JStreet Met By Supporters and Protest at the DNC

A J Street event on July 27 was met by protesters. (Liz Spikol)

A J Street event on July 27 was met by protesters. (Liz Spikol)

It was a star-studded evening at the National Museum of American Jewish History July 27, at least in terms of Democratic National Convention star-power.

The self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street held an event called “Breaking Convention,” which was attended by a bevy of Democratic legislators, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and two politicians who spoke to the crowd directly, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, now running for U.S. Senate, and Illinois state Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

The event, said Jessica Rosenblum, J Street’s vice president of communications, was about “breaking out of the box”— a strategy made literal in the organization’s new logo, a letter J in a square with an arrow breaking through one of the box’s sides.

“It’s a celebration of the work we’ve done and the work we still have yet to do,” Rosenblum continued, pointing to  J Street’s endorsements of  candidates for the House and Senate. (They do not endorse for federal offices.)

Rosenblum stood with Dan Siegel, deputy regional director of J Street in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A native Philadelphian, Siegel started working for J Street in 2015; the organization was founded eight years ago, and now has seven regional offices and 65 staff members.

“We exist to create political power around the American involvement in moving toward a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Siegel said. “For a long time, there’s been a single narrative on how to address the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and for a long time in the Jewish community we couldn’t have a robust conversation about it.”

J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, echoed Siegel’s words.


It’s a celebration of the work we’ve done and the work we still have yet to do.” — Jessica Rosenblum


“Politically, we started a PAC in 2008 and endorsed 29 winning members of Congress,” he said. “Steve Cohen, the congressman from Tennessee, was the first person who accepted our endorsement, and he did a video for us. We were so happy that a member of Congress would accept our endorsement and agree to appear publicly on our website. Today, eight years later, we have now endorsed over half of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House, and when we are done, we will have endorsed 20 sitting U.S. senators who take their seats in January 2017.”

Ben-Ami had high praise for legislators who made the Iran deal — which he characterized as “the most significant nuclear nonproliferation agreement that has ever been  entered into” — a reality.

“Many members of the U.S. House and of the Senate took what they consider and what we consider to be a politically bold and courageous step in stepping forward and doing the right thing,” he said.”

Ben-Ami predicted that those who voted for the Iran deal would win reelection, while those who fought against it would fail.

“Standing for diplomacy, standing for engagement on an issue as important as nuclear weapons in Iran, is, in the end of the day, a political plus, not a liability, and we will prove that in November.”

One of those who fought for the Iran deal was former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

“I believe deeply and strongly in the special relationship that our country has with the state of Israel,” he said. “I believe that we should work to  preserve and strengthen that relationship. But I can tell you that when the Iranian agreement was reached, I had  people tell me that I did not need to take a position—that the political wise decision would be for me to stay silent.”

The next speaker, Illinois state Rep. Tammy Duckworth, also alluded to the way the Iran deal might challenge her chances in November.

“For those of us who served in uniform, who’ve spent our lives defending our nation, we are proud and adamant in our support of the state of Israel being able to defend itself,” she said. “But we also know that sometimes the best path toward security is peace.”

Discussion of the Iran deal wasn’t surprising, given that it will be a critical issue in both Strickland’s and Duckworth’s upcoming election battles, and is probably the most controversial position J Street has ever taken.

In fact, it was the Iran deal that seemed to galvanize the protesters who stood outside J Street’s “Evolving Politics of the Jewish Community: Giving a Voice to Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Jews” event that took place the day before at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse.

Across from the entrance, there was a crowd of about 15 protesters, holding signs, and chanting, “J Street is not pro-Israel,” “J Street supports Iran” and “J Street does not speak for Jews.”

The grassroots gathering, comprised in part of members of the Zionist Organization of American (ZOA) and the  Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), had a specific purpose, according to organizer Lynne Lechter.

“It’s to get the message across that J Street does not speak for most Jewish people, that most Jewish people see it as just another group supporting Hamas, terrorism, the West Bank,” she said. “Under Clinton, Obama, Kerry, the rise of anti-Semitism, the proliferation of BDS, backed by J Street, is hurting our people, it’s hurting the people in Israel.”

Fellow protester Richard Tems, a Republican committeeman from Doylestown, agreed.

“I loathe and despise J Street,” he said. “They’re anti-Israeli, which makes them anti- Semitic, and anybody who doesn’t understand that is delusional or is anti-Semitic.”

“Any Jew that supports the Iran deal is not speaking for Jews or Israel, so we want to get the message out about the Clinton, Kerry, Obama regime that has destroyed the Middle East,” said Lechter, a member of the Israel advocacy group of her synagogue, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, and a self-described supporter of ZOA and RJC.

Tems, the son of Holocaust survivors, went even further.

“They don’t care about  Israeli issues. They don’t care about the safety of Israel. They don’t care about the Jewish community,” he said. “What they care about is the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about  anything but power.”

He described going to a Christians United for Israel event at a megachurch where people were waving the Israeli flag and singing “Hatikvah.” “So I know who our friends are and I know who our enemies are.”

Regarding Lechter’s assertion that J Street does not speak for most Jews, Siegel said: “We believe that the only way to maintain a peaceful Jewish Democratic state is to create two states for two peoples, which is a long-held belief not just of the Democratic Party but of the American Congress as a whole and the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community.”

Liz Spikol is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.


150 Years of Sinai Hospital has distinguished itself with specialized, top-quality care

Amy Perry, current president of Sinai Hospital (David Stuck)

This month marks a milestone in the Jewish community — the 150th anniversary of Sinai Hospital, the first Jewish health care establishment in the city of Baltimore.

What first opened as a  10-room hospital in the mid-1800s is now a 62-acre tertiary medical center that boasts 500 beds and 5,000 employees. It includes specialty centers for limb-lengthening, brain and spine injuries and pediatric oncology, among others.

The hospital opened its doors in the aftermath of the Civil War, which saw Jews in America emboldened. Hospitals refused to hire and treat Jews, so the Jewish community saw fit to establish its own hospital. On June 25, 1866, the foundations were laid for the Baltimore Asylum for Israelites on the  corner as Ann and Monument streets.

Two years later, the new building was completed and opened as the Hebrew Hospital and Asylum. In 1926, it was renamed Sinai Hospital.

In 1945, Sinai, Mt. Pleasant Hospital and the Levindale Hebrew Home and Infirmary decided to join together at a single location. This goal was realized in 1959, when construction was completed and the  organizations began operating out of the current location of the Sinai complex.

In 1998, Levindale, now known as the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital and Northwest Hospital, officially joined with Sinai,  becoming what would eventually be known as LifeBridge Health.

U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Sinai Hospital 36th in the nation for neurology and neurosurgery. Sinai was also recognized as “high performing” in cancer treatment, gastroenterology and GI surgery, geriatrics, nephrology, heart failure treatment, colon cancer surgery and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) treatment.

Amy Perry, the current president of Sinai Hospital, (pictured on the cover) explained, “Everything we do here is driven by our mission. Our mission is to maintain and improve the health of the community.”  The community to which she refers is not simply the Jewish  community, but rather the  entirety of greater Baltimore.

“We believe as Judaism does that healthcare is a right,” said Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, the director of pastoral care at Sinai. “It is not a privilege, it is a right. Then you have to act that way. I think that our sponsorship of local programming, how much outreach we do within the community are all indicative to those feelings of being a Jewish institution.”

One way Sinai caters to its patients is with home-cooked meals. Sinai employs its own mashgiach, Moshe Gholian, who supervises the 18 separate kitchens spread throughout the hospital. Under his care, the hospital’s cafeterias prepare kosher food fresh every day, the only hospital outside of New York to do so, said Ackerson.

“If you’re one of our traumatic brain injury patients, and you’re here for a month or more, tell me how many people want to eat 100 to 200 frozen TV dinners,” Ackerson said of kosher-keeping patients, who at other hospitals eat meals similar to pre-packaged airline food. “That, I think, is a statement of our commitment to the community.”

Sinai and other inherently Jewish hospitals were designed to perpetuate the concept that members of the Jewish community were unlike the rest of southerners in that they did not practice prejudice. Sinai was the first racially integrated hospital in the state of Maryland, and has stood against inequality at every turn.

When the mayor of Baltimore tried to re-segregate  hospitals in 1910, the head of pediatrics at the time rebuffed him. Even as late as 1992,  another hospital was sued for segregating its maternity ward, but such issues have never laid foot in Sinai.

“I tell our new employees at orientation that the Jim Crow laws came off the books in Mississippi before they came off the books in Baltimore,” shared Ackerson. “Born out of the frustrations of southern living and the Civil War, Baltimore was and still is one of the most southern and one of the most segregated cities in the United States.”

Today, Sinai has a broad community outreach program that is perpetually expanding to areas where the services that the hospital provides are needed.

While Sinai boasts a strong system of Jewish values and a greater sensitivity to Jewish needs than most hospitals, it also caters to the needs of populations such as immigrants and low-income families.

Staff members have the  opportunity to make trips to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to better understand the immigrant experience; other groups go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. More than a dozen groups of interfaith staff members have made trips to Israel.

As a partner of The Associated: Jewish Community  Federation of Baltimore, Sinai benefits from the advocacy of the Baltimore Jewish Council in order to secure funding and continue to expand and improve.

“Their hospital is located in the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish community and we have a long-standing relationship of working together to help our community be healthier and be safer,” said Sarah Mersky,  director of government relations at the BJC.

For example, Sinai has been the recipient of funds for its Brain Injury Unit, and recently the BJC helped secure $2 million to build a new specialty and primary care facility that will serve the underinsured and uninsured. The council will be requesting $2 million for the next two fiscal years, for a total of $6 million toward the project. The BJC also continues to work with the hospital to secure funding for the Diabetes Medical Home Extender Program and the domestic violence prevention program.

“We care about our community,” Perry said. “The reasons people are sick are not always because of congenital deficiencies or things that are uncontrollable, they’re often just bad preventive health care and low quality of life. As we’ve tried to make our community healthier, we’ve worked hard to find the triggers, and a lot of them have to do with violence prevention, education, housing, jobs.  Not having a stable life is sometimes the greatest precursor to illness.”

As such, Sinai has made investments in violence prevention, nutrition awareness, housing and mentorship programs, to name a few. The hospital focuses on efforts that are not traditionally considered health care, but are often integral to preventing issues in the future.

Safe Streets, which treats  violence as a disease, is one such program. The theory is that just as one would interrupt a virus with medicine, one can interrupt violence with a social medicine. The program is in the process of extending its reach from the hospital itself to the corner of Park Heights and Belvedere avenues. The program’s “violence interrupters” are people in the streets, simply talking to people and trying to help find an alternative to violence, which can be difficult to avoid in a neighborhood with 25 percent unemployment. They try to show people the way to employment as a violence prevention effort.

In a similar vein is the hospital’s vocational services program. The program employs people in the neighborhood so they can gain experience in a real-world job. On top of setting  locals up with entry-level jobs such as printing or cleaning, the program teaches how  to write a resumé and basic computer skills.

Sinai also runs a faith-based outreach program. With about 60 faith based organizations within Sinai’s immediate vicinity, nearly one every block, the hospital hired a pastoral outreach coordinator to go into congregations to provide education for their members, as well as help connect them to patients. The goal is to create a supportive community for members to go home to.

“We’re not just providing traditional healthcare,” said Perry, “although we do those things extraordinarily well. We have made advancements and investments to make sure that we use state-of-the-art techniques.”

In 1968, doctors at Sinai  implanted the first artificial kidney to be used on the East Coast. Other distinctions  include Sinai’s staff inventing the first cardiac defibrillator (pacemaker) invented within its walls, in 1980. Research continues to be on the cutting edge, with an innovation center housing a bio-incubator recently opening its doors.

Its docket includes research on HIV treatment, specifically investigating a new testing process to determine if it can signal a more latent form of the virus in a patient. Researchers at the center have also produced a new process to test tissue samples for cancer. (As an  organization, Sinai partners with an Israeli company testing the effects of pharmaceuticals on cancer cells.)

Staff members appreciate Sinai’s cutting-edge approach to community building and research.

Debbie Baer has been working in the labor and delivery wing of Sinai for 45 years. She began her job at the hospital after receiving her baccalaureate from Skidmore College and completing a two-year stint in Israel. Her own children and grandchildren were born at Sinai.

“Now when I am delivering patients, it is not unusual for me to be delivering for somebody who I actually delivered for their mother,” Baer shared. “It is just the best experience, it really is the full circle of life.”

According to Baer, one of Sinai’s greatest accomplishments came from helping to lead the fight against Maryland legislature when it attempted to limit the time that a woman could stay at a hospital after delivery.

“We were able to convince them that the time in the hospital is invaluable for them to learn how to take care of their baby,” she said. “We are trying to keep personalized care  really very much there, certainly in our unit, and I think we succeed.”

Frayda Menu is a member of the local community who has been at Sinai for both the birth of her children, and a major heart surgery for her  father. “The staff was attentive and encouraging,” she said. “The nurses were so warm and supportive.”

Chaya Monderer came to Sinai when her 18-month-old daughter stopped walking. The unknown cause of the problem resulted in an extended stay. Having been kept waiting, Dr. James Nace came to check on them early in the morning.

“Dr. Nace came in before his rounds,” Monderer recalled. “He personally did the test, walked the results down to the lab to make sure they were done quickly and brought the results back himself. The level of care was incredible.”

Dr. Jerome Reichmister has been associated with Sinai since 1964. In 1984, he became the assistant chief of orthopedic surgery, and in 1990  became chairman. He leads  a course for residents and  interns that teaches them how to communicate better with patients.

“Our community has  embraced Sinai as a real flagship for care. My driving reason for being here is that I live in this community and I want this community to be the best it can be for myself, my family and for the community I live in. That has always driven me to seek excellence here at Sinai,” said Reichmister, who was born at Sinai back when it was located on Monument Street. “We want to continue to deliver the best possible care that we can, continue to train physicians for the future and to be a resource for the community.”

Chandler Crews, a Sinai  patient with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, has been traveling to Sinai from Little Rock, Ark., since she was 16 for limb lengthening treatment at the hospital’s Rubin Institute of Advanced Orthopedics. She’s also a regular at the Hackerman-Patz House, a hospitality facility for long-term patients and their families.

“Whenever we come here, it feels like coming home,” said Crews. “It is right across street from the hospital, a huge asset because it is so close. Everyone staying there is going through the same type of thing. Kids meet other kids and they’re learning to fit in and meeting people in the same position as themselves.”

“It’s a great feeling to be able to go to work every day and feel like you’re making a difference,” said Perry. “I hurry to work, and I’m in no rush to leave work, because I love trying to make healthcare better for people.”


Adam Barry is an intern at the  Baltimore Jewish Times.

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150 Years of Sinai

Trestman Feeling Confident in His Second Ravens Season

Marc Trestman instructs the Ravens offense at training camp. (Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)

Marc Trestman instructs the Ravens offense at training camp. (Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)

Untimely injuries, unfulfilled team expectations and a livid fan base was not enough to deter Marc Trestman during his first season as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2015.

Less than a week after Baltimore opened training camp at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills on July 27, Trestman, a longtime NFL coach and coordinator who was the first Jewish head coach in the league since the late 1990s when he was with the Chicago Bears in 2013, is pleased with  how quickly his unit has  progressed.

While Trestman continues to work out the kinks, the hope surrounding the team is that once the offense hits its stride, it won’t look back.

“There is an ebb and flow to training camp,” Trestman said at a July 30 news conference. “The first day, the defense might have an advantage. Then, all of a sudden, the next day the offense rolls in and they get the upper hand. That’s what you really see over time is just this ebb and flow.

“Some days the winner of practice is the defense. Some days, hopefully, we get a chance to win a practice, so to speak, as we look at it. Overall, I don’t look at it as it being harder offensively than defensively to get ready. It’s just the process of getting ready.”

Trestman, 60, arrived in Baltimore nearly two years ago after serving two seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, who fired him after going 13-19 with no playoff appearances. His first season as Baltimore’s play caller yielded mostly positive results despite a 5-11 finish, the team’s first losing record since 2007.

The Ravens compiled the second-most yards in team history and set a franchise record in passing yards even though quarterback Joe Flacco, the team’s all-time passing leader, tore his ACL  and MCL after 10 games. Overall, Baltimore finished 14th in the NFL in total offense, giving Trestman and his unit a solid benchmark from which to improve.

“I’m excited about it,” Flacco said of Trestman’s offense. “We’ve been meeting throughout the offseason. I’m excited to get back up there and really start grinding away a little bit. I think they’ve done a lot of good things to the offense. We’re going to take advantage of a lot of our good players and make things happen, play fast, score points and do a lot of good things. So, I’m excited about it.”

Flacco, 31, will be aided by the expected returns of starting running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., center Jeremy Zuttah and tight end Crockett Gillmore, all of whom missed signficant time last season.

When last season ended, in fact, the Ravens were down to their third-string quarterback and running back, and they had also lost their starting left tackle, center, tight end and five receivers. All told, Baltimore placed a team-record 20 players on injured reserve while limping to its third straight third-place finish in the AFC North.

But the Ravens appear poised to right the ship and return to the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine years, which Trestman believes will breed intense compeition.

“There is a sense of urgency, because there really is no way of knowing right now who is going to be on the final roster of offensive players,” Trestman said.

This offseson, the Ravens made a concerted effort to bolster that depth for Trestman, selecting offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley No. 6 overall in April’s draft and signing  veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and wide receiver Mike Wallace.

In addition to Trestman gaining another year of experience, the Ravens also have the luxury of not having to learn another offensive system. This marks the first time since 2013 they will have the same offensive cooridnator in consecutive years.

Given that type of structure, the Ravens have full confidence in the lofty goals they have set with Trestman calling the shots.

“We’re going to be in much better shape in terms of building the system … than we were the first year,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Now the system is more [Trestman’s] than it was last year.”


No Surprises, But Some Disappointed in Dismissal of Remaining Freddie Gray Charges

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses dropping the remaining charges against officers at news conference on July 27. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Newscom)

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby addresses dropping the remaining charges against officers at news conference on July 27. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Newscom)

The news that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the remaining cases against three officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray was expected by many. Some were relieved it was over and the city could move forward, while others were dissatisfied no police officers were convicted of criminal charges in a death that resulted from injuries Gray sustained while in police custody.

“We were not surprised nor were most other people in Baltimore because of the direction things were headed,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice. “I think it’s certainly disappointing.  Freddie Gray didn’t kill himself  and I think this is more a  reflection of the problems with our existing laws and the criminal justice system.”

The six officers who were charged remain on administrative leave and may return to patrolling if ongoing internal reviews determine they did not break department policy.

In a news conference announcing the dropping of the  remaining cases, Mosby criticized the judge, the investigators and police for how the cases were handled. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised Mosby’s decision, but defended the investigation. Former commissioner Anthony Batts, who was fired in July 2015 following the city’s unrest and soaring homicide rate, defended the officers and called Mosby “incompetent and vindictive.”

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D-District 5) said Mosby was “critical of everything but her office.”

Spector said she was relieved.

Whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.”  — Howard Libit, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director


“Hopefully this will put the whole situation to rest,” she said. “I’ll wait to see what the fallout is.”

She said that while she’s confident there will be better police practices as a result of the issues that came up during the trials, she’s worried police officers won’t be respected and that recruitment will become more difficult.

Warren Alperstein, a criminal defense, workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer who was a prosecutor in Baltimore City, said officers he represents are “deeply troubled” by the events.

“They are now afraid and reluctant to approach individuals who they suspect are  involved in criminal activity for fear that if the officers have physical contact with them,  albeit for good faith reasons, there is a real possibility, as they have witnessed, that they will be prosecuted,” he said. “And unfortunately this has resulted in a chilling affect on the officers performing their duties.”

“The citizens of Baltimore City are the ones that actually lose,” he said.

Alperstein said that he never thought any of the officers should have been charged in the first place.

Protestors took to the streets following Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015 and during the trials that followed. (March Shapiro)

Protestors took to the streets following Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015 and during the trials that followed. (March Shapiro)

“Accidents can happen, but that does not automatically mean that the individuals who encounter the victim are  culpable of a crime,” he said, “and the evidence in this case and like any other case in the United Stats has to support a  conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Wayne Cohen, a law professor at George Washington University for 25 years, agreed the cases were “thin at the outset.”

“I think [Mosby has] had a lot of pressure and will continue to have a lot of pressure regarding the cases, specifically whether they should have been brought in the first place,” he said, “and Freddie Gray’s death, while a terrible tragedy … may not have risen to the point of criminal charges.”

He said there have already been policy and procedural changes enacted and there will hopefully be more coming. “Even though there have not been convictions, we’ll still have a system that will function better.”

On a better functioning system, Amster said, “The most important thing beyond individual responsibility is our collective responsibility to implement the changes that we won in Annapolis in 2016.”

She is referring to a new law that allows civilian participation on police trial boards. The issue, as she sees it, is that even if the mayor and city council were to enact this change, the Fraternal Order of Police could block the composition of the trial board.

“We hope that the police and the mayor will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow for that change,” she said.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that there are broader issues at play other than the trials, such as the attention that has been brought to Baltimore’s underserved and underinvested communities.

“As a Jewish community, we’ve always had a lot of relationships with different communities, different faiths, across the city and region and we’ve always tried to work in partnership with them,” he said. “A lot of our agencies have tried to redouble our efforts and ask the question, ‘what more can we do to help?’”

He’s already seen more partnerships  between synagogues and churches, and other organizations in the community such as LifeBridge Health looking to  expand community outreach. But there is more work to do, he said.

“The broader systemic changes that are needed that have been spotlighted out of this,” he said, “whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.”


Flute and Harp Duo Bring New Musical Works to Baltimore


The Cochlea Duo performs at An Die Musik Sunday. (Photo provided)

A U.S.-native, Switzerland-based flute and harp duo, the Cochlea Duo, brings its classical music with a contemporary twist to An Die Musik this Sunday.

The duo will be performing a concert of pieces that few have heard, including two pieces that were composed specifically for the duo.

The two musicians met at an international school in Basel, Switzerland, where they both taught after-school music lessons. Although each is classically trained, they decided to perform together based on a mutual interest in contemporary music. Lindsay Buffington, the harpist of the duo, explained, “Classical training is pretty much the only option if you want to make music a career.”

Born and raised in Howard County, Buffington received her bachelor’s degree in music performance from University of Maryland, College Park. After studying abroad in Switzerland, she decided to return to the town of Basel for two master’s degrees, one in music performance and the other in pedagogy.

Music was a huge influence on her life growing up. “We would play Jewish and Yiddish songs on the piano with my grandma, and if I didn’t understand the words, she’d translate,” Buffington said. “That whole tradition from the 20s and 30s was a part of my musical upbringing that was just as important as my classical training.”

Chelsea Czuchra, the flutist, grew up in a small, rural North Carolina town. After receiving private flute lessons and attending a summer program, she ended up at a performing arts high school. This proved to be the stepping stone to receiving her music degree from Purchase State College in New York. Czuchra ended up in Switzerland because she was interested in how different contemporary music is in Europe. With her husband being from Switzerland, it was the ideal locale.

“Flute and harp is a common combination,” Czuchra said. “We had each played in duos separately in our careers before — there is so much music for flute and harp. We have similar interests in what kinds of music we want to play and what programs we want to put together.”

The concert series that the duo will be performing in Baltimore and the rest of the United States is unique because it is music that nearly no one will have heard before. Everything on the program with the exception of one piece was composed in the last decade. “The concerts that we are playing also feature two pieces, which were written for us, that we commissioned,” Buffington explained.

“One is by a composer from Basel [Michele Rusconi], a composer that Lindsay has worked with before on a solo piece,” Czuchra elaborated. “The second piece is by an interesting young composer [Jesse Jones], who was just appointed to the faculty at Oberlin. There’s a very interesting, evocative way of which he combines his musical interests.”

“People might know Steve Reich or Philip Glass because they’re really popular, but there is a whole other realm of composers,” Buffington said. “One of the pieces that we’re playing is by a composer from New Zealand. I think every time we play this piece, people who even think they hate the music come out and say, ‘That’s the most gorgeous piece.’ It’s really interesting to surprise people with music that is written now, but is beautiful and transcends any school of composition.”

Czuchra explains that Juda-ism is prevalent in the world of music and composing. “You can’t really play American music without crossing tons of Jewish composers. One of the composers that we’re playing, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon — he’s Mexican, but his family emigrated from Austria to Mexico because they had to leave before the rise of the National Socialist Party.”

Right now, the duo is extra-ordinarily busy, with a multitude of concerts this summer. Leading up to tour, the two have been meeting several times a week to practice and talking a lot on the phone. They don’t have a manager, preferring to take care of the details themselves. “It is certainly challenging, but the more you put into something, the more you get out of it,” Buffington said. “It’s a different level of commitment — you’re there for the whole process from start to finish. The concert is the absolute last stop on a long road of preparation.”

Cochlea Duo performs at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles St., Baltimore, on Sunday, July 31, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults. Visit andiemusiklive.com


DNC Dealing With Chair Absence

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley could be considered for a DNC or Clinton cabinet position, experts say. (Kirsten Beckerman)

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley could be considered for a DNC or Clinton cabinet position, experts say. (Kirsten Beckerman)

With Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s abrupt resignation this week, the party now finds itself in search of a leader.

Donna Brazile, the 2011 interim chair who preceded Wasserman Schultz, a member of the House of Representatives from Florida, is serving in the position again through Election Day. One name floating around party members as a possible permanent chair is former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

If Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is elected in November, she will appoint the new chair, but if she loses, an internal DNC election will determine the party leader, said Somerset, Md. Mayor Jeffrey Slavin. Slavin noted that O’Malley, who suspended his presidential campaign on Feb. 1, did not endorse Clinton’s candidacy until last month, which was “disappointing.”

“I don’t know how strong his relationship is now with Hillary Clinton. It was pretty good but I don’t know if they burned bridges in the presidential campaign,” he said.

O’Malley has remained active in the party since leaving the race and attended a reception for the party’s Maryland delegation on Monday in Philadelphia. Slavin said in the event Clinton wins, O’Malley’s chances of being named either to the chair position or a cabinet post in the administration will depend on how hard he works for her during the final stretch of the campaign.

Yvette Lewis, who served as the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party from 2011 to 2015 and is close with O’Malley, said she was not sure whether he has any motivation to seek the chairmanship but that he has become more prominent within the Democratic Party on a national level in recent years, speaking at party dinners in multiple states.

“The [state] chairs have a good relationship with him and a good feeling about him,” she said. “I know how supportive he was of me and our state party when I was the chair.”

Lewis said O’Malley has already began doing surrogate work on behalf of Clinton and thinks that her campaign will “use him quite a bit.”

In a letter to former supporters of his campaign, O’Malley announced his intention to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday night in support of Clinton.

“She will fight for the marginalized, honorably represent our nation in the world, and lead a nation of inclusion and love rather than one of division and hatred,” he wrote.

Democratic National Committiee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after a series of DNC emails were leaked. (Debbie Wasserman Schultz/MCT)

Democratic National Committiee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after a series of DNC emails were leaked. (Debbie Wasserman Schultz/MCT)

The vacancy comes after Wasserman Schultz resigned her post in the wake of a series of emails leaked by the website WikiLeaks that show communication among DNC officials seeking to undermine the candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination.

Wasserman Schultz’s woes continued into Monday during the first day of the convention, when she was booed by a number of Sanders supporters at a Florida delegation meeting and later relinquished her ceremonial gaveling and speaking roles at the convention. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gaveled in the convention instead.

The email leaks occurred just two weeks after Sanders ended his campaign by endorsing Clinton in the race, but on Sunday he restated his hope that Wasserman Schultz resign as chair of the party due to what he believes has been an effort to aid Clinton in capturing the nomination. This includes an exchange from CFO Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’ Jewish faith.

“Does he believe in a God?” Marshall wrote on May 5. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
Marshall later apologized for the comments in a Facebook post and said they “do not reflect my beliefs nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees.”

National Jewish Democratic Council chairman Marc Stanley said that Wasserman Schultz deserves credit for being an “honest broker” and delivering a convention that was “on budget and well-organized.”

“She had some incredible achievements this year, and I think these events cloud her otherwise incredible job as chair,” he said. “I think she made clear with her staff that there was to be no unfair treatment, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she’s been nothing but fair to both sides.”

NJDC founding member and Bethesda resident Greg Rosenbaum said he is aware of the alleged bias against Sanders, but since he began working on the party’s platform committee as a vice chair, Wasserman Schultz has encouraged him to maintain his neutrality in the nomination process.

“I can tell you that as chairman of NJDC I took the position that had been taken in the past, which is that NJDC doesn’t choose sides in a contested Democratic primary at any level other than in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

Rosenbaum said he has the “utmost respect and admiration” for Wasserman Schultz and that he thinks the leaked emails are “selective and done to prove a point.”

But despite Rosenbaum’s support for Wasserman Schultz, he did express disapproval of the DNC’s criticism towards Sanders’ faith.

“Any time we bring religious beliefs into public life, other than to celebrate diversity it creates a real problem,” he said. “If in fact there is an effort to discredit Senator Sanders because of his religion, I personally as a member of NJDC would say that crossed the line.”

Additionally, Rabbi Jack Moline, who serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Wasserman-Schultz is ultimately accountable for what goes on in the party.

“I don’t know enough about what actually happened, but if his happened on her watch, I am certain she would accept responsibility for it,” he said in Philadelphia prior to a kickoff interfaith service at the convention site.


Wells Fargo at Greenspring Shopping Center Robbed

The Wells Fargo in the Greenspring Shopping Center was robbed on the afternoon of Friday, July 22, according to Baltimore County police.

Police were dispatched to the bank, located at 2847 Smith Ave., at 3:25 p.m. for a reported robbery. According to police, a suspect implied he had a weapon to a teller and fled the bank with an undisclosed amount of money.

No arrests have been made in this incident, police said.


A Turbulent Election Season Baltimore voters conflicted, lukewarm on Trump, Clinton

Email scandals, accusations of anti-Semitism, a resigning chairwoman, anti-immigration rhetoric, plagiarism in speeches — the 2016 presidential election has been like no other in recent memory.

With a public that is probing both GOP nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on their experience, character, families and a bevy of other issues, voters young and old are questioning their support of their parties’ nominees and the potential direction of the country under their leadership.

“Honestly, I’m not a fan of either candidate,” said David Kashan, a 24-year-old Owings Mills native in his third year of medical school at A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Kirksville, Mo. “It’s unfortunate, because I feel as though I’m forced to pick between the lesser of two evils in this election, as opposed to choosing the candidate I think best represents my beliefs and values.”

The head-to-head battle between Trump, 70, and Clinton, 68, pits two of the most polarizing candidates in modern U.S. presidential history against one another. At the conventions, the nominees continued to show they greatly differ in their temperament and public styles, and voters feel that each has their share of shortcomings.

A Turbulent Election Season

Trump, for example, stuck to his hard-charging, aggressive rhetoric during his 75-minute acceptance speech on July 21, attacking Clinton’s record as U.S. secretary of state and remaining tough on his stance opposing illegal immigration. While that same approach helped him ascend to the standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the last year, some political experts believe it could hurt him in the general election.

“I think the rhetoric has been downright disgusting,” said Donald F. Norris, director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s School of Public Policy. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in all the years I’ve been observing politics, and that’s been a lot of years. Calling for the opposition party to be jailed, hung or shot is just unconscionable, period.”

Marcia Wagner, a 67-year-old Pikesville resident, pointed out flaws in both candidates, ranging from Trump’s brash personality to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as one of the country’s top diplomats. But Wagner said the experience Clinton, a former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, gained serving in various public roles over the years gives her a distinct advantage over Trump.

“Hillary is not perfect, but nobody is perfect,” Wagner said. “There are things I don’t like about her, but I think she is a competent government employee who has served the nation for many, many years. Anyone who serves the country makes mistakes.”

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president,” Wagner added. “I’ve said that to people who support him, and they say to me, ‘I don’t think Hillary is qualified.’ … I think much of what Trump has done is reprehensible.”

In the days leading up to the DNC, however, WikiLeaks released a series of emails that seemed to show Democratic officials trying to tip the scales in favor of Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the party’s nomination. As a result of the fallout from the leak, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation on July 24, effective after the conclusion of the convention.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was brought in to gavel at the DNC on Monday, taking over for Wasserman Schultz amid the scandal. Rawlings-Blake has served as the secretary of the DNC since January 2013.

Kevin Loeb, policy director in the office of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, doesn’t think the latest revelations will be enough to divide the Democrats’ support of Clinton. If anything, he expects the party to further rally behind her.

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap. What can we believe about her? Can we trust her?” — Paul Volosov

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap. What can we believe about her? Can we trust her?”
— Paul Volosov

“Obviously, the DNC should be impartial during the primary season, and if they did not, then that was a mistake,” Loeb said. “But inside party politics does nothing to diminish the positive energy here in Philadelphia. It is clear that Democrats are united and ready to elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States.”

Kamenetz, who was in attendance at the Philadelphia convention, could be seen Monday at a National Jewish Democratic Council event honoring Jewish women in Congress. Wasserman Schultz, who was supposed to headline the event, was not there.

Still, questions about Clinton’s integrity, honesty and trustworthiness continue to cast a cloud for voters. Paul Volosov, a 67-year-old resident of Fallstaff, wonders if Clinton has enough time to overcome such perceptions about her character.

“Hillary has a huge credibility gap,” Volosov said. “What can we believe about her? Can we trust her? Obviously, so many people are afraid she can’t be trusted.”

The Republicans, on the other hand, still appear somewhat split on fully embracing Trump as their nominee.

Prominent Republicans, such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have distanced themselves from Trump at every turn. Throughout the election cycle, in fact, Hogan has reiterated his refusal to endorse or vote for Trump, joining former presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, among others, in boycotting the RNC.

“What one would expect to happen is that the Democrats will have a very good turnout and the Republicans will not have a good turnout, because so many Republican leaders are staying home,” Norris said. “Trump has been able to get very high turnouts wherever he has gone in the primaries. But they … were the Tea Party folks, the angry white males, evangelicals, and they can’t win a national presidential election for anybody because their numbers are too small.”

For many in the Jewish community, policy on Israel is at the center of the race. With a strained relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton and Trump supporters are looking for someone to form a stronger pact.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, has noticed a committed approach from both parties so far to fortify their pro-Israel platforms in an effort to appeal to Jewish voters.

“For both the Democratic and Republican parties, we’ve seen strong statements of support for Israel, which is gratifying to see,” Libit said. “It’s important to see that the elected officials out of both parties understand the importance of the American and Israeli partnership and our support in continuing it.”

In his acceptance speech, Trump briefly mentioned his plan to work with Israel to defeat the so-called Islamic State, which is also known by the acronym ISIS. He promised to restore the safety citizens feel they have lost and specifically noted Clinton has left behind a legacy of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

“We must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terrorism and doing it now, doing it quickly,” Trump said. “We’re going to win. We’re going to win fast. This includes working with our greatest ally in the region, the State of Israel.”

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president.” — Marcia Wagner

“I just can’t believe [Trump] is the nominee. I just don’t think he’s qualified to be president.”
— Marcia Wagner

Clinton has been more reserved in her approach when it comes to the issues and threats facing Israel. She came under fire earlier this year from AIPAC and Netanyahu for her support of the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by the U.S. and five other world powers.

Shlomo Roshgadol, a 56-year-old Pikesville resident, thinks Trump will make good on his law-and-order approach to fight terrorism and crime and strengthen national security as a whole.

“[Trump] has made security one of his big initiatives here in the U.S., so I’m confident he’s going to be worried about the safety of Israel as well,” Roshgadol said. “I think he’s going to be tough on the terrorists, which is something I think is one of the biggest problems we have now in both the U.S. and Israel.”

Others are having a difficult time taking wrapping their head around the idea of taking Trump as a legitimate leader. Jodi Saunders, a 45-year-old Columbia resident, said Trump has focused too much of his attention on denouncing Clinton on public forums rather than offering solutions to his proposed policies.

“In the case of Donald Trump, he’s just an extraordinarily obnoxious human being,” Saunders said. “The way he has treated his opponents is not how a president acts, the way a normal human being acts. I’m not saying a presidential candidate needs to be a weak person, but on the contrary, strong people do not viciously attack their opponents. They attack the issues rather than the people, and that’s where I think Hillary has taken advantage so far.”

Trump and Clinton will square off in their first debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York, and at that point, the picture could start to become clearer for voters.

“I honestly have no idea how this is going to play out,” Norris said. “With the way this election has gone so far, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens at this point.”


A Fly (Donkey?) On the Wall: Behind the Scenes of the DNC

DNC 2016 (Photo by Rachel Kurland)

DNC 2016 (Photo by Rachel Kurland)

PHILADELPHIA — As the Democratic National Convention opened, Democrats were certainly feeling the Bern — also the actual burn because it felt like 500 degrees and humid. (The temperature officially maxed out at 97 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.)

Despite the heat, delegates and attendees were exuberated for a day of Democratic bliss.

And really, that’s how it started out.

Beginning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Monday, thousands of people were swarming in and out of 12th and Arch streets.

It resembled an airport: a lot of sweaty people running around, security guards searching bags and pretzels.

Everyone looked lost and confused, unsure of where they were going or supposed to be. Hundreds of people were sitting on the floor charging their laptops and phones, decked out in their navy blue lanyards of every shape and size, all just waiting for something to happen.

But turning the corner within the Convention Center, dozens of Democratic booths as far as the eye could see lined the walls advertising their different organizations. It was a liberal’s dream.

But not as dreamy as the main event over at the Wells Fargo Center, where rows and rows of credentialed folk filled the perimeter — kind of like the controlled chaos at Disney World during Christmas.

But worth noting, on the way from City Hall to Wells Fargo, there were few Hillary Clinton supporters or pro-Clinton protesters. Many were wearing Bernie Sanders accoutrements — pins, T-shirts, signs, outrageous hats — screeching their support from the sidelines and begging delegates on their way in to “do what’s right.”

Once the early speakers took the stage, it was clear the Democratic audience had a voice — a pro-Sanders voice.

With every mention of Clinton, the then-presumptive nominee, the boos overshadowed the cheers, so much so that speakers had to wait for the crowd to die down.

The boos morphed into Bernie chants — you could feel the echoes reverberate in your own chest — truly illustrating the divide within the Democratic Party. But as the night commenced and the excitement stirred, the echoes from the audience seemed to come to a faint consensus: The people want a Sanders presidency, but they’ll settle for Clinton.

Down on the blue shag carpeted convention floor, Adrian Schanker believed just that.

A delegate for Sanders from Allentown, Pa. and chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Schanker said Sanders inspired him to fight for a “strong, progressive, LGBT-inclusive party platform.”

“Bernie Sanders presented a vision for America that we can all get behind — by the way, it’s a very Jewish vision,” said Schanker, who is Reconstructionist. “It’s a vision that’s grounded in values that are very Jewish to begin with. It’s about economic opportunity, social equity, civil rights — those are things that overwhelmingly Jews agree with.”

But now, they’re getting ready to vote for Clinton.

“She’s going to be a president that helps carry out that vision,” he added.

Overall, Schanker reminded the Jewish community how crucial it is the vote in this election, adding to “look where Jewish values lie” in both party platforms.

“This is a really important election for Jews,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s lost on many of us that some of the things that Donald Trump has talked about are banning entry into a country based on religion — that’s something that Jews have some experience with.”

Other celebs and well-known advocates like singer Demi Lovato, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, comedian Sarah Silverman, musician Paul Simon, actress Eva Longoria, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren graced the stage.

As the roar of Sanders supporters intensified, Silverman shut it down with one line: “Can I just say, to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Dan Gilman, a city councilman from Pittsburgh and a delegate for Clinton, has been a Clinton supporter from the beginning.

“Her record speaks for herself as a senator, as secretary of state, as all the work she did as first lady,” he said. “Her work as secretary of state and listening to her, she’ll be the type of champion I want to see for Israel — someone who recognizes the importance of the alliance we have from a national security standpoint, from a foreign policy standpoint, recognizes the social justice that occurs, but also will hold Israel accountable as a partner in the region to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

But with talk of many Jews shifting over to the GOP side, he’s hoping this election will produce different results.

“I actually believe Donald Trump, that he’s a champion of the relationship with Israel,” Gilman said. “It’s his rhetoric and what he would do to provide unbalance not just in the Middle East but around the world — he would put us on the brink of wars that would endanger Israel as our ally.”

As for Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the DNC chair — due to hacked emails released illustrating her staff’s favoritism for the Clinton campaign over Sanders — Gilman believed it needed to happen, but it is a “distraction” from what’s really important this week.

“This has to be an election that takes the step in the other direction. The values that are Jewish values, the values we have learned as a Jewish people are violated every day by Donald Trump,” he said. “A vote for Donald Trump, to me, is a slap in the face to everything it means to me to be a Jewish American.”

First Lady Michelle Obama focused her speech on American children’s future, sending what many in the crowd called a stronger, more positive message than Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention last week.

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

For his part, Trump, who seemed to receive a bump in post-convention polling as the Democrats opened theirs — a now five percentage point lead over Clinton, according to CNN — on Twitter, lambasted Clinton and her party for the email leak and the Wasserman Schultz fiasco.

Nearing the end of the evening, the people got what they wanted: Bernie Sanders. His entrance received the loudest cheers of the night, lasting several minutes.

But for those still holding out for a Sanders presidency, he made the message loud and clear: “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he said. “The choice is not even close.”

Rachel Kurland is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.


Morhaim: ‘I Followed All the Rules’

Del. Dan Morhaim said he followed the rules of disclosure and ethics in regards to his relationship with a medical cannabis business. (David Stuck)

Del. Dan Morhaim said he followed the rules of disclosure and ethics in regards to his relationship with a medical cannabis business. (David Stuck)

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) said he followed the rules of disclosure and legislative ethics after recent articles in prominent publications scrutinized his business relationship with a company that is vying to grow, process and sell medical cannabis in Maryland.

Morhaim, a physician and longtime proponent of medical cannabis who sponsored the bill that created the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and subsequent bills that have refined the program, has consulted with Doctor’s Orders, and could become clinical director at Doctor’s Orders if the company becomes licensed.

Articles that appeared earlier this month in The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun highlighted criticism of Morhaim for not publicly disclosing his relationship with the company, which began in July 2015.

“I followed all the rules. I have documentation of that,” Morhaim said. “I believe the most important thing is that the medical cannabis program go forward. … My conscience is clear and I will continue to do the best job I can for the district and for Maryland.”

Morhaim provided to the JT a letter from Deadra Daly, ethics counsel with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, that said he did not need to disclose his consulting role. He also provided an email from Daly that said he did not need to recuse himself from HB 104, a bill he got passed in the 2016 General Assembly session that allows dentists, podiatrists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to certify patients eligible for medical cannabis, because as a physician “the bill would not have a direct, financial impact” on Morhaim or on the entity for whom he consults.

The Baltimore County Democrat also noted the timeline of medical cannabis legislation — the legislation that created the medical cannabis program was adopted in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 sessions (which end in April), prior to his contact with Doctor’s Orders and other medical cannabis entities. Other entities contacted him in his capacity as a physician to help with clinical and medical issues, he said.

“I notified the [former] executive director of the Cannabis Commission, Hannah Byron, that I was considering consulting with a medical cannabis entity consistent with my profession as a physician serving in a citizen legislature,” Morhaim said via email. “When Doctor’s Orders submitted its license application to the commission, my name was fully and properly disclosed on the application form as a consulting physician. When submitted, this and all other license applications were open to the public. Subsequently, the commission determined to redact identifying information on all applications for the purpose of evaluation by the commission, but the un-redacted applications were and still are available to the public.”

As The Post reported, “To avoid cronyism or any appearance of bias, the team evaluating the applications does not see the names of individuals associated with each company. The Post’s study found that many applicant teams include people with political, business and law enforcement experience.”

Morhaim said he determined to work with Doctor’s Orders if the company were to get licensed because it has experience in other states.