CHAI Unveils First Affordable Housing Project

Officials from CHAI and The Associated, as well as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (second from left), celebrate the opening of CHAI’s first affordable housing project for families. (Courtesy of Baltimore Jewish Council)

Officials from CHAI and The Associated, as well as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (second from left), celebrate the opening of CHAI’s first affordable housing project for families. (Courtesy of Baltimore Jewish Council)

Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), an agency  of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, unveiled its newly minted  16-unit Fallstaff Apartment building on Thursday, Sept. 29.

The project is the first affordable housing initiative CHAI has ever completed for families in its 33-year history, consisting of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Mitch Posner, CHAI’s executive director, said the organization plans to continue with similar ventures for Jewish families who desire to live in the suburbs of the Greater Baltimore community.

“Buying and renovating the Fallstaff Apartments was a  natural fit for CHAI,” Posner said in a prepared statement. “We modernized and beautified an aging apartment complex in the Fallstaff community so that limited income families could enjoy quality affordable family housing. It’s part of CHAI’s underlying mission to develop and enhance housing in neighborhoods with a  significant Jewish presence. We see this Fallstaff project as the first opportunity for CHAI to  invest its resources and development expertise to create affordable housing for families in our Northwest community.”

Among the amenities included are new kitchens, windows, bathroom components, flooring, painting, lighting, HVAC systems, as well as a new roof, landscaping and parking areas.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Easterwood Boys Club to Celebrate 61st Affair

The Easterwood Boys Club will celebrate its 61st annual affair with a luncheon at the Olive Branch in Pikesville on Oct. 19.

Former Baltimore Colts standout Tom Matte is slated to host the festivities, which several dozen people are expected to attend. It will include food, drinks and reminiscing in the restaurant’s private party room.

Lenny Miller, longtime president of the Easterwood Boys Club, said Easterwood Park was a home away from away for many Jewish kids in the Greater Baltimore area.

“Growing up back in the day, it was the place to be if you were a Jewish kid,” Miller said. “There was always something at the park to do for everyone, and you could just be a kid there.”

The park, located at the corner of Bentalou and Baker streets in West Baltimore, had a longstanding tradition in the Greater Baltimore Jewish community encompassing parts of six decades. It started in the 1910s as a home away home for many Jewish kids in the area who would get together to mostly play sports.

But as the neighborhood demographics started to change and more Jewish families moved to the northwest corridor of Baltimore County in the 1950s and 1960s, the park became known more for its nostalgia.

In response, the club was formed as way for past visitors of the park to stay in touch with one another. At its peak in the 1980s, Miller said, the club had more than 700 to 800 members. In recent years, however, that number has dwindled to a little less than 100, though Miller added that it still remains a  vibrant organization.

“This is a significant piece of Baltimore Jewish history, the entire area around Easterwood Park,” Miller said. “Everyone always had a good time there, and we will never forget the memories we made at that place.”

The cost of the Oct. 19 event is $35. For more information, contact Miller at 443-695-0423.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

The Backbone of MPT CEO Larry Unger continues to move the station into the future

CEO Larry Unger. Photo by David Stuck

CEO Larry Unger. Photo by David Stuck

Tight budgets, increased competition and mass technological and cultural shifts in the way viewers demand content and broadcasters try to deliver it — this is what Larry Unger confronts on a daily basis.

As CEO and president of Maryland Public Television, Unger, 68, juggles fundraising, technological updates, public appearances and ensuring diverse programming at the station.

This is not a position, however, he ever envisioned himself holding after leaving the banking  industry more than 21 years ago.

“I have to be candid: Television was not one of the things I thought about. Public television was certainly not one of the things I thought about,” Unger said. “MPT had been going through quite a tumultuous transition at that time.”

In 1997, when Unger first joined MPT — headquartered in Owings Mills — as a consultant, he brought nearly three decades of expertise in the local financial  services industry with him. This made him an ideal candidate to deal with the  reorganization MPT was going through  at the time with a new president and CEO, Robert J. Shuman, not to mention dwindling government financing.

“[Shuman] told me he was interviewing [Unger] and asked me what I thought of him? I knew we were looking for a chief financial officer at the time, and I had known Larry and told [Shuman] I thought he would do well,” said David Nevins, CEO and founder of Towson-based public relations firm Nevins &  Associates and former chairman of MPT.

ungercover2Unger, an Owings Mills resident, worked directly under Shuman, keeping the station financially solvent while  enhancing leadership skills needed to oversee a staff of more than 150. Together, Shuman and Unger continued to help MPT produce award-winning local and national content and grow its online presence and community outreach efforts while offering an array of education resources for children, teachers and daycare providers.

But when Shuman opted for retirement in 2011, after more than 15 years at the helm, a search committee was put together to conduct a national search for MPT’s next CEO and president. The search, which lasted several months, ended with Unger being promoted.

Edward Kaplan, chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission since 2007, said Unger possessed a unique set of traits and invaluable experience with the station that made him the best  fit for the position over several other high-profile candidates.

“You don’t often get that from someone in a nonprofit organization when they come in from the outside and apply their knowledge of business and finance to making your organization financially sound,” Kaplan said. “He really had all these background factors that helped him do the best job.”

For Unger, who said he was mostly  involved in MPT’s finances up until his  appointment to the No. 1 spot, it was an  adjustment that took some getting used to.

“If I have learned anything, it’s that management is management,” Unger said. “A lot of it is the way you treat people and the way they respond to that. I think I learned after a little while that it works pretty much the same at [MPT] as it did in banking.”

Once he got his feet wet in the position, Unger, the first Jewish CEO and fifth overall in MPT’s more than 40-year history, hit the ground running. Just last year, he was named one of Maryland’s 32 most admired CEOs for 2015 by The Daily Record, comprising officials from private companies, public companies, nonprofit organizations and government entities.

Larry Unger’s wife Sherry calls him the “hardest-working person I know,” which is evident in the way he involves himself at MPT. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger’s wife Sherry calls him the “hardest-working person I know,” which is evident in the way he involves himself at MPT. Photo by David Stuck

ungercover4

Photo by David Stuck

George Beneman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at MPT, said the new and innovative ideas Unger has brought to the forefront have MPT in a healthy place for years to come.

“I would say that Larry is — and has  always been into — new technology,” said Beneman, who has been with MPT since its launch in 1969 and is the company’s current longest-serving employee. “He truly is an early adopter of whatever is new in technology, and he encourages what we’re doing. When the industry moved to high definition, it rolled a lot faster than most of us in technology thought it would, which Larry had a part in before he was CEO.”

MPT, with an annual budget of approximately $32 million, averages more than 1.7 million viewers on a monthly basis and reaches more than 3 million households in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. It is the eighth-largest public television station of 161 PBS member stations, with such shows as “MotorWeek,” “Chesapeake Collectibles,” “Artworks,” “Direct Connection,” “Your Money & Business” and “State Circle.”

A little more than seven years ago, Unger, as executive vice president, helped MPT balance an expensive transition from analog to digital as part of a Federal Communications Commission mandate. A big portion of that undertaking included replacing four of the station’s six outdated antennas on the transmitter towers located throughout various cities, which Unger said costed as much as $1 million per antenna.

Today, MPT offers three channels, MPT-HD, MPT-2 and V-me, the first  national Spanish-language television  network in association with public television stations. By the end of this December or January, Unger said, MPT plans to add a fourth channel, NHK World, an international broadcasting service of NHK Japan’s public broadcaster, to broaden  its offerings. As part of the move, MPT-2  will switch from standard definition to high definition, giving the station a pair  of each.

ungercover5“The addition of NHK World will offer a different perspective with more international news,” Unger said. “That’s going to be a very different channel lineup from what we have right now.”

ungercover6When it comes to the programs that MPT puts together, Unger leaves that to the producers and on-air talent but still maintains an active presence in what goes on behind the scenes.

Unger, who served six years in the Coast Guard Reserve, was heavily involved in an MPT production that paid tribute to Vietnam War veterans from around the state.

In its largest initiative ever, MPT aired a three-part documentary series, “Maryland Vietnam War Stories,” featuring the stories of Vietnam-era veterans from Maryland and their families, presented in their own words. “Maryland Vietnam War Stories,” which cost $2.5 million and took about a year-and-a-half to complete, is exactly the type of programming Unger hopes to continue in order to separate his station from commercial networks.

Rhea Feikin, longtime host of  “Chesapeake Collectibles” and “Artworks,” has been with MPT for more than four decades and said Unger has done a lot to rekindle the spirit of the longtime employees with projects such as “Maryland Vietnam War Stories.”

Larry Unger proudly shows off MPT’s many awards. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger proudly shows off MPT’s many awards. Photo by David Stuck

“Larry is a real mensch in the best sense of the word,” Feiken said. “MPT has been a really great place to work, and it’s never been better than it is now. Larry is a wonderful leader, and his door is always open. You can talk to him about anything,  because he’s great at listening. He’s just made a real difference in the general feel and tone of the building.”

John Davis, who came to MPT in 1973 and is the host and senior executive producer of “MotorWeek,” now in its 36th season, said Unger has a knack for getting the most out of his employees.

“He came in with a very good idea of money, how it should be spent and how it should be conserved,” said Davis, who worked for a Wall Street investment firm before joining MPT. “He’s been on top of the numerous crises we’ve had in the state, during the recession, and he navigated us through that. Frankly, I can’t think of anybody else doing it better, and I think he’s doing it better than any of his processors could have, in my opinion.”

Because MPT only receives a combined $11 million from state and federal funding, Unger often meets with prospective donors for social lunches to solicit contributions. This is something he had not done much of in the past, but he has come to embrace that aspect of the job.

“I kid people by telling them, ‘You  really don’t want to go to lunch with me,  because I will ask you for money,’” Unger said with a laugh. “Most of the people who I’m making these asks of, they know why we are there.

“But I have found it very rewarding. I make the joke all the time now that it’s been a number of years, and no one has thrown anything at me at lunch yet. So I feel like I must be successful.”

Unger has also been pivotal in expanding MPT’s membership list to more than 65,000, meaning the station receives a monthly contribution from those people. In March 2015, the station set a new high in voluntary paid members that included 10,928 sustainers.

Larry Unger outside MPT’s headquarters in Owings Mills. Photo by David Stuck

Larry Unger outside MPT’s headquarters in Owings Mills. Photo by David Stuck

“We have a very, very loyal viewership, and Larry works extremely hard to make sure that particular group continues to grow,” said Howard Rosen, who has sat on the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission board for the last 10 years. “We measure those figures very close, and we think Larry has us in a great position for the foreseeable future.”

His relaxed demeanor is also something his employees relish because that, in turn, allows their creative juices to flow to the surfaces.

“Larry isn’t a micromanager, which is something I think the employees here can all appreciate,” said Jeff Salkin, who hosts businesses and political shows “Direct Connection,” “Your Money & Business” and “State Circle.” “It really is a family-like atmosphere around here, and I can’t stress how important that is to him and in his work.”

Outside of MPT, Unger has been an  active participant in many Jewish community service initiatives around the Greater Baltimore area  and is a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was an advisory board member for the Baltimore Hebrew Institute, formerly Baltimore Hebrew University, which is housed at Towson University, and served on the Jewish  National Fund board.

He and his wife Sherry have been married 48 years and have three children and five grandchildren. Sherry stressed Larry has always been driven.

“He’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever known,” Sherry said, “and Larry has always been very goal-oriented. Every goal he’s ever set, he has always reached for as long as I’ve known him.”

She added that Larry takes great pride in attention to detail. Even after Larry comes home after a long day of work, Sherry said, one of the first things he will do is go to their bedroom and catch up on all of the MPT programs he prerecords on their DVR.

For his part, Unger is so consumed with everything he has going on in his life that he really hasn’t considered the thought of retirement.

“I haven’t given much thought to that,” Unger said. “I plan to be here for the foreseeable future and continue to see through all the new projects we have in the works. I’m very fortunate to have this job and will continue to do it to the best of my ability for as long as I can.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

One Funny Jew: Rabbi Telushkin Delivers at JNF Event

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was the featured speaker at JNF’s  Baltimore Israeli-style breakast. Photo by David Stuck

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was the featured speaker at JNF’s Baltimore Israeli-style breakast. Photo by David Stuck

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin stood stocky, white bearded, bespectacled and altogether proud behind the lectern at the forefront (both literally and figuratively) of the magnificent, almost palatial grand hall of Temple Oheb Shalom, rimmed by emerald art deco portraitures depicting revered figures from Jewish history.

More than 500 well-dressed cognoscenti of the local Jewish community sat eager for the speech to come. Telushkin is, after all, one of the 50 best speakers in the United States according to Talk Magazine and bestselling author of more than 15 books including “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion,” which remains the past two decades’ most widely selling book on the subject.

Some of his anecdotes revolve around personal encounters with such prominent statesmen as Joseph Lieberman.

The room was held in rapturous silence, each person at the 30 or so tables leaning forward.

“Three Jewish mothers were talking about their sons,” Telushkin quipped, “with one bragging, ‘My son, he loves me so much, he just bought me tickets for a cruise around the world!’ Another said, ‘That’s nothing. My son loves me so much he paid for a fully catered meal at a glorious dinner.’ The last chimed in cheerfully, ‘I have you both beat: My son pays a therapist $300 per hour … and all he talks about is me!’”

The joke resulted in an explosive eruption of raucous laughter from the audience, which was there to support the Jewish National Fund, a 115-year-old organization dedicated to fructifying needful expansion and emboldening in Israel. It was a perfect moment, if not necessarily an incongruous one.

Along with the procession of monumentally prestigious accolades he has received over the years, Telushkin is  notable in the nascent scholarly field of comedy. His speech for the morning was in fact based largely on his 1998 book “Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews” and thoughtfully explored the intersectionality between the Jewish identity and humor through a kaleidoscopic prism of sobering probity.

Following his introductory remarks — the only part of the speech he smirkingly claimed would be “serious” — that included the New Yorker’s admiration for Baltimore, a place he’s visited many times, as well as the community’s high percentage of Jews active in the JNF’s goals, Telushkin “switched gears,” launching right into his first joke … about promising not to go beyond another two hours.

Erika Pardes Schon (pictured) co-chaired the event with  Ellen Taylor. Photo by David Stuck

Erika Pardes Schon (pictured) co-chaired the event with Ellen Taylor. Photo by David Stuck

(A clever way to mollify some slight tension, met by resoundingly boisterous chuckles, in reference to some mumbled collective mutterings about the event having started a bit late.)

Being true to his word, so to speak, Telushkin immediately cut to the chase and focused on the brunt of his morning’s premise. He explained that so-called “ethnic humor” deals in broad strokes, stereotypes and clichés. A joke about a “drunken Irishman” or “cheap Jew” hold much more water, for example, than, say, “a drunken Jew” or “cheap Irishman.” Obviously, to suggest all Jews are cheap is as ridiculous as to imply Jews can’t or don’t get drunk, that all Irishmen are drinkers or can’t be cheap themselves.

The ridiculousness inherent to stereotypes of such humor is exactly what can make long-entrenched and oft-told jokes funny. To some.

As Telushkin suggested, it might be worth considering that those who take umbrage with this brand of humor may be taking the stereotypes they caricature a little too seriously, which brings into question these persons’ own embedded sensibilities about said unfortunate clichés.

“One Jew crossed another in the night and said, ‘I’m so sorry. I heard your business burned down last night.’ ‘Shh,’ said the other. ‘That’s tomorrow night.’”

After the uproarious laughter died down, Telushkin explained that it might be slightly easier to laugh at an old joke such as this one about Jews being avaricious “tricksters” if one comes into the conversation already understanding that, of course, this is not the case and thus the joke is mere lampooning.

Many groups of people like Jews have a long  history of  oppression. And telling these jokes is one way to deal with that. It’s something that can unite all those who have been marginalized  at one time or  another.

— Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

“People who abhor ethnic humor might be those who think all persons in each group are the same,” Telushkin said.

Certainly, such jokes can be used to discuss various seemingly established traits of, for argument’s sake, Jews: their ties to family (as showcased in the aforementioned jibe about the three Jewish mothers) or their propensity toward analysis (an element of the same joke).

This last dubious notion may be somewhat understandable, Telushkin said, due to the father of psychoanalysis — Sigmund Freud — being Jewish. According to Telushkin, Freud, in fact, was surrounded by so many like-minded Jews in his vocational circle that he made sure to request the appointment of the gentile Carl Jung as president of the International Psychoanalytic Society so that the burgeoning field of study would not be considered a “Jewish science” vulnerable to anti-Semitic criticism.

Humor, Telushkin continued, always takes the various extremes of situations and exaggerates them. That’s a critical component to its absurdity.

“A Jewish husband was told by his wife’s therapist that she has trust issues. ‘I know,’ said the husband. ‘I read about it in her diary.’”

There’s a patent absurdity in Telushkin’s gag that stretches to near tearing the rubbery extremes of stereotypes involving a paranoid Jewish husband who would go to the extent of reading his neurotic Jewish wife’s private diary.

All people laugh at and understand such narishkeit, was Telushkin’s overall point. It’s something that unifies not only Jews but all peoples, no matter their religion, race, gender, creed, class, ability.

“Many groups of people like Jews have a long history of  oppression,” Telushkin told the JT shortly after his speech. “And telling these jokes is one way to deal with that. It’s something that can unite all those who have been marginalized at one time or another.”

“I think that in everything that [Telushkin] writes, we can learn so much about human behavior, and much of this unifies all of us,” JNF’s national campaign director, Diane Scar, told the JT.

“By revisiting the generalizations that we maybe grew up with,” Scar continued, “we can look at so many important issues through a different lens and see, yes, that we’re all so much more similar than different.”

“We [at the JNF] wanted this morning to be a time when attendees could feel that they were with a very, very scholarly gentleman like Rabbi Telushkin and also have an opportunity to sometimes laugh at themselves and expose some of the nuances that sometimes might be taboo to talk about,” Scar said.

“We knew he would do this in a professional manner and that people could go into the High Holidays not only focusing on their transgressions necessarily, but also the positive things they do. Especially our contingent who are doing good throughout the day and feel just really proud of the work that they’ve done.”

It’s no wonder then that Telushkin ended what was already a jovial colloquium with the reminder Hebrew might be the only language he knows of whose word for “charity” — tzedakah — is the same for “justice.”

Here again is the ultimate contradiction that lends itself to a kind of absurd humor in its formulation: In continually seeking a certain justice for the past, Jews may be seen as pessimistic while optimistically giving charity where needed in looking toward the future, leading to Jews being, in Telushkin’s final summation, “optimists with worried looks on our faces.”

Now that’s funny.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

 

Yom Kippur: A Community Lens

(credit: ©iStockphoto.com/lipmic)

(credit: ©iStockphoto.com/lipmic)

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, marks the end of 40 days of penitence and commemorates the day that God forgave the Jewish people for the folly and sin of the Golden Calf.

In contemporary Judaism, however, Yom Kippur serves as a day to atone for sins from the past year. For community members, the holiday — on Oct. 12 — has varied and deep meanings.

“I think that Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to wipe clean the slate of the past year,” said Rachel Glaser, an Owings Mills resident. “For me, it gives me the opportunity to set things right if there are people that I may have  had disagreements with, or if  I did not live up to my own  expectations for myself or the expectations of others in my community. My whole relationship to God is through the lens of my relationships with my community, my family and the world. I don’t see it as something separate. I reflect a lot on Yom Kippur and stay all day in synagogue, I use the words of the prayers to inspire me on how to approach this new opportunity to make things better.”

“Yom Kippur is the day the accountant comes,” said Martin Perel, who was eating at Goldberg’s New York Bagels on a recent afternoon. “You have your moral books checked to see if you’re in the red or the black.”

This thought was mirrored by Shomrim spokesman Nathan Willner, who shared, “Yom Kippur really just represents new  beginnings and time for introspection. It means taking a moral inventory of your year’s work, celebrating your successes and taking the time to improve on how you deal with challenges.”

I don’t just think to be  forgiven for  the past year  on Yom Kippur; it’s a time to think about  how you live your life. — Gail Walton

“It’s about forgiveness, not just atonement,” said Ruby Grossblatt, a Jewish reporter from Atlanta who was in Baltimore to get married and was also dining at Goldberg’s. “It is about forgiving yourself as well as others. You want to make a better year and come back to your roots a little.”

“All of the holidays were ingrained in me by the way I was raised, but I believe that God is forgiving, no matter what you do,” said Gail Walton, another Goldberg’s customer. “I don’t just think to be forgiven for the past year on Yom Kippur; it’s a time to think about how you live your life.”

This belief seems to be becoming more and more common. One aspect of the holiday that has shifted over the years is the form in which people seek repentance. The traditional practice for the holiday is to fast and reflect on the past year. However, many people in the community find that being active and volunteering in the community in the 10 days  between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the Days of Awe — is an another way  to derive meaning from the holiday.

Walton explained: “A rabbi that I met at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim once told me, ‘Going to synagogue and praying isn’t being a good Jew. It’s what’s in your heart and what you do.’ My son decided the other day, ‘I want to do a mitzvah, it is the High Holidays.’ He went and helped somebody apply for college, someone who didn’t about the process and needed some help. I believe that performing a mitzvah can make up for everything.”

David Bienenstock, a retired day school teacher, said Yom Kippur is a happy day for him.

“Even though you are fasting, the idea is that whatever you’ve done over the year, you will get forgiven at the end of the day if you did what you are supposed to do,” he said. “It is an intense and busy day but knowing that you will be forgiven is worth it.”

Bienenstock also makes sure to engage the community around the High Holidays. “Every year for many years,” he said, “I have been going to people’s houses to blow shofar for them. People will write to or call me and ask me to come for all sorts of reasons. Some people are ailing and bedridden, some people have young children. I got a call from a man whose wife had just had leg surgery.”

Like Bienenstock, Yom Kippur turns over a new leaf for others.

“When Yom Kippur is over, I feel that something is different in me,” said Glaser. “I sense a new spirit in myself, and the challenge is to maintain that momentum over the course of the year.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

ADL’s Greenblatt Embraces Controversy, Bemoans Rancor in Community

(JTA/Courtesy Anti-Defamation League))

(JTA/Courtesy Anti-Defamation League))

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) national director Jonathan Greenblatt, coming off an inaugural year after the retirement of longtime leader Abraham Foxman, is not afraid to call the prime minister of Israel out in an international forum.

The same can be said for embracing causes that, on their face, are not inherently “Jewish.”

But whereas some may point to the Obama administration alum’s propensity to speak his mind — even at the expense of Benjamin Netanyahu — as indicative of a new tack for the 103-year-old Jewish organization, Greenblatt himself sees it as part and parcel of what the ADL has always done: advocate on behalf of the Jewish people and their homeland.

“The ADL, throughout its history, has been an ardent advocate for the State of Israel,” Greenblatt said during an interview last week. “In the year I’ve been here, we’ve been out in front, again and again, advocating … with the U.S. government, with foreign governments.

“From time to time, we’ve called out specific policies of the government,” he added. “That happened under the watch of my predecessor, and that’s happened under my watch. Calling out a policy in no way represents a break in our policy of being an ardent advocate.”

Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who went on to the White House as director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, recently penned a piece for Foreign Policy that questioned the logic behind the release of a video by the  Israeli prime minister’s office. In it, Netanyahu equates the Palestinian demand for no  Israeli settlers to remain in a future Palestinian state with “ethnic cleansing.”

Greenblatt called the tactic raising “an inappropriate straw man regarding Palestinian policy toward Israeli settlements” and wrote that considering settlers’ wishes to extend Israeli sovereignty and protection to their communities, their presence would not be compatible with a sovereign Palestinian state. The critique dovetailed with the objections of the U.S. State  Department, which slammed Netanyahu’s video.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a frequent critic of the ADL, chose to criticize the Obama administration instead. It released a news release quoting ZOA  national president Morton A. Klein as saying, “The Obama administration is ignoring the scandalous, racist [Palestinian Authority] demand for a Jew-free Palestinian state. The  Israeli prime minister is right that this demand is outrageous and the international toleration of it no less outrageous.”

In many cases, though, the ZOA reserves its most pointed criticism for the ADL and Greenblatt, accusing him and the organization of, among other things, backing the Black Lives Matter movement despite that movement’s embrace of Palestinian positions.

In a news release invoking Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s characterization of some of his contemporary early 20th-century Jews as “political simpletons,” Klein called ADL educational materials on civil rights, race relations and police powers the “epitome of foolishness.”

For his part, Greenblatt shies away from direct criticisms of leaders of other Jewish organizations, although he did refer to the ZOA in a JTA interview last month.

“We’re a civil rights organization. The ZOA is not,” he said. “We’re an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism and bigotry. The ZOA is not. They’ve been doing this [criticizing us] for over 20 years, so you can draw your own conclusions.”

In his interview last week, Greenblatt vowed to “not criticize other Jewish leaders on the left or the right.”

“I won’t do it,” he said.

Greenblatt acknowledges a new dynamic in Jewish communal dialogue. That includes the apparent readiness of  traditional Israel defenders in the United States to go on record in opposition to Israeli policies or the tenor of debate surrounding such issues as last year’s Iran nuclear deal and the Memorandum of Understanding signed last week.

The historic agreement guarantees Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually for 10 years, but some in the community have accused the deal of not going far enough.

“I am surprised and troubled by the degree of rancor inside the community,” Greenblatt said. “You saw this around the Iran deal, which I did not support. … All in all, it’s really troubling.”

Now that the Iran deal is a reality, he contended, the community can and must find points of agreement.

“Whether people supported the deal or opposed the deal, for us, what was true then is even more true now: Iran is one of the most anti-Semitic, anti-American illiberal regimes in the world.

“They are the single-largest state sponsor of terror in the world,” he continued, and “continue to propagate hate against Israel like no other country on the planet.”

But ensuring a strong and  secure Jewish state is far from Greenblatt’s only calling. When he speaks of the challenges Jews around the world face, he looks at the long arc of the Jewish people’s history and points out similarities between American anti-Semitism today, the European anti-Semitism of yesterday and the ongoing struggles of the civil rights movement.

The organization was founded around the same time as the lynching of Jewish American Leo Frank outside Atlanta, Greenblatt pointed out.

“The purpose … would be to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment for all.”

While the founding call is “to protect the Jewish people,” he explained, “our organizational mission is this dual approach [that includes] working to  secure civil rights and fair  treatment” for everyone.

A half century ago, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses, he said.

“In 2016, they’re burning up Twitter.” Back then, “extremists were fielding independent marginal candidates; today, we have white supremacists openly supporting a presidential candidate. Fifty years ago, Jewish communities were recovering from the Shoah in Europe. Today those same Jewish communities are retreating from Europe because of fear.”

That, perhaps more than anything else, cements Greenblatt’s belief that while the world may look different in the 21st century, the hatred and inequality of 100, 1,000 and 5,000 years ago has neither changed nor diminished.

And although Greenblatt represents, in many ways, a departure from Foxman’s  almost three-decade tenure — “I’m the first Jonathan Greenblatt,” he said — he sees his own leadership as an evolution, a mere continuation of the ADL’s long fight.

“How do I harness that heritage as I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me?” he asked himself. “The Jewish people have always faced challenges. … The challenges looking ahead are increasingly complex [but] just as serious.”

Super Sunday A Success

From left: Women’s campaign chair Linda Elman, Associated board chair Linda Hurwitz and Annual Campaign chair John Shmerler (Provided)

From left: Women’s campaign chair Linda Elman, Associated board chair Linda Hurwitz and Annual Campaign chair John Shmerler (Provided)

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore kicked off its annual fundraising campaign on Sunday, Sept. 25 with its Super Sunday phonathon, which raised $1.4 million from 739 donors.

The Associated’s goal is to raise $31 million during its 2017 Annual Campaign.

“Super Sunday was a huge success and we are privileged to have such a generous community,” campaign chair John Shmerler said in a press release.

He added, “We hope to raise 85 percent of our Annual Campaign by the end of 2016 so that we can successfully plan for next year. The community’s support will enable us to provide the financial  resources to ensure our vulnerable do not fall through the cracks, while building a vibrant Jewish future for our children.”

The money raised will support a number of Associated agencies. One such institution is CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, which has  provided more than 1,048 services for older adults through Northwest Neighbors Connecting (NNC), a program designed to ensure that these adults can remain in their communities as long as possible. Jewish Community Services (JCS), another outreach organization, assists more than 1,450 individuals who are struggling financially.

The Macks Center for Jewish Education actively works to engage the community as well with its community connector program, which helps develop new relationships and introduce individuals to organizations of interest and generally showcase all that Jewish Baltimore has to offer.

Super Sunday was the culmination of Super Week, a week of events that aimed to get members of local communities active and engaged with Baltimore’s Jewry. Events included a concert, “Meditation and Yoga for the Jewish Women’s Soul,” a gathering at the American Visionary Arts Museum and a panel discussion about how to care for relatives as they age.

After Bombings, New Yorkers Cop an Israeli Attitude: ‘Stuff’ Happens

A New York City police officer stands guard outside Grand Central Station in New York City. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Image)

A New York City police officer stands guard outside Grand Central Station in New York City. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Image)

TEL AVIV — “I heard the explosion, then I went to the deli.”

In the hours after the bombings two weekends ago in New York and on the Jersey Shore, the phrase became an instant slogan for New Yorkers’ purported coolness under fire.  Attributed to a witness of the bombing that injured 31 people in Manhattan, one of three  apparently attempted by a New Jersey man apprehended Sept. 19, it quickly spread online.

Media commentators soon picked up on the meme of New Yorkers’ resilience.

On “The Daily Show” the Monday night after the bombings, host Trevor Noah made light of news footage of New Yorkers complaining about being mildly inconvenienced by the bombing. BuzzFeed highlighted tweets by New Yorkers debating which of Manhattan’s ill-defined neighborhoods should be properly identified as the site of the bombing.

Over here in Israel, a country that prides itself on how quickly it recovers after a terrorist attack, experts on social resilience agreed that Americans are rightly impressed by New Yorkers — though they said Saturday’s bombings, which had no fatalities, was not a particularly severe test. While Israelis have been prepared for terrorism by decades of experience, they said, New Yorkers may develop resilience just by living in the hectic city.

“If you have past experience with continuous disruption it helps, it helps to be prepared for disruption caused by terror,” Meir Elran, the lead researcher on homeland security at the Institute of National Security Studies, a leading think tank in Israel, said.

“As we say in Hebrew: S—- does happen. I think New Yorkers may be uniquely aware of that.”

In social science, resilience can be defined as a society’s ability to bounce back from a disruption, or an event that  interferes with daily life. The faster a society returns to normal following a disruptive event, like severe violence or a natural disaster, the more resilient it is said to be. The more disruptive the event, the longer it will take to return to normalcy.

An Israeli Border Police officer checks a Palestinian man in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's  Old City.  (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

An Israeli Border Police officer checks a Palestinian man in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Past experience of disruptions and social capital are major predictors of resilience.

“It is true that people are  resilient in general. Otherwise the human race would not have sustained itself for so many generations through so many various disruptions,” Elran said. “It is also true that there are societies that are more resilient than others, and the rate of resilience of a society depends to a great extent on past exposure to disruptions and how socially and economically well off it is.”

Unfortunately, Israel has dealt with regular disruptions by Palestinian terrorism since before its founding. Rather than collapsing, the society has strengthened, including  by gradually and haltingly  improving its preparation.

After the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War, both in the 2000s, Israel shifted its security doctrine to include protecting the homeland rather than only taking the fight to the enemy. The state built a security barrier with the West Bank, developed missile defense systems and  restructured its Home Front Command, among other things. (On Tuesday, sirens sounded across Israel as part of a  national preparedness drill, a practice introduced after the Second Lebanon War.)

At around the same time, observers have said, there was a shift in the way Israelis thought about themselves. Matti Friedman, a former  correspondent for the Associated Press, said in his new book that Israelis by 2000 had given up on reshaping the Middle East, be it through Oslo-like compromise or Lebanon War-like force.

“When these things began to be clear, something interesting occurred,” Friedman wrote in “Pumpkinflowers.” “People in Israel didn’t despair, as our enemies hoped. Instead they stopped paying attention. Our happiness would no longer  depend on the moods of people who wish us ill, and their happiness wouldn’t concern us more than ours concerns them.”

Speaking from Jerusalem, he said: “There have been stabbing attacks here over the last few days. The city is completely unaffected. It hasn’t come up in people’s conversations. It hasn’t affected people’s plans that I know of. If the  intention is to disrupt people’s lives and make them afraid, it’s not working.”

Deeming Zionist slogans outdated, Friedman in his book suggested a new one to rival New York’s: “On the bus.” This was the terse answer an Israeli soldier named Harel gave to an interviewer who in 2000 asked how he managed to return to Southern Lebanon after his entire platoon was killed in the helicopter crash that ultimately led to Israel’s withdrawal from the area.

Of course, New Yorkers have faced terrorism, too, most notably the world-shaking  attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Like Israel, New York and the United States, traumatized by the attacks, responded by  becoming more prepared. The creation of the New York  Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the U.S. Department of Homeland  Security and Transportation Security Administration are just a few examples. But terrorism is not part of daily life in the Big Apple the way it is in Israel.

“The situation in New York is still fundamentally different,” an Israeli researcher on social resilience said on condition of anonymity because of the public nature of his policy work.

“Attacks like those [in New York and New Jersey] this week are sporadic, quite rare events that contradict the usual story of life in New York City. So for now at least, it is possible to ignore terror as part of a shared reality there.”

Elran said the level of  disruption caused by the bombings was “very low.”

Still, the American celebration of New Yorkers’ resilience to terrorism has empirical backing, the researchers said. Studies have found the first  responders and the public in general returned to normal life remarkably quick after 9/11, in many ways within a few weeks.

New Yorkers may be resilient to terrorism despite relatively little experience in part because the intensity of living in the city involves near constant disruption on a small scale,  according to the researchers.

“Events happen here very quickly, and in New York, it is also the case,” said the social resilience researcher in Israel. “People there experience work-related stress and life is very intensive.”

Elran said it takes a certain degree of sophistication to  understand that things are not always going to be stable.

“New Yorkers, with their  diversity of experience, can been seen as people who are more  accustomed to disruption,” he said. “And it helps that they tend to be socially and economically well to do.”

Israel, too, has flourished socially and economically despite the constant threat of terrorism. The nation’s adaptability, arguably informed by its challenges, has made Israel a world leader in technology and security. But there are downsides, the social resilience researcher said.

“There is no magic way to avoid paying a price,” he said. “In Israel, there are high levels of frustration and aggression, and you know what the driving culture here is like.”

Anyone who has taken the New York subway during rush hour may be able to relate.

Jewish Mothers Assemble to Connect with Heritage

More than 300 Jewish mothers attended the annual Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Leadership Conference in College Park. (Daniel Schere)

More than 300 Jewish mothers attended the annual Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Leadership Conference in College Park. (Daniel Schere)

The realization  of Israel’s wonders is a “life-changing experience” that has a ripple effect from generation to generation.

That was the universal message heard at many points by more than 300 Jewish women from nine countries who gathered at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center earlier last week for the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project’s annual leadership conference.  JWRP was started by eight women in 2008 as a way to help Jewish women from around the globe connect with their heritage, which they have done by sending them on weeklong trips to Israel throughout the year.

The three-day conference featured a number of speakers and discussions about how JWRP members and former trip participants can bring their experience to their home communities. This was especially apparent during Sept. 19’s breakout sessions in a lecture given by Zeev Ben-Shachar called “Empowering your children to be proud supporters of Israel.” Ben-Shachar is the  director of Israel education at the nonprofit organization Jerusalem U, which seeks to help young Jews learn about Israel through film.

“What’s at stake? Just as we make films, anti-Israel activists make films,” he said before showing a music video called “Freedom for Palestine” that was promoted by the band Coldplay and contains a number of anti-Israel lyrics.

“You see something like that or your child sees something like that and you have to ask, is it effective? Is it persuasive? Most of our children don’t have the answer to that,” he said.

Ben-Shachar then showed a chart of countries and their perception among members of the international community done about 10 years ago. Israel was at the bottom of the chart with a 56 percent unfavorable rating. He then showed a map of the Middle East that distorted Israel to be similar in size to its neighbors, which he said is due to the inaccurate perceptions people have about the country’s influence in the world.

“This is how it lives in the psyche of people,” he said.

Ben-Shachar noted many people, including children, do not bother to read entire news articles but simply look at the headlines, which he cautioned can be misleading due to the differences in the way some news organizations report  terrorist attacks overseas.

“When it happens in Paris or Istanbul it’s terrorism, when it happens in Israel it’s an  attack,” he said.

Ben-Shachar said the best way to teach children about the complexities of Israel is  to look at the big picture by explaining that it lies in an  unstable region of the world surrounded by conflict, noting that Jews are not the only ones facing persecution in the Middle East.

“Israel is an excuse for me to teach critical thinking skills, he said. “If you want to understand Israel you have to be able to zoom out. If we zoom out we can see the predicament of other minority groups. Look at Christians in the Middle East and see that their numbers are dwindling.”

The constant threat of violence has not been a deterrent for JWRP’s participants. Stephanie Blockson and Laura Wolf of Baltimore encountered a mildly scary situation on their trip in October 2015 — a period of escalated violence during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group was at their hotel and suddenly noticed a group of anti-Israel protesters across the street, yet they weren’t fazed, Wolf said.

“We all kind of stopped and were like, ‘Should we be scared? Are they violent? We weren’t really sure what to do and  before we all knew it, I looked up at the head of our group and all of our armed guards were dancing and singing ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and they had an Israeli flag and all of a sudden all of the JWRP women were singing and completely overpowered the protesters,” she said. “It was just one of those moments that wasn’t even planned on the trip.”

Wolf and Blockson said the trip taught them a good deal about what it means to be a Jewish woman. They were  recruited to go on last year’s trip by friends and are now trying to do the same.

“For the trip that’s coming up in December I referred three women and all three of them were chosen for the trip,” Blockson said. “I try to talk about it all the time, and actually when I got back last year, someone said, ‘I want to meet for coffee. Tell me about your trip because I’m thinking about it.’”

Randi Sadugor, a July 2015 trip participant, said she too had a Zen-like experience in Israel when she was in Tzvat and realized that it was “OK to take time for yourself and prepare for your week or your night.” The trip inspired her to become more active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

“I have since then become involved in the Federation, and I’m getting involved in promoting JWRP,” she said.

One of the conferences highlights occurred on the final day, Sept. 20, when Rachel Fraenkel received one of the Pamela Claman Leadership Awards. Fraenkel’s son, Naftali, was one of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. She has since  become involved with JWRP as one of its trip speakers.

“For me, unity is feeling connected and remembering we are an extended family,” she told the conference via satellite feed. “In a family, you don’t have to like everyone all the time. Liking is a very personal choice, but love is different. Love is about commitment and responsibility, knowing I would do anything for you and remembering that deep down inside we are family, we are connected.”

In an interview with the Baltimore Jewish Times, Fraenkel said she usually speaks toward the end of the trip and can tell the women are at an emotional high.

“The one thing that’s really extraordinary is that these are people in the middle of their lives who have families. It’s not some kind of blank slate, like, how do you go from here,” she said.

Fraenkel said the support from Jews all over the world has been “unbelievable,” and she hopes the magic of Israel will be felt by women from “a variety of walks of Jewish life.”

Fraenkel said two years after her son’s death, she still hurts but is doing all she can to stay positive.

“The doors and the windows are wide open, and I try to keep perspectives with new experiences,” she said. “My mantra is that I can feel pain, I don’t have to become my pain. There are so many other colors and experiences.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

FIDF Raises $500K in Baltimore

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its annual gala at Beth Tfiloh Congregation on Thursday, Sept. 22. Nearly 600 attendees came  together to support the men and women of the IDF, including local, national and international leaders. The event raised more than $500,000.

“It is so fulfilling and gratifying to see how beautifully our community has embraced and supported Friends of the IDF. We never would have guessed that we’d attain the level of support we have now in such a short amount of time,” FIDF supporters Michael and Tsipi Renbaum said in a prepared statement. “The Baltimore community is united and dedicated to the brave young men and women of the IDF, these wonderful sons and daughters of Israel who watch over and safeguard our Jewish homeland every day. Am Yisrael Chai.”

According to a news release, the FIDF Mid-Atlantic region has adopted the soldiers of the Israeli Navy’s 3rd Flotilla and the Baltimore Chapter has adopted the IDF Home Front Command’s Kedem Battalion, a search-and-rescue unit that conducts emergency operations in Israel and abroad. FIDF’s Adopt-A-Brigade Program supports soldiers by providing  financial assistance to soldiers in need, caring for lone soldiers and funding rest and recuperation weeks for combat units.