To Lose Weight, Ravens’ Suggs Cuts Back on Gefilte Fish

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked his favorite Jewish food in favor of a healthier diet. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked his favorite Jewish food in favor of a healthier diet. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As he prepares for his 14th NFL season, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs insists he is in perhaps in the finest physical shape of his career thanks to a healthier diet.

Suggs, 33, is known as a large, menacing force on the field, wreaking havoc against opposing team’s offenses and altering games with his stellar performances. He is the franchise’s all-time sacks leaders (106.5), was named the 2011 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and led the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XLVII four seasons ago.

But coming off a year during which he played one game after suffering an Achillies tendon tear — the second of his career — in the 2015 season opener, Suggs is intent on  returning to his dominant form even if it means giving up some of his favorite foods — which includes gelfilte fish.

For the time being, Suggs, the longest-tenured Raven, has cut his intake of the Jewish holiday favorite, among other tasty selections, as part of his new diet and workout regimen.

“I’m not a big fan of food, but when I do eat, I like to eat,” Suggs said Aug. 18 during a news conference. “I like my fried chicken, my pizza, my peaches and my gefilte fish. I had to cut all that out. I still eat the peaches and a little bit of the fish, but that’s about it.”

While that’s likely refreshing news to the Ravens, it comes as a bit of a surprise to some local deli owners.

Mark Horowitz, co-owner of the Suburban House, noted Suggs would often frequent his Pikesville establishment to get his fix of whitefish. Although he can’t recall the last time Suggs was at his restaurant, Horowitz said Suggs’ business will be greatly missed.

“How many football players eat gefilte fish? Look, we all know certain players enjoy certain foods, and that just happens to be his,” Horowitz said. “I hope he comes around to eating more gefilte fish again sooner rather than later.”

Alan Smith, owner of Lenny’s Deli, said Suggs is a regular at his Owings Mills location but has yet to purchase any gefilte fish from the restaurant since it is only offered during the holidays.

But if and when Suggs decides to increase his consumption of the traditional Ashkenazi dish, Smith may just have a special order waiting for him.

“I think it’s pretty neat that he knows just what [gefilte fish] is,” Smith said. “I asked my manager the other day if [Suggs] had been in lately, so maybe I should set aside some gefilte fish for him sometime when we have it.”

When asked which brand of gefilte fish Suggs prefers, a Ravens spokesman declined to comment.

Interestingly, Suggs has  developed a Jewish history during his time in Baltimore. Suggs considers himself “half-Jewish” and even went as far as to get a Star of David tattoo on his right arm after the 2009 season to prove his faith.

“I had to rededicate myself to the game,” Suggs said at the time. “I had a lot of things I was dealing with, so I pretty much got this tattoo, just kind of, to remind me of who I am, the real me.”

If Suggs’ approach now is anything like it was back then to his faith, both he and the Ravens could be in store for a big season.

“He’s in excellent condition,” head coach John Harbaugh said at the Aug. 18 news conference. “He’s been away for a while, and he’s like, ‘I really love this. I love playing football. I love being a part of the team.’ He’s just been great with the players. Of course, the  energy level, the things he says, they’re just irreplaceable.”

Suggs’ favorite fish has also been on the agenda of none other than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. One of her emails released by the State Department last year caught the eyes of many Jews.

“Gefilte fish” read the subject of the 2010 email, sent to two top aides. Its body contained a simple question: ”Where are we on this?”

Apparently the issue at stake was a shipment of carp (a crucial gefilte fish ingredient) to Israel that had been blocked due to tariff issues just before Passover, when Jews traditionally enjoy the pungent patties. Fortunately, Clinton was able to pull strings to get the cargo approved, ensuring that no seders in Israel would go without the beloved dish.

JTA contributed to this report.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

300 Orthodox Rabbis Condemn Child Sexual Abuse

A segment of the international modern Orthodox Jewish community is doing its part to raise awareness about child sexual abuse in institutions such as schools and synagogues.

Three hundred rabbis signed a letter last week that condemned Jewish leaders for silencing victims and called upon institutions to implement reforms such as more thorough screening processes for hiring employees, including, larger number of adults in rooms with children as safeguards and teaching children about what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate adult  behavior. The letter came in  response to a series of suicides that were determined to be a  direct result of child molestation.

“I think our community has been working toward this commitment to address and prevent child sexual abuse for some time. They are incredible in their support of the Safety Kid Program, a nationally recognized sexual abuse program,” shared Nancy Aiken, the executive director of CHANA, a Jewish organization devoted to protecting victims of abuse. “The Orthodox community has been quite forthcoming in wanting these types of programs in their institutions. CHANA has worked closely with the Orthodox schools to instate this programming.”

Among the signers of the letter were rabbis from the United States, Israel and Europe. A number of the rabbis were from Maryland including Rabbi Dr. Tsvi G. Schur, a chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“Orthodox rabbis do care about the situation, and publically we want to say that we do not want this to be swept under the carpet,” he said.

Retired Rabbi Jack Bieler, who served as the rabbi of Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md., for 30 years and continues to serve as a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, said the issue of child abuse is something the organization has worked extensively on in terms of writing protocols for institutions to adopt.

Bieler said a statement such as this one that spells out specific proposals could have a meaningful impact, but the “devil’s in the details.”

It underscores one’s values that this is really significant, and when you have a written document, it has to be followed appropriately.” — Rabbi Yitzhok Merkin, headmaster of the  Yeshiva of Greater Washington

 

“Many of these changes, logistically, are costly and require manpower,” he said. “And volunteer organizations have a very narrow bottom line. And for them to donate portions of their budgets is not simple. On the other hand, by having a large number of people make this statement on this issue, that it has to be addressed will hopefully precipitate it.”

Bieler said child abuse has been a cultural issue for Judaism that is sometimes ignored, but a heightened sense of awareness has led to more leaders taking action.

“I don’t think you can talk about the Orthodox community in a monolithic sense,” he said. “There are many different groups within the Orthodox community that have addressed this in different ways. The general climate has made it that much more acceptable and understandable that these things have to be talked about, and changes have to be made to prevent this.”

Other signatories include Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, director of pastoral care at Sinai Hospital; Rabbi Marcel Blitz of Baltimore; Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion; Rabbi Binyamin Marwick of Congregation Shomrei Emunah; Rabbi Yisrael Motzen of Ner Tamid Greensping Valley Synagogue; and Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim.

The letter also found its way to the desk of a staff member at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, said headmaster Rabbi Yitzhok Merkin. Merkin said in reviewing the proposed reforms, they “support it 100 percent.”

“It underscores one’s values that this is really significant, and when you have a written document, it has to be followed appropriately,” he said. “I think the fact that you have a great number of strong personalities who are well respected in the community makes it clear that’s it not appropriate to deny things.”

Merkin said the Yeshiva has an ombudsman who is unaffiliated with the school to investigate complaints as a measure to  comply with both Maryland and federal laws.

Safeguards against child abuse are also in place at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md., says headmaster Josh Levisohn. Levisohn said the school performs background checks of its employees and has three guidance counselors available to students should they wish to discuss anything confidential.

“There are support systems in place for kids that feel uncomfortable with one another,” he said. “By and large they are common-sense practices. We have a board that oversees what we do, and we have a committee that looks through our policies.”

Levisohn said he understands the awareness about child sexual abuse that have been raised and thinks it resonates strongly due to the intimate nature of religious communities like the Orthodox world.

“I think that there is concern overall about sexual abuse in all communities, and religious communities tend to be tighter knit than others, and that’s why it gets attention in that way,” he said.

Daniel Nozick contributed to this report.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Welcome Home’ Now in Israel, former Baltimore-area residents are living their dream, thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh

TEL AVIV — At just after 7 a.m. on Aug. 17, their 10-hour ordeal of a flight finally concluded, 233 weary soon-to-be new citizens of Israel staggered off the El Al charter.

They couldn’t possibly have imagined what they were in for next.

As they walked down the makeshift steps to the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac, they were met by a phalanx of photographers, each trying to capture the moment.

After posing for pictures — including a group shot of the 75 young men and women who will be joining the Israeli  Defense Forces (IDF) in three months  following a crash indoctrination course — they boarded buses and proceeded to a hangar set aside for the occasion.

Then it became even more surreal.

As the buses approached the hangar, the music picked up and the celebration began. Loved ones, friends and basically anyone who wanted to come out at 7 a.m. to greet people they felt an immediate kinship to were there to welcome them. To hug them. To wave signs with individual and family names. To wave Israeli flags.

These olim weren’t just anybody, you see.

'Welcome Home'
These boys, girls, men and women ranging in ages from 3-and-a-half weeks to 85 years old were telling them and the rest of the world, “This is where I want to be.”

“I am not used to being treated like a celebrity, but that is the way the ceremonies made you feel,” David Leichter, who brought his wife, Tzippy, and their five children from Baltimore, said via email less than a week since their arrival. “You felt like you were doing something incredible. But for us, this was something that we were dreaming of for a long time. So it was strange and at the same time  exhilarating to be treated like this.

“Our first week has been great! I find  it amazing how kind and sympathetic  Israelis can be once they learn that you’ve just made aliyah.”

They’re hardly alone among Baltimoreans.

Avidan and Ilana Milevsky also have moved their five children — three girls and two boys, ages 1 to 11 — to Eretz Yisrael, as have Menachem and Sara Lanner and their gang of five. Then there are those such as Jaqui Austen, Lily Ganse and Jacob Roshgadol, who’ll join the army once they get acclimated.

Since NBN started, we’ve doubled aliyot, and the retention rate is over 90 percent. that is our greatest testament. People are coming, and we’re helping them stay.

— Doreet Freedman, vice president of partnership and development at Nefesh B’Nefesh

They’ve all taken the plunge thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh, the group that coordinates flights bringing hordes of like-minded Americans and a few Canadians to Israel twice a year.

What began as a startup out of a garage 14 years ago has evolved into an organization that provides invaluable service to those considering such a weighty decision. From the moment they inquire about making aliyah through the mounds of paperwork that have to be filled out prior to arrival and then the constant follow-up once they settle into their new home, NBN is there with advice, support and a sympathetic ear.

“I can’t image doing this without Nefesh B’Nefesh,” said Ilana Milevsky, a few days  before she and her family headed to New York, where the sendoff at John F. Kennedy International Airport included Israel’s new Consul General in New York Dani Dayan. “They give a tremendous amount of support.

“They help with the documentation and also give proactive, emotional support reassuring us. They’ve been helping us out with everything from schools for the kids to health insurance. They cover so much, and instead of needing a month or two to take care of it, they’re doing it over days and weeks.”

That’s why it’s been so successful, the Aug. 16 trip being NBN’s 55th charter flight since its 2002 origin, encompassing more than 50,000 oleh.

“We were trying to reinvent the failing mechanism of immigration,” explained Doreet Freedman, NBN’s vice president of partnership and development and one of five charter members. “When we started off, of the 1,500 to 2,000 a year who made aliyah, about 60 percent returned to America.

“Since NBN started, we’ve doubled aliyot, and the retention rate is over 90 percent. That is our greatest testament. People are coming, and we’re helping them to stay,” he continued, noting that other sponsors include Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

But don’t try telling the 233 people being serenaded with love by some 1,800 adoring fans — among them Israeli President Reuven Rivlin — that they’re simply being used as good PR for the Jewish homeland.

We Feel This Is The Place All Jews Should Be. It’s The Best Place For Our Children. — Tzippy Leichter

No wonder so many of them, like the Leichters, truly believe the signs filling that hangar, the words Rivlin and others repeated like a mantra: They were coming “home.”

“It’s really been in my head for four years or so,” said University of Maryland, College Park graduate Roshgadol, 21, who hopes his degree in mechanical engineering will give him options with the IDF that enable him to avoid combat. “When  I wanted to go then, I was  already in Israel studying in the yeshiva in Jerusalem. What’s changed is now I go to the army coming in with a skill they want me to have. It’s a major incentive for them to take me.”

If nothing else, Roshgadol will be close to his older sisters, Ayelet and Liora, both of whom made aliyah a few years back. Not that he’ll get to see much of them right away, since the IDF immediately puts young men and women into a pre-training regimen on a kibbutz to prepare them for their induction.

“We’re part of [Tzofim] Garin Tzabar,” said Roshgadol, who indicated that the political climate in the U.S. had nothing to do with his decision to leave. “We go to different kibbutzim for three months before we go in the army.

“While I was over there over for the summer last year, I had an interview with one of the units. A long as I get security clearance, I can go into the unit. Garin Tzabar and Nefesh B’Nefesh take care of lot of bureaucracy needs. I just had to pick a date, go to the Israeli consulate and get a visa. They took care of all the arrangements.”

Doing it for yourself is one thing. Doing it for a family of seven is something else, which is why the Leichters originally backed out on their dream seven years ago.

“We went on pilot trip for 10 days to check out the communities and talk to people about what it would be like,” recalled David Leichter, a CPA whose business has evolved to the point he’s now confident he can make it work from both ends. “I went on some job interviews and  visited a half-dozen communities and Jewish day schools.

“When we came home I said, ‘This is not going to happen.’ The salaries were well below what I was looking for, and we didn’t find a suitable community. It changed about a year ago. Things fell into place, and we decided this is a good time.”

So Leichter, his wife, sons Binyamin, 13, Noam, 11, and Avi, 4, daughter Nava, 8, and  4-week-old baby boy Shalom are settling into their new home.

Also read, 50 Years Later, Israel Different but Still the Same.

“We are currently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh off of one of the main streets,” Lechter wrote. “We had no idea what the apartment looked like ahead of time or where it was located, but as it turns out, it is in the very best location that we could have hoped for.

“It’s right near the center of the city and very near the synagogues where we pray. The kids probably still feel as though they are on vacation, as they haven’t started school and haven’t had to ‘live’ here yet. So they’re in seventh heaven.”

In time they’ll understand why their parents made such a momentous decision.

“We feel this is the place all Jews should be,” said Tzippy Leichter, a teacher and speech therapist who met her husband when both were attending neighboring yeshivas in Manhattan. “It’s the best place for our children.

“There’s a connection. You really feel like you’re a part of the Jewish people when you’re there. You feel you’re where you’re supposed to be.”

Whatever their reason for coming, whether it’s to raise their family or serve in the army, they’re equally valued to Rivlin and the rest.

“For nearly 2,000 years the Jewish people have known exile,” a boisterous Rivlin told the new arrivals, which included 24 families, 78 children and representatives of 22 states. “For you, dear new olim, that exile that began then ends today.

“Welcome to Israel. Welcome to Zion. Welcome home.”

It remains be seen whether those making aliyah are truly home or just visiting for the time being.

But at least on this day for the Leichters, Milevskys and Lanners, along with Roshgadol, Austen and Ganse, their task is simple: Just live their lives.

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

50 Years Later, Israel Different but Still the Same

The first time I ever got on a plane I flew to Israel. A not-so-sweet 16 on the verge of going into my senior year of high school (where one of my classmates was a kid named Ben Netanyahu), I was excited at spending the summer in the land I knew only through Hebrew school. Over the next seven weeks while touring with a contingent from the Jewish Welfare Board, I got a pretty full sense of the country. We combined work — in a refugee day camp outside Jerusalem and on a kibbutz near Be’er Sheva — with the things tourists usually do. It was a memorable trip, one I figured would be only a matter of time before I made it again. Funny how time works. On Aug. 17, on assignment to cover the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight taking 233 new citizens to their new home, I returned to Israel — 50 years later. It was never the game plan to have a 50-year interval between visits. That’s just how life is. While my 20-year-old daughter, Lauren, has already been there three times and undoubtedly figures to return a few more, for one reason or another, I hadn’t been back. 'Welcome Home'

Now, as then, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just knew the Israel of 1966 would be nothing like the 2016 version. Would I recognize anything? Would it seem as foreign to me as China, which I visited in 2014? Or would it all come back to me, like the proverbial “riding a bike”?

Turns out to be somewhere in between.

There’s no denying Israel has become a modern, progressive country. But I don’t remember any traffic jams 50 years ago. I don’t remember being overwhelmed by the size of the city and the swarms of people. And I certainly don’t remember that special feeling when I stood in front of the kotel to marvel at the Western Wall and the history of our people.

Oh, wait. I forgot. I couldn’t have done that back then, because the kotel and the entire Old City of Jerusalem was a part of Jordan.

That’s how long ago it had been. I was there in 1966. The Six-Day War, which enabled Israel to reclaim the Old City, the Golan Heights and other disputed territories over the ensuing 49 years, came a year later.

So going to the Wall had to be the first thing on my agenda, which this time was only going to last three days rather than seven weeks because I had to be back home in time for the wedding of a longtime friend’s daughter.

Accompanied by a fellow journalist we set out from our hotel a few hours after landing in Tel Aviv. Upon arriving at the Old City, we decided to take the longer route through the Jewish quarter rather than the Arab quarter, figuring it would be safer.

After 10 to 15 minutes we  finally reached the area surrounding the kotel. Following  a nice evening in Jerusalem I  returned to the kotel the following day for the “tunnel tour.” The tour is a march through history — in this case actually a march down to where that history was made. Over the past 40-plus years there’s been tremendous excavation of the area where the original Temples were destroyed and where the original walls of Jerusalem were built.

In the process they’ve uncovered large segments of that ancient city previously buried by debris. Should I ever make it back by then, undoubtedly they’ll have uncovered more.

Before leaving Jerusalem I felt it necessary to visit Mount Hertzl, the final resting spot not only for all the great Jewish leaders, but also for a young man I had only recently written about: Michael Levin, a suburban Philadelphia native who gave his life to the cause as an IDF paratrooper 10 years ago.

Onto Tel Aviv, where on the ride leaving Jerusalem the memories came flooding back to me. Gazing out the window at the spectacular hills and valleys, I was instantly transported back in time.

No, there weren’t tanks lurking by the roadside as in 1966, and of course there weren’t four-lane highways like now. But the overall beauty of the landscape hadn’t changed. This was the Israel I remembered!

As for Tel Aviv, it’s pretty much like any big city. It’s bustling and everybody seems to be in a hurry, even though it was really hot. I don’t really know if 24 hours in Tel Aviv was enough, but that was all I had. Since it was late afternoon when I arrived at my hotel by the beach, the first stop was obvious. The Mediterranean was spectacular, the water refreshing and nearly as warm as a Jacuzzi.

But then there was that inadvertent moment while searching for what they call the “W.C.” in many foreign countries and seeing a bunch of women walking into theirs that I stumbled into forbidden territory. Horrified looks were followed by a  security detail quickly ushering me to the other side. “Girls beach,” I was told.

Who knew?

I spent my one day in Tel Aviv doing whatever I could. A bus tour of Jaffa and the city was followed by a trip to the famed Carmel Market for shopping and general observation. Imagine people squashed together by the hundreds as they try to maneuver the narrow streets and stay in the shade. Around them merchants are selling everything imaginable, though contrary to what I’d heard, no one was willing to do much bargaining.

Still, it was a fascinating  experience.

From there it was Rabin Square, followed by a walk to the Dizengoff Center, a snazzy indoor mall that came as a welcome relief from the heat. While there I ventured to a  familiar oasis: McDonalds. A women helped me order, since the signs, unlike most places throughout Israel, weren’t in English. She asked where I was from. When I told her she immediately replied, “My husband used to live in Philadelphia.”

Over the ensuing half-hour in that Tel Aviv McDonalds I was able to trade stories and  relate with someone who knew my neighborhood. There’s a certain comfort yet irony to that. After that it was time to head for home.

Spending three days in Israel after 50 years may not have seemed worth the effort to some, but I’m glad I went. I was caught off guard by a few things, but they were minor inconveniences.

The main thing was I had  finally made it back to Israel, which has certainly changed in the interim, but not all that much. As I wrote on the note I placed inside a crack in the Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, “I’m glad I finally made it here, because I never knew I would.”

And I certainly don’t know if I’ll ever make it back.

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

What Would Heschel Say About Black Lives Matter?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right) marches with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in the 1960s.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right) marches with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in the 1960s.

When the Movement for Black Lives published its platform last month, many Jews were shocked that in addition to its call for the end of systemic racism against African-Americans, the platform demanded an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

Support for Israel made the United States complicit in the “genocide” against the Palestinians. Israel, the platform asserted, is “an apartheid state.”

With its harsh denunciation of Israel, the platform placed many American Jews who sympathize with Black Lives Matter in a quandary: If the movement is so hostile to Israel, must Jews choose between the Jewish state and Black Lives?

Jewish organizations have had their say, ranging from outright rejection to calls for continuing dialogue. We wondered, what would Abraham Joshua Heschel say?

Heschel, a Conservative rabbi who died in 1972, is perhaps most famous for his activism in the civil rights movement and the iconic photograph of him marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march of 1965.

Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said her father hated when people used words improperly, and he would have objected to the Black Lives Matter’s accusation that Israel is guilty of genocide.

“My father would have been appalled as he always was by lies, and he would have been appalled that the Black Lives Matter platform would seek to alienate and close the door on the closest ally the African-American community has,” she said. “I also think it is terribly self-destructive for the Black Lives Matter movement. He would have said that black lives matter even more than that political platform or the people who wrote that platform.”

Civil dialogue is the way to understand these complexities, according to Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. It was part of his goal on Aug. 14 when he delivered a sermon at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Md. In it, he highlighted the experience of marginalization that Jews and African-Americans have faced, referring to the incident at the Olympics in which the Lebanese team refused to allow the Israelis on its bus.

“So I am here to tell you, that we Jews know what it is like and what it means to be denied a seat on the bus,” he told his listeners, in an allusion to civil rights worker Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to give up her seat for a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955.

Weinblatt’s father, Samuel, attended King’s March on Washington in 1963. The younger Weinblatt said Heschel was a role model to him because of his ability to combine compassion with and activism in his writings and teachings. Weinblatt, too, thinks Heschel would subscribe to the goals of Black Lives Matter but would call the movement out for its anti- Israel language.

“I think what Heschel would say is, ‘We need to work that much harder to make sure the voices of love are louder than [those of] hatred and divisiveness,’” Weinblatt said. “‘We shouldn’t stand on the sidelines and allow the anti- Israel pro-Palestinians to hijack this movement.’”

It was a combination of Heschel’s teaching and his social justice activism that touched Adas Israel Congregation Rabbi Emeritus Jeffrey Wohlberg, who studied with Heschel at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. Wohlberg, who now lives in Atlanta, said there is no question that Heschel loved the Jewish state.

“I think his deepest of emotions and philosophic commitments would have been supporting the modern State of Israel whether he agreed with current political positions or not,” he said. “At the same time, we all know he was committed to human rights, which led to him speak out and act publicly.”

Wohlberg said Heschel would have attempted to communicate the importance of both of these passions in today’s world.

“I’m sure he would have been caught up with trying to reach, as he did with Dr. King, a level of public understanding and expression that would have spoken for both of those concerns,” he said.

Among Heschel’s writings was “Israel: An Echo of Eternity” in which he discussed the 1967 Six-Day War two years after Israel’s victory. Edward Kaplan, a professor of romance studies at Brandeis University and one of Heschel’s biographers, said after the war Heschel went to Israel to walk the streets “as if the Bible were being written again.”

“If you look at [“Israel: An Echo of Eternity”], you have this extremely passionate, spiritual attachment to Israel. He quotes at length from [dovish] Abba Eban, who was the Israeli representative to the U.N. during the war. Heschel would be oriented toward a peaceful solution.”

Kaplan noted that Heschel was “more subtle and more learned than most of us,” because of the historical experience he had of being born in Poland, educated in Germany and then fleeing the Holocaust by coming to the United States in 1940. Kaplan said that Heschel’s identification with blacks during the civil rights years came from the anti-Semitism he witnessed in Europe.

Today’s debate over the killing of unarmed black men would have raised “religiously urgent questions,” said Rabbi Shai Held, who teaches at the Mechon Hadar yeshiva in New York and has also written about Heschel.

“He was very wary of situations where some people had all the power and others were very vulnerable,” Held said. “Were Heschel alive today, he would insist that Jews ask the question about the moral and religious damage caused by subjugating another people,” referring to the Palestinians.

Held thinks Heschel would have had similar feelings about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while he would not have regarded the occupation as “genocide,” he would have “insisted that the occupation has done great damage to Israel.”

“I don’t doubt that the Jewish people had a claim on the land, but I think he thought that subjugating another people [Palestinians] is wrong,” Held said. “And subjugating them in the long term damages both the oppressor and the oppressed.”

But the key in all of this may be time. Susannah Heschel said that when she was growing up, she observed a gradual shift in the American Jewish community’s attitude toward her father’s civil rights activism. Initially, the support came from rabbis who had fled religious persecution in Europe. She observed a similar trend when her family began speaking out on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

So will Jews again be able to feel they can comfortably support both American social justice and the legitimacy of Israel? Heschel’s daughter thinks so, but only if Jews continue to speak their conscience.

“My father said the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference,” she said. “You don’t give up. You keep talking. And my father kept talking.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

FBI Seeking Public’s Help in Finding Bank Robber

The FBI Baltimore Violent Crimes Task Force is seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who is wanted in connection with a series of bank robberies in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Investigators believe the same man is responsible for three robberies in the last two months; the most recent incident was on Saturday August 20th.

Witnesses describe him as a black man, about 6’2” tall, with an athletic build. The suspect approaches the counter, hands the bank employee a note announcing an armed robbery, and demands money. He threatens to shoot the teller. No one has been hurt in any of the robberies.

The list of banks:

  • July 18 – Bank of America, 3621 Old Court Road, Pikesville, Maryland
  • July 22 – Wells Fargo Bank, 2847 Smith Avenue, Pikesville, Maryland
  • August 20 – Wells Fargo Bank, 5121 Roland Avenue, Baltimore City, Maryland

If anyone has any information about the robber or robberies, you are asked to call the Baltimore FBI at 410-265-8080. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest in this case.

The Baltimore FBI Violent Crimes Task Force is made up of FBI agents, Baltimore City Police detectives, Baltimore County Police detectives, and Anne Arundel County Police detectives. They investigate significant violent crimes, including kidnappings, robberies of commercial institutions, armored car and bank robberies, extortions, and fugitive felons.

fbi1 fbiwantedphoto2-1 fbiwantedphoto1

21st-Century School Plan Draws Community Concern

(©iStockphoto.com/archideaphoto)

(©iStockphoto.com/archideaphoto)

Baltimore residents are worried about unforeseen consequences that could result from one of the largest ongoing projects in the city, the 21st Century School Buildings Plan.

Approved by the Board of School Commissioners in 2013, the planned 10-year project calls for “a massive building modernization initiative … to transform all of the district’s buildings and give its students the 21st-century learning environments they need and deserve.”

Community concerns about the project’s budget and schedule and discrepancies in the city’s plan are rising as a result of how the 21st Century plan affects two local high schools, Forest Park and Northwestern. The two schools are in the process of merging because changing demographics resulting in lower enrollment have led to both campuses being underutilized. A city official spoke about the city’s plans at a community meeting held by the Baltimore Jewish Council on Aug. 18.

For the next two years, Forest Park and Northwestern students will be engaged in separate classes and curriculums within Northwestern’s existing campus while Forest Park is renovated to accommodate more students. Following renovations, Northwestern will close permanently. These  renovations will provide a 177,479-square-foot campus with modern amenities and technology. Although Forest Park’s projected enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year is 812 students, the new building is being built for approximately 1,208 to accommodate students who will choose to attend  Forest Park once Northwestern has been closed.

For the next two years, Forest Park and Northwestern students will be engaged in  separate classes and curriculums within Northwestern’s existing campus while Forest Park is renovated to accommodate more students.

 

However, members of the community are worried about whether or not the project  is on time and on budget.  According to Marnell Cooper, a member of Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners since 2002 and chairman since 2015, by 2020 the city is “supposed to complete 28 new buildings and close at least 26 in a city that does not have space to build new buildings.” Additionally, the plan states that the school system must “contribute $3 million a year in addition to money already set aside for maintenance.”  Although Cooper assured the community that the project was meeting both time constraints and budgetary demands, the fears of the community are not off base.

According to Forest Park’s website, “the classes of 2019 and 2020 are projected to graduate from our new state-of-the-art 21st Century School building. The transformation begins this year, with renovations projected to be completed by August 2018.  On Aug. 1, 2016, our transition commenced with the first stage, moving to our temporary location, at 6900 Park Heights Ave., for two years.”

Even this blurb brings the community’s questions into focus. According to the initial plans for Forest Park located online, construction was slated to begin in June 2015 with the building fully occupied by August 2017. However, the city’s website says that it is currently in the process of designing schematics for the school, which was meant to be accomplished by August 2014, according to the original plans. The renovations will cost $70 million, according to the city schools’ website.

Community members were concerned that if renovations are not completed on schedule, the populations of two local high schools will be left in the lurch after Northwestern closes in 2020.

Sandy Johnson is a member of the Fallstaff community, which is home to an elementary school that will be affected by the 21st Century Plan. While she voiced concerns about time and budget, her main contention was that there must be at least a plan for what to do with the buildings that are slated to be closed, which currently there is not. She said, “I agree with Mr. Cooper that the board can’t do everything at the same time, which I think they have been guilty of trying to do. You have to just decide to do certain things that you believe are actually going to move the needle of kids. The board has not been effective enough in making those decisions. Empty school buildings will not influence kids positively.”

Cooper conceded the point, proposing that the main concern now is that “when we started this program, we did not address it in terms of what money is recouped by closing facilities. If it is recouped, how is that money then spent and funneled back into education? We also need to talk about what is going to be done with the building. This is the real challenge; if we have more than 26 empty school buildings in Baltimore City, what do they become? They become havens for crime. We have to come up with some answers, because we know that in 2020, the buildings are going to be empty.”

Although hypothetical solutions such as turning schools into athletic complexes have been suggested, Cooper firmly believes that getting both local and international businesses involved in converting campuses is the most reasonable solution proposed.

“We have to figure out the entry points for businesses to participate, and it can’t just be the businesses that are billion-dollar industries, because in Baltimore City specifically, there is a large entrepreneurial space of people who want to contribute to the school system but are unclear how to do it,” Cooper said. “We have about 10,000 students in our career technology education program. We need help understanding what the community wants or needs, because their education is not complete unless they can match it with you, the community.

“The school system has plenty of buildings to use,” Cooper continued. “We just don’t own them. The question now is how can the school system get control of a building or buildings to use as an economic engine?”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Talmudical Academy to Expand Campus

A virtual rendering of the Academy’s renovated campus (Talmudical Academy: talmudicalacademy.org)

A virtual rendering of the Academy’s renovated campus (Talmudical Academy: talmudicalacademy.org)

The Talmudical Academy is undergoing a fundraising campaign to expand its campus.

Originally built to serve a population of 450 students, the Academy has approximately 1,050 enrolled, according to Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, the Academy’s executive director.

“We are currently in the middle of our fundraising campaign; it has been very successful so far. Construction of the new buildings will start very soon,” shared Cohen, although dates for construction are not yet set.

Currently, the campus is composed of a main administrative building, a dormitory and two shared buildings of classrooms. One building contains both the preschool and elementary school, and the other contains the middle and high schools. Additionally, the campus has a number of portable trailers that serve as makeshift classrooms.

“The new renovations will involve an expansion of the campus from 9.5 to 11.5 acres,” said Cohen. The plans also include two new buildings, which will house the high school and early childhood education respectively.

“We very excited to add additional playgrounds and an extra gymnasium to the campus as well,” Cohen added.  According to the Academy’s website, the new campus will also incorporate “a spacious cafeteria and multipurpose rooms, technological aids in every classroom and expanded therapy and resource rooms.”

dnozock@midatlanticmedia.com

UN Obsessed with Israel, MK Yair Lapid Says

Yair Lapid, pictured here in 2013, says he plans to meet with Jewish Democratic members of Congress. (File photo)

Yair Lapid, pictured here in 2013, says he plans to meet with Jewish Democratic members of Congress. (File photo)

Yair Lapid, the Israeli newsman-turned-politician, says the United Nations has an obsession with Israel.

“We tell them, you know what is going on in Israel. Israel is a democracy. We have human rights, we have women’s rights, we have gay rights, we are doing everything in our power to prevent the death of innocents in every conflict we have, and yet you are condemning us,” Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid Party and a former finance minister, told reporters earlier this month in a conference call held by the Israel Policy Forum.

 

I think everyone should write his congressman and say, ‘Listen, you are using my money in order to finance the [U.N.] campaign against the only democracy in the Middle East.’” — Yair Lapid

 

Speaking from Israel, the Knesset member talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and improving Israel’s relations with the United States but saved his indignation for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he said has issued 67 condemnations against Israel in the last decade compared with 61 against the rest of the world.

“This is beyond bias,” Lapid said, calling on Americans to scrutinize the United Nations’ behavior.

“I think everyone should write his congressman and say, ‘Listen, you are using my money in order to finance the [U.N.] campaign against the only democracy in the Middle East.’”

Lapid said he hopes the next secretary general, scheduled to be appointed at the end of this year, will urge the United States and other democracies to address the U.N’s “structural problem” of singling out Israel.

Turning to Middle East peace talks, Lapid, whose party sits in opposition in the Knesset, said that presidential transitions in the United States are a “dangerous time for  Israel.” He favored Secretary of State John Kerry having  “another try at it” or for President Barack Obama to give a speech on the matter. But the “worst possibility” would be for the Security Council to broker a peace deal.

The damage from even a  Security Council resolution that doesn’t threaten Israel with sanctions but declares that settlements are illegal “will be huge,” he said. “This is counterproductive even for those of us who believe Israel needs to separate from the Palestinians and evacuate the settlements.”

Lapid said the most successful environment for a peace deal would be at a summit that  includes other countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia plus the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

One area of improvement between Israel and the United States, Lapid said, is the communication between Democratic American Jews and Israel’s government. He said he plans to meet with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and several other Jewish Democrats in Congress. He also emphasized the need for Israel’s Haredi community to accept non-Orthodox denominations, noting that the majority of American  Jews who are affiliated with a synagogue are Reform and Conservative.

“The fact that [the Israeli] government is assaulting  Reform and Conservative Jews is agonizing to me, and maybe it’s time for us here in Israel to talk not in the language of  religion, not in the language of freedom, not even in the language of security,” he said. “But you have to understand that security is based, upon other things, that ‘these are our people.’”

How Paris Public Schools Became No-Go Zones for Jews

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 13: Children look out from a doorway as armed soldiers patrol outside a School in the Jewish quarter of the Marais district on January 13, 2015 in Paris, France. Thousands of troops and police have been deployed to bolster security at 'sensitive' sites including Jewish schools. Millions of people converged in central Paris for a Unity March joining in solidarity with the 17 victims of last week's terrorist attacks in the country. French President Francois Hollande led the march and was joined by world leaders in a sign of unity. The terrorist atrocities started on Wednesday with the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, and ended on Friday with sieges at a printing company in Dammartin en Goele and a Kosher supermarket in Paris with four hostages and three suspects being killed. A fourth suspect, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, escaped and is wanted in connection with the murder of a policewoman. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Students peering out from a doorway as armed soldiers patrol outside their school in the Jewish quarter of the Marais district in Paris, Jan. 13, 2015. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

PARIS (JTA) — Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.

As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.

“You learn to get along with all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”

But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.

“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”

This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

Whereas most anti-Semitic incidents feature taunts and insults that often are not even reported to authorities, some cases involve death threats and armed assaults. In one incident from 2013, several students reportedly cornered a Jewish classmate as he was leaving their public school in western Paris. One allegedly called him a “dirty Jew” and threatened to stab the boy with a knife. A passer-by intervened and rescued the Jewish child.

The increase in schoolyard anti-Semitism in France, first noted in an internal Education Ministry report in 2004, coincided with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents overall. Prior to 2000, only a few dozen incidents were recorded annually in France. Since then, however, hundreds have been reported annually. Many attacks — and a majority of violent ones — are committed by people with a Muslim background, who target Jews as such or as payback for Israel’s actions in what is known as the “new anti-Semitism.”

In 2012, payback for Israel’s actions in Gaza was the stated motivation of a jihadist who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Since then, Jewish institutions across Europe and French Jewish schools especially have been protected by armed guards – most often soldiers toting automatic rifles.

In neighboring Belgium, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism has documented multiple incidents that it said were rapidly making Belgian public schools “Jew-free.” Some blamed Belgian schools for being more reluctant than their French counterparts to punish pupils for anti-Semitic behavior.

The latest incident there involved a 12-year-old boy at a public school outside Brussels. Classmates allegedly sprayed him with deodorant cans in the shower to simulate a gas chamber. The boy’s mother said it was an elaborate prank that also caused him burns from the deodorant nozzles.

In April, another Jewish mother said a public school in the affluent Brussels district of Uccle was deliberately ignoring systematic anti-Semitic abuse of her son, Samuel, in order to hide it. She enrolled him specifically at a non-Jewish school because she did not want him to be raised parochially, the mother said, but she had to transfer him to a Jewish school due to the abuse.

In addition to charting anti-Semitism among students, watchdogs in France and Belgium are seeing for the first time in decades a growing number of incidents involving teachers – as victims and perpetrators.

Last month, the Education Ministry in France began probing a high school teacher who shared with her students anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including ones about the clout of the Jewish lobby in the United States and another about French President Francois Hollande’s Jewish roots (he has none).

In 2012, a teacher from a suburb of Lyon said she was forced to resign after her bosses learned that she had suffered anti-Semitic abuse by students. Days later, two teenagers were arrested near Marseilles on suspicion of setting off an explosion near a teacher who had reported receiving anti-Semitic threats at school.

The atmosphere is pushing many French Jewish parents to leave for Israel, which is seeing record levels of immigration from France. Since 2012, 20,000 Jews have made the move. Their absence is already being felt in Jewish schools and beyond, said Kalifat, because “the people who are leaving are exactly the people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Some of those who left were responsible for developing France’s Jewish education system long before anti-Semitism became a daily reality for French Jews, said Kalifat. More than 30 years ago he enrolled his own two children in a Jewish school “not because of anti-Semitism, which was not a problem back then, but simply to give them a more Jewish education,” he said.

Jewish immigrants from North Africa to France had a major role in the growth of Jewish schools from a handful in the 1950s and ’60s to the formation of Jewish education networks with dozens of institutions, said Kalifat — himself an Algeria-born Jew and the first North African Sephardi to be elected CRIF president.

Arriving in a country where a quarter of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jewish newcomers from former colonies of France were more traditional and religious than many French-born Jews.

“They developed all sectors of Jewish life, but Jewish schools more than anything,” Kalifat said.

The effort has paid off in several ways. Last year, Jewish schools topped two French media rankings of the country’s approximately 4,300 high schools. One was a Chabad institution; the other was part of the more liberal Alliance network.

Some French Jews, including Yeshaya Dalsace, a Conservative rabbi from Paris, say the rise of Orthodox religious schools and other institutions is part of a trend toward insularity that comes at the expense of openness at a time when Jews should be more engaged in French society than ever.

But to Tayar, the growth of Jewish schools amid anti-Semitism is a much-needed silver lining.

“That parents like me effectively can’t send their children to public schools is tragic,” he said. “The only positive aspect I can see here is that anti-Semitic hatred drives us to make the financial sacrifice that will raise a generation that has much more Jewish culture and knowledge than our own.”