Leotta Honored at Fallen Heroes Day

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (right) gives his regards to Noah Leotta’s parents (from left), Marcia Goldman and Richard Leotta, and sister Shana. (Marc Shapiro)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (right) gives his regards to Noah Leotta’s parents (from left), Marcia Goldman and Richard Leotta, and sister Shana. (Marc Shapiro)

To say Friday, May 6 was a bittersweet day for the family of Noah Leotta — a Montgomery County police officer who died in December of injuries sustained when he was struck by a drunk driver — would be a drastic understatement.

Leotta, a brother to Shana and a son to Richard Leotta and Marcia Goldman, was honored at Fallen Heroes Day, an annual ceremony held at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Lutherville-Timonium in which police and fire departments from around the state gather to mourn and honor those who died in the line of duty in the preceding year.

“They’re out there every day putting their lives at risk, knowing they might not go home,” Richard Leotta said. “To have a day dedicated to them, I think that’s the right thing to do. …We don’t do enough for those that are on domestic soil.”

But having lost Noah just six months earlier, the event was a day of sorrow for the proud family.

“The grief is raw, there’s no way to channel it into a real positive thing,” Richard said. “It’s just bare grief. A lot of crying, a lot of emotion. As my wife said, we’re burying our son every time we go to these events.”

Former Temple Oheb Shalom Cantor Melvin Luterman, now a police and fire chaplain, sang at Fallen Heroes Day on May 6. (Marc Shapiro)

Former Temple Oheb Shalom Cantor Melvin Luterman, now a police and fire chaplain, sang at Fallen Heroes Day on May 6. (Marc Shapiro)

Former WBAL Radio and WMAR-TV reporter Mary Beth Marsden served as the master of ceremonies, and read a passage about Noah at the event.

“As a child he was considered shy and reserved, but in his late teens he began to transform himself into a more confident and driven person,” she said. “He secured an internship with the Montgomery County Police department and worked with officers in the alcohol-initiatives section. Noah’s internship motivated him to enter the police academy, and when he graduated in 2013 he was assigned to the Wheaton district.”

A supervisor said Leotta, who was 24 when he died, was always happy and eager to start the day and he had unwavering and infectious enthusiasm for the job, Marsden said.

Fallen Heroes Day also honored Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon of the Harford County Sheriff’s office and Detective Jacai Colson of the Prince George’s County Police department. The ceremony was attended by various officials, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Today we pray that [the families] find comfort and strength, we pray that they find solace knowing that their loved one died doing what they were called to do and knowing that their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Hogan said. “Their legacy will forever live on.”

Cantor Melvin Luterman also sang a prayer at the ceremony. Luterman, who was cantor at Temple Oheb Shalom from 1967 to 2003, is now a chaplain with Baltimore County police and fire and Maryland State Police.

“When I go to these things I get really verklempt, I get very teary-eyed because it’s so beautiful what they do for these officers,” he said. “It really shows how we should appreciate our police and fire [fighters] more. We don’t appreciate them enough, we take them for granted. … Every time they get out of their car to stop another car their life is in danger.”

To channel their grieving, the Leotta family pushed for Noah’s Law, which the Maryland General Assembly passed this past session. The law expands the use of ignition locks in drunk driving cases.

“With Noah’s law, the grieving came out in a way that made a difference,” Richard said.

The family also recently set up the Officer Noah Aaron Leotta Foundation, which was funded for 10 years by a wealthy benefactor. The foundation will work to spread awareness on drunk driving, underage drinking and other community issues related to drugs and alcohol.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Howard County Synagogue Adopts Voluntary Dues

Columbia Jewish Congregation, a Reconstructionist synagogue, has voted to change the structure of its dues system from a mandatory system to a voluntary commitment, which allows members to pledge as much money as they choose.

The congregation voted for the change May 1, at its annual meeting.

The committee that recommended the change said in a statement that mandatory dues are “incompatible with a spiritual community and that a voluntary/choice approach would help create a sense of shared responsibility to build and create a community based on commitment.”

The voluntary system also removes the dues-abatement process for families who are financially unable to pay the full amount.

The primary criticism of the voluntary system is concern over whether members would contribute enough money to meet the synagogue’s financial needs to remain open. Members “will get precisely the congregation we are willing to pay for,” according to the committee’s statement.

About 30 congregations across the country use a voluntary dues structure, and Columbia Jewish Congregation is the first to adopt the system in Howard County.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Fight and Flight Documentary Tells Triumph of American Pilots in Israel’s War for Independence

Al Schwimmer (left) and David Ben-Gurion (Provided)

Al Schwimmer (left) and David Ben-Gurion (Provided)

There are many ways to honor Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, but one Pikesville synagogue chose to shine a light on a little-known (and unsanctioned) post-World War II operation that proved critical in the creation of the Jewish state.

Beth El Congregation, in partnership with the Center for Jewish Education, hosted a screening the evening of May 4 of “A Wing and a Prayer,” a documentary that chronicles the illicit operation by several U.S. pilots to assist the young Israeli army in its War of Independence.

“[A member of the congregation who had seen the film] came to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You have to bring this to Beth El,’” said Eyal Bor, the director of education at Beth El.

So he did. He and the CJE decided to host not only a showing of the documentary, but also invited the filmmaker, Boaz Dvir, and one of the pilots, Harold Rothstein, for a post-screening Q&A.

 It’s an astonishing — and astonishingly unknown — story.

“It’s really a Jewish tradition, putting the joys and oys together,” said CJE director of Israel and Overseas Education, Amalia Phillips, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. “First, the remembrance, which is the oy. Then the act of heroism [in the documentary], which is the joy.”

The documentary mostly recalls the year 1948, three years after the end of WWII and about a year into the Cold War. American pilot Al Schwimmer was disturbed by the United States’ lack of support for the Jewish fighters up against the more well-resourced armed forces of the surrounding Arab countries.

Movie poster (Provided)

Movie poster (Provided)

So Schwimmer recruited a number of his pilot friends and set up an illegal operation to smuggle weapons from then-Czechoslovakia (the only country willing to sell to them) into Israel — all while evading the FBI. Many of the pilots in the film remember thinking of what they were doing as helping to prevent a potential second Holocaust.

It’s an astonishing — and astonishingly unknown — story.

Rothstein, now 94 and living in a suburb of Chicago, met Dvir at a previous showing in New York. He is not in the documentary, but has been traveling with Dvir for some of the recent screenings. Seeing the documentary brought up a lot of memories he hadn’t thought about in decades, he said, but he is happy it exists. He hopes that people take away “the realization of how close they came to losing Israel,” he said. “It was by hours, not just days. Hours.”

“What I love getting across is the message that these guys were in their 20s when they did that and they changed the world,” Dvir said.

Rothstein’s response was just to laugh. “Although, at that time, we really didn’t realize it.”

Dvir originally became interested in the story through his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who moved with Dvir’s grandmother to Palestine after WWII to fight for Israeli independence. His grandfather told him that he and the other soldiers fought with rifles branded with the German eagle, and asked him if he knew how they got those weapons.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t know, but I am a journalist, so give me a couple days and I can find out.’ Well, it took me 10 years, but here is the answer,” Dvir said, while introducing the film. It turns out, those guns were the ones sold to them by Czechoslovakia and carted to Israel by the American pilots.

More than 350 people attended the screening. And once Rothstein took to the stage post-screening, the audience rose in a respectful — and awed — standing ovation for his efforts nearly 70 years ago.

Harold Rothstein (left) and Boaz Dvir (Photo by Hanna Monicken)

Harold Rothstein (left) and Boaz Dvir (Photo by Hanna Monicken)

“It was marvelous,” said Linda Mondel, who attended with her husband Jerry. “I thought it was such a beautiful story.”

Many in the audience had never heard the story before and were both sad it was not more well-known, but also excited to see it now being told.

“I thought it was incredible. I also liked the style, the humor. He told [the story] well,” said Ali Weinberg, whose father fought in the 1948 war. She added that she wished she could have had the chance to ask her father about this story.

Dvir doesn’t usually attend synagogue showings, but felt this was a special exception. Not only because it was Holocaust Remembrance Day, but also because he loved the energy of those organizing the event. And he was not disappointed, he said.

“I always love the Q&As,” he said. “This was a great crowd. They asked great questions.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

They Voted Cruz, Now What?

Bruce Botwin voted for Cruz, but now says that Trump’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.” (Photo courtesy Bruce Botwin)

Bruce Botwin voted for Cruz, but now says that Trump’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.” (Photo courtesy Bruce Botwin)

Ted Cruz might be out of the presidential race, but Republican Jews who supported the tough talking Texas senator during the primary say they plan to vote according to their conscience in November by supporting the candidate who cares most about their core concerns: illegal immigration and national security. For them, that means supporting businessman and de facto nominee Donald Trump.

Trump’s path to the nomination became all but inevitable on May 4 after Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended their campaigns following Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary. The outcome has upset a number of Republicans throughout the country, even to the point of causing some to switch sides and pledge their support for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Cruz’s defeat in New York, where Trump won all 89 delegates, was particularly crippling due to the missed opportunity to capitalize on the bloc of Orthodox Jews who supported him, according to Cruz senior advisor Nick Muzin.

“Both from a voting perspective and people that were involved in the campaign, as far as people who provided moral support, Jews played a huge role,” he said. “A lot of our major supporters financially were Jewish.”

People don’t like change, they want the same old same old. This is what we need, a little kick in the pants to get things going. — Brad Botwin

Muzin, an Orthodox Jew and Silver Spring resident, said the campaign spent a good deal of time in synagogues reaching out to Jewish communities across the country. He also noted that Cruz had received awards in the past from pro-Israel groups such as the Endowment for Middle East Truth for his work in the Senate on pursuing justice for Israeli victims of Palestinian violence. He noted that Cruz has earned the reputation of the “foremost champion of Israel in the U.S. Senate.”

When asked if he planned to support Trump, Muzin said he has not taken a position, but hopes to first see the businessman bone up on foreign policy.

“I am open to supporting Mr. Trump, but would like to see an evolution on details and what his polices will be on Israel and on other issues in the Middle East,” he said.

Muzin’s wait-and-see attitude about Trump differs from that of Bethesda resident Gail Weiss, who said she is perfectly happy to support a candidate like Trump who will “upend the status quo.”

“He has shown a savant-like ability to get his message out and past the filter of the professional media, and certainly no Republican has been able to do that in my lifetime,” she said.

Weiss, an active member of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said she was undecided heading into the primary between Trump, Cruz and Kasich, but ultimately voted for Cruz because of his intelligence and experience of arguing cases before the Supreme Court before he became a senator.

“I thought all three candidates offered pluses and minuses, and then I asked myself, who seems the most presidential and who seems the smartest?” she said.

Despite her support for Cruz, Weiss acknowledged that she had reservations about his electability in the general election due to his strict pro-life stance on abortion.

“I think the laws should be clarified, but I think there should be a cutoff point where abortions are not legal except in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother,” she said, adding that she did not agree with any of the candidates on 100 percent of the issues. “But certainly in the early stages of a pregnancy, I think women should be able to make that choice for themselves.”

Weiss said she is encouraged by Trump’s views on immigration and agrees that his temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States is reasonable given the number of international terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists.

“I think culturally, unfortunately, it’s ironic that Islam keeps claiming that the West is attacking them when in fact the reverse is true, they are attacking the West,” she said.

Weiss said she understands that terrorist groups only comprise a small percentage of Muslims, but that they must first “get the evil out of their own ranks” before she can feel comfortable.

Immigration is also a key issue for Rockville resident Brad Botwin, who said he supports the idea of the United States being a “melting pot,” but that illegal immigration has led to too many people coming into the country and not assimilating, making it closer to a “salad bowl.”

“As a Jew, my great-grandparents came over early 1900s legally into Ellis Island and I have always been interested in this issue,” he said.

Botwin, a government employee, grew up in a family of Democrats in New York and was a Democrat himself up until the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to taking on the Soviets changed his ideology. He had been a Cruz supporter from the beginning, volunteering locally for the campaign and making small donations.

“When he announced he was going to run for president, I thought that was great,” he said.

Botwin now fully supports Trump and said the candidate’s divisive rhetoric doesn’t bother him because he is simply “stating the facts.”

“I don’t mind the brash talk,” Botwin said. “I’m from New York and that’s how people talk up there. Is he the most articulate guy? Neither am I. The only thing that he says is that he opposes illegal immigrants coming in here, so I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

Botwin said he is concerned about immigration and homeland security, the latter of which he thinks could be improved by making the airport security process more selective.

“We’re not getting blown up by Australian visitors or Buddhist visitors. The terrorists by and large are Muslims. You need to focus on what the problems are,” he said. “Having traveled to Israel, they do a much better job of screening than we do.”

Botwin said the country has not had a president with Trump’s gumption since the days of Harry Truman, and that it may be time for such a leader.

“People don’t like change, they want the same old same old,” he said. “This is what we need, a little kick in the pants to get things going.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Beth El to Honor Eyal Bor for 25 Years of ‘Deeply Committed’ Service

Dr. Eyal Bor (Justin Tsucalas)

Dr. Eyal Bor (Justin Tsucalas)

Dr. Eyal Bor, director of education and the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning, will be honored at a dinner on Friday, May 20 for his 25 years of service at Beth El Congregation.

Bor came to Beth El in 1990, and as Beth El’s director of education, he brought the award-winning, nationally renowned Dr. Beatrice Miller Mishpacha Program to the Hebrew school and created the Schapiro Yerushalayim special needs program in response to congregants’ requests. He also collaborated with the Jemicy School and implemented  Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood, which allows children who live far from the synagogue to access a Beth El educator near their residence. Because of this program, a young man in Carroll County came to Beth El to be bar mitzvahed, Bor said.

“He’s the definition of an out-of-the-box thinker — always willing to try something new and always with a fresh idea,” said Beth El’s senior rabbi, Steven Schwartz. “He cares very deeply about the synagogue and the quality of the education, the programming and the services. He’s got to be one of the most creative and talented Jewish educators in the country. Dr. Bor is an astonishingly energetic presence in the synagogue.”

He is a visionary. He is a dreamer with the ability to  turn his dreams into reality  and actualize those dreams.” — Rabbi Dana Saroken

 

There are currently 40 babies enrolled in Beth El’s infant/ toddler program, a concept  realized by Bor in 2005. To  address the growing urban Jewish population, he and his colleagues opened the Beth El @ Federal Hill Preschool. Bor also took on the role as director for the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning in 2010, which, under his leadership, has seen great success.

“He’s always looking for  innovative ways to further the Jewish educational experience for young people,” said Beth El executive director Gilbert Kleiner, who added that his daughter’s decision to work in Jewish communal services was deeply influenced by learning with Bor.

Dr. Eyan Bor (provided)

Dr. Eyan Bor (provided)

A native Israeli and an  internationally recognized musician, Bor said one of his proudest moments was when he was  invited to perform a duet with renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman at Goucher College. But by far, fulfilling the dream and the mission of his friend and mentor, Rabbi Mark G. Loeb, stands out most, using his creative energies to direct the institute that bears his name.

“[Bor] is a visionary. He is a dreamer with the ability to turn his dreams into reality and actualize those dreams,” said Dana Saroken. Beth El’s associate rabbi. “And he is deeply committed to synagogue life and to creating a thriving synagogue community that can endure.” As a colleague and teacher, she added, “he’s generous; he’s always there when you need him.”

Over the years, Bor and Schwartz have led about 700 people on tours to Israel, where “he creates incredible experiences for people to  reconnect with the State of  Israel and their Judaism,” Schwartz said.

Above all, Bor has worked hard to make Beth El not just a religious center, but also a cultural center.

“Because of Beth El’s leadership and clergy, we were able to try out things that enabled us to be a role model for other communities,” Bor said. “And for that I’m very proud.”

The dinner honoring Bor is $36 per person, $15 for children under 12. RSVP to Ellen Marks at ellenm@bethelbalto.com or 410-580-5166.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Bubbie Inspires Kind Mind, a Mitzvah Project to Help Those with Alzheimer’s

Back row, from left: Steve Venick, Jordyn Venick, Holly Venick, Ilene Rosenthal, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association and John Ottena, manager of therapeutic recreation and volunteer services at Levindale. Front row, from left: Jordyn’s siblings and grandparents Hunter Venick, Herman Venick, Marley Venick and her bubbie, Beverly “Bubbles” Venick. (provided)

Back row, from left: Steve Venick, Jordyn Venick, Holly Venick, Ilene Rosenthal, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association and John Ottena, manager of therapeutic recreation and volunteer services at Levindale. Front row, from left: Jordyn’s siblings and grandparents Hunter Venick, Herman Venick, Marley Venick and her bubbie, Beverly “Bubbles” Venick. (provided)

Jordyn Venick, a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, was surrounded by friends, family and residents of Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital when she presented a check for $4,200 to the Alzheimer’s Association on May 1.

She raised the money through a mitzvah project that she dedicated to her grandmother, who is a resident of Levindale, and made the donation in her name.

“I created this project in honor of my bubbie, [Beverly] ‘Bubbles’ Venick, as a way to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jordyn, 11. “Kind Mind is a project that my parents and I came up with to help dementia patients by using their senses more.”

Alzheimer’s disease, which is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, affects approximately 5 million people in the U.S. and 100,000 in Maryland. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one in the Top 10 for which there is no cure, treatment or prevention, said Ilene Rosenthal, who is a program director at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“But we are working on that, and because of special people like Jordyn, we will get there,” Rosenthal told the audience. “There is new science, new research, and somebody is going to unlock the mystery of this disease so other families don’t have to live with this.”

Rosenthal attended the ceremony to accept the donation for the global nonprofit organization that works to advance research to end Alzheimer’s and dementia while enhancing care for those living with the disease.

Following the presentation, Jordyn presented the residents — and their families — at Levindale living with Alzheimer’s disease with a bag filled with different activities and items that help engage their senses.

“The sensory stimulation helps out greatly [to keep]  dementia patients [calm]  because they can’t focus as much on the here and now,” said John Ottena, manager  of therapeutic recreation and volunteer services.

Many of Jordyn’s family were also in attendance including her parents, Steve and Holly.

“We’re very proud of Jordyn. She has only known her bubbie with Alzheimer’s disease. This is something very near and dear to our family,” said Holly. “There’s very little we can do to help her [medically], but we can do this to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and help her, other patients at Levindale and, hopefully, other facilities in the future as well.”

“Since we created it, [Jordyn has] been overly enthusiastic,” said Steve. “She comes up with new ideas each day and has really been an integral part of getting this off the ground.”

Rosenthal commended Jordyn on her efforts despite still being more than a year from her bat mitzvah.

“This is so impressive to see a young woman, all of 11 years old, who is just so inspired by her grandma and wanting to do this so that other families don’t have to deal with [Alzheimer’s],” said Rosenthal.

When asked about her motivation, Jordyn’s answer was concise but powerful.

“I wanted to do this because I wanted to give back and try to help other people.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Britain’s Labor Party Suspends 50 Over Anti-Semitism, Racism

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is no stranger to controversy, having called Hezbollah and Hamas members his friends. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is no stranger to controversy, having called Hezbollah and Hamas members his friends. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Britain’s Labor Party reportedly has secretly suspended 50 of its members in the past two months over anti-Semitic and racist comments. The suspensions by the party’s compliance unit were reported in the British daily The Telegraph on Monday, May 2, citing a senior source within the party. Up to 20 members have been suspended in the past two weeks, the source said. Some 13 members have been publicly named since October.

On Monday, the party suspended three local lawmakers over a span of several hours for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic social media postings.

The Daily Mirror accused party head Jeremy Corbyn of playing down the issue of anti-Semitism and racism in the party after he said in an interview with the London-based newspaper: “What there is is a very small number of people who have said things that they should not have said. We have therefore said they will be suspended and investigated.”

On April 28, the party suspended former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for saying that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a Zionist for advocating in 1932 a policy of moving Europe’s Jews to Israel. The following day, Labor said it would launch an investigation into anti-Semitism in the party. Corbyn also said in a statement that he would propose a new party code of conduct that would “make explicitly clear for the first time that Labor will not tolerate any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, in the party.”

Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who has called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends,” has been criticized for not doing enough to curb the rising anti-Semitic rhetoric in his party and has been accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.

Local elections in Britain, including for mayor of London, were scheduled for Thursday in a race that Labor’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, was favored to win, which would make him the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city. Labor, however, is expected to lose tens of seats nationwide. Khan is among those who have called for Livingstone’s expulsion from the party.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Parliament member Naz Shah, who was suspended from the party last week for a 2014 Facebook post calling for the relocation of the entire State of Israel to the United States, resigned from a Home Affairs Select Committee investigating anti-Semitism in the party. The committee agreed at her request to excuse Shah “until her current issues have been resolved,” The Telegraph reported.

Emanuel Legacy Lives On at Baltimore Hebrew

Temple Emanuel’s former home on Berrymans Lane in Reisterstown. (Screen shot from Google Maps)

Temple Emanuel’s former home on Berrymans Lane in Reisterstown. (Screen shot from Google Maps)

After several months of discussion, the deal is done: Baltimore Hebrew Congregation will absorb Temple Emanuel and its membership, sacred objects and other resources.

“Temple Emanuel has had a wonderful place in this community, and we’re honored to embrace much of that legacy and welcome its members,” said BHC Rabbi Andrew Busch. “While never the biggest congregation in town, [Emanuel has] had an impact with its value of social justice and commitment to education and spirituality as a congregation.”

Although the temple sold its property several months ago, Emanuel’s legacy will live on at BHC in several different ways, including Emanuel’s rabbi emeritus, Gustav Buchdahl, taking up the title of Emanuel emeritus rabbi of BHC.

“I think it is good for Emanuel,” said Buchdahl. “It did what it had to do for 60 years. It had a good run, and I think that Baltimore Hebrew is just a very fine [congregation] in terms of the rabbi and the lay leadership. We’ve been warmly welcomed.”

BHC is dedicating several spots on its board of electors for incoming Emanuel members as well as creating specific programming to assist Emanuel members in meeting BHC members.

Temple Emanuel’s financial r sources are being donated to BHC and will become the Emanuel Fund within the congregation’s endowment funds. BHC will also receive several Torah scrolls, a megillah scroll, art work and educational materials, among other items.

Emanuel’s congregation president, David Beller, described the transition as “bittersweet.”

“We reached the point where remaining independent was no longer in our best interest,” said Beller. “Baltimore Hebrew presented the best option for our membership to transition into an active center of Jewish life in a meaningful way.”

He emphasized that “Baltimore Hebrew has done everything reasonably possible to make our members feel welcome and to provide an opportunity for our members to feel that they belong there.”

As Emanuel members transition into their new congregation, BHC will also welcome a new congregation president, one who is no stranger to BHC or the Baltimore community at large.

“I’ve been very active in Reform [Judaism] since adolescence when I [had my bar mitzvah],” said Dr. Steve Sharfstein, retiring president of the Baltimore-based Sheppard Pratt Health System who will take up the position as congregation president on May 6.

Sharfstein, who currently serves as BHC’s first vice president, has been a longtime member of the congregation and was a part of the search committee that found Busch, BHC’s current rabbi. Last year, Sharfstein announced that he will retire from Sheppard Pratt on July 1 after serving as president and CEO since 1992.

He said he had been planning his retirement for several years, and having watched the congregation’s current president, Martha Weiman, he understands how time consuming the position can be.

“At this point in my life, it’s a way to give back to the Jewish community and the community at large,” said Sharfstein. “I think Baltimore Hebrew and other synagogues are very important as part of the fabric of Baltimore. I’m very committed to the city, I live in the city, and I want to see the city do well.

“[Congregation president is] an important role,” he added, “and I look forward to meeting the people and getting a greater sense of the life of a synagogue.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Administrative Changes at Bais Yaakov

After 36 years at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Rabbi Mendel D. Freedman, principal of the elementary and preschool division, will retire at the end of this school year.

“His 36 years of masterful leadership is virtually unmatched in Jewish education. Rabbi Freedman has led the elementary and preschool divisions for many years of burgeoning growth and during a period of unprecedented changes in chinuch,” Shmuel Markovitz, the school’s president, said in a letter to the Bais Yaakov community. “Through this era, Rabbi Freedman has provided rock solid educational leadership for our faculty, students and parents. For this and everything he continues to do for us, we will be eternally grateful.”

Through this era, Rabbi Freedman has provided rock solid educational leadership for our faculty, students and parents. For this and everything he continues to do for us, we will be eternally grateful.”

— Bais Yaakov president Shmuel Markovitz

On his time at the school, Freedman said: “Working with the students and faculty has been an unforgettable experience. … Our sole priortity is the development and success of each and every one of our precious talmidos. This is accomplished through an extraordinary faculty, board and parent body.”

With his retirement comes changes in the school personnel. The lower school will continue to operate under one roof but administratively will be divided into the lower division of preschool, first and second grades and the upper division of third, fourth and fifth grades.

The lower division principal will be Rabbi Yitzchok Sanders, who will be assisted by several coordinators. The preschool will continue under the direction of Miriam Trout, assisted by Ettie Wolf. The Limudei Kodesh coordinator will be Liora Rosen, and the secular studies coordinator will be Jane W. Baker.

The upper division principal will be Rabbi Yochanon Stein, who will be assisted by Shira Hochheimer as the new Limudei Kodesh coordinator. Lisa Schecter will be the secular studies coordinator.

Tom Kahn, Capitol Hill’s Voice of Reason, Retires

Tom Kahn says he still gets an adrenaline rush from walking into the Capitol. He says that behind the federal budget are “millions and millions of people who depend on things like food assistance or housing assistance or refugee assistance or student loans.” (Daniel Schere)

Tom Kahn says he still gets an adrenaline rush from walking into the Capitol. He says that behind the federal budget are “millions and millions of people who depend on things like food assistance or housing assistance or refugee assistance or student loans.” (Daniel Schere)

Being politically active was a must for Tom Kahn.

He grew up in a home where Jewish identity, Israel and politics were the most common subjects discussed at the dinner table, and that led him to find his moral compass in a niche area of public  policy: the federal budget.

Kahn, 60, retired last month from his position as Democratic staff director for the House Budget Committee after 19 years in the job. In all, he spent more than three decades on Capitol Hill.

“If you want to know a person, you look at his wallet,” he said in his new office at the American Association of Government Employees, where he has been legislative director for a month. “And that makes sense to me — because if you really want to understand a person, look at how he or she spends his money. What’s  important to him. How much he spends on food. How much he spends on housing. How much he spends on charity.”

Behind the tables of numbers that form the federal budget are “millions and millions of people who depend on things like food assistance or housing assistance or refugee assistance or student loans,” Kahn said.

One of his most notable  accomplishments came in 1997, the year that he became the minority staff director of the House Budget Committee. He helped facilitate the budget negotiations between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) that led to four consecutive years of budget surpluses.

Kahn does not brag about his role in the negotiations, but he emphasizes that setting spending priorities for the country is a key test for any politician.

Kahn believes the United States’ economy, prosperous in the 1990s, was damaged by the debt incurred during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as well as the George W. Bush administration’s two tax cuts that were not paid for. Kahn thinks the only way to balance the budget now will involve cuts to Social Security, cuts to Medicare or raising taxes.

“The American people do not have a good understanding of the budget process at all,” he said. “For example, people talk about the problem of budget deficits, and people are worried about government waste. But when you ask them which program would you get rid of in order to cut the deficit, the only thing people seem to agree on is to cut foreign aid.”

The Brookline, Mass., native became interested in politics in 1968, when he campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey.

“My father loved him because he was a strident supporter of the State of Israel and a strident supporter of civil rights and equal rights for all Americans,” Kahn said. “And so I remember standing on the street corners of Boston handing out leaflets.”

Kahn said that his other  political role models were Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban.

“Healing the world, tikkun olam, in my mind is very much tied up in public policy,” he said.

After graduating from Tufts University and law school at Georgetown, Kahn began working on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant to then-Maryland Democratic Rep. Barbara Mikulski (She will soon retire from the Senate). He later worked for Democratic Reps. John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Kahn fondly recalled the first time he set foot on the House floor.

“It really felt like a hallowed place, because the House floor was where democracy was put in action — the place where our laws were written — and that did not just seem like a political place. It seemed like a sanctuary,” he said. “It is almost a spiritual place.”

Kahn still gets an adrenaline rush from walking into the Capitol. But, he pointed out, the political atmosphere has become increasingly polarized over the course of his career.

“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts,” he said, quoting the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “Now, people have not just their own opinions, but they have their own facts. They have their own cable news cycles, they read their own websites, so they now have their own facts.”

Kahn has earned the reputation of being a unifier between the two parties, said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who has been a member of the budget committee for six years and its chairman since last year.

“It takes a cooperative of spirits among the majority and minority parties, and especially the staffs, to be able to continue to work in a collegial way,” Price said. “Tom was  always just stellar.”

Most of Kahn’s time on the committee was spent while the House was under Republican control. Price said he and Kahn got along well despite their differences.

“He understood that just because we differ on policies and strategy doesn’t mean that we can’t work together in a positive fashion and in a collegial fashion, and often in Washington, that seems to be lost,” Price said. “He was an absolute gentleman, and it was a great privilege to be able to work with him.”

Kahn will spend a considerable amount of time on the Hill in his work with the American Federation of Government Employees. The new job allows him to advocate on behalf of government employees — a group of people he says are not treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

“These are the people who protect us and keep our prisons safe,” he said. “They’re the people who keep our skies safe, the people who do the cutting-edge research in our national labs against cancer and other deadly diseases. And unfortunately, they are not appreciated.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com