Barak Engages Baltimore in Global Dialogue

Ehud Barak (File photo)

Ehud Barak (File photo)

Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, graced Baltimore with his insights on the state of the global arena on Oct. 25 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as a part of Stevenson University’s Baltimore Speaker Series.

Touted as a man “who over a half-century career became Israel’s most decorated soldier and held the nation’s trifecta of top positions,” according to The New York Times, Barak has been dedicated to the peace process since the start of his 36-year career in the Israel Defense Forces.

Barak served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001 and defense minister from 2007 to 2013. He served as a negotiator of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and is credited with ending the violent occupancy of southern Lebanon by Israel in 2000. He has been commended for his proposals for a peace deal with the Palestinians at Camp David that same year, although unfortunately, the negotiations were unsuccessful.

Barak also was a key player in the June 1976 Entebbe  Operation for the rescue of passengers on the hijacked Air France plane that was forced to land in Uganda. His dedication to the peace process and influence on the world’s geopolitical landscape led Foreign Policy magazine to name him 13th among its 100 Global Thinkers last year.

Barak’s speech, interspersed with anecdotes from his military and political career, addressed a variety of intertwined factors in the world today. Topics of focus included the rivalry between the United States and nations such as Russia and China, as well as numerous issues in the Middle East.

“None of the geopolitical centers of gravity can take on any major challenge on its own,” he stated. He cited the war on terror, explaining that the United States has been  attempting to eradicate terror groups, yet each it has combatted still remains.

He asserted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in Damascus, and he noted the success of ISIS in recruiting and training terrorists through YouTube videos and encryption, as well as its effectiveness in “inspiring lone wolves.” But militarily, he said, ISIS is “a ridiculous force,” which could be defeated if it were confronted by a serious force on the ground.

“In the Middle East, within a short five years, the Arab Spring turned into an Islamist Winter,” Barak said. “Nation-states collapsed and centuries-old conflicts re-emerged. On the global arena, the world order is deeply shaken.”

Barak said that even the United States, “the only real  remaining superpower, not only in freedom and liberty, but militarily and strategically,” would not be able to overcome the difficult challenge of terror unless the international  community unites.

As he’s done throughout a regional tour that included a stop in Pittsburgh last weekend, Barak predicted the ultimate disintegration of Syria as a  nation, as well as the disintegration of other countries in the Middle East, with smaller, tribal units arising from the rubble. Turning to Israel, “an outpost of the Western way of life,” Barak compared the Jewish state to “a villa in the jungle.”

Barak’s biggest word of warning to the audience was that “the United States is seen around the world as weak and weakening.”

“Objectively,” he continued, “it has nothing to do with the reality, but perceptions are working against you these days, and as a result, you are rivals with China and Russia.”

He explained that this conflict would not result in a physical clash any time in the future, as “China is so far  behind the U.S. militarily that they don’t even think in physical terms.” However, he explained that both China and Russia “will inevitably turn their sights to the last region in the world where the U.S. made its folly.”

“Never underestimate the meaning for the Far East of the way you leave the Middle East behind you,” Barak said as a final word of warning.

Barak predicted that in the future, America will have a symbiotic relationship with the Far East and hopes that under this umbrella, world leaders will have the opportunity to sit face to face behind closed doors, and “the world will understand that America can be relied on as the force that will back you at the moment of truth.” JT

Toby Tabachnick, contributed to this article with reporting from Pittsburgh.

Among Cleveland’s Orthodox Voters, Reluctance Reigns

“She’s accumulated a fair amount of warts.”

She is “proven to be  dishonest and difficult to trust.”

“I thought as secretary of state she should have been fired.”

That’s what some Orthodox supporters of Hillary  Clinton in the Cleveland area are saying about their candidate.

And some Donald Trump backers?

“I wouldn’t even say he’s my 17th choice.”

“He’s nasty with everyone.”

“He’s said some really, really horrible things.”

Jeff Bookman, a suburban Cleveland jewelry seller, has his reservations about Donald Trump’s temperament but believes the Republican  candidate can return America to traditional values it has lost. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Bookman)

Jeff Bookman, a suburban Cleveland jewelry seller, has his reservations about Donald Trump’s temperament but believes the Republican candidate can return America to traditional values it has lost. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Bookman)

For Cleveland’s Orthodox Jewish community, this is the dismal reality they see in the 2016 presidential race. Both major candidates will draw votes from the community, but few Orthodox Jews in the area sound enthusiastic when discussing the two people who could be their next leader.

“What everyone can agree on is we have two poor choices,” said Elisha Fredman, 30, of the heavily Jewish Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. “I have not witnessed conversations where there have been strong feelings for a candidate.”

The Greater Cleveland area includes more than 80,000 Jews, many of whom live in a cluster of suburbs east of the city. The Orthodox minority is particularly concentrated in Beachwood, a town with more than 10,000 Jews — 90 percent of its total population. Beachwood boasts a street where four Orthodox synagogues stand in a row, along with a mikvah and Jewish high school.

Its congressional district, which stretches south into non-Jewish neighborhoods, voted heavily for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008 and is represented by a Democratic congresswoman, Marcia Fudge. Ohio as a whole is a battleground for the candidates and has voted for the winner of the election in every contest since 1964.

But where the Jewish majority mostly votes Democratic, Orthodox Clevelanders say their community tends to lean Republican. For many, pro-Israel policy is the defining election issue, though some expressed discomfort with the Democratic Party’s liberalism on social issues — a few people mentioned the Democrats’ advocacy of transgender-friendly bathrooms.

“They’re angry about the Iran deal, [and] they’re more aligned with conservative positions generally,” said Rabbi Eric Frank, the Ohio director of Agudath Israel of America, a Haredi Orthodox group,  referring to last year’s accord curbing Iran’s nuclear program. “There are some who are probably voting for Donald Trump because they like his message, but on the other hand, I would probably interpret it more as a vote for Republican leadership in Congress and other places they feel have had Israel’s back.”

Polls of American Jews as a whole show strong support for Clinton, a Democrat, and few surveys of Orthodox voters have been taken. But an August poll of Orthodox voters in Florida, another swing state, had them backing the Republican Trump by a 3-to-1 margin.

Orthodox voters began gravitating to the Republican Party in presidential elections during the Reagan administration, said Michael Fragin, a Republican strategist who worked on President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. Orthodox Jews are drawn to the party’s vocal support for Israel, he said, which asserted itself during the first decade of the 2000s, when evangelical influence grew in the party and the “war on terror” drew Israel and the U.S. closer. Fragin added that unlike non-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox voters tend not to be turned off by the social conservatism of Republicans.

“There is more of a division over the past two decades as the Orthodox community has grown and been more assertive of itself,” he said, “There is a perception among the Orthodox community that anti-Zionism is prevalent on the left.”

The Cleveland community has seen some defections from the Republican Party due to its nominee. For reasons ranging from his inflammatory temperament to his lack of government experience, right-leaning voters said that this year they would be voting for Clinton. Several Orthodox Clevelanders said they supported other Republicans in the primary who are seen as more moderate, from Ohio’s popular governor, John Kasich, to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Chuck Bennis, a computer products distributor from Beachwood who identifies as a conservative, said Clinton should have been dismissed as secretary of state after the deadly 2012  attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Four years later, Bennis will be voting for Clinton — because he appreciates her decades of government experience, as  opposed to Trump’s lack of it.

“A lot of the frum people are pretty conservative and typically vote Republican, but they’re finding Trump so unpalatable this year that they’re not voting that way,” Bennis said. “This is just an unusual election. He’s got to where he is based on his rhetoric versus substantive views on critical issues. It’s just — I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around [his] making it this far.”

Jeff Bookman, a Beachwood jewelry seller, has his reservations about Trump’s temperament and said he would have preferred any of the other Republican candidates. But he believes that Trump can return America to traditional values it has lost, like respect for free enterprise, the rule of law and Judeo-Christian principles. Culturally and economically, he said, the left has undermined those  values, branding opponents of transgender-friendly bathrooms or welcoming Syrian refugees as “haters.”

Under Clinton, Bookman said, the Supreme Court will become an activist body pushing liberal causes. Citing allegations that Clinton traded  favors as secretary of state, Bookman fears that she will transform the United States into a “banana republic.”

“I think he wants a strong America,” Bookman, 65, said of Trump. “I think he wants people to do business with less restriction. It’s not that Trump is the greatest guy, but he is in the sense more of a traditionally thinking American. He wants America to be a powerful country, [and] thinks America should exploit its natural  resources to its benefit.”

Resolute Clinton voters also qualify their support.

Anna Fredman, Elisha Fredman’s wife, gave Clinton a grade of “B or a C for Israel” and said she was offended by Clinton kissing the cheek of Suha Arafat, wife of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in 1999.

But Fredman said she has been reassured by Clinton’s voting record as a senator from New York, and like Clinton, she prioritizes health care and  education as a voter, along with pro-Israel policy. In any case, Fredman said, voting Clinton is an imperative this year to stop Trump, who she said should be anathema to Jewish voters.

“I can’t understand how anybody, especially a Jew, could support Trump,” said Fredman, 30, a speech and language pathologist. “We are people who know what can happen from leaders who preach hate. I can’t even fathom that someone from our community could elect someone who espouses hate. Hate for one group is dangerous for every group of people. Who says it’s not going to be the Jews next?”

Just days before the election, some voters can’t — or don’t want to — choose between Clinton and Trump. While some will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, others remain undecided.

Hildee Weiss, 48, a freelance writer from Beachwood, said she is scared by what Trump says but finds Clinton to be untrustworthy.

“It would probably be a matter of voting for the lesser of two evils,” Weiss said. “My vote would go to what I feel is best for Israel and for the economy here, and how to handle foreign policy. And neither candidate really stands out.”

The Jewish Vote: Senate Races to Watch

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Hillary vs. Donald is sucking all the air out of the room.

Consider: The first woman major party nominee battling a reality TV star. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, bragging in a 2005 video about sexual assault, then denying it when a dozen women corroborate his braggadocio. The seemingly never-ending Hillary Clinton email scandal, with defrocked congressman and notorious sexter Anthony Weiner thrown in to boot. And so much more.

It’s been an amazing show so far, but it has also obscured important races down ticket, including a number with special Jewish significance — some because of Jewish candidates who may soon take the national stage or leave it and some because of the prominence that  a candidate has achieved on Israel-related issues.

Here are three close races to watch:

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican, vs. former Sen. Russ Feingold, Democrat

What’s at stake: Feingold was a popular three-term senator swept aside in 2010 by Johnson, a Tea Party candidate with plenty of money to spend. Now Feingold wants his seat back, and Democrats see it as a must-win if they are to retake the Senate. Democrats need four wins to take back the chamber if Hillary Clinton wins, five if she is defeated.

What it’s about, mostly: Free trade. Feingold, who is backed by Our Revolution, the organization set up by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after he conceded the Democratic nomination to Clinton, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Johnson authorized negotiations for the pact.

Why it’s news for Jews: With the impending retirement of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Feingold is one of two Senate wannabes who would keep the Senate Jewish caucus at nine. More substantively, Feingold is that increasing rarity: an outspoken pro-Israel progressive. He’s backed by Sanders, as noted, but in 2011 he told his home-state Jewish newspaper, the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, that the Palestinians need “to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist” before pressing for a Palestinian state.

The political action committee affiliated with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy lobby, injected $250,000 into the race in recent weeks. The same PAC also has infused some late cash into other close Senate races — Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Hampshire.  J Street wants to assume the mantle long held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: anointing candidates who vote their way on Israel, in this case, in support of the Iran deal. (AIPAC loyalists would say that J Street is betting on a number of candidates likely to win without them and, besides, AIPAC isn’t a political action committee that can raise and spend money on candidates.) Yet if a substantial majority of the 14 Democrats that J Street is endorsing for Senate are elected — there are five sure shots, seven close calls and two long shots — J Street is in a position to say the narrative has changed.

Where the polls are: Feingold is averaging 6 points ahead of Johnson, according to the Real Clear Politics aggregate.

The Trumpometer: Johnson supports Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but will not endorse him — a parsing that some find confusing, but at least suggests that he’s not enamored of the nominee.

Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican, vs. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Democrat

What’s at stake: Kirk, until recently, was seen as must-win if Republicans are to retain the Senate. He’s also that fast-disappearing creature, a moderate Republican — and moderates in the party are eager to preserve the species after years of battering by the Tea Party and then by Trump.

What it’s about, mostly: Deeply personal. There are policy differences between Kirk and Duckworth, but this race, perhaps because it’s seen as must-win in both camps, is extraordinarily bitter. Kirk in ads has suggested Duckworth is corrupt, citing a lawsuit against Duckworth dating from her stint heading the state’s veterans’ agency in which two whistleblowing staffers alleged they were targeted for retaliation. (The case was settled this summer, with the agency not admitting wrongdoing.) Duckworth has spotlighted Kirk’s past exaggerations about his service in the Navy Reserve. (Kirk apologized in 2010.) Both candidates are also disabled: Kirk suffered a stroke in 2012 that left him largely paralyzed on his left side; Duckworth, who served in the National Guard, lost both legs and the use of her right arm when her helicopter was hit by rocket fire in Iraq in 2004.

Why it’s news for Jews: Kirk, first as a congressman and since winning President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat in 2010, took a lead role in shaping the sanctions that forced Iran to the talks table on curtailing its nuclear ambitions. He has been among the most strident critics of the deal exchanging sanctions  relief for a nuclear rollback since it was reached last year. Kirk has accused the Obama administration of giving Iran a pass on parts of the agreement, which administration spokespeople vehemently deny. Duckworth, backed by J Street, has been an enthusiastic backer of the agreement.

Where the polls are: The Real Clear Politics aggregate shows Duckworth ahead by  7 points.

The Trumpometer: Kirk is among incumbent Republicans who say they cannot vote for Trump. He will write in David Petraeus, the former CIA director.

Missouri:  Sen. Roy Blunt,  Republican, vs. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Democrat

What’s at stake: No one  expected Missouri to be in play, and the fact that it is shows how perilous this year’s election is for Republicans down ticket. Blunt is a Missouri Republican institution, having risen to majority leader, for a brief period, in the House of Representatives. One of his sons was the state’s governor in the 2000s. His defeat would be seen as a blow to the party’s establishment. Kander, unusual for a Democrat, has run as an outsider against the ultimate Washington insider and jokes about drawing Clinton and Trump followers to his rallies.

What it’s about, mostly: The outsider vs. the insider. Kander, an Army National Guard veteran, has focused laser-like on that theme. An ad last month in which Kander assembles an assault rifle blindfolded and challenges Blunt to do the same has propelled his campaign to within striking distance of unseating Blunt. The incumbent’s response has been scattershot, attempting to tie Kander to Clinton on health care, immigration and gun issues. Blunt’s wife and three of his children are lobbyists, burnishing Kander’s outsider credentials. Also playing into the new blood vs. old blood narrative: Kander is 35 and Blunt is 66.

Why it’s news for Jews: Kander is Jewish — bizarrely, he’s not the only youthful Jewish vet running for statewide office in Missouri as an outsider challenging the system. Eric Greitens, 42, a Republican former Navy SEAL who defeated insiders in a grueling primary, is facing Chris Koster, the Democratic state attorney general, in the race for governor. That race is neck and neck. (Kander served in Afghanistan, Greitens in Iraq.) Kander enjoys unusually impressive yichus for a Missouri pol — his great uncle, John Kander, who has said they are “very close,” is half of the legendary Kander and Ebb Broadway songwriting team behind “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” With Feingold, he has a shot at keeping Jewish Democratic representation at nine or even increasing it to 10.

Blunt has been close to the pro-Israel community for decades; as House leader he led trips to Israel for GOP freshmen. He also has been out front in  introducing pro-Israel legislation and has been a constant at Republican Jewish Coalition events. His second wife, Abigail Perlman, is Jewish.

Where the polls are: The Real Clear Politics aggregate has Blunt up by just 1 point.

The Trumpometer: Blunt backs Trump, but this is not a problem in a state where the Republican nominee is doing well — as evidenced by Kander’s direct appeals to Trump voters to back him as an outsider while simultaneously condemning Trump.

Baltimore City College Honors Distinguished Alumni

Baltimore City College (Golem88991 via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore City College (Golem88991 via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore City College, one of the oldest public high schools in the nation, held a ceremony on Oct. 28 to honor the 2016 inductees to the school’s Hall of Fame. The prestigious listing was established in 1957 “to recognize, honor and promote the outstanding contributions of alumni and faculty … for their commitment to City and its ideals and their efforts to improve and evolve our society.”

This year’s six honorees are all distinguished individuals from a variety of fields. William A. Brown, an honoree, summarized the feelings of all inductees when he said, “I was surprised when I received notice of my selection, and I was humbled when I reviewed the accomplishments of my fellow honorees.”

The event had a fun, lighthearted atmosphere. Each inductee was introduced by a current City College student, and soaring depictions of the honorees’ accomplishments were interspersed with musical numbers from the school’s choir and orchestra.

A highlight of the event was when honoree Gary L. Bartz — a Grammy Award winner and composer of more than 40 solo albums — took out his saxophone and dueled solos with members of the orchestra, highlighting the talent of individual students.

Brown was honored for numerous endeavors, such as four special diplomatic missions in which he represented the United States: spending 18 months in Russia to negotiate a facility in which to collect and store weapons of mass destruction; serving as emissary to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); improving infrastructure in Budapest, Hungary; and attempting to  negotiate the investment of oil revenue in Nigeria to improve quality of life in that country. Additionally, he was a leader in the development of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.

From left: Gary Bartz, William Brown, Dr. Sidney Krome, Dr. Robert Myerburg, Dr. Lloyd Musselman and John Heyn (Photo provided)

From left: Gary Bartz, William Brown, Dr. Sidney Krome, Dr. Robert Myerburg, Dr. Lloyd Musselman and John Heyn (Photo provided)

John J. Heyn, founder and president of the American  Society of Home Inspectors, was honored, as was Dr. Lloyd K. Musselman, an educator who was honored by the Sears-Roebuck Foundation for teaching excellence in 1990 and named a distinguished teacher at Oklahoma City University in 2002.

Dr. Ronald L. Krome was honored posthumously for his numerous accomplishments in the organizations that he served as a leader in the field of emergency medicine. His brother and fellow Hall of Famer, Dr. Sidney Krome, accepted the award on his behalf.

Dr. Robert J. Myerburg was honored for the invaluable  research he has done in the medical field. His accolades, according to the school, include publishing “more than 500 publications on stem cell research, cardiac research, cardiac disease, electrophysiology and cardiac education.”

Throughout all of the acceptance speeches, a common theme emerged: how far the city and the school have come. The school began admitting students of all ethnicities following the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

“Today, I have mixed emotions,” said Bartz. “I graduated in 1958, the second class after desegregation, and it was awful back then — how segregated the city was. And as I look out and see these beautiful faces and different colors, it makes me happy, and I am proud today to be an alumni of Baltimore City College. This scene just shows how far we’ve come, and I’m so proud of you all.”

Myerburg mirrored those sentiments, explaining, “I  really like to think that programs like the ones at City set the stage for an evolution of society that guided a broader range of students to go out and do things in the world, and in our nation, by taking a lot of the progress that we made to places that it hadn’t been.”

Honorees also advised current students on how to prepare for the future and live a successful life. “Be sure you follow your passion, no matter what it is, so you can look forward to going to work each day like I did,” said Heyn.

Students were encouraged to listen to all of the wisdom, knowledge and advice offered by teachers and to remain focused on the goals that they wish to accomplish. “If you stay focused, you will be able to overcome any obstacles,” said Brown.

“When I graduated in 1958, I left as a lifelong learner. The educational fellows here at City had prepared me to excel academically and socially,” said Brown. “I know that Baltimore City College is dedicated to providing every student with the academic platform necessary to make meaningful contributions to mankind.”

Battleground Showdown Marylanders hit the road to help get out the vote



On a recent Sunday morning in October, Sam Novey and about a dozen Jews United for Justice volunteers from Baltimore headed to Lancaster County, Pa., to conduct some voter outreach.

Novey, 28, is a Baltimore native and Harvard University graduate who has spearheaded several national voter registration projects designed to assist college students with the process.

But on this day, Novey, a consultant at the Foundation for Civic Leadership, was dedicating his time to inform prospective voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods of the importance of this presidential election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“This is something I have done a lot in the past with various groups,” Novey said, “but it is the first time I was with JUFJ. So doing something like this with a Jewish group allowed me to express my values not only as an American, but also as a Jew.”

Hillary Clinton (Steve Sands/WireImage/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton (Steve Sands/WireImage/Getty Images)

If Clinton is going to win the presidency, she’ll need advocates such as Novey to plead her case as the Nov. 8 election draws near.

While Maryland Democratic leaders say they haven’t sent as many volunteers and  resources to neighboring battleground states as in past presidential elections, local residents have taken it upon themselves to mobilize Democrats, sympathetic independents and Republicans disenchanted with Trump.

They have boarded buses, formed carpool groups, driven into southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania neighborhoods and knocked on doors to drum up excitement for Democrats up and down the ballot.

“No one wants to sit in our safely ‘blue’ Maryland when Trump victories in our neighbor states could plunge us into a ‘Trumpian’ dystopia,” said Claire Landers, a member of JUFJ who has been involved with the organization of some of the trips. “Their fear, I think, is literally driving them to do something that might make a difference in a scarily close race.”

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

Both elected and nonelected Democratic leaders in Maryland have employed various initiatives aimed at harnessing  enthusiasm for Clinton, constructing a system that just doesn’t give Democrats wins, but runaway wins.

Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said the official campaign committee for Clinton, Hillary for America, has done a lot to unite Maryland Democrats behind her while  re-energizing her base of supporters.

“It’s not the most fun thing in the world to wake up on a Saturday morning, get on a bus and drive for hours,” Conner said, “but we have seen a real interest in our volunteers in Maryland to do that. So I think it is paying dividends, especially with what we are seeing out of places like Pennsylvania in terms of polling numbers.”

State Republican leaders, largely split on Trump, say they have campaigned in Maryland for local candidates but given money to states where the party’s standard-bearer has a better chance of upending Clinton.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he has seen a concerted push from Trump- inspired Republican activists to campaign for the controversial businessman.

Residents from Cecil and Harford counties, Cluster said, have made the relatively short trek to the Lancaster County Republican Party’s headquarters to make calls on Trump’s behalf. Cluster also noted he has been coordinating with campaign officials in other swing states such as Florida and Ohio to help Trump out in any way possible.

“We have been very active in our get-out-the-vote efforts with Pennsylvania and a number of other states,” Cluster said. “The Trump campaign, through volunteers here in Maryland, are making a strong push in Maryland to promote support.”

Crucial states in the 2016 presidential race: Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada. Wisconsin visited by Maryland Clinton supporter. (©

Crucial states in the 2016 presidential race: Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada. Wisconsin visited by Maryland Clinton supporter. (©

Pennsylvania is deemed one of a handful of crucial states in the 2016 presidential race, along with Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada.

For years, Marylanders have been Democratic foot soldiers in Pennsylvania, which lacks the union muscle that drives registration and early voting efforts in and around the state.

But this year, the Keystone State, with its 20 electoral votes, might be more crucial than ever despite having voted for the Democrat nominee in every election since 1992.

I understand people are angry,  frustrated and want to see change. Trump has capitalized on that appeal, but he is not the answer to some of the gridlock we are seeing right now.

— Delegate  Shelly Hettleman (D), 11th District Baltimore County

With a substantial number of blue- collar workers and mining families, Pennsylvania is seen as a hotspot for Trump’s promise to boost coal and natural gas and bring back American jobs from overseas.

As a result, Democratic Delegates Shelly Hettleman, who represents the 11th District in Baltimore County, and Maggie McIntosh, who represents the 43rd District in Baltimore City and is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, will lead a group of about 20 people to Pittsburgh on a five-day trip through Nov. 9.

Because Pennsylvania is one of 13 states without early voting, McIntosh and  Hettleman both say they plan to pound the pavement hard on Election Day. They  will conduct last-minute door-to-door canvassing, offer rides to seniors in  retirement communities who are unable to drive to the polls and conduct calls from a phone bank.

Their hope, McIntosh said, is not only to ensure a Clinton victory in Pennsylvania but also to position the Democrats to take back the Senate. Democrats must win four seats and the presidency to reclaim the Senate, making the hotly contested race in Pennsylvania between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty key for McIntosh.

The Trump campaign, through volunteers  here in Maryland, are making a strong  push in Maryland to promote support.

— Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party

“It’s going to be rough,” said McIntosh, who volunteered in Philadelphia for President Barack Obama and 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore. “We’re not going to find the enthusiasm for Clinton in [Pittsburgh] that you might find in Philadelphia or elsewhere. But we think it’s important to find every vote we can for Clinton in the Pittsburgh area, as well as the Senate.”

Hettleman, one of Clinton’s 60 Maryland delegates at the Democratic National Convention, said this is the first time she has campaigned for a candidate since being elected to office two years ago.

Like many Democrats, Hettleman is deeply skeptical of the brash temperament Trump has displayed at times during his candidacy and questioned his fitness for office with no previous political experience. Although she noted Clinton is not without her flaws, Hettleman contends Trump is not the best change agent for the country.

“I understand people are angry, frustrated and want to see change,” said Hettleman, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D). “Trump has capitalized on that appeal, but he is not the answer to some of the gridlock we are seeing right now.”

Pennsylvania is not the only state in which Clinton enthusiasts from Maryland have taken an active role.

Roberta Greenstein, a 64-year-old  Baltimore resident and community volunteer, was visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Milwaukee last month when she stumbled upon the city’s Democratic campaign offices.

The next day, she went back and asked to volunteer to make phone calls. She was immediately given a script that asked Democratic voters if they were going to vote and, if so, which candidate they would select.

“I think this election is one of the most important I can remember in quite a while,” said Greenstein, who sits on the board of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and also co-chairs the downtown Charm City Hadassah group. “I certainly do not want to see Trump elected, so I am doing what I can to see Clinton elected. I think no one thought Trump would get as far as he did because of the way he has carried himself.”

Several prominent Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that’s not going to stop Republican activists from showing their support for Trump at the polls come Election Day.

“We are prepared in Maryland to make sure there is no intimidation or anything that would stop  someone from exercising his or  her democratic right to vote.”

— Chuck Conner, executive director of the  Maryland Democratic Party

Nick Panuzio, chairman for the Trump campaign in Maryland and also chairman of the Talbot County Republican Central Committee, said Trump has brought in many Maryland Republicans who have never participated in the election process.

“We have seen a lot of people from all around the state who may normally not be as vocal in the election come out in great support of Trump,” said Panuzio, former Republican mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. “This movement is real, and I feel he has gained a lot steam from all different ethnic groups within the state and country.”

Jews for Trump, a national group comprised of Jewish Trump supporters, lists 73 Maryland voters on its website who have vowed to cast their vote for the GOP nominee.

Phil Kaplan, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer and Towson resident who backs Trump, is not among those in that group but nonetheless plans to vote for Trump. His plan on Election Day, he said, is to take part in Operation Red, an online movement that is encouraging Republican supporters to wear red to the polls.

“I’ll say this: Trump supporters are very worried about possible rigging of the election, cheating, etc.,” Kaplan said. “I can’t confirm any of that, of course, but there has been a lot talk about that. So our overall feeling is that there has been such immorality in the tactics used against Trump that anything is possible, so we just want to show our solidarity by wearing red.”

In recent weeks, Trump has implored voters to poll watch, suggesting the election is “rigged,” and voter fraud could make the difference in the election. Maryland state law permits poll watchers,  but it also restricts them from talking to voters or challenging them on any grounds other than identity.

Panuzio will lead a group of 300 party-trained poll monitors to Baltimore City and 150 to Prince George’s County on the day of election to watch for suspicion activity such as voter impersonation and double voting.

The goal, Panuzio said, is to protect the privacy of each voter while allowing the presence of poll watchers to ensure that the process is legal and fair.

“We don’t want the polling places in Baltimore to stay open past the time they are supposed to stay open. People have plenty of time, ample time, to vote, and we are going to be sure that they vote  ontime,” said Panuzio, referring to the 8 p.m. cutoff time for voters. “We just really want to make sure things are in order.”

Given the strength of the laws to combat voter intimidation, Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, expects voting to go smoothly.

“Everybody has the right, within the legal limits, to observe the conduct of an election,” Epps said. “If [poll observers] became concerned that irregularities are going on, they have every right to bring it to the attention of their party’s attorneys who can go into court and try to make sure things are done correctly. What they can’t do, I don’t think, is to storm into the polling place and start trouble.”

Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Department of Justice has dispatched observers and monitors to safeguard the voting process. The law prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.

Observers work inside polling places. Monitors, by contrast, are not permitted to go inside polling places unless state officials grant them authorization.

For the 2012 election, the Department of Justice deployed 780 federal monitors to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states to watch for unlawful activity and write up possible civil rights violations. Maryland, however, was not one of the states monitored.

Conner said voter protection hotline monitors and attorneys at the polling stations will be on standby to maintain order in case any disputes arise.

“We are prepared in Maryland to make sure there is no intimidation or anything that would stop someone from exercising his or her democratic right to vote,” Conner said. “As long as people are not getting into line after 8 p.m. and are there on time, they are free to vote without obstruction or  interference.”

Science Center Looks to Secure Its Future

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center, which turned 40 this year, is celebrating the milestone anniversary by raising millions of dollars to take its brand of science education firmly into the future.

The Inner Harbor institution announced its “Revitalization For Today — Securing Our Future Capital Campaign” on Oct. 28. The $7.5 million campaign has raised almost $4.6 million since January.

“It is a very important campaign for the Science Center,” said Van Reiner, president and CEO. “We are looking to increase the size of our endowment and upgrade some exhibits that are in need of modifications.”

Reiner explained that nearly one million children have been through the exhibits since they first were installed, which has resulted in wear and tear. For example, he cited the area of the dinosaur exhibit, where children can put on goggles and dust off fossils. The exhibit has been so popular that the coloring of the fossils have been worn away to the point that they are nearly  unrecognizable. Some of the funds raised by this campaign will go toward repairing such exhibits, as well as renovating others to make them more  engaging and exciting.

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Courtesy of Maryland Science Center

Another initiative will expand the water play area in which kids have a chance to splash around as well as learn about engineering and physics.

“We are looking to seriously expand it, because right now, a child coming in at 1 p.m. will not be able to get close to the exhibit because it is so popular. We want to make it more  accessible,” said Reiner.

Educational exhibits such as these have created a lasting impact. Susan Ehrlich, director of global business development at W.R. Grace and a member of the Science Center’s board of trustees, points to herself as an example.

“The first time I went to the Science Center was with my dad when I was 11 years old,” she said. “It had just opened, and there was a long line of people; it was packed. But I was intrigued and amazed by all of these things, and it interested me in science.”

“There were a lot of people there answering questions,  including female scientists,” she added. “It planted the seed in my head that I could be a scientist as well, back when that wasn’t a common career for women. I studied chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins, and knowing my history with the Center, I was asked by the CEO of W.R. Grace to be its representative on the board.”

While revamped exhibits are always fun and exciting, however, a majority of the funds that the campaign raises will go toward support for the Center’s education initiatives, both in-house and in the community. One of the biggest draws of the Science Center is that it underwrites free admission for Maryland students who come with school trips or outreach programs.

“We ensure that public, private, parochial and homeschooled students can enter free with reservations,” explained Reiner. “This campaign will help to provide this free admission for students. With the cost of normal admission and a bus to get here, a number of students would be unable to take advantage otherwise.”

All that remains now is for the center to keep pounding the pavement, continuing to reach out to friends, organizations and the community for help with fundraising.

“One of W.R. Grace’s missions is to help science in Maryland, and the Science Center is  directly related to that core mission,” Ehrlich said. “We look for companies to help contribute money, and we have been a corporate sponsor to help drive the interest in science in our community.  We were one of the first companies to donate to the Capital Campaign, and we want to  encourage others to contribute.”

At Pearlstone, a Blossoming Future Story

 Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Pearlstone (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

In the 15 years of its existence on the unlikely outskirts of a major metropolis such as Baltimore, the 165-acre verdant rolling hills and seemingly endless vista of lush organic farmland known as the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center has had its fair share of eclectic visitors.

“Beyond the Jewish community, we’ve hosted Christian groups, Muslim groups, universities, government groups, birthday parties, corporate groups, as well as many others,” said 34-year-old Jakir Manela, who has been integral to Pearlstone’s development for the past decade and its executive director for nearly five years.

Originally from Montgomery County, Manela focused on  Hebrew, Jewish and global  environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2004.

Manela became a Jewish  environmental educator at the Isabella Freedman Jewish  Retreat Center in Connecticut, where he met future Pearlstone program director Casey Yurow and Yurow’s wife, who was a young Jewish farmer at the time.

“We were inspired by that experience, and Pearlstone saw what was going on up there, then reached out to us in 2005 or 2006 to start something similar here,” Manela said. “So we did.”

With Yurow following shortly after, Manela was on his way, arriving at the center that was “already well-established and running; what we brought was the Jewish educational farm experience, which has really blossomed over the last 10 years.”

Pearlstone has become a major part of Manela’s life; he lives “just down the road” from the center located in the hinterlands of Reisterstown with his three sons and wife, who is a child birth educator and student midwife.

“It’s a big, beautiful campus,” marveled Manela, “and we are excited to expand our cultural component, spending a lot  of time and energy on our ecosystem restoration work, as well as continued  improvements to our biodiversity and  environmental health.”

 Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Though Pearlstone marked its 15th  anniversary on Sept. 12, the facility held a large-scale community outreach event during the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 19, granting tours of its oceanic property and previewing plans for precipitous  expansion of the grounds, including the bolstering of its baseball field and the  development of a new amphitheater, vineyard and a “U-pick” or “pick-your-own” organic garden area.

Patrons will be able to stop into Pearlstone and gather their own blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins, with Pearlstone planning specialized festivals for the harvests to come.

“People will be able to pick all sorts of things, even flowers,” Manela said, adding that the unique farming enclave of the center should be ready for visitors around May/June 2018.

“It’ll all be available in one location,  one that is near and dear to the Jewish community,” Manela said.

An agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which is also the owner of the grounds, Pearlstone’s outreach event invited business and nonprofit leaders from across the spectrum, including BGE CEO Calvin Butler, who spoke toward the end of the proceedings, haloed by a spectacular, fiery sunset backdrop.

“Calvin Butler is a great human being,” Manela said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him on a number of occasions; he’s a good listener.”

Pearlstone has been the recipient of BGE grants for environmental projects on the campus.

Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids,  connect and feel  inspired by this  beautiful place.

— Jakir Manela, executive director  of Pearlstone Center

“I thought one of the lines that he said at our event which resonated for me very deeply was something about being very humbled and honored finding himself as the leader of a major, 200-year-old corporation and waking up every day thinking about how he can use that platform  for good.”

Manela was inspired by these words  of Butler’s spoken for the audience of apt listeners, stomachs filled with all manner of delicious farm-to-table food that was being offered — including the likes of golden spaghetti squash au gratin and crumbly apple cobbler, all served with apropos bamboo wooden utensils.

Those not blithely under the influence of the halcyon, temperate weather or splendid, natural atmosphere of the farmland glowing with a pink radiance from the magnificent sunset may have been  besotted by unique beverages served  including an emerald sangria and fruit smoothies that visitors could blend themselves via an odd biking mechanism powered by pedaling.

“We aspire to the same approach as Calvin Butler’s,” Manela said. “How do we use our platform for good, for the benefit of the entire community?”

Manela clarified that though the Baltimore Jewish community is Pearlstone’s core and foundation, “we really are trying to reach out to those who may not otherwise engage with Jewish organizations and Jewish life, those for whom religion in general and Jewish life specifically may not resonate, even if they connect with the cultural aspects.”

“Jewish food, ethics, spirituality, sustainability, environmental ethics really do resonate with a broad swathe of the American public, including Jews, intermarried Jews and non-Jews,” Manela said. “Pearlstone is a place where they can come with their kids, connect and feel  inspired by this beautiful place.”

The outreach event was something new for Pearlstone in scope and a larger attempt at “getting on the corporate radar and reaching out to the nonprofit community in a big way.”

Manela said this “new experiment for us” was therefore a terrific success, proclaiming, “I think we knocked their socks off.”

Park School Senior Points Lacrosse Stick at Ivy League

(Photo provided)

(Photo provided)

Sam Cordish has come a long way since he joined the Park School of Baltimore’s lacrosse team as an unassuming freshman more than three years ago.

The 6-foot, 160-pound senior goalie worked hard to get a chance to showcase his talent, cracking the Bruins’ starting lineup as the No. 1 goalie after playing sparingly his first two seasons.

“To see him kind of go through this journey, it’s been such an interesting time for him,” Park head coach Josh Davey said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work, and he’s really busted his butt to put himself in a great position to play  beyond high school.”

In mid-October, Cordish, who also plays for the Greene Turtle Lacrosse Club of Towson, announced his next step, making a commitment to play for the University of Pennsylvania next season.

A touted recruit, Cordish said he held one offer from perennial national title contender Johns Hopkins University. He also drew the attention of Division I powers University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond and Division III schools Dickinson College and Franklin & Marshall College, both in Pennsylvania.

Cordish had a good feeling about Penn from the start of the recruiting process with head coach Mike Murphy at the forefront of Cordish’s longing to play for the Quakers.

“Having met with the coaches a few times, I loved them, and [they] were definitely people I wanted to play for in college,” Cordish said. “The school itself has great academics, which is something I was looking for.”

Because Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholar  ships and Cordish has not  formally been admitted to Penn, NCAA rules prohibit coaches from speaking about commits.

Cordish, son of The Cordish Companies vice president Jonathan Cordish, comes from a bloodline with a longstanding tradition of dominance in the sport.

His grandfather, David Cordish, CEO and chairman of The Cordish Companies, was a three-year letter player at Johns Hopkins who helped lead the Blue Jays to the 1959 national title. The Cordish Lacrosse Center, home to the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs at Johns Hopkins, is named after David Cordish, who was the principal donor for the $10 million project.

He’s put in a lot of hard  work, and he’s really busted  his butt to put himself in  a position to play  beyond high school.

 — Josh Davey, head coach of Park

Sam Cordish’s uncle, who shares the same first name, lined up in between the pipes at Penn and was an All-Ivy League performer.

“I think having a relationship with someone who cares about him as much his family does has been big for Sam,” said Jonathan Cordish, who played two years on Penn’s  men’s tennis team. “To know what it’s like to be an athlete at a high level has been very instrumental in Sam’s nurturing on and off the field.”

Last season alone, Sam Cordish led Park to an 8-5 record, notching 116 saves to go with 13 grounds. With Cordish serving as the last line of defense, the Bruins’ defense was one of the best in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference, holding six of 13 opponents to five goals or fewer.

Davey said Cordish’s work ethic in the weight room and classroom — Cordish is a lacrosse team captain — have propelled the goaltender to provide leadership for Park’s younger players.

“I think on and off the field, Sam is going to go as far as Sam wants to go,” Davey said. “If he continues to work as hard as I’ve seen him work, there’s no limit to where he can go. The possibilities are endless for him, because he’s one of those kids that when he puts his mind on something, I would say there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Cordish has also actively combined his lacrosse acumen with his Jewish identity. A two-time Maccabi Games participant, Cordish led Team Baltimore to a gold medal in the Under-16 seven-on-seven tournament in 2013, the first year lacrosse was a part of the Games.

He has also volunteered with Charm City Youth Lacrosse, passing on his lacrosse knowledge to underserved kids in Baltimore City.

“He might not be the most vocal leader on the lacrosse field,” Dia Clark, the boys’  director of athletics at Park and an assistant coach for the lacrosse team, said. “But people take notice of what he does. He seems very mature for his age and is one of the nicest people anyone will ever meet. Sometimes, I think it gets lost that Sam is not a man of many words, but he is always there for his classmates and teammates.”

Pleased with his college  decision and having it behind him, Cordish is looking forward to putting together a banner senior season.

The Bruins expect to contend in the highly competitive MIAA B Conference and are hungry to capture their first league postseason championship since winning it all in 2005.

“I want us to do better this year, of course,” Cordish said, “and I think with another year of experience, we will be even better. For me, I just want to continue improving my game and leadership skills and be someone the younger guys on the team can look up to.”

Report Cites Anti-Semitism in Trump Campaign as Factor in Hateful Tweets

Ben Shapiro, Yair Rosenberg, and Jeffrey Goldberg are the three journalists targeted the most with anti-Semitic tweets.

Ben Shapiro, Yair Rosenberg, and Jeffrey Goldberg are the three journalists targeted the most with anti-Semitic tweets.

When the Anti-Defamation League released its report last week saying Donald Trump supporters were “disproportionally responsible” for a rash of anti-Semitic tweets targeting journalists during the presidential campaign, it stopped short of accusing Trump’s campaign of anti-Semitism.

But Danielle Citron, a member of the ADL’s task force for the study and a law professor at the University of Maryland, described in an interview a handful of incidents in which she believes the Trump campaign has engaged in anti-Semitism.

She pointed to an image Trump tweeted of a six-pointed star surrounded by cash, the times Trump has retweeted neo-Nazis and his rhetoric around a conspiracy of international of bankers.

“Trump is normalizing bigotry in a way that’s having a trickle-down effect on society,” she said.

The Trump campaign has vigorously denied accusations of anti-Semitism. Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, told The New York Times last week, “We have no knowledge of this activity and strongly condemn any commentary that is anti-Semitic.” She added, “We totally disavow hateful rhetoric online or otherwise.”

Yair Rosenberg

Yair Rosenberg

Nevertheless, the study found that among the 1,600 accounts that sent the majority of anti-Semitic tweets to journalists, the most common words in the users’ biographies were “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” and “white.”

The study found a significant increase in anti-Semitic tweets from January to July as the presidential campaign heated up.

Citron said there is “nothing veiled” about Trump’s appeal to racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and sexism and that he’s tapping into the country’s worst tendencies.

“There’s nothing particularly deep about what’s going on,” she said. “We’re seeing recurring patterns in our own history. Forget about Germany.”

Of the 19,253 anti-Semitic tweets the study found directed at journalists, the report found that 83 percent of those tweets targeted just 10 journalists.

The journalists who received the most anti-Semitic tweets were Ben Shapiro of the  National Review, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg

The report states that Trump “may have contributed to an environment in which reporters were targeted,” citing how Trump called journalists “absolute scum” and “disgusting people.”

“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and  unlike anything we have seen in modern politics,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said in a statement. “A half-century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter. We are concerned about the impact of this hate on the ability of journalists to do their job and on free speech, which is why we established this task force.”

According to the ADL’s analysis, Twitter deactivated 21 percent of the accounts responsible for the anti-Semitic tweets aimed at journalists. The report identified two neo-Nazis responsible for some of the attacks, but the vast majority of tweets come from anonymous users.

Citron explained that anti-Semitic Twitter users sometimes use coded language and images like Pepe the Frog in order to create the sense of being part of an “in-group.”

“There’s a lingo,” she said. “[The veiled language] is like high-fiving among bigots.”

Citron emphasized how the response to this rise in anti-Semitism shouldn’t be to only censor tweets or other offensive posts; instead, Citron said  responsible citizens should engage in what she called “counter speech.”

“It can be really hard to rebut [hate speech], but it can be done,” she said. “As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis would say, our duty as citizens is to engage in the public sphere and counter this hate speech.”

Sukkot Around Town

The JT stopped by community events as well as one family’s sukkah during the course of the holiday. Here’s how some in Baltimore  celebrated Sukkot.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Sukkot and Beer

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah stopped by Union Craft Brewing on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. Visitors crowded around the sukkah that had been on tour around the Baltimore area throughout Sukkot, jutting out from the bed of a pickup truck.

“Union has been an integral part of all of this,” said Charm City Tribe director Rabbi Jessy Gross, noting that the seasonal etrog beer on tap was, like the mobile sukkah itself, a means of “creating an  experience on a cultural level” that would allow for a more accessible connection to Judaism for the otherwise uninitiated.

Gross told the JT that reaching out to the community with the mobile sukkah and specialty beer is “important because only 11 percent of people not Orthodox between ages 18 and 34 say it’s important to belong to a Jewish institution, and so that leaves 89 percent of people left to connect with.”

Referring to her unique methods as “low barrier, high content,” Gross hopes folks will come for “the party” and stay for “the content.” They’ll end up asking questions — “What is etrog? What is a sukkah, anyway?” — that will turn a curious young person into someone who is suddenly learning more about and gaining more access to Judaism.

As a close friend of Gross, Union  co-owner Adam Benesch said it was an “obvious” choice to support what she was doing by having a larger event at which the mobile sukkah could rest for a family-friendly evening in the brewery’s parking lot, where children played games, face painting was prominent and where the Green Bowl Food Truck was present for purchase of healthy fast-casual food along with a reading of “Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery,” which — believe it or not — is a children’s book about making beer.

“We had an opportunity here to reach out to the community,” Benesch said. “It’s a mobile sukkah. So, I mean … come on.”

— Mathew Klickstein


Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

A Multigenerational Sukkah

While Sukkot gives families an opportunity each year to celebrate the season outdoors, the Hefter family has taken tradition one step further, passing on panels and decorations in their sukkah from generation to generation.

The family’s temporary holiday hut originated more than 40 years ago with Ruth and Sy Hefter. It has since lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.

Wendy Hefter and her family integrated her husband David’s parent’s sukkah into their own when they decided to stop putting it up following a significant flood in 2012. All of the current Hefter sukkah’s white panels were from the original, while the blue panels were added to the sukkah three years ago so that it would fit the new frame.

“Every year we add something new,” said Wendy. “This year, we actually harvested our own bamboo for the roof.”  Additionally, new paintings are added to the panels yearly.

Painting the panels of the sukkah is another family tradition. Sy originally painted some of the panels. Another of David Hefter’s siblings, Jodie Shoshana, who lives on a kibbutz, paints on her panels each year. Now, Amy Hefter is continuing the tradition.

Last year was her first painting — she painted the minions from the movie “Despicable Me” on a panel because her  father loves them. This year, she decided to illustrate a panel with ushpizin in the same styling that her grandfather used for the letters on the door of the sukkah.

Wendy explained, “Every night in the sukkah, you’re supposed to invite a guest in, one for each of the fathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and David.

“I wanted [the panel] to make sense for the holiday and for the theme. I hope that painting on the canvas means that it will be around for a long time. In the future, I intend on having a sukkah I can paint and decorate with my kids. It is wonderful that we took the sukkah that had been in my grandparents family for nearly generations and gave it a new home, where they can still spend time in it.”

Other décor have been passed down through the family as well. Wendy pointed out a poster in the corner: “That’s from 1973 — during the Yom Kippur war; that was the  famous poster that came out and my parents passed it on to me.”

Even more interesting is the family collection of etrogim. “It is the only fruit that doesn’t spoil when it gets old,” Wendy said. “It never rots. My husband and I have been collecting  etrogim for nearly 31 years. They don’t spoil; they just shrink and get harder. My  father-in-law used to put holes in them with a nail and would put cloves in there. As it shrinks, they get in there and you can use it for bisamim when you have Havdalah.”

— Daniel Nozick

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Sukkot with a Purpose

A number of Jewish community members and officials assembled in the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s sukkah on Oct. 20 as part of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s “High Holidays with a Purpose” initiative.

The participants were there to make a “Soupkot” kit to  donate to low-income families and families transitioning out of homeless shelters in an effort to ensure for them a hot and healthy meal this holiday season.

Abigail Malis, senior associate of community partnerships at the JVC, said the organization saw Sukkot as an opportune time to further its mission of giving back to those less fortunate in underserved communities.

“Well, think about how we operated back in biblical times and ancient times when all of our ancestors were farmers. They had to support each other and were responsible for supporting other members of the Jewish people,” Malis said.

Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior “director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, partnered with the JVC to turn the idea into a reality and raise people’s consciousness of why Jews  celebrate Sukkot.

“I thought this would be a good thing that would bring people into the sukkah and would also be thematically  attune with what we think about during Sukkot,” said Gross, founding director of Charm City Tribe.

The curiosity and buzz generated during the hour that dozens of people made their way around the sukkah was evident from the organizers.

Alexandra Ade, community outreach and volunteer associate at the JVC, said the response she received from the event, which helped benefit Living Classrooms and other JVC shelter programs, was greater than she imagined.

“What we’re doing, it seems pretty simple,” Ade said. “And we have noticed many of the people say, ‘Oh, it is simple and fun.’ I think people feel genuinely good about doing these projects.”

The soup kit, designed to serve up to four people, contained lentils, yellow and green split pears, barley, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic and onion power and one bouillon cube. A 12- to 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, five cups of water in a pot and one-and-a-half to two hours of cooking time — depending on a  person’s desired consistency — were the only required steps to completion.

— Justin Silberman