Artists, City Look to the Future Post-Artist Space Closures

Members of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society work and rehearse at their space in the Bell Foundry prior to its Dec. 5 closure. (Photo provided)

First it was the Bell Foundry being closed on Dec. 5. Then it was Studio 14 a month ago. Now, some are worried for the future of affordable artist spaces in Baltimore.

Both the Bell Foundry, located in Station North, and Studio 14, located on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore, were closed due to fire code violations and lack of a proper permit, displacing a number of local artists and musicians.

These closures come after the devastating fire of a warehouse-turned-artist space in Oakland, Calif., called The Ghost Ship. The building caught fire the night of Dec. 2, killing 36 people, many of whom were young artists and musicians.

The Facebook page for Baltimore Band Rehearsals, the company operating Studio 14, said that the space was undergoing major renovations and that permit applications would be filed this week. One musician affected by the closure, Asa Kurland of the band Slow Lights, said he sees the Baltimore music scene as bigger and stronger than ever, thanks in large part to spaces such as Studio 14.

“It’s like turning the lights out on your business,” he said about the closure. “[Studio 14] is a great place. It’s the best, and I can’t wait for it to come back again.”

Despite the closure, Kurland and other musicians he knows have been able to migrate and find some other temporary spaces. Looking on the bright side, he said it’s actually forced him out into the community a bit more than before. And it certainly hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for performing. The Slow Lights album release party is slated for March 25 at The 8×10.

One group in particular was hit especially hard, being displaced to some extent by both closures — the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. The DIY theater nonprofit had its main rehearsal and workshop space on the first floor of the Bell Foundry, and the BROS band practiced at Studio 14. Rubbing salt in the wound, its space at the Bell Foundry was robbed, losing an estimated $2,000 worth of tools, according to a recent Baltimore Sun story.

“[The closure] happened very suddenly,” said Aran Keating, the group’s artistic director. “I got a call from one of the upstairs residents who basically said, ‘This isn’t good. You might want to come down here.’ And I hurried over.”

Upon arrival, Keating saw the Baltimore City Fire Department on the scene.

“Everyone had this sort of grim air,” he went on. “It was pretty clear they came with the intention to close the space down.”

Compared with the more severe violations on the second floor of the space, the first floor had relatively few issues.

“We were basically collateral damage of shutting down the upstairs,” said Scott Brenner, a volunteer with the BROS.

Since the Bell Foundry closing, the BROS have had limited access to the space. Their lease goes through 2017, and the immediate focus is on getting the first floor space reopened to finish out that lease. The landlords/owners of the space, Joe McNeely and Jeremy Landsman (who the JT profiled in 2008 prior to the revelation of his involvement in a federal marijuana conspiracy case in 2012), said they anticipate the lower floor opening back up in a couple weeks, once the final inspection and permit comes through.

McNeely, speaking on behalf of both of he and Landsman, said they are looking at all their options for what to do with the site once the current lease is up. He didn’t rule out keeping some sort of artist spaces as part of the building’s future development but said it takes a lot of investment to get old buildings up to code, which then means rents are less affordable.

“The city thrives on its reputation for emerging art and music and by its nature emerging art and music is underground,” he said. “So, the question is how do cities keep these kinds of spaces in a way they’re safe and affordable?”

That’s the exact question new Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Artist Spaces Task Force will attempt to answer. The task force has held three meetings so far and is hoping to have recommendations for how the city can facilitate these spaces within six months, according to the task force’s co-chair, Jon Laria, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr specializing in real estate and land use work within the city.

The group’s meetings so far, he said, have included a number of those from the artist community who are not officially in the task force.

“I think the fact that we’ve had meetings that have been very open and kind of free-wheeling, frankly, has been very helpful,” Laria said.

There was also a public comment period from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the War Memorial as well as the plan to create a website, where people can submit further comments and concerns, Laria said.

The task force has broken up into three small groups to look at key areas: understanding what artists need; looking at the state of affairs with the city codes (and ways to ease those without sacrificing safety); and finding avenues of financing available or that must be invented.

“It’s an important part of any modern city to have a vibrant arts community,” he said.

In the meantime, while the BROS are hopeful for the task force to succeed, they are not taking chances with their future. Erica Patoka, musical director for the group’s upcoming September show, “The Terrible Secret of Lunastus,” said it’s certainly not the first time spaces in Baltimore have not been up to code, and not even the first time for the BROS. In the past eight years of the group’s existence, they’ve had numerous different spaces for show rehearsals, band practice and performing. The goal now? A forever home.

The group has already raised more than $20,000 of a $75,000 Crowdrise goal to get them started. And they’re putting almost all the money made in fundraising performances into the campaign. In fact, there’s a Valentine’s Day fundraiser event on Feb. 11 at Maryland Art Space called Bro K Cupid (pun intended).

“A permanent space would mean we would have so much more time to put our energy into the creative process itself,” she said.

For a city that prides itself on a thriving arts community, now is the make or break time. And the artists are watching.

To donate to the BROS fundraising campaign, go to crowdrise.com/brosforeverhome.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Naale Gives Students an Elite (and Free) Israeli Education

Chaim Meyers (kneeling) poses with a group of international Naale students. (Provided)

For many families in the United States, a private education is financially beyond reach. Jewish day schools in particular can be notoriously expensive, although many do offer scholarships.

But through a program called the Naale Elite Academy, Jewish students from around the world are provided a free high school education, provided they are willing to attend public boarding school in Israel.

“Our main obstacle is that most of the Jewish communities around North America are not aware of the program; they don’t know that it exists,” said Chaim Meyers, director of Naale’s Western World Region. “That is what we are trying to do. As my boss likes to say, ‘Let my people know.’”

Meyers and other Naale officials visited the JT office on Feb. 6. During their North American trip, they visited current families, prospective families and Jewish communal leaders in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Miami, as well as Canadian cities Calgary and Edmonton.

The program started in 1992, when Israeli officials were trying to educate students from the former Soviet Union whose families weren’t able to make aliyah. Sending teachers there did not work, so it was decided that bringing students to Israel to be educated would be more prudent. Naale stands for “noar oleh lifney horim” meaning “children immigrate before their parents.”

Today, Naale is geared toward Jewish children from around the world, with students from about 50 countries enrolled. The program has approximately 1,700 students and more than 17,000 graduates to date. It also boasts a 90 percent retention rate of students who successfully earn their Israeli matriculation certificate, which is recognized at universities worldwide.

“The opportunity that Naale offers almost borders on the outrageous,” said Simeon Pollock, who serves as the Naale ambassador in Maryland and has two children in the program. “It’s that amazing. I thought, ‘It can’t be true, free high school? And for a religious kid?’ They mentioned something on the website about Orthodox schools; they have three for religious children. It was something we had to talk about because it was religious and free, compared with the cost of a religious education in America.”

While the religious schools appealed to the Pollock family, Naale is not exclusively religious. Rather, it serves as an umbrella program and partners with 25 different schools around Israel. There are schools that cater to a variety of different languages, including six for native English speakers. There are schools geared toward religious and nonreligious children and different programs for students who wish to focus their studies in science and or the arts.

Every year, the school reaches out to new communities. Smaller communities often have a bigger demand for Naale’s services because of a lack of Jewish schools or infrastructure.

“People are surprised that this program exists and ask why there aren’t more advertisements,” said Dikla Sity-Meir, regional director for Naale in Pennsylvania. “Our budget for advertising is limited, so that is our main job. The leaders of the community are our best allies. They identify the families that would be well suited for us.”

A student can apply in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade. The only fees are a registration fee and an acceptance fee, costing $600 each. Potential students and at least one parent then attend a special screening day that entails academic and psychological examinations to ensure that students are suited for the program.

“We aren’t necessarily looking for A-plus students, but we are looking for motivated students who can deal with coming to a new country alone, all the academics and 20 hours a week studying Hebrew,” said Sity-Meir. “Social skills and maturity level are a main component. The downside of this project is that parents and kids are separated, which is hard because it is a young age.”

If a student is accepted, the only thing a parent must pay for is if their child wants to fly home for vacation. Beyond that, all expenses are covered. This includes the flight to Israel, pocket money, extracurricular activities, school trips, school uniforms and school books.

Students do not need to know Hebrew before attending a Naale school — ulpan is a part of the core program in a student’s first year. Additionally, students come to Israel on a student visa, so they have no obligation to make aliyah or join the army following graduation. While the Israeli matriculation certificate is recognized at universities worldwide, many students choose to stay in Israel.

“People say, ‘If students don’t stay in Israel, what is the point? You’ve failed,” explained Meyers. “However, we say the opposite. Any student who goes home brings their experiences to their community. They are the best ambassadors for Israel that we could possibly have.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Anti-Semitic Fliers Found in Bel Air

(Photo provided)

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Feb. 15, deputies of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office found several anti-Semitic fliers with the swastika symbol and the Web address of a known white supremacist news and commentary site on them, the Daily Stormer, in the Fountain Glen neighborhood of Bel Air.

The JT was sent a photo of the flier, which reads in all caps, “White man, are you sick and tired of the Jews destroying your country through mass immigration and degeneracy? Join us in the struggle for global white supremacy at the Daily Stormer,” followed by the site’s domain.

Rabbi Gila Ruskin, spiritual leader for Temple Adas Shalom in neighboring Havre de Grace, said she was horrified by the flier and also troubled by the growing instances of anti-Semitism.

“There have been a few isolated incidents, but I think because of the words [of the flier], this was more upsetting in some ways,” she added. “I think it has to be seen as part of a trend. People feel they have permission to put their hate on the outside.”

One of the other Jewish leaders in Harford County, Harford Chabad’s Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, used to live in the targeted neighborhood and said he was remarkably saddened by the whole event. He said he has never experienced an anti-Semitic event like this in the community. Smaller incidents, like someone shouting an ill-advised comment out of a car, he chalked up more to ignorance than anti-Semitism.

“In general, the Harford County Jewish community is about educating people,” he said. “Saying to our neighbors, ‘We’re just like you and we’re not like you, and that’s OK.’”

Deputies canvassed the area where the fliers were distributed, but no witnesses or suspects were found, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. Cristie Kahler, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said they have not heard of any similar incidents in recent months. Without witnesses or further information, it is hard to follow up any further on the matter, she said, but also urged residents to be vigilant.

“It goes back to ‘see something, say something,’” she added. “The neighborhood watches are really our best bet in something like this.”

The Baltimore Jewish Council condemned the act of “hate and divisiveness” in a statement and urged law enforcement to “thoroughly investigate.”

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman also condemned the act.

“I absolutely reject any kind of hateful and discriminatory messages directed against our Jewish community, law enforcement or any citizens of Harford County,” he said in a prepared statement. “We cherish all of our residents and want them to know they are welcome here, and these disgraceful fliers have no place in our home.”

This incident comes after the several waves of called-in bomb threats to dozens of JCCs across the country in January and February, most recently on Feb. 20, Presidents Day. The JCC in Park Heights was evacuated after the calls on both Jan. 9 and 18.

Since the campaign and election of President Donald Trump, multiple outlets have been reporting a rise in hate speech and white supremacist activity, particularly from the so-called “alt-right,” a far-right faction centered on white nationalist ideas. Trump has disavowed his white supremacist supporters.

The Daily Stormer is named for the German Nazi Party tabloid Der Stürmer and was launched in 2013.

Ruskin was on her way to meet with the imam of the local mosque and clergy of the local African Methodist Episcopal church when the JT reached her. The strong alliances the congregations are forming have felt even more important these days, Ruskin said.

“It’s frightening [that the hate] has been there all along,” she went on to say. “But maybe now that it’s out there, we can deal with it. I don’t know. I don’t know the best way to deal with all these things, except dialogue.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

For Now, Howard’s Sanctuary Bill Is Denied

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoes the county’s sanctuary bill. (Courtesy of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman via Twitter)

On the evening of Feb. 9, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoed CB-9, a bill introduced to the County Council with the intent of declaring Howard County a “sanctuary” for immigrants and refugees. Only after the word “sanctuary,” the primary foundation for the bill, was removed did the council vote to pass the bill 3-2 before this veto.

The veto can be overturned if a fourth member of the council votes in favor of the bill when it is readdressed at a meeting on March 6.

While many feel the intentions behind the bill — which would prevent police and other county employees from enforcing federal immigration law or inquiring about immigration status — are good, it garnered dissent from politicians and prominent members of the community, being derided as rushed out and incomplete.

“One of my bigger concerns is that the sponsors didn’t do much investigation,” said Kittelman. “They did not contact stakeholders such as the police chief or the corrections department director, nor did they contact major advocates for the foreign-born community such as FIRN (the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network).

“Had they reached out, they would have found there was not a problem [in Howard County],” he continued. “If this bill is filed, it gives the impression that police are supporting [federal] immigration laws when they are not.”

Kittleman cited Hector Garcia, a leading immigrant advocate who has worked in Howard County for 17 years and who testified at the council meeting where the bill was reviewed; Garcia said that he had not heard one instance of complaint from people about how police act toward immigration status.

The legislators who introduced the bill, however, do believe there is cause for concern.

“I was saddened by the county executive’s veto and disheartened that, in his response, he indicated that he didn’t even believe we had a problem,” said Councilman Calvin Ball (D-District 2), one of the councilmembers who introduced the bill, “especially after hearing from so many people about their concerns and knowing that with each passing day, the concern grows.”

Ball felt that the bill was necessary to officially reaffirm the county’s commitment to an inclusive community. He feels that introduction of the bill into legislature would codify a large part of existing policies, which are currently not a part of the law officially.

“This bill will improve the relationship between police and immigrants because it will prevent [police] from changing their policy to uphold the federal immigration law,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa (D-District 3), who also helped to introduce the bill.

“When we initially filed the bill, the county executive said that this won’t change anything, that the county police already don’t ask and don’t enforce federal immigration policies,” she said. “But as we all move forward, there is no written policy, so this makes a written policy that immigrants can rely on. If it changes, it will be public; there will have to be a hearing. Unlike a policy, it wouldn’t be able to be changed tomorrow if it is in the legislature.”

Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-District 1), who represents Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover, was one of the two naysayers for the bill. He outlined his contention of the bill in a statement that said key stakeholders were not consulted and not enough time or research were put into its writing.

“The bill, even as it was amended and passed, didn’t really do anything but affirm practices already instated. However, it complicates the sensitive relationship between police and immigrants by making it law,” he said in the statement. “Howard County, for all intents and purposes, is akin to a sanctuary. Police and government here would never ask people about immigration policy.”

Weinstein further expounded on this point, explaining that in situations where police become aware of an undocumented person, they currently can assist that person in getting a visa. However, by putting it into law, officers will be limited in when and how they can use information about someone’s immigration status.

The big problem with the bill is that it does nothing to actually change how an undocumented immigrant would be treated, asserted Kittleman — in Weinstein’s statement, the bill is referred to as “purely symbolic.”

“The limitations it would place on public safety officers would make it more difficult for law enforcement to act on other activities such as gang activity and sex trafficking,” said Kittleman.

The community as a whole largely supports having Howard County declared a sanctuary, however. People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) is a nonpartisan, multifaith and multiracial organization composed of communities and congregations around the county.

“Given the national climate around immigration and the president’s threats to undocumented people, this bill provided an opportunity for our county to stand up and unequivocally declare that it stands behind its residents,” said Jake Cohen, a lead organizer of PATH. “Does the bill solve all of the problems? Of course not. Was it a good first step toward starting a larger conversation? Yes.”

Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia is a member of PATH. She asserts that the Howard County Board of Rabbis is supportive of sanctuary measures to “support the Jewish value of protecting strangers.”

“The bill is not perfect, but it is a good message to send and shows support for the community, especially in this time of political uncertainty for all types of immigrants in our country,” said Grossman. “I know that the effort to have that bill was to respond to concerns voiced. I hope that there is an opportunity for the parties to sit down together, look at the concerns and come up with appropriate wording or amendments so we can pass a sanctuary bill.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Maryland Legislators Tackle Paid Sick Leave

Laura Wallace and her son Avi (in the green cape) with Del. Ben Brooks (D-District 10) on kids in Capes lobby day organized by Moms Rising and Jews United for Justice. (Provided)

Jeffrey Rubin counts himself among the fortunate who have benefited from paid and family sick leave. As a doctor at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, he was afforded those benefits at a time he was caring for his sick father.

Rubin, 64, of Potomac, used that time to find his father a well-qualified home health care aide while serving as his primary caregiver.

“As a physician, I see this issue differently than it is often framed,” Rubin said. “I don’t see it as a conflict between workers and employers. I see it as a practical sense issue.”

Now, Rubin is doing his part to make sure others like him throughout the state of Maryland are granted similar assistance.

He is one of many advocates who have pushed the legislature to pass a paid sick leave bill, saying ill workers “who are not well should be able to stay home without fearing of losing their wages or jobs.”

Rubin is a strong supporter of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, a bill Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D-District 28) and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-District 46) are sponsoring in the Senate and House of Delegates, respectively.

Last year, the House of Delegates passed a similar paid sick leave bill, but it failed to muster enough votes in the Senate on the final day of the legislature’s 90-day session.

Democrats who are sponsoring legislation for the fourth straight year on the issue were joined at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 9 by cabinet members of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has introduced his own version of a sick leave requisite.

Under the Democratic-sponsored Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, companies with at least 15 workers would be required to give them one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The legislation would apply only to any employee who works at least eight hours per week.

Companies with 14 employees or fewer would be given unpaid earned and sick safe leave.

Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, stressed the importance of paid sick leave for low-wage employees who have children.

“This time of the year, there is hardly a day that goes by when we don’t get a call from one of the schools that we have a sick child,” Middleton said. “If you look across the state, especially among those low-income employees, many of them don’t have the luxury of being able to pick up their kids when they are sick. When they do, some days they don’t get paid, which is money they depend on greatly. Other times, they might get fired.”

According to Working Matters, a coalition of more than 150 groups that support the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, the bill would cover about 512,000 Marylanders who currently don’t receive paid sick leave benefits.

Through written testimony, the Baltimore Jewish Council urged the Senate to give Middleton’s bill a favorable report, citing the need to support policies that allow employees to meet both family and work responsibilities.

“Earned sick leave is an important safeguard to prevent the spread of disease in schools and workplaces,” the BJC said in the statement. “In addition, earned sick leave ensures that victims experiencing abuse can take the necessary steps to leave their abusive situation without fear of losing their jobs.”

Hogan’s bill, the Common Sense Paid Leave Act, would call for employers with 50 workers at a single location to offer up to five days of paid sick leave. The proposal would only apply to those who work at least 30 hours per week, covering about 272,000 workers who do not currently receive any paid sick leave benefits.

For companies with fewer than 50 employees, a tax break of a little more than $20,000 per year would be offered, costing the state an estimated $63 million, according to Hogan’s aides.

Chris Shank, chief legislative officer for Hogan, said the governor’s proposed legislation is “flexible, consistent and fair.”

“We feel there should be one statewide standard for these benefits in terms of making certain that Maryland’s law applies to all 24 counties equally,” Shank said. “We are also of the opinion that we shouldn’t micromanage our small business job creators and dictate legislatively what should be more left to employee handbooks.”

As committee members discussed both bills, the hearing was packed with dozens of advocates and detractors weighing in with their testimony.

Opponents of both bill proposals contend that increasing benefits would handcuff businesses, leading them to increase costs or slash expenses and hinder hiring or expanding.

Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, told the JT before the hearing that businesses that can afford to offer the benefits under both bills already do.

“The idea that legislators can determine what benefits an employer can offer employees is the sole reason of the [NFIB’s] opposition to the bills,” said O’Halloran, whose organizations has more than 4,000 members in the state. “Legislators don’t sign the front of employee paychecks. Because employers run their business on a day-to-day basis, they know a heck of a lot better what they can and cannot afford to offer.”

The proposals have received increased attention after Montgomery County passed its own paid sick leave bill in 2015. That law officially went into effect on Oct. 1.

Jews United for Justice Montgomery County community organizer Laura Wallace said she is working closely with Working Matters.

Wallace, a vocal critic of Hogan’s bill, said she is not interested in exploring any alternatives. She also called the governor’s bill a “very watered down bill compared to last year’s.”

“It’s not enough to say a little bit is good enough,” Wallace said of Hogan’s bill. “We need to do the right thing and pass the right policy and implement the right law, and [JUFJ] will fight for that.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Children’s Book Packs Powerful Message

(Provided)

Reisterstown resident Larry Lichtenauer said his recently published second book, “The Kid with the Secret Weapons,” “is about how kids, particularly middle schoolers, can succeed at life.”

He chose to focus on middle school, as it can be a most difficult time — bodies are changing, social concerns are especially important and children are beginning to think for themselves.

In the book, the main character, a 12-year-old named Bryan, encounters an incredible amount of difficulty in his life, ranging from not getting along with his best friend to his parents being separated. However, Bryan is able find success in everything he is dealing with when he discovers the law of attraction, “a real law, as much as gravity is a law, similar to visualization,” said Lichtenauer, president and founder of public relations, advertising and market research firm Lawrence Howard & Associates.

“The law of attraction explains that you can get anything in your life by just visualizing the result,” he said. “You place yourself in the situation you want to be in, and it happens. I think it is relevant to everybody.”

Lichtenauer started writing “The Kid with the Secret Weapons” on Jan. 21, 2016. His New Year’s resolution was to finish the book. However, he did not revisit it until July 17, when he began writing once more, spurred by the obituary of a man who had written seven books. “[It] made me feel like the laziest person in the world,” said Lichtenauer. He wrote a chapter each day until the book was finished. The final version has been rewritten 16 times.

Although a children’s book, Lichtenauer said, “my audience is also mothers who are trying to get their kids to read a book that might impact their lives. The average 12- or 13-year-old won’t see [this book] and think, ‘Oh I should read that.’ Parents will read it first and give it to their kids. I want kids to get out of it that you control your destiny with your mind, a positive attitude and the belief that everything is possible. It seems so trite, but attitude is everything. I think it’s as simple as that.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Natives Moved by Trip to Poland

(Photo provided)

While most college students went home for the holidays over winter break, one group of students instead took a trip through Jewish history in Poland.
A group of students, including a handful from the Baltimore area, from 17 colleges around the country traveled to Poland for a weeklong trip through the organization MEOR.

The six-day trips to Poland — which include visiting sites such as the Warsaw Ghetto, various cemeteries, cities such as Lublin and Krakow, as well as Auschwitz I and Birkenau, among other camps — were founded at MEOR Penn in spring of 2008 with a group of 33 students, according to Yael Seruya, assistant director of MEOR Poland.

It expanded in 2013 to include all campuses for students involved in their university’s MEOR program. And those who have done the trip call it one of the best trips a young Jewish person can take.

For Mark Kreynovich, a Baltimore native who is a freshman at Cornell University, the trip was an intense journey that left him feeling more connected than ever to his Jewish heritage.

“I thought it would be a very worthwhile and impactful experience,” he said. “And that definitely held true.”

For him, the trip was about not just the history of Jewish oppression, but the vibrancy of the Jewish present. The memory that really sticks out for him was the group’s Shabbat dinner in Krakow. In the hall next to them was a group of Hasidic Jews who invited him and the person he was with to join them.

Kreynovich never thought of himself as particularly religious, but listening to this group speak Yiddish to each other and sing traditional songs felt incredibly spiritual, he said.

“I really felt like God was in the room in a really ineffable sense,” he added. “I think it was a huge testament to the Jewish people.”

Rachel Orlinsky, another Baltimore native and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, had heard from friends who had gone on the trip that it was life changing. Now having completed the trip herself, she knows they were right.

“The details of the trip and where we went were not what the trip was about,” she said. “It was about the stories we got to hear.”

For her, the most moving and memorable of those stories came from Leslie Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor originally from Romania who now lives in England.

He survived Auschwitz while his whole family was killed, and yet, Orlinsky said, he was one of the most vibrant people she had ever met. Going to all those concentration camps in the span of a week can be both sad and difficult, but it’s not just that, as the students found.

“The trip wasn’t just depressing,” Orlinsky said. “The point of the trip was — well, honestly, the point of the trip was life.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Fundraising Extends Free Bus Rides for Baltimore City Students

Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen announces that city students will be able to ride MTA buses for free until 8 p.m. (Photo by Justin Silberman)

As a student with a 4.0 grade point average at City Neighbors High School who also happens to be a star on the school’s basketball team, Raekwon Redding has enough on his mind.

Finding a ride home proved to be as big an obstacle as Redding faced in the classroom or on the court after the Maryland Transit Administration and Baltimore City Public Schools reached an agreement that limited free rides for students from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

But thanks to more than $100,000 in combined donations from the Baltimore Ravens, Under Armour and individuals, students will now be able to ride MTA buses for free until 8 p.m.

“Honestly, this is a big win for me,” Redding, an 11th-grader, told the JT. “I’ll put it this way: it’s like taking a shoe off your foot after it’s been on real tight, so you finally feel that relief. It’s not like something that you can’t really deal with, but it’s, like, ‘Wow, this feels really good.’”

Until the new deal between city schools and the MTA went into effect late last year, students were permitted to ride the bus for free from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. using a card known as the S-Pass.

City Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat who represents the 1st District, said Tuesday at a news conference that the extended hours will start Monday and continue through the remainder of this school year.

“I am grateful to my committee members who remained committed in finding a resolution despite the many other pressures we face,” said Cohen, chairman of the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee. “But the real heroes in this story are the everyday citizens who kept up the pressure and refused to let the issue die.”

Under Armour and the Baltimore Ravens contributed $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, according to a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Young joined Cohen and Education and Youth Committee vice president Mary Pat Clarke and committee members John Bullock, Kristerfer Burnett, Ryan Dorsey and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer in making the announcement.

“We are going to continue to fight for our young people to make sure that they are able to get to all the after-school programs that they want to attend,” Young said. “So this is just the beginning.”

A little more than two weeks ago, members of the Education and Youth Committee held a “bake sale for buses” at Frederick Douglass High School to raise funds to help restore the service.

Between the bake sale and a GoFundMe page started by Roger Schulman, CEO of the Baltimore-based nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence, more than 400 people helped raise $26,000 for the campaign.

Since the free ride time was reduced, City Neighbors teacher Christina Ross said the change has often left students without suitable transportation after sporting events and educational after-school programs. She has expressed her frustration with the MTA to Cohen and other members of the City Council.

“This is really an issue of fairness and equity,” Ross said. “The kids should not have to rely on their teachers to get home. That’s not telling kids they’re a priority, and that’s not OK with me.”

Ross, who sponsors a mock trial club that regularly meets after the conclusion of the school day at 4 p.m., said there was a night she had to give four students rides home.

“It was really a challenge to get kids to come to our program, because it was hard for them to get a ride home,” Ross said.

The $100,000-plus cash influx reinstates service for the remainder of the school year, but it is not enough to sustain rides beyond that, Cohen said. He said members of the City Council and his committee will work with city schools and MTA officials to continue brokering a viable long-term solution.

“We do not want to be back here next year having another ‘bake sale for buses,’” Cohen said. “We’re very fortunate in that the business, philanthropic, nonprofit and government communities all came together and stepped up, but that’s not sustainable. Ultimately, this is a conversation between the MTA and school system that needs to be worked out.”

As nonprofit organizations come up with their budget plans moving forward, Young called on them to carve out a place for transportation assistance.

“We’re looking for money to come from nonprofits,” Young said. “We’re going to have more nonprofits stepping up to the plate, and we’ll have more philanthropic organizations stepping up to the plate to give us more money.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Soldiering On Love for Israel and its people draws locals to Israel Defense Forces

Just their first week on the job and Gil Kuttler’s friends were run over by a terrorist.

As newly minted soldiers, the potential for terrorism and violence — in general, if not the specifics of a collision with a car — comes with the territory. Just maybe not quite so early.

Gil and his friends are lone soldiers, those who serve in the Israel Defense Forces without the support of immediate Israeli family. In practice, this includes Israelis who serve either in defiance of their family or who do not have any family, but is predominated by foreign volunteers of Jewish descent, like Gil.

Gil Kuttler, 19, a class of 2015 Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate, was acclimating himself to his kibbutz while his four friends were waiting at a bus stop just outside Jerusalem when a car being driven by a Palestinian rammed into them in late November 2015. Two were injured and, after exiting the car to keep the fight going, according to Israeli media reports, the driver was shot and killed by a passing citizen with a pistol. The incident was covered across Israeli media and even made it overseas into U.S. outlets.

Though Gil was not (yet) in harm’s way, it was certainly not the most auspicious beginning in the eyes of his mother home in Pikesville, Robyn Schaffer.

“I make the conscious decision not to go there [with worry] because if I do, I would go crazy,” she said. Gil has about half of his two-and-a-half years of service left.

Instead, Schaffer said she is “bursting with pride” for her two sons, Gil and his elder brother, Joseph (who goes by Yossi) Kuttler, who both made aliyah to serve the Jewish homeland through the IDF.

The IDF is the official military of Israel, established at the same time as the State of Israel in 1948, although it traces its roots back to relatively ad-hoc paramilitary organizations of the early 1900s, according to the IDF website. It encompasses the country’s army, air force and navy. All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are conscripted into service, barring certain exemptions made on religious, physical or psychological grounds.

On the other end of the spectrum are the lone soldiers, many of them specifically making aliyah to serve in the IDF. There are currently about 3,000 lone soldiers in the IDF, according to Friends of the IDF, a lone soldier support organization, out of about 176,500 active personnel. Of those from overseas (a total of 80 countries), a quarter were from the United States in 2014. The mid-Atlantic region, which includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is generally third or fourth in the country for how many recruits it sends to the IDF (vying with New Jersey, New York and California), said Ari Dallas, executive director of the Midatlantic Region for FIDF.

“I think it’s really the essence of what we are,” he said about helping lone soldiers. “Their job is to protect Israel, and it’s our job to protect them.”

The FIDF provides plane tickets to lone soldiers to visit their families and and friends back home, along with other support, primarily in Israel.

Those plane tickets are provided for free or very cheap by the Israeli airline, El Al, whose spokesperson said it is a service they are happy to provide.

“We are a national company,” said Yoram Elgrabli, managing director for El Al in North and Central America who has a son serving as a lone solder. “We know the importance of the soldiers. … I like to say the real bridge between Israel and the U.S. is El Al.”

Gil (left) and Yossi Kuttler (Photo provided)

Those from outside Israel who serve in the IDF all share a love of Israel, of course, but from there, individual motivations vary. The brothers Kuttler are a good example. Gil and Yossi are close, both in age and relationship, if not necessarily personality. Gil, though he joined up after his brother (they overlapped in service for about a year), is more gung-ho about his military service, a longtime dream of his.

“I don’t know what [Yossi] told you, but it was my idea first,” he said from his base in Hevron, where he was (rather grudgingly) chopping vegetables for dinner while chatting with the JT. “I’ve been thinking of this since I was 5.”

Yossi doesn’t disagree with that characterization at all. He’s more introspective about his service, which he viewed as his duty to Israel and the Jewish people. Now a 21-year-old freshman at University of Maryland, College Park studying English and English education, he’s glad to be done with service but wouldn’t trade his experience.

Before making aliyah in 2014, Yossi, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh grad, was all set to attend business school at the University of Maryland. Then he visited Israel on the senior class trip and felt a pull, not just to the country, but to protect its heritage, his heritage.

“It was something I thought I could look back on and be proud I had served the greater good of the Jewish people,” he said.

He was “bit by the bug” of Israel, his mom said, as she had been at his age after her first trip to Israel. She was a little shocked, she said, by his decision but passed on the advice of her father.

Yossi Kuttler receives his beret upon completion of basic training. (Photo provided)

“When Yossi called me [from Israel] and said, ‘Mom, we have to talk,’ I said, ‘I know you have a whole speech rehearsed, but I’m going to tell you what my dad told me: Come home for the summer, and if you still want to do it, I’m all behind you,’” she said.

And he did. And then Gil followed a short time later. Both joined the Paratroopers Brigade, a unit with a storied history in the IDF.

Gil and Yossi are not the only from the Baltimore area to serve in the IDF. They’re not even the only ones from their neighborhood. There’s something in the water off the corner of Labyrinth Road and Smith Avenue in Pikesville, right by Pikesville High School. The number of young men and women who recently did serve or are serving the IDF is practically enough to form their own squad.

The Kuttler brothers on Labyrinth south of Pikesville High, the Harrison kids — Eyal, Qeshet and Baraq — on Labyrinth just across from Pikesville High and Lily Walder on Smith have all donned the lone soldier uniform. Coincidentally, Yossi, Lily and Eyal even ended up on the same kibbutz that was their home away from home in the early days prior to full service in the IDF.

Lily, like Yossi, had other plans in mind before deciding to make aliyah and join the IDF. She had just been accepted into the five-year master’s program for occupational therapy at Towson University. Also a Beth Tfiloh lifer, she had taken a Young Judea gap year in Israel and fell in love. Israel had always been relevant to her life, she said, but that year shifted her perspective, and she came to view Israel as “my home, my responsibility, my territory.” One year into school and she left. Israel was beckoning.

Her dream IDF job was as a weapons instructor, but first, she had to improve her Hebrew.

Lily Walder with a group of fellow soldiers (Photo provided)

“I didn’t leave everything in the states to be someone’s secretary and get them coffee,” she said. Luckily, her studying paid off, and Lily went on to teach handheld explosives to other soldiers.

“When I say it to Americans, it sounds badass,” she said from Tel Aviv, where she now makes her home since finishing her two years this past April. “But when I say it to Israelis, it’s normal.”

Lily’s parents, Charles and Suzanne Walder, worried about her, as every parent worries for their children, they said, but saw how happy and confident she was in Israel.

“She loved it,” Charles said.

“Yeah, and she was good at it,” Suzanne added. Watching their daughter’s graduation ceremony from boot camp in Israel was “one of the proudest moments of our lives,” Suzanne went on to say.

And, much to Lily’s pleasant surprise, the army turned out to be welcoming and respectful to women, treating everyone as soldiers, she said.

“I am so impressed with the Israeli army and how they treat women there,” she continued. “I always felt very much respected, very much appreciated and taken seriously.”

It was Lily’s love for Israel that carried her through aliyah and IDF service, and, at least for now, she’s staying put. Israel is home.

Alex Simone (Photo provided)

Yossi, Gil and Lily all served either right after, or shortly after, graduation from high school. That’s the most frequent choice, but it’s not how Alex Simone, 28, a 2006 Beth Tfiloh grad, did it. He did the college life first and, once graduating, felt a bit adrift in his early 20s.

“Part of it was just looking for adventure after university,” he admitted. “I was only 22 and I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do this.’ This was something that really connected with me at the time. So, I decided I could do it and eventually found I had to do it.”

For Alex, telling his parents was a little tricky. He knew they would force him to defend his position. So, he researched his way to success.

“They were tough conversations,” he said. “I made sure I did my research and had some plans ahead of time.” His father, Vito Simone, agreed he and his wife, Gail, wanted to ensure their son knew what he was doing.

“When he first brought it up, of course, my wife was scared to death, and we both challenged Alex vigorously to defend his decision,” said Vito, who served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1970s. “That’s our parenting style, I guess you could say.”

Alex made his case, and his family got on board “100 percent,” his dad said.

Alex, in what is apparently the Baltimore special, also joined the Paratroopers Brigade. And what started out as adventure, well, was an adventure, but it was also something more.

“To me, [Israel] means we have a place in the world,” he said. “We have no idea if we would even exist without this place.”

All those who join do so with the knowledge they may be putting their life on the line for the love of Israel — for Jordan Low, a classmate of Yossi’s at Beth Tfiloh who served as a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade, and his family, that became a much more tangible concern in July 2014 when he and fellow soldiers were searching a potential Hamas weapons stash during Operation Protective Edge and the building was struck by two rockets, according to local media reports at the time.

Jordan held the ladder for all his fellow soldiers to get out safely, his father, Jeffrey Low, told the JT at the time, and was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

It takes a certain kind of chutzpah — and commitment — to join up with the armed forces, any armed forces. Perhaps more than other military options, the IDF also has a specific ideological purpose, a tie to an identity that is bigger than just Israel.

“I spent part of my life dedicated to an idea greater than myself,” Yossi said, summing up his complicated thoughts on his time with the IDF. “It was extremely difficult — mentally, physically, being away from my family and America — but, yes, I would do it again.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Larry Ziffer to Step Down from CJE

(Provided)

Rabbi Larry Ziffer, chief executive officer of the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, plans to step down from his position sometime in June after 15 years with the organization.

Ziffer, 65, said this is the right time to leave because he is “ready to step into a new phase” of his life and it is time for someone “new and fresh with different ideas” to lead the CJE.

“It’s been a great run. I have had wonderful opportunities to work with a Jewish group of people,” Ziffer said. “I hope to remain involved in the community in a variety of ways and hope I can do more Jewish studying and teaching.”

Under Ziffer’s direction, the CJE has aimed to provide the necessary tools and resources for improving schools, classrooms and informal learning spaces in Baltimore Jewish day schools. The CJE currently outfits those learning communities with guidance counselors, facility managers, information technology specialists, librarians and marketing professionals to enhance students’ education.

Prior to joining the CJE, Ziffer accumulated a wealth of leadership development experience through more than two decades as a community planner. He worked as a senior planner at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, as planning director of the Jewish Community Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and as vice president for community development at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“In the work that I was doing as a community planner, Baltimore was the top of the line,” Ziffer said. “There might be some communities that are as good as Baltimore, but there aren’t any that are better than Baltimore when it comes to working in a Jewish community.”

While The Associated and CJE are in the early stages of conducting a national search to find his successor, Ziffer doesn’t plan to take it easy during his remaining months on the job. He said there’s a lot of work to do to make a smooth transition for his eventual replacement.

“I don’t want anybody to think that I’m ready to leave yet and have my foot out the door,” Ziffer said. “I’m giving 100 percent until the last day.”

An upstate New York native, Ziffer resides in Pikesville with his wife, Flo. He has four adult children, sons Yossi, Dovi and Ari and daughter Ellie, and “more than a van full” of grandchildren.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com