Associated Announces New Board, Celebrates Fundraising

Associated president Marc Terrill with Associated Women campaign chair Nina Rosenzwog (left) and Associated campaign chair Nancy Kohn Rabin. (Photos provided)

Associated president Marc Terrill with Associated Women campaign chair Nina Rosenzwog (left) and Associated campaign chair Nancy Kohn Rabin. (Photos provided)

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore announced its new board and celebrated reaching its campaign goal at its annual meeting on June 22 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

The organization reached its annual campaign goal of $30.6 million, and thanks to government funds, contributions from foundations and gifts for specific projects, The Associated raised $47 million this past year.

Mark Neumann ended his two-year term as chair of the board. “This has been an invaluable experience for me,” he said.

The new board includes chair Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect Debra Weinberg, annual campaign chair John Shmerler, community planning and allocations chair Beth Goldsmith, philanthropic planning and services chair Philip Sachs, marketing chair Morry Zolet, Associated Women president Michele Lax, women’s campaign chair Linda Elman, audit chair Robert Russel, secretary P.J. Pearlstone, treasurer Fritzi Hallock and Associated Jewish Charities president Nancy Hackerman.

Associated president Marc Terrill said The Associated helps community members navigate the challenging world.

“What we have witnessed this evening is a culmination of a year’s-plus work in making our community a bit smaller, a bit more welcoming and supportive, with more understanding, with a lot of resolute behavior of advancing what we care about in the sustenance of the Jewish community,” he said. “What we also have witnessed in these handful of minutes is a snapshot of how we collectively make a difference in making the world — our corner of the world — somewhat smaller and more fulfilling, and all the time wrapping community members in the cloak of love and support that we gained local national and international acclaim for.”

Modernizing Mental Health Dr. Steven Sharfstein reflects on his legacy at Sheppard Pratt

“You know, a lot of people think that Sheppard Pratt is for the wealthy, that it’s for profit, it’s not true. We take care of everyone.” — Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein (All photos are courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

“You know, a lot of people think that Sheppard Pratt is for the wealthy, that it’s for profit, it’s not true. We take care of everyone.”
— Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein
(All photos are courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

After a 30-year term at Sheppard Pratt, including 25 years as CEO, Dr. Steven Sharfstein retired on June 30, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and growth.

Under Sharfstein’s watch, the Sheppard Pratt Health System maintained quality patient care as the organization underwent exponential growth, expanding its geographic footprint and treatment offerings and shifting to an outpatient-focused model.

His term has seen Sheppard Pratt grow from two sites to 38, expand into outpatient care from inpatient and provide exceptional care to Maryland’s residents. Under his supervision, Sharfstein boasts that the organization excelled in “providing care and treatment near to where people live and work.”

“We had to reinvent ourselves, transform ourselves,” Sharfstein said. “What we decided to do after a lot of internal conversation and external review was to expand. Even though we were contracting as a hospital, we wanted to expand as a health system.”

The 73-year-old grew up in a Jewish household in the community of Great Neck in Long Island, N.Y. An active member of the Reform movement, Sharfstein found one of his first leadership roles in the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) before becoming engaged in the civil rights movement.

He attended Dartmouth College for his undergraduate career and earned his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Following his education, Sharfstein had a 14-year career as a psychiatrist in multiple capacities, including both inpatient and outpatient care in which he performed research at the National Institutes of Health, wrote some of the first papers on the AIDS epidemic and worked with the administration of President Jimmy Carter on the Mental Health Systems Act.

“Steve Sharfstein is a visionary in the mental health field, and I am honored to follow in his footsteps.”    — Dr. Harsh K. Trivedi


Rather than seek out a job at Sheppard Pratt, Sharfstein was recruited by Robert Gibson, his predecessor as president. In 1986, Sharfstein came on board as medical director and vice president of the hospital. He became president in 1992.

Sheppard Pratt was founded by Moses Sheppard, a local Quaker. The sect of Christianity is known for being pioneers in the quality and humane care for the mentally ill through the 18th and 19th centuries. Sheppard devoted his entire fortune to what was then known as the Sheppard Asylum, which later became the Sheppard Pratt Hospital with the arrival of philanthropist Enoch Pratt.

Top: In 1992, Dr. Sharfstein was named the health system’s fifth president. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

In 1992, Dr. Sharfstein was named the health system’s fifth president. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

However, Sheppard Pratt has changed more since Sharfstein arrived than it had since its founding in 1891, growing into the largest mental health nonprofit in Maryland.

The differences bet-ween then-Sheppard Pratt Hospital and the Sheppard Pratt Health System of today are both numerous and vast. The shift from inpatient to outpatient care over the course of the past few decades is one of the most notable changes. When Sharfstein first arrived at the hospital, it provided almost exclusively inpatient care — the average stay of a patient was 80 days. Today, the average patient will stay for nine-and-a-half days.

This shift resulted from the first crisis that Sharfstein faced as CEO. The issue was money. Insurance for inpatient care had changed with the start of managed care, which cut both patient tenure and profits at the hospital.

“Understand that Sheppard Pratt is not for profit, and we still have a Quaker heritage,” he said. “You know, a lot of people think that Sheppard Pratt is for the wealthy, that it’s for profit, it’s not true. We take care of everyone. Most of the payment comes from public funds.”

Sheppard Pratt established itself as a service system by expanding both its inpatient and outpatient programs. This was achieved by developing a number of subspecialty areas that had programs for children and adolescents, geriatrics, eating disorders, brain injury and autism among others.

 Above: In 1986, Dr. Sharfstein joined Sheppard Pratt as vice president and medical director. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

Above: In 1986, Dr. Sharfstein joined Sheppard Pratt as vice president and medical director. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

The growth of Sheppard Pratt as a health care system is obvious. It has expanded from being almost entirely inpatient to having inpatient, outpatient, residential and rehabilitation programs. Sheppard Pratt had two locations when Sharfstein started in 1986. It now has 38 locations across the state of Maryland, including the original Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Ellicott City and a number of outpatient sites through affiliates such as Mosaic Community Services in Timonium, Way Station, Inc. in Frederick and Family Services, Inc. in Montgomery County.

Over time, Sheppard Pratt has absorbed about a dozen nonprofits from across the state into its health care service system, which strives to uphold its Quaker heritage by providing health care to anyone in need. Of the health system’s almost $400 million budget, 80 percent of its money comes from government funding via Medicare, Medicaid, grants and contracts and funding for schools in which Sheppard Pratt provides special education.

As CEO of the Sheppard Pratt Health System, Sharfstein was kept plenty busy with his daily duties, let alone by his involvement with various organizations. However, adding more to his plate does not give him the slightest hesitation if it is a worthwhile cause.

Dr. Sharfstein poses in front of the newly opened Integrated Health Care Center, which was named in his honor. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

Dr. Sharfstein poses in front of the newly opened Integrated Health Care Center, which was named in his honor. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

When Annette March-Grier was preparing to open Roberta’s House, a haven in Baltimore for people dealing with the loss of a loved one, she was advised by Sen. Barbara Mikulski to seek out Sharfstein. He not only agreed to talk with March-Grier, but he became a coach, adviser and mentor to her and the nonprofit that is located on St. Paul Street.

“He has really been an anchor to getting Roberta’s House grounded and the support it needs from the greater community,” said March-Grier, Roberta’s House founder and president. “He has been with me since the inception” and continues “to remain loyal” and available.

“He is very meek and humble but powerful and very influential,” she continued. “He has a lot of respect in the Baltimore, Maryland region and probably nationally as well.”

Sharfstein served on the board for five years and now, three years later, he is just as involved, she said. “We definitely love him. He’s gone above and beyond, helping guide and direct” Roberta’s House.

“As busy as he is — and we are a small local nonprofit — he is present,” attending meetings and leading capital campaigns, March-Grier said. And most important, she said, Sharfstein helped her make the connections needed to start Roberta’s House and keep it vibrant. He plans to remain involved with the organization.

Dr. Sharfstein celebrates a Health System milestone with many of its employees. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

Dr. Sharfstein celebrates a Health System milestone with many of its employees. (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

As he prepares to become president emeritus of Sheppard Pratt, Sharfstein is increasing his leadership role at his synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where he became president of the board in the first week of May. He will serve a two-year term.

During his roughly 25 years of membership at Baltimore Hebrew, Sharfstein has been “a very strong member” of the synagogue’s executive committee and has “been very available to us” whenever a congregant was experiencing a mental issue, said Rabbi Andrew Busch. “He is a familiar face around the synagogue” who values both the heritages of Reform Judaism and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Busch said. “He is very smart. He has a very flexible mind, open to hearing new information.”

The stereotype of psychiatrists being great listeners is true of Sharfstein, the rabbi said, adding that when involved in synagogue business, he listens to all parties.

Dr. Sharfstein with his wife, Dr. Margaret Sharfstein (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

Dr. Sharfstein with his wife, Dr. Margaret Sharfstein (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

This awareness of those around him has been a pervasive force in Sharfstein’s life, which was apparent to those who attended his final lecture, “Reflections on 30 years at Sheppard Pratt and the Future of Behavioral Health Care,” on June 22.

The lecture hall was filled with Sharfstein’s friends, family and co-workers. When the time came for the audience to ask questions, many simply expressed their thanks to him or shared stories about how remarkable he is in his capacity as both CEO and a personal confidant.

One such attendee was Dave Buller, a recently retired mental health worker who worked at Sheppard Pratt for 43 years. He had the opportunity to witness the entirety of Sharfstein’s leadership firsthand. He stood up and shared how Sharfstein helped him when he was having a difficult time — he would always tell people that a real person ran Sheppard Pratt, not just a managerial figure.


Dr. Sharfstein’s executive team. Top row (from left): Catherine Doughty, Marguerite Kelley, Ernestine Cosby, R.N. and Gerald A. Noll; Bottom row (from left): Robert Roca, M.D., Dr. Sharfstein and Bonnie Katz. Not pictured: Scott Rose (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

In fact, Sharfstein has always been “open to people coming to him,” Buller said. “He introduced a hotline to go straight to the top.” Buller recounted telling Sharfstein that he was going to call the hotline later as they passed in a hallway, which Sharfstein countered by inviting Buller to just come to his office to talk. “If something wasn’t going well and he knew about it, he would fix it.” This is the ideal that Sheppard Pratt’s incipient CEO, Dr. Harsh K. Trivedi, will be following.

“Steve Sharfstein is a visionary in the mental health field, and I am honored to follow in his footsteps,” Trivedi said. “For 30 years, he has been at the forefront of innovations in psychiatric care, always emphasizing the importance of providing compassionate, patient-centered care and evidence-based treatment to those in need. I look forward to continuing this work and ensuring that every patient, student and family member receives the very best care and is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Sharfstein will remain active in both the community and the hospital — his office is merely moving across the street to another building on campus. He plans to teach and write. In fact, he is currently writing two books — one on involuntary treatment and the other on the changing mental health system in America focusing on hospitals. He also intends to see clients in an outpatient setting at the newly named Steven S. Sharfstein, M.D. Integrated Health Care Center in Baltimore City.

 Above: Incoming president Dr. Harsh K. Trivedi and Dr. Sharfstein (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

Incoming president Dr. Harsh K. Trivedi and Dr. Sharfstein (Courtesy of Sheppard Pratt)

As he transitions roles, Sharfstein does not have any immediate plans. He explained: “Whenever I start something new, [my mindset] comes from Hippocrates, ‘Do No Harm.’”

He hopes that in the future Sheppard Pratt will expand its services beyond Maryland to other locations in the country and maintain its reputation for providing quality care. Steven Sharfstein becomes president emeritus at Sheppard Pratt on July 1.,

Seasons’ Reasons: ‘It’ll Be Worth the Wait’

Seasons. (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Seasons. (Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Summer has just arrived, but Seasons remains unchanged. The long-awaited New York-based kosher market has been preparing to open a store in Pikesville since as early as 2014, but it has not given an opening date.

Seasons currently operates four stores in New York and one in Lakewood, N.J., and also plans to open stores in Clifton, N.J. and Cleveland. The Pikesville store will open at 1628 Reisterstown Road in a 15,000-square-foot space that formerly housed an Office Depot.

The store will offer a variety of produce, baked goods, prepared foods, fish and dairy. Additionally, it will feature a deli with a butcher, a floral department and an option to shop from home with delivery services.

The delayed opening of Seasons has been a hot topic of discussion among the community. Confusion has mounted over when the store will open to the public. Zachary Richards, general manager of Seasons of Maryland, said via email, “Construction is an unpredictable and often frustratingly slow process. It involves the juggling and coordination of several unrelated entities and unexpected twists and turns.”

Initially, there was an issue was over parking; however, Richards said that “parking was a challenge but, thankfully, has been resolved.”

On June 1, 2015, the Baltimore County Council passed Bill No. 49-15. This legislation allows for retail stores to lower the number of parking spots required by providing an approved parking plan and documentation of investiture in the property.

Summer has just arrived, but Seasons remains unchanged.


The typical parking requirement for retail is five spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. Now, the bill dictates that “in the Pikesville Commercial Revitalization District, three [parking spaces] per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area are required for retail use.”

The bill continues: “However, a minimum investment of $2 million in interior or exterior improvements is required. The improvements shall be made within six months of the filing of the parking plan.”

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler confirmed that on April 16, 2015 Seasons applied for both interior demolitions and interior alterations permits. The interior demolitions permit was issued immediately, and the interior alterations permit was issued on June 9 of this year.

“There are some plumbing and electrical items to be completed before we move to equipment installation and then finishing and designing elements,” Richards said. “In further commitment to our Baltimore location, we have purchased a property on Naylors Lane, and we are currently discussing the best use of that property.”

The property is Lash Logic Studio, Seasons’ immediate neighbor at 3837 Naylors Lane. Its lease is not being renewed, an employee confirmed.

Richards concluded, “We appreciate the patience of the Baltimore Jewish community. We’re excited to be bringing them the warmest kosher shopping experience. We know that it will be worth the wait.”

Groups Push for BWI-Israel Flights

American Airlines discontinued its nonstop service from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv in January after six years, citing financial concerns. Jewish community and business leaders in Baltimore and Washington, who previously used the flight, have called for direct service from BWI. (iStock)

American Airlines discontinued its nonstop service from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv in January after six years, citing financial concerns. Jewish community and business leaders in Baltimore and Washington, who previously used the flight, have called for direct service from BWI. (iStock)

There are roughly 350,000 Jews living within the Greater Washington and Baltimore regions, and within that number are many business leaders, politicians and diplomats who travel to Israel multiple times per year. With this in mind, Jewish community leaders have taken steps to bring a nonstop flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

The idea so far has been a grassroots effort that has been championed by organizations such as the Maryland Israel Development Center — a collection of more than 30 American and Israeli companies that frequently engage in business between the United States and Israel.

MIDC member and Baltimore Jewish Council president Abba David Poliakoff has taken the lead in the effort by meeting with Maryland Secretary of Commerce Mike Gill as well as John Hammond, Anne Arundel County’s budget officer, and BWI officials. He said the meetings have been positive, and they have been open to exploring the option of adding a flight.

“They acknowledged that they would need to get some supporting data in order to make the case, which of course we understood. There’s no question they need that support,” he said.

Last month, the MIDC sent out a survey to its members asking whether they would have use for such a flight. Poliakoff declined to release the results of the survey.

Poliakoff and others in Maryland have said they were using American Airlines’ (formerly US Airways’) nonstop service to Tel Aviv from Philadelphia, but after the flight was discontinued in January, they were forced to travel farther and navigate the more stressful Newark International and New York-JFK International airports. Options of flying nonstop to Israel from the East Coast are limited to these airports along with Boston Logan International Airport, and Poliakoff thinks BWI would attract a large clientele.

“BWI is an easy airport to get in and out of. It services both the Baltimore and Washington communities, and one doesn’t need to travel an hour-and-a-half to two hours to reach the airport,” he said. “With the concentration of people traveling to Israel in this area and the number of businesses in this area that have relationships with Israel, as well as the diplomatic people who shuffle back and forth between Tel Aviv and the States, this provides a perfect opportunity to get in and out of the airport quickly and really cements that relationship.”

To help make the case for adding the flight, Poliakoff has partnered with Addison Schonland, who works as an aviation consultant for AirInsight. Schonland previously helped implement a direct flight on Southwest Airlines from BWI to Las Vegas. In order for an airline to be interested, he said, there must be a minimum “load factor” of 65 percent on each flight, meaning the number of seats that are sold.

“The question is, can we find a way to utilize that potential more effectively than was done in Philly?” he said. “It’s a very long process. It requires an inordinate amount of patience.”

Schonland said one challenge their mission faces is the fact that BWI serves as a hub for Southwest, which is a mostly domestic airline that he thinks will not be interested in international service due to financial concerns. That was the main reason for American’s cancellation of the Philadelphia flight.

BWI is an easy airport to get in and out of. It services both the Baltimore and Washington communities, and one doesn’t need to travel an hour-and-a-half to two hours to reach the airport.  — Baltimore Jewish Council president Abba David Poliakoff

“The way that this might evolve is that one of the airlines that flies between here and Europe could continue [to Israel] beyond a European hub,” Schonland said.

Robert Mann, president of the airline consulting firm RW Mann & Company in Port Washington, N.Y., said the number of international flights in a region generally depends on economic factors. He noted that El Al has been particularly aggressive in establishing new flights to U.S. cities due to the amount of increased business it is doing with Israel, particularly in the technology sector.

“I think El Al comes at this from the standpoint that they often have to initiate to get new service established,” he said, adding that it would be wise for those advocating in Maryland for a direct flight to Tel Aviv not to “put all of their eggs in the U.S. carrier basket.”

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington executive director Ron Halber said there have been efforts in the past to get a flight from Dulles International Airport to Tel Aviv, but nothing ever materialized.

“I would think that this region, whether Dulles or Baltimore, could sustain a flight,” he said. “We’ve got a significant number of people here who go to Israel for holidays. We have members of Congress and other national figures who go. And it would be good for economic development.”

MIDC member Steve Dubin, who chairs the board of the nutrition company SDA Ventures, said he travels to Israel five times a year, making the two-and-a-half-hour trip to Newark to do it. He too was a frequent user of the Philadelphia flight and said his fellow Marylanders did the same.

“There’s a lot of traffic going to Israel from the Washington area,” he said.

Dubin said companies often decide where to locate based on a metropolitan area’s resources, noting that one Israeli environment company had a U.S. subsidiary in South Carolina but moved it recently to Baltimore in order to be closer to other Israeli companies. An air link is yet another reason for a company to locate somewhere.

“If you’re traveling for business where logistics are important, it could be the difference between locating in Maryland or locating in New York,” he said.

MIDC member Rob Frier said he too thinks a direct flight provides an economic incentive for companies looking for a better place to operate.

“It cuts down on costs, it cuts down on time, and that’s important too,” he said. “So it would be great.”

Howard County Federation Director Resigns

Michelle Ostroff

Michelle Ostroff

Michelle Ostroff has resigned from her position as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, according to an email distributed to the community Friday morning. Ostroff will officially step down at the end of July.

“This decision was made so that I can spend more time with my family, as the demands of this role began to present greater and greater challenges to my time,” said Ostroff in written statement via email. “I will continue to call Howard County home, and remain an active and involved member of our Jewish community.”

Ostroff, who became the executive director four years ago, has taken a part-time position at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

While the process of replacing Ostroff begins, Beth Millstein became the federation’s president at a June 23 annual meeting, succeeding Richard B. Schreibstein. Millstein previously served as the federation’s executive vice president. She works at Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored enterprise for mortgage lenders.

County Opens Final Owings Mills Boulevard Extension

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (holding scissors) marks the opening of a new 1.2-mile section of Owings Mills Boulevard. (Photo provided)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (holding scissors) marks the opening of a new 1.2-mile section of Owings Mills Boulevard. (Photo provided)

Baltimore County officially opened the final extension of Owings Mills Boulevard on Thursday, June 16, completing the long-awaited connection between Owings Mills and the Liberty Road corridor.

In his speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kam-enetz said, “If you think about it, life is really about connections — your family, your friends, your faith community, your job. I like to think of this final phase of Owings Mills Boulevard as being like the LinkedIn of roads.”

This new section of the roadway is 1.2 miles, connecting Winands Road to Liberty Road (Route 26) at Live Oak Road. The significance of this connection is not lost on the local community. By joining existing portions of Owings Mills Boulevard to Liberty Road, the full 3.8-mile road now serves as a direct connector from Reisterstown Road to Liberty Road.

“In addition to the important economic benefits of linking these two business and residential communities, this extension will help relieve traffic congestion on neighborhood streets and provide for future road  capacity,” Kamenetz added. A $13 million construction project, Owings Mills Boulevard Phase II accounted for the parking needs of businesses and residents and further updated the local infrastructure with new landscaping, paving, stop lights, signs and roadside lamps. The new section of road itself includes four lanes, a raised median and paths for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Additionally, Phase II boasts a two-span, 250-foot-long bridge crossing Scotts Level Branch stream.

“This is a very good time to live, work and drive in Owings Mills and Randallstown. It’s wonderful how every year these communities shine just a little brighter — attracting new people, new businesses and new enthusiasm,” Kamenetz said. The newly completed route is a part of Baltimore County’s $30 million investment in growing the Randallstown area since 2008.

Orlando Shooting Brings UMD Students Out of the Closet

Zev Shields

Zev Shields

Chaim Kalish was celebrating the Shavuot holiday when Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 patrons at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It took the 24-year-old student at the University of Maryland at College Park only 15 minutes after the holiday ended to post a defiant response on Facebook:

“I have a very BIG announcement to make. It is not an easy one. … I am transgender. I go by the name Isabella Maxine with She/Her pronouns.”

About an hour later, it was Zev Shields’ turn:

“After the tragedy of this past week in Florida, I’ve  decided to officially, publicly come out,” wrote the 20-year-old Maryland student and a friend of Kalish. “I am a proud, stalwart, openly bisexual person. In an ideal world, none of this should be a secret, a source of fear or shame. However, due to the hatred of some, it isn’t this way.”

After contacting his friend Shields for a final boost of courage, 19-year old Josh Bloch posted his announcement moments later:

“In light of the events in  Orlando on Saturday night, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to publicly come out of the closet. … I’m bisexual.”

They think it’s  peer pressure, that it’s a phase. But being a man was  a phase. Being a man was peer pressure to me.” — Isabella Kalish


The three friends had been putting off coming out. But in a little more than an hour, they had chosen the same way to show their solidarity and outrage after the mass shooting in Orlando.

Josh Bloch

Josh Bloch

“The goal of the shooting was to make us afraid, and we’re showing it didn’t work,” Bloch said in an interview later in the week.

“It should make me more scared,” Kalish said. “But if I stayed in the closet, the religious zealots or the terrorists win. But I’ve been walking around like this,” she said, pointing to her multicolored necklace, Billabong purse and deep V-neck top, “and I still have to be careful.”

“Once [Kalish] came out, it was a lot easier to come out,” Shields said. “It felt more like standing in arms [everyone coming out at once] than a trend.”

Why had they waited until then to come out? Each had a reason.

“I pushed it off at the request of my parents,” Shields said, “because there is the side of my family that is a whole lot less supportive.”

Shields, a 20-year-old Silver Spring, Md., resident, realized he was bisexual when he was 15. He waited until the fall of 2014, just before he started the Israel Experience at Bar-Ilan University, to tell his parents in what he described as a “lengthy” email.

“My stomach was trying to escape my body because I didn’t know how they would respond,” he recalled, repositioning his ponytail and sipping from a cup of cold-brewed coffee. “I got  incredibly lucky to have the family that I have.”

Shields said his parents were nervous about his grandparents finding out and about people from his hometown of Baltimore, a community that he noted “had changed a lot to be less tolerant of the middle ground.”

Bloch, who grew up in the heavily Orthodox Kemp Mill neighborhood in Silver Spring, was nervous about being socially ostracized after coming out.

“My biggest fear was that I would lose a lot of my friends. I didn’t see that happen — not at all,” he said.

Isabella Kalish

Isabella Kalish

The junior aerospace engineering student thought he might be bisexual when he was in 12th grade after private discussions with friends.

“I’ve always felt the attraction [to guys and girls], but I thought it was a normal feeling for straight people to have,” Bloch said, his voice  unable to hide the thrill of going public.

Kalish said she still has work to do with her family.

“My family is really not happy about things. They’ve always seen me as an impulsive person,” she said, eyeing her bright blue nail polish. “They think it’s peer pressure, that it’s a phase. But being a man was a phase. Being a man was peer pressure to me.”

Part of the “180,” Kalish said, is that until November 2015 she was “very Orthodox and a  [politically] staunch conservative.” The turning point came after a heated argument with a friend in which Kalish criticized the idea of a person’s preferred pronouns. Her hurt friend  approached her afterward.

“I think it was just the way he approached me and I started to think, ‘Why am I so opposed to this? Why am I so closed to this?’” Kalish said.  “I was stuck in a religious structure I didn’t really like.”

The visual arts major said she hasn’t found a way to merge her Jewish and trans identities. She gave up celebrating Shabbat and keeping kosher within two months of starting hormone therapy. Bloch identifies as modern Orthodox, Shields as a “lazy modern Orthodox.”

They said they’ve been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received since coming out and joining Hamsa, Maryland  Hillel’s LGBTQ and Allies  student group.

“We are all about student  Jewish journeys, and we’re 100 percent supportive for students to come together and have an outlet to meet other students who are LGBT and allies,” said Maiya Chard-Yaron, Maryland Hillel assistant director.

Kalish still worries about the first time she walks into Hillel wearing a skirt but knows that eventually she’ll stop caring.

Eliana Block is an area freelance writer.

Studying Abroad May Be Rewarding, But Is It Cheaper?



With the cost of college tuition rising faster than the rate of inflation, Shlomo Lifshitz says he knows the solution: study abroad.

Specifically, study using the services of Lifshitz’s Lirom Global Education, founded to encourage study in Israel.

“More and more people cannot afford to pay the cost of tuition, which I think is ridiculous,” says Lifshitz, a longtime education and tourism marketer. “As a result, people are graduating with $100,000 in student loans, and what do you become — a line cook at Burger King or a waiter at Cheesecake Factory.”

Lifshitz says Americans should study in Israel, which his company can facilitate “at much cheaper rates than most U.S. universities.”

“Israeli university presidents don’t go home with a paycheck of over a million dollars like in the States,” Lifshitz says when asked if tuition costs are cheaper in Israel.

Before founding Lirom, Lifshitz ran Oranim Educational Initiatives, which sent tens of thousands of young people to Israel on guided tours and assisted with Taglit Birthright.

Lirom offers academic gap-year programs, some of which offer 10 credits toward a bachelor’s degree, as well as summer programs in such areas as conflict resolution, archaeology, first-responder training and marine biology.

Some 304,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2013-14 academic year, according to data by NAFSA: The Association of International Educators. The number represented just under 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher education.

According to data from the Institute of International Education, six of the 10 top academic destinations are in Western Europe.

“Will studying abroad save you money does not have a simple answer,” said Mark Shay, CEO of Abroad101, which provides a study abroad program evaluation tool to over 200 universities.

“When people ask me this type of question, I generally say that in any consumer decision, you get what you pay for. In the United States, you can save money by going to community college, but you lose out on all the benefits of a well-endowed university. When it comes to full degrees abroad, you can save a great deal in tuition by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree overseas, and in many cases American students can get a federal student loan. In the you-get-what-you-pay-for scenario, the value of that degree in the marketplace should be factored into that equation.”

Abroad101 helps schools collect and share program information with prospective students through a creation of reports.

“A student can enroll directly in a foreign university and take courses with the local students and in most cases save a great deal on tuition and even transfer that credit back to their home university,” said Shay. “Without the oversight of a provider, the vastly different teaching styles, living conditions and social norms may be hard to navigate, and that transcript may not be accepted, which is why many people elect to study abroad through third parties who take on the duty of care for that student.

“Direct exchanges, coordinated through your home university, are a great way to bridge that unknown,” Shay continued. “You live in standard international student housing overseas and pay your home school tuition and will be assured the basic duty of care by your home university.”

Based in Berkeley, Calif., Go Overseas, a study abroad provider, seeks to empower “more meaningful time overseas” for students. It includes a ratings and reviews system. The provider is a “millennial-minded community [that] believes in creating a better world through travel and encouraging everyone they know to go on programs that include meaningful cultural exchange.” Prospective candidates are also offered volunteering and teaching options in various countries.

Phoenix-based CEA Study Abroad offers education programs for U.S. students looking to earn college credit from fully accredited programs to 13 countries. Its stated mission is to work closely with study abroad offices and international program departments across the United States and Canada.

One of Lirom’s programs is offered through Israel’s College of Law and Business, which costs about $48,000. The first year is in English with the second and third years being half-Hebrew and half-English. In the fourth year, students may choose to take a four-month course and sit for the New York or California state bar exams, earning a bachelor of law degree from Israel, Lifshitz says.

Or a student could finish his or her last semester at Chicago’s Kent College of Law or the Fordham University School of Law and earn a master of law degree.

“And it’s affordable,” Lifshitz says. “These bachelor’s degrees did not cause your parents to go bankrupt, and you did not cause yourself heavy, heavy loans.”

Kidney Foundation Takes Fundraiser to New Heights

Participants in June 25’s Rappel for Kidney Health will rappel from the top of the 15-story Hyatt Regency roof down to the pool deck. (Screenshot of

Participants in June 25’s Rappel for Kidney Health will rappel from the top of the 15-story Hyatt Regency roof down to the pool deck. (Screenshot of

In a world with constant warnings about bizarre health risks such as the Zika virus and Ebola, some of the most common and dangerous ailments can be overlooked. One such ailment is kidney disease, the ninth-leading cause of death in the United States.

More people die from kidney disease than from breast cancer, prostate cancer or leukemia. Nearly 50 percent of Americans will develop kidney disease in their life, a statistic that is increasing as diabetes and high blood pressure become more prevalent health issues as well.

The National Kidney Foundation of Maryland (NKF-MD) has been actively advocating kidney health since 1955, officially joining the National Kidney Foundation in 1964. According to its mission statement, the NKF-MD “is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.”

On June 25, the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland will be putting on its seventh annual Rappel for Kidney Health event at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unique to Baltimore, the event is an opportunity for members of the community to raise awareness and money for kidney health and get screened. Since its inception, the Rappel for Kidney Health event has raised more than $676,000.

Rappel for Kidney Health will be providing entertainment throughout the day, including face-painting, a DJ, carnival games and various raffles. Additionally, the event will offer free screenings to promote kidney health, which entail blood pressure, sugar and creatinine readings. The biggest draw and fundraiser of the event is rappelling.

Each year, participants form teams to raise money for kidney health. Each team tries to attain a goal of $1,000, which, when achieved, earns the team’s participants the right to rappel from the top of a building. This year, participants will be making their way from the 15-story roof of the Hyatt Regency to the deck of the pool below, where friends, family and guests will cheer on those making the descent.

Every year, members of Baltimore’s Jewish community participate in the event. One such denizen is Jordan Levine, who has been actively working to raise awareness for kidney health since having his personal life affected.

“I hadn’t even given kidneys a second thought until my son was born with only one,” said Levine, a board member of NKF-MD.

He was further influenced when his brother was in a serious car accident and experienced renal failure. Since then, both of Jordan’s relatives have stabilized and are in good health. These days, it is their turn to watch Jordan put himself in “danger.” However, Levine notes that the members of Over the Edge, the rappel company that helps put on this special event, “do a tremendous job of making you feel comfortable.” This is the second year that he will be rappelling. Between this year and last year, Levine’s team alone has raised nearly $4,000.

Another Baltimore resident who will be participating is former District 11 delegate Jon Cardin, who found out about Rappel for Kidney Health through a family friend, Amy Greten. The catalyst for Greten’s involvement with Rappel comes from a family history of polycystic kidney disease, which necessitated her having a liver/kidney transplant. A thrill-seeker himself, Cardin is attending Rappel for Kidney Health both to support Greten and to rappel himself if he raises enough funds. He recounts that by rappelling to support friends and family affected by kidney disease “not only did [Amy] raise a lot of money, but she overcame a fear of heights as well.”

Cardin supports a variety of nonprofits, having participated in the Special Olympics’ Polar Bear Plunge 16 times in addition to fundraising and attending events for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

To raise further money for kidney disease, this year’s Rappel for Kidney Health event will feature the second annual Toss Your Boss Challenge, in which employees from local businesses raise money to send their bosses over the edge.

NKF-MD officer Jenny Trostel assures that this year’s event is guaranteed to be “the coolest thing around.”

Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan rappels on Friday, June 24 as part of Toss Your Boss.

Reform in the Crosshairs Gun violence spurs call for state, federal action

cover1Faith leaders, policymakers and experts in the greater Baltimore and Washington regions are refusing to stay silent more than one week after the largest mass shooting in recent history.

Whether or not Congress passes legislation this week restricting known terrorists from purchasing guns, the prevailing view among most Jews is that some form of restriction on gun purchases is in order when it comes to preventing tragedies such as the June 12 massacre in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub that left 50 dead, including the gunman.

Maryland currently has a state assault weapons ban in effect, but it is undergoing its second legal challenge in district court. Meanwhile, the Orlando attack has led many to call for the reinstatement of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban that prevented the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic weapons for civilian use. The ban expired in 2004, and while there have been attempts to reinstate it, none have been successful. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in 2011 put out a policy statement calling for the reinstatement of this law following a rise in the number of mass shootings, said executive director Ron Halber.

“There was no reason why the man who committed that act of terror in Orlando should have been able to get his hands on [an assault weapon]” he said, referring to killer Omar Mateen’s purchase of the Sig Sauer MCX assault weapon two weeks prior to the shooting (Mateen also used a handgun that he had purchased at the time). “There is no reason at all that people on the terrorist list should have access to weaponry. That’s just illogical. I don’t know how anybody can defend that position.”

cover2Now is not the time to roll back any reasonable gun restrictions that are already in place. — BJC executive director Howard Libit

Halber said he detects frustration among members of the public who are desperate for action in the wake of the Orlando shooting and the many tragedies that preceded it. He emphasized that the JCRC is not calling for an outright ban on firearms for the use of protection or hunting, but the elimination of “military-grade” weapons from the public’s possession is a rational step.

Like the JCRC, the Baltimore Jewish Council also supports banning semiautomatic weapons. Executive director Howard Libit said the BJC has a history of supporting gun control legislation, including during the 2013 legislative session when the organization supported several new laws that were proposed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children.

“We certainly think that now is not the time to roll back any of the reasonable gun restrictions that are already in place in Maryland. That would be going the wrong direction,” he said. “And we’re paying close attention to what’s happening in Congress right now and certainly salute the efforts that a number of senators have made, including ours, to try and push for some greater federal steps.”

In addition to the Jewish advocacy arenas of both cities, rabbis are also speaking out. The rabbinic community as a whole has not taken one formal position on gun control, and it may be because, as Agudath Israel of Maryland director Rabbi Ariel Sadwin said, assault weapons haven’t been widely discussed in terms of Halachah.

Ariel Sadwin (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Ariel Sadwin (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

[There are] definitely plenty of people in the community who feel strongly about the need for protection. — Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director, Agudath Israel of Maryland

“To say there is a position within the community here and even broader, Agudath Israel of America, I don’t believe they’ve had too many statements on gun control because it’s not like we are against all guns,” he said.

Sadwin said like with many hot-button issues, the Orthodox community often can see merit to both sides in the gun control debate.

“[There are] definitely plenty of people in the community who feel strongly about the need for protection especially in a period of time that the Jewish community has seen continued safety issues, and there are definitely people in the community who feel there should be added protections and stuff like that,” he said. “So it’s hard to go and take a position, as some in politics will say, to completely overhaul gun control. At the same time, the availability of an assault weapon, the likes of which can go carry out a disaster like happened in Orlando, is a real concern.”

But Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue, who serves on the board of Jews United for Justice, believes Halachah can be interpreted to be against assault weapons.

“Halachah exists to guide us in how we’re to live our lives as Jews and how societies should be ordered,” he said. “We are to do just about everything we can in order to preserve life and save lives, so weapons that exist whose purpose is solely to take lives — that we know in the hands of civilians are much more likely to take innocent lives than they are to protect innocent lives — I think Halachah would frown on assault weapons in nonmilitary personal hands.”

He said that the United States’ obsession with gun ownership, as well as increasing xenophobic, racist, homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric, is a “dangerous and deadly cocktail.”

“One of the great tragedies of the current perspective that some Americans have on gun ownership is that instead of using, in moderation, weapons that are designed for sport, for hunting or even perhaps for protection, we have so fetishized weapon ownership and gun ownership in this country that when something tragic like this terrorist attack in Orlando occurs, we’re so conditioned as Americans to say, ‘Well, that has nothing to do with guns.’ But, of course, it has everything to do with guns,” Cotzin said. “Tel Aviv just had a shooting — a terrorist attack — a week and a half ago, and what was surprising about that attack was it was done with guns. Most of the terrorist attacks in Israel have been done with knives because in Israel it’s hard to get guns.”

Brian Frosh (Photo by Dayna Smith)

Brian Frosh (Photo by Dayna Smith)

The reason we banned [assault weapons] in Maryland is because they’re totally unnecessary or ill-suited for anything other than the police the military. The idea that you need to be able to fire off 15 shots really fast for hunting is crazy. It’s not necessary. It’s not sportsmanlike. — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh

When Adas Israel Congregation Associate Rabbi Aaron Alexander arrived in Washington last year, one of his mandates was to better engage the congregation’s social action committee. He did so by first asking congregants what issues were most important to them, one of which was gun control.

“When the consequences are life or death we have an obligation to fight as hard as we can for policies that preserve life and dignity,” he said. “We’re going to have a voice, and our voice is not just going to be to scream or yell or pray. Our voice is going to be to change tragedies that happen in this country every day.”

Alexander is not yet sure what Adas Israel’s on-the-ground efforts will be, but he has experience in community organizing from a previous role in Los Angeles, where he served on the clergy caucus of LA Voice PICO — an interfaith advocacy group.

“We’re in the midst of training our leadership to be effective organizers,” he said. “There are a lot of people out in the world who want to do something and we have learned that groups are effective when they are part of something bigger.”

Alexander said it was “shocking” that Congress took no action related to gun legislation after the Sandy Hook shootings. He called last week’s 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats on gun control a “God-inspired act.”

“Sometimes, we get so bogged down in the intricacies of the Second Amendment, we’re no longer able to see beyond the forest to the bigger picture.”

Alexander acknowledged that the Torah does provide a case for owning a gun by spelling out a right to self-defense, but he said in today’s world the most well-intentioned gun owners can cause devastating side effects simply by being enablers.

“If you think about domestic violence and suicide, a gun in the home raises the possibility that someone will do harm to themselves or others,” he said. “If the gun is not in the home, there is a much better chance someone will survive either their lowest moment of depression or someone close to them.”

Bobby Zirkin (File photo)

Bobby Zirkin (File photo)

This is a no-brainer … You have somebody on a terror watch list, they shouldn’t have firearms. — State Sen. Bobby Zirkin

It is not directly from the Torah that the argument for gun ownership comes, but rather the history of persecution that Jews have faced, explained Edward Friedman, editor-in-chief of the NRA’s monthly magazine Shooting Illustrated.

“Part of what made me a believer in the Second Amendment was what the Jewish people have gone through and the fact that we were, until the creation of the State of Israel, actually until the creation of the United States, never able to protect ourselves,” he told Washington Jewish Week last year. “In the U.S. it is individually, and in Israel it’s more collectively … there are people out there who spew violent hatred toward Jews and all too often put that into action.”

The right to owning a handgun in the home has been upheld several times by the Supreme Court, including in the 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court determined 5-4 that banning the registration of handguns or requiring the use of trigger locks to store them in the home violated the Second Amendment. The late justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion.

Nathan Lewin, a Washington attorney who has worked on a number of Supreme Court cases and knew Scalia, said he thinks there are limits on the latitude that the Heller decision gives gun owners.

“Beyond [handguns] I think courts have construed that as meaning that the legislature has the authority to go and regulate other forms of purchases, other forms of guns and ammunition,” he said.

Lewin said he thinks measures such as background checks and an assault weapons ban would be permitted under the Constitution.

While these measures may stand the test of the law, there may not be the political will to enact them, Lewin said, while noting the influence of the National Rifle Association on the political sphere.

“Although I’m not generally sympathetic to a lot of things the Obama Administration supports, I think legislation in this area is desirable,” he said, while noting that he thinks the larger issue is “Islamic terrorism.”

Maryland is currently fighting its own legal battle to uphold an assault weapons ban that took effect on Oct. 1, 2013. The law, which was based on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, outlawed 45 different weapons including the AR-15, which is similar to the weapon Mateen used. Gun owners who purchased the banned weapons prior to this date were permitted to keep them. There is no estimate as to how many people this includes.

The ban faced its first legal challenge from the pro-gun community in 2014 and was upheld by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake. But in February, they appealed the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled by a 2-1 vote among three judges that the case should be reheard in the same lower court under the “strict scrutiny” standard, meaning that the ban must “further a compelling governmental interest” in order for it to trump the Second Amendment.

Attorney General Brian Frosh said he thinks the ban will withstand this latest court challenge after other circuit courts upheld similar laws in the states of New York and Connecticut.

“It’s not that difficult,” he said. “There are clear definitions as to what an assault weapon is in the law. If somebody brings us a case where you’ve got an AR-15 that’s sold in a store who’s not buying it for police purposes or military purposes, it’s a violation. …The reason we banned them in Maryland is because they’re totally unnecessary or ill-suited for anything other than the police, the military. The idea that you need to be able to fire off 15 shots really fast for hunting is crazy. It’s not necessary. It’s not sportsmanlike.”

Frosh said anyone carrying a banned weapon into Maryland from another state is subject to the same penalties as someone who obtained one illegally in state, which include a $5,000 fine and a prison sentence of three years or less for the first offense. The penalties increase for subsequent offenses and for criminals who use the illegally obtained weapon in carrying out the act.

Frosh said the country at large remains in danger due to the lack of a renewal of the federal ban, and that has to do with politicians being “more responsive to the NRA than to the citizens.”

“I think that in Maryland we’ve made ourselves safer by having an assault weapons ban, but until our neighbors do the same, everybody’s in peril,” he said.

Sandy Rosenberg (File photo)

Sandy Rosenberg (File photo)

We can impose reasonable restrictions. I think [Maryland’s] bill will be ultimately upheld. — Del. Sandy Rosenberg
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) was a co-sponsor of the original policy and said he does not see how the Second Amendment would include assault rifles since they are not used for hunting and there is “no rational basis” for their use. He regrets not including a mental health component at the time, which, he said, is “very hard to legislate.”

“You want to people to seek mental health counseling and so forth without limits, but at the same time you want to keep guns out of the hands of people who have the capacity to do harm. So how you define that prohibition is very challenging but important to do,” he said.

Zirkin also co-sponsored a bill last year that would have barred gun sales from suspected terrorists — something he thinks is seriously lacking at the federal level.

“You look at Washington and their failure to do even the most simple of things is embarrassing,” he said. “This is a no-brainer of an issue in my opinion. You have somebody on a terror watch list, they shouldn’t have firearms.”

The bill did not pass Maryland last year, but he expects it to come up again in the 2017 General Assembly session.

Adding to the problem, Zirkin said, is the lack of communication from the FBI to state and local police about who is on the watch list. He said it is “self-evident” that all police officers should have access to the list.

“I believe we will pass a bill, but again, unless the federal government does it, it doesn’t protect us,” he said. “It’s nothing more than a statement from the state.”

However, Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) believes passing a bill in Maryland would be more than a statement.

“It has the potential to make a difference in Maryland because it would make it more difficult for someone who is on that list who is a suspected terrorist to purchase a gun in this state,” he said. “Passing the law here could create momentum to do so in other states and hopefully eventually to do so at the federal level, where it would be most effective. And that’s the role that states often play.”

He also thinks the state’s assault weapons ban will stand.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion makes it clear when he said — when he struck down the D.C. law — that the Second Amendment right is not an absolute right,” Rosenberg said. “That’s the case with all the other Bill of Rights protections. These are not absolute rights. When we worked on this bill, as the legislature considered the bill, we were very aware of that — that we can impose reasonable restrictions — and I hope and think that the bill will be ultimately upheld by the courts.”

Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said he too thinks the ban is in the public’s interest. Popkin, an Olney resident who attends Washington Hebrew Congregation and has served in law enforcement for more than 30 years, said the community he is in charge of is generally very safe. But over the years it has seen its share of gun violence, including a series of shootings near Westfield Montgomery Mall earlier this year. Popkin’s tactical team was also called into action during the sniper attacks of 2002 that left 17 people dead including six in Montgomery County.

“For anybody to think that an active shooter situation could not happen in our backyard is being naive,” he said.

Popkin said at the very least, there should be some additional background review of gun purchasers.

“No fly, no buy,” he said. “If you are being looked at as a person for potential violence, there should be some restriction for purchasing a firearm.”