Opening the Tent

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen said Jewish leaders need to think outside the synagogue. (Kirsten Beckerman)

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen said Jewish leaders need to think outside the synagogue. (Kirsten Beckerman)

By now, almost everyone who pays attention to Jewish American trends has heard — many times over — about the Pew Research Center’s recent survey on the state of the American Jewish community. The results of the survey, which show soaring levels of intermarriage, declining levels of synagogue affiliation and low birthrates among non-Orthodox Jews have had Jewish leaders at a loss for how exactly to respond, with some believing that welcoming unaffiliated Jews, non-Jewish spouses and children of the intermarried into their communities will weaken Jews’ ties to Judaism.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, whose Big Tent Judaism movement and Jewish Outreach Institute has been training Jewish communal professionals for six years, is not among those forecasting doom, instead embracing non-traditional families.

This month, six Jewish communal professionals from Maryland completed training through JOI to become Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates. Part of JOI’s sixth North American cohort were: Rachel Petroff Kessler, family educator at Temple Isaiah in Howard County; Adam Kruger, youth director and family programmer at Beth Shalom Congregation in Howard County; Dena Cohen and Erica Bloom from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; Ken Davidson, executive director at Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville; and Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen and program director Andy Wayne of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville.

Amanda Kaletsky, one of JOI’s field staff managers, said the training teaches professionals to take Jewish programming into public spaces,
to encourage participation in Jewish programs and to build relationships with Jews and Jewish families who are not already engaged with the community.

Petroff Kessler said she has been familiar with the JOI’s philosophy for some time.

“It speaks to me,” she said, adding that Temple Isaiah has already begun “dipping its toes in the water,” when it comes to Big Tent Judaism. Kaletsky said that Big Tent Judaism and its emphasis on providing Jewish engagement in public spaces differs from conventional Jewish engagement models because instead of planning programs based on the needs of the congregation and the assumptions of clergy and professionals, planning is driven by the needs of the public.

Petroff Kessler said Temple Isaiah has already sponsored several small-scale community programs based on the model.

“We moved our family Rosh Hashanah service out to a park in Howard County, partnered with Greenberries, a great baby and maternity store for Chanukah, and with Robinson Nature Center to provide a seed planning to celebrate Tu B’Shevat,” she explained.

Petroff Kessler said that all of the activities were well received. This year, she said the congregation hopes to partner with JOI for a hands-on Chanukah program.

Arguably, one of the best examples of public-space Judaism is Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars, a free service that takes place outdoors at Oregon Ridge Park and typically draws thousands of Jewish families of all stripes, many of whom are not affiliated with BHC or any other synagogue.

“Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars is probably our biggest and most public expression of the philosophy of the JOI,” said Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. “But long before Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars started we were having conversations about keruv, bringing people in. We find ourselves at a point in history where people feel excluded, and we are thinking about how those of us inside can open the doors.”

In the last couple of decades, she added, “we’ve become more open to difference — people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, interfaith marriages, people with addictions … anyone who doesn’t appear to be the norm as the Jewish community has understood itself. And we are not just tolerating diversity, [we are] being diverse.”

Although she still believes there is a place in contemporary Judaism for brick-and-mortar institutions, Sachs-Kohen said we can no longer limit Jewish community to the walls of our synagogue buildings.

“I believe the future of Jewish community has many levels, and buildings are one of those levels,” she said. “We need them for certain occasions. But if we allow buildings to be the boundaries for Jewish life, we will not survive.”

An Israeli Olympic equestrian?

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games. (Ben Sales)

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.
(Ben Sales)

YAGUR, Israel — The crowd was sparse and admission was free. Pop music from 10 years ago blared from loudspeakers. A few families sat on bleachers near the athletes, who hopped over a low fence when it was time to compete.

The Israeli Equestrian Championships wasn’t the most obvious place to look for an accomplished athlete with Olympic aspirations. But Danielle Goldstein, an American who speaks little Hebrew and spends most of the year in Florida, is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestrian show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.

“It’s important to have a presence here,” said Goldstein, 29, as she surveyed the competition two weeks ago. “I’m excited to be at the championships, [excited to be] in the community.”

A native of New York’s Upper East Side, Goldstein fell in love with horses at an early age and later focused on show jumping, a discipline in which riders traverse a course of obstacles. In high school, she was active in jumping competitions across the United States but felt drawn to the prospect of representing Israel after traveling there on a bat mitzvah trip.

So her decision to apply for Israeli citizenship after going pro in 2010 came naturally to her, but it surprised the Israel Equestrian Federation.

“It’s not something that was like, ‘Yeah, great,’ “ Goldstein said. “It was very much like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’”

Goldstein says joining Israel’s horse riding scene has been “a little of an initiation,” but she feels welcomed. Since immigrating, she has qualified for this year’s International Equestrian Federation World Games, putting her on the verge of qualifying for Rio.

But she isn’t content with carrying Israel alone on horseback. Goldstein and another New Yorker, Deborah Schultz, are working together to promote horse riding in Israel, both by getting more people in the saddle and by teaching skills to more experienced riders.

Schultz’s nonprofit, The Equine Athletic Mission Israel (or TEAM Israel), organizes riding clinics hosted by Goldstein and other Israeli riders and works to coordinate teams for international equestrian events. With the support of TEAM Israel, which was founded last year, Israel fielded a show jumping team in the 2014 FEI Nations’ Cup for the first time.

“The more we do this, the more people who ride are popping out of the woodwork,” Schultz said. “Every time you bring a new sport to Israel, they’re typical Israelis, [saying] ‘Eh, no.’ But then it happens.”

Immigrants have played a large role in boosting Israeli athletics over the years. Soviet immigration in the 1990s helped broaden Israel’s presence at the Winter Olympics, while North Americans have helped expand the state’s athletic repertoire beyond mainstays such as soccer and basketball. Associations promoting Israeli baseball, American-style football, lacrosse and even curling have been launched at the initiative of immigrants.

But unlike those sports, Goldstein has a long tradition to draw upon in helping to push competitive horse riding to a higher level. The Israel Equestrian Federation, the organizer of the recent event, has promoted riding in Israel for 50 years, but the sport remains a niche interest.

Federation committee member Noam Zered said the quality of Israeli riding has picked up in recent years, as riders gained more access to the sport’s centers in Europe and the United States.

“More of the young generation saw the world and want to have high quality,” Zered said. “People come back here with expectations. We’re building now.”

One up-and-coming Israeli show jumper, Eyal Gat, moved from Israel to the United States at 16 and has lived for the past year in Holland, which has better access to top horses. Israeli riders have formed a community in Europe, he said, joining last month for a Passover seder in Belgium.

“It’s impossible to advance without being there,” Gat said. “It’s clearly difficult to live alone in a country that’s not yours, but that’s part of the deal.”

While a few Israeli riders lamented that the sport’s popularity is constrained by the high costs of accessing a horse, some Israelis are finding an alternative to the saddle through therapeutic riding, which uses exercises on horseback to improve various conditions. Therapeutic riding is subsidized by the Israeli health system, making it more accessible than recreational riding for those who need it.

Yonatan Dresler, who was born with cerebral palsy, said therapeutic riding has helped him improve his balance and develop a relationship with his horse. Now 27, Dresler rode for Israel in the 2012 London Paralympics and is ranked 10th worldwide in paralympic dressage, another equestrian discipline.

“The connection with the horse makes you feel like you have responsibility over another being,” Dresler said. “Whether the competition is paralympic or [regular] dressage, you need the same abilities.”

Schultz’s goal is to make Israel a place riders can stay if they want to advance. Raised in a religious household in Brooklyn, N.Y., with little exposure to the sport, Schultz insists “the horse thing is in my DNA.”

Now a high-tech consultant, Schultz comes to Israel occasionally to advise Tel Aviv technology companies and wants to bring her startup mentality to equestrian.

“It’s not part of the myth of Israel,” Schultz said. “But there’s a lot about horses that’s similar to Israel. They’re independent, spirited. This country is ripe for that. I want to get them hooked on horses.”

Congressional Dealings

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (right) and ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) hold a news conference after a Senate vote on an aid package for Ukraine at the Capitol in Washington. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (right) and ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) hold a news conference after a Senate vote on an aid package for Ukraine at the Capitol in Washington.

The killing of a major pro-Israel bill in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week has ignited another round of finger pointing between Democratic and Republican senators, with both sides accusing the other of playing politics.

Committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) pulled the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (S. 462) from the committee’s agenda May 19, after ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) proposed an amendment requiring the administration to present any nuclear agreement it reaches with Iran to Congress for its approval.

Although any congressional vote would be nonbinding, Menendez said that Corker’s amendment, which had nothing to do with Israel, could have hurt bipartisan support for the pro-Israel bill.

The bill would bolster the U.S.-Israel relationship by reaffirming previous policy and pursuing greater cooperation on defense, homeland security, energy, and cyber security. It declared Israel “a major strategic partner.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 2013, gained bipartisan support, and was lobbied for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as part of its legislative agenda.

“Sen. Boxer asked us to take it down, and I agreed with her,” said Menendez, who explained that the bill had been worked on “for the better part a year.

“We finally had broad bipartisan support for [the bill], solved some of the visa waiver issues [for Israelis seeking to enter the U.S.], and then in the last minutes, without any heads up, we get an amendment that in my mind, while maybe worthy of debate, is not worthy to put into this bill and take this bill down,” he said.

According to a senior Democratic staffer, the Corker amendment surprised Democrats who had hoped the bill would easily sail through the committee for a vote on the Senate floor.

“Unfortunately, basically at the 11th hour toward the tail end of the deadline where you can submit amendments, we got an amendment from Corker which was a bit of a shock because everyone had been working with him for months on this,” the staffer said.

Menendez is seen as one of the leaders pushing for sanctions and congressional oversight on the Iran negotiations, co-authoring the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S. 1881) with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) at the end of last year. He said the nonbinding resolutions that Corker’s amendment requires would dilute the Senate’s push for oversight of a final agreement with Iran, as recommended in the Menendez-Kirk bill, which is still awaiting a vote on the floor.

“Why would I want to go for an inferior vote when I have a far more reaching, significant vote?” said Menendez.

The Corker amendment would have Congress voting on an Iran nuclear plan before the administration agrees to it, rather than overseeing a sanctions adjustment post-agreement, as stipulated in the Menendez-Kirk bill.

“We put sanctions in place to get them to the table so I’m disappointed that it appears that there’s not going to be a role for weighing in on the overall deal,” Corker said, explaining the reasoning behind his amendment. “I realize that there may be individual sanctions relief issues that we deal with over time but I think we have an important role to play here and I think I’d like to see us vote on it.”

Kirk, although not a Foreign Relations Committee member but active on pro-Israel and other foreign policy legislation, expressed disappointment over Menendez’s decision.

“He was maybe afraid that Congress was going to do the right thing — that members would vote, that indeed the Senate should be able to review the Iran agreement,” Kirk said when asked why he thinks Menendez pulled the bill. “I would say the sanctions should probably pass and over time we’re going to realize that that agreement with Iran is less and less.”

Had Menendez not withdrawn the bill, committee Democrats would have been required to make a tough vote for or against the amendment. Going against the amendment could have put into question Democrats’ support for Israel, which is highly skeptical of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and therefore in favor of congressional oversight. Favoring the amendment, meanwhile, would have pitted Democrats against the White House, which has taken a tough stand against measures for congressional oversight of the Iran talks, including those in Menendez’s own bill.

Two days after Menendez killed the bill, he received the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Defender of Zion Award. Considered by some the most uncompromising pro-Israel organization, the ZOA received Menendez warmly. National President Morton Klein said the senator showed “extraordinary courage in speaking out, even on issues he knows that much of his party may not be there with him.”

In his speech to the ZOA, Menendez did not explain his decision on the Strategic Partnership bill, but said he wouldn’t allow anyone to politicize support for Israel.

Though Klein did not agree with Menendez’s decision on the bill, he said that after talking to staff, he felt assured that Menendez had good reasons for what he did and didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring the issue up at the ZOA ceremony.

“If he politically thought the bill won’t have a chance with this amendment then he did the right thing even though, of course, we regretted that he had to do it,” Klein said. “He has to feel uncomfortable because he’s as great a friend of Israel in the Senate as there is, period. Politics will force you to do things you don’t agree with.”

Klein also said that the issue should not get in the way of looking at Menendez’s long commitment to Israel, and that the senator still deserved to be recognized for that.

“Of course he deserves the award. I mean, he’s done everything for Israel. All his positions have been fantastic,” Klein said. “He’s given the most extraordinary speeches on the Senate floor.”

“Speeches that sound like I would have written them,” he added. “So even if there’s a thing or two that we don’t agree with, his body of work is extraordinary.”

Although the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership bill’s journey in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is over, Boxer has said she plans to “hotline” the bill — bypassing the committee for a vote on the Senate floor. The process requires the bill, which has 62 co-sponsors, to receive a unanimous consent. contributed to this story.

Stevenson University President Reports from Israel

A major reality check came for Kevin Manning when a young mother who lives on a moshav near the Gaza Strip spoke about what everyday life is like with rockets flying overhead and a constant sense of fear for her family.

“When she goes to Jerusalem and tells them they don’t have to be afraid, they ask, ‘Why should we not be afraid in Jerusalem?’ ” said Manning, president of Stevenson University, in a phone call from Israel. “It just struck us as Americans … we just don’t have these experiences. We’re not living literally in a war zone, where you have to manage the children and the bunkers and the rescue situation on a day-to-day basis.”

Manning was in Israel for the first time on the Weinberg Foundation’s Israel Mission, which departed the U.S. on May 17 and returned on May 26. It was the group’s largest mission to date, with 30 participants. The trip has been sponsored by various groups in Jewish Baltimore almost every year since 1981; the Weinberg Foundation began funding the trip in 2001 and took over trip operations in 2007.

The group consisted mostly of Maryland residents, with others from Hawaii, Alaska and California, and the trip was led by Rachel Monroe, president and CEO of the Weinberg Foundation.

The foundation said the mission of the trip was to give participants a better understanding of the complex realities of the Middle East through first-hand experiences.

“The focus leading up to and throughout the mission trip is to provide a serious, scholarly, exploration of the issues and events which have shaped and continue to shape Israel and the region,” a statement from the foundation said.

Just in the first two days of the trip, Manning, his wife, Sara, and the other participants drove to the Israeli-Lebanese border to learn about the history between the two countries,  drove to the Golan Heights to learn about the history between Israel and Syria and to tour the Golan Heights Winery and visited two historic Christian sites. After just a short time, Manning said he was left with the impression that the country has “a lot of enthusiasm and ambitions,” in addition to a complicated history.

“The thing that impresses me the most … is how extraordinarily complicated the relationships between these countries are,” he said. “Many of these conflicts have been going on for many, many years and they have to do with geography, water, religion, ideology, politics. There’s so many things that occur simultaneously, it’s very hard to sort them all out.”

In the days that followed, the mission group learned about the challenges Israel faces with its various populations from Israeli newspaper Haaretz editor-at-large Aluf Benn, visited the Google campus in Tel Aviv to learn about the technological innovation coming out of Israel, went to Ramallah to hear from a representative from the Palestinian Authority and visited two new Jewish West Bank settlements.

Another emotional moment came on the day when the group learned about the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The group went to a school in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city, where about 30 Ethiopian students — the JDC works in particular with Israel’s large Ethiopian immigrant population — were being tutored.

“It was a very poignant kind of experience for us,” Manning said. “It was good to put a face on the education system.”

The group heard from political and intelligence experts, who were able to further explain Israel’s place in the Middle East and how the Israeli people deal with upheaval.

“Our perception of Israel from a distance is never equal to a reality,” Manning said. “From what we’ve heard from the Jewish families and the officials here, they just move on. They’re so accustomed to this way of life they keep building buildings and keep building skyscrapers.”

Manning visited the Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo, where he met with college president and psychology professor Nehemia Friedland. He said he had a productive 90-minute exchange with Friedland, and found similarities with enrollment goals and budget considerations between Stevenson and the Tel Aviv school. The Israeli college is part of an expansion of 20 institutions sponsored by the government to provide higher education for underserved populations, Manning said.

The last few days of the trip included visits to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem; Shabbat in the capital’s Old City, where Manning ate dinner with two lone soldiers from London and Detroit; and a trip to Masada.

For Manning, the educational trip has provided some valuable insight into the country’s history, geopolitical situation as well as the excitement among its citizens.

“It’s not a mature country in a good sense,” he said. “A lot of building, a lot of construction, a lot of hope.”

Standing Their Ground

A Jewish boy places flowers in front of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in memory of the four victims of a recent shooting.  (ANTHONY DEHEZ/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

A Jewish boy places flowers in front of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in memory of the four victims of a recent shooting.
(ANTHONY DEHEZ/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

BRUSSELS — Hunched over a small island of memorial candles for the victims of the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium, Paul Ambach is lost in thought.

“Once again, Jewish blood in Belgium, which is no longer Belgium,” said Ambach, a well-known Jewish musician from Antwerp, as he stared at the candles Sunday from a vigil for the four people killed by the unidentified gunman who opened fire at the museum the previous day.

Ambach said he was also thinking about past attacks on Belgian Jews, including a 1981 car bombing outside an Antwerp synagogue that left three dead.

Undeterred by the fact that the killer is at large with at least one other accomplice — a driver who brought him to the scene — approximately 2,000 people, many with their small children, showed up at the museum entrance for a vigil a mere 27 hours after the attack.

The gathering was also attended by Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo and other ministers, who took time off from Belgium’s federal elections Sunday to show solidarity with Belgian Jewry.

Also present was a group of young Muslim women.

“We don’t know who is behind this, and it doesn’t matter. We came because we are hurting and crying inside,” said one of the women, Yfia Souad.

Another group of Jews convened nearby for a screening of a film about the Holocaust. The event had been scheduled long before the shootings, but instead of canceling, organizers dedicated the event to remembering the museum attack’s victims — Emanuel and Miriam Riva, a married couple in their 50s from Tel Aviv; Alexandre Strens, an employee of the museum in his 20s; and Dominique Chabrier, a French volunteer at the museum.

Security camera footage from the museum showed the killer approaching the entrance to the museum quickly but calmly while carrying two bags and wearing a baseball cap that obscured his eyes from the lens. Placing one bag on the ground, he produced an automatic rifle and entered the museum for approximately one minute.

Inside, he opened fire, hitting his victims in their heads and necks before making his escape.

Counterterrorism experts said the man’s apparent calm, quick getaway and selection of target — the museum is one of the few Jewish institutions in Brussels that is not under permanent police protection — suggest meticulous preparations and perhaps some training.

As Belgian police launched a manhunt, reports emerged that the perpetrator was wearing a camera in what analysts said was a sign that he was following the pattern of Mohammed Merah, who documented his 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France that left four Jews dead.

Standing in front of the museum’s door, Ambach wondered why it was not armored and guarded like the Great Synagogue of Europe, which is located 400 yards away and was the site of a 1982 shooting attack that wounded four.

“But you can’t live under armor. I know I won’t,” he said.

Agnes Bensimon, a Jewish mother from Brussels who attended the screening, said fear would not prevent her from attending a Jewish gathering.

“It’s a frightening thought, but there is no question of capitulating,” she said. “That’s what terrorists attempt to achieve, and they will not achieve it here. Sadly, we are experienced.”

Jewish Agency Helps Ukranian Olim with Flights to Israel Amid Airport Battles

The Urina family of Donetsk pictured at their hotel in Dnepropetrovsk before their JAFI-facilitated flight to Israel.

The Urina family of Donetsk at their hotel in Dnepropetrovsk before their JAFI-facilitated flight to Israel.

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) facilitated an alternate flight to Israel for six Ukrainians after fighting erupted near the civilian airport in Donetsk between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels following the country’s presidential election on Monday.

The group of six, including a couple from Donetsk with twin baby girls and a couple from Mariupol, was set to depart for Israel Monday night. But due to the battles, the airport was shut down, all flights were cancelled and the access road was blocked, according to a news release from JAFI.

JAFI’s Russian-Speaking Jewry unit evacuated the Ukranians to Dnepropetrovsk and put them up in a hotel until they boarded a plane to Kiev, where they then boarded another plane for Israel Tuesday morning. They arrived in Israel later on Tuesday, the release said.

“Due to the current situation in the country, we have significantly expanded our activities, assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel, bringing young people to experience life in Israel on a variety of Jewish Agency programs, providing Hebrew classes, and so on,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive for JAFI, said in the release.

JAFI’s Russian-Speaking Jewry Unit is preparing to bring additional families from the area to Israel in a similar manner if necessary. JAFI has more than 90 employees in Ukraine.

According to JAFI, immigration to Israel from Ukraine increased 142 percent in the first four months of 2014. More than 200 Ukrainians had booked flights to the Jewish state for May and June.

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore gives approximately $3 million annually to JAFI. The federation is keeping its own tabs on the situation in Ukraine through the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, which hired its first coordinator to work in Odessa, Marina Moldavanskaya, this year. The Associated has also raised about $100,000 in its Ukraine Assistance Fund.

Gubernatorial Primer

With just one month left for candidates to reach Maryland’s primary voters, the June 24 election is still anyone’s race.

Last month’s Maryland Poll showed the majority of voters still undecided in both the Republican and Democratic primaries, with as many as almost seven in 10 registered Republicans unsure of who they will vote for next month.

Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he wouldn’t be surprised if turnout in the primary is less than 20 percent.

“Timing is one big item, but none of the candidates seem to have generated any great interest among the public,” he said, noting that this year’s gubernatorial primary is the first to be held in June rather than September since the state legislature approved the move in 2011.

Although Norris thinks Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will win the primary, he doesn’t see a huge difference between him and fellow Democrat, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler.

“They’re both mainstream Democrats,” Norris said. “Gansler has tried to sort of set himself apart by saying, ‘I’m going to do some stuff on business climate.’”

While there have been no attack ads, this month’s gubernatorial debate saw Brown and Gansler trade jabs over a photo that surfaced last year of Gansler at a party where teens were allegedly drinking and Brown’s role in the troubled rollout of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. While Brown has drawn praise from the likes of Bill Clinton for his work in fixing the glitches that plagued the site in the fall, Gansler has made repeated calls for an investigation into Maryland’s launch.

Neither Norris nor American politics professor and University of Maryland department of government and politics chair Irwin Morris expect the rollout of the MHBE to be a major factor in determining the winner of the Democratic primary.

“I think that sort of issue is likely to play better to a more Republican audience because if you’re critical of how things turned out in Maryland, then you have to think, ‘OK, what is my perspective on how the rollout went more broadly, the health care act at the federal level?’” said Morris.

While Brown appears to be the frontrunner, said Morris, “it’s certainly not a done deal.” Though gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur (D-District 20) trails both Brown and Gansler in polls, her progressive campaign has the potential to draw votes away from the other Democratic candidates, Gansler’s in particular, said Norris, noting that both candidates hail from Montgomery County.

In a state where the latest Gallup poll shows a 20 percent Democratic advantage, neither expect a Republican to win the general election, but Norris thinks Larry Hogan might have the best shot in the primary as a middle-of-the-road candidate with experience at the executive level. David Craig may have had a shot, he added, but he has pushed himself far to the right on taxes and the environment, which may help him in the primary but won’t help in the general election.

Two of the four registered Republican candidates, Charles Lollar and Hogan, have never been elected to public office, something both say works to their advantage, as both have concentrated experience in the private sector. All four of the candidates are emphasizing their economic plans, citing high unemployment statistics around the state and pointing to Maryland’s taxes and regulatory standards as the culprits in pushing businesses out of the state.


052314_cover-brownANTHONY BROWN
Residence: Prince George’s County
Running Mate: Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive

Background: As lieutenant governor for both of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s terms, Brown chaired the Base Realignment and Closure Subcabinet to prepare Maryland for the arrival of more than 60,000 new jobs and residents, was the state’s point person on the Affordable Care Act, a position he’s faced much scrutiny over, and helped pass legislation that has extended protections and programsfor domestic violence victims. He served two terms in the Maryland General Assembly as a delegate representing the 25th District in Prince George’s County, from 1999 to 2007. A colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Brown served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, for which he earned a bronze star.

Key Issues: Brown and Ulman’s policy proposals focus on improving the economy and education through infrastructure investment, career and technology training and universal access to pre-kindergarten. Other proposals include combating domestic violence and sexual assault, improving support for veterans, improving child welfare in the foster system, promoting minority- and women-owned businesses, providing low-interest college loans to high school graduates who are children of undocumented immigrants, closing the academic achievement gap in Maryland, curbing the increase in public higher education costs, reducing recidivism, ensuring gender equality and increasing affordable housing.


052314_cover-ganslerDOUG GANSLER
Residence: Montgomery County
Running Mate: Jolene Ivey, state delegate for
District 47

Background: Gansler has been Maryland’s attorney general since 2007. During his time in office, he focused on environmental issues such as the health of the Chesapeake Bay, consumer and public safety issues such as gangs and Internet predators and was president of the National Association of Attorneys General, where he also chaired committees on underage drinking, energy and the environment. He established the office’s first gang prosecution unit and its first director of civil rights position, was the first high-profile public official in Maryland to support same-sex marriage. He was the Maryland co-chair of President Barack Obama’s campaign with Rep. Elijah Cummings and served as the state’s attorney for Montgomery County. As state’s attorney, he was reprimanded for public statements he made about three pending cases.

Key Issues: Proposals include increasing jobs and career advancement through higher education discounts, job training for the unemployed, training for small businesses, apprenticeship programs, paid sick and safe leave and expanded career center hours. Gansler plans to continue to focus on public safety by empowering communities, victims and law enforcement, renewable energy, protecting the Bay, preventing excessive increases in health insurance premiums, narrowing the education achievement gap through increased
access to pre-kindergarten and increasing government transparency.


052314_cover-mizeurHEATHER MIZEUR
Residence: Montgomery County
Running Mate: Delman Coates, progressive advocate and minister at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md.

Background: Mizeur has represented Maryland’s 20th District in Montgomery County in the House of Delegates since 2007. As a delegate, Mizeur has helped expand health coverage to minors, young adults and low-income women, sponsored legislation to invest in nanobiotechnology research, sponsored a bill that led to a comprehensive study of drilling in Maryland, sponsored legislation that increased government transparency, advocated for same-sex marriage and advocated for decriminalization of marijuana. She was elected to the Democratic National Committee in 2005 and was appointed to its executive committee in 2009 by President Obama. She was a member of the Takoma Park City Council from 2003 to 2005. She has also worked as a legislative assistant and director for many federal officials, including John Kerry, for whom she was director of domestic policy from 2003 to 2006, and was state director of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004.

Key Issues: Mizeur has a 10-point economic plan which involves tax relief for the middle class, instituting a living wage, job training, school renovations and clean energy jobs. To narrow the achievement gap, Mizeur wants to expand access to pre-kindergarten, after-school and summer programs, among other initiatives. Her plans also call for holistic crime fighting, re-entry programs for inmates, taxing, legalizing and regulating marijuana, ensuring equal pay for women, improving care and benefits for seniors, reforming campaign finance, increasing need-based financial aid and access to low-interest student loans, protecting families from foreclosure and establishing a nonpartisan commission to address redistricting.


052314_cover-jaffeRALPH JAFFE
Baltimore City
Running Mate: Freda Jaffe, sister

Background: Jaffe, a Pikesville- area teacher, with his sister, ran for governor in 2010, earning 19,517 votes in the primary election and 319 votes as a write-in candidate during the general election, according the Maryland State Board of Elections. He also ran for U.S. Senate in 2012 and received 3,313 votes in the general election, according to the Board of Elections.
Key Issues: Jaffe thinks elected officials should refuse campaign contributions and would serve one term without pay. Jaffe would oppose increasing taxes and would abolish several state boards and commissions including the Public Service Commission, the Maryland Department of Education, deferring to county departments, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the state’s Vehicle Emissions Inspection program. He would also aim to protect seniors from lackluster nursing home care and strengthen pet owner protections.


052314_cover-walshCINDY WALSH
Residence: Baltimore City
Running Mate: Mary Elizabeth Wingate-Pennacchia, school teacher and Baltimore resident

Background: Walsh is an independent university researcher who specializes in public policy.

Key Issues: While Walsh said one of her primary objectives is to serve as a “heads-up” to the people of Maryland that they need to get involved in their state’s politics, her platform includes aligning the minimum wage with the living wage, using policy to influence global corporations that she said have “over-corporatized” Maryland to leave the state and audit all of the tax breaks given to corporations to ensure that the companies benefiting are invested in the local community. She operates a blog on her website she promised to continue updating if elected.


Residence: Baltimore City
Running Mate: Clarence Tucker

Background: Smith ran for U.S. Congress in 2012, getting 2,438 votes in the primary election, losing to Elijah Cummings. He received 28 votes in the general election as a write-in candidate.

Key Issues: Smith does not appear to have a working website or phone number. Emails were not answered.



052314_cover-georgeRON GEORGE
Residence: Anne Arundel County
Running Mate: Shelley Aloi, former alderman for the City of Frederick and outgoing vice-chair of the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources and Policy Committee for the Greater Washington Area Council
of Governments

Background: George has served two terms as delegate in the state legislature and is a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He owns and operates two jewelry stores, in Annapolis and
Severna Park.

Key Issues: If elected, George said one of his key objectives would be to grow the tax base in Baltimore City. As part of his economic plan, George proposes to gradually lower the
Corporate Income Tax rate from 8.25 percent to 5.75 percent by 2017, reduce the personal income tax in the state by 10 percent, repeal the gas and rain taxes and move forward with drilling and natural gas exporting in parts of the state. He also supports the BOAST (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland) tax credit, which would give companies a bigger tax incentive to donate to private schools, and promises to reassess the Common Core standards in addition to loosening some of the restrictions placed on gun ownership in the state over the past year.


Residence: Harford County
Running Mate: Jeannie Haddaway, state delegate for District 37B

Background: Craig has worked as Harford County executive since 2005. Before that, he spent time as a Havre de Grace city councilmember, mayor, Maryland state delegate and state senator. He has also been involved in the Harford County public school system for more than three decades as a teacher and vice principal.

Key Issues:The Craig-Haddaway campaign has promised to reduce or eliminate any tax or fee it sees as inhibiting jobs in Maryland and re-evaluate the regulations placed on businesses in the state. The campaign also promises to cut the state budget. Critical of the current state of the criminal justice system, Craig said he plans to keep a closer eye on cellphone activity in prisons and assess the decision factors used to determine whether a prisoner is released early from jail. Additionally, he promises to reduce the education department’s administrative budget, end Common Core in Maryland and evaluate tuition in the university system and support charter and private schools.


052314_cover-hoganLARRY HOGAN
Residence: Anne Arundel County
Running Mate: Boyd Rutherford, attorney and former associate administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration

Background: Hogan is the former secretary of appointments under the Ehrlich-Steele Administration. He is also the founder, president and CEO of The Hogan Companies and founder of Change Maryland, a nonprofit organization that monitors government spending.

Key Issues: Though Hogan is adamant that citizens of Maryland face excessive state taxes, he has to be realistic, he said. His experience as appointments secretary, he said, makes him the most bipartisan candidate. If elected, Hogan said his first task will be looking to reduce state spending and waste to ensure the state government is run as efficitley as possible so that cuts in services are not needed.. Next, he will evaluate the taxes placed on state residents and their businesses that he says make the state unfriendly to businesses and private-sector jobs. He also promises to increase government transparency by establishing a system of checks and balances within the government to ensure that there is oversight. He would also work to improve transparency within the state government.


052314_cover-lollarCHARLES LOLLAR
Residence: Charles County
Running Mate: Ken Timmerman, former investigative reporter and president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association

Background: Lollar is a former Marine Corps member and a current major in the Marine Corps Reserves. He has served on the executive board of directors for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, as chairman of the Charles County Republican Central Committee and is on the advisory board of the Conservative Victory PAC.

Key Issues: Over the next five years, Lollar has promised to eliminate the personal income tax in the state of Maryland. If elected, he also plans to  eliminate the rain tax, reduce sales tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, repeal the 24-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the inheritance tax and utilize public-private partnerships to increase construction jobs,. Additionally, he would introduce a yearly audit of every tax, regulation and law that collects fees in the state. He also plans to repeal the state’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013 and make Maryland a “shall carry” state, where issuing agencies cannot deny concealed-carry applicants for nonspecific criteria. Lollar also proposes a moratorium on the adoption of the Common Core standards and creating state-sponsored vocational training for high school students through public-private partnerships. He is also supportive of utilizing Maryland’s Marcellus Shale National Gas Reserves to create what he says will be a more energy-independent country.

Read ‘The Jewish Community and the Governor’s Office.’,

‘No Cattle Car For Me’

Shooters at the Angeles Shooting Range in L.A. take aim. (Anthony Weiss/JTA)

Shooters at the Angeles Shooting Range in L.A. take aim.
(Anthony Weiss/JTA)

LOS ANGELES — It’s a sunny morning in Southern California and Lea Rosenfeld, a soft-spoken, bespectacled woman who looks like a Jewish grandmother, squares her feet, faces her target and squeezes off five shots with a handgun.

All of them miss.

“I never even held a gun in my hands before,” she later confesses. “I’m still shaking.”

Still, Rosenfeld keeps shooting in the hot sun. She says she’s doing it because of her parents and what they endured: Both were Holocaust survivors.

“My question has always been why they didn’t fight back, and my mother could never give me a good answer,” Rosenfeld said. “They weren’t prepared for it, they didn’t believe it was going to happen, and they didn’t have anything to fight back with.”

That’s what motivated Doris Wise Montrose, president of the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, to organize the recent day of firearms instruction at the Angeles Shooting Range in northeast Los Angeles.

Montrose’s organization is more of a one-woman operation than a group. By her own account, it consists of Montrose and “a humongous email list.” The organization is dedicated, according to its website, to “The New Holocaust Resistance.”

Much of that has consisted of Montrose organizing lectures with a decidedly right-wing bent. She has hosted such figures as Eugene Volokh, the libertarian-leaning UCLA law professor, and Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist behind the current bus ad campaign in Washington that features a photograph of Hitler and the grand mufti of Jerusalem with the line “Islamic Jew-hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

“I think what Doris is trying to do is to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive so we will not forget its important lessons,” said Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and a friend of Montrose who has spoken to her group.

Recently, however, Montrose decided that lectures and emails were not enough.

So it was that on a Sunday in mid-May, she and seven others — three of them children of Holocaust survivors — gathered to receive “point and shoot” instruction from Itamar Gelbman, 32, a former lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.

“We talk about defending ourselves, but we have to do something aside from sharing email articles,” Montrose said.

Gelbman — a strapping 6-foot-3 grandson of survivors who has served as a bodyguard for Britney Spears (“Never again,” he vows) and has run for Congress from Texas (he lost) — began by running through safety instructions. He taught the handgun technique used by the IDF: square feet, square shoulders, both eyes open.

With varying degrees of accuracy and confidence, the participants blasted away at paper targets depicting an armed shooter. After each cycle of shooting, Gelbman assessed the results.

“He’s dead.”

“He would definitely be on the floor.”

Who precisely the attacker would be is unclear. Gelbman frames his instruction mostly in terms of home invasions, but it’s clear attendees are concerned about more than just their homes.

“When the Muslims say they want to kill us and drive us into the sea, I believe them,” said David Sievers, a retired cancer surgeon and reserve sheriff’s deputy who turns out to be a crack shot.

“No cattle car for me,” Montrose quips after one good round of shooting.

Over lunch, Les Hajnal, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, points out that often it was not the Nazis but locals who rounded up the Jews in countries such as Poland and Hungary.

“You know what the Hungarians did to the memorial of the shoes?” Hajnal asked, describing a memorial to murdered Jews on the banks of the Danube in Budapest. “They defecated in it. Such nice people.”

Montrose warns that anti-Semitism is rising again (a recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that approximately 1.1 billion people around the world harbor deeply anti-Semitic attitudes).

While Montrose and Gelbman believe there is a growing interest in self-defense — the firearms class quickly sold out — they know that the men and women who turned out for the training represent a distinct minority within the Jewish community.

Diaspora Jews prefer to be passive and non-confrontational rather than fight back, Gelbman says.

“I think that Jews in general, they give the benefit of the doubt, and they don’t like to be aggressive,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that was a problem in the Holocaust.”

As the day wraps up and the shooters start to head home, Rosenfeld stays on, firing round after round. Gelbman rewards her with a target of his own creation: a depiction of the late Muammar Gadhafi as a zombie. Gelbman hands Rosenfeld a Glock 9-mm handgun and steps back.

She squares to the target, aims and blasts away, hitting the zombie Gadhafi dead-on with all five shots.

Lights, Camera, Action

The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of  Maryland brings empowerment and pride to its members. (David Stuck)

The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland brings empowerment and pride to its members. (David Stuck)

Since it was founded in 1916, the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland has worked to provide leadership training, support for the Jewish community and advocacy on issues of concern to the local, national and international Jewish communities.

The federation, an umbrella group of nonprofit organizations and sisterhoods, held its 98th annual convention, “Women of Action,” at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 15.

Communication and behavioral expert Deborah Grayson Riegel, author of “Oy Vey Isn’t a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success,” was the keynote speaker, and Peggy K. Wolf, immediate past president of BHC, was honored with the E.B. Hirsh Lifetime Achievement Award.

Grayson Riegel told the audience that in order to be a successful leader, one must be a “maven,” have “moxy” and be a “mensch.” Through interactive activities and using the words of prominent Jews from throughout the ages, she encouraged the women at the convention to consider who in their lives had exhibited those qualities.

Wolf said she was “surprised and honored” to have been selected, both because of her high regard for the federation and the “fabulous” leadership of E.B. Hirsh.

“She was a consummate leader with the ability to make a young girl — me and others — feel like she was interested in what we had to say,” Wolf said. “I’m particularly touched because my grandmother [Pauline Horkheimer Lazaron, wife of BHC’s Rabbi Morris Lazaron], who I didn’t know, was a past president of the federation. My mother [Dr. Clementine Kaufman] was president of her sisterhood.”

Having completed her term as president of BHC just weeks ago, Wolf, director of admissions and financial assistance at Roland Park Country School, said she felt excited about the future of the congregation.

“The mission of the congregation is continuing, and I feel an energy and a commitment to the community and the institution and its sustainability,” she said. “Reform congregations, in Baltimore and everywhere else, are facing challenges. We’ve begun a process to find out how we can best meet the needs of the congregation, the Jewish community and the community at large. We have wonderful partnerships in the community, and we are going to continue the dialogue and build upon them.”

Knesset to hold presidential election June 10

TEL AVIV— The Knesset will vote for Israel’s next president on June 10.

The winner will succeed Shimon Peres, whose seven-year term ends July 27. Israel’s president, a largely ceremonial post, serves as the nation’s official head of state. Israeli citizens do not cast ballots for president.

Reports emerged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to abolish the presidency, limit its powers or postpone the election. Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu opposes the candidacy of Reuven Rivlin, a fellow member of the Likud party who has feuded with Netanyahu in the past.

Candidates must obtain signatures of at least 10 Knesset members by May 27 to run. Along with Rivlin, senior Labor Knesset member Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has obtained the necessary signatures.

Several other public figures have declared their intention to run. They include Silvan Shalom, a Likud Knesset member; Dalia Itzik, a former Kadima lawmaker; Dalia Dorner, an ex-Supreme Court judge; Dan Shechtman, a Nobel Prize laureate; and Yosef Abramowitz, a solar energy entrepreneur.

Before serving as president, Peres, 90, twice served as Israel’s prime minister. His predecessor, Moshe Katsav, resigned the office to face trial for sexual assault and rape, and is now serving a prison term.