state Senate since 1987. He is chair of that body’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, vice chair of the Rules Committee and sits on the Executive Nominations and Legislative Policy committees.

Frosh was endorsed by many high-ranking current and former Maryland politicians, including Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Frosh’s legislative accomplishments touch on issues such as gun safety, domestic violence, environmental protection, infant safety and open meetings. He was the lead Senate sponsor of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which banned assault weapons and ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds. He advocated for legislation ensuring that companies drilling near water supplies will be held responsible for contamination, that allows Maryland residents to bring suit to enforce the Open Meetings Law and that eases the burden of proof required for domestic violence victims to obtain protective orders, among others.

Frosh won the three-way race with 49 percent of the vote. Cardin trailed with 31 percent, and Braveboy took 20 percent of the vote.

“People feel his integrity,” said Mary Silva, who coordinated canvassers for Frosh’s campaign. “This is a fair, just human being.”

As she was canvassing, she found it easy to speak to people face-to-face about Frosh.

“It’s easy to talk to people … when the candidate has the qualifications, the work history,” she said. “It’s very easy to lay out why he should be attorney general.”

Rob Smith, vice president of Fitzgerald Auto Mall, said he’s supporting Frosh because he needs a pro-consumer attorney general.

“He may not always agree, but he’ll listen,” Smith said.

In November, Frosh faces Jeffrey Pritzker, a Republican Towson attorney, and Leo Dymowski, a Libertarian Maryland Parole Commission hearing officer.

Pritzker, grew up in Baltimore City and County. He was a published staff member of the Maryland Law Review as a student at the University of Maryland School of Law. He is a partner at Margolis, Pritzker, Epstein & Blatt P.A. He has almost 40 years of experience as an attorney. He previously ran for attorney general in 2002, losing in the Republican primary by two percentage points to Edwin MacVaugh, who lost in the general election to J. Joseph Curran Jr. Pritzker is a member of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore.

Pritzker says if elected he would reform the tax system, examine state regulatory agencies and expand arbitration and mediation services at the attorney general’s office.

Dymowski, a Dundalk resident, spent 15 years as a trial attorney prior to his current position. He holds a master’s degree in urban planning and management, which he earned while working for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. He served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2002, he ran for Congress in Maryland’s 2nd District, losing to Dutch Ruppersberger.

Dymowski says he would work to stop the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, which his website says would reduce crime, save taxpayer money, pave the way for marijuana legalization and protect students from losing financial aid or being denied college admission for minor drug offenses.

The Maryland attorney general is the state’s chief legal officer; the office is not term-limited. The attorney general serves as the legal adviser to virtually every state government agency, and houses several divisions and units within the office including Antitrust, Consumer Protection and Educational Affairs divisions; Environmental Crimes, Internet Privacy and Juvenile Justice Monitoring units, among others.

Other Primary Winners
• Dutch Ruppersberger — Congressional District 2 (D)
• John Sarbanes — Congressional District 3 (D)
• Charles Long — Congressional District 3 (R)
• Delores Kelley — State senate District 10 (D)
• Lisa Gladden — State senate District 41 (D)
• Adrienne Jones, Jay Jalisi, Benjamin Brooks — House of Delegates District 10 (D)
•  Shelly Hettleman, Dana Stein, Dan Morhaim — House of Delegates District 11 (D)
• Jill Carter, Nathaniel Oaks, Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg — House of Delegates District 41 (D)
• Kevin Kamenetz — Baltimore County Executive (D)
• George Harman — Baltimore County Executive (R)
• Vicki Almond — Councilmanic District 2 (D)
• A. Wade Koch — Councilmanic District 3 (R)
• Julian Earl Jones — Councilmanic District 4 (D)


Heather Norris contributed to this report.

Gansler Visits Seven Mile

Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running for governor, spent the morning at Seven Mile Market talking to customers and employees.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running for governor, spent the morning at Seven Mile Market talking to customers and employees.

On Friday morning, sporting a bright orange Baltimore Orioles tie, gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler toured Seven Mile Market in Pikesville doing some last minute schmoozing with members of the Jewish community.
“Good Shabbos,” he told passers-by. When asked what brings him to the kosher supermarket, Gansler joked, “I want to remind people to vote. It turns out there’s an election on Tuesday.”
Gansler said that he has a long-time connection to the Jewish community. “We spent Pesachs with my mother’s college roommate on Marcy Drive,” he said.
“We need a candidate who knows Baltimore and knows the Jewish community,” continued the Democrat. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years. That’s the difference between me and the other candidates. I have a record.”
Gansler met Chava Elgamil and her 13-year-old daughter, Kayla, in the ice cream aisle where they were deciding on what flavor to buy. Elgamil, a Pikesville resident, said she plans to cast her vote for Gansler on Tuesday.
“He has a good track record, but mostly I don’t like how things are going in this country and I feel like Brown will just be an extension of that. He has the same political affiliations as the current governor. We need someone different.”

Making A Stand

Passers-by look at Holocaust-related memorabilia left by citizens who are protesting the monument to the 1944 German occupation. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)

Passers-by look at Holocaust-related memorabilia left by citizens who are protesting the monument to the 1944 German occupation. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)

Budapest, Hungary — It isn’t every day that Jewish organizations reject funding for Holocaust commemorations.

But that’s what happened in Hungary this spring when Jewish groups refused nearly $1 million in special state grants to protest what they see as the government’s whitewashing of Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust.

“We wanted to send a very strong message to the government that we are interested in truthful, not symbolic, remembrance, and this is something money cannot buy,” said Andras Heisler, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, known as Mazsihisz.

Now a group of Jewish communities and cultural organizations are uniting in an effort that organizers say is unprecedented for Jewish groups in Hungary. They banded together into a fundraising alliance called Memento70 that is using crowdsourcing and social media in a bid to raise money on their own for their now unfunded projects.

The campaign went live in April, the 70th anniversary of the Nazi ghetto- ization of Hungarian Jews. The launch coincided with the official start of a special year of Holocaust memorial observances organized by the state but boycotted by much of the organized Hungarian Jewish community.

These are bold moves for a Hungarian Jewish community that remains highly dependent upon government funding. But the activist stance reflects potentially broader changes for Hungary’s Jewish community, which numbers as many as 100,000, most of whom are unaffiliated with the official communal bodies.

Heisler took the helm of Mazsihisz in 2013 and has outlined an agenda aimed at making the umbrella group a more respected, pluralistic representative body that can credibly lobby for Jewish interests at a time of growing nationalism and open xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

“We are not afraid,” Heisler said. “On the contrary, the Jewish community is reacting and finding itself. It feels alive.”

Mazsihisz is largely financed by the state’s funding of religious organizations and Holocaust compensation funds. The Memento70 boycott deals only with the Hungarian government’s special Holocaust commemoration grants.

In February, Mazsihisz had decided to boycott the government’s Holocaust year events because of issues that it said played down Hungarian involvement in the Holocaust.

The umbrella group objected to a planned memorial in Budapest to the 1944 German occupation that critics feel portrays Hungarians solely as victims of the Nazis. Mazsihisz was upset as well by the government’s refusal to share plans for a new state-sponsored Holocaust museum or to involve organized Jewry in developing its exhibition.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has rejected a call by 30 Jewish U.S. members of Congress to reconsider constructing the monument “against the wishes of the Hungarian Jewish community.”

It “is not a Holocaust memorial,” Orban said in a statement, but “a freedom-fighting people’s memorial of the pain of having its liberty crushed.”

In general elections in April, Orban’s center-right Fidesz party was re-elected, but one in five voters cast their ballots for the extreme right Jobbik party, notorious for its nationalist, anti-Roma policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

In May, Fidesz won more than 51 percent of the vote in elections for the European Parliament, with Jobbik finished second with nearly 15 percent. A recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that 41 percent of Hungarians hold anti-Semitic attitudes.

“My biggest problem is not Orban or Jobbik but reorganizing Mazsihisz and dealing with the weakness of the organization,” Heisler said.

As the main Jewish umbrella group, Mazsihisz officially represents the interests of Hungarian Jewry to the government and is responsible for the annual distribution of millions of dollars of government subventions and Holocaust compensation funds to Jewish organizations.

Critics have long accused the group of being undemocratic and unrepresentative, and called for a reform of its financial and administrative operations.

“The level of mistrust of Mazsihisz is high,” Heisler said. “We have to change this.”

Heisler said a recent operational review showed large-scale flaws in in the management of the organization, which employs nearly 1,000 people, and an economic audit revealed “very serious problems.”

He acknowledged, too, that he faced opposition in his hopes to “open the umbrella wider” to allow Hungary’s small Reform Jewish congregations, which are not recognized by Mazsihisz, to join.

“Mazsihisz is a big organization with huge infrastructure,” he said. “If these changes can’t be made, we are on a slippery slope.”

Most of Memento70’s 35 member groups are Jewish community or cultural groups that come under the Mazsihisz umbrella. They include most of the mainstream Jewish organizations that had won the government’s Holocaust commemoration grants.

The Memento70 campaign is raising money for projects including the construction of Holocaust memorials, cleaning up Jewish cemeteries, book publications, educational initiatives, and commemorative performances, exhibitions and concerts.

Many of the donations, Memento70 spokeswoman Antonia Szenthe noted, had come from donors with limited means who simply wanted to show support.

“There has never before been a fundraising alliance like this,” she said. “It is a very new thing. Fundraising as such has never happened here. Begging, yes. But not fundraising.”

Dangerous Crossroads

New Yorkers gather in front of the Israeli Consulate for a vigil for the three missing teens. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New Yorkers gather in front of the Israeli Consulate for a vigil for the three missing teens.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

ALON SHVUT — The group of several dozen seventh-graders had just finished school and were preparing to return to their homes in this bloc of communities near Bethlehem in the area Israel acquired in 1967. A few of the boys, their skullcaps blowing in the wind, stuck out their index fingers — the Israeli equivalent of “thumbing a ride.”

“Absolutely not!” yelled their teacher. “No hitchhiking! You’ll wait for the next bus.”

He then consulted his watch.

“It comes in two hours.”

The students let out a collective groan.

The mood is tense here among these post-1967 towns. It has been more than three days since a trio of teenagers were kidnapped on their way home from school late at night. Thousands of Israeli soldiers have surrounded the West Bank town of Hebron, about 10 miles from here, believing that is where the kidnappers are holding the boys, who studied at a boarding school in the area.

Many of the residents of these 20 communities know the kidnapped teenagers. Others see their own sons in them.

“I’m full of worry and anticipation, but I actually have hope,” Sharon Katz, a theater director who lives in nearby Efrat said. “The entire nation is praying for the recovery of these three wonderful boys. These three teenagers could have been anybody’s teenagers.”

Davidi Perl, the mayor of the 20,000 residents who live in Gush Etzion, said that the kidnapping has been devastating for many residents here.

“It’s like someone came into your house and took your children,” he said. “It’s like they hit our soft belly. We felt like we were safe here. We walk around, go jogging or bike riding at all hours of the day or night. But we weren’t really safe.”

Katz started her theater company called Raise Your Spirits at the height of the intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising against Israel that began in 2000. These days she volunteers at a hospitality stand for Israeli soldiers. She dispenses drinks and homemade cakes for several hundred soldiers each day. Many of those passing through today are going to the West Bank town of Hebron.

The hospitality stand was started in memory of Shmuel Gillis, a doctor from this area who was shot and killed while driving home from the hospital 13 years ago. His wife, Ruti, says the Palestinians in Hebron should pay the price for the kidnapping.

“I don’t want anyone to suffer,” the soft-spoken artist said, sitting at a table outside the hospitality stand. “But we should make life intolerable for the people there. We should cut off the water and the electricity and not let anyone go to work. Eventually, people will say to the kidnappers, ‘Give them back, we don’t want to suffer anymore.’”

These communities are just 10 miles outside Jerusalem, where many of the residents commute to school or work every day. There are buses that serve the area, but they are infrequent. All ages are represented here, but it’s especially the youth who commute by hitchhiking — either from bus stops or special hitchhiking posts.

“My mother is worried about hitchhiking, but I told her I’m more nervous about crossing the highway here than accepting a ride,” Noa Divo, 18, said as she waited for a ride. “Most people stop to offer rides, and it’s really a good way of life. Of course, my first reaction to the kidnapping was fear, but it’s much more convenient than the buses, and it saves money.”

There were fewer hitchhikers than usual, but those who continued said it was too much a part of their lives to quit.

“Hitchhiking is simply part of the fabric of life here,” said Perl. “There are buses to Jerusalem but no buses between the communities. If you want to get from one to the other you have to hitchhike or walk.”

The mayor said his own children frequently hitchhike. His 16-year-old son carries tear gas with him whenever he travels to Jerusalem, and his sons in the army have their army-issued arms. But children as young as 12 or 13 who can be seen trying to get a ride would be unable to defend themselves if attacked.

The Israeli army says it has foiled at least 30 similar kidnapping attempts in the past year. Theater director Katz said she lets her four sons hitchhike but not her daughter.

“I told my daughter when she started going to school outside of town that she is not allowed to hitchhike,” said Katz. “I told her, ‘No matter where you are, you are to call me, and I’ll pick you up.’ I’ve picked her up at all kinds of places at all hours of the day and night.”

Others say they simply have no choice.

Gillis said her daughter is finishing nursing school and has to be at the hospital in Jerusalem by 7 a.m. The only way to get there on time, she explained, is by hitchhiking.

The proper Israeli response to the kidnappings is also being debated here. Some call for harsher measures against the Palestinians; others call for more Jews to move here.

One possible reason for the kidnapping is that the teenagers were taken in order to exchange them for some of the 5,000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails. In 2011, Israel freed more than 1,000 Hamas prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The prevalent mood here seemed to be against any prisoner exchange.

“I am against any prisoner release,” said Perl. “The prisoners return to terror and do other acts against Israel. It doesn’t help and will never help to achieve peace.”

Even the seventh-grade boys waiting for the bus had an opinion.

“It would be a terrible thing if they did that,” Gavriel Gimpel, 13, said. “The last time they did that they took 1,000 for one. So if they have three they could take a lot more. We shouldn’t do it.”

Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.

A Conflict?

Reuven Rivlin (center), then Knesset speaker, sits next to his predecessor Shimon Peres during a speech by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic. (File photo)

Reuven Rivlin (center), then Knesset speaker, sits next to his predecessor Shimon Peres during a speech by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic. (File photo)

The election of Reuven Rivlin as president of Israel has left many American Jewish groups in a quandary about whether he shares their values or not.

Rivlin, 74, was a champion of Israel’s minorities when he served as speaker of the Knesset, but he opposes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a position that puts him at odds with his own government and the majority of American Jews.

He is known as congenial and respectful of other opinions, but he once denounced Reform Judaism as “idol worship,” revealing an antipathy to the religious pluralism that most American Jews espouse and want to see recognized in the Jewish state.

Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said his dovish group is “ambivalent” about Rivlin becoming Israel’s “first citizen.”

“On the one hand, he has done more than most Knesset members to protect Israel from initiatives from the extreme right to curtail democracy and the rights of minorities,” Nir said. “He won the votes [for president] of most Arab Knesset members.

“On the other hand, he is a right-wing ideologue who supports a Greater Israel, and very openly so.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, called Rivlin’s views on Reform Judaism “unacceptable” but said her movement is hoping that the new president will come to see things differently.

“His duty and responsibility will force him to change his views and bring about pluralism,” she said.

The Rabbinic Assembly advocates a two-state solution, she said. But she called Rivlin’s opposition to a Palestinian state “an internal matter.”

Rivlin, who won the June 10 runoff by a 63- 53 vote, will be sworn in on July 24. He replaces outgoing President Shimon Peres, who is completing a seven-year term.

In Israel, the presidency is largely a ceremonial and symbolic post.  But the prestige an Israel president enjoys lends the incumbent more than token influence. Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and outspoken dove, often voiced his differences with hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rivlin will be different, said Morton Klein, national president of Zionist Organization of America. “Unlike Peres, Reuven Rivlin is a clear-eyed realist.”

Rivlin will be an improvement over Peres, who acted on “the fantasy that we can have peace if we offer   [the Palestinians] more land,” Klein said.

Rivlin opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and he opposes Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank. Klein said Rivlin, whom he calls a “longtime friend,” opposes a Palestinian state because it would turn the West Bank into another Gaza, from where Hamas has fired rockets into Israel at times since 2006.

Rivlin has said, “I would prefer the Palestinians become citizens of the State [of Israel] than for us to divide the country,” he has said, proposing common citizenship but separate parliaments for Jews and Arabs.

Klein calls extending citizenship in lieu of a Palestinian state “a very dangerous proposition.”

In an open letter to Rivlin, published in Haaretz, Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs addressed the new president’s description of his movement as idol worship. “You disparaged, with stunning insensitivity, the dominant religiosity of North American Jewry, our Reform Movement,” wrote Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.

“You may not agree with everything we do or how we express our deep Jewish commitment, but please know it is no less than yours, or any of the chief rabbis,” Jacobs wrote. “The world has too many people who have disdain or antipathy toward our people and our beloved homeland, so please do all you can to model ahavat yisrael, love of your fellow Jews.

As president, Rivlin may do just that. In his acceptance speech, he announced his resignation from the ruling Likud Party. “I am no longer partisan but rather a man of the nation, one of the people,” Rivlin said.

Nir said Rivlin likely will be a non-ideological president. “But what kind of message will people get when they know they are facing the No. 1 citizen of Israel who supports a binational state. That’s problematic.”


Singing In Sisterhood

Chevy Chase was the scene of the annual Women Cantors’ Network Conference earlier this week, as more than 80 cantors, educators, soloists and other Jewish musical professionals filed in to town for the biggest WCN event of the year.

“It’s a great way to reconnect with our roots,” said Lisa Levine, who chaired the event as cantor at the host congregation, Temple Shalom.

WCN has members from denominations including Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist from all over the world, something that Levine considers one of the organization’s strongest assets.

“We cross denominational boundaries,” she said. “We’re trans-Judaic.”

The conference program reflected the diversity of the group’s membership.

Speakers both from within the organization and from outside addressed topics that affect cantors from all denominations of Judaism. One talk focused on creating music that appeals to all demographics represented in congregations. Another talked about strategies for helping congregants deal with loss. Another  discussed ways female cantors can bring some of the rituals and practices of Jewish women into the congregation.

“So many of us are isolated and don’t get the opportunity to listen to music and learn new music,” said Levine, adding that WCN fills that need.

Levine joined the organization in 2011 after attending one of WCN’s conferences to promote a book she had written on yoga and Judaism.

“I just totally fell in love with this group of women,” she said. “It’s a great group.”

But not all members of WCN are women.

“The conference has a sense of camaraderie that appeals to me,” said Alan Rubinstein, one of the group’s few male members. He tried other cantor groups, but WCN offered him the support he was looking for, and the opportunity to meet and learn from leaders from other denominations was an added bonus.

“This is a very warm group,” added Rubinstein, who is cantor emeritus at Baltimore’s Bolton Street Synagogue.

This year’s conference was titled Roots and Wings, a name that reflects WCN’s mission to both connect to the past and move toward the future. One of the highlights involved touring the Library of Congress to see some of the Yiddish documents housed in the nation’s capital.

Jinny Marsh co-chaired the event with Levine. She has been a member of WCN since 1992, when female synagogue leaders were few and far between. Since then, she said, WCN has provided a support system for women as they begin to play a bigger role in synagogue life.

“It’s a collective of knowledge and support,” she said of the organization. In addition to the yearly conference, WCN operates a listserv where members can email questions or concerns and receive input from fellow Jewish musical professionals in response.

“We’re there to help each other grow and learn,” said Marsh.

Along with programs and workshops for attendees, the conference also featured more than 20 vendors selling jewelry, CDs and other Judaica. Ten percent of the proceeds made by venders at the event were donated to dreamMakerS, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that serves children of parents with multiple sclerosis.