Fallen Heroes Remembered

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County  Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

Paulette Ohana, the mother of Gene Kirchner, hugs Baltimore County
Executive Kevin Kamenetz during Fallen Heroes Day ceremonies. (Provided)

A year after her little brother’s death, Shelly Brezicki said her family still thinks about Gene Kirchner every single day.

“We had Gene’s unveiling yesterday,” Brezicki said on April 28. “Every day, we remember that Gene’s not here.”

Her brother, a member of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company, was just 25 when he died eight days after being critically injured while trying to rescue someone from a house fire. A resident of the Reisterstown house, Steven Starr, also died in the fire.

Kirchner joined the company as a junior firefighter at 14, and his twin brother, Will, and Brezicki also volunteer there.

For the fire company, Brezicki said, her brother’s death was a sobering reminder of the vulnerable situations in which firefighters instinctively place themselves.

“We, as firefighters, don’t think about the risks that we take when we’re out on calls,” she said. “I think when something like this happens it’s sort of a reality check about the dangers we face on every single call we go out on.”

Kirchner and three others — Perryville firefighter Capt. David Barr Jr., Prince George’s County marine fire rescue volunteer Lt. James D. Brooks Sr. and Baltimore County police officer Jason Schneider — were honored at the 29th annual Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on May 2, exactly one year after Kirchner’s death.

“They wouldn’t give a second thought to their acts of bravery,” said Laurie DeYoung, WPOC radio host and the event’s keynote speaker. “The ultimate act of love is someone who’s willing to lay down their life for another.”

Also speaking at the event was Gladys Falkenhan, widow of Lutherville volunteer firefighter Mark Falkenhan, who was the first Baltimore County firefighter to die in the line of duty in more than 25 years in 2011. He left behind Gladys and their two sons, now 9 and 18.

While she said it has not been easy, she found support in the firefighter community and is training to be a counselor to families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.

“Our family has learned to live its new life,” said Falkenhan.

Speaking to that subject was Karmen Walker Brown, the wife of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost her first husband, Sgt. Anthony Walker of the Prince George’s County Police Department, in 2003.

“Losing someone you love, no matter how you lose them, it changes your life forever,” said Brown. “None of us could choose what happened to our loved ones, but we can choose how to remember them, and we can choose to live our lives to the fullest.”

And Brezicki hopes others will choose to remember her brother for what he did.

“Our biggest hope is that people remember that Gene ran into a burning building to save a stranger, and there is nothing much more heroic than that,” she said. “He ran into a building fully knowing the risk that was involved to save someone he didn’t know.”

Kirchner, a graduate of Owings Mills High School, was remembered as a dedicated firefighter who was either at the fire station, with family or at his job as a dispatch controller with Butler Medical Transport. The Reisterstown fire company posthumously awarded him its Medal of Honor, but Brezicki remembers another gesture that meant the world to her and her family.

The day of Kirchner’s funeral, not only did other fire companies step up to take calls in the Reisterstown company’s area so the department could mourn, but the streets were lined with people, from the station’s Main Street firehouse to Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Lutherville-Timonium.

Brezicki has an even fonder, more vivid memory, of the day her brother and his twin, Will, were born and how it changed the family dynamic.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m no longer the baby, there’s now someone else to be the baby,’” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to be the big sister, and I just loved that role.”


Group Protests Animal Shelter Conditions


(David Stuck)

More than 100 protestors lined the sidewalk in front of the Baltimore County Council’s offices on Washington Avenue in Towson, holding signs with pictures of dogs and cats and shouting call-and-response chants.

“Who kills our dogs and cats?” a woman shouted, to which the crowd answered, “Baltimore County bureaucrats!”

The April 21 protest was organized by a group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services, which is calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the shelter’s kill rate, better facility conditions and veterinary care and an increased volunteer force.

“People have been trying to bring about change at this place for the last couple of years and have been met with resistance from the county,” said Lynn Greene, spokeswoman for the organization. “They are still functioning like a 1940s shelter.”

But Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health, said there is “no merit” to the group’s complaints.

“A lot of things they’re talking about are unfounded,” he said. “All the animals are actively adopted, and we try to work with different rescues and adopt them out to the public as quickly as we can.”

The Baltimore County Division of Animal Services’ shelter is located in Baldwin, a point of contention among Reform BCAS since it’s on the far northeast side of the county, on the border with Harford County.

Branch said the shelter takes in about 2,800 cats and 1,800 dogs per year. Approximately 23 percent of the dogs and 59 percent of the cats are euthanized, he said, a procedure used for sick animals and at owners’ requests.

“If a dog is adoptable or [can be rescued], we will not euthanize that animal unless we have no space,” said Branch.

While Branch disputes the group’s accusations, local activists, animal rescue workers and former volunteers tell horror stories about neglected animals, dirty animal cages and a staff that fired volunteers for questioning the shelter’s conditions.

“I saw things that were so unsanitary, just the spread of disease and sick animals, and I thought I had to let these people know there were ways to do this more effectively, and they didn’t appreciate that at all,” said Kathy Soul, a former kennel owner and dog walker who volunteered from March to July 2013. She said she was “fired” from that position.

“They didn’t seem very receptive to my ideas or suggestions,” added Soul, “and we’re talking about things like, ‘Why don’t you clean out feces at the end of the day? Why don’t you clean out the water bucket between dogs?’”

There are about 50 registered volunteers with the Baltimore County shelter, according to Branch. Protesters contend that number is staggeringly low compared to other shelters. The Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, for example, has about 250 volunteers, at least 125 of whom volunteer in any given month, said executive director Jen Swanson.

Branch acknowledged in a statement that the 30-year-old shelter is inadequate in design and size to meet the shelter’s demand, and he expects that problem to be remedied with a new shelter that will be built on the 14 acres where the current shelter is located.

“We’re going to have a new, state-of-the-art $6 million facility,” he said. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”

The new facility, expected to open in August 2015, will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, a surgical site, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room.

The county also hired two full-time veterinarians in April and introduced public spay-and-neuter services.

But Jody Rasoff, a member of Reform BCAS who works with several rescues, isn’t convinced a new facility will solve what she sees as systemic issues.

“These things can get changed without spending the $6 million on a new shelter,” she said.


A Golden Opportunity

For the first time since the event was founded in 2000, the Greater Baltimore JCC played host to more than 700 middle school athletes, their families and their coaches for last Sunday’s Junior Maccabi Games. The young athletes, ages 10 to 12, competed in baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis and table tennis at the Owings Mills JCC, McDonogh School, Stevenson University, Owings Mills High School, New Town High School and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

The all-day event, which kicked off Saturday night with a pregame party and Havdalah service, was chaired by Larry Plant and Ben Zager and organized by Paul Lurie, senior program director and Junior Maccabi director, and Brad Kerxton, director of middle school services.

“Everyone is here to represent a Jewish community, and all of us are coming together at the games,” said Barak Hermann, president of the JCC, on the day of the event. “It gives us another reason to be proud and to celebrate our Jewish heritage.”

Dan Kurtz of Bucks County, Pa., the father of 11-year-old Olivia, who competed in girls’ soccer for the second year in a row, said the Games were a great experience.

“It was well organized, and they have great facilities. It’s always nice to see a lot of Jewish kids together,” he said. “The games were competitive and honored the spirit of competition, but there was a different feeling than a regular soccer game.”

Stephanie and Marc Cramer of Newtown, Pa., were at the JCC with their 11-year-old son, Ben, a first-time Junior Maccabi basketball player.

“Ben had a great time, meeting kids from other communities,” said Stephanie Cramer. “It was wonderful to see kids playing the games they love with other Jewish kids.

“This facility is amazing,” she added. “We don’t even have a JCC where we live. We have to drive 25 minutes to get to the Princeton/Mercer/Bucks County JCC. Our kids don’t get to be around other Jewish kids like this except at summer camp.”

The Cramers hope their son will participate in the teen Maccabi games when he is old enough.

Cory Rosen’s son, Drew, a 12-year-old Beth Tfiloh student who competed in the basketball competition, plans to participate in the teen Maccabi games next year. Drew plays for his school team and in the Reisterstown recreation league. Rosen, who spends a lot of her time driving her son to his games, was happy that the Junior Maccabi Games took place so close to home.

“Here’s what’s unbelievable,” said Emily Goren, a past Maccabi chair. “When I came in [to work on the Maccabi games] there were 200 kids; [this year] there were almost 800.”

Lurie was equally enthusiastic about the growth of the event.

“At first, the games were more regional. Now we get a great cross-section of participants,” he said. “We have a fantastic steering committee, who had been working to bring this off since January.”

Concession stand volunteer Mark Hotz was happy the weather held up.

“Everyone had a good time, and this really shows off Baltimore and our JCC,” he said.

“We hope they’ll all be inspired to participate in the senior games,” said Hermann. “It’s another experience [for the youngsters] to add to their Jewish memory bank.”

Many Baltimore Athletes Took Home Medals

Table Tennis
Avi Goldman — gold
Noah Brenner — gold
Eliav Hamburger — bronze

Boys’ Soccer
Baltimore’s gold soccer team — bronze

Emily Freeman — bronze
Jordan Osterweil — silver
Ethan Silverstein — silver
Vladislav Sergiev — bronze
Brendan Stein — silver
Sydney Huber — silver
Ronen Segal — bronze

Jensen Friedman — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Julia Shpigel — gold for 200 IM, 500 freestyle
Jensen Friedman, Julia Shpigel, Danella Indenbaum, Elyana Fine — gold for girls’ relay


Weinberg Foundation Announces $8 Million Grant

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States, has announced an $8 million grant for the extension of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s existing Weinberg Outpatient Center.

Ellen M. Heller, Weinberg Foundation chair, noted that the Weinberg Foundation awarded this grant because Kennedy Krieger has trained and continues to train hundreds of doctors, therapists and psychologists, who then fan out across the world to help low-income and vulnerable children with disabilities.

In fact, Kennedy Krieger-trained physicians are at the Shriner’s Hospital in Honolulu, one of the Weinberg Foundation’s hometown communities that include Baltimore, Northeastern Pennsylvania and Israel.

The new building will serve children with neurodevelopmental disorders and house group therapy rooms, exam and treatment rooms and a controlled multisensory environment for children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Space equipped for telemedicine will also be a part of the building extension as will office space for Kennedy Krieger’s growing staff representing more than 20 clinical specialties.

Weinberg Foundation Makes Key Move

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States, has named Jonathan D. Hook as its first chief investment officer. Hook will work closely with the foundation’s Board of Trustees and with Rachel Garbow Monroe, the Weinberg Foundation’s president/CEO, to refine the foundation’s investment strategy.

Hook, 56, comes to the Weinberg Foundation from The Ohio State University, where he served as vice president and chief investment officer.

Hook will also build an internal investment team to assist him. After a twenty-year career in commercial banking, he transitioned to a career in institutional investment management when he was hired to build Baylor University’s investment office in 2001. He subsequently helped to found the Ohio State University Investment Office in 2008.

FIDF to Host Spring Fundraiser

Baltimore’s chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces will play host to the IDF’s Naval Ensemble next week as part of its mission to raise funds to support Israeli troops.

“We want a warm, wonderful Baltimore welcome [for the soldiers],” said Shelly Lohmann, the organization’s director of development. For each of the singing soldiers, it will be their first visit to the United States, and Baltimore is the group’s first stop before it heads to Atlanta for another FIDF event.

“It’s raising money and it’s raising awareness,” Lohmann said of the event. Having only been founded in 2008, the Baltimore chapter of the FIDF is, in many ways, “the newest kid on the block.”

This is the first time since 2010 that the FIDF in Baltimore has hosted an Israeli military singing ensemble.

The Baltimore fundraiser, in addition to featuring the performance by the Israeli Navy singers, will honor founding Mid-Atlantic FIDF executive director Charlie Levine, who left his position last year. Noah Abrams, who for his bar mitzvah hosted a basketball tournament over the winter to benefit the FIDF, will also be recognized along with local families of lone soldiers.

The organization’s hope for the evening, said Lohmann, is not only to raise money for the scholarships and other support mechanisms it funds, but also to provide families of local soldiers serving overseas with a network of other families who are going through the same experience.

The event, which organizers expect to attract between 400 and 500 people, will take place at Beth El Congregation’s Offit Auditorium on Tuesday, May 13. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets start at $36 per person.


PSA, Armada Join Forces

Hunt Valley-based PSA Insurance & Financial Services, Inc., a leading regional financial services firm specializing in employee benefits, risk management, wealth management and fiduciary consulting for employer-sponsored retirement plans, has announced a merger with Armada Employer Services, the retail employee benefit consulting and HR services division of ArmadaCorp.

Armada Employer Services, headquartered in Hunt Valley, is a leading regional provider of strategic employee benefits consulting and customized HR support services, including a unique integrated approach to HR and benefits that uses both technology and talent-based solutions.

“We are thrilled to be combining forces with Armada’s Employer Services Division and are excited about the unique value proposition they offer around strategic employee benefits consulting and HR support services,” said Ken Huber, senior vice president of PSA’s Employee Benefit Group.

Questioning The Calls

Pikesville native Adam Gladstone mans the Orioles’ instant replay position, in which he can challenge questionable calls by umpires. ( David Stuck)

Pikesville native Adam Gladstone mans the Orioles’ instant replay position, in which he can challenge questionable calls by umpires. (David Stuck)

Adam Gladstone can’t take a single pitch off during Orioles games.

“If at any point Buck [Showalter] ever asks, ‘Listen, what’s the count and how did we get there?’ then I can recite exactly how we got to that count,” Gladstone said of the O’s manager.

The Pikesville native, 42, is the first person to man the Orioles’ instant replay role. This is the first season Major League Baseball has a system in which managers can challenge plays, and teams around the league have added positions such as Gladstone’s.

It’s his job to recommend which calls the team should challenge by finding camera angles that show umpiring errors.

“We need clear and concise — those are the buzzwords — clear and concise evidence to show that the call was incorrect,” explained Gladstone.

While he watches every pitch, tracks hits, outs and where runners are, he’s also looking for visual cues from players and coaches. That’s what helped him score his first victory in his first challenge on April 19 at Fenway Park in Boston. When right fielder Nelson Cruz was called out at first base after hitting a groundball to third, Gladstone saw the reactions from Cruz and first-base coach Wayne Kirby.

Gladstone found the right camera angle and called Orioles bench coach John Russell, who relayed to Showalter that the call warranted a challenge. It took less than a minute, Gladstone said, for umpires at the game to contact MLB’s replay center in New York and review the play. The Orioles won the challenge and scored a run because there were runners on first and third when Cruz was at bat.

Through two television monitors, Gladstone has access to all of the camera angles from whichever networks are broadcasting the game, as well as one stationary camera from the Orioles that shows the entire stadium.

The lifelong Orioles fan, who spent time as a minor league umpire and worked in baseball operations for Israel’s World Baseball Classic team, vividly remembers the first time he set foot in Memorial Stadium. It was 1977, he was 5 years old, and he went to the game with his father, their next-door neighbor and his daughter.

“That was the first time I ever walked into a major league stadium, and for me, it was something special,” said Gladstone. “I learned at that point that I wanted to know more about the game.”

He grew up playing baseball in Pikesville’s recreational league and played four years of varsity baseball at Boys’ Latin. After college, he knew his career was not going to be as a player. It seemed to work out for him.

“Umpiring took me to a level that I would have never reached as a player,” he said.

He umpired for four years in independent minor leagues, managed teams in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League and worked in player procurement, helping assemble teams in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs.

Throughout his career, he connected with members of the tribe, having coached the Maccabi baseball team in 1993, 1994 and 1995. In 2012, his network of Jewish major league managers expanded when he ran baseball operations for Israel’s WBC team. He made sure the team was set up with everything it needed when it arrived in the U.S. that fall.

“That was truly something for me, to be able to give back to my religion through baseball,” said Gladstone. “The real reason why there was an
Israeli World Baseball Classic team was because it was really used as a platform to help grow the game of baseball in Israel.”

In Baltimore, he maintains ties to the Jewish community as a member of Temple Oheb Shalom. His children attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and the Learning Ladder at Oheb.

“I have not been to Israel, even though the [Israel Association of Baseball] continues to ask me to come over,” he said. “I’ve told them I’m a little busy right now.”

His diverse experience, especially the umpiring, is what helped him land his new position with the Orioles.

“I’ve always followed the Orioles. That being said, Buck wanted someone who was going to do the job objectively, who always had the Orioles’ best interests at hand,” said Gladstone.

And the opportunity to be on the ground level of a new addition to Major League Baseball, in addition to the sacrifices his family has had to make, is not something he takes lightly.

“I know that there’s no guarantee there’s a tomorrow in this game,” he said. “So the fact that I’m able to be here now and do it is not something that’s lost on me.”


Chabad Launches Paradigm Shift Course



As the movement approaches the 20th anniversary of the passing of its Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Chabad-Lubavitch’s adult education initiative is spearheading a course that focuses on key elements of the leader’s teachings.

The new course from the Rohr-Jewish Learning Institute — Paradigm Shift — will be offered at Chabad centers throughout the region, including at Chabad of Park Heights. Instead of the movement dwindling in the two decades since Schneerson’s passing, noted Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon of the Park Heights center, “his teachings and words have taken on a life of their own.”

Chabad-Lubavitch had already emerged as a growing force in American and international Jewish life when Schneerson passed away on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz in 1994, but over the years, thousands more of the movement’s representatives have taken up positions in established and far-flung communities the world over.

Chabad “has changed only in the sense that the outreach has changed in enormous proportions,” explained Lisbon.

The new course begins May 14 and runs once a week for six weeks. Dedicated to Schneerson’s memory, it will focus on six key areas, with each week’s lesson centering on a new area. The first week will focus on the opportunity and goodness that exist under life’s surface. Another week will discuss each person’s personal relationship with God.

As of the second week of May, close to 35 people had signed up for the classes. Lisbon expects at least 20 more to take part.

At the end of the series, Lisbon hopes participants will walk away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Schneerson’s message. He wants students to understand “how they can change their world and the world around them in a good way,” he said.

As for the success of the movement, which is one of the largest and most recognizable Hasidic organizations in the world, Lisbon attributes it to Chabad’s spirituality.

“I think people today are looking for something of true substance,” he said.

Classes, which begin at 7:30 p.m. and run for 90 minutes, will be held at Chabad of Park Heights. The course will also be offered at Chabad ARIEL, Chabad of Owings Mills and Harford Community College. For more information, visit myjli.com.


Area Dentist’s Chemistry Book Gets Boost

Michael Rosen (provided)

Michael Rosen

Cengage Learning, a leading educational content, software and services company for K-12 and higher education, has attained the rights to The Guide to Surviving General Chemistry, a text book written by Baltimore resident and dentist Michael Rosen. At 21, Rosen self-published a chemistry text book with the goal to help chemistry students nationwide understand a complicated topic.

“What better way to help your peers avoid the same hardship of going through a difficult college science course than to write a book as a student for your fellow students?” asked Rosen. “After witnessing firsthand how difficult some college courses can be, especially those that are required for you to progress in your major, I set out to put a stop to the frustration associated with general chemistry.”