The Snow & Ice Management Association’s Ice Storm Survival Tips

With a dangerous ice and snowstorm moving toward Baltimore, here are five tips on how to survive an ice event from the Snow & Ice Management Association.

>>TIP #1: Wear proper footwear. Proper footwear should place the entire foot on the surface of the ground and have visible treads. Avoid a smooth sole and opt for a heavy treaded shoe with a flat bottom.

>>TIP #2: Anticipate the ice. Be weary of thin sheets of ice that may appear as wet pavement (black ice). Often ice will appear in the morning, in shady spots or where the sun shines during the day and melted snow refreezes at night.

>>TIP #3: Plan ahead. While walking on ice-y sidewalks or in parking lots, walk consciously. Instead of looking down, look up and see where your feet will move next to anticipate ice or an uneven surface. Occasionally scan from left to right to ensure you are not in the way of vehicles or other hazards. When stepping off a curb, using steps, or getting into a car, be careful since shifting your weight may cause an imbalance and result in a fall.

>>TIP #4: Avoid taking shortcuts. Shortcuts are a good idea if you are in a hurry, but may be a bad idea if there is ice on the ground. A shortcut path, such as walking across a median in a parking lot, may be treacherous because it is likely to be located where snow and ice removal is not possible.

>>TIP #5: Stay home and be safe. During an ice event, spend some quality time at home. Forget spring-cleaning, now is a great time to tackle your basement, your office or a storage closet. Turn off your electronics–yes that includes your phone– and play a board or card game with your family. Take a book from your bookshelf–you know the one that you’ve been meaning to read and read it. Or have your family take turns reading a book out loud discussing it as you read.



Analysis: Nelson Mandela And Zionism

Nelson Mandela in 2008. (South Africa The Good News)

Nelson Mandela in 2008. (South Africa The Good News)

In the coming days, there will be much reflection on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, following the former South African president’s passing on Dec. 5. And in the coming weeks, we can anticipate a febrile exchange over his true views on Israel and the Middle East.

In the 1940s, many Britons could tell you exactly where they were when Churchill delivered his famous “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech to the House of Commons; in the 1960s, it was hard to find an American who couldn’t remember his or her precise location when the news of Kennedy’s assassination came through; and in the 1990s, it seemed, at least to me, that absolutely everyone could recall what they were doing at the moment the world learned that Mandela had been released after serving 27 years in a South African jail.

I certainly remember where I was on February 11, 1990, when Mandela finally exited prison. Along with thousands of others, I stood at the gates of the South African Embassy in London, an imposing edifice on the eastern side of Trafalgar Square. During my late teens, I’d become a regular attendee at rallies and protests outside the embassy demanding Mandela’s release. I can still hear the joyous roar of the crowd gathered around me, as we celebrated the fact that Mandela was no longer a prisoner of the apartheid regime.

Before this account gets overly saccharine, I should add that not every opponent of apartheid was a consistent advocate of democracy elsewhere in the world. Many of the protestors around me were, frankly, diehard Stalinists. And while they accurately perceived the monstrosity that was apartheid, they were only too happy to excuse the brutal crimes of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. They had copious words of condemnation for the white minority regime in Pretoria, but they rolled their eyes in irritation at the suggestion that the Soviet KGB, the East German Stasi and the Romanian Securitate were just as bad, if not worse. Indeed, I couldn’t help thinking that they regarded Mandela’s release as welcome relief from the gloom that set in when communism unraveled around the same time.

Which brings me to the question of Mandela’s political legacy. There will be no shortage of platitudes on the left about Mandela’s nonetheless heartfelt commitment to racial tolerance, painstaking negotiation and civil disobedience in the face of injustice. Equally, many on the right will accurately recall that Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) was closely aligned with the Soviet Union and with a host of thoroughly unpleasant terrorist organizations, like the PLO, who dressed themselves up as “liberation movements.” As a recipient of both the Soviet Order of Lenin and the American Presidential Medal of Freedom, it might be said that Mandela embodied this contradiction.

Still, Mandela was no orthodox leftist. In his autobiography, he discusses how he was strongly influenced by the Atlantic Charter of 1941, a mission statement shaped by the visions of Churchill and FDR for a post-war order in which freedom would reign, fear and want would be banished, and self-government would emerge as a core principle. Elsewhere in the book, he takes care to distinguish the African nationalism he subscribed to from the communist beliefs that prevailed among those he worked with—and his understanding of nationalism bears a close resemblance to the national movements that surfaced in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, including Zionism.

This latter point is important because there is a widespread misapprehension that Mandela was an opponent of Zionism and Israel. In part, that’s because a mischievous letter linking Israel with apartheid, purportedly written by Mandela, went viral on the Internet (in fact, the real author was a Palestinian activist named Arjan el Fassed, who later claimed that his fabrication nevertheless reflected Mandela’s true feelings.) Yet it’s also true that, in the Cold War conditions of the time, the ANC’s main allies alongside the Soviets were Arab and third-world dictators like Ahmed Ben Bella in Algeria and Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. The confusion is further stirred by the enthusiasm of some of Mandela’s comrades, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to share the South African franchise on the word “apartheid” with the Palestinians.

But those activists who want to make the Palestinian cause the 21st-century equivalent of the movement that opposed South African apartheid in the 20th century will—assuming they conform to basic standards of honesty—find it very difficult to invoke Mandela as support. Mandela’s memoirs are full of positive references to Jews and even Israel. He recalls that he learned about guerilla warfare not from Fidel Castro, but from Arthur Goldreich, a South African Jew who fought with the Palmach during Israel’s War of Independence. He relates the anecdote that the only airline willing to fly his friend, Walter Sisulu, to Europe without a passport was Israel’s own El Al. And the ultimate smoking gun—the equation of Israel’s democracy with apartheid—doesn’t exist.

Mandela once wrote that Jews, in his experience, were far more sensitive about race because of their own history. Now, it is absolutely true that there are parallels between the oppression suffered by South African blacks under racist white rulers, and Jews living under hostile non-Jewish rulers. The notorious Group Areas Act, which restricted black residency rights, brings to mind the enforced separation of Jews into the “Pale of Settlement” by the Russian Empress Catherine in 1791. Many of the other apartheid regulations, like the ban on sexual relationships between whites and blacks, carried echoes of the Nazi Nuremburg Laws of 1935.

Mandela’s diagnosis was that Africans should be the sovereigns of their own destiny. Similarly, the founders of Zionism wanted nothing less for the Jews.

Sadly, none of that will stop today’s advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement from falsely claiming Nelson Mandela as one of their own. But the truth is subtler than that. Mandela’s complicated legacy doesn’t really belong to any political stream—and that is one more reason to admire him.


Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.


Analysis: Race For AG

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) (Dayna Smith/ImageSmith Media)

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery)
(Dayna Smith/ImageSmith Media)

In an all-democrat race for Maryland attorney general, the four candidates who have formally declared have found themselves in a unique position: they aren’t all that different from one another.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery), Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) and Del. William Frick (D-Montgomery) each hail from suburban central Maryland districts, distinct from the western and eastern ends of the state both economically and socially, and each hold similar positions on many of the big issues.

Last month, the candidates attended a forum at the University of Maryland’s law school where they agreed on ever-popular issues like consumer protection and enforcing laws aimed at protecting the environment, issues that the Baltimore Jewish Council told the JT in September are at the top of their list of priorities as well.

On paper, it looks like an easy win for Frosh. In addition to his 27 years in local politics, Frosh has also been at the center of many of the most controversial issues the state has faced while serving as chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a position he has held since 2003. He has a clear record of leadership and a long resume.

Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s) (Provided)

Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s) (Provided)

Laslo Boyd, managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors and political columnist, thinks the June 2014 Democratic primary could come down to a battle between record and name recognition.

“I think the name recognition is huge,” said Boyd. “Jon Cardin has the highest name recognition of anybody in the race. But the name recognition is Cardin, not Jon.”

On the other hand, said Boyd, “Jon Cardin’s substantive record pales compared to Brian Frosh — it’s not close.”

He added that Braveboy and Frick lack both the name recognition and the record to be real contenders, though, both being from the D.C. area, they could pose a threat to Frosh in that they can take some of his local votes.

Del. Jon Cardin  (D-Baltimore County) (Provided)

Del. Jon Cardin
(D-Baltimore County) (Provided)

In the June primary, which falls three months earlier than Maryland has held primaries for statewide elections over the past 48 years, Frosh’s record may not be enough to win him an easy victory, though he has been picking up some big endorsements.

The first-ever end of June primary, Boyd said, is expected to result in a low voter turnout in an already low-visibility race. Voters used to having until September to decide on a candidate will now have to make their decision months earlier, if they make a decision at all.

“Name recognition in low-visibility races probably is a very important factor, more than it is in a high-visibility race where, ultimately, everybody has high name recognition,” said Boyd.

Another effect of the June primary is the new proximity of the election to the end of the legislative session and the implication for fund raising. Three of the seven months the candidates have remaining to fund raise will be off limits as the state ethics guide forbids state legislators from fundraising while in session. This means it is crucial that the candidates work to build up a stash of funds before they go into session in January and their hands become effectively tied.

Del. William Frick (D-Montgomery) (Provided)

Del. William Frick (D-Montgomery) (Provided)

Doug Gansler has held the seat since 2006, most recently winning reelection in 2010; he ran unopposed in both the primary and the general election. With no contender stepping forward from the Republican side, it appears for now that the fall election will mimic that of 2010. JT

The deadline to file for candidacy is Feb. 25, 2014, and annual campaign finance reports are due to the state board of elections in January.

By The Numbers
The most current campaign finance records, filed in January 2013, reported each candidate as having on-hand:

Brian Frosh: $390,656

Jon Cardin: $170,225

Bill Frick: $60,353

Aisha Braveboy: $9,296

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter

Magic in Morocco

Shared values. Mutual trust. Common interests. Strong friendship.

These were some of the phrases President Barack Obama used late last month following a meeting with King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

The two countries share a historic relationship; one that began in the 18th century and continues to thrive.

Moroccan Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo says the Jews of Morocco are small in number, but strong.

Moroccan Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo says the Jews of Morocco are small in number, but strong.

What is more fascinating than the strong relations between this predominantly Muslim country and the U.S. is the peaceful relations Morocco enjoys with the State of Israel. And, while the Jewish population in Morocco is small (only about 4,000 people), it is strong and thriving, at least according to Ambassador-at-Large Serge Berdugo, president of the Jewish Community of Morocco and former Minister of Tourism, who accompanied the king on his visit to the States.

In a meeting with the Baltimore Jewish Times, Berdugo reaffirmed the country’s strong ties with the United States — “we cooperate, politically, against terrorists, we collaborate in all areas where peace is in danger” — but also waxed optimistic and confident about the state of the Jewish people in Morocco. He said the Jews of Morocco have been living there for more than 2,000 years. At one time, the population was much larger, but a series of incidents and emigration reduced that number by thousands.

What didn’t happen, however, was that Morocco (like many other Muslim states) kicked out its Jews with the founding of the State of Israel.

“The Muslims here let the Jews live their way,” said Berdugo.

However, many Jews did leave in 1948. This, said Berdugo, was because they wanted to fulfil the Zionist dream.

“That is the phase we can call Messianic,” he said.

Moroccan Secretary General  Dr. Ahmed Abbadi notes that  Morocco was never enraptured  by the dogmatism of Damascus.

Moroccan Secretary General
Dr. Ahmed Abbadi notes that
Morocco was never enraptured
by the dogmatism of Damascus.

Another wave left Morocco in 1953 when King Mohammed V was exiled; the Jews feared there would be persecution. In 1956, when Muslim rule returned and the remaining Jews were used to French culture, a number again left. But the greatest number fled the country in 1961, after the first conference of the Arab League in Casablanca. At that meeting, explained Berdugo, Morocco opted to adopt the resolutions of the league and this meant (at the time) no communication with the State of Israel.

“It meant Jews in Morocco could not talk to their family in Israel,” he explained.

Half of the Jews went to Israel then. The other half to Canada. He said Montreal got thousands of Moroccan Jews.

But even as the population shrank, the people remained stable.

“In Morocco, the king sees it as an obligation to protect the Jews,” Berdugo said.

This obligation comes from the way the country interprets Islam. In that same meeting, Dr. Ahmed Abbadi, secretary general of a council of religious scholars established by the king, who works closely with Ambassador Berdugo on issues of religious tolerance, diversity and interfaith cooperation, explained that Morocco never adopted “the values of Damascus,” but rather maintained a belief in Sufi Islam, an Islamic philosophy that values peace, “rejoicing and happiness.”

Abbadi said he believes one of the reasons for this is because Morocco was separated from the rest of the world by “three great series of mountains and this protected us from interactions with other countries.” Because the values of self-rule, democracy and tolerance have, over the years, become so ingrained in Moroccan culture, he said, as extremists try to infiltrate — and they have — they receive little following.

Abbadi said Morocco is not prey to dogma, but common sense.

This is likely the reason Morocco is a trailblazer in Muslim-Israeli relations, one of the only connectors between Israel and the Arab world. The two countries cooperate in areas of mutual benefit, including technology and defense.

Also, Morocco serves as a voice of reason in regard to the peace process. Berdugo said Morocco (and Moroccan Jews) would like to see a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, but that the country will not assist at the table until it feels both parties are ready to move forward.

“We are not trying to waste our time in discussion,” he said. “If you want to talk together and do something, we are there. If you don’t want to, we are not there.”

Berdugo said Morocco has always been “a player of good will, trying to do our best to promote peace and two states with security and dignity — security for one, dignity for the other.”

In recent months, the King of Morocco has taken additional steps to safeguard the country’s Jewish history. For example, a cemetery restoration project has restored and beautified 167 cemeteries, 48 retaining walls, 200,000 square meters of pavement and some 12,000 tombs across the country.

Similarly, the King has been instrumental in preserving synagogues and schools. Berdugo noted that there are 15 synagogues in Morocco.

“If you go out at 7 a.m., you can see the Jews going to synagogue. No one takes a look at them; they are part of the context,” he said.

Additionally, there are five Jewish schools, some of which have as much as a 25 percent Muslim student population. There, the Jews learn Arabic and Hebrew, and the Muslim students do, too.

“It is not a matter of quantity, it is a matter of quality,” said Berdugo of the Jewish population.

The message both Berdugo and Abbadi said they wanted to make clear is that while in the States people tend to view Morocco as just a part of the Middle East, it does not view itself in the same light as nations like Syria, Lebanon, etc. Rather, said Abbadi, “We are more Occidental than Middle East … and we want to be recognized like that.”

What is Sufi Islam?
Sufism is Islamic mysticism. Non-Muslims often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam. It is more accurately described as an aspect or dimension of Islam. Sufi orders can be found in Sunni, Shia and other Islamic groups. Sufism is a series of concepts and practices that range from poverty, seclusion, deception, depriving the soul, singing and dancing.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

Don’t Worry About It

Marcie Lenk and the Shalom Hartman Institute believe the future of Judaism is in the hands of the Jewish people. (Provided)

Marcie Lenk and the Shalom Hartman Institute believe the future of Judaism is in the hands of the Jewish people. (Provided)

At a time when many in the Jewish community might be worried about their faith (rising numbers of Jews who say they believe in Jesus, declining numbers of young people who feel engaged in the Jewish community), Marcie Lenk, director of Christian programs for the Shalom Hartman Institute, has one thing to say: Don’t worry about it.

“We don’t necessarily have to be so afraid,” said Lenk, who visited Baltimore late last month to attend the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting. “I think we can be challenged.”

Lenk grew up in a largely Orthodox community in New Jersey. While attending yeshiva, she said she was never encouraged to learn about or interact with other faiths.

“We were not taught to look for interfaith context at all,” said Lenk. “I always say that I was taught two things about Christians: They either want to kill us or convert us.”

While she was in Israel, Lenk began to become curious about other faiths. Feeling confident in her own Judaism, she involved herself in interfaith dialogue and started teaching Jewish text in Christian seminaries.

In 2000, she moved back to the United States for 11 years to earn her doctorate in early Christianity from Harvard University and teach Jewish and Christian text at Boston University before moving back to Israel to join the Hartman Institute.

“Given the experiences that I’ve had and the training that I have, it was natural for me to get involved and to further develop their already significant interfaith initiatives,” she said.

As director of Hartman’s Christian programs, a teacher at a seminary in Jerusalem and co-director of New Paths, a Hartman Institute project that encourages interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews by offering courses aimed at educating Christians about Judaism and the State of Israel by building on pre-existing shared values, Lenk is able to engage with both sides of the Judeo-Christian spectrum. Misunderstanding and a lack of information, she said, exists on both ends.

“There’s a need for all of us to understand where the other is coming from,” she said, adding that many of the Christians she interacts with know little, if anything, of the history of anti-Judaism in Christianity and many of the Jews she talks with know only of the negative history and don’t realize how much Christian thought has changed over time.

In terms of the fear she has witnessed among Jews about the possibility of Christians trying to convert them, Lenk said, “Let them try.”

Lenk said the future of Judaism rests in the hands of Jews.

“If, as Jews, we’re teaching a strong and compelling Judaism, then we have nothing to worry about,” she said, noting that the Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews showed that Judaism is strongest among those who are part of a Jewish community.

“That’s out there, and it’s a question of how to get it out there further,” she said.

Studying Christianity and working with people of other faiths has, in many ways, enhanced Lenk’s own Jewish faith.

When she travels, she tries to observe some of the Christian leaders she works with to get a better understanding of what they do. When she does this, she said, she is not hurting or weakening her own faith. Rather, she is building it and deepening her own understanding.

In today’s world of intermarriage and interfaith families, Lenk said it is perhaps more important than ever for people of different faiths to understand one another. Syncretism is not watering down one’s own religion, she said: “There are ways that we can come together and learn from each other that don’t demand that we become the other.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter

Repair The World

On a frigid November morning, six people work together to plant an apple tree, four of them carefully rolling it and two others working with shovels to break its fall into the ground so that the root ball stays intact.

A year ago, the triangular lot bound by Brentwood Avenue and Merryman Lane in the Waverly area of Baltimore was trash-strewn, with bottles more than 100 years old buried under the concrete remains of a school that closed in the 1950s. By the day’s end, three apple trees were planted, in addition to grass, flowers and bushes that had been planted the previous week.

“When everything starts to grow in the spring, it’s going to look amazing,” said Emily Benoit, wearing work boots, gloves, a hoodie pulled over her head and a scarf covering her mouth and neck.

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the  Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces. (David Stuck)

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces.
(David Stuck)

Although it was one of the coldest mornings of the year, the group of nine was all smiles. This lot, one of six current projects, was being beautified by Baltimore nonprofit Civic Works. While these projects are usually staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, there were two new faces in the crowd, Benoit and Avi Sunshine, fellows from Repair the World.

The new organization, which aims to do exactly what its name implies, has nine young men and women, most of whom are recent college graduates, living in Baltimore working on various volunteer and service learning projects. The mission of the organization, in addition to providing “super volunteers” for various projects in the city, is to engage Jewish young adults in volunteerism through deep and meaningful experiences, and to make volunteering an indispensable part of their lives.

“The mission is to make service a defining element of Jewish life,” said David Eisner, president and CEO of Repair the World.

The organization spent close to five years researching best practices and immersive service learning, developing resources and partnering with other groups. This year, its inaugural year, Repair the World launched in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

“They’re all eastern because we didn’t want geography to be part of our challenge in this first generation [of fellows], they’re all post-industrial, they all have histories of Jews living in the urban centers,” Eisner said.

While the fellows will be working on various Baltimore projects and recruiting other millenials to volunteer, Repair the World also aims to look at bigger picture issues, including how the city’s history shaped economic and educational inequality, the disconnect between city neighborhoods and how institutional and structural racism has played out.

“If we can spark people to think about some of the underlying reasons [behind various issues], maybe it gets them passionate about thinking about how development is happening in Baltimore City,” said Jodie Zisow, director of Baltimore’s Repair the World group.

Zisow, who grew up in Pikesville and went to Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, has always been involved in social justice work. She’s worked on AIDS advocacy, taught Spanish to Baltimore City students and recently worked for Planned Parenthood. She felt Repair the World was a perfect fit for her and that she has as much to learn as the fellows do.

“I hold onto some of the idealism that age [early 20s] is known for,” she said. “I think that is something our world needs more of.”

The fellowships are 10 months long and have participants logging at least 50 hours per week on various service projects, 20 hours of which is spent on a main project and 10 at another project. Some fellows have taken on side projects, working with other nonprofits that cater to their interests.

Repair the World takes care of the fellows’ housing and gives them $600 each month in stipends. Currently, the fellows share three apartments at The Atrium near Lexington Market as a community house in Highlandtown is renovated. They hope to move into the community house, which is two row homes with a wall in between them cut out, in the spring.

Community Partners
Repair the World has partnered with five local organizations. Fellows are working with Civic Works on its vacant lots program, which takes vacant urban lots and transforms them into green spaces, and later, on its Baltimore Energy Challenge, which helps Baltimore residents save money on their energy bill through energy saving tips and environmentally friendly appliances such as energy-efficient light bulbs and faucets and low-flow toilets.

Ed Miller, supervisor of the Civic Works’ community lot team, said having the fellows adds another layer to the group, which includes two young men who he said have “significant prison records.”

“My intent is for those [different] people to work together in a team,” he said. “It will probably have a lifelong impact on them.”

Two fellows will be working with CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) on community organizing and projects to help seniors, the specifics of which are still being refined.

Two fellows are assigned to the Incentive Mentoring Project, which builds “families” of volunteers for struggling students at the Academy for College and Career Exploration and Dunbar High School. These families are assigned to students during their freshman year and stay with them for 10 years.

“They don’t just stay with them through high school, they stay with them through college, they help them find summer employment, so they really do so much to help these students succeed,” said fellow Amalia Mark.

Mark and fellow Jared Gorin are working with struggling families and working with the all-volunteer executive board on development, volunteer recruitment and other back-end needs.

Five fellows are working with the chief service officer in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office on the success mentoring program, which provides mentors for students at risk of being chronically absent from school. They greet the students in the morning, check in with them during the day and spend time one-one-one with the students. The fellows will also be working to recruit other success mentors.

The specialized attention seems to be working.

“Already, one of the students is like ‘When is the next time I’ll see you?’ just from sitting in classes with her,” said fellow Talia Shifron. “It seems like it’s getting them really excited to go to school.”

Two fellows will also be working with Banner Neighborhoods to add extra capacity to afterschool programs that range from arts programming to tutoring.

“What we’re really focusing on is excellent nonprofit organizations that have already figured out how to deliver excellent programs with deep impact,” Eisner said. “Now, we’re helping them build their capacity through the work of the fellows.”

And rather than coming to these nonprofits with their own ideas, the fellows are adding extra manpower to needs already identified by existing organizations.

“What we’re really trying to do is go into the community and say, ‘We’re here to help; what do you need?’” said fellow Alli Lesovoy. “‘What does Baltimore need and what can we do to be of service?’”

Human Rights Shabbat

Rabbi Sonya Starr says Human Rights Shabbat will focus congregants on making the world a better place. (Provided)

Rabbi Sonya Starr says Human Rights Shabbat will focus congregants on making the world a better place. (Provided)

Columbia Jewish Congregation will have a more-meaningful-than-usual Shabbat this week.

For the sixth year, the shul will participate in Human Rights Shabbat, a program created by the international organization T’ruah. Services will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 at The Meeting House (5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia).

According to the executive director of T’ruah, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Human Rights Shabbat gives synagogues the opportunity to “shine a light” on some of the most pressing human rights issues of this century. Jacobs said congregations use prayer, sermons and educational panels to examine the issues.

At Columbia Jewish Congregation, according to spiritual leader Rabbi Sonya Starr, members will examine “where the idea of fighting for justice comes into our religion and what we have going on at our own congregation, and on what congregants — all year round — can participate in to make our world a better place.”

Rabbi Starr said she expects up to 70 people at the service. She noted that the majority of the service will stay the same, but she will add or change some prayers in areas where there is more leeway to focus the evening on justice, peace and human rights.

“We are called to be God’s hands in this world and to partner with God to make it a better place — not just once a year, or twice a year, but every day,” said Rabbi Starr. “This particular Shabbat, we rededicate ourselves to that calling and that mission to make the world a better place.”

50 Years Later

Abba Hillel Silver spent much of the 1940s petitioning U.S. policymakers to support the creation of a Jewish state. (Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

Abba Hillel Silver spent much of the 1940s petitioning U.S. policymakers to support the creation of a Jewish state.
(Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

At the 50th anniversary of the death of American Zionist leader Abba Hillel Silver, newly-discovered documents appear to confirm his skeptical view of the Truman administration’s position on Jewish statehood.

Silver, a dynamic rabbi and Zionist orator from Cleveland, passed away Nov. 30, 1963. During the 1940s, he spearheaded a nationwide campaign of rallies, petitions and lobbying to convince U.S. policymakers to support the creation of a Jewish state in British Mandatory Palestine.

But not all Jewish leaders agreed with Silver’s activist approach. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who co-chaired the American Zionist movement alongside Silver, favored a more cautious strategy. He believed President Franklin Roosevelt, and later President Harry Truman, could be relied upon to support Zionism. Silver was more skeptical, arguing that senior U.S. officials could not be counted on to back Jewish statehood unless they faced serious political pressure from the Jewish community.

Two previously-unpublished documents, recently located by this author at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, appear to vindicate Silver’s view, at least to some extent. The documents suggest that Major-General Harry Vaughan, a senior aide to President Truman, privately harbored extremely negative views of Jews and Zionism.

Vaughan was a longtime friend and important influence on Truman, although his role in Palestine policy is not widely known. He is not even mentioned in most books about American Zionism or America-Israel relations.

One of the newly-discovered documents is a memo to Silver from one of his top aides, Dr. Benjamin Akzin, written in March 1946. Akzin was one of the heads of the Zionist movement’s lobbying unit in Washington, D.C. In the memo, Akzin describes what “reliable informants” had recently told him about attitudes toward Zionism among Truman administration officials.

“As an example of the real feelings of inner White House circles,” Akzin wrote, “they cited an instance when, at a social occasion, it was pointed out that the Arab policy of the government was certain to harm the chances of Jews in Palestine. To this, Colonel Vaughn [sic], the aide to the president and one of his very closest friends, replied: ‘Who cares about that? The Jews cause trouble wherever they live anyhow!’”

Akzin’s description accords with a second memo to Silver, this one from Eliahu Epstein, the chief Washington representative of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. Epstein, who later changed his name to Elath, would serve as the first Israeli ambassador to the U.S. In the memo, written in July 1947, Epstein complained that President Truman “remains passive” with regard to the Zionist cause.

Epstein then elaborated on the reasons for Truman’s indifference, the first of which was Vaughan’s influence: “I have heard that his military advisers, and especially his military aide, Major General Harry H. Vaughan, have a very bad influence on him where the Palestine question is concerned. According to my information, Vaughan is an anti-Semite and is strongly swayed by some of the British members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.”

Truman’s Palestine policy was a maze of contradictions that often left American Jews bewildered. He urged admission of 100,000 Holocaust survivors to Palestine in 1945, but then rebuffed calls by Silver and other Jewish leaders to put economic pressure on the British to open Palestine’s gates. Truman supported the November 1947 United Nations plan to partition the Holy Land into Jewish and Arab states, but, three months later, backed off and endorsed putting Palestine under a U.N. trusteeship. When Israel was established in May 1948, Truman granted it de facto recognition, but then refused to provide the Jewish state with any weapons to defend itself against the invading Arab armies.

Vaughan and Truman met while serving in the army together in 1918. Later, as vice president, Truman hired Vaughan as his adviser on military affairs and ushered him into the small circle of close friends with whom Truman drank bourbon and played poker.

Vaughan occasionally found himself in the spotlight: in 1949, for example, a prominent journalist urged Truman to fire him for accepting a medal from Argentina’s fascist government. Truman angrily responded, “No S.O.B. is going to tell me who to have on my staff or in my Cabinet.” And Vaughan did indeed remain by Truman’s side throughout the rest of his presidency — no doubt much to the dismay of American Zionists.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.” This column was originally published by

Chester Silverman

Chester Silverman devotes time and energy to improving the lives of war veterans. (Melissa Gerr)

Chester Silverman devotes time and energy to improving the lives of war veterans.
(Melissa Gerr)

It would be difficult to find a person who has done more for war veterans and Jewish war veterans in Baltimore than Chester Silverman. So much of his life has been devoted to serving the community with which, even at 94 (this month), he is still a very active part.

Though his walls are decorated with dozens of plaques and commendations that document his leadership and accomplishments, he shrugs it off and says he’s just doing what needs to be done, and he loves it. His family and friends say Silverman is unstoppable.

When the JT met with Silverman, he had just returned from visiting his son Alan in New York. On that trip, Silverman and his girlfriend — yes, girlfriend — Florence attended a nightclub performance, saw an opera and a made a backstage visit to the director (his son’s friend) after seeing a Broadway show. Tuesday is bridge with friends or poker with fellow war vets. Thursday is dancing with his girlfriend at the Pikesville Senior Center. Friday is usually a dinner out somewhere and every Saturday he attends shul at Winand’s Road Synagogue Center in Randallstown. Sunday is typically brunch and football. He talks with his children Alan, Bruce and Shelley every day. Thankfully, he has Mondays off, so he can use that day for last-minute activities, such as meeting with reporters.

Silverman’s family came to Baltimore from Philadelphia when he was seven. They lived in East Baltimore on Montford Avenue near Patterson Park where he, his brother and four sisters would play with the neighborhood kids.

“I can remember a corned beef sandwich for a dime,” said Silverman. “Get it on the heel and it was 15 cents, but the heel was like a sub. And a hot dog and coke for a nickel,” he reminisced. “I sold newspapers, I sold magazines, I sold Liberty magazine, and I used to hop the street cars and sell them.”

Silverman’s feisty, independent, entrepreneur spirit continued into his adult years. He worked for 35 years as a collector salesman, a long-extinct profession that existed decades before credit cards or the Internet. He would sell furniture, clothing, appliances — whatever someone needed — door to door, have it delivered and customers had the option to pay it off weekly or monthly. He would collect due fees in person.

He loved his loyal customers and they loved him back.

Silverman began his army service in 1943, during World War II, three months after he married his wife, Gloria. He was stationed in England, France, Belgium and Germany, where much of the work he performed was organizational and administrative. He was promoted to staff sergeant before returning home in 1946.

Though Silverman chose not to become a career soldier at the time, his military duty was just the beginning of his long involvement with, and devotion to, his fellow servicemen.

Silverman has served as commander for the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888, commander of the Roger C. Synder Jewish War Veterans Post #117, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and department commander for Jewish War Veterans. He was appointed to the state of Maryland’s Veterans Affairs Committee, which ensures veterans receive all of the information, assistance and benefits they have earned. Silverman is also responsible for establishing five veteran cemeteries throughout the state of Maryland in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties. He still meets regularly with the members of the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888 at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue.

The work Silverman is most proud of, and is still very much engaged in, is his involvement in establishing the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training. The center is home to 200 formerly homeless war veterans. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized it as the “National Model” for seamless services to homeless veterans. Silverman still attends the board meetings and is on the executive committee.

“We discuss the various issues that are going on right now,” said Silverman. “I’m not included in a lot of these things anymore because who the hell wants an old cocker, an old guy like me involved anymore? I still go in there and I still have my say, I’m not bashful,” he said.

There is nothing bashful about Silverman, whose personality is big and welcoming. For years before, and now during his retirement, his tirelessly volunteered his time and offered his compassion by visiting fellow veterans in hospitals, advocating for their rights and services and entertaining them with parties and treats — often out of his own pocket.

When asked what keeps him going strong, Silverman said: “Florence gives me 10 vitamin pills to take every day. She said that’s what’s kept me going all these years. But I say it’s God’s will. You’re given so many years to live and that’s the way it is. And if I go tomorrow I ain’t got no complaints. God’s been good to me, he gave me my strength. Geshriben Torah. It’s written in the book. So that’s the way it goes, whatever it is, it is.”

In his home, Silverman proudly pointed to a plaque he received from the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training that reads, “Presented to Chester Silverman for your vision and dreams for helping veterans.”

Silverman’s dream continues — with gusto.

Herring Is Not Religion

The reputable car dealer’s advertisement in the local paper screams, “Brand New Mercedes — Only $500!”

You get excited but think it sounds too good to be true. Upon closer inspection, it is. The car dealer is offering only the hubcaps of the Mercedes for $500. If you want the whole car, it will cost the standard price. Suddenly, the car dealer doesn’t sound so reputable.

You would never find such an ad because no car dealer in his right mind would make such an offer. Yet hubcaps masquerading as the car is exactly what Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky offer in their recent JTA Op-Ed titled “Conversion shouldn’t be the only path to joining the Jewish people.”

Cohen and Olitzky bemoan that, as of now, there is only one way for a non-Jew to become Jewish — conversion — and offer an alternative they call “Jewish Cultural Affirmation.” Under this scheme, those who are not interested in Judaism as a religion, and even those who follow a different religion, could choose the Jewish Cultural Affirmation path.

To achieve this lofty status, they suggest that the candidate undertake a web-based self-study course along with undefined “experiences of lived Jewishness.” Candidates could sample Jewish topics ranging from politics to comedy to social action and text study. They then would be eligible to receive a “certificate of membership in the Jewish people,” much like my certificate from the American Legion.

As someone who is married to a convert, who has spent the better part of his professional life as a Jewish communal leader and counseled a wide range of sincere people in intermarriages who seek entry into the Jewish people, I find such a proposal shallow, impractical and offensive.

To reduce membership in the Jewish people to a shallow cultural affirmation completely misses the point of being Jewish. To put it bluntly, herring is not a religion.

We are a people who, despite our small size, have for 3,500 years had a critical mission in the world. As Christian scholar Paul Johnson wrote in his seminal “History of the Jews,” “The Jews stand at the center of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose.”

Judaism addresses the most pressing life-and-death issues, teaches us how to infuse the sacred into all of existence and presses us to strive to become a “light to the nations.” To reduce all of that to a mere cultural affirmation is to say that the most profound elements of Judaism are unimportant.

The proposal is impractical. People who wish to convert can and will do so. The myriad approaches to American Jewish life offer a range of conversion options, from traditional conversions that require years of preparation and a commitment to all of the mitzvahs, to conversions that can be completed in a matter of months with minimal lifestyle changes. If someone is uninterested in following even a minimal conversion route, why would they be interested in affirming a Jewish identity at all?

And just what would such an affirmation accomplish? There already are a number of non-Jews in intermarriages who are attempting to raise Jewish children, who serve on synagogue boards, and who observe some Jewish holidays with their Jewish spouses even as they celebrate Christmas and go to church. Jewish educational opportunities are readily available to them. Rabbis and other Jewish leaders often praise their efforts.

All this has happened without an affirmation process or completion certificate. Creating a new process is superfluous. It would do nothing to change the reality on the ground.

Finally, Cohen and Olitzky’s proposal is offensive. In my experience, Jewish leaders who propose novel conversion procedures almost never consult with the end users — converts themselves, who could tell them from deep personal experience what is and isn’t needed.

The responses of converts with whom I shared Cohen and Olitzky’s proposal ranged from befuddled to offended. Most of all, they just didn’t get why something like this is needed. Neither do I.

A Jewish Cultural Affirmation track would undermine the hard work of sincere converts who have chosen to transform their lives and souls in joining the Jewish people. To offer Jewish Cultural Affirmation as an equally viable alternative to traditional conversion is to cheapen the process of conversion itself. And if cultural affirmation is offered merely as a second-class track, then it will do nothing except sow confusion.

Given the current tenuous state of American Jewry, so-called Jewish leaders and funders no doubt will gravitate toward new schemes dressed up as “solutions” to the challenges of Jewish demography. But as the recent Pew Research Center’s survey of U.S. Jews shows, the race to water down Jewish life has only weakened it. Rather than throwing more good money after bad, we should focus instead on what makes a Jewish life worth living.

Harold Berman, the co-author of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope,” is the former executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. He and his wife, Gayle, are the founders of, a support system for intermarried families who seek to become observant Jews. This column was provided by JTA Wire Service.

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