Looking Back On 5773

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The year 5773 was packed with successes and challenges. At the Baltimore Jewish Times, our team of reporters wrote 889 articles about the happenings in this community and the rest of the Jewish world.Before Rosh Hashanah starts next week and we move on to 5774, here is a look at the top stories from the past year.

September 2012 — French Railway Won’t Run Here
The Maryland subsidiary of a French company accused of not fully acknowledging its Holocaust complicity did not receive a $204 million contract with the state railway. Keolis Rail Services America, a subsidiary of the French rail company known as SNCF, was among the firms beaten out in the bidding for a six-year contract to run two commuter lines.

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944. The company was paid per head per kilometer, according to reports.

Holocaust survivors and their advocates contended that the company had failed to act quickly enough to make its archival materials accessible to researchers and was making the moves only to gain lucrative rail contracts in the United States.

The decision came months after a 2011 bill was passed that stopped any Eastern European transportation company from being awarded state contracts until the state archivist agreed that those companies had fully disclosed their World War II-era activities in the deportation of individuals to extermination camps or death camps.

October 2012 — Politics and the Pulpit
In October, a month before the presidential and local elections, Marylanders were focused on several state referendums. A heated debate in the Jewish community focused on Question 6, a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage, and Question 4, which provided in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Reform synagogues such as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom displayed signage encouraging support for marriage equality, while Bolton Street Synagogue organized phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to encourage community members to vote for Question 6. In his Rosh Hashanah sermon, Rabbi Ron Shulman at Chizuk Amuno Congregation alluded to Questions 4 and 6 when he told congregants: “Immigrant children raised in America deserve their place. Same gender couples deserve marriage equality. We can’t deny others what we insist on for ourselves.”

In sharp contrast, the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore, the Vaad Harabonim, reaffirmed the Torah’s unambiguous stance in opposition to such unions and encouraged community members to vote no on Question 6.

November 2012 — A Century of Progressivism
In November, The Park School celebrated its 100th anniversary with special events, exhibitions and its traditional auction to raise money for the school’s financial-aid program. The school, located on a 100-acre campus off Old Court Road, continues to be a mecca for progressive education, a model for diversity and a place where students from fourth-generation legacy families mingle comfortably with newcomers. Happy Anniversary, Park!

December 2012 — Still Everybody’s Buddy
After 18 years serving as the Greater Baltimore Jewish CommunityCenter’s executive director, Louis “Buddy” Sapolsky announced that he was stepping down from the role.

More so than for his title alone, Sapolsky, 68, is being remembered for the countless contributions he made that set up the JCC to be sustainable, vibrant and significant for years to come.

“He is known and respected for his ability to focus on the big picture of planning for JCC success while never losing interest in the details,” said Rabbi Lawrence Ziffer, executive vice president of the Macks Center for Jewish Education. “He has demonstrated to the community that the JCC is capable of changing with the times and meeting the ever-changing needs and interests of a vibrant community.”

Sapolsky tirelessly worked to upgrade the center’s facilities and put into place programs such as Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration, Jerusalem 300 and the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest.

In 1995, when Sapolsky started at the JCC, there were 8,000 members. Today, there are 17,000.

“If we hadn’t changed the facilities, we wouldn’t be around today,” Sapolsky said. “We live in a consumer-driven word, and there is no loyalty to organizations anymore. We have to run it like a business, be strategic. … We always need to stay ahead of the curve and try to see around the bend.

Staying still is going backward and not a viable option.”

January 2013 — Day School Teacher Charged With Abuse
Physical education teacher Foye Minton, at the now closed Day School at Baltimore Hebrew, was arrested and charged with child abuse of a former student.

The student, now 20, told police that Minton’s alleged abuse began when she was a minor while enrolled at the now defunct Shoshana S. Cardin School. Minton was the school’s dean of students and its director of athletics at the time. He previously worked at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.

After the charges were filed, Minton claimed the relationship was consensual, and his attorney, Adam P. Frank, offered the following statement: “Any sexual involvement with the alleged victim … occurred when she was over the age of 18 and with her parents having full knowledge of the relationship throughout.”

According to reports, the abuse continued for about four years, and the victim told police that Minton repeatedly attempted to contact her after she severed the relationship. Maryland law prohibits adults in a position of trust, authority or guardianship (such as a teacher) from having a sexual relationship with a minor, regardless of consent.

David Prashker, then the current head of school at Cardin, declared his desire to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Said Barbie Prince, who was head of school at the time of the alleged abuse, “If I suspected anything inappropriate, he would not have remained an employee.”

Solution?

For many Jews, the interim solution at the Western Wall has done little to alleviate the problem. (Provided)

For many Jews, the interim solution at the Western Wall has done little to alleviate the problem. (Provided)

Israel’s self-described interim solution covering where and how women can pray at the Western Wall hasn’t stopped Jews from all sides of the issue from wanting to bang their heads against a wall.

A 4,840-square-foot platform designed to accommodate up to 450 worshippers at a time was just installed. The new prayer plaza, connected by a ramp to an existing platform in the southern section of the Wall near Robinson’s Arch, is called Azarat Yisrael and is being billed as an interim but primary place of worship for egalitarian and pluralistic prayer services.

The existing prayer plaza at the Wall, north of the Mughrabi Bridge, is the official prayer site and is designated for Orthodox services.

The new plaza, south of the Mug-hrabi Bridge, is in the area already approved for pluralistic prayer by the Israeli High Court of Justice. It will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Torah scrolls, prayer books and prayer shawls will be available to all. However, weddings, circumcision ceremonies and charity collections will not be permitted at the site.

“The Kotel belongs to all Jews no matter who they are and what stream of Judaism they come from,” Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday as he announced the new platform.

Bennett said the platform was built in conjunction with the offices of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who is expected to announce a permanent solution any day now.

Immediately after details of the platform were announced, a clarification was issued by Netanyahu’s office that stated, “Contrary to reports, there is no new government decision regarding prayer arrangements at the Western Wall. The committee appointed by the prime minister to look into the matter has yet to conclude its work. Once it does so, it will submit its recommendations to the prime minister.”

That clarification didn’t stop anyone from having a strong comment on the platform, which “literally sort of appeared under our feet,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

While calling the platform “a modest first step” forward in resolving the issue, Rabbi Schonfeld said she is still awaiting clarification on who will oversee religious practices at that space and what the final terms regarding issues of equality will be.

Masorti, Israel’s Conservative movement, has gathered and prayed at the upper plaza of the Wall since 1980 and was given the option of worshipping at Robinson’s Arch in 2000. Meanwhile, it has continued to work with the Israeli government to expand the prayer area, hours, staffing and provisions for ritual needs at that site.

Women of the Wall, a group formed more than 20 years with the goal of allowing women to pray at the Western Wall wearing ritual garb and with the Torah, condemned the latest changes by Robinson’s Arch, noting in a statement that the government is relegating “over 50 percent of the Jewish population to the ‘back of the bus.’”

“The plan will effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox” to Robinson’s Arch and away from the actual Wall, Women of the Wall declared.

“What has been proven today is that the bullies were victorious … with their assault, spitting and cursing at women,” the statement continued. “This plan is the very definition of separate and not nearly close to equal; it provides an out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall.”

Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation, a Reconstructionist synagogue, said she feels similarly and fully supports the women who are working to pray at the Wall the way they feel most comfortable.

“Women and men, equally, should have the right to pray where ever they choose,” she said.

Virginia Spatz, a co-organizer of Washington Friends of Women of the Wall, called the recent changes “disappointing. I had hoped that the strains of Judaism could come tog-ether in unity, and this is certainly not that. This is just heartbreaking.”

Spatz questioned how Bennett could say that the Wall belongs to all Jews and then “in the next breath” propose a solution “that regulates many Jews to a site apart from the Kotel” and keeps the Kotel for “official recognition as a prayer site to be used solely for Orthodox services.”

“These are incompatible statements, and the logic of them escapes me. The new plan is a severe slap to Jews with pluralist visions and an insult to the millions of Jews, like me, who do not express their Judaism through a particular kind of orthodoxy,” she said.

While the new platform was proposed as a temporary solution, Spatz said she believed it will only make it harder to come up with a true compromise in the future.

Rabbi Tamara Miller of Washington Friends of Women of the Wall also was disappointed.

“The point of it is that the women from Orthodox to Reform and everything in between … want to be able to pray together at the Wall,” she said, adding that Bennett’s plan “does not allow this to happen. The women want to be together. It’s not about praying with men.”

Linda Yitzchak, who also is active with Washington Friends of Women of the Wall, described herself as a Conservative Jew who enjoys celebrating Rosh Chodesh with women, calling it a very special experience for her.

“This alternative does not help with that at all,” she said, noting that the new platform “looks terrible. It’s not inviting.”

The Reform Movement called Bennett’s plan “a gesture of goodwill, but it is, at best, a very small step forward in the implementation of the full plan.”

According to its statement, the Ref-orm Movement believes “the Kotel is a powerful symbol of the Jewish yearning for Israel and for the unity of the Jewish people. As such, it needs to be open and free to all Jews; women and men must be treated equally there.”

If the Bennett plan becomes a final solution, “it would create a painful and unnecessary conflict within the Jewish people.”

Not all women are in favor of creating a more open Western Wall. Women For The Wall, a grassroots movement that says it favors respectful and dignified prayer at the Wall, believes that classical Jewish practice at the Wall must be preserved.

“A holy site is not the place for political activity,” it declared in a statement to this reporter.

“Jerusalem is not Selma, and this issue cannot be compared to the fight for civil rights in the U.S.,” said Ronit Peskin, co-founder of Women For The Wall.

“WOW views the Kotel as an opportunity and lacks reverence for the place held sacred by millions of Jews around the world,” noted Leah Aharoni, co-founder of Women For The Wall. “This political protest shows that they do not understand what it means to respect the sanctity of the place.”

“The Kotel must transcend politics. We call on the leaders of the liberal Jewish community to condemn the use of the Kotel as a place of political theater,” Peskin said, suggesting that Women of the Wall should take their case to the Knesset rather than the Wall.

Women For The Wall urged “our cherished sisters” not “to continue to pray at the back of the plaza and then complain to the media about your ‘exile.’”

“As someone who is Orthodox, I won’t endorse allowing women to pray however they choose while at the Wall,” said Rabbi Yaakov Menken, director of the Genesis Project. “No one ever tried to put an Orthodox synagogue and a Reform synagogue in the same room. It just doesn’t work. … Tolerance means we are going to tolerate separate spaces in which to pray.”

He questioned whether Women of the Wall “want to pray in a different way, live and let live, or are they out to fight Orthodoxy.”

Legally, as of April, women have the right to wear tallitot while praying in the women’s section of the Wall. Since 2010, the rabbi in charge of the Wall has forbidden anyone entering the women’s area to carry a Torah.

Sharansky, meanwhile, has promised to release his plan for a compromise in the very near future. His plan, first rep-orted on in April, includes the expansion of egalitarian section at Robinson’s Arch with a unified entrance to be built. Like Bennett’s plan, the area would be open at all times rather than for a few hours a day, as it had been prior to Sunday.

That section would be overseen by a joint commission of the Israeli government, Sharansky’s Jewish Agency and representatives from world Jewry.

Suzanne Pollak writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

Mixed Identity

083013_mixed_identityA bold headline proclaims that young Jews are more likely than their parents’ generation to go to Jewish day schools and camps and yet are less connected to Israel and Judaism. But is that really the case?

In a poll of 1,874 Jews conducted by Laszlo Strategies on behalf of Jerusalem U, 45 percent of young Jews ages 18 to 29 attended a day school or yeshiva compared with 24 percent of those 50 and older. Similar distributions occurred in Jewish summer (sleep-away or day) camp attendance (56 percent vs. 36 percent) and even bar or bat mitzvah (81 percent vs. 58 percent). Approximately the same numbers in each generation were involved in Jewish youth groups before college (46 percent vs. 43 percent).

But here’s where the pollsters point to a disconnect. When interviewees were asked how much they agree with the statement, “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish,” 87 percent of those 50 and older “strongly agree,” while only 66 percent of those 18 to 29 agree.

“The young generation is far more steeped in Jewish institutions than the older,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrachi, founder and president of Laszlo Strategies.

Mizrachi, who co-founded The Israel Project, referenced the financial commitment today’s parents are making to give their children the Jewish education they didn’t have.

“If a child goes to day school for 12 years, that’s $200,000 in tuition,” she said. “Very high numbers go to Jewish camp, [and assuming] that’s sleep-away camp for five years, that’s $50,000. The parents’ generation is saying that Jewish education is so important they will spend $200,000 to $300,000 so kids can go to the schools and camps that [they] didn’t. And at the end of that investment, kids are less invested than they are,” she said. “It’s an enormous sacrifice. [The kids] are committed but significantly less [than the parents].”

But are they? If one adds the percentage of the younger Jews who “somewhat agree” that caring about Israel is a very important part of their being Jewish to those who “strongly agree” and do the same for the 50-plus group, the gap closes — 91 percent vs. 97 percent. And if one considers that connection with Judaism, and possibly Israel, may wane and wax with age, the parents’ investment may yet pay off.

“This is not an indictment of the day school movement, but it is to say it’s not an end-all, be-all,” said Laszlo Strategies Vice President Meagan Buren. “There is an increase in dedication and involvement as people move on in life. It drops off after bar mitzvah and during college but moves up when they need a shul for a bris.”

According to Buren, this is also a generation that see things as gray. How likely are they to “feel strongly” about anything, let alone Israel or Judaism?

“My gut says, in some ways yes, in some ways no,” she said. “They are a less black-and-white generation. There is more gray area for them. But there are questions they feel very strongly about.”

Results of the polls could not add-ress if Israel is one of those gray areas or simply a subject about which they don’t feel strongly.

Jerusalem U, founded in 2009 by filmmaker Rabbi Raphael Shore, seeks to use film and interactive learning, both online and live, and partnerships with traditional organizations to help young Jews see Judaism and Israel as relevant in their lives. The group commissioned the study to see if they were on the right track. And according to Jerusalem U President Amy Holtz, they are.

She points to the question, “What do you think is the biggest barrier to encouraging more young Jews to be proud of being Jewish and more connected to Israel?”

An overwhelming 65 percent of all respondent answered, “Young Jews don’t see it as relevant to their lives.” According to Holtz, this confirmed Jerusalem U’s new focus on “Why be Jewish?” (In Baltimore, 54 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds responded to a question posed by the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study that “being Jewish is very important” to their lives. However, only 14 percent said being part of a Jewish community is very important to them.)

Respondents to the online poll were those with email addresses associated with Jerusalem U and other Jewish databases. It is not a random poll, and it does include a small number of Jews from other countries. However, when the survey became large enough to include a range of ages and denominations, it became statistically valid. The poll is still in the field and will close before Rosh Hashanah.

Be Happy

From left: Happiness Club members Joyce Dreyfuss, Betty Cherniak and Sema Ely discuss the different ways they make themselves happy. (Justin Tsucalas)

From left: Happiness Club members Joyce Dreyfuss, Betty Cherniak and Sema Ely discuss the different ways they make themselves happy. (Justin Tsucalas)

“If you want to be joyful, you create the joy.”
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Betty Cherniak is happy.

She defines her happiness as “the intersection of serenity and peacefulness.”

And she has a chevra that feels the same way.

Each Tuesday evening a group of about 10 to 12 Happiness Club members meet at the Enoch Pratt Library on Reisterstown Road across from kosher restaurants Tov Pizza and Kosher Bite. Cherniak coordinates the local club; there are Happiness clubs all over the nation and the world, with at least three in Israel.

“Happiness is an inner state of well-being that enables you to profit from your highest thoughts, intelligence, wisdom, awareness, common sense, emotions, health and spiritual values,” wrote Lionel Ketchian, who founded the first Happiness Club 13 years ago.

Cherniak found her way to the concept of the Happiness Club after reading Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book, “Conversation with Yourself.”

On what she calls a “whim,” Cherniak placed Rabbi Pliskin’s name in a Google search; that led her to the Happiness Club website.

More than a year ago, with her children grown and now young adults, she found herself at work and bored. She remembered then some of the words from “Conversation with Yourself.”

“It’s all about self-talk,” she said. “Something about that book hit me. I realized the power of our own thought process and how powerful that concept is.”

Rabbi Pliskin’s name was connected in her search to Ketchian, who writes of how he started on a search of how to become a happy person.

“Someday, somehow, he heard about Rabbi Pliskin,” said Cherniak. “Rabbi Pliskin had started the Joy Club of Jerusalem.”

Many Happiness Clubs schedule monthly meetings. But when it came to Baltimore, Cherniak decided to hold her Happiness Club meetings weekly. She asked her husband to help her put up one flyer, and two people came to her very first meeting. The group has now grown to 10 to 12 people.

“There’s a lot of personal interaction,” she said about the meetings. “We’re pretty open with one another. Nobody is ever expected to go beyond their own level of comfort. And people seem to be getting a lot out of it. For me, it’s a personal support group. It’s enabled me to be on this happiness journey. My goal is for my default state to be happy.”

Cherniak said that when a person becomes unbalanced, it leaves the door open for worry, anxiety and depression. She said that is hard to avoid, especially with the often negative impact of our surroundings. She also said happiness starts with a positive thought and not from the external.

“We’re so trained by life’s experiences such as the media and the constant message that youth, beauty and acquiring wealth makes a person happy. We’re immersed in it. The principle of happiness is to not be dependent on outside circumstances,” Cherniak said.

And happiness affects both the inside and the outside.

“Happiness is like sunshine,” she said. “It’s completely not selfish. People who are unhappy are almost entirely selfish.”

Club meetings recognize that. While Cherniak admitted that some people who come to the meetings “have issues,” the “regulars” have so much experience working with happiness that they can better handle life’s challenges.

“I feel so much more powerful over my own life now than I did before,” she said. “To be a happy person, you have to take full responsibility for your life. The only true power you have in your life is up to you. People who are drawn to the Happiness Club want to be happy. They are sick and tired of being unhappy or miserable.”

This point is driven home on an online video, in which Rabbi Pliskin teaches a packed Fairfield, Conn., conference room some basic principles he teaches about happiness.

“When we realize that life is now, we can create a state of now,” he said. “We can tell a story of what was, and then we will tell about the future or what might be. But the only reality is now. It makes the whole job of being joyful easy, because all you have to do is be joyful now. I can choose to be joyful now.”

There are several steps we need to follow to be happy, said Rabbi Pliskin, who lives in Israel but is originally from Baltimore.

Rabbi Pliskin’s father had been a student of the Chofetz Chaim at the Radum Yeshiva in Poland. Rabbi Pliskin wrote about explaining the Chofetz Chaim’s teachings, “Guard Your Tongue.”

He said that people need to learn to “be grateful now. I can hear, I can see, I can walk and talk. I feel good. Ask yourself what am I grateful for now?”

Rabbi Pliskin encouraged viewers to “speak and act joyfully and with kindness. If you want to be joyful, you create the joy.”

Rabbi Pliskin said that people spend way too much time worrying. And worrying, he said, is nothing but imagination.

“You are imaging things that [most likely won’t] happen. So therefore, imagine things great things that might happen. Just go into joy,” he said.

Or as Lionel Ketchian, the Happiness Club’s founder said in an April, 2005 New York Times article, “Always tell yourself you are 100 percent happy. If you’re not, it’s your fault. You’ve chosen to be unhappy.”

For more information on Baltimore’s Happiness Club, contact Betty Cherniak at 410-466-1065 or cherniakb@cadmus.com.

Phil Jacobs is the former executive editor of Washington Jewish Week — pjacobs@washingtonjewishweek.com

Good Vibes From ‘The Real Estate Guy’

David Kowitz gives much of the credit for his success to the Jemicy School. (Provided)

David Kowitz gives much of the credit for his success to the Jemicy School. (Provided)

Meet David Kowitz, vice president of business development at Resource Real Estate Services LLC for the Owings Mills office. He is an attorney who earned his jurist doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Law. And he received his bachelor’s degree from Emory University. He is also the host of Baltimore CBS Radio’s “Dave The Real Estate Guy” (1300 AM), which airs Tuesday evenings between 5 and 6 p.m.

On that show, Kowitz answers listeners’ questions ranging from how to improve credit scores to how to get the best interest rate on a home, business or industrial loan. He’s had lively discussions with callers and with special on-air experts.

To hear this confident 37-year-old husband and father of two girls command the air on anything real estate is sometimes difficult for Kowitz to believe.

The Baltimore City resident is dyslexic, and for his entire life he has had challenges reading. He gives much credit for his success to the Jemicy School. Located in Owings Mills and founded in 1973, Jemicy educates students ages 6 to 18 with dyslexia and any other related language-based learning differences.

“I continue to struggle with reading,” said Kowitz. “It’s an ever-present challenge for me. But Jemicy gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”

All one has to do is listen to Kowitz to realize that his dyslexia is not holding him back.

His office is a place where real estate law mixes with Father’s Day artwork from his children, Ella, 7, and Lane, 4. And there’s even a Louisville Slugger baseball bat with his name inscribed on the barrel.

He’s a huge Orioles– and Ravens fan; Kowitz’s older brother, Brian, played briefly in the majors leagues for the Atlanta Braves.

His brother is one of his heroes, as are his grandparents and parents. His grandparents were Holocaust survivors, who rebuilt their lives in the grocery business here in America.

“They taught me how to focus and work with discipline,” he said. “They were always telling me ‘you can do it.’ They were the epicenter of or family. When my bubbie was cooking in the kitchen, my grandpa would say ‘David, she’s cooking with love.’”

Working and studying hard and through his dyslexia, Kowitz passed the Maryland bar exam. He started his career as a practicing litigator for the Lutherville firm of Weiner & Weltchek. He said he was litigating many medical malpractice claims. Perhaps his most important piece of litigation happened in July 2007 when he was on the attorney team successfully pressing for a settlement in favor of Joseph C. Schultz, who was mistakenly shot in the face by an FBI agent.

Kowitz decided to move into title and real estate law in August 2009. He works with clients, be they local or from any part of the nation. He said he had recently finished a high-end refinancing of a property in New York.

His outlook on life reflects the man.

“Making money is not my motivation,” he said. “Building relationships, being a good person and [being] someone who can be relied on, that’s what is important to me about law. To build a relationship, you have to be a good person. Bad people don’t make good business people.”

He started with his radio show last November. He did this without having any radio experience, and his face became momentarily intense when he talked about just how nervous he was the first time. He shows a loose-leaf binder with many pages of radio-show notes he has used over the months. Some of the shows are pre-recorded and involve many interviews with experts on real estate law. His live broadcasts are often a combination of open phones and a studio guest. Many times, it’s just Kowitz and his listeners.

Kowitz, who grew up in Owings Mills, went through several shows, when interest rates were at their lowest, almost pleading with listeners to refinance their mortgages. Some of his callers did not know if they were eligible or did not know how to do it. Kowitz would talk them through their concerns with on-air answers.

Not hard with dyslexia? Kowitz keeps two books near for inspiration and motivation. One is “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a work that helps readers reduce their stress through meditation and mindfulness. The other is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which follows the theme that if one follows what one feels in their heart, it can lead to success.

“[I just want to] provide the best possible service for a wide range of clients,” he said.

Phil Jacobs is the former executive editor of Washington Jewish Week — pjacobs@washingtonjewishweek.com

Understanding And Intuition

From the second-floor window frame, by the red flowers, Chana Staiman’s father, Harry, and his brother, Otto, sometimes dangled their feet. (Photos Chana Staiman)

From the second-floor window frame, by the red flowers, Chana Staiman’s father, Harry, and his brother, Otto, sometimes dangled their feet. (Photos Chana Staiman)

As a girl in Seattle, Anne Bush evinced little interest in the Holocaust, even though her father, Harry, was a survivor whose mother, sister and brother-in-law had been murdered.

But as a mother in Baltimore, by then known as Chana Staiman, she gradually was drawn to the period, spurred in part by her elder son, Avi, who as a boy read incessantly on the Holocaust — to the extent, Staiman said, that she considered “taking him to see someone” for counseling.

By then, Harry Bush had died, and Staiman came to regret not having engaged him in conversations about the Holocaust or his pre-war youth.

So in late July, to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, Staiman and her husband, Jeremy, traveled to Prague from their home in Israel. She wanted to take in the city that had shaped the character of her father, who grew up in the Czech capital as Jindrich Busch.

The Staimans set out from Beit Shemesh, where they have lived since 2011 (Chana works as an ultrasound technologist and Jeremy owns a graphic-design firm), not knowing what they would find.

By the end of their five days in Prague, Staiman had located many sites associated with her father’s youth, including the second-floor window frame from which the young Jindrich and his brother, Otto, dangled their feet after being sent to their room as punishment. The Staimans also visited Terezin, the fortress turned concentration camp 40 miles north of Prague, where Staiman’s fat-her was incarcerated. The Nazis later infamously duped the International Red Cross into deeming the camp a model Jewish settlement.

And they saw the fulcrum for the two portions of Bush’s European life: the assembly point from where he was deported and from which his idyllic upbringing in Prague ended.

To find these places, she relied on strangers in Prague — and on a cousin back in Seattle with whom she hadn’t been in touch for decades.

Staiman reached Prague familiar with the basic facts of her father’s Holocaust-era life: his arrest in a movie theater for not wearing the required Star of David; his being sent to Terezin at age 21; his forced labor in the nearby Usti nad Labem region and at the Kladno coal mine; and his transport to the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

083013_understanding_and_intuition2Late in the war, he survived an Allied bombing of a transport train and a German death march. In the latter, the prisoners were abandoned by fleeing guards, so he found shelter in a barn in Magdeburg, Germany, where he was liberated by Russian troops in 1945.

Staiman knew the street name of the Prague apartment and its location in a then-Jewish area but not the address. Her cousin, Andrea Harrison, who was raised in the city before moving to the United States in 1967, had informed her before the trip that the apartment was in the city’s 7th District on a busy street called Obrancu Miru, across from a pharmacy and down the block from a church.

Over the years, the street had been renamed Milady Horakove and reassigned to the 10th District. The owner of a kosher restaurant in Prague where the Staimans dined told them of the district’s change, which helped in locating the correct street. The Staimans went to the building, No. 965, in the Letna neighborhood.

An old woman would admit them to the foyer only briefly, so the couple made do with taking photographs of the exterior. The Staimans then went to see a plaque that memorialized the Jews rounded up there.

“It was very sobering to be in the place where the family was brought before being sent to Terezin,” Jeremy Staiman emailed the couple’s adult sons in Israel. “We looked up and down the street and tried to picture what had happened there.”

The next day, they took a taxi to see Terezin. With them was Pavel Stransky, 92, a tour guide who had been sent there on the very same transport, on Dec. 4, 1941, that included Harry Bush. Harry’s sister, Margareta, and her husband, Leopold Raber, would be deported from Terezin to the Treblinka extermination camp, and Harry and his mother, Elsa, to Auschwitz.

The Staimans’ stay in Prague also included some nice times. They attended services at the 13th-century Altneuschul and other historic synagogues, walked across the bridges spanning the Vltava River, toured the Prague Castle and strolled in the Wallenstein Gardens.

No matter where they went, Staiman said, she felt her father’s spirit. He had always felt warmly toward the city and had even returned for a visit late in life. Prague helped shape his jovial, outgoing personality, which she bel-ieved acc-ounted for his success as a scrap-metal dealer.

Such ponderings beat thinking of his last days in Hawaii, where he’d acquired a lethal virus while on vacation in 1995. In the hospital there, he hallucinated that the Nazis were coming to kidnap his children.

Walking through Prague, Staiman couldn’t help thinking, “Dad would be so happy we did this. He would have been extremely overjoyed at us retracing his [early] life.”

Yehuda Bauer, an academic adviser to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, says individuals react differently during ancestral journeys such as Staiman’s, and they can be meaningful.

Such visits are “certainly interesting and for many people, important,” said Bauer, a Prague native. “If it adds understanding or intuition about what happened, that’s fine; that’s very good.”

In Staiman’s case, visiting Prague also is helping repair a breach in her extended family. She had long been out of contact with Harrison before consulting her prior to the Prague trip. One reason for the drift was religious: Her family branch is Jewish; Harrison’s is Catholic.

“I’m happy to have reconnected with someone from my family, Jewish or not,” Staiman said. “We have the same history. I’m extremely sorry we had not been in touch all these years, but now we will be.”

Email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends. Please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.

Love Her Sew

This Betty Rubble pillow was a ribbon-winner at the State Fair. (Provided)

This Betty Rubble pillow was a ribbon-winner at the State Fair. (Provided)

“Had it not been for my granddaughter, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Ellen S. Federoff, 63, of Randallstown.

“I died two years ago,” she said. “My heart stopped, my kidneys failed, and I was in a coma. People told me that while I was in a coma, my daughter, Rose, was there. She took my hand and put it on her belly and said, ‘Mom, this is the baby. … Mom, don’t do to me what your mother did to you.’ You see, we were supposed to be a three-generation family, but while I was pregnant with Rose, my mother died.”

Federoff survived, and her beloved granddaughter, Chloe Isla Blackmore, was born two months later. Although Federoff has been mostly bedridden since then, she hasn’t been idle, and she is a devoted grandmother to Chloe, now 2 and living in Westfield, N.J.

On bed rest, Federoff has spent much of her time stitching her award-winning needlework. She first learned to do needlepoint when she was 9 years old, but since her confinement, Federoff has had time to produce a huge body of work.

Almost every year since 1996, she has entered the Maryland State Fair’s needlepoint competitions. So far, she has won more than 160 ribbons. “Once I win, my husband, Fred, takes pictures of my ribbons. Then he frames the photos,” Federoff said. “God love my husband; he takes care of my IVs three or four times a day.”

This year, Federoff placed first, second or third in 21 of the 22 needlepoint competitions she entered. Among her submissions were a Chanukah-themed wall hanging that won second place and a wall hanging of the Orioles bird logo that won first place. A pillow with an image of Betty Rubble of “The Flintstones” took second place, as did a stuffed rocking horse. A figurine of Betsy Ross holding the American flag placed first.

In the crochet division, Federoff won first place for a doll-size ballet dress.

“When I’m in bed, either I read or stitch. It gives me something to do, and I know I’ll have something for [my granddaughter]— that’s most important,” said Federoff. “Or I have a present for someone, or I will enter it at the State Fair.”

Federoff said that needlepoint has always been part of her life and acknowledges she has always been artistic.

“With needlepoint, I’m creative in that I don’t necessarily follow the color scheme or the stitch pattern,” she said. “I like to have different textures. I do what pleases me.” And best of all?

“I got a nice surprise this morning,” she added. “My ‘baby,’ Courtney — she’s 31, called and said, ‘Mom, I’m super proud of you.’”

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter
sellin@jewishtimes.com

Inspiring Jewish Community

[slideshow id=”Inspiring Jewish Community”]

In 2005, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore was “Making A World Of Difference.” In 2008, it asked the community, “We Are Associated. Are You?”

In 2013, The Associated is “Inspiring Jewish Community.”

And last week, the fundraising engine began uprooting and replacing its old lawn signs with placards announcing the new message, a message that was determined based on countless hours of interviews, meetings and reflection. Associated Marketing Chair Kathy Fried oversaw the process through her company, LFG Partners, formerly the Lindler Fried Group.

Fried told the JT that The Associated spent months beginning in spring 2012 learning about how the community perceived the organization’s brand and then created its new look based on those findings and how it would want the community to perceive it.

“We surveyed people so we could say, ‘This is what people think. This is what we want people to think,’” said Fried.

What is the message?

“Conceptually, it’s very similar [to the old brand],” said Fried, “But the Jewish star with the people is bolder, and we use a more impactful type. The colors are blue and green. The blue is a deep, rich blue — more of a corporate color. It’s a richer, stronger blue. The green … represents growth, renewal, energy, safety and sustainability.”

Fried said that thus far the new logo and messaging have been well received. She said the perception is that the concept is both flexible and also strong — “it has boundaries.”

There will be 68 new signs in place by Rosh Hashanah.

Photos by Marc Shapiro

Local Political Guru Earns Lofty Croatian Honor

Matthew Mark Horn said that championing for Croatia’s NATO membership was simply the right thing to do. (Provided)

Matthew Mark Horn said that championing for Croatia’s NATO membership was simply the right thing to do. (Provided)

One of the most prestigious honors imparted by the Croatian government is The Order of Stjepan Radic. The distinction is bestowed upon individuals who have served and sacrificed for the national and social rights of Croatia, and few native Croatians — and even fewer foreigners — have ever been awarded the decoration.

Pikesville resident Matthew Mark Horn, a longtime government policy and foreign relations expert and the former director of the American Jewish Congress, can add his name to that exclusive list.

Horn, 49, was presented The Order of Stjepan Radic for his work spearheading Croatia’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a process that began in August 2008 and culminated when the nation was ultimately added in April 2009.  Horn received a hand-painted decree and its accompanying medals at a ceremony at the Embassy of Croatia in Washington, D.C., last July.

“Recognizing the importance of Matt’s contribution to the security and stability of Croatia, the government made decorating him its priority,” Croatia ambassador to the U.S. Josko Paro said at the ceremony.

A veteran with a diverse background in international affairs, Horn outwardly advocated for Croatia after hearing that individuals from some Jewish communal organizations were lobbying the Senate to stall the country’s admission. Horn reasoned that the organizations were attempting to use the NATO membership process as a way to leverage Croatia into acting more quickly and more substantially with Holocaust reparations.

However, Horn explained, reparation matters are ongoing in the Croatian court system. He also said that the country achieving NATO status was of paramount importance to its welfare, and he wrote multiple letters of support on its behalf.

“NATO is the most important military defensive alliance in the world,” Horn said. “It’s a deterrent. If you attack a NATO member, in theory and in legality, you’ve attacked the entire [28-member] alliance.”

Horn added that he was extremely humbled by the honor.

“You don’t expect to be rewarded for doing what you think is right,” he said. “The fact that people, officials of all political stripes in Croatia … all agreed that I should be recognized for this — I was blown away.”

A High Note

Erica Ferguson’s parents like to say she was born singing. “When I cried, my cries sounded like songs,” said Erica, 17. Perhaps the Rockville resident was already rehearsing for her future career as an opera singer. On Aug. 2, she made her Baltimore debut in an original opera, “Ava and Alex,” a production written, performed and produced by a young group of vocalists who attended a unique opera camp last month at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

Erica was one of 25 talented vocalists ages 13 to 18 to be selected for the Modell Lyric’s fourth annual Opera Camp, which took place from July 8 to Aug. 2. In addition to their work in “Ava and Alex,” the campers, who won full scholarships, received vocal, drama, movement and improvisation training. They attended master classes in set design, lighting design, wigs, makeup and stage management, toured the Walters Art Museum and attended concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

“The opera [“Ava and Alex”] is a love story about two college kids,” Erica said. “I played Ava, a working-class girl who’s the first in her family to go to college. She’s been working all her life so she can reach her goal of having a career in international business. Alex is a rich boy who has always had things, and through his relationship with Ava, he learns to pursue his true calling — art.”

Erica became serious about singing in the sixth grade. Recognizing her daughter’s talent, Marlyn Ferguson arranged for her daughter to study with a private vocal coach. For the past five years, Erica has studied with Jennifer Suess at the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C., where she is a member of the school’s honors program. In her upcoming senior year at Rockville High School, Erica will be the singer in the school’s jazz band. Earlier this summer, she played Barbarina in “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Bethesda Summer Music Festival.

“The camp has been amazing, and it’s been such a wonderful experience to perform with kids who are this talented,” said Erica. “The director, James Harp, is so phenomenal; he basically runs the whole Baltimore opera scene. He’s so encouraging; I just love working with him.”

Erica also appreciated her opera camp experience because of the exposure it provided. “We had the opportunity to perform for the press as well as the donors. During Artscape we sang behind four professional singers, and another day we performed for the mayor. There were press people talking with us and filming.”

While attending the camp, Erica lived with her grandmother, Sonya Setren of Baltimore.

“Another great part of Erica’s love of opera is that Paul [Erica’s father] and I are learning about opera from her,” said Marlyn Ferguson, who noted there is vocal talent in the family. Ferguson’s great aunt is a professional opera singer in Croatia.

Because Erica has been spending a lot of time in Baltimore this summer, her mother, a native of Randallstown, said she has been rediscovering her hometown. “I love it, and it’s really a great arts town,” she said.