New Year, New Reporters Meet the JT’s reporting staff

Justin Silberman (David Stuck)

Justin Silberman (David Stuck)

Justin Silberman

Justin Silberman, 24, has been onboard as a staff writer for the JT for nearly three months, tackling in-depth stories about zoning and politics and writing pieces on the Elijah Cummings Youth in Israel Program and the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust Teacher’s Institute.

While attending Towson University, Silberman focused his studies on journalism and communications.

After graduating in 2014, Silberman quickly integrated himself into the local press scene, writing for various  online and print publications such as the Frederick News-Post, the (now-defunct) Gazette  papers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and sports periodical PressBox.

Silberman additionally operated as the assistant editor for PressBox, which bills itself as “Maryland’s leading sports media company for all your local sports news, any way you want it.”

“I always had a flair for writing when I was younger and an attention to detail,” said Silberman.

Though Silberman has nursed an eternal passion for athletics — having played basketball at the Owings Mills JCC, of which he has been a member since he was 7 years old — he realized in college that a professional career was a mere hoop dream.

“Writing was the next best thing,” said the self-proclaimed “huge sports fan,” who finds  inspiration in the longstanding, protean careers of political commentators Alexander Britton “Brit” Hume and Charles Krauthammer.

“I would like to model my own work after them,” Silberman said.

As with his proclivity toward talking about and analyzing politics, Silberman continues to enjoy playing sports in  addition to writing about and watching the proceedings. An avid golfer, Silberman is a particular fan of the local teams he grew up with, the Ravens and the Orioles.

For Silberman, it was a short hop, skip and a jump to the JT, having grown up in Owings Mills and attended Beth Israel Congregation down the street from the production office.

During his short time at the JT, Silberman already has written a number of cover stories and is energized by the continuing challenges of the rigorous but rewarding schedule an investigative journalist lives by.

“I look forward to keeping people informed about all of the happenings in the Jewish community,” Silberman said.

As for further future aspirations, Silberman proudly  declared he wants only to be the reporter he is now: “I’m living it!”

Daniel Nozick (David Stuck)

Daniel Nozick (David Stuck)

Daniel Nozick
Before embarking on a reporting career, Daniel Nozick was set to fulfill his lifelong dream of traveling the world, seeing and experiencing everything it had to offer.

Those plans, however, were put on hold when the 22-year-old was offered  — and accepted — a staff reporter position with the JT in June, about a month after graduating from Virginia Tech.

For Nozick, who earned an undergraduate degree in professional and technical writing, the opportunity to establish himself in the print journalism industry through his Jewish roots was simply too good to pass up.

“I’ve just generally been  involved with the Jewish community my entire life, especially in Washington, D.C.,” Nozick said. “Being a part of the Jewish Times, this position is perfect for me since it’s expanding on the connections I already have to the Jewish community.”

A Rockville native, Nozick took part in BBYO, a youth  organization for eighth- through 12th-grade Jewish teens and spent several summers attending Capital Camps, a Jewish overnight camp in Waynesboro, Pa., for kids ages 8 to 17. Around that same time, he also developed a passion for sports, captaining the Wootton High School track team while also playing soccer and swimming competitively in rec leagues.

In college, Nozick remained active in Jewish causes and leadership roles, participating in both the Virginia Tech  Hillel and Chabad programs. Additionally, he worked as an editor for Virginia Tech’s undergraduate research journal, Philologia, a coach at the writing center and a marketing intern for the university.

Since joining the JT, Nozick has wasted no time putting all that experience to work, covering stories such as the 150th anniversary of Sinai Hospital in August. So far, he said, he has thoroughly enjoyed getting out and building relationships in the Greater Baltimore Jewish community and is eager to further craft his skills.

“When I wrote the cover story on the 150-year anniversary of Sinai Hospital, it was very interesting to learn and hear about its importance to the city,” Nozick said. “I thought it was one of the best stories I have done in my time here, and I really hope to keep readers informed with those sorts of stories.”


Mathew Klickstein (David Stuck)

Mathew Klickstein (David Stuck)

Mathew Klickstein
Mathew Klickstein, 35,  has been working for the Jewish Times for a month and a half now. However, he has been a writer his entire life, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with after completing his first, 350-page science fiction novel at the age of 13.

“I wrote a lot of stories and eventually one burgeoned into a full novel. I realized pretty quickly that writing was a special activity for me: I clearly was very good at it, and more importantly, I enjoyed it,” he said. “Some people watch television or play video games, but I was just much more interested in writing.”

Thinking back on his childhood, shared with friends who are now doing similar work, Klickstein reflected, “My friends and I were always inventing these immersive, elaborate stories. It was just what we did to have fun; we didn’t realize that we were creating a career for ourselves.”

After receiving his B.F.A.  in screenwriting from the  University of Southern California’s cinema and television program, Klickstein started his career writing for National Lampoon’s television network.

He has taken part in some eclectic projects, “Against the Dark,” the only horror film Steven Seagal has starred in, when he was 23, and working as a cast producer on “Restaurant: Impossible.”

Separate from his regular jobs, Klickstein has always done a lot of writing on the side. He has traveled and lived in a number of places around the country and has edited and written for even more  numerous print and digital publications, including Wired and New York Daily News.

Klickstein is Jewish but grew up secular, always feeling more connected to Judaism through history and heritage than by any religious connection. One of the reasons he was compelled to work for the Jewish Times was to learn more about the religious components and aspects that he is not familiar with.

“I’ve never been as immersed in Judaism as I knew I would be being in the Baltimore Jewish community, working for the oldest Jewish publication in the country,” he said. “It is  anthropological in a way, I get to be a detective and really learn about something new that I didn’t know about  before, and in this case, it happens to be something that I am personally connected to.”

Locals Raise Money to Protect Front-Line Israeli Medics

Irwin Azman (left) and Eli Burman help their mothers show off an armored vest. (Daniel Nozick)

Irwin Azman (left) and Eli Burman help their mothers show off an armored vest. (Daniel Nozick)

Two Baltimoreans have successfully led a time-crunched fundraising effort to save Jewish lives in action. The group has raised more than $36,000 since the end of June to provide armored vests to medics on the front lines in Israel, reaching its fundraising goal as of the first week of October.

Irwin Azman and Eli Burman, both members of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, had been interested in giving back to the Jewish people for a long time — both have been very active philanthropically, but each wanted to find a way to give back that would have visible results, rather than just donating money.

The proper mode of aid for the plight of their fellow Jews was presented on a silver platter, when at Eli Burman’s son’s  bar mitzvah, soon after yet  another terrorist attack in  Israel, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg displayed an armored vest to the congregation as a part of his sermon addressing terrorism and how it is viewed differently in Israel than anywhere else in the world.

Azman said that one quote from Wohlberg is what truly moved him to action: “This vest is the only line the civil defense has against the knifers and shooters who try to kill them.”

“There are about 75 ambulances actively involved as the first responders to terrorist acts,” said Burman. “People don’t realize that these are  specialized ambulances. These people are exposed. Each ambulance typically carries two medics, so the eventual end goal is to equip up to 150 medics operating in Judea and Samaria.”

Azman and Burman made sure to call those areas Judea and Samaria, not the West Bank. They explained that the term “West Bank” was originally created by Jordanians — it refers to the fact that the land is on the west bank of the Jordan River.

“There is a power to names, and they named the region the West Bank to take the namesake of the people away from the Jews,” Burman said. “The names, Judea [and] Samaria, reflects the origin of the Jewish people from that region.”

As Burman put it, “The name has the same validity as if the United States was to be considered the West Bank of the Atlantic Ocean. It is artificial, with no connection to history or religion, created for the same reason that the Romans created the land of Palestine.”

Even beyond protecting lives, Azman and Burman wanted to engage the local community, their friends, peers and local congregations in fundraising in order to provide more vests. In this fundraising effort, the two paired with One Israel Fund, a nonprofit, to help facilitate buying and delivering the actual vests, as well as influencing people to help save Jewish lives through their fundraising efforts.

“Everything that is being donated goes straight to the project,” said Azman. “It was very important for me to make sure that I know that the money I give is going where I designated it. We will be able to see our direct influence immediately, and it will make a difference. The success of the organization is such that most of their achievements are unknown because they are effective in preventing the loss of Jewish lives.”

To start off, Azman and Burman each bought five vests in honor of their mothers, Elizabeth Azman, a Holocaust survivor, and Rosa Burman, a first-generation immigrant. The two see their mothers as symbols of the hope and fortitude of the Jewish people, and they wanted to donate these armored vests in their honor to give back to the Jewish people in the way that they were raised to do.

“We decided to raise funding for a certain amount of vests; we didn’t know how many for at first,” said Azman.

However, soon after beginning to work with One Israel Fund, the two received a call saying that if they could raise funding for at least 30 vests by a certain deadline, there was an anonymous donor who would match their donation.

“So we went out and talked to our friends, our synagogue and a couple others, and we raised money for over 30 vests, actually 33, as of the first week of October,” said Azman. They raised the money necessary solely locally, calling friends and acquaintances and concentrating their efforts in Beth Tfiloh. “We told people, whatever you can send in, were accepting.”

“Using the theme ‘never again,’ we wanted to say that never again will Jews experience physical or cultural destruction,” said Burman. “The idea is far deeper than the equipment or the uniform, it is about protecting other Jews for the purpose of Ahavas Yisrael, or love for the other Jew.”

“We don’t know these Jews who we are helping, but they are a part of our family,” said Burman. “Jews have always survived because of the love of one Jew for another. By helping keep Jews in Judea and Samaria out of harm’s way, we are allowing them to flourish by preserving future generations, because every time there is a killing, it is not just one Jew, it is the whole family. It cuts short another family who will not have beautiful children and carry on our ideals.”

PJ Library Brings Tashlich to Eldersburg

PJ Library’s Gabrielle Burger (left) poses with Brenda Footer during a Tashlich event in Eldersburg. (Daniel Nozick)

PJ Library’s Gabrielle Burger (left) poses with Brenda Footer during a Tashlich event in Eldersburg. (Daniel Nozick)

The Hebrew Learning Center, an independent Hebrew school associated with the Eldersburg Jewish Congregation, partnered with PJ Library to bring Tashlich to the Carroll County town of Eldersburg for the High Holidays.

Unlike other Hebrew schools, the students in the 7-year-old program only meet for programs two or three times a month. According to Barbara Arbesman, founder of the Hebrew Learning Center, “the most important thing is that when a child leaves here, they feel happy and proud about who they are.”

Most of the families that  attend Hebrew Learning Center events in Eldersburg are interfaith, according to Arbesman. “You have to remember the demographics — most of these kids have a whole family that isn’t Jewish. They face a lot of different cultures and  religions, so we teach them along slowly rather than intensively to get our point across.”

The Center’s program starts kids out with Hebrew school once a month while kids are in pre-kindergarten. Lessons continue until students are 12 years old and then they help them through their b’nai mitzvah. “We cover prayers, Torah studies, holidays and traditions,” said Arbesman. “In a very short time, since we only meet a few times a month, these kids learn to read Hebrew as well as any other kids from different areas who attend  Hebrew school far more regularly.”

She added, “A lot of times, kids in other communities will get turned off to Hebrew school, but we are different in that we have more of a spiritual type of teaching. We have a lot of fun, hands-on events that families can come to as well.”

This Tashlich event was a perfect example. Gabrielle Burger, director of PJ Library in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County under the auspices of the Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, explained that they brought Tashlich programming out  because the students had just learned about it in Hebrew school.

“Today, we spoke further about what Tashlich means. I explained the translation, to cast away, and framed the conversation so the families could write things together,” Burger said. “Kids and parents wrote down something that they wanted to change for the  upcoming year individually, then came together to write one as a whole family.”

The program brought everyone out to the Harvest Farm Pond so attendees could literally unburden themselves by throwing away bread into the water, the traditional way of unburdening oneself.

Burger explained: “We don’t really like saying the word sin, because that’s not really a Jewish concept. The Jewish religion is very forgiving. It’s about moving forward and doing better. We don’t forget the past, but we definitely move toward the future.”

After reading a prayer together, the group took time for individuals to read about what they wanted to change for the upcoming year before splitting into two sections.

PJ Library employee Brenda Footer read “Oh No, Jonah!” to kids ages 6 and under to teach them a little about the book of Jonah. This was followed by a discussion about how God forgave Jonah and Jonah was able to help other people as a result.

The kids ages 7 and up were debriefed on the activity separately. They discussed Tashlich based on a saying that fish can be caught by a net just like people can be by negative  actions.

“Really, we want the kids to be able to think of things that they could do better,” said Burger. “They know how to think about it, and now they know how to unburden themselves; they have the visual sense of casting their misgivings into a lake.”

Hogan, Back from Israel, Sees Promise for Partnerships

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said one result of his trip is a five-year extension of the collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Daniel Schere)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said one result of his trip is a five-year extension of the collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Daniel Schere)

A state trade mission to a foreign country rarely results in an iconic image. But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan achieved just that during a weeklong visit to Israel last month. A photo of Hogan, a green kippa on his head, eyes closed in prayer at the Western Wall, made the rounds on social media and caused some confusion about the governor’s  religious affiliation.

“We put it on Facebook, and several people said, ‘I didn’t even know Gov. Hogan was Jewish,’” Hogan said last week. “I was praying pretty devoutly and people got confused.”

Seated in his office in Annapolis for an interview last week, the 60-year-old Republican governor was amused at the confusion, although he said the hopes embedded in those prayers were serious.

“I prayed for the nation of Israel and the Israeli people,” he said. “I prayed for the people of Maryland and that we could further our wonderful relationship together. And I prayed for a cure for cancer and for a cure for cancer victims and their families around the world.”

Hogan said he is feeling “terrific” after finishing his final round of chemotherapy on Oct. 3. He called it largely a preventative measure to make sure the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he was diagnosed with in 2015 does not return.

Atop his desk was a model Southwest Airlines jet decorated with the design of the Maryland flag. His trip to Israel was his second overseas trade  mission since becoming governor last year.  With a 71 percent approval rating in a state dominated by Democrats and several new businesses and academic partnerships coming from his Israel trip, Hogan had much to be pleased about.

Gov. Hogan prays at the Western Wall. (File photo)

Gov. Hogan prays at the Western Wall. (File photo)

“In Israel, it was like [being welcomed back by] an old friend, because Maryland and Israel have had a tremendous relationship for so many years. Our goal was to solidify it and make it better and stronger,” he said.

One result of the trip is a five-year extension of the collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The new agreement will lead to additional student and  faculty exchanges as well as joint research opportunities, Hogan said.

“That was an extension of an already existing relationship and we’re just hoping to make it even more fruitful,” he said. “Both the leadership of Hebrew University and the University of Baltimore [president Jay Perman] were thrilled with the already-in-place relationship, and they were excited about expanding.”

Hogan said he also expects partnerships to form between Maryland’s universities and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which has a cyber- security lab.

“They’ve become the cyber hub of Israel and Maryland is the cyber hub of America, so we think there’s a lot of synergy and things that we can work on together,” he said.

An immediate result of the trip is a partnership between the Israeli company Cyberbit and Baltimore’s Electronic Technology Associates. Hogan said it will create 100 jobs due to the creation of a cybersecurity training center in Baltimore.

Hogan said overall the Israel mission will have a more short-term impact on Maryland than last year’s trade mission to Asia, which included stops in South Korea, China and Japan. The main accomplishments of that trip were small-business partnerships as well as an  investment by the Japanese in studying the potential for a high-speed rail line between Baltimore and Washington, similar to Japan’s Maglev train.

While the Asia agreements could take years to bear economic fruit locally, partnerships with Israeli companies will begin within the next year, Hogan said.

Israel already has an established presence in Maryland, with 24 Israeli companies doing business here.

Hogan said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not available to meet with the Maryland delegation. The governor was scheduled to meet with former president Shimon Peres. But Peres had a stroke during the trip and died the day after Hogan left.

“[Peres] was a tremendous leader and a peacemaker that I was looking forward to having the honor of meeting, and it’s very sad,” Hogan said.

Bibi, Barack Part Amiably as Chilly US-Israel Relations Thaw

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with President Barack Obama during their meeting at a New York City hotel on Sept. 21. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with President Barack Obama during their meeting at a New York City hotel on Sept. 21. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for what was likely to be the last time as leaders of their countries, the most  important thing they said was “see you soon.”

Netanyahu’s invitation to Obama to visit Israel post-presidency augured a thaw in U.S.-Israel relations, which was also seen in remarks by Israel’s diplomatic corps and signals from the pro-Israel lobby.

Their friendly, relaxed interaction was in marked contrast to meetings like the one in 2011, when after Obama called for talks based on 1967 lines, Netanyahu lectured the American president in the Oval Office about Middle Eastern realities and Obama clutched the arm of his elegant chair seemingly to keep himself from decking the Israeli leader.

Much of their chatter this time, at least in the open part of the meeting Sept. 21 in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, was about Netanyahu’s invitation to Obama and Obama’s ostensible eagerness to accept it.

More saliently, Netanyahu made it clear he understood the transformational impact that the country’s first black president would have on the American left and on Democrats, and how important it was to Israel to restore and burnish ties with that political sector.

“Your voice, your influential voice will be heard for many decades, and I know you’ll continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself and its right to thrive as a Jewish state. So I want you to know, Barack, that you’ll always be a welcome guest in Israel,” Netanyahu said, and teased Obama about a  favorite pastime. “And by the way, I don’t play golf, but right next to my home in Caesarea in Israel there’s a terrific golf course.”

I will visit Israel often because it is a beautiful country with beautiful  people.” — President Barack Obama


Obama said he “very much appreciated” the invitation.

“I will visit Israel often because it is a beautiful country with beautiful people,” he said. “And Michelle and the girls, I think, resent that fact that I have not taken them on most of these trips. So they’re insisting that I do take them. Of course, they will appreciate the fact that the next time I visit Israel, I won’t have to sit in [bilateral meetings] but instead can enjoy the sights and sounds of a  remarkable country.”

Which is not to say the meeting was a Seinfeldian one, about nothing. Reports said the closed meeting saw more sparring between the two men on Israeli settlement building — although in his public  remarks, Obama also acknowledged that the issue was one that would soon be out of his control and that Netanyahu had the upper hand.

“Obviously, I’m only going be to be president for another few months,” he said. “The prime minister will be there quite a bit longer and our hope will be that in these conversations we get a sense of how  Israel sees the next few years, what the opportunities are and what the challenges are in order to assure that we keep alive the possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Palestinian homeland that meets the  aspirations of their people.”

In his speech the day before at the United Nations, Obama mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian impasse in passing, and notably blamed Palestinian  incitement as much as he did Israel’s settlement policy.

It was anti-climactic after months of fevered speculation in Israel and the pro-Israel community that Obama would in his last month’s launch a new major initiative on the issue, possibly through a U.N. Security Council resolution outlining the parameters of a final status two-state agreement.

That’s an approach Netanyahu abhors, warning the General Assembly in his own speech there Thursday, “We will not accept any attempt by the U.N. to dictate terms to Israel. The road to peace runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York.”

On the eve of Obama’s speech, 88 U.S. senators urged the president to veto any “one-sided” Security Council resolutions and to generally avoid pressing for peace talks absent an initiative by the Israelis. The letter was shaped by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.

 Your voice, your influential voice will be heard for many decades.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to President Barack Obama


The back and forth on Wednesday between Obama and Netanyahu was extraordinary in and of itself after eight years of a relationship that more often than not was fraught.

Think back to past tense  relations between U.S. and  Israeli leaders: It’s hard to imagine Menachem Begin asking Jimmy Carter as he packed up the White House to come walk in Jesus’ steps in the Galilee, or Yitzhak Shamir telling George H.W. Bush how relaxing the Dead Sea mud can be.

Making nice with Obama is a key element of Netanyahu’s bid to keep Democrats pro-Israel.

Ron Dermer, the Israeli  ambassador to Washington and one of Netanyahu’s most trusted advisers, said as much last week just before Israel and the United States signed a  defense assistance agreement that guarantees Israel $38  billion over the next 10 years.

Dermer welcomed the agreement by referring to tensions between Israel and Obama — and more broadly, Democrats — over last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed.

“Despite not seeing eye to eye on Iran, this speaks to the strength and power” of the  relationship, Dermer said of Obama’s backing of the assistance agreement. “The fact he’s signing it means we’ll have the backing of the entire American people … the broadest possible support.”

Dermer, meanwhile, has plunged himself into cultivating black Democrats, who saw Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress lambasting Obama’s Iran policy as a deep signal of disrespect to the president.

More broadly, Israel and the mainstream pro-Israel community are nowhere near as eager to assist Republicans in isolating and embarrassing Obama as they were a year ago, when Netanyahu and AIPAC led opposition to the Iran deal.

Republican senators, however, are still itching for a fight: They introduced legislation in the wake of the defense assistance agreement that would upend the agreement’s clause that requires Israel to return any extra money Congress  allocates for the next two years. That clause shrinks the role Congress plays in supporting Israel and shaping U.S.-Israel relations.

One the sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), talked up the bill at the Orthodox Union’s annual leadership meeting on Wednesday. Another senator, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), went  so far as to say he would “rescind” the defense assistance memorandum of understanding.

Israel and AIPAC do not want any part of it. Jacob Nagel, the Israeli national  security adviser who signed the defense assistance agreement, last week said he was aware of Graham’s plans — and that Israeli officials had made clear to the senator that they opposed them.

“Senator Graham is one of the greatest supporters of  Israel in Congress,” Nagel said, “but everyone who spoke with him said it was not a good idea. Israel is a country that honors its agreements.”

AIPAC, notably, had not taken a position on Graham’s legislation, which was also backed by six other Republican senators: Mark Kirk of Illinois; Ted Cruz of Texas; Marco Rubio of Florida; Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; John  McCain of Arizona, and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Asked about the bill, AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said advancing bipartisan  legislation was key.

“While we have not taken a position on this specific bill, we strongly support security assistance and missile defense funding for Israel and reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act,” he said. “We urge Congress to work on a bipartisan basis to achieve these crucial objectives.”

The letter from the 88 senators, as much as its aim was to urge Obama not to allow the Palestinians to get ahead of themselves, also included language that Democrats favored, including a reference to a future “Palestine” and a two-state solution.

An AIPAC insider said the language was deliberate and part of the effort to bring  Democrats on board. It was also enough to drive away key pro-Israel Republicans who refused to sign, among them Cruz, Rubio, Cotton and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), speaking to foreign policy  reporters, said that AIPAC and others in the pro-Israel community were moving on from the tensions stoked by disagreement over Iran.

“They understand the backlash is when you make support for Israel a wedge partisan issue,” said Cardin, one of just four Democratic senators who opposed the deal.

A Heart-to-Hut Celebration At home, in front of apartment buildings, on pickup trucks — Baltimore celebrates Sukkot

Photo credit ©

Photo credit ©

Sukkot is always a drastic transition,  shifting from one of the most solemn days of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, to one of the most joyous of celebrations.

In Baltimore, families will eat and sleep in their sukkahs — temporary, hand-built abodes. Many will host Shabbat dinners, and others, through local  organizations, will have the sukkahs  come to them.

The Hebrew word “sukkot”  directly translates into English as “booths,” referencing the structures that Jewish families build. The meaning of the  holiday is two-fold.

Commonly, Sukkot is known as an agricultural holiday to celebrate the harvest. In fact, some scholars speculate that the American tradition of Thanksgiving is derived in some sense from Sukkot, as the incredibly devout pilgrims would have looked to the Bible for an appropriate celebration of the harvest.

One of the most important traditions is to shake the lulav and etrog in six directions to symbolize that God is everywhere. An etrog is a citrus fruit native to Israel that could  easily be mistaken for a lemon — it is known as a citron in English. The lulav, however, is a bundle composed of three separate plants. It derived its namesake from the single palm branch that it contains, which is known as a lulav in Hebrew. The bundle also contains two willow branches and three myrtle branches. Although there are a few interpretations of why we use these four separate plants, all interpretations share a common theme — that all parts are different, but a mitzvah is performed when all of the elements are united.

In spite of this agricultural significance, Sukkot is better known as a commemoration of the 40-year pilgrimage of the Israelites through the desert. The sukkahs that we build today are reminiscent of the temporary shelters in which the Israelites would have dwelled.

Contemporary Judaism sees Sukkot practiced differently in many households. Some families will build a sukkah to commemorate the holiday without utilizing it, while others will eat and sleep in their sukkah for every night of the holiday.

Caleb Gitlitz and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have spent at least one night sleeping in the family sukkah for years. (Photo provided)

Caleb Gitlitz and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have spent at least one night sleeping in the family sukkah for years. (Photo provided)

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman of the Harford Chabad said, “People in Chabad believe in sleeping in the sukkah, but  Halachah, the Jewish law based on the Talmud, says that if you are uncomfortable dwelling in the sukkah, then you do not need to — there is a fine balance. We will eat and drink in the sukkah even if it is raining. However, with the spiritual energy that permeates the sukkah, how can you sleep? The second Chabad Rebbe, Dovber Schneuri, said, ‘I am unable to sleep because that energy is so powerful.’ Supposedly he would not sleep on Sukkot.”

Yohanan and Tamar Schulman, local Baltimore parents, have been putting up a sukkah every year. “I have been putting up the sukkah for 20 years now,” said Yohanan. “It is a tradition that I was taught by my parents, and I like to do it with my own children now.” He and his children sleep in their sukkah.

For many local families, Sukkot is a time to come together and celebrate. Caleb Gitlitz, 13, and his grandmother, Linda Howard, have been spending at least one night together in their sukkah for years. It started when Gitlitz’s family lived in New York.

“I used to go to New York to visit them for some holidays,” said Howard. “They had put a sukkah up and the kids were so excited. Caleb must have been 5. He has always been into his religion, he lives it every day. He wanted to sleep in the sukkah, so when his  father was skeptical, I slept in it with him.”

It has been a tradition of theirs ever since. Howard said that it means a lot to her because now the boys are much more grown up, but they are still just as enthusiastic about sleeping in the sukkah and spending time with her as ever.

“We always play cards and games in the sukkah; last year, we played Rummikub,” shared Gitlitz. “The holiness of the sukkah, I just love being out there. When we lived in New York, sometimes we would ask a friend or two for help building the sukkah, because working on it brings out a lot of the life of Sukkot. Being with my bubbie in the sukkah is a huge part of the year and our relationship. Every Sukkot, we will be singing, shouting l’chaims; it is so spiritually uplifting. A lot of people that we invite over don’t have a sukkah of their own, so we want them to experience it, and they want to experience it too.”

Aiden Gitlitz, Caleb’s younger brother, added, “I love sleeping in the sukkah with my bubbie because we have a lot of fun, and I get the feeling of what it was like to sleep in a sukkah outside for the Jews in Israel.”

“It really has made a strong impact on our kids,” said Teri Gitlitz, Caleb and Aiden’s mother. “Our kids really thrive in the joy of the holidays, and it is really special because they know that they get to sleep in the sukkah with their bubbie.”

Another of the Gitlitz family’s traditions is for each of the grandchildren to create an  edible sukkah. “I bring supplies and they each have a theme,” explained Howard. “The kids will use their Legos too. Sometimes the theme is biblical, sometimes the theme is “Star Wars.” It is Caleb’s  favorite part because we are making memories together. He has told me that when he grows up and has his own family, he wants to continue the tradition with them.”

Lieba Gornbein looks  forward to “sitting in  the sukkah and seeing
the stars above, opening  our minds to what  Hashem has to  bring us.”


Ben Temin has always enjoyed Sukkot and wanted to build  a sukkah, but living in an apartment the past few years rendered him unable to do so, as “a sukkah has to be exposed to the sky and our porch was covered.” This year, he and his wife, Renee, were determined to celebrate properly, so they found a kit and decided to build their sukkah on the lawn in front of their building.

Apparently, the Temin family was not the only one determined to celebrate Sukkot in spite of an inopportune environment. “Everyone in our building who wants to will build [a sukkah] out front, and the management tolerates it,” said Temin. “We would like to sleep in the sukkah, but it  depends on the weather, and it is not a private area, so safety is a consideration.”

Last year, the Temins had made arrangements to go out of town for Shabbat during the intermediate days of the holiday. However, when their plans fell through, they were at a loss for where or how to celebrate. “We were amazed because we were at home and everyone was so hospitable. All of our neighbors invited us into their sukkahs.” This year, Ben and Renee intend to invite friends, family and neighbors for meals in their own sukkah.


Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah is inspired by Israeli artists’ designs. (File  photo)

Ruth and Sy Hefter’s sukkah is inspired by Israeli artists’ designs. (File photo)

Varied Celebrations

As a time of renewal, reminiscence and reflection, Sukkot remains a cherished holiday for many Jews, regardless of their denomination or level of religious engagement.

Last week, the JT stopped by the Park Heights JCC to speak with Jews of all backgrounds who generously provided their take on the season and how they’re planning on observing.

“We’ll mainly have our family there for the Shabbos of Sukkot,” said Maia Bar Am of Indian Village.

By family, Bar Am means her husband, “four girls and two boys,” who will join her along with her sister who will stay with the rest of the family in their sukkah.

“We usually take the kids on some kind of chol hamoed outing,” Bar Am continued, adding that this year was particularly special for the family due to her setting up their sukkah alone with her older girls and 7-year-old son.

“My husband works six days a week now,” Bar Am said. “So I told him, ‘Yeah, I bet the girls and I could set it up ourselves!’”

Menlo Drive resident Ken Addess will also stay home for Sukkot, though he said he may go apple picking with his family.

For many, the joy of Sukkot is all about family. (Courtesy of

For many, the joy of Sukkot is all about family. (Courtesy of

“We have a beautiful sukkah,” Addess said. “It’s attached to the house and we enjoy spending time there. We can leave our comfortable house and go there to remember what our purpose in life is. That’s what I usually talk about at the table.”

Lieba Gornbein will celebrate at home with family and friends too. They’ll talk about the harvest and the coming of the new year, Gornbein continued.

Gornbein looks forward to “sitting in the sukkah and seeing the stars above, opening our minds to what Hashem has to bring us.”

“Sukkot is great,” Gornbein said. “I love sitting in the sukkah. Hopefully it won’t rain and won’t be too cold!”

Gornbein’s particular sukkah has been dutifully decorated over the years by her children with homemade trinkets: “little sparkling lights and birds hanging from the ceiling.”

With her children coming home from as far as New York, Gornbein said she’s delighted to have them all together at once.

But not everyone has made arrangements so far in advance. Some prefer to wait until the last minute to decide where they’ll go, who they’ll be with and just what they’ll be doing this Sukkot.

“I don’t really have a plan yet,” said Jill Klein. “I’m sort of an impromptu type of person.”


Bringing Sukkot to the People

During the last four years, Charm City Tribe Rabbi Jessy Gross has helped Jews in Baltimore to celebrate Sukkot by bringing the festivities to them, similar to a longtime Chabad outreach activity.

With a pickup truck serving as the foundation, the Charm City Tribe mobile sukkah  becomes a scene of awe among many passers-by this time of year who stop to get a better view of the structure on its annual tour.

Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, said the opportunity to raise awareness on sukkahs to those unfamiliar with the temporary hut is something she relishes.

“Last year, one of my favorite things that happened was when we popped up at a Ravens tailgate, a couple of gentlemen were walking by, and they were like, ‘Oh, those are the Jewish huts that people in Pikesville put up,’” Gross said with a laugh. “I would say that [the mobile sukkah] spikes  curiosity, and people like to participate and to learn and experience what it’s like to be a part of ours.”

Rabbi Jessy Gross (seated, wearing a winter hat) and Charm City Tribe take their mobile sukkah on the road. (Provided)

Rabbi Jessy Gross (seated, wearing a winter hat) and Charm City Tribe take their mobile sukkah on the road. (File photo)

This year, the Charm City Tribe mobile sukkah will make stops at HomeSlyce in Federal Hill, Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point and Union Craft Brewery in Hampden. In two of the locations, Max’s Taphouse and Union Craft Brewery, there will be Union’s Anthem Golden Ale on tap, which Gross expects to be a big draw.

Also at Max’s Taphouse, Charm City Tribe and Repair the World Baltimore will hold an interactive service activity designed to give back to those less fortunate. Together, members from both organizations will package mugs of soups that will be donated to different food distribution centers throughout the city, including Meals on Wheels.

Josh Sherman, a program associate for Repair the World Baltimore, said he’s looking forward to connecting the community while informing young people of the holiday meaning and tradition.

“Repair the World has a strong partnership with Charm City Tribe and is absolutely in love with the concept of a  mobile sukkah,” Sherman said. “We should be bringing the Judaism to you, not the other way around. We hope to engage Jews in their 20s and 30s in some of the mitzvot of Sukkot outside of the traditional and institutionalized Jewish spaces.”

Gross, meanwhile, has taken an active role in bringing Sukkot to the forefront at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC — literally.

For the first time she can  recall, Gross said there will be a sukkah in the Owings Mills JCC’s front circle, allowing members to participate in a number of programs offered inside the physical location. The 12-by-24-foot structure, four times the size of the previous sukkahs tucked away in the courtyard, will house yoga classes, staff gatherings, Shabbat dinners and more.

“At Owings Mills, I think we really want to give people the chance to see what the celebration of Sukkot can be,” Gross said. “We think by creating a lot of different opportunities for people to come into the sukkah with a purpose, it can help introduce them to all the possibilities around Sukkot.”

It’s all part of an effort that she hopes will continue to generate an increased buzz around Sukkot.

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Howard County Sheriff to Resign amid Racist, Anti-Semitic Remarks

James Fitzgerald (Screenshot:

James Fitzgerald (Screenshot:

Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald, who recently came under fire for alleged racist and anti-Semitic statements, will resign from office after numerous calls for him to step down.

Fitzgerald was expected to sign an agreement Tuesday stating that his last day in office would be Oct. 15, according to Howard County Council Administrator Jessica Feldmark.

Among the remarks detailed in a Sept. 1 report by the county’s Office of Human Rights were Fitzgerald referring to former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as “little Kenny Jew-boy” as well as derogatory comments about African-Americans and women. The sheriff was also accused of retaliating against deputies who did not support his re-election in 2010.

Ulman was in the middle of teaching a government and politics class at the University of Maryland, College Park when his cellphone frantically started lighting up with texts and calls.

His consulting firm, Margrave Strategies, was trying to reach the him to tell him about the just-released report.

Ulman, a Democrat who was the candidate for lieutenant governor under Anthony Brown’s unsuccessful 2014 bid, said he was “surprised but not shocked” to hear of Fitzgerald’s alleged controversial remarks.

“Despite being called names myself, I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years,” Ulman said. “What bothered me was the totality of what [Fitzgerald] had done, creating a hostile, bullying workplace that brought politics into a government workplace.”

The 48-page report stunned a community known for its racial, social and economic diversity.

Prior to his resignation announcement, a wide range of elected officials called for Fitzgerald to resign from his post, including five members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation — Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D), Dutch Ruppersberger (D) and John Sarbanes (D).

Ken Ulman: “I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years.” (File Photo)

Ken Ulman: “I have very thick skin after being in office for 12 years.” (File Photo)

“As federal elected officials with responsibilities for the people of Howard County, we urge you to prioritize the needs of the residents of the county you serve, as well as the officers under your command, and resign your office,” the five wrote in a statement.

Former and current Sheriff’s Office employees, interviewed during the nearly year-long investigation, told the Office of Human Rights that Fitzgerald ruled by fear and intimidation, among other demeaning tactics.

On Sept. 29, Fitzgerald issued a statement apologizing for  the attention surrounding the accusations, but said at the time that he intended to stay in office despite increasing  political pressure to step down.

“I can say that the report has been humbling, hurtful and disappointing to all involved,” Fitzgerald said in the prepared statement. “It has caused me to reflect on what is important to my family, our community and the men and women deputies that I have served with at the Sheriff’s Office.”

On Monday, County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) issued a statement expressing his disappointment that Fitzgerald had ignored calls from his office, other elected officials and community leaders to resign. He also announced that he was directing the county’s law office to explore “any and all legal means” through the court system to relive Fitzgerald of his duties.

Last week, Kittleman asked the county’s representatives in Annapolis to explore whether the General Assembly could impeach the third-term sheriff. State lawmakers do have the authority to impeach state judges and officers.

Under the state constitution, elected officials, such as Fitzgerald, may be removed from  office if they are convicted of  a felony or a misdemeanor  related to their conduct in office that carries potential jail time. Fitzgerald, however, had not been charged with any crime.

The House of Delegates holds the sole power of impeachment, but a majority of the House must agree to oust the official. A trial also would need to be held in the Senate, requiring a two-thirds vote from all senators for conviction.

No government officer has ever been impeached under the procedure, according to The Daily Record.

Fitzgerald and his representatives did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Ulman, who maintained a professional working relationship with Fitzgerald for more than 10 years, hoped the sheriff would walk away on his own power so that impeachment would not have to be explored.

“My sense is that he’s going to leave office one way or another,” Ulman said prior to Fitzgerald’s resignation. “Whether or not he does it on his own is forced out, it would be nice if he could see the writing on the wall and resign graciously. Unfortunately, it will be a spectacle in Annapolis if he doesn’t choose to resign.”

In Howard County, Ulman said, the Sheriff’s Office “does very little,” providing courthouse security, dealing with landlord-tenant evictions, transporting prisoners and serving protective orders and warrants. The Howard County Police Department, led by Chief Gary Gardner, is the primary law enforcement agency of the county.

For many in the Jewish community like Ulman, they hoped to see Fitzgerald forced from his position in as timely a manner as possible, citing a lack of trust from someone who should put the community’s best interest at heart.

Seth Bernstein, director of the Howard County Board of Rabbis and Rabbi at Bet Aviv, called on distraught Jews in the county to share their frustrations with local politicians.

“It’s very important right now for Jews who feel this type of language need not continue by [Fitzgerald] to write legislatures to tell them they want the sheriff impeached,” Bernstein said prior to Fitzgerald’s resignation. “I think such letters should be written for people who feel strongly about this issue.”

Bill Crystal, a Jewish Howard County resident of 25 years, cannot recall a time there has been such racial turmoil, especially from someone whose duty is to protect and serve the public. He thought Fitzgerald was no longer fit to continue in his current role, he told the JT prior to the resignation announcement.

“To me, it’s just baffling that someone who works in [Howard] County makes comments like that, then [defended] himself in front of the constituency and [refused] to resign,” Crystal said.

This is a developing story.

Biden Reflects on Nature of Politics and Greatness of Peres ‘That’s what Shimon did, he touched your heart’



Vice President Joe Biden is known for saying what’s on his mind.

Sometimes, this works against him, but other times this penchant results in resounding philosophical nuggets.

Biden offered one of these Thursday at a Jewish community-sponsored memorial for Shimon Peres, and in the process paid tribute to the former Israeli prime minister and president who died on Sept. 28.

“Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local,” said Biden, referring to a longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Well, I’ve been saying for the past 25 years that all politics is personal, particularly international relations. It’s all personal.

“And that’s where Shimon Peres was at his best,” he continued. “That’s why he accomplished so much.”

In a wide-ranging tribute to Peres at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, Biden praised Peres, whom he said he knew for 45 years, for the personal attributes that can drive politics at the highest levels.

“He always touched your heart,” Biden said. “That’s what Shimon did; he touched your heart.”

Biden also said that Peres was special because of his sincere desire for peace with the Arabs.

“[Peres said], I don’t want to see [the Arabs] losing again,” Biden said. “He said, I don’t want them and us. What I want us to do is win the peace. Who else would say that?”

Biden also praised Peres for being forward thinking in front of the crowd of 600 attendees.

“At a time when many could have wrapped themselves in the comforts of their accomplishments, Shimon Peres insisted that, ‘my greatest achievement in life will be tomorrow,’” the vice president said.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who spoke before Biden, echoed this sentiment by saying that Peres’ legacy will be completed by the future.

“When that day [of peace] comes, I have no doubt that those present will express their appreciation to Shimon Peres,” she said.

One member of the audience, Gladys Temkin of Washington, said that she came to the memorial because she “wanted to hear a bit of history.”

“I took from Biden’s speech his solidarity with [Peres] as a human being, his personal connection, and his use of the term ‘possibility’ in the sense of connecting both America’s essence and Israel’s essence,” she said.

Adas Israel Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf said Peres’ life was reminiscent of that of Moses.

“Like Moses, Shimon was a leader in times of war and in times of peace,” he said. “He bore witness to miracles and he led us on a journey that forged us into a great nation.”

Biden called himself as a Zionist and described Peres’ connection to the United States.

“I think his ability to insist on the human capacity for good, his belief that we can shape our own destinies is why Shimon Peres always connected so deeply with the American people — Jews and non-Jews,” Biden said. “Because ultimately the relationship between Israel and the United States is not about defense systems and security assistance. It’s about our shared soul.”

Biden also praised Peres’ role as a visionary within Israel.

“Throughout his life, at every moment in the state of Israel’s history, Shimon Peres was the voice of hope,” said Biden. “He was the conscious and the soul of Israel.”

Baltimore’s Jewish Community Remembers Peres

Shimon Peres, pictured at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in 2013. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Shimon Peres, pictured at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in 2013. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

With the passing of one of Israel’s last surviving founding fathers on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres, many in the local Jewish community have been left speechless.

Considering the wide-spanning reach of Peres’ triumphant legacy, there’s conversely much to be said about the life of this statesman, mentor and friend to so many Jews and other global citizens.

The JT reached out to a number of members of the Jewish community, who shared their memories of and personal anecdotes of encounters with Peres and notes of inspiration found in remembering one of the great leaders they were lucky enough to know.

Marc B. Terrill
President, The Associated: Jewish Community  Federation of Baltimore

Shimon Peres was a one-of-a-kind leader who had a profound effect on the Israel that we know today and the entire Jewish diaspora. He was a hero in every sense of the word. I had the pleasure of meeting him during my early days working at The Associated and was struck by his presence; being with him was humbling. The world lost a true mensch this week, and we will forever be grateful for the legacy he leaves behind for the Jewish people.

Peres was our history book, our walking history.” — Amalia Phillips


Ellen Ginsberg Simon
Vice Chair, Baltimore Israel Coalition

He was a lion of the Israeli  political world for its entire  existence, almost since its  inception. He held almost every post there was. [He was] widely regarded by world leaders. To me, the most memorable  moment I have of him was his receiving the Nobel Peace Price. That stands out as a defining memorable moment. Israel would look and be a completely different country today if he had not been a part of it. Say whatever you want about where it stands today, it was groundbreaking, and he was definitely at the ground floor. That’s a major legacy of his. He clearly did his utmost for his country and his people.

Howard Libit
Executive Director,  Baltimore Jewish Council

I joined the governor’s mission to Israel and we had originally planned to meet Shimon Peres during our trip over there with our delegation. We were supposed to meet with him Sept. 21 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Peres suffered a stroke before the trip, so that meeting had to be canceled. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am that we missed out on this opportunity to meet with him. He was such an inspiration to everyone who seeks peace and freedom in Israel and the Middle East.

Rabbi Shmuel Gurary
Chabad Israeli Center of  Baltimore

For Rosh Hashanah, I’m going to repeat one of the very special speeches Peres once gave. He was invited to talk in Hebrew in front of German parliament. He talked about his grandfather who taught him Torah. Peres said he could see his grandfather standing there in front of his eyes as he was in his talit in the shul of the village where he grew up. Peres told of the day the Germans came to this village asked everyone to go to shul and they closed the door and burned every one of them. I think it’s one of those very strong speeches that Peres said that had a lot of power to it, trying to point out that we can be in the worst condition with memories of our grandfather burning and still never allow anyone to put us down; we can stand strong in being a Jew, even here in front of these Germans.

Gal Massalton
Israel Shlichah, Baltimore Zionist District

The Baltimore Zionist District joins Israel, the entire Jewish community and the world in mourning a beloved leader and man, Shimon Peres z”l. Peres devoted his life to serving Israel and the Jewish people. As president, prime minister and minister in 12 cabinets, Peres never lost hope in the country and the people and  always believed in the prospects of creating peace. While his physical presence will be greatly missed, his influence, legacy and spirit will continue to live on through the people and State of Israel.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin
Director, Agudath Israel of Maryland — Mid-Atlantic  Region

The one time I met him in person was 18 years ago. He’s someone who’s known for his respect for all denominations, specifically in the Orthodox community — the one I represent and was reared in. His  respect to the religious leaders of the status quo was paramount for the communities in Israel to thrive. From the perspective of my organization, there’s definitely a feeling of loss with his passing, people taking a step back and acknowledging the career that he had and the devotion to the Jews in Israel and the State of Israel worldwide, those Jews living in the diaspora.

Amalia Phillips
Director of Israel and Overseas Education, The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education

The first thing that happened this morning [the day after Peres’ passing] when I walked into the office was this: We have a young emissary from Israel and we both looked at each other and said it was a sad day. He was printing pictures of Shimon Peres, and we lit candles outside of the agency with them. I learned something from this, which is that this emissary is only 18 and so Peres clearly managed to ignite the passion in young people. He was there before there was Israel, but the young are born into the reality of there always being an Israel. Peres was our history book, our walking history.

Why Uzbekistan’s Jews Already Miss the Iron Fist of Their Late Ruler

Yossif Tilayev is caretaker of the 19th-century Bukharian synagogue in Samarkand, where there is a Jewish population of 200. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Yossif Tilayev is caretaker of the 19th-century Bukharian synagogue in Samarkand, where there is a Jewish population of 200. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

BUKHARA, Uzbekistan — Driving through this dusty desert city of many ornate and ancient mosques, Shirin Yakubov recalls the ruthlessness of her country’s recently deceased president of 25 years.

“He killed all of them, every last one,” she says of Islam  Karimov’s role in the 2005 police massacre of hundreds of suspected Islamists in the eastern city of Andijan following unrest.

“Our president acted exactly right,” she adds, smiling.

A no-nonsense businesswoman and a doting Jewish mother of three, Yakubov  belongs to the urban elite of this Central Asian country of 32 million citizens that shares a border with Afghanistan.

Like many from her social class, she credits the absence of radical Islam from public life to Karimov’s oppressive rule. Under Karimov, who died Sept. 2 from a stroke at 78, the all-powerful SNB security service was responsible for the torture and “disappearance” of countless dissidents in a country with no free press and a no-entry policy for foreign journalists.

With the passing of Karimov, an isolationist who strived to stay on good terms with but independent of Russia and the United States, Yakubov and other relatively affluent Uzbekistanis — including the country’s 13,000 remaining Jews — look to an uncertain future.

Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev was appointed Sept. 8 to succeed Karimov as an  interim president, auguring changes that hold risks but also the promise of greater political, individual and commercial freedom and trade opportunities.

Foreign diplomats here blame Karimov not only for systemic violations of human rights, but also for holding back mineral-rich Uzbekistan from realizing its full economic potential. Under Karimov, the country’s restrictive policies included an obstructive visa regime for outsiders and an  official exchange rate that is half the actual black-market value of its local currency, the sum, against the dollar.

Shirin Yakubov visits the main synagogue of Bukhara with her son, in the orange shirt, his friend and the site's two Muslim caretakers. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Shirin Yakubov visits the main synagogue of Bukhara with her son, in the orange shirt, his friend and the site’s two Muslim caretakers. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

But many Uzbekistanis and all Jewish community leaders, it appears, say they are grateful to the late leader for the stability achieved under his rule and the growth that did occur. The provincial city of Tashkent grew into a clean and safe  metropolis of 3 million residents with an efficient subway system, shining conference halls and stadiums, hygienic marketplaces and peaceful parks where magpies and  Indian starlings bathe in fountains amid hedges of purple basil plants.

As for Yakubov, she credits Karimov’s policies for her ability as a woman to drive a car  despite the resistance it raises in a deeply traditional society where many women are not  expected to go out of the house much, let alone sit behind the wheel of an automobile.

In 2005, amid the unrest that exploded in Andijan, someone threw a large brick into her car twice, smashing the windshield, she says. The intimidation stopped immediately after police questioned some neighbors — a standard procedure in some countries, but which in Uzbekistan is perceived as a last warning before the dispensation of swift and  perhaps extrajudicial steps.

“No one is going to call me a ‘dirty Jew’ here,” says Arsen Yakubov, Shirin’s husband, as he walks to one of Bukhara’s two synagogues for services on Friday evening. Even before going inside, he donned the traditional, square and ornamented Bukharian hat that serves many Jews here as a kippah.

At a time when synagogues in Western Europe and even Russia are patrolled by armed police or military, Jewish institutions in this predominantly Sunni nation are unguarded.  It goes a long way toward  explaining why special prayers for Karimov’s soul were recited in Uzbekistan’s five synagogues following his passing.

Beyond the threat of retribution by an authoritarian government against anyone who punishes them, the Jews here are also safe because they are widely accepted as a native ethnicity, just like ethnic Tajiks and Russians. They have, after all, maintained a documented presence here for 1,000 years, which some historians believe actually goes as far back as 1000 B.C.

In Bukhara, where anywhere between 40 to 150 Jews live — depending on the definition one applies — some are greeted with “shalom” by their Muslim neighbors as they gather for evening and morning prayers (achieving a minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for some prayers in Orthodox Jewish communities, is often an issue).

Kosher meat, produced by a local rabbi and ritual slaughterer, is sold here in some shops run by Muslims.

At the local Jewish school, a predominantly Muslim student body is taught to sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem — reflecting the desirability of the school and a Jewish population that shrunk after the fall of the Soviet Union. Some 75,000 Jews left their former Soviet republic after its fall.

“We are brothers, the Muslims and the Jews, and we live like it, too,” says Yossif Tilayev, the makeshift rabbi of a Jewish population of 200 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s second city, and caretaker of its turquoise-domed, 19th-century synagogue, which is among Central Asia’s prettiest.

But to many, this record of coexistence is no guarantee against an Uzbekistani version of the interethnic and interreligious wars that have ravaged neighboring countries, including Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan — and Afghanistan.

Even under Karimov, the Yakubovs from Bukhara have been feeling growing religious radicalization. While thousands of villagers moved into their city, the educated elite has largely left in favor of Tashkent, the capital. In 2014, this process of internal migration was slowed considerably after the government toughened its enforcement of regulations — internal visas known as propiska — that limit where citizens may live and work.

But the atmosphere in Bukhara is no longer the same as a decade ago, Shirin Yakubov says.

“I can’t go to the swimming pool like I used to 10 years ago because they stare at my bathing suit,” she says. “I don’t want my daughter wearing shorts because it’s beginning to attract too much attention. I no longer feel comfortable here.”

Her parents and three siblings already live in Israel, as do  most of her husband’s siblings. Yakubov and her husband stay in Bukhara because her in-laws won’t leave, she says.

“But we will leave soon — and quickly, if anything bad happens after Karimov,” she says.

Yakubov is among the many locals Jews who believe that extremism is never too far below a surface that is kept calm only thanks to strict  enforcement.

“We have everything — Wahhabism, jihadism, Taliban. They just don’t show their faces, thanks to Karimov,” she asserts.

Arkady Isasscharov, the president of the Bukharian Jewish community of Tashkent, partially concurs.

“You always have to be careful,” he says. “One rabbi was already killed here.”

The reference is to the suspicious death in 2006 of Avraam Yagudaev, a Jewish leader whose autopsy said he died in an automobile accident but who some believe was murdered.

Still, Uzbekistani society “won’t let what happened in Afghanistan happen here,” says Issascharov, who served in Afghanistan as a soldier in the Red Army when Islamists led a rebellion against Soviet domination of that country in the 1980s. Soviet troops and the Taliban both carried out atrocities in that bitter conflict.

But tour guide Vadim Levin, an ethnic Russian of Jewish descent from Tashkent, isn’t  so sure of his native country’s  immunity to radicalism.

In the chaotic months  following Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991 from the  Soviet Union, Levin says he was beaten on the street for speaking Russian by “a gang of nationalists, religious extremist” ethnic Uzbeks looking for payback for Moscow’s long  repression of religious and ethnic identities.

Karimov, the first ruler of an independent Uzbekistan, had gradually stepped up pressure on religious and other forms of extremism since then, restoring stability. But it came at the price of a free press and such basic individual freedoms as growing a beard — a frowned-upon practice that carries social penalties.

Israelis and other Jews, Levin adds, “tend to understand the trade-off better” than other Westerners because “they have seen the face of radical Islam, they have felt its shadow on them.”

“Of course, I pay with certain liberties for my country’s stability, I am aware of that,” says Levin, a homeowner and father of one who speaks three languages fluently and has visited Europe, Israel and the United States. “But it’s a trade-off I hope to be able to continue making under Karimov’s successor.”