Prisoner Release Agonizing For Terror Victim Families


David and Yaron Friedman, holding a picture of Guy, a relative that was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Source: Tazpit News Agency

David and Yaron Friedman, holding a picture of Guy, a relative that was murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
Source: Hillel Meir/Tazpit News Agency

Outside Ofer prison, near Ramallah on Monday night, thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners – all convicted of murdering Israelis – in the second stage of confidence-building measures led by Washington for the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

At least 3,000 people demonstrated, chanting “Jewish blood is not cheap.” Also present were families of victims who were murdered in terror attacks perpetrated by some of the Palestinians terrorists scheduled to be freed on Tuesday.

The father and brother of IDF soldier, Guy Friedman, who was murdered in 1992 by four Israeli Arabs who used axes and pitchforks to hack Friedman and two other IDF soldiers to death at an army base spoke with Tazpit News Agency. According to the brother, Yaron, all four of his brother’s murderers will be released in this stage of the peace talks. “All four, who were Israeli citizens, received three life sentences for their brutality,” he noted.

“In our worst nightmares, we did not imagine that Guy’s murderers would ever be freed,” Friedman’s father, David, painfully explained to Tazpit News Agency.

Photos of the terror victims were on display at a protest by Israeli families against the release of Palestinian prisoners. Source: Tazpit News Agency

Photos of the terror victims were on display at a protest by Israeli families against the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Source: Hillel Meir/Tazpit News Agency

The father and son traveled from their home in Zichron Yaakov to the Ofer prison on Monday night, to join the protestors, holding photos of Guy. “People ask, what is the point of these demonstrations?” Yaron said. “For us, we hope to save families of future terror victims from this terrible of experience.”

“Maybe the Knesset can pass a law against the release of murderers of our children for peace,” added the father. “We can only hope.”

For Gila Molho, the current prisoner release has brought a new wave of pain to the family. Gila is the sister of South-African-born Ian Feinberg, a lawyer and peace activist who was murdered in 1993 by Masoud Issa Rajeb Amer, a member of the PFLP, along with two other terrorists. During a meeting in a European Union building in Gaza, at the offices of a European-funded NGO that sought to bring economic development to Palestinians which Feinberg was active in – Amer, a guard in the building, and fellow terrorists burst into the office and killed Feinberg with a hatchet.

Gila spoke to the demonstrators in tears, saying that the first murderer of her brother had been released during the Gilad Shalit deal, the second murderer during the first stage of freeing prisoners back in August, and now Amer, the last of the murderers who will be released on Tuesday.

“We do not want to be some political gesture,” said Molho in a trembling voice. “It cannot be that Israeli and Jewish blood is sold as a gesture. Benyamin Netanyahu needs to wake up and understand that our youth is getting a terrible message – that Jewish blood is no longer sacred,” Molho said in English to the audience of thousands including members of the international press.

“It is our duty and obligation to protest this prisoner exchange. There is no excuse in the world for this to happen,” Ronen Shoval, the director of Im Tirzu – one of the organizations, along with the My Israel, as well as Likud and Jewish Home activists, officials of the Yesha Council, and others who helped organize the event – told Tazpit News Agency.

“These terrorist don’t even have to sign a form renouncing their ways or promising not to commit any future terror acts – what kind of step to peace is that?” Shoval asked.

‘A Genius Who Transcended Rock’


Lou Reed dies at 71.

Lou Reed dies at 71.

Musician and guitarist Lou Reed, the front-man for the band Velvet Underground, as well as a solo artist, died Sunday, Oct. 27.

Reed, who was born to a Jewish family, was 71.

He had a liver transplant last year after years of alcohol and drug abuse. A cause of death was not made public.

Reed, born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, N.Y., became influential in rock by blending art and music in New York in the 1960s through Velvet Underground’s collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol.  The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Reed’s vocals were featured on Velvet Underground hits such as “Sweet Jane,” “Venus in Furs,” “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,’” among others.

Reed quit the band in 1970 and focused on his solo career, which featured the 1972 hit song “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Randallstown resident and owner of Larry’s Record Shop Larry Kessler remembers Reed as a laid-back, underground and mysterious figure. He played bass in The Godz, a punk band that was coming up in Greenwich Village the same time as the Velvet Underground.

“I realize now how culturally big he was,” Kessler said. “So many bands were influenced by him … like The Ramones were influenced by him I’m sure, that kind of freedom he had in his music.”
Reed visited Israel five years ago with his musician wife, Laurie Anderson, during her world tour. He reportedly was coy about his Jewish roots. He was quoted as saying, “My God is rock ’n’ roll” and “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”

In 2004, Reed read a poem he wrote called “The Raven,” based on the Edgar Allan Poe classic, at the Downtown Seder. He also took part in last year’s Downtown Seder in New York City. The unique Passover event features artists, political figures, writers, poets, comedians and more.

Jewish stars such as Bette Midler, Richard Lewis and Judd Apatow, in addition to scores of musicians, tweeted about Reed’s death and praised him highly.

“Lou Reed, my friend, a genius who transcended rock,” Lewis tweeted. “My condolences to his family. A poet [first], he performed like a hit-man on a mission. RIP.”

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, streams of songs by Reed and the Velvet Underground increased by more than 3,000 percent on streaming service Spotify, according to reports.

Sunday night, numerous bands paid tribute to the late singer. Pearl Jam front-man Eddie Vedder said it was a “rough day,” and the band dedicated one of its songs to him, and covered Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” at its Baltimore show. Tributes were also performed by The Black Crowes, Phish, Gov’t Mule and My Morning Jacket with Neil Young and Elvis Costello.

JTA Wire Service contributed to this article.

Obama Names Three To Holocaust Council

A former JTA president, an LGBT activist and a member of the AIPAC national council were named to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

President Obama on Thursday named Elisa Spungen Bildner, John Farahi and Dana Perlman to the council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Bildner, a past JTA president, is a board member of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, a co-chairwoman of the board of trustees and co-founder of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and a board member and past chairwoman of the Jewish Funders Network. She currently serves on JTA’s board.

Bildner, of Montclair, N.J., has been a CEO of a produce processing company, and has practiced and taught both law and journalism.

Farahi, of Reno, Nev., is a casino CEO, founded a Jewish day school in Reno and is a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee National Council.

Dana Perlman, the vice president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, also is a co-chairman of the LGBT Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee.

Council terms are typically five years.


Five Jews Violently Attacked In Sydney

Five Jews were hospitalized after being beaten in what was described by an Australian Jewish leader as the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney in many years.

Eight males, mostly teenagers, reportedly taunted the religious Jews — four from the Behar family — with slurs as they were walking home in suburban Bondi from Sabbath dinner after midnight Saturday.

A violent confrontation ensued, some of which was caught on closed circuit TV cameras. Security guards from a nearby nightspot intervened before police arrived. They arrested two 17-year-olds and a 23-year-old, but the rest of the alleged attackers fled.

The three were charged — the teens were scheduled to appear in court on Sunday, while the 23-year-old will appear on Dec. 3.

The victims — four men and a woman, most of whom were from Israel — suffered various injuries.

“Some have suffered concussion,” a police spokesman said. “There’s also a fractured cheekbone, a possible broken nose, lacerations and bruising.”

The male victims, aged 27 to 66, were wearing kippot. Three of the men reportedly served in the Israeli army.

Eli Behar, 66, suffered a bleed on his brain but is expected to make a complete recovery, according to a spokesperson for St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Another victim — Zeev Aronstam, a Mizrachi Jew born in Gush Etzion — said he preferred not to discuss the incident, saying simply, “We believe in God.”

The lone victim not from the Behar family was Shlomo BenHaiem, the education emissary for the Jewish National Fund who served in an Israeli army intelligence unit.

Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said the incident highlighted the need for effective laws against racist violence.

“The attack in Bondi is the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney for many years,” he said.


IAF Attacks In Gaza Following Rockets Fired On Southern Israel

After rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists early this morning, the Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked two concealed rocket launchers in the Northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed, an IDF spokesman announced.

Earlier this morning, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System above the city of Ashkelon. IDF forces are searching the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council for the additional projectile. Yesterday, a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel near the security fence in the Southern Gaza Strip.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated: “This targeted strike, based on IDF intelligence and advanced air force capabilities, is an immediate response to the terrorist aggression and its infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas must take responsibility for these actions or pay the price for inaction. We will continue to safeguard the civilians of the State of Israel, and prevent future attempts of terrorism formulating in the Gaza Strip.”

Following these attacks Israeli farmers with fields adjacent to the Gaza Strip security fence were ordered by the IDF to stay out of their fields until further notice, Ronit Minaker, the spokesperson for the Eshkol Regional Council told Tazpit News Agency. She added that such an order from the IDF has not been given in a long time. All other facets of life continue as normal.


Judaism Behind Bars

Elsa Newman (with her late mother) was convicted in 2002. She is serving 20 years.

Elsa Newman (with her late mother) was convicted in 2002. She is serving 20 years.

Elsa Newman was an extremely dedicated Jew before her incarceration. She kept kosher, considered herself knowledgeable about rituals and holidays and made sure her two sons received a Jewish education at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda. She once worked on a kibbutz in Israel and spent many summers at Camp Ramah, a Jewish summer camp in the Poconos.

“There are so many ways that Judaism is a positive influence for me,” Newman said. “It’s a positive, amazing religion.”

But Newman, 61, who grew up keeping kosher and celebrating Shabbat every week, can’t go to synagogue, has trouble observing the High Holidays and is no longer keeping kosher. She is serving a 20-year sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) in Jessup for conspiracy to murder her former husband and related charges. Newman maintains she is innocent and has a group of people who are advocating on her behalf. Among them are two rabbis, including Rabbi William Rudolph of Congregation Beth El.

“Since she’s been in jail, she’s had quite a struggle, because I think she’s tried to carve out something like Jewish observance in a not-the-most-friendly situation,” Rabbi Rudolph said. “She has to do what she can as an individual, and it’s hard to be a Jew on your own.”

But while Newman may be on her own at MCIW, she is not alone in her struggle to maintain a Jewish identity while incarcerated. Jews in prison have to make the most out of limited resources, which often means not being able to fully honor holiday traditions or worship on Shabbat and often dealing with non-Jews sabotaging kosher programs.

“It’s a very impoverished Jewish life,” said Barbara Roswell, a professor who teaches through the Goucher Prison Education Partnership. She met Newman while running book clubs and writing workshops at MCIW.

Jews make up less than 1 percent of America’s prisoner population. According to Rabbi Menachem Katz, director of prison and military outreach at the Aleph Institute, there are approximately 4,000 incarcerated Jews in the country and about 40 in Maryland. Most of them are men, and a majority are doing time for white-collar crimes such as mortgage and Medicaid fraud, Rabbi Katz said.

The Aleph Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for religious needs in institutional environments and works on solutions to criminal justice issues, bases these numbers on inmates born of Jewish mothers.

Aleph’s numbers are starkly different from the State of Maryland’s data, which shows 361 inmates who self-identify as Jewish, according to Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The state allows inmates to declare their faith and does not ask if inmates are born of Jewish parents, Vernarelli said via email.

The discrepancy in numbers is where things get complicated. Advocates say that inmates looking for leverage or special treatment will declare they are a member of a particular faith to enjoy the accommodations made for that religious group. And once accommodations are made, inmates may nitpick over frivolous details, which sometimes results in programs being watered down or ruined for bona fide members of that religion.

“When people are incarcerated, the big things are taken away and so the little things become the big things,” said Chaplain Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International. “And prisons are about pettiness and control through small things. What happens is you have inmates who are being required to be uniform in conduct, in appearance and everything and trying to assert some kind of individuality and control over whatever aspects of their life they can.”

The Kosher Problem
The most widespread effect of this, Friedman said, is on kosher diets. He estimates that 20,000 inmates nationally are falsely enrolled in kosher food programs, and this is costing the prison system $40 million annually. Having written an article and spoken at conferences on the subject, Friedman thinks his estimates may be conservative due to the enormous feedback he’s received.

The State of Maryland started to provide kosher meals for its inmates at the beginning of Passover in 2009. Star-K supervised, counseled and trained the Department of Corrections for the program, and Chaplain Harold Axelrod, a rabbi who retired this fall, reviewed kitchens regularly, Vernarelli said. Commissary vendors sell kosher items, and they try to hire Jewish inmates to prepare the kosher food and train workers based on guidelines from Star-K, he said.

Newman, who kept kosher before she was incarcerated, said she loved the kosher program when it started.

“It was like having a little of your own home be here,” she said. “I think I actually wept.”

But as inmates learned that kosher meals were given at separate times and contained fresh vegetables, more non-Jews changed their faith and signed up for the kosher diet, Newman said. She claims that as more people signed on, the menu changed for the worse, and participants would complain about things that had nothing to do with the laws of kashrut. Some inmates, Newman said, took advantage of being in a situation that was less supervised than the usual prison activities. She hasn’t eaten the kosher diet regularly in two years.

“The food, I’m not sure it was always kosher, and the problems outweighed the meaning of it,” Newman said.

Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, director of advocacy at the Aleph Institute and an advocate of Newman’s, said the Federal Bureau of Prisons took vegetables off the menu in some prisons to cut down on non-Jewish inmates joining kosher diet programs.

What Newman observed hardly surprised Friedman, who said he’s even heard about white supremacist groups hijacking Jewish programs so they could meet throughout the day. In some cases, inmates barter with food from the special diets.

Katz said the Aleph Institute is working with the Maryland Department of Corrections to improve its kosher program, which, he said, may be subject to cross-contamination when non-Jewish inmates prepare the food.

“Although the menu may call for everything to be kosher and the ingredients may be kosher, there’s really no telling what’s going on back there,” he said.

Friedman said it was once up to religious authorities to determine an inmate’s religious status, but these days, most institutions allow inmates to declare their own religion.

The State of Maryland allows for self-declaration of religion but may verify an inmate’s faith when there is a request to participate in the religious diet program, Vernarelli said.

‘Dream Like An Artist, Dress Like A Banker’

Gilbert Trout (Melissa Gerr)

Gilbert Trout (Melissa Gerr)

What do classical music, deep-data mining, devotion to Judaism and family and commercial real estate have in common? Gilbert Trout.

Speaking very modestly, Trout attributes his talents and successes to genetics and by referring to the remarkable life of his grandfather, Arthur Jacob, who was an entrepreneur ahead of his time, who saved his family from the Holocaust and who was a world-class pianist. But as Trout talks about his personal interests, it becomes obvious that another innate quality all his own is at play. Passion.

When Trout was a teenager in Cambridge, Mass., he detested classical music, but his mother, Dr. Paulette Trout, regularly dragged him to the Boston Symphony. His tastes were more geared to the electric bass he played in a friend’s rock-and-roll band. But at the end of one concert, his mother elbowed him and said, gesturing to the genius composer and conductor who graced the stage, “There’s your model. Dream like an artist, but dress like a banker.” Those words stuck with him and, conscious or not, have been a driving force in his life.

“It’s not about being an artist, it’s not about being a banker,” said Trout. “It’s about being a creative person, who can use one’s creativity in any field as long as one has a structure of practicality with the arts. And I don’t care if you’re an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor, there’s always creativity at play. But to give free reign to that creativity in an uninhibited way and to make money doing it was a real nice lesson. And that’s similar to my grandfather — that’s been my model for music and business and even technology, the three areas of my personal interest.”

His mother replaced the electric bass with a standup bass, and Trout joined the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. Success was slow coming.

Then he encountered Mahler’s 5th Symphony, and there was no turning back.

“There’s a slow movement … it’s all strings, one harp, no brass, no winds, no percussion,” said Trout. “And you know teenagers have a lot of emotion, and it can go in all sorts of directions. But if you listen to this slow movement, it’s just unraveling of pure beauty and love. … Music is a gift, where a regular person could see inside the mind of a genius. And the genius could talk to him from a different century and a different part of the world and communicate. I remember getting the shivers and thinking, ‘Whoa, there’s something deeper going on in this piece.’”

Trout continued, “There’s a reason that something so unpractical would still be around today. There’s a higher power there that I can’t really put my finger on. Where words stop, music continues. The chasidim have a unique musical tradition called niggunim, which are musical pieces that are sung, but they don’t have words. They’re vowels like ‘noi noi noi’ or ‘dai dai dai,’ because once you put the framework of words onto it, saying this is the meaning of this melody, it’s tied down to words, it’s tied down to a message. They’ve liberated that by taking away the words, and there’s a higher level of spirituality there. I don’t know why, but it exists.”

Trout was committed. He attended New England Conservatory and trans- ferred to Indiana University, where he met his wife, Miriam. He became an accomplished classical bass player, joined the National Orchestra in Greece, and while living there he and his wife became more observant of Jewish traditions. He loved music, but it became a personal conflict to perform on Shabbat. Just then Trout encountered another person who would impart advice he would come to live by. Sir Simon Rattle (now chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic) was touring Greece when they met. Trout explained the encounter:

“He said, ‘Gilbert, I have a piece of advice. What do you like about music?’ I said, ‘I like this, I like that.’ He said, ‘Good. Are you passionate about it?’ ‘Absolutely!’ Then he said, ‘I want you to remember everything you said and take all that passion you have for music and say why don’t I be passionate about other things? Figure out what makes you tick and see how you can apply it across other things, and at the same time don’t stop your music.’”

This thinking helped catapult Trout to the next stage of his music career. He began conducting and composing with great success. Both provided him more control over his schedule, and his passion and talents transferred naturally. Trout and his wife returned to the U.S., where he received his masters in composing at Tufts University, and it was there he also discovered the multimedia lab. The combination of arts, education, and technology was seductive. Then came another stage.

“I got very involved in that, and I realized that I was a closet geek, I loved technology, I could sit for hours and make it do what I wanted it to do,” said Trout.

His technology talents landed him a job at Perot Systems conducting deep-data mining and later at Harvard creating distance education multimedia programs featuring the best of Harvard lectures. He also continued to conduct and compose. Still curious about how his knowledge and passions could evolve, eight years ago Trout applied an arts-centric approach to real estate using data-mining and marketing skills, and now he is director of investment sales at Trout Daniel & Associates.

“I vigilantly work for the client from when they reach out to me to way past the settlement table,” said Trout. “However, I can help them improve their lot financially. I’m like a Swiss army knife. I try to bring in every tool they want to succeed. If that means bringing in leasing, I’ll bring it in; if it means management, I’ll bring in management; if they need marketing, I’ll bring in that; if they need technology, I’ll bring in that. I’m intensely loyal to clients.”

Trout continued: “Being the son of a Holocaust survivor I have a type of, let’s call it, ethical vengeance on behalf of my clients. I really want to dig in and see them succeed. There are lots of dangers in life, and I want to help people succeed.”

Trout explained what he meant by ethical vengeance.

“I really feel that my mother survived the war through people’s creativity, people finding ways for her to survive,” he said. “I feel my mother survived the war because of people who made an ethical choice at the end of the day, who said, you know, I don’t want to be with the masses, I don’t want to just shut my eyes to the problem. And there were people who rescued my mother’s family and preserved her life. … So there were people intensely loyal to my family to help them survive, and that’s been brought down from the generations from my mom.”

As his commercial real estate work grows, his music continues to be performed around the world, as well. His latest musical compositions utilize technology, enabling Trout to write, perform and produce pieces himself. As a busy father, and his wife the assistant director of the Bais Yaakov preschool, it’s impressive how he fits it all in.

Trout said, “I would feel guilty if I didn’t do them. The good Lord gives you talent — I’m not saying I have talent, but if the good Lord gives you talent, you have the obligation to use it … We’re in the generation that we can choose what we do in life. We can do things like compose at wee hours of the morning or create fascinating multimedia projects — we can do that, that’s a real gift.”

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor —

Take Note

Input by the five Northwest neighborhood groups on what they consider most important to their communities will be seriously considered by Baltimore City.

Input by the five Northwest neighborhood groups on what they consider most important to their communities will be seriously considered by Baltimore City.

More than 1,000 Northwest Baltimore residents packed into the Cross Country Middle School auditorium Wednesday, Oct. 16 to voice their opinions on what they consider most important in their neighborhood.

The event was organized by a joint effort from Baltimore City and the five Northwest neighborhood groups. Each resident checked in at a table, where they verified that they live in the area and received a strip of seven stickers. They were then directed to the auditorium, where they could place their stickers beneath any of the 26 recommendations for how to spend the Strategic Neighborhood Action Plan money acquired from slot machines (see recommendations below).

While the sticker balloting will not directly affect where the funds are directed, Kate Edwards, community planner for West and Northwest Baltimore, said the input will be taken into consideration as the city and the major community groups make their final decision this winter.

“It’s incredibly important to get as much input as possible,” said Edwards.

While working with the five Northwestern neighborhood community groups ensures the city gets a lot of the community opinion, hosting an event such as this, where any Northwest resident can come and speak for himself or herself, allows for broader opinions and insight.

“Here, they can identify priorities,” she said.

Twenty minutes into the event, organizers ran out of stickers, and residents were told to start signing their initials under the initiatives they considered to be most important. While some people in attendance found this a nuisance, most saw it as a measure of the meeting’s success.

“We warned them to come with enough stickers,” said Avrahom Sauer, of the Cross Country Improvement Association, comparing the turnout to a World Series sweep for the neighborhood associations charged with getting out word of the meeting to residents.

“When [Northwest Baltimore residents] are truly given the opportunity to speak out, they’ll take advantage,” said Sauer.

Mount Washington Improvement Association Honorary Director Mac Nachlas agreed that the turnout was indicative of how involved Northwestern residents are in their community. The five neighborhood organizations “are representative” of the people in the neighborhoods, he said.

The groups working on the 26 recommendations tried to really encapsulate what their residents cared most about, said Nachlas.

Representatives from different Northwestern neighborhoods had narrowed a much larger list down to the 26 laid out for their neighbors, and that involved a lot of looking at the bigger picture, he said.

Nachlas added that the neighborhood groups did not pick initiatives that would help only their territory but instead came together with the city to identify recommendations that would benefit all different parts of the Northwest.

Chaim Rubenstein struggled to pick which recommendations he thought were most important.

“I wish I could fund all 26,” he said, adding that he spread his stickers among improving safety, parks and housing in the region.

The large turnout reinforced the faith Rubenstein has in his district. “People in the Northwest care a lot about their neighborhood,” he said.

Located on the outskirts of the city, Northwest residents choose to stay in the city rather than to move just a few minutes away to Baltimore County, Rubenstein said. “We’re staying in the city because we care about the city,” he said.

Corinne Borel was happy to have the opportunity to chime in on where some of the SNAP funds should be directed, but she was worried about the funds’ dependence on slots. Some of the recommendations presented seemed more like necessities, she said, adding that she was disappointed to see them treated like “frills.”

“We are very pleased that the community prioritized safety as a key priority,” said a statement from Shomrim, pointing out that Recommendation 24 advocated for the strengthening of support for volunteer safety groups.

The public safety organization sent out an email blast a week before the meeting encouraging residents to attend the meeting and to support Recommendations 23 and 24.

“Clearly this community came out and said that safety is important to them,” added Shomrim Vice President Ronnie Rosenbluth.

Other recommendations that received a lot of resident support were 1, 4, 11, 13, 14 and 15.

Polling was also available online for a more extended length of time. Stickers and online balloting will not be tallied for a couple weeks, when all input has been collected, said Edwards.

See The 26 Recommendations

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter —

Community Cornerstone

Michael Bearman (left) and Jonathan Miller bring only the best materials to A Fabric Place. (David Stuck)

Michael Bearman (left) and Jonathan Miller bring only the best materials to A Fabric Place. (David Stuck)

In the heart of Mount Washington sits a colorful fabric store that reflects the legacy of three generations.

A Fabric Place has weathered natural disasters and changing economic times to bring quality fabrics and service to the area for nearly 45 years. The 6,000-square-foot location at 6324 Falls Road houses thousands of fabrics and attracts local designers, fashion students and international customers.

“We never know what a day is going to bring,” said manager Jonathan Miller. “No two days are the same.”

One day brought the Secret Service escorting Lynne Cheney,  Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, who was seeking a dress for a special occasion. Another brought international visitors from places as far as Australia.

“A designer with a three-hour layover in Baltimore will come visit,” Miller said. “A Saudi Arabian princess visiting Johns Hopkins Hospital once called, and I brought the fabrics to her at her expanded hotel room at the Marriott Waterfront.”

The princess was taking the fabric back to her country to distribute as gifts.

“In a lot of places, fabric is a gift,” owner Michael Bearman, Miller’s uncle, explained.  “In older [and more ancient] cultures, cloth is desirable.”

Hollywood also loves its fabric. Couture featured at the Oscars or the Grammy Awards is often made from materials that have passed through A Fabric Place at some point. To that end, Bearman and Miller seek out the top mills in the world when purchasing their fabrics.

The roots of A Fabric Place grew from a hobby of Michael Bearman’s mother, Monya. In the late 1960s, Monya Bearman, an avid sewer, opened up the shop. From the start, she devoted all her energies to the business and to helping customers find the right fabrics.

“On my wedding day,” Miller recalled, “I wasn’t let off from work. I left at 12:30 p.m. for a 4 o’clock wedding. My grandmother closed up shop at 2 p.m.”

Perhaps it was this deep commitment that helped the Bearmans rebuild after Hurricane David destroyed their shop in 1979 and washed most of their fabrics into storm drains. The hurricane, coming on the heels of another storm that had flooded the shop, demolished the entire interior.

“The only thing left was the phone that stood 5 feet off the ground and the chandeliers,” recalled Miller, who was a young boy at the time.

The store was not insured, and it had to be rebuilt from scratch. Nonetheless, the Bearmans persevered.

Miller’s dedication to the shop began nearly 15 years ago when he took a summer job there on a break from college.

“I had gone to school in Florida to play basketball,” said Miller, who stands 6-feet-7. “On a summer stint at the shop, I fell in love with fashion and the business. I enjoy it when people get joy out of getting the best.”

Miller and Bearman have a mutual appreciation for each other’s contributions, with Miller describing their partnership as “the best of you and the best of me.”

Although family-owned businesses have been floundering in recent times due to the economic downturn and the opening of more big-box stores, A Fabric Shop has only solidified its client base. Miller has helped expand the business by cultivating clients seeking prom couture. At the same time, both partners focus on providing materials with competitive pricing.

“If a Jo-Ann Fabrics store is selling patterns cheaper than we are purchasing them, I’d rather select what I can sell and be competitive with that,” Miller explained.

While it was common for people to sew their own clothing back when Monya Bearman started the business, the store is now seeing a resurgence of custom-made clothing.

“People don’t just want Armani,” Miller explained. “They want theArmani look with their own take on it.”

Other times, clients can’t findcouture that fits properly. In the Orthodox community in particular, clients have to build clothes up to meet their modesty standards. Miller has come to understand this sector’s particular needs as well.

“It’s hard for these clients because they will often come in saying they just need some black material to add on to their skirt, but there are many shades of black,” Miller said. “Other times, they purchase two of the same dress [to build into one]. But here’s the thing: If you’re a size 6, don’t buy two of that size. Order [the second as] a size 25 or as large as you can find instead — it will be easier to add on to the first dress.”

For Bearman, one ideal embodies his philosophy: “customer service, customer service, customer service.”

The store’s commitment to customers means that a mid-afternoon call from the nearby Light Rail station will send Bearman over to pick up the client.

“It’s not safe to walk from there since there are no sidewalks, so we offer to pick up clients and drop them back off at the stop,” he said.

Honesty is also a central value.

“We treat people how we want to be treated. And I don’t mind talking someone out of something if I don’t think it will work,” Miller said. “We are not looking for the fast sale but for long-term customers.”

Serving Johnny Depp during the days of “21 Jump Street” and hosting national fashion conventions have all been highlights of the business, but watching customers come full circle in the fashion field might be the greatest source of pride for Miller.

“I’ve watched kids grow up, little kids who used to come with their parents to pick out fabrics, and now they are national champions who graduated from Drexel University and have been picked up by a major label,” he said. “Little kids who used to visit are now working for Abercrombie & Fitch.”

Miller added: “This is fun for us, and we’re lucky to do what we love every day. … This business has been a ride — a ride that I would take over and over.”

Father To The Lone Soldiers

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy is a  father figure to the many  IDF soldiers who don’t have parents living in Israel. (Provided)

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy is a father figure to the many IDF soldiers who don’t have parents living in Israel. (Provided)

To many of the Israeli Defense Forces’ lone soldiers (servicemen and women without parents in Israel), Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy is more than just an advocate. He is — in a lot of ways — a father figure.

Starting as a volunteer, Levy said he has worked with these soldiers for decades, creating a network of kibbutzim for the young men and women who are without any close family nearby to call home.

The IDF, Levy said, can be a very difficult place for a young person, especially a young person with no family close to support him or her. As a result, his time with lone soldiers is split between helping them with things like acquiring fans, refrigerators and warm clothes and with simply assuring them that everything is going to be all right.

“It’s a shock,” said Levy. “Within minutes of putting your uniform on, things are 100 percent different.”

Levy said he works an average of 17 hours a day taking soldiers’ calls and walking from place to place to meet with them or help them. On weekdays, he said he talks to about 15 soldiers or families of soldiers a day, but on Fridays and Sundays that number skyrockets to 200 or more.

His name and phone number pass from soldier to soldier in the IDF, as well as among the families of lone soldiers. He has even taken calls from families that speak no English or Hebrew but just wanted to hear his voice and know that their child is being cared for.

Despite the long hours and the emotional stress, Levy said he is completely committed to the lone soldiers he helps. At the end of the day, he said, “the good of the army is the good of Israel.”

On Oct. 30, Levy will travel to Baltimore to kick off a U.S. fundraising campaign to benefit his charity Tzvika Levy’s Lone Soldiers, which operates in this country under The Good People Fund. He will first address teens at Beth Tifiloh Dahan Community School on Nov. 1 and then hold another discussion at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the form of an open-house parlor meeting hosted by Eddie Rogers and local families of lone soldiers at a private home in Pikesville.

For more information about Levy or how to attend one these events, contact Rogers at Levy’s kibbutz and arranged for Levy’s Baltimore visit. Rogers can be reached for RSVP at or 410-746-2324.

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter