The War That Changed American Jewry

In the middle of the night on Feb. 23, 1861, three individuals tread quietly through the darkened streets of Baltimore. One was Allen Pinkerton, head of a private detective agency. Another was serving as a bodyguard. The third, wearing an overcoat draped over his shoulders and a soft felt hat, and hunched over to disguise his height, was President-elect Abraham Lincoln.

The group had arrived in Baltimore by train from Philadelphia at the President Street station (later to become Maryland’s Civil War Museum). They were trying to reach Camden Station, located next to what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Their plan was to travel by early-morning train to Washington for Lincoln’s inauguration as the nation’s 16th president.

The reason for the secrecy that night was the mounting tension preceding the Civil War that would erupt two months later, on April 12, with the Confederates firing on the Union army at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Pinkerton had been informed of a possible plot to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore. The concern was real: The city had given Lincoln only 4 percent of its vote, and roving bands of thugs were known to attack Union sympathizers.

Emotions had escalated to such a point that a month before, on Jan. 4, President James Buchanan had issued a proclamation calling for a day of fasting and prayer to seek a peaceful solution to head off war. But such efforts had not prevented seven Southern states from seceding from the Union over slavery and states’ rights before Lincoln’s inauguration.

In subsequent days, Baltimore City and the state of Maryland became major players in the Civil War, which lasted until April 9, 1865 and which is now being commemorated nationwide during its 150th anniversary. Baltimore was then the third most populous city in the country, and Maryland, with land surrounding most of the nation’s capital, was situated at a key location in the war between North and South. And while the state officially would stay within the Union, many Marylanders expressed great sympathy for the Confederacy. In fact, to keep Maryland within the Union, Lincoln would station armed federal troops in the state throughout the war. Today, one can still see Union army cannons on Federal Hill trained on the city.

Living among the 31 million Americans engulfed in this national turmoil were the nation’s 150,000 Jews. Ninety percent of them — many of whom were part of the early wave of German-born Jews emigrating to America — had been living in this country less than 20 years, with 25,000 residing in Southern states. During the Civil War, some 10,000 Jews served in the fighting — 7,000 for the North, 3,000 for the South.

The portrayal of the varied Jewish sympathies and actions during the Civil War — as well as an assessment of the importance and impact the war had on American Jewry afterward — are some of the many surprises to be found in the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s newest exhibit, “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War.” The exhibit opens Oct. 13 and runs through Feb. 28, 2014. As the museum’s literature states, the war “not only divided our
nation but split our community.”

Most of the nation’s rabbis and Jewish communal leaders tried to keep a low profile on the explosive issues of the day and supported a peaceful resolution, especially since Jews, both in the North and in the South, valued being in a country that offered shelter from the religious strife of Europe. Benjamin Szold, an Orthodox rabbi who was the father of Baltimore’s Henrietta Szold, advocated “peace above all.” However, the split that did exist among many could be seen most vividly played out in what Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Executive Director Marvin Pinkert referred to as a “battle” between two Baltimore rabbis.

“The ‘battle’ in question was not fought with bullets but with ideas,” said Pinkert. “However, to the degree that the Civil War was as much a struggle of ideas as it was a contest for territory, I don’t think the term ‘battle’ is hyperbolic.”

The confrontation involved a Reform rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi with opposing views of slavery. Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai Congregation, a Reform congregation located on High Street one block north of Baltimore Street, was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery. Rabbi Bernard Illowy, spiritual leader of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (then Orthodox), located one block south of Baltimore Street, tried not to alienate pro-slavery supporters in the Jewish community, even delivering a fast-day address interpreting Biblical support of slavery.

MD Legislators Announce $5.7M BWI Grant

U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, as well as Congressman John Sarbanes, announced a grant of more than $5.7 million to increase aircraft traffic flow at Baltimore/ Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, was awarded to the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Aviation Administration, the owner and operator of BWI.

“It is part of the overall multiyear program for airfield improvements,” said BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean. “The grant will support the comprehensive multiyear series of runway-safety-area improvements that are currently under way.”

The funds are the first phase of a $44 million taxiway improvement project to increase air-traffic flow at the airport. This project complements a $350 million safety improvement program for one of the airport’s runways.

The airport began improvements in 2012 to meet updated Federal Aviation Administration requirements for runway safety areas, which need to be met by the end of 2015.

The $5.7 million grant will be used to relocate a taxiway in accordance with FAA standards. This move will enhance airport capacity and allow for increased operations during low-visibility times, according to a news release.

“Each year, millions of passengers pass through BWI as they travel around the country, making the airport one of Maryland’s most important economic engines,” Sarbanes said in a statement. “This grant will make critical upgrades to BWI’s infrastructure that will increase capacity while keeping travelers safe. I will continue working hard to support federal
investments that create jobs and grow our economy.”

St. Frances Receives Donation To Build Jewish Studies Program

Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy is one step closer to making its Jewish Studies program a permanent part of its overall curriculum.

The private Catholic school, located at 501 E. Chase St., received $200,000 during the 2012-2013 academic year to begin building an endowment for the Hoffberger Chair of Jewish Studies. Until now, the program has been operating for more than a decade, but the status is year-to-year. The endowment will allow the school to make the position a permanent fixture.

Endowing a permanent position costs around $500,000 at St. Frances. With the addition of some other donated funds, the school is still $285,000 short of its goal for the Jewish Studies position, but the donation brings the finish line much closer.

The school received the donation from the Thomas More Project, a Baltimore-based charity that seeks to help at-risk and underprivileged children receive a Catholic education.

“It’s absolutely critical,” said Deacon Curtis Turner of the Jewish program. Turner has been principal of St. Frances for six years.

“We don’t teach Jewish studies as an afterthought,” Turner said. “At St. Frances, instead of just doing the Old Testament of Hebrew Scriptures from a Christian point of view, we actually teach Jewish studies so that our kids get exposure to Hebrew Scriptures from the Jewish point of view.”

All students must take Jewish Studies during their junior year at St. Frances. Also, instead of offering the traditional Spanish or French options, the school offers students the chance to choose between either Hebrew or Spanish class to fulfill their foreign language requirement.

St. Frances Academy is the oldest continuously operating predominantly African-American Catholic high school in the world. The school opened in 1828 with the intent of teaching black children to read the Bible.

“African-Americans and Jews really have a shared history,” Turner said, explaining that Judaism is the foundation for everything the students, most of whom are Christian, believe. “We’re the spiritual little brothers of the Jewish Community.”

Deaf Community’s Concerns Heard

The Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE), an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, recently announced a funding initiative that will significantly offset the cost of sign-language interpreters at Jewish communal events.

Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education (JADE) will provide $50 per event toward interpreters’ fees, which typically cost at least $50 per hour with a two-hour minimum, plus travel expenses. In addition, several Jewish sign-language interpreters have agreed to accept $50 per hour with a one-hour minimum and no travel expenses to make this service more affordable for local Jewish agencies.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing members of the Jewish community are encouraged to inquire about the eligibility of CJE-funded interpreters for events taking place at Jewish events in Baltimore, and they must request an interpreter at least one week prior to the event.

“It is important for Jewish organizations and shuls to hire interpreters so that deaf people can participate in community events and feel that they are part of it,” said Tchia Kastor, who is deaf. “If deaf parents feel good in the community, it will influence their children, who will know that the community accepts their parents. They will not feel embarrassed about their parents’ deafness.”

Said Amian Frost Kelemer, associated executive vice president of CJE: “By providing interpreters at Jewish community experiences, we are strengthening our community and opening up previously inaccessible opportunities for Jewish learning and connecting. No Jewish person should ever feel separated from the community.”

Stories Connect Us All


Baltimore storyteller Gail Rosen will feature two of her stories at this year’s event. (Provided)

“When you hear other people’s stories, you realize how unique each person and group is and what we all have in common. When we’re able to walk in each other’s shoes, even for a few minutes, a stranger becomes a friend,” said Susan O’Halloran, organizer of an online storytelling festival, Stories Connect Us All.

Identifying and empathizing with all that we have in common is the bridge connecting 72 stories by 60 professional storytellers from around the world. The entire festival happens on Facebook, through video posts every 30 minutes from Oct. 9 through Oct. 11. The storytellers will be online throughout the festival to dialog with the audience in real time via Facebook chat and postings.

O’Halloran has organized live storytelling events for 20 years and began this festival online “in hopes of reaching an even larger audience with stories that can heal our racial and ethnic divides.”

In 2012, the online festival’s first year, it had a Facebook reach of more than 50,000 people from 16 different countries.

Baltimore storyteller Gail Rosen has two stories in the event. Rosen is well-known for performing “The Story and Poetry of Hilda Stern,” a Holocaust survivor and poet who Rosen met in person and whose life story she recounts to illustrate profound lessons of struggle, hope and the strength of the human spirit. She uses storytelling as a path for transformation and healing.

Rosen’s stories for the online festival are “Ancient History? Do Stories of the Holocaust Really Matter?” and “Who is a Friend? German-Jewish Reconciliation After the Holocaust.” Both stories address her complex friendship with the son of a Holocaust perpetrator. Through the stories, Rosen asks, “Is history just stories that happened before you were born? Does history really matter?”

Rosen discovers that history does matter. You can see Rosen’s stories and all the others at If you visit before the event launches, you can see behind-the-scenes footage. From Oct. 9 through Oct. 11, you can hear the stories straight from their tellers.

UMD, Morgan State Receive Federal Transportation Research Grant

The University of Maryland and Morgan State University are two of seven universities that will split a $2.8 million transit research grant, Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski announced last week.

The Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration grant, for $2,828,200, will fund research into solutions that focus on economic competitiveness. Primarily, the schools will look at reducing traffic congestion, promoting alternative ways to move freight and provide insight into intercity and intermodal travel. UMD will receive the majority of the funds while the other six recipients split the remainder.

“Marylanders spend way too much time stuck in gridlock and waiting on trains,” Senator Cardin said in a statement. “The solutions that will save us time and money are out there and it will be the University of Maryland and Morgan state, who will deliver the results.”

“Smart funding to develop new transportation solutions for our highways and byways, rail and bridges is laying the groundwork for our future,” said Senator Mikulski, who also serves as the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that funds the Department of Transportation, in a statement. “By investing in cutting-edge research at Maryland’s leading universities, we are standing up for jobs and working to improve the quality of life for all Marylanders.”

Other schools that will join the University of Maryland and Morgan State in the research are Arizona State University, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, Old Dominion University and the University of New Orleans. The schools will decide among themselves how the funds will be divided.


BJC Passes Minimum-Wage Policy

The Baltimore Jewish Council passed a policy statement on minimum wage that advocates for a wage above the federal poverty line.

“… The Baltimore Jewish Council supports an equitable minimum wage that enables workers to earn over the federal poverty line, but at the same time does not unduly burden Maryland business,” the statement says.

Jeff Kagan, vice chair of the BJC’s government relations commission, said the resolution passed with flying colors at the organization’s board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1. He said it is an important social justice issue embedded in Judaism.

“We believe that this is an important issue in terms of fairness and equity, which we find in Jewish law, teachings and tradition,” Kagan said.

The policy’s text directly speaks to its Jewish inspiration.

“… Jewish tradition seeks a balance between employees earning their most basic living needs and allowing business to succeed,” the statement says. “When wages fall short of providing for these needs, Jewish values seek to restore a fair balance on the employees’ behalf.”

Kagan said a lot the BJC’s coalition partners, such as the Maryland Interfaith Legislative Committee, the Maryland Alliance for the Poor and welfare advocates, also support an equitable minimum wage. The position is also aligned with Gov. Martin O’Malley, who will be advocating for this in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session.

Kagan said the government relations commission discussed what the wage amount should be, how far above the poverty line the amount should be, the impact on businesses and the impact on minimum-wage workers, but it could not come to an agreement on those issues. There needs to be a balance among those issues, and Kagan said the policy handles that without supporting particular legislation.

“We made it very clear that the policy we put in place today was not taking a position on legislation, because we haven’t even seen the bill,” he said.


Mayor, Police Commissioner Address City Crime

Although crime in Baltimore City has been on the decline for the past three years, homicides are up 6 percent over last year, which deeply concerns Baltimore officials.

BALTIMORE MAYOR - 10.02.2013

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, speaking at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting, says the city is taking a hard look at crime. Shown here, Rawlings-Blake addresses the community at an earlier date.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts spoke at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1 about the triumphs and challenges in keeping illegal guns out of the city, combating violent crime and gang activity and staying ahead of criminal activity.

“All of us know Baltimore deserves to be a safer city, and we know it is an achievable goal,” Rawlings-Blake said.

While there is only one gun store in the city of Baltimore, the city has seized approximately 1,500 guns so far in 2013. Still, the city’s homicide rate is up 6 percent this year, which equates to 10 more homicides than this time last year. In 2011, there were 197 homicides in the city, but that number increased to 217 in 2012. Both numbers are historic lows for the city, and overall crime is still declining.

“We can’t be every place all the time,” Batts

said. “We may not be able to stop the first shooting, but the second, third, fourth, fifth — that is unacceptable.”

Batts was referring to the fact that a lot of the city’s shootings are not isolated incidents; they are often drug- or gang-related, and they are often in retaliation for a previous shooting. When a teenage rapper was shot last month, three related shootings followed, Batts said.

“Bad guys in Baltimore come to work every day, and their career is being criminals,” he said. “They keep on top of things … We need to put them on the defensive.”

With criminals moving around and constantly adjusting to changes in policing, Batts said police need to gather intelligence faster and more efficiently. For 33 years, his police work has involved tracking gangs, and so he is training his officers to identify gang tattoos and graffiti, as well as ways to tell what groups are feuding with each other.

Batts, who traveled to Israel in 2003 to learn about combating terrorism, said he is working to update the police department’s technology and to use technology to quickly gather and disseminate intelligence. When a gang- or drug-related shooting happens, police need to identify the associates of the victim and find out who they are feuding with, He said the force can look to social networks for clues.

The mayor said the city is implementing a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy that addresses violence as a health epidemic and includes elementary and middle school programs, help for offenders and interventions with gang members.

Rikki Spector, District 5 councilwoman, said crime prevention needs to filter down from the

police department to the residents.

“You have to live, work, play and learn in Baltimore,” she said.

With 1.6 million people working in Baltimore but only 640,000 living in the city, there is a disparity in taxes, with the income tax of those who work in the city going to the state and the property tax of those who live in the city going to the city.

While her district, which includes Northwest Baltimore, grows with every population count, she wishes the same was happening in other districts.

“Vitality gives safety,” Spector said.


Jewish Christian?!

100413_j4jThousands of residents from Owings Mills and Reisterstown to as far as Silver Spring received an oversized postcard in the mail earlier this week asking the question, “Is it possible to be both Jewish and Christian?” Prominently juxtaposed to the inquiry were five distinct logos — those of Jews for Judaism, the Baltimore Jewish Council (an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore), ABC/Channel 2, WMAR-TV and the Baltimore Jewish Times. Smaller, and beside those five, was the logo for Israel Restoration Ministries, a Hebrew Christian (i.e. Messianic Jewish) organization.

A strategic partnership? Oh no. It was a hijacking of these brands and a blatant misrepresentation of quotes published by the news sites.

“This has never happened before,” said Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism. “We have definitely been misquoted in outreach campaigns, but this is the first time it has ever been done like this, and especially with other Jewish agency logos being abused, too.”

Rabbi Ron Shulman, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, made clear his organization was not involved in the sending of the card — and neither was the JT.

Responding to the postcard — which included on its backside a message from Tom Cantor of Israel Restoration stating that “it is possible to be both Jewish (outward Jew) and a Christian (inward Jew)” — Rabbi Shulman said, “It suggests we [the Baltimore Jewish Council] are party to a conversation that is not taking place.” He told the JT that one’s beliefs are a personal choice, but that belief in Jesus goes against any normative strand of Judaism.

The card came the day before a study was released by the Pew Research Center that stated 34 percent of U.S. Jews say a person can still be Jewish if he or she believes Jesus was the messiah.

Guggenheim said that while the cards began hitting mailboxes on Monday, she assumes that more cards will drop and that her organization (like the BJC and JT), which received many calls questioning the card, will receive additional concerns from other areas.

Iranian Spy Captured In Israel

A Belgian citizen spying for Iran was arrested on September 11th 2013 in Tel Aviv, this according to a statement released by Israel’s General Security Service (GSS). The man, named Alex Menes, aged 55, was arrested as he tried to leave Israel via Ben Gurian airport.

A Belgian citizen spying for Iran, Ali Mansuri,  was arrested on September 11, 2013.

A Belgian citizen spying for Iran, Ali Mansuri, was arrested on September 11, 2013.

In his interrogation it became apparent that he is an Iranian citizen, born Ali Mansuri, who was sent to Israel on various espionage missions. He lived with his family in Iran until 1980, then moving to Turkey where he established himself as a business man. In 1997 he received a Belgian visa, marrying a native Belgian who he subsequently divorced. During this period he was granted Belgian citizenship, changing his name to Alex Menes, thus obscuring his Iranian identity.

In 2007 he returned to Iran, and broadened his business connections. He remarried, this time to an Iranian woman, and was recruited by the Iranian espionage services in 2012. He was instructed to use his business as a cover for visits in Israel. He was promised vast sums to finance his activities.

Mansuri has previously visited Israel in July 2012 and January 2013 on the request of his Iranian handlers. His last visit began on September 6th. He tried to establish business connections during these visits, presenting himself as a Belgian businessman.

During his arrest he was in the possession of numerous photos from various locations in Israel, several of them of interest to the Iranian intelligence services, including the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Mansuri detailed during his interrogation by the GSS the training he received, the various methods he used to maintain contact with the Iranian intelligence services and his actions in Israel over the past months.