Drama Aside, Van Hollen Bests Edwards for Mikulski’s Seat

Rep. Donna Edwards concedes the race to Rep. Chris Van Hollen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Donna Edwards concedes the race to Rep. Chris Van Hollen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In a race that differed more  in style and symbolism than  political positions — and in a race that many predicted would be decided by a razor-thin margin — voters in the Maryland Democratic primary left no doubt who they want to fill the Senate seat of soon-to- retire Barbara Mikulski.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who will square off against Baltimore County Del. Kathy Szeliga in November’s general election, surprisingly earned 53 percent of the vote, to Rep. Donna  Edwards’ 39 percent.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump won their parties’ presidential primaries in Maryland.

In the contest between the two liberal Senate candidates, Van Hollen was cast as the  establishment deal-maker and Edwards as the outside activist who would bring the experiences of a single African-American mother into the all-white, mostly male Senate.

Edwards struck a defiant tone in her concession speech, telling her boisterous supporters at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 in Lanham, “Democracy is not about money, it’s about the American people. We can do better as a country. We can do better as a state.”

Her message to the Democratic Party: “You cannot show up Election Day and call that post-racial inclusion.”

In his victory speech at the Bethesda Marriott, Van Hollen reminded his supporters of what the Democrats are capable of doing.

“In the first two years of [Barack] Obama’s presidency, we did great things,” he said. “It’s easy to forget those days, but the economy was sinking by a lot. We were losing 700,000 jobs every month in this country. And President Obama and the Democratic Congress passed the economic recovery bill.”

He praised the passing of the Affordable Care Act and said that as a senator, he would work toward ending gun  violence and reducing mass incarceration.

“We have 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the prison population. That is not right in America. We’re going to change that,” he said.

On Trump’s Maryland victory, Van Hollen said the billionaire is trying to “pit people against each other based on religion or ethnicity or race. That is not who we are in the United States of America.”

During a last-minute campaign stop at the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Van Hollen reflected on the intensity of the race but expressed optimism at his chances.

“There’s a lot of drama, and that’s why it’s important to talk to voters to the very end. I’m a big believer that you battle for every vote,” he said. “I think the word is getting out, and we’ve got momentum. But you can’t stop until you run across the finish line.”

In the yearlong race, Van Hollen, 57, was considered the “establishment” candidate and Edwards, also 57, the champion of minorities and low-income Marylanders. The organized Jewish community came out strongly for Van Hollen, believing that he was the more successful legislator and that Edwards was insufficiently pro-Israel.

Edwards was one of a handful of members of Congress who did not sign a letter asking Obama to veto any action by the United Nations deemed “biased against Israel.” Van Hollen signed the letter.

Edwards also faced criticism early in her time in the House, in 2009, when she voted against condemning the U.N.’s Goldstone Report, which accused members of the Israel Defense Forces of human rights violations during the Gaza War. Van Hollen voted to denounce the report, which was later disputed by its lead author.

At the Van Hollen campaign party early Tuesday night, Charles Heller of Rockville was waiting for the results. He said his biggest priorities are health care, gun control and fiscal responsibility.

Van Hollen is the “best  person with the best track record,” he said. “I have no confidence in Edwards because she has no track record and she’s made accusations that Van Hollen is supporting the NRA, which is not true.”

Allison Wohl of Bethesda said she hopes Van Hollen will fill the void as a champion of disability rights in the Senate left by the retirement of Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

“All things equal, I would have loved to see a woman take this seat, but things aren’t equal, and Van Hollen deserves a seat. He’s been an amazing congressman, and he’s a better legislator. He’ll represent Maryland better,” she said.

At the Edwards party, volunteer Jeff Kaloc was waiting to hear the results.

“If elected, she’s going to be tough, really take charge and be a voice for the American people, the working-class Americans,” said Kaloc, an  Edwards volunteer. “I have  a personal connection [with Edwards] because I also grew up in a single mother household. That, in itself, is a struggle. As an average citizen, it’s  phenomenal. For a candidate like her, it’s just extraordinary.”

The race had become so heated that it even attracted the attention of Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who contributed $100,000  to Van Hollen’s super PAC,  according to online publication The Intercept.

Edwards received $2 million from super PAC Women Vote! — a part of Emily’s List that contributes to the campaigns of pro-choice Democratic women.

“Fundamentally, we shouldn’t be electing people because of gender,” said state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17), who has known Van Hollen since their time together in the Maryland General Assembly. “I didn’t ask people to vote for me because I [am] a woman. I thought I could be most effective and a lot more consistent  in my advocacy than my  opponents.”

Tuesday also marked the end of one of the most expensive House races in the country, the bid to succeed Van Hollen in District 8. Democratic candidate David Trone spent $12 million of his own money on the race. But the contest was won by state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-District 20), beating out a slate of challengers including former TV reporter and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews.

Matthews and Raskin were out campaigning at Leisure World Tuesday morning. Raskin, one of two Jews in the race, said he felt positive about the turnout and his campaign but was also a “nervous wreck.” He said he thinks that despite the amount of money being spent on the race, it is experience that matters most to voters.

“What I love about democracy is the wisdom of crowds, and people understand that public office is something that you earn,” he said. “It’s not something that you buy, and I think we’re going to see a massive  rejection of money politics and a vindication of grassroots progressive politics.”

Matthews said she was proud of her campaign’s grassroots fundraising efforts from approximately 10,000 women, which she said mostly gave small donations of under $100.

“I’ve been in this race for 11 months, and from the very  beginning I wanted to run a broad-based grassroots campaign,” she said. “For me that meant doing about 100 meet and greets.”

“It meant knocking on more than 150,000 doors,” she added, “with 25 candidate forums that were hosted by a huge range of grassroots groups, ethnic groups and religious groups.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com 

jfeldschreiber@midatlanticmedia.com

dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com

HoCo Preschool Counts the Omer and Clothing

From left: Marcie Cissel, Barbara Frederick and Jodi Fishman. (Provided)

From left: Marcie Cissel, Barbara Frederick and Jodi Fishman. (Provided)

With Passover in full swing, so begins the tradition of counting the Omer, the ritual of counting each of the 49 days between the 16th of Nisan and Shavuot. But that’s not the only thing students at the Bet Yeladim preschool in Columbia will be counting this year.

“All teachers and staff have each been assigned a day of the Omer at which time they will bring in an item of clothing they are willing to donate to a local charity,” said Jodi Fishman, executive director at Bet Yeladim. “At the same time, all of our families have been invited to select one item of clothing a day for each of the 49 days of the Omer that they are also willing to donate.”

The clothing will be hung in Bet Yeladim’s hallways until June 10, the day before Erev Shavuot. GreenDrop, a charitable organization selected by the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the National Federation of the Blind to raise funds through the generation and collection of donated clothing and household items, will visit the school to pick up the clothing.

The idea for the project came from teacher Marcie Cissell and one of her colleagues, who saw this as an  opportune time to celebrate the Jewish tradition while also completing a tikkun olam project. When they pitched the idea to Fishman, she “brought it to the next level” by including not just the children, but their families as well.

“Because of [the visual  aspect] happening in the hallway, it’s going to prompt a lot of questions and discussions, not only for children and teachers, but everyone who comes into the school,” said Fishman. “It’s a great opportunity to  educate our families as well about the Omer.”

Cissell added, “Anytime we can bring the families together with the staff, it makes it more meaningful for the children.”

Anytime we can bring the families together with the staff, it makes it more meaningful for the children.”   — Marcie Cissell, teacher at  Bet Yeladim preschool

 

Because the project will  involve teachers, staff, students and their families, the range of clothes donated will span all ages and sizes, as families  decide who will donate a piece of clothing on any given day.

Aside from the visual aspect that collecting and counting clothes provides, Fishman emphasized that the school focuses on ensuring that students see the impact their giving makes.

Barbara Frederick is associate director of Bet Yeladim and has been with the school for 35 years. She said the concept of tzedakah has evolved as the school has developed.

“When I first started with this school, we had our decorated container for the children to contribute to and teachers could talk about [tzedakah], but it was very abstract,” said Frederick. “Teachers felt they needed to have something  concrete” to better explain the concept of tzedakah.

The school has organized other hands-on experiences such as going to the supermarket to purchase food items with the money raised from tzedakah. Afterward, the students walked to the Howard County Food Bank to weigh and donate the items. Cissell said this experience weighed heavily on one particular boy who asked others to bring food items to his next birthday party so he could make another donation to the food bank.

“I think making these connections between home and school is so important, and this is such a great way of  visually doing that for the children,” said Fishman. “Not only at school do we pay attention to the needs of others, but as a family, we do that too.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Biden, Kerry Defend Administration’s Legacy at J Street Event

Vice President Joe Biden received applause at the J Street Gala when he asserted that Israeli settlement expansion is “counterproductive to Israel’s security.” (Moshe Zusman Photography Studio)

Vice President Joe Biden received applause at the J Street Gala when he asserted that Israeli settlement expansion is “counterproductive to Israel’s security.” (Moshe Zusman Photography Studio)

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s Middle East legacy Monday night in front of a pro-Israel audience of about 800 at the J Street Gala.

Biden was booed at last month’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. In contrast, the more liberal J Street audience, meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., applauded the vice president when he asserted that  Israeli settlement expansion is “counterproductive to Israel’s security. They’re moving us and they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” he said. “They’re moving us toward a one-state reality, and that reality is dangerous.”

Biden and Kerry both  defended the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. Each enumerated the terms and conditions Iran agreed to as part of the agreement such as the removal of two-thirds of its centrifuges, the shutdown of the Arak nuclear reactor and the removal of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

You recognize that  diplomacy should always be exhausted before we ask  our treasury to go to war,  especially when a solution which is thought out and verifiable can be enforced.” — Secretary of State John Kerry

 

“We’re doing no more than we promised we’d do and no less than we promised we’d do,” Biden said.  “By raising the cost of Iran’s intransigence … we significantly [reduced] the threat of Iran’s long-range missiles.”

Biden praised J Street for backing the deal, which he said had broad support from the American Jewish community and several Israeli security  experts.

“You all stood up and your voices were heard throughout the community and beyond,” he said. “The deal is working exactly as it should.”

Kerry’s sought to dispel the notion that Iran had received $155 billion from the United States as a result of the agreement, saying that it had  received $3 billion. Kerry also emphasized that the international community gaining  access to Iran’s nuclear facilities was key in preventing them from building a weapon.

“The country that was two months away from the potential of breaking out is now a year away. And we have the capacity to know what they are doing,” he said. “You recognize that diplomacy should always be exhausted before we ask our treasury to go to war,  especially when a solution which is thought out and  verifiable can be enforced.”

Biden and Kerry both took a moment to condemn Monday’s bus explosion in Jerusalem that injured 21 and was called a  terrorist attack by the Israeli government. Kerry said the attack underscores the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“These outrages are intended solely to instill fear,” he said. “They will never succeed in  intimidating the Israeli people.”

Biden praised J Street leaders for their support of a two-state solution in resolving the conflict and said that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only way for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state.

He went on to praise the  renewed 10-year memorandum of understanding on defense matters being negotiated  between the United States and Israel.

“We see to it that Israel has the best weapons, the best technologies that are available,” Biden said. “Our assistance is tailored to meet specific threats that Israel faces, and they face many.”

Biden said despite frustrations the administration has had in working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the obligation of the United States should be to “push  as hard as we can” for a two-state solution, while being a “guarantor of their security.”

“Were there no Israel, we’d have to invent one to secure our own interest in the  region,” he said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Clinton — Bill, That Is — Stumps at Leisure World

With the Maryland primary two weeks away, former president Bill Clinton touts the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as best qualified to be president to a crowd at Leisure World. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

With the Maryland primary two weeks away, former president Bill Clinton touts the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as best qualified to be president to a crowd at Leisure World. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Former President Bill Clinton was in his element Wednesday, shaking hands with more than 300 residents at the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring and urging them to vote for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“You live in the highest voting precinct in the entire state of Maryland,” he said. “The first thing I want to ask you to do is not to break your record down, but break it up.”

During his 35-minute speech, Clinton spoke about his wife’s work in politics and in other capacities, such as with the Children’s Defense Fund in the 1970s. He called her “the best change-maker I’ve ever known.”

Clinton also praised his wife for bringing the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngster (HIPPY) literacy program to Arkansas, where he was governor, and ultimately to 26 states in the 1980s.

“She said, ‘I’ve heard about this program in Israel for immigrants whose parents don’t speak Hebrew or English, who can’t read, write or count, and they teach the parents right with the kids. … And the kids are doing great, they caught up almost overnight,’” he recounted.

 

We can put up all the walls you want. You can put up great sea walls on both oceans. You could stop letting planes land here, but you couldn’t keep out the social media.
— Former president Bill Clinton

 

“I said, ‘That’s great. How are we going to build on it, that’s Israel?’ She said, ‘Oh, I did it. I called the woman who founded the program in Israel. She’ll be here in 10 days. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged around to all these little preschool graduations.”

Clinton said HIPPY has helped “thousands” of people become literate since its implementation 30 years ago.

Clinton’s appearance came 13 days before Maryland’s April 26 Democratic primary and after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won the last seven Democratic primaries.

On Wednesday, Clinton did not mention any candidates by name, but he took a shot at Sanders’ proposal of implementing a single-payer health care system. The former president acknowledged that the Affordable Care Act “isn’t perfect” but that it would be a mistake to “go from zero to 100 with a single-payer system rather than to go from 90 to 100 with the law we’ve got.”

Clinton said among the elements of the ACA his wife hopes to improve is the high cost of insurance for small businesses and the lack of regulation of drug prices.

He also indirectly criticized businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s suggestion of temporarily barring Muslims from immigrating to the United States. Clinton noted that the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shooting last year became radicalized online while living in the United States.

“We can put up all the walls you want. You can put up great sea walls on both oceans. You could stop letting planes land here, [but] you couldn’t keep out the social media,” he said.

Throughout the speech, Clinton emphasized that his wife’s experience — she is a former secretary of state and senator — makes her the best qualified person to be president and someone who can unite the two parties.

“We need a president who understands that the only economy that works in a free society is one where there is shared prosperity. Where there is a shared sense of community. Where we share political responsibilities instead of fighting with each other all the time.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know … Michal Katzir, Inbal Singer

Michal Katzir (Photo by Justin Katz) and Inbal Singer (Photo provided)

Michal Katzir (Photo by Justin Katz) and Inbal Singer (Photo provided)

Friends and neighbors Michal Katzir and Inbal Singer grew up in different states — and at times, even different countries —  but both share an interest in the same industry. Katzir is a retailer of modest fashions for observant women, and Singer designs them.

Between Katzir’s brick-and-mortar store, P.S. I Shop, which she runs out of her Pikesville home, and Singer’s newest fashion line, moss & honey, which can also be found online, the two have nurtured a blossoming friendship and business relationship, as they cater to Jewish women seeking modest and unique apparel.

The JT visited Katzir at her shop and connected via technology with Singer, who was in Israel, to find out more about how they’ve helped influence new hip trends in the modest clothing industry.

How did you start P.S. I Shop?

Katzir: I was working for Anthropologie in Harbor East downtown and I wasn’t liking it, but I knew I wanted to be in retail. There wasn’t a funky store here that is modest and caters to the Jewish community. I registered myself for a trade show and started buying clothes.  I’ve been open for two years, and I haven’t advertised. It’s all been word of mouth.

How would you describe the vibe of the store?

The feel of my store is very eclectic, unique and organic — colorful, yet earthy at the same time. There’s a lot of very different pieces, and I try to keep it that way.

What do your customers look for when they come to you?

A lot of people come in and they want to be modest, but they also want to dress differently. I help them create outfits [that do both but] they still feel like they fit into the community. I also help people clean out and create new outfits from their own closets. I’m pretty well-versed in creating new ensembles for people and knowing what looks good on the body and making things translate to different body types.

How did you meet Inbal?

The people across the street were moving out and they told me a designer was moving in. I thought “A designer in Baltimore? That doesn’t happen.” Sure enough [Inbal] moved in right across the street, and that’s how we met.

What inspired you to create your own fashion line?

Singer: My interest in fashion and desire to create this line [of clothing] began about six years ago, once I started having children and my weight changed so drastically. I had a hard time finding clothing I liked. It became so frustrating and overwhelming to find the kind of clothing my peers and I were looking for: quality, fit and beautiful styles that were flattering, timeless, covered and easy to care for. Dry cleaning and layering are so unappealing to me, and as a busy mom, beautiful prints and flattering clothing for non-rail-thin women feels kind of like a revolution. [My designs entail] clothing that leaves an average woman feeling beautiful and good about herself instead of inept and unworthy.

What is your goal with moss & honey?

I wanted to create a virtual space for women to shop and enjoy the experience. [I wanted them] to feel empowered and comfortable with who they are. When I looked around and saw that there wasn’t anything like that on the market, I started looking into delegating and tapping into my (then) local fashion resources in Savannah [Ga.]. [Eventually] a collection emerged — I even designed my own print collection for my sample collection, had a small fashion show in Savannah and then went into production this past winter. The prints used in this current collection are from France and are exclusive to moss & honey.

How has the friendship/ business relationship with Michal worked out?

Michal is a lovely friend; I am really inspired by her and the business she’s built. I’m thrilled to have my line carried at her store and happy to provide local women with a higher-end line that they won’t find anywhere else.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Parents Grill Panelists On Colleges, Anti-Semitism

Seth Gordon-Lipkin (left), of the Anti-Defamation League, and Ben Brownstein, of StandWithUs, fielded hard-hitting questions from Howard County parents during a panel about anti-Semitism on college campuses. (Photos by Justin Katz)

Seth Gordon-Lipkin (left), of the Anti-Defamation League, and Ben Brownstein, of StandWithUs, fielded hard-hitting questions from Howard County parents during a panel about anti-Semitism on college campuses. (Photos by Justin Katz)

Howard County parents of high school students grilled representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and StandWithUs during a panel at Howard Community College about what their soon-to-be college students may face when confronted by groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Students Against Israel Apartheid.

The April 18 panel called “Peace Takes Two” was organized by staff and volunteers at the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Representing the ADL, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” was Seth Gordon-Lipkin, project director of education. Ben Brownstein, Philadelphia-based campus coordinator, represented StandWithUs, a nonprofit that works “to [inform] the public about Israel and to [combat] the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues.”

Gordon-Lipkin spoke about the “lines [that] are blurring between what is anti-Semitism and what is bigotry against the Jewish people.”

I think there is a political discourse to be had about BDS but you can only talk about something with two sides talking.

— Seth Gordon Lipkin, project director of education at the Anti-Defamation League

“To modern eyes, classical anti-Semitism is easy to recognize,” said Gordon-Lipkin, quoting Israeli politician Natan Sharansky.

Sharansky’s definition of anti- Semitism, or the three D’s, are the demonization of Israel; delegitimizing or denying Israel’s right to exist; and applying double standards that hold Israel to a different bar compared with other countries.

“We at the ADL think that like any country, Israel’s policies and its politicians can be critiqued; they are open to debate just like the U.S.,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “But there are certain lines that [the ADL] wants people to understand and know when something is going from legitimate political discourse into bigotry against Jews.”

A question-and-answer period followed each speaker’s presentation.

One audience member noted that the movement on college campuses in the 1980s and ‘90s with regard to South African apartheid is strikingly similar to what is being seen today. He challenged Gordon-Lipkin to define the lines between anti-Semitism and political discourse further. The attendee pointed out that while some photos shown during the presentation that used vampire imagery to describe Israel are clearly blood libel, other photos that question Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza could be seen as legitimate political discourse.

Gordon-Lipkin responded, saying that the tactics of the BDS movement intentionally mimic those used to protest apartheid. However, the comparison between events in the Middle East and what happened in South Africa is not entirely accurate, he said.

“The nature of it is inherently different,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “The concerns with Gaza and the West Bank stem from security concerns, not from systematic racism.”

Then Gordon-Lipkin referred to the double standard within Sharansky’s definition.

“[There is a] lack of equivalency between what groups are protesting against Israel’s actions against Palestinians and their protest — or lack of protest — against what’s going on in Syria,” said Gordon-Lipkin. “What [protestors] consider genocide and what they would not consider genocide is problematic.”

Brownstein, the representative from StandWithUs, spoke about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and how his organization works with college students to counter the movement as well as defeat legislation that moves through student governments.

Working with pro-Israel organizations and student connections, SWU recently helped to defeat a piece of BDS legislation at Ohio State University by bringing in two speakers to address the issue with a group of undecided student government members. One speaker was a former BDS activist, currently a student at San Diego State University, who now helps to fight against the movement. The other was David Makovsky, a Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East peace process.

In response to a question from the JT about whether or not a legitimate political discourse exists within the BDS movement, Brownstein said groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine put Israel on a pedestal and that, in fact, they are not a pro-Palestinian organization.

“If [it] was pro-Palestinian then [it] would speak about Hamas when they use Palestinians as human shields,” said Brownstein. “If you speak about injustices of Palestinians everywhere, then that’s OK. But what you’re doing by just talking about Israel means you’re just an anti-Israel organization.”

Gordon-Lipkin added, “I think there is a political discourse to be had [about BDS], but you can only talk about something with two sides talking,” which Gordon-Lipkin doesn’t think is happening among organizations.

The panel discussion, which lasted two hours, brought in upward of 50 people, including Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

“I’m just so pleased that our community, and in particular parents of high school students, came out for this really important program,” said Ostroff.

Jessamyn Abel, who has two children preparing for college, also attended. She noted the importance of educational institutions being pro-active on the issue.

“Colleges and universities need to realize that Jewish families are watching to see how administrations handle these incidents of anti-Semitism and harassment,” said Abel. “We will choose not to send our children to their colleges if they stand by and do not do something about it.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Youth Begin Artful Dialogue

mural1One year after the violence that erupted in streets throughout Baltimore after the arrest of African-American Sandtown resident Freddie Gray, and his subsequent death while in police custody, symbols of unity are rising in upper Park Heights in the form of art co-created by its residents.

On Thursday April 14, community leaders gathered at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC to dedicate a series of small murals painted by middle school students over the last six years. They’re part of a community art project aimed at building bridges between the Orthodox Jewish community and the African-American and Hispanic communities.

The project began in 2010 after an altercation between a pair of Shomrim volunteers and a 15-year-old African-American male. The skirmish happened on the 3300 block of Falstaff Road and sparked concern among residents in the Park Heights community about the deterioration of relationships in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and the lack of dialogue among ethnic groups.

The panels are rainbow colored and depict faces, neighborhoods and other images associated with inclusion. One panel reads “Look Again. Understand the Other.” Another features the faces of three people, all with different skin colors, absent of any facial expression.

If it’s the start of ongoing interactions, that’s what’s needed. Prior to this, my kids’ interactions with the other two communities were virtually nonexistent or a negative experience for them.

— Charles Hauss, founder, Boy Scout Troop 1299

Determined to pursue a project full of “Jewish Zen,” Baltimore artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg- Cohen began working with students from Cross Country and Falstaff elementary/middle schools, along with poet Jill Solomon. Students of each ethnic group wrote down a series of words describing stereotypes they commonly hear about themselves. Schlossberg-Cohen said it was at this point that the students’ reluctance toward the project turned into passion.

From left: Barak Hermann, CEO and president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltmore; Tammy Heyman, chair of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated; and Sarah Shapiro, a member of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

From left: Barak Hermann, CEO and president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltmore; Tammy Heyman, chair of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated; and Sarah Shapiro, a member of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

“These are people who live together but may not like each other, may be afraid of each other,” he said. Through this project, “they got to know each other.”

Schlossberg-Cohen is the co-founder of the Rebuilding Thru Arts Project (RAP) — a nonprofit organization that brings together people of all ages and backgrounds from across the city to engage in collaborative art projects that are meant to bring visual inspiration to communities. He has worked on a number of murals such as one at the Edmonson Community Center in West Baltimore and several in city schools.

This project differs from many of Schlossberg-Cohen’s, he said, in that the students painted a series of panels instead of one large mural, which resulted from a struggle of finding the best location for the art.

Doral Pulley II,  a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who participated in the program. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Doral Pulley II, a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who participated in the program. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

“Rabbi Phil [Miller] and I went to several meetings with then-[police] commissioner [Anthony] Batts,” he said. “They loved the project. They kept asking us, ‘How do we become closer with the community?’ I said, ‘Here I have a solution for you. Have a picnic, have the mural.’ But we couldn’t do it at the library, we couldn’t do it at Sinai, we couldn’t do it at Northwest High.”

“We’ve asked [the kids] to solve the problems, and no one’s listening,” Schlossberg-Cohen said of the murals’ designs. “So I don’t know if their eyes are angry or mystified. This is our future, and they’re not sure.”

In addition to the schools, a number of community organizations participated in the project including the Jewish Community Center, CHAI and members of Boy Scout Troop 1299, which is an all-Orthodox Jewish troop.

“[People think] Boy Scouts should be out there camping, building fires and tying knots,” said troop founder Charles Hauss. “There’s a whole lot more to scouting than just that, and this activity gave us a great opportunity for a dialogue.”

Doral Pulley II,  a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who participated in the program. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Doral Pulley II, a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who participated in the program. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Hauss has been a teacher for 40 years, 27 of them in Baltimore City, where he taught at Pimlico Elementary School. He said the value of different ethnic groups having a dialogue about race at such a young age is “something that you really just cannot measure.”

Hauss emphasized that art projects alone will not solve the underlying economic and social disparities facing Baltimore, but they do well to erase stereotypes that form before adulthood.

“If it’s the start of ongoing interactions, that’s what’s needed,” he said. “Prior to this, my kids’ interactions with the other two communities were virtually nonexistent or a negative experience for them.”

mural2It was that spirit of motivation that spurred Phyllis Ajai, co-chair of CHAI’s Community Conversations project, to get involved in the project after last year’s unrest.

“When I looked on TV and [saw] African-Americans, I said, ‘They don’t represent me.’ And then when I looked at the community, [I thought], ‘This is not the community that I live in that they’re talking about,’” she said. “I can say that in my living room, pointing at the TV, [but] it’s not going to change a thing.”

For Schlossberg-Cohen, who was leaving for Poland the next day to work on a similar project with the Krakow JCC, community outreach is global and the message of unity is universal.

“My belief is to touch one person,” he said. “The belief is that if we save a life we save a nation. Both past and future.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Looking Back on the Maryland General Assembly

MD state flag: ©iStockphoto.com/Matt Trommer; Disability icon: ©iStockphoto.com/Alex Belomlinsky

MD state flag: ©iStockphoto.com/Matt Trommer; Disability icon: ©iStockphoto.com/Alex Belomlinsky

Maryland’s Jewish community came out on top in a General Assembly session that saw criminal justice reforms, debates about paid sick leave and end-of-life options and a number of projects funded, according to officials at the Baltimore Jewish Council and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

Both the BJC and JCRC had a number of successful capital and budget requests as well as policy priorities pass or advance in the legislature.

The ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience), which both organizations supported, establishes a tax-advantaged savings program to help Marylanders with disabilities save for disability-related expenses including medical care, housing and transportation. The passage of the federal ABLE Act in 2014 mandated that state adopt their own legislation. Those aided by the legislation, which is akin to a 529 College Savings plan, will not lose other benefits from programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income or private insurance.

The JCRC and BJC also supported a bill that expanded the state’s stalking statute to include malicious behavior, where the person intends to cause harm or knows, or should know, that the behavior would cause serious emotional distress to another person.

“It’s going to put a little more teeth to some of the stalking harassment issues,” said Meredith Weisel, director of Maryland government and community relations at the JCRC. “It basically gives the victim more protection under the law.”

Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

While another BJC priority, the paid sick leave bill, did not pass, it made it out of committee on the House side for the first time in four years and got a floor vote. In the Senate, it got out of one committee but got stuck in another, so there was no floor vote. Jews United for Justice also supported paid sick leave.

The JCRC is waiting to see if the Universal Voter Registration Act will be signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan. The law would automatically register eligible voters. While the Senate bill did not pass, the House bill did on the last day of the session.

While the organizations were prepared to work together on a bill against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, research showed it was not necessary this year. Similar to current laws related to companies who do business with Iran, the bill would have prevented pension divestment, ensured that state pensions could not be invested in companies that support the BDS movement, and would have changed the state’s procurement contract process so that companies who support BDS could not earn state contracts. BJC officials researched both issues and found that while there is pressure on some companies, none have divested.

The End-of-Life Option Act, which would have allowed terminally ill individuals with six-month prognoses to obtain a prescription for a lethal drug, did not pass. While a number of Jewish advocates from the Baltimore area and Montgomery County rallied for the bill and its House sponsor, Del. Shane Pendergrass, is Jewish, the BJC and JCRC both opposed the bill based on traditional interpretations of Jewish law, and the BJC provided written testimony in opposition.

An issue the BJC has long supported, financial assistance for students in private schools, got some traction this year. While the Maryland Education Credit, which would have set up mechanisms to assist students in public and nonpublic schools, has struggled to pass in Maryland, the Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes a $5 million grant for nonpublic school students who are eligible for the federal Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FARM) program.

The money would be applied using the state’s per-pupil average for tuition and students who are FARM eligible will be ranked by highest need. Sarah Mersky, the BJC’s director of government relations, said Baltimore’s Jewish day schools have populations that are approximately 20 to 50 percent FARM eligible.

“This bill has been around 10 years and the BJC has worked on it for six or seven years. It’s huge, huge win and it’s a huge shift in how the Democratic majority uses these types of programs in our state,” she said. “I think that it will definitely help a lot of our Jewish students, but it’s also really great because it helps low-income individuals in our city.”

The BJC received level funding for all of its operational requests, which include the Diabetes Medical Home Extender Program, the elder abuse program, domestic violence prevention program, the Maryland/Israel Development Center and funding for Holocaust survivors. The organization also received its capital request for a community primary- and specialty-care complex at Sinai Hospital for $2 million in FY17 and $4 million in future allocations. The two-building complex will serve the uninsured and underinsured as part of an overall focus on keeping people out of emergency rooms.

In conjunction with the District 11 team — Dels. Dan Morhaim, Shelly Hettleman and Dana Stein and Sen. Bobby Zirkin — a bond bill passed allocating $100,000 to the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, located at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, to upgrade its hearing accessibility systems and lighting.

Talmudical Academy will receive $250,000 for repairs, renovations and the construction of a new gym for the high school.

Zirkin highlighted the $16 million going to Stevenson University to clean up and take over the Rosewood property in Owings Mills, which has significant environmental issues.

The legislature passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, which Zirkin said was the biggest of any issues he’s worked on in his 18 years in Annapolis. The legislation helps low-level nonviolent drug offenders seek treatment, makes it easier for nonviolent misdemeanors to be expunged — Zirkin noted it was the single largest expansion of expungement law in the state’s history — and increased sentences for second-degree murder and child abuse murder.

“It was an extremely important piece of legislation to right-size our criminal justice system and do it in a way that, most importantly, protected public safety and actually enhanced public safety,” Zirkin said.

Morhaim added: “Understanding the long history of the failure of the war on drugs, I think that was very significant.”

JUFJ, which has been pushing for reforms to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, highlighted law enforcement-related reforms that allow for anonymous reporting of police misconduct, require most police trial board hearings to be open to the public, remove the notarization requirement for police misconduct complaints, extend the brutality complaint filing period from 90 days to one year and a day and allow a third party with first-hand knowledge of misconduct, such as a video recording, to file a complaint. The package also allows police chiefs and commissioners to appoint up to two civilians to their jurisdictions’ police trial boards.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) highlighted the nearly $290 million legislative package to aide Baltimore City. Initiatives in the package include keeping libraries open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, more money to demolish vacant housing, money for after-school programs, adult education and job training and mentoring, among others. Rosenberg highlighted incentives for non-custodial parents to make child support payments and strides in enforcement of lead poisoning laws and effort to get record-keeping organizations to link records.

Rosenberg also passed a new bill relating to “right to travel,” which has implications for travel to Israel. A previously passed bill said life insurance companies cannot arbitrarily deny someone coverage and make it more expensive based on past travel to Israel and other places with travel advisories. This year, he got a bill passed applying that same idea to future travel.

“The bill says that a state department travel advisory by itself is insufficient for life insurance companies to deny or increase rates, they need something else,” he said.

Morhaim, the deputy majority leader, got two end-of-life care bills passed. One has Maryland recognize National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, which will help educate state residents on advance directives. Another bill brings the state closer to having an electronic advance directives service, on which he is working with the Department of Health.

Another one of Morhaim’s bills that passed will allow dentists, podiatrists and advanced practice nurses became medical cannabis certifiers, which will allow them to recommend the drug to patients.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

First-Time Voters Share Excitement, Thoughts on a ‘Rigged System’

As with every election season, this year’s primary and general election welcomes a group of newly eligible voters. This generation, raised in the era of news reporting via social media engines such Twitter and Facebook, will walk into one of the most acute, entertainment-driven and vitriolic races yet as their first experience in the booth.

Many high school and college students plan to embrace the opportunity to vote, such as Gavrielle Jacobovitz, 17, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C.

“I think voting for the first time for me means feeling like I have a voice in politics for the first time, even if it’s a small one,” Jacobovitz said.

Seventeen-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election can vote in primaries.

Along with many seasoned American voters, however, many new voters have expressed frustration with finding a suitable candidate.

“Of course, I’m excited to be voting for the first time, [but] I wish there were a  candidate whose policies [are] more congruent with my views,” said Alex Rabin, 18, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

I’m someone who is definitely disenchanted  by our government, America politically and our legislative process. But I’m also someone who firmly believes in using that legislative process  to promote and create social change.” — Gavrielle Jacobovitz, 17

 

And still other first-time voters are less eager to enter the world of American politics. Azriel Weinreb, 19, a student at the Community College of Baltimore County, stated that while he might not ordinarily be inclined to vote — based on his beliefs regarding government — this time, “the fear of having somebody like Donald Trump in office is enough to make me vote,” he said.

“I think our current system is extremely undemocratic,” Weinreb added. “We make fun of dictatorships that have votes with only one candidate, but look at us — we [only] have two! You can say [there are]  Independents and other parties, but those are a joke, [and] they have no funding. Even within our limited democracy we have things like the electoral college and super delegates that make our tiny voting ability even less meaningful.”

Even the students who expressed enthusiasm to vote seemed in agreement that “the system” of American politics is somewhat “rigged” or “broken.” Still, most of them still see the value in voting.

“I’m someone who is definitely disenchanted by our government, America politically and our legislative process,” said Jacobovitz. “But I’m also someone who firmly believes in using that legislative process to promote and create social change, because, as we’ve seen, things tend to be top-down in a lot of ways. When we don’t engage with the government, we cede it to whomever does, which means our voices and the justice we seek are never addressed.”

“I think the system is broken only  because the brashest candidates attract the most media attention, resulting in their popularity among voters,” Rabin said. “Few voters know much about the intricacies, or lack thereof, of the candidates’ policies anymore.”

Ben Stanislawski, 18, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, also commented on issues he finds with media coverage of the presidential race. While he explained that he “[does] not think that the system is rigged by nature,” he thinks the Democratic National Committee has favored Hillary Clinton.

“The system is definitely rigged,” he said.

These politically aware students are not only following the presidential race. Stanislawski, for example, is following his district’s congressional race. But even more than that, he is following Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Florida primary.

“For almost the first time ever she has a primary opponent in her district in Florida, Tim Canova. He is basically like Bernie Sanders, and if she loses it will be a big deal,” he said. “I’m paying attention because it has important national implications for the Democratic Party.”

Many of these students are utilizing the seemingly unlimited information that is available at their fingertips, garnering  information regarding the election from social media, television, well- respected print and online sources and sometimes even by word of mouth. Unlike prior generations, much of today’s youth are not formulating their opinions solely based on their parents’ rhetoric or vote, but on accessible information that they have sought out, analyzed and synthesized into their own opinion.

Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Former ‘Meet the Press’ Host Meets Chizuk Amuno

Former “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory became visibly  distraught as he shared a story about reading “Adon Olam” aloud to his father during his last days. (Justin Katz)

Former “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory became visibly distraught as he shared a story about reading “Adon Olam” aloud to his father during his last days. (Justin Katz)

David Gregory, former moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and currently a political analyst at CNN, cracked jokes, pulled at heartstrings and asked an  audience of both young and old to consider profound, philosophical questions of faith inside a packed Krieger Auditorium at Chizuk Amuno Congregation on April 10.

The topic of his discussion, which was the inaugural event of the semiannual Phyllis and Louis Friedman community lecture, was the title of his book, “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.”

Chizuk Amuno Congregation Rabbi Ronald Shulman introduced Gregory, 45, who began his speech on a lighter note.

It’s a bit of a jarring question  to be asked by the president of  the United States. The question (how’s your faith?) resonated  with me and stayed with me  because I was thinking about  what it means to really make  that assessment.” — David Gregory, author of “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey”

 

“Whenever I’m in front of  a Jewish crowd, I like to say, ‘Yes, I am in fact Jewish,’” said Gregory, joking about his not-so-Jewish sounding last name and eliciting laughs from the crowd of 450. Gregory’s father, Don, changed his name from Ginsburg to Gregory while pursuing an acting career.

He also mentioned his recent appearance on the popular television game show, “Jeopardy,” where he managed to correctly answer, “What is a shofar?” (That episode will air the week of May 16.)

Gregory explained his new book’s title originates from his first time meeting former President George W. Bush at the oval office as the moderator of “Meet the Press.” Bush asked Gregory, “How’s your faith?”

“It’s a bit of a jarring question to be asked by the president  of the United States,” said  Gregory, who added that Bush was told beforehand that  Gregory was studying Torah. “The question resonated with me and stayed with me  because I was thinking about what it means to really make that assessment.”

He added that he personally admires Bush because, regardless of what one thinks of his policies, Bush “left office with his faith intact.”

From there, Gregory shared several personal moments of faith including discussions with his wife, Beth Wilkinson, a Methodist, best known as  an attorney who successfully argued for the execution  of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

One moment that noticeably affected the audience was when Gregory discussed coping with his father’s impending death. Gregory was visibly  distraught as he described  moments of reading “Adon Olam” aloud to his father during one of his last days alive.

“I could see his eyes filling with tears as I was listening to him,” said Shulman, who was sitting on stage as Gregory spoke, after the event. “I thought it was a profoundly powerful moment of personal faith. He was able to share it with his  father, and based on the [contents of the] book, [faith] was not his father’s interest.”

One of Gregory’s sons celebrated his bar mitzvah 10 days after Don Gregory passed away.

“[Gregory] spoke with warmth, humor and great poignancy about the rewards and challenges of a serious approach to Jewish faith within the context of an interfaith marriage in which both partners are committed to raising their children as Jews, while maintaining their own individual religious identities,” said Dr. Andy Miller, president of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

When questions came from the audience, a man, identified as David, asked Gregory, “What is it that will make your grandchildren Jews?”

Gregory responded that many younger Jews are not as drawn to religion as their older counterparts who connected through the events of the Holocaust. He encouraged the community to not shut out younger Jews who may choose practices like interfaith marriage and emphasized that  although he has an interfaith marriage, he and his children are very religious in practice.

“I think [it’s important that we are] learning and modeling what we think is beautiful about Judaism,” said Gregory, “and not thinking that people and identity can be in and of itself the glue that holds the community together. That can’t be enough.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com