Free Books for Milbrook Students

Second-grader Erin Bess looks through her options at Milbrook Elementary School’s free book fair, which is made possible through donations supplied  by Jewish Volunteer Connection’s  Bookworms program. (Marc Shapiro)

Second-grader Erin Bess looks through her options at Milbrook Elementary School’s free book fair, which is made possible through donations supplied
by Jewish Volunteer Connection’s
Bookworms program. (Marc Shapiro)

Students were in a festive mood at Milbrook Elementary School. Not for recess, not for a party, but for a book fair.

And this wasn’t an average book fair. Students in first through fifth grades were able to choose three books to take home for free. Those with younger siblings could grab two more books if they promised to read with them.

The April 9 book fair, in its second year, was run by Bookworms, a reading program of Jewish Volunteer Connection, in conjunction with second-grade teacher Laurie Rosenberg.

“We are a Title I school, so our kids don’t have all the resources at home,” said Rosenberg, the school’s Bookworms coordinator.

As provided for by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was passed in 1965, the Title I designation is given to economically disadvantaged schools to provide them with extra resources.

According to Rosenberg, who, after taking over from reading teacher Jenny Raivel, was the program’s coordinator last year as well, the students “are so excited to be able to get books for free.”

Bookworms volunteers, who have been active at the school for four years, collected more than 1,200 books for this year’s fair, doubling last year’s number. There were books by Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling, as well as volumes from the ever-popular Nancy Drew series.

“A lot of these children have immigrant parents who don’t speak English at home, so they can’t help them with their homework,” said volunteer Sherry Billig, adding that many students likewise don’t have books at home. “The majority of students at Milbrook qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and many are being raised in single-family or grandparent-guardian situations.”

Billig and other volunteers read to eight first-grade and eight second-grade classes at the school once a month; she said the school and its community are extremely supportive of the program. She is hoping to set up a partnership with the McDonogh School nearby in which students would fulfill their service learning hours by tutoring Milbrook students.

The kids at Millbrook love the volunteers, said Billig, and will sit on their laps, play with their jewelry or check out their nail polish.

“The kids get so excited as soon as they hear us coming in,” she said. “They say, ‘The Bookworms are here! The Bookworms are here!’”

At the book fair, students picked over donated books that volunteers cleaned and categorized. Fourth-grader Myles Johnson couldn’t wait to finish his lunch and pick his books out.

“I like how they’re free and if kids want to read at home, they can have books,” he said, adding that his favorite books are adventure books and books about basketball.

Second-grader Erin Bess picked her books, including “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Double Trouble” based on a Disney Channel show.

“You get it for free!” she said as she waited to label her books.

Assistant principal Kim O’Connor was all smiles as she watched students rush into the rooms filled with books.

“It’s a remarkable program,” she said of Bookworms. “They’re a very generous group of women.”

Billig has a team of 32 volunteers and dispatches 16 of them on each monthly visit so each class has a volunteer to read to them.

Annette Ingerman, a second-year Bookworm and former teacher, was ecstatic to see student after student walking out with their bundles.

“The last time I read, I was walking out of the classroom and one of the boys gave me the biggest hug,” she said. “I walk out with my heart warmed from all of this.”

The book fair got a boost this year from Zach Charapp, Billig’s nephew, who chose the fair as his bar mitzvah service project. Through family, friends and his school, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, the seventh-grader collected about 150 books. The donated books, which included several from Charapp’s collection, were used as center pieces at his bar mitzvah reception.

“I like to give away stuff,” he said. “I didn’t need them and wanted to give them to people that needed them.”

Books were also collected by JVC staff members who held birthday parties for their kids and asked adults to bring a book to donate; another Bookworm volunteer who had a Christmas party asked guests to bring books instead of wine.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and this community has certainly come together to support this very important project,” said Billig.

Chametz Burned, Donated at Pimlico

The Baltimore community gathered at the Pimlico Race Course Clubhouse parking lot on Monday, April 14, to burn and donate its chametz just before the start of Passover.

The pre-Passover tradition involves ridding homes of leavened foods to prepare for the holiday. For the second year, community members were not only able to burn their opened chametz, but to donate their unopened chametz as well. The collection, organized by the nonprofit Park Heights Renaissance, benefited food pantries in northwest Baltimore.

“I came up with the idea a couple of years ago, when not only witnessing [and] realizing how much unopened food we throw out, but also when members of the community asked if we could place food on the church’s step  across the street from the race course,” Betsy Gardner, the neighborhood liaison for the Jewish community in the 5th, 6th and 7th Baltimore districts for City Council President Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young, said via email.

The event was organized by the city of Baltimore, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Star-K.

Jewish Times to air on Shalom USA Radio

Beginning May 4, “Get with the Times,” a 15-minute radio segment featuring Baltimore Jewish Times news, staff and guests will air each Sunday at 9 a.m. on Shalom USA radio, 1370-AM.

Jay Bernstein, host and producer of the show, which airs from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sundays, provides Baltimore’s Jewish community programming on diverse topics, including Israel, education, political commentary, trends in American Jewish life and Jewish communities abroad. Shalom USA also features Jewish music, books and culture, holiday features and current events.

By providing a forum for organizations such as the JT, Shalom USA furthers its mission of “providing radio programming that covers an eclectic array of topics and viewpoints and that appeals to broad segments of the Baltimore Jewish community,” said Bernstein.

“We are thrilled that the JT team will be appearing weekly on Shalom USA and bringing their unique perspective and expertise on the issues, people and events that are making news in Baltimore and throughout the Jewish world,” he said.

Legacy of Loss

Alice Herz-Sommer was 110 years old when she passed away in February. Born in Prague, but living in London at the time of her death, she was believed to have been the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust. Sommer’s passing, as well as the recent deaths of several prominent survivors in Baltimore’s Jewish community, are grim reminders that these individuals won’t be around forever. When they pass on, they take their stories with them.

But it needn’t be that way, say those who work with survivors and the Jewish community at large. Against a backdrop of unprecedented rates of intermarriage and assimilation — and a Pew Research Center finding that 73 percent of Jews define their Jewish identities in terms of the Holocaust — they grapple with how the loss of survivors will ultimately impact the Jewish people’s future.

“Of course it is true that we are in a period of transition,” said Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel for the World Jewish Congress and founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “Survivors are dwindling.

“We are at a point where the torch and the obligation of transmitting our parents’ and grandparents’ memories is falling on the shoulders of the children and grandchildren of the survivors,” continued Rosensaft, who also serves as the senior vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. “We have to provide reassurance to the survivors that their legacy and the memories they have conveyed to the world over the past 70 years will be preserved, guarded and transmitted into the future.”

Part of the issue is that the collective memories of Holocaust survivors can be tools with which to keep Holocaust remembrance — and the prevention of future genocides — alive.

Rosensaft, who was born to two concentration camp survivors while the family was living in Bergen-Belsen’s deportation camp in 1948, will present the keynote address at this year’s Community Yom Hashoah program on April 27 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation. His topic is, “Has the World Learned?” His answer is, “Yes and no.”

“I teach about the evolving law of genocide at the law schools of two ivy league universities,” said Rosensaft. “There has been tremendous progress since 1945. There were numerous post-World War II trials such as the Bergen-Belsen trial and the international military tribunal at Nuremberg, and at least a good number have been of Nazi war criminals who have been brought to justice. We now have the Genocide Convention. … [But] we have to look with real apprehension at some of the political developments in Hungary and Greece, where there has been a very troubling rise in right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism. The fact that they may be targeting other groups such as the Roma shouldn’t let us off the hook. We can’t only be opposed to Nazis or neo-Nazis when they persecute Jews.”

While Rosensaft points to modern-day genocide and the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe as evidence of the continued need for Holocaust-centered discussion, some critics such as attorney Alan Dershowitz believe that the current emphasis on Holocaust studies hasn’t done much to ensure the continuation of modern American Jewry.

“American Jewish life is in danger of disappearing, just as most American Jews have achieved everything we ever wanted: acceptance, influence, affluence, equality,” he writes in “The Vanishing American Jew.” “Our long history of victimization has prepared us to defend against those who would destroy us out of hatred; indeed, our history has forged a Jewish identity far too dependent on persecution and victimization by our enemies. But today’s most serious threats come not from those who would persecute us, but from those who would, without any malice, kill us with kindness — by assimilating us, marrying us and merging with us out of respect, admiration and even love.”

Rosensaft acknowledges that Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism are not reasons to be Jewish, yet that doesn’t lessen its importance to the Jewish people, he says.

“If that was the reason to stay Jewish, then the reasonable response would be, ‘If I wasn’t a Jew, I wouldn’t be persecuted so I’m not going to be Jewish,’” he explained. “There have been watershed moments in our history, such as the Holocaust or the founding of Israel or the revelation at Sinai or the destructions of the Temples. These are all important aspects of our history and shape our identities. But they don’t determine our identity.

“We remember the Holocaust and the victims of the Holocaust because we owe it to them,” he said. “After the Shoah, Jewish history was forever changed. It has become a permanent part of our history.”


Harry Kozlovsky holds a photo of his father, Leon, a Holocaust survivor who made sure his children attended a Jewish day school.

Baltimore’s Second Generation
A former president of the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust Remembrance Commission, Harry Kozlovksy, is an IT digital project manager for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and partner in He believes strongly that the children of survivors, the “second-generation survivors” such as himself, must do all they can to keep the memories of their parents alive. He believes the future of Judaism depends upon it.

“We have a burden, an obligation to make sure our children know, so they can instill it in future generations,” said Kozlovsky.

Growing up, the Pikesville resident wasn’t sure why his mother, Rose Kozlovsky, seemed sad. She never talked about the war. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after his parents agreed to be videotaped for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, that Kozlovsky and his younger brother, Bernie, learned about her traumatic past.

“She was from a town called Sosnowitz in Poland. Her whole life changed when she was 10 years old and the Germans came in,” said Kozlovsky, 56. “She was pulled out of her mother’s arms crying when she was 12. … She was taken to Gross-Rosen concentration camp. She never saw her parents again.”

Even after the taping, Kozlovsky’s mother, who passed away in January at the age of 86, was resistant to talk about her wartime experiences. The youngest girl in her concentration camp, she was comforted by older teenagers who told her to be strong.

“She held demons inside her all her life,” said her son.

Kozlovsky’s father, Leon Koz-lovsky, is also a survivor. Born in Krevo, Russia, he escaped the concentration camps because of his wits, Aryan looks and a Ukrainian factory owner who protected him. At 94, though quite ill and a patient at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center, the former owner of the successful Leon’s grocery store in Baltimore was more willing to talk to his children about the Holocaust.

“He came from a very religious family and wanted to be sure Bernie and I went to Jewish day school,” said Kozlovsky.

Because of his parents’ histories, Kozlovsky, who attended Talmudical Academy, has always felt different than most of the other children he knew. That feeling, he said, “has driven a passion in me and the way I see the world, other people, my kids.”

Like his father, Kozlovsky made sure that his own children, David, 24, and Joanna, 18, were both educated about Jud-aism. He worries that Jews who haven’t been personally touched by the Holocaust may lose sight of its importance as survivors pass on. Without that connection, he fears, rates of assimilation will continue to grow and the Jewish people will disappear.

“Maybe we connect Jews to the Holocaust by celebrating the lives of their children,” he offered. “Many of them have built themselves up from nothing. Maybe we set up a screen at the JCC, where typical Jews walk back and forth and learn about the Holocaust through the successes of the children of survivors. We have to be strategic.”

Exhibit Explores Eugenics, Nazi Medicine

Students at the Berlin School for the Blind examine racial head models, circa 1935. Students were taught Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance  and the purported application of those laws to human heredity and principles  of race. During the Third Reich, German-born deaf or blind, like those born with mental illnesses or disabilities, were urged to submit to compulsory sterilization as a civic duty. (Blinden-Museum an der Johann-August-Zeune-Schule für Blinde, Berlin)

Students at the Berlin School for the Blind examine racial head models, circa 1935. Students were taught Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance and the purported application of those laws to human heredity and principlesof race. During the Third Reich, German-born deaf or blind, like those born with mental illnesses or disabilities, were urged to submit to compulsory sterilization as a civic duty. (Blinden-Museum an der Johann-August-Zeune-Schule für Blinde, Berlin)

The idea of eugenics, the study and practice of improving mankind through selective reproduction, was widespread in the scientific community decades before the Nazis took power.

Many credit 19th-century British anthropologist Francis Galton as the father of eugenics, which was popular before much was known about hereditary traits.

“He had a very positive vision focusing on people considered more desirable to have more babies,” said Susan Bachrach, curator of special exhibitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “and more desirable meant people like him, more educated types.”

The early history of eugenics and its role during the Nazi reign and Holocaust is chronicled in “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” which is exhibited at the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland, Baltimore through April 30.

Not only did eugenics inspire racist marriage laws and permit sterilization in the U.S., but some scholars say it laid the groundwork for the Nazis to carry out genocide of the Jewish people.

“They were concerned about the health of the German nation, and the way they defined nation was a very ethnically exclusive idea,” said Bachrach, curator of the exhibit.

“I think few people walk through here and leave with the same sense of mind they came in with,” said Aphrodite Bodycomb, associate director for administration and operations at the library.

The exhibit captures the sobering truths about the spread of eugenics, which got support from the German government and medical community in the 1920s, as well as the doctors and nurses who killed disabled adults, children and, later, Jewish people under what was once a widespread scientific idea.

“We show [the doctors] as respectable, sometimes even prominent, figures in their profession to show people, to try to dispel the myth that Nazi doctors were fringe quacks, these ideas that distance us conveniently from this history because we don’t want to think these were normal people engaging in their work,” said Bachrach.

In the U.S., eugenics spread, especially among Americans paranoid about immigrants adding to their gene pools. In 1924, Virginia enacted a law prohibiting Caucasians from marrying those of “other blood.”  A book titled “Mongrel Virginians” was printed in 1926 by the Williams & Wilkens Company, based in Baltimore. By 1933, 26 states had laws permitting sterilization. About 16,000 Americans were sterilized between 1909 and 1933, half of them in California.

“We printed this stuff,” said Bodycomb. “We were talking about this stuff in the U.S.”

In 1927, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics opened in Berlin, raising German health officials’ confidence in eugenics.

“Many physicians and scientists who embraced eugenics legitimized and helped implement Nazi policies,” an exhibit display said. “Many also collaborated in purging Jews and political ‘unreliables’ from universities, research institutes, hospitals and public health care.”


The Nazis sponsored eugenic research, public education campaigns — some of which included information about the dangers of alcohol and nicotine — and implemented sterilization of adults and children with disabilities. Around 400,000 Germans were sterilized between 1934 and 1945. Propaganda included items such as the “Ten Commandments of Choosing A Mate” and charts defining Jews and “hybrids,” people with Jewish blood.

Under Nazi rule, Germans began a program they called “euthanasia.” Between 1939 and 1945, 5,000 Germans boys and girls born with physical and mental disabilities were killed through starvation, medical overdoses and other means. Some doctors, many of whom were never brought to justice, saw this as a research opportunity.

“[One doctor] commented on what a wonderful opportunity this was to get a hold of hundreds of brains of children with different kinds of conditions you would never have access to,” Bachrach said. “So, it was an opportunity for his career and science.”

An estimated 200,000 adults were killed in similar ways. Between 1940 and 1941, 70,000 institutionalized German adults, most of whom were not Jewish, were killed in gas chambers disguised as showers in Germany and Austria. The idea of using chambers to gas people and crematories to dispose of corpses would extend to concentration camps, with many medical staffers from “euthanasia” facilities manning the installations of gas chambers.

The exhibit features films of women who were sterilized recounting their experiences, photos of disabled children who were killed in the name of eugenics, photos that were used to point out facial features and information on the doctors who took part in eugenics.

Bodycomb said the exhibit serves as a great education piece for students at the university, who are from all over the world and have varying degrees of knowledge about this piece of history.

“There’s no built-in moral compass in these fields, so we need people thinking about ethical issues related to use of medicine in science,” said Bachrach.

The message resonated with visitors. Some wrote that they cried over the lives lost, while others wrote that it was difficult but important to see.

“We cannot forget,” one post wrote. “We must educate and stop these practices.”

Secretary’s Standing Goes ‘Poof’

Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice  Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief  negotiator Saeb Erekat were all smiles when the peace talks started in July. (State Department photo/ Public Domain

Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat were all smiles when the peace talks started in July.
(State Department photo/ Public Domain

After spending more than two-and-a-half hours testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry is fending off criticism from all sides, as Democrats, Republicans and members of the media accuse him of blaming Israelis for derailing peace negotiations.

During a hearing held as a review of the State Department’s $46.2 billion budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, most of the conversation dealt with the foreign policy implications of Russian actions in and around eastern Ukraine. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was the first to breach the topic of the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“Can you just bring us up to date as to the prognosis of where we are in regards to the peace discussions?” Cardin asked the top U.S. diplomat.

Kerry offered a timeline of the events that he said led to the talks’ derailment the week before. Israel had delayed the fourth round of an agreed-upon release of Palestinian prisoners, he pointed out, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 U.N. agreements in contravention of a pledge to not seek greater international recognition of a Palestinian state prior to April 29.

“The people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] the space to be able to [reach an agreement] in exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and [the Palestinians] not going to the U.N.,” he said. “Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released … and so a day went by, day two went by, day three went by, and then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.”

Judging by statements made after the testimony by a State Department spokesman, Kerry intended to place responsibility for the breakdown on both sides’ being “unhelpful” in moving the negotiations forward. Observers on Capitol Hill, however, read in Kerry’s remarks a greater emphasis on Israeli misdeeds.

“He put that postscript in, which I thought was unfortunate because I don’t believe that’s at all the reason,” Cardin told the Washington Jewish Week. “The question is whether the Palestinians are sincere about moving forward with a peace agreement and we’ve seen this before: Every time we get close, there doesn’t seem to be the courage among the Palestinian leaders.”

Later, Kerry sought to chart a way forward in the negotiations.

“Our teams are still having some discussion on the ground,” he said. “There was a long meeting yesterday between Palestinians and Israelis, and I’m not going to suggest anything is imminent, but one always has to remain hopeful in this very difficult, complicated process.”

Soon after Kerry’s testimony, a sea of denunciations followed on editorial pages and blogs.

Neri Zilber, visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, took note of the remarks but faulted the media for creating an issue out of what he thinks to be Kerry trying to appear objective.

“If you go back and listen to the hearings, my own interpretation of what Kerry said was that he was laying out a timeline, and I think that’s actually right,” said Zilber. “It’s an interesting development, what happened in the hearing, but I don’t think it should be blown out of proportion like certain other – especially Israeli – papers are portraying it.”

Cardin acknowledged that the overall message Kerry tried to present about his department’s efforts was optimistic. But his colleagues on the committee were less than conciliatory.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went so far as to suggest that the onetime senator’s efforts – Kerry had at one point chaired the Foreign Relations Committee before being tapped by President Obama to lead the State Department – were a dismal failure.

“The Israeli-Palestinian talks, even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished,” said McCain.

“Well, senator, let me begin with the place that you began with your premature judgment about the failure of everything,” Kerry replied. “I guess it’s pretty easy to lob those judgments around but particularly well before the verdict is in on any of them.”

“It is stopped,” McCain fired back. “Recognize reality.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to clear the controversy surrounding Kerry’s “poof” comment, saying that the secretary was surprised at the attention it is getting.

“The truth is … if you look at the full context of his comments, he went out of his way to credit Prime Minister Netanyahu for making tough choices,” said Psaki. “And you’ll remember … that he began his comments by very matter of factly referring to the unhelpful and provocative steps the Palestinians took by going on television and, of course, announcing their intention to join U.N. treaties.”

Following the hearing, the committee met privately with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a closed door meeting, which Cardin described as a “meeting among friends.” Lieberman has been in the U.S. for the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City and was invited to Washington for meetings with the committee, Obama and Kerry.

Despite the apparent hopelessness surrounding the talks, Cardin was clear that he still believes U.S. involvement is necessary and feels that the secretary indicated that more progress was being made than has been publicly acknowledged.

“I think we have to keep trying,” said Cardin, “and I hope that the international community would – particularly as it relates to the Palestinians – explain to Mr. Abbas that moving forward with a peace agreement recognizing the Jewish State of Israel would be in the best interest of the Palestinians.” contributed to this story.




For the many members of the Jewish community who more or less avoid consuming chametz year-round, Passover brings welcome relief.

“Passover is a big treat for everybody,” said Chana Fishkind, who, along with her two sons, maintains a gluten-free diet. Her husband, she said, just goes with the flow.

Two years ago, Fishkind discovered that her youngest son, who is now 5, couldn’t eat gluten. While transitioning to gluten-free cooking for him, she realized that she was sensitive to gluten too and felt a lot better when she avoided the protein, which is commonly found in wheat and other grains.

While holidays such as Chanukah and Purim may require those who are gluten-free to avoid staples such as jelly doughnuts and hamantashen or seek special recipes, Passover is a holiday where, thanks to halachah, many of those with dietary restrictions can eat just like everybody else.

For Aviva Kidorf, who has severe allergies that require her to avoid gluten, Passover is her favorite holiday.

“Passover doesn’t affect me as much,” she said, comparing the spring holiday with other holidays in the Jewish calendar. Unlike the other holidays, when she watches her family and friends consume some of her once-favorite and now-forbidden foods, she is able to eat most things at her family’s Passover Seder table, although her additional avoidance of sugar does require her to bake her own special desserts.

“I don’t miss things [on Passover],” she said. “Just my Keurig.”

Fishkind and Kidorf are far from alone. Celiac disease, which causes an immune reaction to gluten, is especially common in the Jewish community. Unfortunately for many of the Jewish sufferers of celiac, many staple Jewish foods contain gluten — and lots of it.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Wow, I could never do that,’ and I said, ‘You would if you had to,’” said Fishkind. “It’s become a part of our lives.”

Both women’s diets require them to get imaginative in the kitchen. For Fishkind, whose youngest son also cannot have eggs and eldest cannot have nuts, potatoes are a staple. She’s also experimented with pancakes that use banana in place of dairy and flour and even found a recipe for avocado mousse she plans to try for the holiday.

“I have creative cookie recipes that don’t need eggs and use margarine instead,” she said. “I do potato kugel — I substitute zucchini for that. I’ve learned to work with things.”

Recently, that work has become increasingly easier. With the growing popularity of gluten-free food among even those with no dietary restrictions and increased awareness of conditions such as celiac, options for those like Fishkind and Kidorf have exploded in stores such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. Fishkind even sells her own baked goods, including doughnuts and hamantaschen, and business has been great. A lot of her customers aren’t even Orthodox.

Matzoh options have also expanded over time. While years ago people with gluten ailments may have been unable to partake in the eating of matzoh, now there are multiple companies that produce gluten-free varieties, although some special rules apply.

“Growing up, we never heard of such a thing. But a lot of the food products are changing to make it cheaper to make,” said Fishkind. “When my older son first started it was horrendous.”

Kansas Gunman Targets JCC

A gunman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan killed three people outside of two Jewish facilities in Kansas City Sunday. (DAVE KAUP/REUTERS/Newscom)

A gunman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan killed three people outside of two Jewish facilities in Kansas City Sunday.

Kansas’ tight-knit Jewish community was rocked just one day before the beginning of Passover as a gunman took the lives of three people in attacks just minutes apart outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a local retirement home.

According to various news reports, at about 1 p.m., shots were reported outside the JCC’s theater entrance, where auditions were being held for a singing competition for area teenagers. One man was reportedly killed at the scene, while another died at a local hospital. The suspect then fled to the Village Shalom community and opened fire, killing one woman before fleeing to a school, where he was arrested.

Police arrested Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., who also goes by Frazier Glenn Cross, a white supremacist and former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, reports said.

Two others were shot at, but not injured. Some reports said that the gunman asked people if they were Jewish before firing his weapon and that he shouted “Heil Hitler” about the time of his arrest.

A post on the Overland Park JCC’s Facebook page said the institution was closed on Monday. As people in cities across the country finished their last-minute Passover preparations — the eight-day festival began Monday night — many JCCs, including those in the Owings Mills and Park Heights, benefited from a beefed-up police presence.

Local Jewish organizations joined in solidarity to express sympathies to the Jewish community of Kansas City.

“We join in sorrow and horror with Jewish communities around the world as we begin to process the tragedy in Kansas City. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry still exist in today’s world and humanity must unite in its promotion of tolerance, acceptance and loving kindness,” read a joint statement by Howard Friedman, chairman of the board, and Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims and to the entire Kansas City community as they deal with this senseless violence.”

Michael Hoffman, vice president of community planning and allocations at The Associated, called the event “horrific” and “senseless.”

“Security is always our highest priority and we always take a significant amount of measures to ensure the safety, not just of members of the JCC, but to all members of the Jewish community,” he said.

Barak Hermann, president of JCC of Greater Baltimore, said the JCC trains staff annually and runs drills periodically for emergency situations.

“I think that these events remind us to have a heightened awareness of what’s happening,” he said. “Our job is to make sure people come here and they feel it’s a home away from home, they feel safe and secure.”

A Baltimore City Police car was parked by the front entrance to the Weinberg Park Heights JCC Monday morning. Member Elaine Janovsky said she “felt a little uneasy and on edge” about coming to the JCC, but she and her husband did so anyway.

Keisha Maldonado, a mother of three, said this type of violence is always in the back of her mind as she entered the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC Monday morning.

“I always think twice about things like this,” she said. “I don’t even go to the Columbia mall anymore.”

Howard Cohen and his wife Shirley, JCC members for about five years, said they had “no second thoughts” about working out Monday morning.

A letter to JCC members from Hermann and Will Minkin, chairman of the board at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said they are continuing to monitor the situation.

“We have been in touch with the police department from both Baltimore City and county and were able to immediately secure police presence at both our campuses until we verified that the tragedy was an isolated incident,” the letter said.

Baltimore County Police Cpl. John Wachter said police are being watchful and “extra vigilant.”

“Any time there’s anything … national that might have an impact on the safety of people in Baltimore County, we’re going to adjust our operations accordingly,” he said.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the council’s sympathies go out to the Jewish community and the victims.

“Baltimore, like other Jewish communities throughout the United States, recognizes that lone-wolf attacks like this one are very difficult to prevent, but what is of great concern as well is the continued perpetuation of hatred in our politics, the media, etc.,” he said. “We need to do something about this and it is not acceptable to preach hatred.”

Washington-area Jewish organizations worked with law enforcement in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia to increase patrols at Jewish facilities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington funded additional security in the form of off-duty police officers to the three area Jewish community centers.

While the FBI and police did not initially call the violence a hate crime, many national organizations did not wait for confirmation to denounce the shootings.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time there has been a shooting at a Jewish Community Center,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith International. “Comments attributed to the shooter after police had him in custody demonstrate a blind hatred toward Jews.”

The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, noted that just a week before, it released a security bulletin to communal institutions warning of the increased potential for violence around Passover and the April 20 birthday of Adolf Hitler. That day “has historically been marked by extremist acts of violence and terrorism, including the violence at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing,” read the statement.

“We mourn the tragic loss of life in today’s shootings in the Overland Park, Kan., Jewish community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Information about the perpetrator is still being uncovered, but early reports indicate that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. If so, it is a tragic reminder, this day before Jews around the world observe Passover, of the hatred that continues to plague our world.

“It is also yet another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives,” continued Saperstein. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today’s shootings. May the memories of those lost be forever a blessing.”

The JT’s former editor-in-chief, Maayan Jaffe, is director of philanthropy at the Overland Park JCC. She and her family were unharmed.

“I work in this building, my children go to school here, my husband works here,” she said. “Things like this do not happen [here].”

JT digital media editor and senior reporter Melissa Gerr and Washington Jewish Week senior writer David Holzel contributed to this report.

O’Malley Signs Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Bills

Maryland legislators passed an effective medical marijuana bill and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (David Stuck)

Maryland legislators passed an effective medical marijuana bill and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (David Stuck)

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a new medical marijuana bill and a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Maryland General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine, and a bill that allows doctors to prescribe marijuana and dispensaries to fill prescriptions for patients.

“We have a workable bill. I think it’s responsible, I think it’s safe,” said Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11), a longtime advocate for medical marijuana and sponsor of the bill that passed. “It’s just like any other medicine, it should be another tool in the toolbox.”

Doctors will have to apply to Maryland’s medical marijuana commission to become certified to prescribe the drug, and will be able to prescribe 30-day supplies of marijuana to patients they have on-going relationships with.

“The most important thing for us is that patients are actually able to access the medicine they need for their conditions, and having medical marijuana available through dispensaries is the most important component of that,” said Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Initially, there will be 15 dispensary licenses available. Growers can also operate as dispensaries, Morhaim said. The commission is expected to pass regulations governing how the new bill will be carried out by Sept. 15.

“I feel really good about where we are,” Morhaim said. “Last year’s bill didn’t work but it did set up a framework, it set up a commission, it set up a structure.”

House Bill 1101, signed into law by O’Malley last May, established the independent, 12-person Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission. The bill stipulated that a medical marijuana program would have to be under the direction of an academic medical center, defined as a hospital that operates a medical residency program and conducts research with human subjects overseen by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Although regulations for the academic medical centers had yet to be adopted, officials at the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University indicated to legislators they did not intend to participate in the program.

Under the new bill, any doctor certified by the commission will be able to prescribe a 30-day supply, the size of which will be determined by the doctor and dispensary, as well as the route of administration for the marijuana.

“There’s specific language that says that the commission is encouraged to be sure that there are appropriate different kinds of strains, shown to work with the different ways they’re processed,” Morhaim said, which could include tinctures and oils.

There is a large data collection component in the bill, which will allow the commission to track patient outcomes and other statistics, and help guide future decisions.

Morhaim expects dispensaries to open within three to six months after the commission passes its regulations in September. After a year, the commission will reevaluate the program and the number of dispensaries, taking into account geography and other factors.

“The key thing is to get medicine into the hands of patients under appropriate circumstances, learn from that and determine what will be the adjustments,” Morhaim said.

As for the decriminalization bill, Yeung did not have as much high praise, calling it one of the weakest bills in the country because of the low possession amount and the increasing fines.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” she said. “The question of a criminal market remaining in place came up during the floor debate in the house, and that’s still an important issue, which is why a system that would tax and regulate marijuana would be best.”

The decriminalization bill, which mirrors a bill Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced during last year’s session, would impose a $100 civil fine on possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana for a first offense, with fines increasing to $250 and $500 for the second and third offenses, respectively.

“It’s the right public policy,” Zirkin said. “All this bill is, is a recognition that this pseudo-criminalization is an ineffective policy.”

Zirkin said drug use and drugged driving has not increased in any of the 17 other states that have decriminalized marijuana.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Del. Heather Mizeur, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown all said they support decriminalization. And although Gov. Martin O’Malley was hesitant earlier in the session, he signed the bill Monday.

“I think he became aware that this was the politically smart move and, especially since he has national ambitions, it would have been career suicide to veto this bill,” said Yeung.

Legislative Look-Back

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/

The most prominent bills passed by the General Assembly in 2014 include bills raising the minimum wage and reforming the state’s marijuana policies. (Kevin Galens/

For many in Maryland’s Jewish communities, the recently-concluded 2014 legislative session was a success.

With a resolution to much of the state’s kosher wine problem, the passage of a bill expanding pre-kindergarten to more Maryland children and the inclusion of an amendment to the budget denouncing the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, in addition to inclusion of many Jewish-supported budget points, both the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Baltimore Jewish Council are pleased with what was accomplished in 2014.

“It was an incredibly successful session,” said Cailey Locklair, the BJC’s director of government relations and public policy.

In both Washington and Baltimore, Jewish social service agencies secured funding to continue their work.

The BJC’s budgetary priorities this year included funding for domestic violence medical training, health care for the uninsured and underinsured, an elder abuse center, the Hillel Center for Social Justice and the Maryland/Israel Development Center, among others. A $50,000 bond bill to help Jewish Community Services renovate housing for developmentally disabled adults was also introduced by Del. Dana Stein and passed. Among the BJC’s policy priorities that were approved were a minimum wage increase and increasing the selection of kosher wine available to Marylanders.

The BJC reached an agreement with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, Inc. and the Field Enforcement Division of the comptroller’s office to help increase the variety and accessibility of kosher wine, a longtime issue for both the BJC and the JCRC.

Under the agreement, the comptroller created a website that lists kosher wines obtainable in Maryland and the distributors that sell them; retailers will be educated on how to order the wines; the number of kosher wines available in Maryland will increase to 1,000 by 2015; and distributors will maintain lists of the kosher wines they sell.

“We are extremely pleased,” said Locklair.

JCRC executive director Ron Halber said that the settlement reached wasn’t perfect, but it has paved the way for further gains in the future.

Both groups spent time dealing with how to respond to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. A rift between the two Jewish community organizations on the issue became apparent in early March when they took opposite sides on proposed legislation that would have placed a financial penalty on state universities for funding faculty participation in ASA-sponsored events. The inclusion of language in the budget condemning academic boycotts satisfied both organizations, but committee hearings on March 5 and 6 made the divide public.

“It could have been handled better on all sides,” said Halber, noting that such a public disagreement between the two organizations threatens
legislators’ trust in both to present them with ideas supported by the Jewish community as a whole.

The boycott bill, he noted, was the one blemish on the Jewish community’s record. Each side, however, considered the final amendment a legislative win.

“It’s a huge victory for Maryland and for the Jewish community in Maryland that our state has taken such a strong stance on boycott, divestment and sanctions,” said Locklair. “The movement is only going to continue to grow and for our state to say, ‘We don’t support the BDS movement’ … we couldn’t be happier.”

One policy priority that didn’t survive the session was a bill that would have required a French rail company implicated in the transport of Jews
to concentration camps to pay reparations before it could bid on the suburban D.C. Purple Line commuter rail project.

The bill died in committee, but Locklair framed the fight as an opportunity to educate legislators about the Holocaust.

“It was a very good session,” surmised Halber. “Our priorities were passed, relations with legislators were strengthened.”

On pre-K expansion, which would allow Jewish day schools to receive state funding if they choose to participate in the state’s program, Halber said “it certainly has the potential to allow Jewish families of lower income to access a Jewish education.”

In February, members of the Orthodox Union joined with day school teachers and administrators to testify on behalf of the bill. Although the program could potentially result in day school pre-kindergarten’s functioning almost identically to public classrooms, those members of the Jewish community present said the potential good expanded access could do for local Jewish children would likely make any challenges well worth it.

The 2014 session, said Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11), saw a lot of compromise among legislators.

He pointed to the passage of bills dealing with marijuana and raising the minimum wage as evidence of a spirit of cooperation. Through changes and amendments, the General Assembly managed to come to enough agreement to pass them all.

“This was a less contentious year than other years,” said Stein.

Professor Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, called this legislative session one of the most boring in history.

“I don’t think there was a whole lot on the agenda, and I think that was probably intentional because this is an election year,” he said. “Delegates and senators don’t want their positions to come back and bite them when they run for office.”

Stein added that many hot -button issues had been dealt with in previous sessions.

Other than decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, passage of an effective medical marijuana bill and raising the minimum wage to $10.10, Norris argued that not much happened. And on the minimum wage, he wasn’t convinced the new rate is significant.

“The $10.10 minimum wage doesn’t kick in until 2018,” said Norris. “By then, four more years of purchasing power will have eroded through

With that in mind, he said Maryland legislators, generally known for being “deep blue liberal progressives,” didn’t do much for the poor. They
did a lot for the rich, he contended, including granting $15 million in tax breaks to movie producers.

With the session being Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last in office, Norris said he set himself up favorably if he decides to seek higher office.

“A number of these issues, such as minimum wage, marijuana, transgender discrimination and issues in prior years are all really good issues for Martin to use when he’s running for president, because those resonate with the democratic base,” he said.

House Minority Leader Del. Nicholaus Kipke (R-District 31) said his party was pleased with the passage of the medical marijuana bill and bills advancing election reform in the state, but he had hoped to see more work on taxes.

“We have a laser-like focus on tax reform in Maryland,” said Kipke. “Right now Maryland has a lot of assets, we have a good economy, but I think if we got our tax policy in a more competitive light, we would make our state so much more prosperous.”