Behind-the-Scenes Dealings May Sink Sanctions Effort

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) addresses the AIPAC conference in 2013.  He has led the charge for an intensified Iran sanctions bill. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) addresses the AIPAC conference in 2013.
He has led the charge for an intensified Iran sanctions bill. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A bipartisan coalition of Congressional legislators working behind the scenes may have prevented new sanctions on Iran.

A letter to President Barack Obama drafted by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.) has been circulating on Capitol Hill for several days. A final call to sign the message, titled “Give Diplomacy a Chance Letter to POTUS,” made the rounds of congressional offices Monday after being sent by Jackson Tufts, a military legislative assistant to Price.

The letter, which according to Anya Malkov, a legislative assistant to Dogg-ett, had “more than 90 members, including several Republicans,” opposes additional sanctions as detrimental to the diplomacy being wrought by Secretary of State John Kerry in the quest to prevent the development of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation,” reads one of the final drafts of the letter. “At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance. A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement must be avoided.”

JTA reported on the existence of the letter on Feb. 4.

According to Price’s office, the letter is supported by a number of organizations, but it began organically on the Hill sometime after the Jan. 28 State of the Union Address in which Obama vehemently criticized congressional action pushing for more sanctions. Organizations such as J Street, Plough-shares, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Win Without War and Americans for Peace Now are among those mobilizing their supporters in favor of the letter and against harsher Iran sanctions in general.

When contacted with questions about his organization’s involvement with the letter, a spokesman for J Street told the Washington Jewish Week that he would not be making public comments until the letter is finalized.

Another strong early supporter of the letter was Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Muslim legislator whose office is rumored to have helped circulate the letter to other offices.

“A large number of House Democrats are unified against actions that could undermine diplomacy,” Ellison said in a statement to the Washington Jewish Week. “Negotiations with Iran are complex, and we may not reach a final agreement in exactly six months, but we’re the closest we’ve ever been to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

But signatories also include Jewish representatives with known pro-Israel voting records.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was one of the leads in the effort; Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) also signed the letter, according to his communications director. Yarmuth had been a vocal opponent of additional Iran sanctions even before the P5+1 agreement with Iran went into effect late last year.

“As an American first, but also as a Jewish American, I strongly support Israel’s security and our nation’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Yarmuth said in a short speech on the House floor Jan. 15. “I also fully support advancing peace and stability in the Middle East through diplomacy whenever possible.

“We are in the midst of a historic opportunity to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran, but it is fragile,” he continued. “Congressional interference at such a sensitive time is a high-risk, no-reward proposition.”

Other than the members of Congress who told WJW of their position on the letter when contacted, at press time, there was no official, comprehensive list.

Though 90 signatories is far from a majority, and there are no known plans for the House to take up sanctions legislation, the letter’s backers intend to balance the pro-sanctions voices in Congress.

Noah Silverman, congressional aff-airs director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, called the effort troubling.

“We’re very concerned that the message the Iranians are getting is that the president wants a deal at any cost,” he said.

As it stands right now, the legislative action on the matter is in the Senate in the form of the so-called Mendendez-Kirk bill, S. 1881. Last month, the Obama administration began lobbying the bipartisan bill’s Democratic sponsor, efforts which appear to have successfully turned the tide in the White House’s favor.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) spoke on the Senate floor supporting the legislation, which he, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and ranking leader Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced in December 2013.

But Menendez backed away from asking for a vote. Rather, he admonished Senate Republicans for writing a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asking him to send the legislation to the floor.

This is not the first time Price has co-authored a letter on Iran.

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power, Price, along with Rep. Charlie Dent, authored a letter urging Obama to engage in diplomacy with the new leader. The letter was reportedly signed by 118 members of Congress, including 15 Republicans.

Price sided with the minority in August 2013 when the House voted 400 to 20 in support of additional sanctions on Iran. Doggett voted in favor of that bill.

According to multiple House staffers familiar with the debate, the added support for the letter comes from what they view as tangible steps taken between Iran and the U.S. in the P5+1 negotiations that had not yet existed last fall. contributed to this story.

Katz Named Chief Business Development Officer

Trout Daniel & Associates, a full-service commercial real estate company, announced that Neil A. Katz has joined the firm as chief business development officer.

Katz brings nearly three decades of real estate experience to his new role with Trout Daniel. As chief business development officer, he will leverage his market knowledge and vast network of relationships to lead Trout Daniel in identifying and capitalizing upon real estate investment and leasing opportunities for the firm and its diverse group of clients.

USY Hosts 40th Annual Shabbaton

For the 40th straight year, the local branch of United Synagogue Youth will host a Shabbaton Feb. 14-15 in memory of the late Claire Sodden. In addition to religious services, the weekend event will feature fun and games for area eighth- through 12th-graders.

“Our chapter is the Chapter of the Year for Seaboard Region USY, and this is one of our biggest events every year,” said Becca Rosenfelt, USY adviser and interim youth and special program coordinator for Beth Israel Congregation.

The 2014 theme is Travel Back in Time, and event highlights include a scavenger hunt and hypnotist, laser tag, tie-dyeing, a movie and a life-size game of Trivial Pursuit. The game will require teams to travel from station to station, where they will answer three trivia questions and complete one physical challenge.

“It’s kind of like a who’s who, what’s what of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s,” said Rosenfelt of the topics students will face in the game, which was developed by USY members.

The event will honor Sodden, an active member of USY who attended Baltimore Hebrew High School and Baltimore Hebrew College.

“Everybody’s really excited,” said Rosenfelt. “It’s the people’s favorite weekend of the year.”

The Shabbaton kicks off at about 3:45 p.m. on Friday and runs through late Saturday night with a break Friday night. For more information, visit

OU’s Our Way Hosts Melave Malka

Our Way’s Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind (third from right) presents Rabbi Yehudah (third from left) and Yael Zelinger (second from left) with a plaque commemorating the couple’s service to the Jewish deaf community. (Heather Norris)

Our Way’s Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind (third from right) presents Rabbi Yehudah (third from left) and Yael Zelinger (second from left) with a plaque commemorating the couple’s service to the Jewish deaf community. (Heather Norris)

More than 40 people braved the cold last Saturday night to honor Rabbi Yehudah and Yael Zelinger at Our Way’s first-ever statewide melave malkah at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center.

The Feb. 8 event, hosted by the Orthodox Union’s division for the Jewish deaf and hard of hearing, featured food, drinks and company for those who attended.

“‘Welcome to the center of the universe!’ That’s how they started the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia,” said Yael Zelinger, “but is the truth is, for the Jewish deaf community, any Our Way event is the center of the universe.”

Since 1999, Zelinger has been working at the Center for Jewish Education, where part of her job involves advocating for the needs of the Jewish deaf and blind communities.

So often, the Jewish community is somewhat disconnected from the deaf population, said Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, director of Our Way, but “Baltimore is a great exception.”

The local Our Way chapter hosts about 10 events for the Jewish deaf community each year, estimated Rabbi David Kastor, the organization’s regional representative in Maryland, including a deaf-blind Shabbaton hosted semiannually in Baltimore.

“We [in Baltimore] have a very active deaf community, a very active Jewish community and a very active Jewish deaf community,” said Sheryl Cooper, a deaf studies professor at Towson University who attended the melave malkah.

LifeBridge Names Post-Acute Care COO

Barry Jay Eisenberg, FACHE, LNHA, has been named the new executive director and chief operating officer of Post-Acute Services at LifeBridge Health. Eisenberg brings decades of expertise to one of Baltimore’s most progressive leaders in the post-acute care arena. Eisenberg will lead the entire 440-bed post-acute division.

The flagship of LifeBridge Health’s post-acute division is Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. With a total of 338 beds, Levindale has been on the forefront of sub-acute medical hospital services for more than 120 years and is known for deliver-ing high-quality eldercare in a less traditional, more compassionate and respectful hospital setting.

Rabbi Delivers State of the City Invocation

Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum delivered the invocation Monday at Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s State of the City address, which focused on making Baltimore a safer place for residents following 2014’s violent start.

“Almighty G-d, grant these public servants wisdom and understanding in their noble pursuit of justice and equality,” said Tenenbaum, as he led city and state officials gathered at City Hall in prayer. “Give them guidance so that they will always be conscious of Your presence and will strive to enact laws with honesty and integrity — in accordance with Your will.”

Tenenbaum, who serves as chaplain for the Maryland Defense Force, received the invitation to open the mayor’s speech from Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, whom Tenenbaum met in November when the two traveled 35 feet into the air on a lift to light the city’s Inner Harbor menorah.

Before the address, Tenenbaum attended the council’s luncheon, during which he spoke with council members about Jewish laws and customs for a sensitivity training session for those who may not be familiar with Jewish culture.

In addition to discussing Shabbat laws and kosher foods — he explained to council members who thought that kosher food was simply blessed by a rabbi that dietary law is more elaborate — he spoke about the Seven Noahide Laws.

“One of the Seven Noahide Laws is to create a peaceful and moral society governed by law,” he said. “And these public servants are messengers of that.”

It is important for elected officials to take the time to learn about the different subsets of their community, said Tenenbaum, adding that “it brings them closer to the community.”

Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler Opens New Office

021414_business-briefAdelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC announced the opening of its Baltimore County office in Nottingham Centre in Towson. Head-quartered in Baltimore City since 1927, the law firm also maintains a full-service office within the Columbia Town Center in Howard County at 10420 Little Patuxent Pkwy.

ARD&H Special Counsel Adam Sampson has been assigned to work from the new office, but it will also be regularly staffed by a rotation of attorneys — members and associates. Sampson has been a practicing attorney for more than 15 years and serves as an at-large member of the Baltimore County Bar Association Executive Council.

Applefeld Appointed To MSBA Position

Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC member and litigation section chair David B. Applefeld was appointed to serve on the the Maryland State Bar Association Construction Law Section.

With more than 22 years of experience, Applefeld serves as national panel trial counsel and special litigation counsel for several insurance companies and businesses and is a frequent speaker and author on insurance law, construction law and litigation topics.

Synagogue Without Exec After $500K Theft

After little more than a month of work, the new executive director for Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., was let go after admitting to stealing close to half a million dollars from a synagogue in California when he was its executive director.

Eric S. Levine “will no longer be serving as executive director for Adas Israel Congregation due to alleged, serious financial irregularities in his previous synagogue position in California,” read a letter sent to congregants and signed by synagogue president Arnie Podgorsky.

Levine admitted on Tuesday that he took between $400,000 and $500,000 over a five-year period from Congregation Beth El in La Jolla, Calif., according to a source close to the D.C. synagogue. His admission to the Adas Israel leadership followed one made to Beth El’s leadership, the source said.

Adas Israel officials immediately conducted an audit of its funds and found no irregularities at all, the source added. The synagogue is not contemplating charges as it experienced no harm.

Calls and emails to rabbinical and staff leadership at Congregation Beth El were not returned.

“We are persuaded that these alleged wrongdoings were unknown to Eric’s previous synagogue when we verified his performance and integrity prior to his being employed,” Podgorsky noted in his statement. “Obviously this news comes as a tremendous shock to both congregations.”

Adas Israel already has begun the process of finding a new executive director.

Levine started working at Adas Israel last month; he had been executive director at Congregation Beth El from July 2007 until December 2013, according to his LinkedIn page. On that page, he listed his experience as having “successfully navigated [an] organization’s finances through one of the worst economic disasters in U.S. history with six years of balanced budgets and modest surpluses each year.”

He also claimed to have “raised over $6 million for [a] congregation’s endowment with an additional 60-plus future legacy commitments.”

Prior to working at the California synagogue, Levine was associate director/director of planning and allocations at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County from April 2005 to July 2007.

Levine is married with young children.

“Our hearts go out to Eric’s family during this difficult time,” wrote Podgorsky. “We appreciate the immensely difficult circumstances that his wife and young children are experiencing. As a Jewish and holy community, we have an obligation to respect their privacy and be supportive.”

Centering On Care

The Reisterstown Road storefront of Renaissance Adult Medical Center is unremarkable, but pass through the secure entrance and you enter a vibrant world. The energy is palpable inside the walls of this spacious facility: The singing, card playing and lively debate from its senior citizens provide a window into how an adult day center can provide a sense of community for its clients.

Lazar Khodorkovskiy, 80, from Baku, Azerbaijan, has been attending the center for three years.

“I have many friends here,” said Khodorkovskiy, who lives in an apartment building on Park Heights Avenue. “I talk with people … because I’m alone at home. This is my life.”

Catering primarily to Jewish clientele from Russian-speaking countries, the Renaissance Center is part of the decades-long evolution of senior care. Centers like it began as merely an alternative to nursing homes or in-home elder care, but as aging in place has become an attractive option for mobility-challenged seniors and their families, adult day centers have expanded to provide specialized services, allowing seniors the opportunity to stay active, maintain a level of independence, receive the medical care they need and still reside with loved ones.

In Maryland, where regulations govern everything from staff to client ratios and standards of care, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital launched one of the state’s first such centers in the late 1970s, said Michelle Mills, the institution’s director of adult day services. “They had some elders who kept coming every day and didn’t need the nursing home but needed some level of care. So [Levindale] worked with the state, got the regulations and got started that way.”

In addition to its hospital, Levindale, a part of LifeBridge Health that operates as an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, runs two adult day centers and a partial hospitalization program at its complex off of Northern Parkway.

Mills, a 20-year veteran in the senior-care industry, has witnessed adult day centers evolve from ad hoc programs into full-fledged facilities. She said that the overall goal remains for “people to either delay or prevent nursing home placement.”

According to Mills, two factors have helped fuel the growth of adult day care. With advances in medical care, patients in general are living longer but often with chronic, manageable illness. Adult day centers, she said, are able to provide needed care and — because ancillary costs such as living expenses are either nonexistent or much lower — at a cost far lower than that of nursing homes.

In addition, noted Mills, adult day centers are able to answer the challenges faced by hospitals, whose government-imposed reimbursement rules establish penalties whenever patients are readmitted for treatment within 30 days of discharge. If an elderly patient is sent home, for instance, he might not take medications correctly and become unwell again or suffer an accident, necessitating a return to the hospital. An adult day center, said Mills, could prevent that scenario from unfolding.

“When you walk into an adult day center you see all the activities; you see cooking classes and bingo and discussion groups,” she said. “But what’s really going on behind the scenes is all the nursing coordination and reaching out to community doctors.”

Culture Club
At the Renaissance Center, in addition to the medical treatment rooms, several other components fill the enormous former furniture showroom. Sporting a high ceiling and filled with long communal tables and dozens of chairs, the main hall functions as a dining area, performance space, chat area and game room. There is a billiard and dominoes area, and in warmer weather double doors open outside to tables and a patio. Members can take a chair-yoga class, learn computer and English-language skills and visit a small screening room with overstuffed chairs. There is a small library, a medical office, a visiting manicurist and barber and a chess area that Donna Tatro, activities director at the center for four years, said is constantly occupied.

“We’re a mini-city,” said Marina Sokolin, program director at the center.

According to Yelena Gelfen, 51, whose parents Dora, 77, and Gregory Solomyenik, 85, have attended Renaissance for about five years, the program provides peace of mind.

“Oh my God yes, that center is like my savior,” she said. “They’re open seven days a week including holidays.”

Gelfen and her husband work full time and cannot provide the daily medical care and transportation needed for her parents. The Solomyeniks were self-sufficient until several years ago, when Gelfen’s father developed macular degeneration and could no longer see well enough to drive; her mother has had three major surgeries and now needs extra assistance because of severe back problems. Gelfen mentioned a Renaissance driver named Avto, who is so attentive to her mother’s needs that she talks about him as if he were her own son.

Gelfen’s story echoes that of Alexandra Rakhman, 50, who, in addition to her husband, children and brother, works full time and cannot provide the care needed for her mother, Odessa, Ukraine-native Lia Ayzenberg, 87.

Ayzenberg lives at Weinberg Senior Living and has attended Renaissance for two-and-a-half years. Fluent in English and Russian, she worked in the United States after her arrival in 1979. Rakhman explained that it’s not as much the language needs but the cultural comforts that really make the difference at Renaissance.

“The older you get, the more that native culture comes out,” said Rakhman. “The food is more familiar; she still does think in Russian.”

Rakhman pointed out that her mother, like other Russian seniors who have lived in the U.S. for decades, would gladly eat sushi and Chinese food when dining out, but when dining in, she prefers the comfort foods of her native home. Rakhman talks to her mother a couple of times a day and sees her regularly along with the rest of the family, but she admits that her mother needs more than that.

“The level of socialization and care there is amazing,” she said. “It makes me feel nice and cozy while I’m working, and I don’t have to worry.”