Remembering Irvin Pollack: Pioneer Surgeon, Family Man

Dr. Irvin Pollack (Provided)

Dr. Irvin Pollack (Provided)

Dr. Irvin Pollack, a native Baltimorean and founder of the Krieger Eye Institute, passed away after a battle with melanoma on March 1. He was 85 years old.

Pollack, born on Lanvale Street in 1931, received his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and pursued medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School.

His wife of 58 years, Marlene, said he’ll be most remembered for “his tremendous sense of humanity and caring,” and those who knew him personally were deeply impressed by his professional accomplishments.

Pollack spent only a few years of his life away from Baltimore when he pursued an ophthalmology residency at Washington University in St. Louis. When he returned to Baltimore in 1962, he worked at JHU’s Wilmer Eye Institute and became the head of the glaucoma clinic. He later became the chief of ophthalmology at Sinai Hospital in 1983.

“Irv was uniquely generous to colleagues and famously gracious to staff and patients,” said Dr. Harry Quigley in a written statement. “His bedside manner in the office brought calm to worried glaucoma sufferers, and his quiet affection for everyone who had the good fortune to work with him was legendary.”

He worked with Dr. Herman Krieger Goldberg and Zanvyl Krieger to create the Krieger Eye Institute in 1991. Although he stepped down as chairman in 1998, his commitment to the institution remained, as it steadily grew in size and reputation.

“[Pollack’s] greatest influence was on those residents and fellows fortunate enough to have trained with him,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, who worked with Pollack, in a eulogy. “His clinical and surgical skills combined with his unparalleled bedside manner made many of his trainees the physicians that they are today.”

Marlene added that the Krieger Eye Institute closed its facility on the day of Pollack’s funeral to allow employees to attend.

The American Glaucoma Society, of which Pollack was one of 13 founding members, had its annual meeting on the day of his funeral. In recognition of his work, doctors from around the country paid their respects to his legacy during the meeting.

His colleagues noted Pollack’s contributions to the study of how glaucoma develops and his work with the late Dr. Arnall Patz, which led to the first use of lasers in glaucoma for iridotomy and trabeculoplasty.

“The world is a much better place because he was in it.”
— Grandsons Jared, Seth and Brett Nelson

While Pollack was a legendary pioneer for the work he did as an ophthalmologist, his family remembers him as a selfless, loving individual whose positive energy was felt even in his last days.

“He always said, ‘Never better,’” said Carol Pollack-Nelson, referring to her father’s response when someone greeted him. “He was still saying it to the very end. We [told him he didn’t] have to say that, [but] a few days before he passed, someone called him and he still said it.”

Brian Pollack and Linda Klitenic said their father had a unique ability to advise those who asked for his help without lecturing them and an ability to guide without forcing his position on others. John Pollack added that his father’s influence as a role model became more impactful as he grew up.

Pollack’s warmth and affection was felt deeply by all 10 of his grandchildren.

“He loved his whole family, his garden and his ice cream. Oh, and hugs. He loved big hugs,” said siblings Ethan, Lauren and Jordan Pollack, 16, 14 and 11 respectively.

“I will never forget the amazing person that my grandfather was and I will always try to spread the kindness and wisdom that he so effortlessly exuded,” said Samantha Klitenic, Pollack’s oldest granddaughter.

His older grandsons, Jared, Seth and Brett Nelson, added, “The world is a much better place because he was in it.”

Pollack was a devoted member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where he served in several positions including vice president of the congregation,  chairman of the school board and as a member of the board of directors.

While Pollack was enthusiastic in celebrating and observing all of the Jewish holidays, Linda said, he loved one thing above all else.

“What he loved the most and what made him the most happy was being married to my mother. He loved her more than anything in the world.”

Dr. Irvin Pollack is survived by wife Marlene Pollack (née Chernak); children Linda Pollack (Marc) Klitenic, Carol (Howard) Nelson, Dr. John (Dr. Susan) Pollack, Shelley Pollack Schwartz and Brian Pollack; sister Ethel (Abraham) Berlin; grandchildren Samantha Klitenic, Seth, Jared, and Brett Nelson, Ethan, Lauren and Jordan Pollack and Noah, Benjamin and Josh Schwartz. Pollack was preceded in death by his brother, Morton L. (Harriet) Pollack.

Four Questions Notions of Passover through a contemporary lens

coverRotatorThemes of oppression, affliction, soul-searching and liberation hold great importance in the Passover story, one that recounts the Jewish people’s escape from bondage, their exodus from Egypt and their eventual freedom.

As we prepare to revisit and recount that story of Passover — a time during which, among many observances, we’re encouraged to question the present and learn from the past — the JT staff crafted four questions that delve into some contemporary implications of the holiday.


(Abstract technology:©


How does OPPRESSION manifest itself today?

At first blush, one might think it’s humans who are slaves to our electronic devices, whether by constantly checking email on a phone, updating a Facebook status or sending a text.

Amy Webb, author, futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, which researches emerging technologies for companies and organizations around the world, claims just the opposite is true. And that truth comes with a warning.

“There is no question. We are the masters and the devices are our slaves. But you can’t have that conversation without having some context and also talk about artificial intelligence,” she said, citing “smart houses” with programmable lights, thermostats, dishwashers, coffeemakers and more. In some cases, “this is technology that we’ve humanized [even in] the way that it looks and responds to us and even the names we’ve given it.”

For a ubiquitous example, think Siri — the friendly voice that responds to requests when spoken into an iPhone.

“A lot of the newer technologies have artificial intelligence, and we’re training the AI as we use it,” Webb explained. “[Devices] must have huge data sets and be in use in order for them to learn” and serve more accurately and efficiently.

Case in point, Webb said, is Amazon’s Echo, also called Alexa, a speech-recognition driven module that can be commanded to play music, retrieve weather reports, read audiobooks and even provide a sports score. Alexa, according to its description, is “always getting smarter and adding new features and skills — over 100 added since its launch, including [calling upon] Domino’s Pizza and Uber.”

But the outcome of Microsoft’s recently released chat bot named Tay, a computer program designed to simulate conversation with humans, especially over the internet, is where the warning comes in.

“It took less than [24] hours for the chat bot to start making incredibly anti-Semitic (and racist and sexist) remarks and saying things about Hitler,” said Webb. “It was because these bots are programmed to [repeat and] respond to us. And as it turns out, humans can be pretty horrible teachers. We can say some pretty horrible things.”

Tay has since been silenced.

“The challenge is when the algorithms a machine is learning uses that data and incorporates it into its overall learning,” Webb said, who employs technology, including a telepresence robot (a screen on wheels that can be controlled remotely to allow interaction with humans) to streamline her life.

“The truly terrifying thing is that as our devices become smarter and more capable of servicing our needs, they will necessarily have to start making decisions without us, supposedly in our best interests,” she said. “But what happens when the machines decide we’re not treating them well? Suddenly — and I’m not exaggerating when I say this — you could many years from now be facing a crisis that really is of the proportions that were described in the Bible.”

— Melissa Gerr



What PLAGUES the Jewish community?

The Jewish people are a demonstrably resilient group, in part due to  overcoming such obstacles as oppression in  ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany.

But there are still challenges that both the Baltimore Jewish community and Jews around the world must work to overcome on a daily basis.

“We must never forget the Holocaust and what happened to us,” said Arthur Abramson,  departing executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “But our strength lies in what we are now, not what we were then.”

Abramson said victimization is one of a handful of issues plaguing the Jewish community. He emphasized that Jews and the State of Israel are not the same as they were 10, 15 or 50 years ago. To the extent that “we try to fall back on that [mentality], it diminishes our effectiveness” when trying to overcome problems.

In a similar vein, he said the Jewish experience should teach us how crucial it is to stand up for “the other.”

“We are often forgetting where we come from,” said Abramson. “We must very clearly be involved when Muslims are attacked and other groups are attacked. We cannot afford to simply ignore it when it’s someone else.”

Ashley Pressman, executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection, is concerned about a trend toward isolation among senior citizens in Baltimore’s Jewish community. It’s a problem that happens gradually, she said, and isn’t always obvious. She added it requires proactive responses to prevent it from happening.

Pressman also cited “indifference” as a current societal problem.

“We’re so busy with our own lives and the stimuli that we get that we no longer see the other,” she said. “[It’s important] for each of us to recognize our neighbors and see our neighbors in all of their complexity and nuance, not just [think it’s] us and them.”

Though not solely a Jewish or Baltimore issue, Pressman said that “the world as a whole benefits when people come into conversation with each other.”

— Justin Katz


(Ebony Brown)

(Ebony Brown)

What are you SEARCHING for?

Jewish teenagers who consider themselves “too old” for the custom of the afikomen hunt find themselves searching for something much deeper as they transition into the next chapter of their lives.

“As a Jewish teenager,” said Lea Glazer, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, “I am searching for my role in Jewish society … for my own personal way to impact the world at large … for what I was meant to do and [for] how to use everything I’ve learned from my Jewish education to better the world.”

Referencing tikkun olam, repairing the world, Glazer also expressed her hope of “finding a way to personally fulfill this mitzvah and to make a difference in the world, no matter how large or small it is.”

Whereas Glazer aspires to find her place in Jewish society, Mia Kaufman, a Franklin High School senior and an active member of United Synagogue Youth, strives to become more globally aware.

“I am searching for a greater connection with people that are not just in the Baltimore area,” she said. “Being involved in many Jewish organizations such as USY has helped me to do just that and has given me those connections around the world.”

During Kaufman’s quest to understand the global community, she encountered some opposition to her viewpoints that have exposed her to the world outside the Jewish Baltimore bubble.

“I often run into news about Israel, which hits closer to home as a Jew,” she said. “I am constantly hit with the reality that the global community is not as big of an Israel fanatic as I am.”

Though Glazer and Kaufman are currently involved in the Jewish community, as graduation approaches, both students have begun to consider how they will continue their search without built-in Judaism being a “given.”

“When I go to college next year, I will be faced with the challenge of maintaining my Judaism in a new, diverse environment,” Glazer said. “I will have to actively seek out events and organizations that will allow me to stay connected with my religion.”

Glazer also plans to do this by participating in the University of Maryland College Park’s Hillel, joining a pro-Israel club on campus and visiting Israel on a Birthright trip.

Kaufman, who will attend the University of Maryland, College Park, plans to be involved with organized Jewish activities on campus and also hopes “to live in Israel for an extended period of time and definitely do some form of Israel advocacy, working or volunteering” throughout life.

— Meital Abraham




What does liberation mean?

For Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue, the idea of exodus or liberation in 2016 is a more universal concept rather than one focused on the individual. “The community silos we [keep ourselves] in are all interconnected,” he argued, citing the late Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

“Rather than tell the tale about our particular success vis-à-vis other people, winners and losers, us versus them, friends and enemies, I think we’re all caught in the systemic oppressions,” he explained.

He looks at recent events as examples, locally and globally, in how the situation in Syria affected Brussels and the world at large and how what happens in Baltimore City affects the suburbs.

There’s a debate in the Talmud, Basik said, about the Ten Plagues, where some rabbis say there were 50 or even 200 to “really stick it” to the Egyptians.

“[But] our joy is diminished because Egyptians were suffering, so you [take] the drop out of your wine glass. So these [concepts] represent these two polarities with human beings, the personal versus the public,” he said. “So the ‘pour out thy wrath upon thine enemies’ at the end of the seder is not a message for today. It’s more, I think, about universal healing as opposed to one people’s liberation alone.”

For Nancy Aiken, executive director of CHANA, the universality of the Passover story hits home with what her clients go through. The organization offers support for victims of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.

After the Israelites leave Egypt — and are free from slavery — they actually consider going back because of uncertainty about the future. Similarly, some of CHANA’s clients consider returning — and some do — to awful, sometimes life-threatening situations because of fears and ambiguity associated with the future.

“The story of Exodus really teaches us that it’s almost normal, it’s natural to consider an awful situation as an alternative because at least you knew it, it was familiar. … When you leave and go forward, you’re scared,” she said. “The Israelites kept going because God gave them manna and took care of the hunger at least. I’d like to say CHANA is that manna.”

She said the story also speaks to the emotional, not just the physical, side of enslavement and abuse in that the Israelites went on their journey even when it meant food and water might be scarce and shelter wouldn’t be ideal.

“Sometimes our clients, like the Israelites, their exodus is to get away from the emotional, psychological abuse even if it means they’re going to be homeless or hungry or unsettled for a while,” she said. “They willingly accept those challenges in order to have emotional, spiritual, psychological peace of mind.”

— Marc Shapiro


These are just a few interpretations of contemporary themes, of course. And since questioning, discussion and debate are so integral to our Passover observance and who we are as Jews, please let us know what subjects arise during the conversations around your seder table.,,

Associated Grants Kickstart New Jewish Projects

(Logo provided)

(Logo provided)

In February, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore awarded a round of micro-grants to help boost new Jewish projects and organizations.

The six projects, which were awarded $1,000 each, focus on a range of topics from technology to music to holidays.

“The goal is really to help up-and-coming leaders and organizations to grow and seed and act on new ideas that foster Jewish identity or build Jewish identity,” said Marjorie Manne, who chaired the JBIG (Jewish Baltimore Innovation Grants) committee.

For Anna Caplan, the JBIG grant means she’ll be able to pool together resources for her Baltimore Jewish Music Education Project.

“It really seems like there [aren’t] that many people around doing what I do, which is doing early childhood music in a Jewish setting, and I felt for a while that the resources for people who want to do it are lacking,” she said.

She said that while there are books and CDs out there, it’s hard to narrow down all the best materials and filter content for age levels. She’s compiled a lot of material on her own, but with the help of the JBIG grant, she will amass more resources. Her hope is to create not only  a collection of songs, but also lesson plans, holiday songs and information on how to introduce and teach songs to different ages. The materials would go on YouTube and other online shareable formats.

“There is a lot of potential for these  projects to have a big impact for  a small investment.” — Marjorie Manne, chair of the JBIG committee


“For families with young children, being able to connect through music, it’s something that’s really easy for families … it’s something that you can do together and can be very meaningful,” she said. “Doing music with your children, I think when you’re doing it  in a Jewish context, it adds  another layer of meaning.”

Towson University junior Rachel Fredman is planning Festival of Unity: A Jewish, Deaf and Art Collaboration for next Sukkot. The festival will bring deaf and Jewish culture together with ASL workshops, a service project and a craft festival featuring deaf and local Jewish artists.

Fredman said the grant will help bring in speakers and teachers and pay for supplies and renting a room on Towson’s campus. She said like Judaism, deafness creates community.

“It’s not just an identifier, it’s how they live their life,” she said. “It’s who they are.”

Josh Rosenstein is helping put together The First Fruits Chavurah Harvest Shavuot Celebration, a camping trip that will include an all-night alternative tikkun, a midnight cheese feast, potluck meals and family and intergenerational programming as well as a contra dance. The event is happening in conjunction with the East Bank Chavurah, a 30-year-old Baltimore Chavurah that Rosenstein, his wife, Teri, and another couple are hoping to reinvigorate.

“We wanted to have some kind of dynamic, new exciting things happen in the context of this Chavurah. [We said,] ‘Let’s take on Shavuot. Let’s make Shavuot an exciting, participatory, experiential holiday,’”  he said. “The Chavurah has a non-secret agenda of wanting to bring in some new and younger folks to take on the mantel of this Chavurah and bring it into the next generation.”

Another project awarded in the first round of JBIG grants was the Free Inclusive and Participatory High Holiday Services in Downtown Baltimore, which will be geared toward young adults living in the city. The services will be lay-led, highly participatory and accessible. The project seeks to inspire young Jewish adults to the find post-college Jewish community connections.

The University of Maryland, College Park will be home to JHacks, a hackathon that will include a Shabbaton with speakers and a panel discussing Jewish identity in the technology industry. After Shabbat, there will be a 24-hour hackathon in which Jewish students from all over the country will join together to create new technologies using coding skills.

Light of Souls will take place in Baltimore’s sister city Odessa, Ukraine. It will link generations through common interests and crafts by inviting children, adults and families to create handmade toys, pictures, Judaica, candles and soaps as well as other items. The creations will be donated to boarding schools or sold at an auction with proceeds going to a local charity.

Applications for a second round of JBIG grants are due May 31.

Manne hopes the grants give the new ideas a bump in opportunity.

“I think they’ll really add to the community and allow for the depth and variety of experiences we were hoping for,” she said. “There is a lot of  potential for these projects to have a big impact for a small investment.”

A Family’s Valiant Battle against Esophageal Cancer Met with Community Warmth

From left: Maya Mordecai, John “Monte” Mordecai, Mindy Mintz Mordecai and Mara Mordecai (Provided)

From left: Maya Mordecai, John “Monte” Mordecai, Mindy Mintz Mordecai and Mara Mordecai (Provided)

Mindy Mintz Mordecai has enjoyed successful careers in investigative journalism and litigation and now runs a nonprofit. But her main motivation stems from her passion to serve the community. When her husband of 14 years was diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer, the community repaid her service, when, she said, they “wrapped their arms around [my family] and really kept [us] safe.”

The Esophageal Cancer  Action Network, of which  Indiana native Mintz Mordecai, 57, is president and CEO, will host Charm City Celebrity Game Night on April 9, and it’s one way in which she serves her community.

The event features Baltimore television and radio personalities competing in live game shows for the Jerry Turner Trophy, named after the longtime WJZ-TV news anchor who passed away from esophageal cancer in 1987 at the age of 57.

The organization’s message: Heartburn can cause cancer — more specifically, esophageal cancer, a disease that took Mintz Mordecai, her husband John “Monte” Mordecai and their two daughters, Mara and Maya, on a long journey.

In 2007, Mordecai complained of a pressure in his chest. Mintz Mordecai, having been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly called GERD, years before, suggested that was the cause of the pressure.

One night, Mordecai, in what Mintz Mordecai described as “the most horrifying experience of my life,” bent over and “started honking like a goose.” After visiting a doctor, he was referred to a specialist.

It might not be cancer, but it’s definitely abnormal, and someone should seek  medical attention if they  suddenly have trouble  swallowing. — Dr. Mark Katlic, chief of the department of surgery  and surgeon-in-chief at Sinai Hospital


“The doctor said there’s a  lesion,” Mordecai told Mintz Mordecai. “I’m going to see David in the morning,” referring to a family friend who is also a gastroenterologist.

“I knew if my husband had an appointment with David the very next day, that was not good news,” said Mintz Mordecai. “Because it usually took months to get an  appointment.”

Dr. Mark Katlic, chief of the department of surgery and surgeon-in-chief at Sinai Hospital, explained that GERD can cause heartburn.

“The contents of the stomach come up into the esophagus and the lower part of the esophagus gets bathed by acid from the stomach, [which] can sometimes hurt. That’s heartburn,” said Katlic, who  specializes in several types of cancers including esophageal.

Having occasional heartburn, Katlic added, is not a sign of cancer “but if you have [heartburn] day in and day out for year after year, you’re the person who is potentially at-risk.”

The gastroenterologist that Mordecai visited quickly identified the lesion as cancerous.

“This is just going to make our family stronger,” Mordecai said.

“If it doesn’t make our family smaller, I’ll be OK with that,” replied Mintz Mordecai.

After enduring a brutal regiment of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a  surgery in September 2007 to remove most of his esophagus, things began to look up, as Mordecai had avoided many of the issues other patients face after going through similar surgeries. However, the good fortune didn’t last when he began experiencing severe hip pains.

“We went to the ER and they did an MRI,” said Mintz Mordecai. “[It was] sciatica and also lesions on [his] pelvis, lungs, ribs and liver. It was a nightmare, and our children had just turned 9 and 12.”

During all of this, their daughter, Mara, was preparing for her bat mitzvah at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Because Mordecai was raised Episcopalian, when Mara would get called up for an aliyah, the school would use Mintz Mordecai’s Hebrew name  followed by “ve Monte.” However, Mara knew it was  unlikely the synagogue would do that during a Shabbat service. After hearing this concern, Mordecai began studying with Rabbi Ronald Shulman for his conversion. When Shulman heard about the diagnosis, he rabbi made a decision that forced Mintz Mordecai to begin confronting an unpleasant reality.

“I think we should do the conversion now,” the rabbi told the family.

“And you know when that happens, he’s doing that  because he wants to make sure [my husband] can be buried in a Jewish cemetery,” said Mintz Mordecai. “But I couldn’t go there; I couldn’t think like that.”

Mordecai completed his conversion, and Mara had her bat mitzvah on Aug. 13, her father’s birthday, in 2008, and Maya would follow suit having her bat mitzvah in 2011 on the same date.

During this time, Mintz Mordecai was researching the disease in an effort to learn anything and everything that could potentially save her husband’s life. This led her to Dr. Jaffer Ajani, a leading expert in the field of esophageal cancer.

“I’m always amazed by the way she grasps things, the amount of information thrown at her about medical [jargon and laws],” said Lois Stern, who along with her  husband, Ken, is chairing the game-night event.

Mintz Mordecai asked Ajani’s opinion on what chemotherapy/radiation regiment he would pursue, but her husband’s doctor declined the  advice when she offered it.

Mordecai was due to begin more chemotherapy/radiation in late December, but the  hospital told him it had to be canceled. The orders had not been signed, and the hospital, according to Mintz Mordecai, refused to contact the doctor who was on vacation.

Desperate, Mintz Mordecai called an oncologist at Johns Hopkins, who just weeks  earlier the family decided to stop seeing. Mintz Mordecai explained what was happening, and the doctor agreed to arrange the orders.

“I gave [the Hopkins doctor] the regiment, and she  [approved it],” said Mintz Mordecai. “So he was able to start chemo on New Year’s Eve.”

Mintz Mordecai said the parents at Krieger Schechter Day School did everything in their power to help when they found out what Mintz Mordecai’s family was going through, from providing rides for the girls to delivering meals.

“We discovered a lot about ourselves and the people around us through this experience,” said Mintz Mordecai.

In January 2008, the news she feared ultimately surfaced.

“There’s nothing more we can do,” the doctor told them during an office visit.

“The first thing my husband did was look at me and say, ‘I’m so sorry,’” said Mintz Mordecai. “He looked at the doctor and said, ‘It must be terribly hard for you to have tell patients this news.’”

In his last few months, she asked Mordecai if he had any regrets to which he replied no and added that his goal in life was to make others feel better about themselves. Mintz Mordecai said that legacy lives on through their daughter, Maya, who has always had a knack for knowing when someone is having an off  day and how to make them  feel better.

John “Monte” Mordecai passed away on March 27, 2008 at age 63.

“[Esophageal cancer] is particularly dangerous because it isn’t detected [early],” said Katlic, a doctor from Sinai Hospital. “It might not be cancer, but it’s definitely abnormal and someone should seek medical attention if they suddenly have trouble swallowing.”

Educating the public is a big part of ECAN’s message.

“We’re not trying to cure the disease,” said Stern. “We’re  trying to get enough people to know how to catch it ahead of time.”

Charm City Celebrity Game Night
Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel
700 Aliceanna St.
April 9, 7 p.m.
Tickets are $125 for the main event; $200 with VIP reception.
For more information, visit or call 410-358-3226.

Teens Sound Off on Judaism’s Effect on College Selection

With the rise of anti-Israel attitudes on college campuses, many college-bound students are considering their Jewishness and beliefs regarding  Israel as a major factor in their college selection. In recent years, issues such as the size of the Hillel and the degree of  activity with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel on campuses have become just as relevant to Jewish high schoolers and their parents as the academics.

Justin Welfeld, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, said that Jewish population was more of a  factor for him than the size or location of a school.

“I knew that I wanted going to Hillel and meeting Jewish friends to be part of my college experience, so I only looked at schools that could provide me that opportunity,” he said.

Naomi Ravick, a Walt Whitman High School senior, admitted that being Jewish contributed more to her college selection process than she thought it would.

The very  concerning  phenomenon in the past few years of Jewish students getting onto college  campuses and suddenly being told that Israel  is not what  they thought  it was and then becoming  anti-Israel, is  very dangerous. — Haggai Lavie, Israeli  engagement director  at Beth Tfiloh


“I would be uncomfortable walking around on a campus with a noticeable anti-Semitic presence,” she said.

Like Naomi, Beth Tfiloh senior Jenna Balk is concerned about anti-Israel sentiment.

“I am extremely worried about being judged for being Jewish, even though I’m not particularly observant,” she said.

Shayna Brookman, also a  senior at Beth Tfiloh and an otherwise proud student of  Israeli descent, went so far as to say that she might be reluctant to tell people other than her close friends that she is Jewish to avoid encountering any potential problems.

Issues such as Kashrut and Jewish life on campus have  always factored into college choice for many Jewish students, but “the BDS movement has become the newest factor,” said Haggai Lavie, the Israeli engagement director at Beth Tfiloh.

Even though they can control their exposure to BDS to some degree through their school choice, many students recognize that wherever they go, anti-Israel sentiment is “kind of unavoidable,” Ravick asserted. In particular, students looking to pursue a liberal arts education, such as Bethesda Chevy Chase High School senior Hannah Robinson, have come to expect there will be BDS activity at any school they attend.

While most students acknowledged the likelihood of anti-Israel and BDS activity on campus, many of them expressed different ways of approaching the issue, or rather, of how to react when the issue arises.

Brookman declared that she would attempt to avoid the conversation about Israel on campus at all costs.

“I would never start a political conversation on campus about Israel. If there was ever a big fight about Israel on campus, I might say something, but otherwise I would keep quiet,” she said. “I don’t have the desire to fight with anyone or get worked up arguing, because I already know where I stand on the issue.”

On the contrary, Robinson hopes to “have actual discussions about Israel instead of just really heated, angry debates.

“The main thing I was looking for was a place conducive to open dialogue, and not just completely polarized discussions about Israel,” she said.

Similarly, Ravick said: “I honestly hope that college provides me with opportunities to talk to, educate and learn more about other people’s views,  especially on subjects like  Israel. … The best you can try to do is learn from [the opposition] in whatever way you can.”

In his sessions with the Beth Tfiloh senior class on how to combat BDS and other anti- Israel movements on campus, Lavie provided several pieces of advice about handling potential situations on campus.

“First, Jewish students have to have a good understanding of what Israel is and what Israel’s story is,” he said. “It is important to understand that it is a complex story and not a perfect story, and Israel has made many mistakes. But when you put it into context, Israel’s story is justified.

“The second thing Jewish students need to understand  is who they are talking to when they talk about Israel,” he continued. “The chance that you’ll manage to persuade an [adamant] anti-Israel activist is almost zero. Instead, you have to target students on campus who don’t have any exposure to Israel and explain it to them for what it really is to you so that they can have a truthful understanding. If not, they will be exposed to a very narrow view of Israel.

“The very concerning phenomenon in the past few years of Jewish students getting onto college campuses and suddenly being told that Israel is not what they thought it was and then becoming anti-Israel, is very dangerous.”

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

County Police Arrest Two for Attempted Burglary, Auto Theft


Baltimore County Police arrested a 17-year-old male and a 19-year-old male, both from Baltimore, in connection auto theft and attempted burglary in the early morning hours of March 22.

Baltimore County Police responded to the 2300 block of Blackberry Road at 3:15 a.m. for a report of suspicious individuals walking through the neighborhood pulling on door handles.

When officers arrived, they saw a black Dodge Avenger and a dark SUV. After an officer shined his light into the Dodge, the SUV made an abrupt turn and the Dodge accelerated and turned onto another road. The Dodge stopped nearby and three people ran from the car. Officers were able to find two of the three people that ran with the help of K-9 assistance and Maryland State Police Aviation.

The Dodge had been stolen from the 1400 block of Rosewick Avenue in Rosedale the previous day, police said, and the SUV, a 2001 BMW X5 that was founded crashed into a parked car and abandoned, has been stolen from the 4200 block of Star Circle in Randallstown earlier on March 22.

Police found that the suspects tried to break into two homes on the 2300 block Blackberry Road and a vehicle on the 2300 block of Sweet Meadow Road.

The driver of the Dodge, a 17-year-old male from Baltimore, is being charged as a juvenile and was released to relatives. The second suspect, who was a passenger in the Dodge, is Michael Jermaine Williams, 19, of the 3200 block of Romana Avenue in East Baltimore. He is charged with auto theft, attempted burglary and related charges and is being held without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center, police said.

Police are still investigating the incident and working to determine if the suspects are responsible for any other crimes. Anyone with information on this case of others can call police at 410-307-2020 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 866-7LOCKUP.

Sol Schwartz Remembered as Inspirational, Selfless

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

At 46, Sol Richard Schwartz of Reisterstown had everything to live for. Married for 22 years to Ilene Legum Schwartz, they had two children and a loving extended family, countless friends and admirers and a career in which he excelled. By all accounts he was the definition of the word “mensch.”

His sudden death from a massive heart attack on March 16 is a tremendous loss to his family, friends and the community.

A Baltimore native, Sol Schwartz was the son of Judith and the late Herman Schwartz and the brother of Dr. Steven Schwartz and Cynthia Schwartz. He was a Pikesville High School graduate and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

When he was 20 years old, Schwartz met his future wife, and they were married at Beth Tfiloh Congregation four years later. In the early days of their marriage, Ilene Schwartz pursued a master’s degree in early childhood education — she now teaches 3- and 4-year-olds at Franklin Elementary School — and Sol Schwartz began working at Holabird Sports in Dundalk, which became his career.

Their daughter Dori, 17, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School, was a “daddy’s girl,” Ilene said, adding, “They [had] such a special relationship. It’s almost like they share the same soul, and she has his blue eyes. Sol always encouraged her in sports, [and] he taught her to drive. I was worried [about her driving], but because Sol said she’d be fine, I knew she would be.”

At the funeral, attended by nearly 800 mourners, Evan, 15, honored his father with a speech that shared all he loved about him.

“My dad cared about everyone else before him. … I’m sure every single person here could tell a story about his selflessness,” Evan said. “My dad was the kind of person that you just felt knew the answer to any question. He was the smartest and funniest guy I knew. He was by far the greatest man I ever knew, a blessing to this world — a blessing to all who associated with him.”

Evan’s speech also mentioned his father’s talent for cooking, his penchant for Greek salads with extra feta cheese and his love of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Sol Schwartz and Ilene Legum Schwartz (Provided)

Aside from beloved family and friends, tennis — especially college tennis — was Schwartz’s other passion. He worked tirelessly to keep college tennis programs alive. In addition to managing Holabird and having a sixth sense about which tennis shoes were perfect for each player, Schwartz taught tennis and was a volunteer coach at UMBC, where he worked with head coach Ron Hubbard.

When the two met, Hubbard was competing on the pro tennis tour, and Schwartz was a 9-year-old “hanging out at the club trying to get someone to hit tennis balls with him,” Hubbard recalled. “I had just finished [a tournament’s] semifinals and was waiting for the finals, and I decided to go hit with him. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Little did I know it would turn into such a close friendship.”

When Hubbard learned of his dear friend’s death, he was with the UMBC tennis team in Dallas, where they were competing.

“I told the team I had to leave and that another staff member would bring them home two days later. But all the kids said, ‘No, coach. We’re going with you.’ They rarely saw Sol, but he had such an impact on them,” said Hubbard, who spoke at Schwartz’s funeral. “I was just floored when I walked in and saw the overflow crowd. How did such a young guy touch so many people?”

Through his coaching at UMBC and his work at Holabird, Schwartz became a mentor to many young athletes.

One of those athletes was the son of blogger and radio show host Lisa G. Stone, who wrote about Schwartz and his impact on her son and the tennis community.

“For my son, Sol acted as a mentor,” wrote Stone on her blog, “He would ask the right questions or just listen if that’s what was needed. And my son was but one of many young people who had this type of relationship with Sol.”

Stone also wrote about the fundraising campaign Schwartz initiated through Holabird to help New York-area tennis programs and coaches after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Mid-Atlantic coastline in 2012.

“He solicited donations from all his industry contacts for things like cases of balls and hoppers so the coaches could get back to work,” Stone wrote. “He took to social media and posted daily on the various tennis groups asking for donations of time, money and equipment. He connected with the local [U.S. Tennis Association] office so he could stay on top of their needs. When they asked for something, anything, Sol delivered. He was their angel during a time of real crisis.”

“He touched so many lives,” said his wife. “People have been contacting me from all over the world to tell me how Sol helped them. I got a message from someone in India — Sol helped his daughter get a sponsorship from Adidas. Another woman, whose son played in the Australian open — she came to the funeral and wrote on Facebook: ‘Heads of state don’t get this kind of a turnout.’ I’ve also been getting messages from lots of the kids he coached. A lot of people tell me they want to be better people because of him.”

In addition to his immediate family, Schwartz is survived by his mother, Judith Schwartz, his brother, Dr. Steven (Lisa) Schwartz and sister Cynthia Schwartz, his mother-in-law and father in-law, Ina and Jeffrey Legum, his sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, Sherri and Gary Kassimir and Laurie and Jason Sklar, and many nieces and nephews.

Simone Ellin is a local freelancer writer.

Edwards’ Emily’s List Support Rankles Van Hollen Backers

Rep. Donna Edwards (left) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen ( Photo credits:;

Rep. Donna Edwards (left) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen ( Photo credits:;

Members of America’s Jewish community, by and large, are some of the most progressive voters there are. They consistently back pro-choice Democrats, in some cases by a margin greater than 2-1, and other candidates who advocate increased public expenditures for social service projects and education.

But they’re also staunchly pro-Israel, a fact that has many in Montgomery County scratching their heads over a decision by the progressive political action committee Emily’s List — which backs Democratic women running for Congress — to throw its financial support, some of it raised from local Jewish voters, behind Rep. Donna Edwards in her primary fight against Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Both want to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

“It’s unfortunate that they’re going against one of the good guys,” said state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17), a Van Hollen backer, a member of Montgomery County’s Jewish community and an Emily’s List supporter, of the push for Edwards over Van Hollen. She said, “And now they have less money to spend in Pennsylvania, California, New York and other key races around the country.”

And at the top of the political heap nationwide stands former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who finds herself in a narrowing race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Emily’s List has “an opportunity to elect the first woman president of the United States,” said Kagan. “It seems to me like that would be a really important use of their time.”

(Emily’s List is on record as supporting Clinton in the primary race against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but its super PAC, Women Vote!, has spent more than $2 million on behalf of Edwards, who currently represents the Fourth Congressional District. Van Hollen represents the Eighth District.)

The controversy surrounding Edwards’ ties to Emily’s List played out onstage Monday night during an often contentious debate between the two candidates at Goucher College. When Baltimore Sun opinion editor Andy Green asked Edwards about her contributions from the PAC, she asserted she was “proud” to have its support.

“Emily’s List doesn’t hide who it is,” she said. “They support pro-choice Democratic women because we need to expand the number of women in the Senate and in all of our legislative bodies. On the other hand, Mr. Van Hollen, who was swearing off dark money, is now being supported by [the] Realtors PAC putting almost $1 million into his campaign.”

Van Hollen retorted that Edwards had taken $25,000 in PAC money from Realtors over the last two election cycles.

“Look, if you’re against Citizens United, you don’t get to pick and choose which super PAC you like and which one you don’t like,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court decision several years ago that affirmed the use of so-called “soft money” in federal campaigns.

Van Hollen went on to challenge television ads being run by Emily’s List that assert that she is not tied to big business.

“When you see their ads running that say Congresswoman Edwards doesn’t take any money from Wall Street, guess what? The overwhelming majority of the money for that super PAC, Women Vote! comes from people on Wall Street,” he said. “Hedge fund managers.”

Some in the Washington Jewish community, such as Helane Goldstein of Chevy Chase, dislike Edwards due to her voting record on foreign affairs, in particular a vote in which more than 400 members of the House of Representatives, including Van Hollen, backed a 2013 bill supporting sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. Edwards was one of 21 members who voted against it.

“She has played her hand dozens of times where she has showed us she’s not a supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, because legislatively she’s been on the other side of the fence of the House,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein, a supporter of Emily’s List, feels pay equity along with other women’s issues are important in the race, but she said that one should not vote solely based on gender.

“We don’t back Jewish candidates just because we’re Jewish,” she explained. “We have to be moral, and we have to be strategic. And we have to delve into what’s right and what’s wrong for us. I’m not going to support a candidate just because she’s a female.”

Edwards’ record on Israel has also been a source of concern for Washington attorney Behnam Dayanim, who wrote an op-ed last month for supporting Van Hollen. In an interview, Dayanim said he thinks Edwards has been “distinctively unsympathetic” toward Israel by not standing with other members of the House on votes such one on the Goldstone Report in 2009 — a United Nations-commissioned report that accused the Israel Defense Forces of human rights violations in the Gaza war and whose conclusions were later disputed by the lead author of the report. Van Hollen voted with the majority of Congress in denouncing it.

“On a consistent basis when it comes to issues that are important to Israel, Chris Van Hollen has been there and Donna Edwards has not,” Dayanim said. “That’s the kind of unhelpfulness and the lack of Israeli support that we’ve seen from her, and that contrasts with what we’ve seen from Chris.”

Dayanim added that Emily’s List’s decision to invest so much money to Edwards’ campaign shows a “lack of sensitivity” for Jewish voters in Maryland who care about Israel and thinks the organization ought to consider whether there is “anything about the candidate who might raise concerns within the constituency upon which they are running” when considering where it should spend its money.

“I think it raises a lot of questions about how Emily’s List prioritizes the candidates its support,” he said.

In a race in which Edwards has positioned herself as the standard-bearer of women’s issues, Kagan pointed out that Van Hollen is fervently pro-choice and has a record of supporting working families. She characterized Emily’s List’s stance as putting money into a “race against an ally.”

“Fundamentally, we shouldn’t be electing people because of gender. I didn’t ask people to vote for me because I was a woman,” said Kagan, who has known Van Hollen since the 1990s, when they both served in Maryland’s House of Delegates. “I thought I could be most effective and a lot more consistent in my advocacy than my opponents. I would love to have a woman as Barbara Mikulski’s successor, but more important than that, I want an effective leader for the state of Maryland in the U.S. Senate, and hands down, that candidate is Chris Van Hollen.”

Personal ties to Van Hollen are key for Bethesda resident and former Democratic National Committee vice chair Susan Turnbull, who has known Van Hollen since the early 1980s. Turnbull said everyone she knows has contributed to the Van Hollen campaign, including those who regularly give to Emily’s List.

“Emily’s List has as its sole mission the election of pro-choice Democratic women, and so I believe that they had no choice in the matter,” she said. “However, I believe that the long-term impact will be negligible among those who are paying attention to this race.”

One Jewish voter said he’d be happy with either.

Ken Feinberg, a Washington lawyer who was chief of staff for the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, would be happy with either Edwards or Van Hollen.

He said, “Not with any regard to any specific candidate, I think more women should be in government.”

For her part, Edwards sees Emily’s List support as a logical step in a legacy that reaches back to the PAC’s support for Mikulski during her first run for the Senate in 1986.

“Thirty years later,” said Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes, “we’re proud to have their support and the support of working women all across Maryland and around the country.”

You Should Know … Matt Zuckerman

Matt Zuckerman (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Matt Zuckerman (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Matt Zuckerman was always into electronics. As a young man, he would take apart VCRs to see how they worked and reverse-engineer various machines. He used bar mitzvah money to build his own computer.

He started playing guitar at age 17, and a couple of years later started making guitar pedals for himself and his friends.

“This combines all my passions: the electronics and the music and the noise-making and what have you,” the 27-year-old Pikesville High School graduate said.

He launched NoiseKICK FX in 2011 and has been making guitar pedals full time for about two years out of the basement of his Remington row house. But these are no run-of-the-mill effects pedals. Each one is handmade, most right down to the circuit board, and feature unique art. Two recent pedals include designs by local artists Alex Fine and Matt Muirhead.

“The aesthetics are the big draw,” he said. “For what I’m doing, I want to combine art and music.”

His pedals have been purchased by musicians all over the world in addition to a bevy of regional musicians and members of nationally touring bands such as Dr. Dog, Rusted Root, Vertical Horizon, Florida Georgia Line and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.

The JT visited Zuckerman’s basement workshop, where he had about 20 pedals in various stages of creation, to learn more about his craft.

Can you explain how a guitar pedal works?

You have your guitar, your electric guitar, and you have your amp. When you play your electric guitar through your amp you get one type of sound — the pure sound from the guitar. What the stomp boxes do is they take the electrical signal from the guitar and the circuit board inside alters the sound — it could be the fuzz, which really distorts the sound, or an echo pedal or a tremolo so you get a change in volume — and that sends the signal to the amplifier. So you’re getting multiple different types of sounds.

What is unique about your pedals?

I try to keep it all in-house, handmade and hands-on as much as I can. Since it’s all customized and the customers, they’re musicians and artists themselves, they have a lot of ideas that are translated to the pedals, and I can go from there. You have your standard effects, your delays, your fuzz. I try to take the standard sound and maybe add a little tweak to it.

Why is Baltimore a good place to make guitar pedals?

It’s a huge market with a lot of different types of music and a lot of different music scenes, and they’re not necessarily overlapping. You’ve got your punk and metal scene, you’ve got your jam scene, you’ve got your alternative scene, plus you’ve got jazz. Pedals can be used in any genre, really.

Did you think this could ever be your full-time gig?

It’s not like I expected this to happen. I’ve been building these ever since early college, and before I went out on my own, I was at the point where I had a client base and I had a reputation, and it just sort of happened. I never expect for people to pay me money to do this, let alone pay money and wait two months for their pedal. And they’ll happily do it. Each one is like a little piece of art and engineering and music.

Choral Singers Practice, Look Ahead to Carnegie Hall

HaZamir singers rehearse at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville for their Carnegie Hall performance. (Photo by Cheryl Troy)

HaZamir singers rehearse at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville for their Carnegie Hall performance. (Photo by Cheryl Troy)

Daniel Eisenberg was a founding singer of the Baltimore Chapter of the Zamir Choral Foundation in 2005.

The 25-year-old Columbia native is now a founding conductor for the newly formed Washington, D.C., HaZamir Chapter and will see his students’ work culminate at Carnegie Hall in New York City on April 3.

Their final rehearsals in preparation for the concert will take place at the HaZamir Festival, held at the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonksen, N.Y., starting March 31. HaZamir singers representing all of the HaZamir chapters, along with their conductors, coordinators and parent chaperones, attend the festival.

There are 385 singers and 25 chapters in the United States and six chapters in Israel.

Kate York, 18, is a senior at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., and for years had wanted to join the Jewish high school choral group HaZamir but couldn’t justify driving to Baltimore each week.

“This is such a unique way for us to express our Judaism,” said York. “HaZamir is a youth group that’s all of these different movements, combined with the common purpose of singing, which is something that I really never even thought would be so powerful, but it really is.”

She is one of 15 singers from Washington, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland who auditioned at the D.C. Chapter’s first meeting last June. Since September, they have been rehearsing every Sunday evening at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

“It was really long overdue for us to have a chapter in Washington, so it’s very thrilling,” said Cheryl Troy, parent coordinator who was instrumental in helping to open the chapter. Her daughter, Ariel, a junior at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, is a singer in the chapter. She previously sang for two years in the Baltimore Chapter.

The Baltimore connection runs deep in the new Washington-area chapter. Troy’s son, Aaron, 21, a student at Cornell University, is also an alumnus of the Baltimore Chapter, whose conductor, Erika Pardes Schon, helped Troy start the Washington Chapter.

“We have had a few joint rehearsals with our chapter in Baltimore since we’re so close,” Troy said. “We’re actually very lucky to be so close to another chapter that we can easily get together and have a joint rehearsal.”

Eisenberg and Schon both emphasized that Carnegie Hall is a venue where the best musicians in the world have performed.

“I’m really looking forward to [the concert], and I know the kids in the choir are also,” said Eisenberg. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work to get this point. It’s [going to be] really great for the kids to see it pay off by performing in Carnegie Hall.”

Even for Schon, who has played music most of her life, it’s an uplifting experience.

“It’s inspiring for me every year to be a part of this process and for me to learn from excellent conductors and excellent musicians,” she said.

Justin Katz contributed to this report.