Man Stabbed During Home Invasion in Cheswolde

2800 CheswoldeA 36-year-old Cheswolde man was stabbed in the abdomen during a home invasion in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 7.

The man, who was awake and working on his laptop, was stabbed with a sharp unknown object after he discovered an intruder in his home in the 2800 block of Cheswolde Road at 3:36 a.m., according Det. Nicole Monroe, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City police.

He was taken to an area hospital in serious but stable condition, she said.

The Cheswolde resident heard a noise in the house, and discovered the intruder when he went to investigate. He was stabbed during a confrontation, and the intruder fled. The man’s wife called 911, Monroe said.

There was no report of property taken. As of press time, there were no leads on the suspect but the crime labs are processing the evidence.

“Here’s a pattern we’ve seen over the years,” said Nathan Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association and spokesperson for Shomrim. “The level of crime has increased from petty theft, to car break-ins to more serious property crimes like breaking into homes.” He asserts this is due to criminals perceiving a decreased police presence in the northwest area.

“We’re going into a three-day holiday of Shavuos, when a lot of residents are walking to shul, attending [late night] classes, staying up all night [as is tradition], so we’re hoping there is an increase in police presence,” Willner said.

Willner added that the neighborhood association and Shomrim met just this week with the police captain of the Northwest district to make them aware of the anticipated patterns of movement over the three-day holiday, which includes Shabbat. He added that the crime “literally” happened in newly elected Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer’s backyard.

“People in the community have been advised for many years to make sure doors are locked, windows are closed, but despite those efforts these things happen,” Willner said. “It definitely shakes your sense of safety and security.”

Rice, Mayors Highlight AJC Global Forum

National Security Advisor Susan Rice (Photo by Daniel Schere)

National Security Advisor Susan Rice (Photo by Daniel Schere)

More than 2,700 Jews from 70 countries packed the Washington Hilton earlier this week for the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum, which brings together leaders from around the world to discuss major issues of concern for the Jewish community.

Highlighting the three-day conference was a “world leader’s plenary” session on Monday night that featured an address from National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The bulk of Rice’s 30-minute speech focused on the United States-Israel relationship, which she called an “ironclad bond.” Rice received cordial applause throughout the speech while repeating the refrain “Israel is not alone” in describing attacks from Hamas and other groups toward Israel’s existence. While most of Rice’s speech was aimed at Jews, she also included a line aimed at reaching out to another party.

“When Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting death to Arabs, and Palestinian homes or mosques are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone,” she said.

Rice used her remarks to tout the efforts of President Barack Obama’s administration in securing the “largest military assistance package with any country in American history,” which is estimated to provide Israel with about $40 billion in aid over 10 years.

“Israel’s security isn’t a Democratic interest or a Republican interest, it’s an American interest,” she said.
Rice also addressed last year’s controversial Iran nuclear deal, which she praised by saying that the country’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon is now one year; it was just a few months prior to the agreement.

“Whether or not you supported this deal, the results are undeniable,” she said. “Iran has disassembled two-thirds of its centrifuges. They’ve shipped out 98 percent of their enriched Uranium stockpile.”

Rice also mentioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Paris for a Middle East Peace summit — one that neither the Israelis nor Palestinians attended. She said the basic message of the conference was an affirmation of the two-state solution as the only path toward a peaceful future in the region but that it cannot be “imposed on the parties.” Rice did not shy away from condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, just as Vice President Joe Biden did at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.

Photo by David Stuck

Photo by David Stuck

“Settlement activity corrodes the prospects for two states,” she said. “It moves us toward a one-state reality. Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state is at stake.”

Rice’s views on the West Bank were echoed earlier that day by Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog who said that the Israel’s lack of progress in separating from the Palestinians presents a “serious demographic threat to its future.”

“In the meanwhile, violence continues to flourish, the delegitimization of Israel gathers steam, and the international community grows increasingly irritated by the reality in the West Bank,” he said.

Absent from the conference’s sessions was any sense of political division. Despite Rice’s high-ranking position in the administration, she has stayed largely out of commenting on the current presidential race. She told The Forward in an interview that it would be “inappropriate and likely illegal” for her to do so in response to a question about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. She closed her speech on a unifying note by condemning anti-Semitism that has popped up around the globe.

“When Iran holds an abhorrent Holocaust cartoon contest, when violence and violent words lead Jews to take down mezuzahs in Europe. When more than half of college students say they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus, we must call out and confront that ancient hatred for what it is: an absolute outrage.”

The speakers at this year’s conference were a departure from past years, which have included big names such as Kerry and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom has spoken at the conference multiple times. But it did include the presence of three mayors out of more than 300 from across the country who have signed a pledge that states they are committed to fighting anti-Semitism on a global level.

One of those presents was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said suggestion of her involvement came from a constituent in Northwest Baltimore who is an AJC member. He called Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who in turn convinced Rawlings-Blake to sign on. It also inspired the mayor to reach out to other mayors in Maryland and around the country.

“From that one constituent making that one phone call to his city councilwoman, this initiative now counts over 300 mayors signing on collectively over 80 million people in this country. You see, he thought globally by acting locally,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake said activism like the fight against anti-Semitism comes from the bottom up as opposed to the top down, and initiatives such as this one are most likely to happen within a city as opposed to at the national level.

“My job at its core is to make sure my community is safer, that it’s better and stronger,” she said. “And if I can do that and my colleagues can do that, then what a difference we can make.”

Nature and Numbers Inspire Temple’s Stained Glass

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

Temple Isaiah sits in a rural area of Howard County. In the sanctuary, two tall, narrow, clear glass windows flank the bima — and by extension the Torah.

That’s how things had stood since the Reform congregation moved in 13 years ago. Last week, however, those windows were replaced by six custom-made stained glass panels. One side of panels is decorated with pomegranates, the other with figs and grapes.

“This sanctuary has always been a beautiful place,” said Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler. “One thing that was not a part of the original design was stained glass windows.”

That’s where longtime members Ken and Cindy Hankin enter the story.

“The goal was to have stained glass [eventually], and for years, no one had the desire to see it come to fruition,” said Hankin. “My wife and I talked about it, and we said that’s what we should do.  We weren’t solicited.  We volunteered and said the sanctuary needs those stained glass windows.”

The Hankins funded the project. They worked with Axler and two California-based stained glass artists, David and Michelle Plachte-Zuieback. The project took a year and a half. When it was complete, the Plachte-Zuiebacks delivered their work by car — the only way they transport their stained glass — and installed it.

Axler and David Plachte-Zuieback said that many of the design choices were influenced by gematria, or Jewish numerology. The background for the glass are stars of David laid out in a honeycomb; they total 27 stars on each side,  giving a total of 54, representing the number of weekly Torah portions.


(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

(Justin Katz)

The glass also shows five pomegranates, representing the five books of the Torah. According to rabbinic tradition, a pomegranate is filled with seeds in the same way the Torah is filled with mitzvot, Axler said. So each pomegranate on the stained glass contains 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.

“Everything is intentional in its number,” said David Plachte-Zuieback. “In that way, it brings a level of symbolism that may not be obvious to someone. But as a teaching experience, it adds more meaning to the work.”

The uppermost panel of each window contains a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, the temple’s namesake.

“My spirit, which I’ve placed upon you, and my word which I’ve placed in your mouth,” reads the right-hand panel, “shall not be moved from you, or from your children, or from your children’s children, from now and for all time,” continues the left.

“[David and Michelle have] done some amazing projects, and Cindy, Ken and I were  really blown away by the beauty of their art,” said Axler. “Particularly, one of the things that all of us resonated with was the symbolism of nature in the Judaica art that they did.”

Ken Hankin said that when the artists were creating the design, he and his wife wanted a lot of imagery associated with nature because of Temple Isaiah’s rural location.

The glass was installed in time for the synagogue’s annual meeting on May 24.

Mid-Atlantic Media Honored by MDDC

Cover by Ebony Brown

Cover by Ebony Brown

The Baltimore Jewish Times added to its publishing honors last month at the MDDC Press Association’s Editorial Awards luncheon, held May 13 at the BWI Westin hotel in Linthicum.

Besting publications such as The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, the JT’s interim managing editor, Melissa Gerr, won Best in Show for arts and entertainment reporting for her profile of cellist and Peabody Institute instructor Amit Peled, which appeared in the March 6, 2015 issue. She also won divisional first place for arts and entertainment reporting, divisional first place for religion reporting and divisional  second place for feature multimedia  storytelling.

JT art director Ebony Brown took home a Best in Show award for her front cover design for ‘City Council Conflict’ (Jan. 23, 2015). Brown also won divisional first place for front cover design and divisional first place for feature page design.

The accolades continued with  Custom Media art director Lindsey Bridwell, who won divisional second place for front cover design, and Baltimore’s Child art director Jennifer Perkins-Frantz, who won divisional first place for news page design.

Washington Jewish Week, JT’s sister publication, also received honors with former reporter Suzanne Pollak winning divisional second place for sports  feature reporting.

Fed Live! Honors Members, Celebrates Community

This year’s Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Fed Live! Stars & Stripes is sold out, and with good reason. On June 9, more than 400 attendees will enjoy the witty “we put the mock in Democracy” entertainment of The Capitol Steps and also have an opportunity to Give for Good.

Fed Live! is about honoring the dedication of its community members, said Michelle Ostroff, the federation’s executive director. Honorees are  distinguished for their activity in the Jewish community,  their positions held at Jewish organizations and their contributions to federation.

“They’re nominated by the community,” Ostroff said. This year’s honorees and awards  include Rob Freedman, business professional; Marvin Hoss, medical professional; Sara Magden, young leadership; Jill Oletsky, community builder; and Ellen Strichart, woman of valor.

“An element that’s new this year is the Give for Good live auction,” Ostroff said. “The concept is, instead of community members bidding up one another for Ravens tickets and designer purses,” they can bid on and donate services the federation provides, she said.

“A bunch of people can bid $180 for an hour of social services for someone,” for  example, Ostroff said. “It draws attention to the services we provide and is a way for  attendees to direct their donations to a specific program or service.”

Janet Davidson Gordon,  a Howard County Jewish  community member, will be gracing the stage that night with The Capitol Steps, with whom she has performed for 24 years. She also serves on the board of Toby’s Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. She and her husband, Neil, who is a former federation board member and still serves on committees, are two of several major sponsors of the event.

Unable to ‘Do Everything,’ Hiller Finds Her Passion

Sarah Hiller: “Nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing.” (Justin Katz)

Sarah Hiller: “Nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing.” (Justin Katz)

It was during college that Sarah Hiller found herself questioning the impact she could have on the world.

“I was learning about all of these things wrong with the world, all of the problems faced by different communities, and I was just struck by my own perceived inability to do anything about it,” says Hiller, a 22-year-old Baltimore native.

When she participated in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, she got a partial answer. In place of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she listened to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

“We cannot let our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something,” she remembers him saying.

What Booker said “really struck a chord with me and made me realize if I want to make any impact, I need to find an area I’m passionate about,” Hiller said, “even if I’m passionate about a hundred other things, and really try to make an impact there.”

In September, Hiller will join a small group of Jews from around the world on a 10-month stay in Israel. She will be a fellow in the Israeli government through a program sponsored by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, a state-sponsored project in memory of the former Israeli prime minister, and Masa Israel, which offers Jewish young adults post-college and volunteer experiences.

“I’ve always wanted to go live in Israel for an extended period,” said Hiller, who visited Israel after her bat mitzvah and participated in the March of the Living in Poland during high school. “[I’ve had] the desire to live abroad and learn other cultures, but Israel specifically. I grew up in a Zionist household where my connection to Israel was always something that was emphasized.”

I’ve had the desire to live abroad and learn other cultures but Israel specifically. Being Jewish I grew up in a Zionist household where my connection to Israel was  always something that  was emphasized.” — Sarah Hiller


Hiller recently completed a four-month internship at the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington that promotes fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.

“We’re very proud of her,” says Rachel Lyons, Hiller’s  supervisor and the senior government affairs manager at the NPWF. “She can take some of what she knows about the U.S. government, having worked with us, [and] I think it’ll be an excellent opportunity to expand her skill set.”

Hiller helped the NPWF track the remarks of presidential candidates on issues, coordinated lobbying days with the organization’s partners, reached out to members of Congress and maintained fact sheets, Lyons said.

Hiller’s work at NPWF was not her first experience tackling social issues. During her  undergraduate years at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., she wrote a thesis about parental leave policies and childcare and how they impact motherhood and equality in the workplace. The work at NPWF was her chance to take her theoretical work and apply it to getting policies passed.

“I think it definitely solidified that that kind of nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing,” says Hiller.

The fellowship begins with an orientation and an intensive Hebrew language study. Following the orientation, fellows will begin working in their respective positions in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

Throughout their stay, fellows meet weekly to hear from  Israeli public figures and leaders in fields such as economics,  social policy and political problems facing the country.

“It doesn’t feel real yet, even as I’ve been telling people and saying it more,” Hiller said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be challenging, but I have a close friend who lives in Jerusalem who I’ve been in touch with through the process, so I know I’ll have people [who I know] there.”

Painting by Numbers: 32B, 34C, 36D

Betsy Rascoe (left), who modeled to support a friend, asked artist Sandie Heiss for something “whimsical, happy.” (Toby Tabachnick)

Betsy Rascoe (left), who modeled to support a friend, asked artist Sandie Heiss for something “whimsical, happy.” (Toby Tabachnick)

At first, most were shy that afternoon last September, modestly folding their arms over their bare breasts. But it wasn’t long before the 23 women who volunteered to have their chests painted to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer abandoned their inhibitions and joined together in what many described as an “empowering” experience.

Organized by Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh, “Painting by Numbers: 32B, 34C, 36D,” culminated May 19-22 with a photographic exhibition of the artwork painted on the 24 models — which included one man — at Jask Gallery in Lawrenceville, Pa.

The models were painted by 14 female artists and then photographed by two female photographers. The identity of the models is confidential, and their faces are not shown in the photographs.

Several of the models were survivors of breast cancer and had undergone mastectomies; some also had reconstructive surgery.

But many of the models that joined together last fall at the Wexford (Pa.) Health and Wellness Pavilion volunteered their time and their bodies in solidarity with, or in memory of, a friend or family member who had suffered from breast cancer.

Such was the case with Betsy Rascoe of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., who has not had breast cancer, but who has been diagnosed as “high risk” and who has had multiple associated surgeries.

“My friend [Gerrie Delaney] had just been diagnosed with breast cancer when I heard that Hadassah was looking for models,” Rascoe said at the opening reception for the exhibit. “I said to her, ‘This is something we can do together.’”

Prior to the event, Rascoe contacted the artist who would be painting her to discuss the design she wanted on her chest.

“I told her, ‘I want whimsical, I want happy, uplifting, fun,’” Rascoe recalled.

The end design was a Peter Max-inspired, vibrantly colored, spacescape, with which Rascoe was thrilled.

During the painting and photography, each model was in her own private room in the health center, but soon the models joined together in the hallway, which was closed that day to the public.

“We brought appetizers and wine,” Rascoe said. “It was such a fun environment. People were running around half naked, chatting away, sharing their stories with each other. It was very relaxed.”

Sandie Heiss, the artist who painted Rascoe, admitted it took her awhile to get fully comfortable with the idea of painting a woman’s bare chest.

“I was more inhibited than the models were,” she said. “I didn’t know how they would react to me putting my hands on them. But they were very open. We talked more than we painted. I was very honored to be asked to do this.”

The paintings varied in subject and style, with each model choosing her own design after consultation with her artist.

“This is the first thing I have done with Hadassah,” said photographer Melissa Shontz, adding that she had been recruited to volunteer her services by member Miriam Quast.

A 23-year survivor herself, Shontz decided to be painted as well.

“The general tone was almost joyful,” Shontz recalled. “It was almost liberating, revealing yourself bare-chested, but for a good reason — not to be prodded or given a diagnosis.”

Artist Jasmine Karnavas agreed that the atmosphere the day of the painting had been one of strength and  camaraderie.

“It was very empowering,” Karnavas said. “Most of us [artists] had never painted anyone. But it ended up being a collaborative effort, listening to the story of the model.”

Francine Surloff, who modeled in memory of her sister who died of breast cancer, said that although she was nervous at first, Karnavas put her at ease.

“It was an unbelievable day,” Surloff said. “There were women of all ages and all builds.”

Surloff is “not uncomfortable at all,” she said, having her bare, painted breasts on display at the exhibition.

“It’s worth it if even one  person would get a mammogram because of this,” she said. “My sister waited, and when she finally went, she was  stage 4. She inspired me to do better things. I want to make a difference.”

The printed photographs are available for purchase framed and unframed. One hundred percent of the sale’s proceeds will go to breast  cancer research.

Similar events have been sponsored by other Hadassah chapters across the country in the last few years.

“I am thrilled beyond words,” said Barb Scheinberg, president of Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh. “We will definitely be doing this again.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers, with about 12 percent of women in the United States developing the disease during their lifetime. The risk of developing breast cancer is slightly higher among Jewish women than among other women due the high prevalence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations in Ashkenazi Jews.

Toby Tabachnick writes for The Jewish Chronicle. She can be reached at

Anthony Weiner Lets It All Hang Out in New Documentary

Anthony Weiner's surprising and scandal-ridden New York City mayoral campaign is the subject of a new documentary film. The campaign was designed to be redemptive but instead was plagued by another sexting scandal. (Photos Courtesy of Sundance Selects)

Anthony Weiner’s surprising and scandal-ridden New York City mayoral campaign is the subject of a new documentary film. The campaign was designed to be redemptive but instead was plagued by another sexting scandal. (Photos Courtesy of Sundance Selects)

It’s just before Rosh Hashanah in 2013, and New York City’s mayoral campaign is heating up. Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, who in a surprise move had thrown his hat in the ring a few months earlier, is doing one of those obligatory photo ops at a Jewish bakery in Brooklyn.

All is going well. Weiner has picked up an order of cookies laced with honey — sweets for the New Year — and even insisted on paying full retail. As he is leaving the store, though, a man wearing a kippah calls him a “scumbag” and a “deviant.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the combative politician loses his cool and gets into a verbal confrontation with the heckler — “takes one to know one, jackass” — that makes the evening news.

Such scenes are captured in unflinching detail in “Weiner,” a film that won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Sundance this year. The film follows the campaign from its late but implausibly plausible start — the other candidates had been campaigning for months — to its headline-making flameout.

The punchline is true about me. I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of good things, too.” — Anthony Weiner


It offers an insider look at Weiner’s mayoral run. Take, for example, the bakery incident: What the news cameras did not pick up — but the filmmakers’ mics did — was that the heckler also issued a racial slur, noting that the pol is “married to an Arab.” (Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is not Arab. She’s half Indian, half Pakistani.)

But by the time the insult became public, the news cycle had moved on. The damage was already done, further contributing to Weiner’s decline both in the polls and the public’s esteem.

As anyone who read a tabloid or watched a late-night talk show in 2011 likely remembers, Weiner was a scrappy, popular Jewish congressman from New York who gained infamy after he was caught sending an explicit photo to a female Twitter follower. Instead of sending a private message, however, Weiner sent it via his public account, visible to the world. First he denied it, suggesting his account was hacked. Eventually, however, he admitted sending photos to “about six women” and, disgraced, resigned from Congress.

But two years later Weiner tried a comeback.

Weiner2“I hope that just as my wife has forgiven me, that I get a second opportunity to talk to New Yorkers about the challenges they face,” he said at the time.

When Weiner announced his unexpected run for mayor, Josh Kriegman, a former Weiner staffer turned filmmaker, and his co-director, Elyse Steinberg, were given permission to document his campaign.

“He had been reduced to a punchline, a caricature,” Steinberg said in a telephone interview. “We wanted to have a film go behind the scenes and create a human portrait. That was our intention.”

At first it seemed that was what they were going to get. In a crowded primary field — there were nine candidates running — Weiner defied expectations and took a commanding lead.

“He rose to the top of the polls and we thought we were filming a comeback story,” Kriegman said.

But as the film documents, what happens to Weiner is deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra. In July, just two months after he entered the race, revelations of a new scandal emerged: Even after his resignation from Congress, Weiner was at it again, using the nom de plume Carlos Danger and adding phone sex to his list of offenses.

Ultimately, the documentary creates the human portrait the filmmakers were aiming for — but the portrait is of a deeply flawed human, one with an ego so large and needy that he uncomprehendingly risks everything for long-distance sex.

On the surface, the filmmakers should have been pleased about the second scandal, as it seemed certain to add a level of buzz to the doc. But as Kriegman points out, “It was a pretty exciting story before the scandal broke out again.”

But even as the news broke, Weiner allowed filming to continue. Why?

“It’s a good question,” Kriegman said. “And I don’t know the answer.”

Steinberg believes it was an extension of Weiner’s original motivation going into the filming.

“When the scandal broke again, his desire was to have an opportunity to tell a complete, nuanced story,” Steinberg said.

“The punchline is true about me,” Weiner tells the camera, early in the film. “I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of good things, too.”

“Weiner” is most compelling when Abedin, a longtime Hillary Clinton staffer, is on screen. From the beginning, it appears as though she is not an eager participant — neither in the campaign process nor the making of the film.

“It took a while, lots of work and a whole lot of therapy before I could forgive him,” she says to the camera before Scandal 2.0 broke.

But once Carlos Danger is set loose, watching Abedin put on a brave face for the camera feels like passing a car accident on the highway: You know you probably shouldn’t look, but you can’t turn away. As a viewer, you almost feel dirty for intruding in what should be private moments, such as her refusal to appear in a campaign commercial.

The approach by Kriegman and Steinberg is more fly-on-the-wall than journalistic — in fact, at one point, Kriegman asks Weiner a question about continuing his run for office, and the ex-congressman tells him flies on the wall are not supposed to speak.

Eventually the filmmakers get a Q&A session with their subject, at one point asking why he felt compelled to sext. In response, a subdued Weiner offers some long-winded psycho babble about his need for affection and how people go into politics because of their inability to connect with others in the real world.

“Weiner” is a political junkies’ dream, a fun behind-the-scenes view of a campaign that’s somewhat similar to “The War Room,” the documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president that ran into a sexual stumbling block of its own — Gennifer Flowers. One major difference: Clinton went on to win.

According to the filmmakers, Weiner has not seen the film and has no plans to do so — which reveals he is capable of making a wise decision.

“Weiner” is now in theaters in select cities.

Suggs Appointed to Middle East Commission

Madeline Suggs, director of public affairs at the Baltimore Jewish Council, was recently appointed co-chair of the Governor’s Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs.

The post, to one of several state ethnic committees, serves as second-in-command to the chair, Mehtap Sendur, a small-business owner on the Eastern Shore.

“It was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise,” Suggs said. “I’m very excited about it.”

The commission serves to make sure the governor is in touch with the state’s Middle Eastern community. In addition to their day jobs, Suggs and Sendur will represent the commission around the state at various community meetings and look for ways the commission and the governor’s office can be of service to the community.

The commission will also host several events a year to raise cultural awareness of the Middle Eastern community and connect the community to various resources, and Suggs said they hope to gather small-business owners to connect them to  resources as well.

Modern Orthodox Dating Gets a Close-Up in New Web Series

Leah Gottfried in a scene from the first episode of "Soon By You," a Web series she created and directs. (Dignity Entertainment)

Leah Gottfried in a scene from the first episode of “Soon By You,” a Web series she created and directs. (Dignity Entertainment)

NEW YORK — “There’s no such thing as a bad date — there’s just a funny story,” said Jessica Schechter, a 28-year-old modern Orthodox woman who teaches acting in New York City and lives on  Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

There’s the guy who took her to the action figure section of a Toys “R” Us after dinner and ranted about why Batman was the best superhero. Or the one whose panic attack in the elevator at a hotel in Times Square forced her to walk him down 42 flights of stairs — while he farted the entire time.

But these aren’t just tales Schechter collects to share with girlfriends over cocktails, a la “Sex and the City.” She and fellow actors Leah Gottfried and Danny Hoffman are busy writing, producing and acting in a web series on the subject.

“Soon By You” — the phrase is one of well-wishing — is generating considerable buzz in New York City’s modern Orthodox community. A pilot episode, originally devised as a short film, garnered over 30,000 views on YouTube in its first two weeks online. It won for best short at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and was played at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival last month.

The trio is squeezed together on a crowded couch in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, a dimly lit spot that could be summarized through the smartly dressed hipster couple making out a couple of couches away. The “Soon By You” team fits right in with the other twentysomethings packing the joint — well, those who aren’t kissing or fondling each other — which doubles as a happening happy hour spot.

“Now I’m like, if [a date] is good, that’s great — but if it’s bad, that’s even better,” Gottfried says. “Because then I get a story.”

The series’ first episode, titled “The Setup,” follows Hoffman’s character, David, through the streets of New York City into a kosher restaurant, where he is supposed to meet a blind date named Sarah (played by Gottfried). In a rush, David mistakenly sits with another Sarah, who is expecting a blind date of her own — and, well, comedic consequences ensue.

It’s an entertaining take on the perils of the insular, high-stakes world of modern  Orthodox dating — one that resonates deeply with the series’ creators along with a large portion of its audience.

“For a lot of [young modern Orthodox Jews], they’re not dating for fun — they’re dating with a specific goal of marriage in mind,” says Gottfried, 25. “A lot of people have a checklist of things. And there’s pressure from family members and friends, especially when all  of your friends are getting married at a really young age.”

Plus, within the community, “there’s a little bit of a stigma attached to single people at  a certain age if you’re not  married,” she adds.

Gottfried, the initial creator of the series and its director, came up with an idea for the show a few years ago after graduating from Yeshiva University, where she initiated the school’s first film studies major. For one scene in the first episode, in which one of the Sarahs tells her date she’s a painter and gets an insensitive response, Gottfried drew upon a real-life experience — just substitute film for painting.

Gottfried met Hoffman, a 29-year-old actor who also works in marketing at the WE cable channel, on the set of a Jewish parody of “The Office.” Schechter, who met Gottfried at an arts conference, initially didn’t land a part in “Soon By You,” but she stayed on as a production assistant — and Gottfried eventually wrote a new character into the show with her in mind. The three now develop and write all the episodes together.

With an initial five-episode run, the team hopes to gain a significant online following — but the aim is to get a deal with a network or streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.

For now, “Soon By You” is brought to you via grassroots fundraising efforts, including a campaign through the Jewish Entertainment Network LA, a networking and support group for Jews in the industry. The team is also looking for product placement deals — it’s already inked one with, which runs a Jewish dating app that will be featured in  future episodes.

Gottfried, Hoffman and Schechter have finished filming a second episode and are in the process of editing it, but their fundraising efforts and busy schedules will largely dictate when subsequent episodes are produced.

“Soon By You” has received an unexpectedly warm reception. Hoffman, the only married member of the team, says he’s already being recognized by people in his Washington Heights neighborhood, which is home to a sizable modern Orthodox population.

The group points to “Srugim” — a short-lived but wildly popular Israeli show about five single Orthodox characters, which had a second life in the U.S. through Hulu — as a main source of inspiration. In fact, as “Soon By You” got going, Gottfried reached out to “Srugim” creator Laizy Shapiro, who imparted some sage advice: Don’t explain Orthodox Judaism to a broader audience. Instead, focus on creating nuanced characters.

As Hoffman explains, “Srugim” uses concepts like Shabbat restrictions and a “tefillin date” — a romantic sleepover that involves laying tefillin the morning after — that would seem like insider knowledge to some. But the show allows viewers to figure out the concepts on their own and, more important, even if a religious theme goes over most viewers’ heads, the show remains entertaining to a more secular audience.

“As far as modern media and pop culture go, you don’t really see much modern  Orthodox,” Hoffman says. “You either see ‘the Orthodox,’ which people associate with Chasidic stuff, or you see the more secularized [people] and not so much the people who are in between.”

The next episodes of “Soon by You” will follow the four characters introduced in the first episode, plus two new ones. There will be plenty more funny dates, but the team wants to use that premise to showcase other aspects of authentically modern Orthodox characters, such as their professional and spiritual aspirations.

“As much as this show is about dating, we want to show also that this world isn’t just about that,” Gottfried says. “There’s really more to everybody. It doesn’t define them, even though for a lot of people it feels like it does.”