Wearing Pink Hats, Women March on D.C.

The Women’s March on Washington at the National Mall on January 21, 2017. Photo by Ebony Brown

The Women’s March on Washington at the National Mall on January 21, 2017. (Photo by Ebony Brown)

Above the sea of bodies, signs and pink knitted “p—y hats” jostling for space a block from the Mall on Saturday, 22-year-old Aya Kantorovich stood on a riser holding a sign that read “Jewish women will never stop fighting for human rights.”

“I wouldn’t have missed this,” she shouted from her perch.

It was almost noon and it was unclear whether the Women’s March on Washington would end in an actual march or, swamped by its own size, stay put and be satisfied with a rally, speeches and its celebratory mood.

Debra Schultz, a professor of history at City University of New York who stayed with a friend in Baltimore the night before the march, saw a sign — similar to Kantorovich’s — that spoke to her, which said, “Jewish women have always been nasty,” referring, of course, to now-President Donald Trump’s comment during the campaign that Hillary Clinton was a “nasty woman.” Schultz specializes in the study of civil rights and women’s rights, particularly the role of Jewish people in both, and taking part in this movement, she said, was poignant.

“It felt to me like the fruition of all those decades of work,” she said. “There were so many citizens coming out to claim Washington, D.C., as their space and send a message.”

Debra Schultz

Debra Schultz

That message was intentionally — even aggressively — intersectional, addressing women’s rights, the environment, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, disability rights, immigrant rights, voting rights and the Affordable Care Act, and bringing an estimated 500,000 people to the nation’s capital on Jan. 21. The event, first a simple Facebook post-election lament, was organized in 11 weeks into a groundswell response to Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, the disabled and, front and center, women.

“I think I expected to feel angry, as I have been since the election, but I didn’t,” said Staci Wolfson, a Baltimore native. “I felt hopeful.”

Wolfson said she received some hateful comments on her Facebook and Instagram feeds about how those at the march were simply whining about the election result, but “that just misses the point entirely,” she said. In contrast, one of Wolfson’s favorite parts of the march was just the demonstrated kindness of all these relative strangers to each other.

Staci Wolfson (left)

Staci Wolfson (left)

It was clear, from the chants, the headgear and the signs that the founding text of this gathering — larger than Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, larger than the March on Washington for Soviet Jews in 1987 — was the 2005 tape recording in which Trump infamously said “grab them by the p—y.”

Trump dismissed the conversation as “locker-room banter,” but the half million attendees here weren’t buying it.

They filled the mall and spilled out from it like a river overflowing its banks. Demonstrators clogged the Metro stations, cars and platforms, where waves of shouts went up at intervals. From the corner of 4th Street NW and Madison Drive, the Jumbo Tron, broadcasting the speeches near the Capitol, looked like a distant star. Millions more marched in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and in other cities across the country and around the world.

The sister march in Baltimore drew about 5,000 people to Charles Village, including Congressman John Sarbanes, who had been in Washington that morning.

“Places like Baltimore, I think, are going to be really critical in terms of channeling people’s sentiment in a positive, productive way going forward,” he said. “Civic engagement is at the heart of our democracy and it starts with these kinds of gatherings.”

About 200 organizations partnered with the Washington march, including the National Council for Jewish Women, which was involved early in the planning and drew at least a thousand participants. The Reform movement, while not formally affiliated with the march, also drew more than a thousand participants, according to JTA.

Other Jewish groups represented at the march included Jewish Women International, Bend the Arc, Jews United for Justice and T’ruah. Jewish Women International, Jews United for Justice and T’ruah also sponsored a Friday night service at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue downtown.

Molly Amster, Baltimore director for JUFJ, which organized two buses to attend the march, said it was the beginning of the organization engaging in both federal and local issues, as opposed to its typically localized approach in previous years.

Rabbi John Franken

Bolton Street Synagogue Rabbi John Franken

“I think the march, while it doesn’t change anything, was an important statement refuting the normalization of hate,” she said. “And making a statement against the policies the new administration has said they will implement, which are really objectionable.”

For many Jews who attended the march, including Rabbi John Franken of Bolton Street Synagogue, it felt like an extension of their Judaism. Franken, who wore his tallit while marching, called the experience a “really, tremendously powerful, moving day,” and said he was reminded of the quote by noted Rabbi Abraham Heschel that, when he marched for civil rights in Selma, “I felt my legs were praying.”

Despite the march not marching much due to the huge number of people or that he couldn’t hear any of the speakers, Franken said the importance of the day was felt.

“It didn’t matter,” he said. “What really mattered was the patriotic outpouring of Americans who came there to make a statement of what they think the country stands for.”

The long roster of speakers included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founder and senior rabbi of the Ikar community in Los Angeles; and Gloria Steinem, the feminist writer, activist and organizer, who said, “And remember the Constitution does not begin with ‘I, the president.’ It begins with ‘We, the people.’”

“If you force Muslims to register, we will all register as Muslims,” she said.

The presence of Muslim civil rights activist Linda Sarsour as a march organizer led to criticism from the right.

Jody Rabhan, the National Council for Jewish Women’s director of Washington operations, said that before NCJW became involved, it “asked lots of questions about the rally’s messaging, signage, speakers and security.”

Some of those questions were to Sarsour, a Palestinian American. “Linda could not have been more open with our questioning,” Rabhan said. In her speech, she said “nothing to do with Israel or anything that would give a Jewish group pause.”

After noon, the marching began spontaneously. Marchers filled Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive in the direction of the Washington Monument. A group of students chanted, “We believe in science.” Others shouted, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Other marchers reached Pennsylvania Avenue and poured in the direction of the White House. When they passed the Trump International Hotel, they booed, and the chants of “shame, shame” ricocheted off its granite walls.

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Trump and His Inauguration Signal Major Shifts Ahead

Soldiers and Airmen from the Florida National Guard look on as President Donald Trump takes the oath of office during the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. Florida sent approxiamately 340 Soldiers to provide support to the U.S. Park Police during the event. (Ching Oettel via National Guard Flikr album)

Soldiers and Airmen from the Florida National Guard look on as President Donald Trump takes the oath of office during the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. Florida sent approxiamately 340 Soldiers to provide support to the U.S. Park Police during the event. (Ching Oettel via National Guard Flikr album)

Kenneth Manny, a veteran of the Vietnam War, flew up from Florida the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration because he’d grown exasperated with business as usual in Washington.

“It seems like nothing ever gets done in D.C.,” said Manny, who wore a black hat bearing the yellow words “Vietnam Veteran.”

“Politicians promise the moon and they just take, take, take. It’s all politics, and I’m tired of the politics. I want someone to run the government like a freakin’ business.”

As signaled by supporters like Manny who demanded change, the forceful language of Trump’s inaugural address and the protesters lining the entrances to the National Mall, Trump’s inauguration represented a decisive break from the status quo in Washington.

In a now-famous line from his 16-minute speech, Trump described life in the United States in stark terms. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said, referring to poverty, gang  violence, industrial decay and problems with education.

He also distanced himself from the former presidents and dignitaries standing behind him on stage. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”

One avid and longtime Trump supporter, Carol Greenwald of Chevy Chase, who founded the website and organization Jews Choose Trump, said she loved Trump’s speech. She compared its populist message to that of the seventh president, who sought to strike a populist blow against the establishment during his two terms. “I never thought I’d live to see Andrew Jackson reincarnated,” she said.

Not everyone found Trump’s speech so appealing.

“He gave the most hateful speech based on alt-right  nationalism we could have feared,” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of The  Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said in a statement provided to JTA.

The New York Times reported that an hour before the inauguration, protesters smashed shop windows around Franklin Square in downtown Washington and police officers in riot gear used pepper spray to break up groups of protesters.

Still, the vast majority of protestors were peaceful. Alana Kessler, a 20-year-old sophomore at American University, said that when she spoke with Trump supporters, she showed them a sign around her neck that said “free hugs.”

“I tell [Trump supporters] I’m not against you. We are all American. We are a country, but we need to become a community. The only way we can do that is by speaking up and talking to each other,” said Kessler, who also held a sign that said “I am a Jewish woman and I’m inspired to keep America great.”

As two Trump supporters from Westminster, 19-year-old Dustin Banham and his uncle Greg Harrison, walked past Kessler and a circle of mostly women supporters chanting “No KKK, no fascist USA,” they said they supported the women’s right to protest. “It’s their right, although I don’t think they should have bad language on their signs,” said Harrison.

Speaking immediately after Trump concluded his inaugural address was Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered a prayer composed mostly of quotes from the Bible. Hier has known the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for decades, and his center has received  donations from the Jewish family.

“Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan, for they have no one but their fellow citizens,” Hier said. “A nation’s wealth is measured by its  values and not its faults.”

In the lead-up to the inauguration, there was a good deal of discussion about how many people would turn out to watch the businessman and reality TV personality take the oath of office. Trump himself called for “record-breaking crowds” to come to Washington.

While there was controversy over estimates of the crowd size, side-by-side photos of the Mall comparing the turnout for Trump to the inaugurations of Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 showed fewer people appeared to come out this year. In the aftermath, a dispute arose as Trump maintained his inauguration drew the largest crowds ever, and news media and Trump opponents kept pointing to the Mall photos.

Nevertheless, Trump declared his Inauguration Day a victory for “all Americans,” vowing that they “would never be ignored again.”

“The time for empty talk is over,” he said. “Now arrives the hour for action. Do not allow anyone to tell you it cannot be done.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ethan Miller, a Rockville native and a member of the progressive advocacy group IfNotNow, participated in a joint protest with “Disrupt J20,” which bills itself as a  “diverse group of Muslims,  immigrants, Jews and other multi-racial community members.”

Miller, 25, with other members of the group, protested outside entrances to the national Mall and inauguration parade route with the intention of disrupting the events. Although Miller said his group was not successful in preventing people from accessing the parade route, he said the protests were successful because diversity of his group is “a form of resistance against what Trump is proposing.”

And there will be more protests to come, he said: “The inauguration is just the beginning.”

galtshuler@midatlanticmedia.com

Rabbi Marvin Hier on Inauguration, American Democracy

Rabbi Marvin Hier (Bart Bartholomew/SWC)

Rabbi Marvin Hier (Bart Bartholomew/SWC)

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, knows a thing or two about receiving criticism.

On Friday, Jan. 20, Hier  became the first rabbi since Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration in 1985 to contribute prayer services at the swearing-in ceremonies.

One of the six diverse spiritual leaders to read his benediction at the event, Hier is only the ninth rabbi to be invited to a presidential inauguration and the first from the Orthodox  denomination.

Despite the auspiciousness of his involvement, Hier received backlash before and after the ceremony from both sides of the political spectrum.

There were critics on the political left critical of Hier’s participation in the legitimization of an election they believe symbolizes an affront to their way of life.

Hier was similarly condemned from some on the extreme right who issued virulently anti-Semitic statements and, according to the rabbi himself, replaced his face in photos of the service with the devil in their postings online.

“We have to be very straightforward that the anti-Semites are not only those on the extreme right like the Neo-Nazis,” Hier told the JT. “We have to remember there’s an extreme left. The two of them are coming at it from different angles, but they both join the anti-Semitic club.”

Hier is further concerned by a possibly direct relationship between his observation that “anti-Semitism is more rife today than it’s been in a very, very long time” and what he sees as the proliferation of anti-Zionistic rhetoric.

Though Hier was clear that the Wiesenthal Center, and by proxy he, cannot endorse a political candidate, he was just as forthright that “I’m very eager to be supportive of anyone that supports the State of Israel, because I think Israel was treated in a horrible manner in the last few months.”

One of the reasons he accepted the invitation, in fact, is the rabbi’s stance that “there’s no question Donald Trump will be a very close friend to Israel. … He’s showing the world that if you think the United States will desert Israel … we’re going to have very close ties to the state and I’m happy about that signal.”

Hier said he was comforted too by Trump’s involving such an eclectic pool of spiritual leaders at the inauguration, which the rabbi believes to be emblematic of the president’s “signaling that he wanted it to be representative of American society.”

When asked if he believed this “inclusivity,” as he put it, was in earnest on the part of Trump, Hier responded, “It would be only speculation, but he seemed very sincere. I watched him very closely when my colleagues came up and [Trump] was concentrating; it was a great moment for him.”

Although Hier hopes the gesture will open doors to  involving more rabbis at future inaugurations, saying “it’s a good idea to be more inclusive,” he’s less enthused by the message broadcasted by the chorus of those who have and continue to oppose the election results.

“That doesn’t sound like tolerance,” Hier said. “It sounds like intimidation.”

As he’s expressed in previous interviews, Hier fears that such oppositional engagement becomes a “game of seesaw where both sides hit rock bottom. So this time the left hits rock bottom and they’re not coming [to the inauguration]. As a result, four years from now or eight years from now, if a Democrat wins, the Republicans might say they won’t come to the  inauguration.

“The loser is American democracy,” Hier said. “So I’m not a big fan of the Democrats who boycotted. I think it was a mistake. 364 days a year of bickering ought to be enough. For one day, both sides should be able to come together.”

Hier suggested that those who might not necessarily agree with Trump should “follow thier leaders,” pointing out that unlike those who boycotted the inauguration, “the smarter move was made by the Obamas, Carter, the Bushes and the Clintons. … They don’t like anything Trump stands for, but they came.”

Proclaiming that it’s “time for a little patriotism,” Hier is emboldened by his sense that, if nothing else, once those  opposing Trump “get a letter in the mail saying that their taxes have been cut, they’ll immediately jump for joy.”

In the meantime, Hier hopes that those “trying to figure out how they can get rid of Donald Trump” will consider that such continued tension “will take us back to the 1860s. And nobody wants that.”

To Hier, not only would America suffer should the growing schism here lead to some kind of unfortunate civil war, but being that “we’re holding up the rest of the world,” the rest of the globe would suffer in his estimation as well.

“I would recommend to those people who are popping pills because the election didn’t turn out the way they planned to get a hold of themselves and do what people have done for generations in America: hope that the new president is a great president.

“You can be a Republican, you can be a Democrat, but  either way, the election is over,” Hier concluded.

“So if you want, make plans for four years from now. But in the ensuing time, hope that he turns out to be a great president. That’s much better than bickering and trying to do something you can’t do anything about … We don’t hold elections every two weeks. That’s not democracy.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Gone Viral? No Sweat, Just Sweaters

Sam Barsky sports a home-made sweater at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. (Provided)

Sam Barsky sports a homemade sweater at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. (Provided)

Sam Barsky is easily recognizable by his hand-knit sweaters that depict themes ranging from nature scenery to Jewish holidays to well-known landmarks and tourist destinations.

Earlier this month, Barsky, 42, reached new levels of fame that put him in the international spotlight. A post on the website Imgur, self-described as “the best place to share and enjoy the most awesome images on the Internet,” went viral the first weekend January.

“I looked at my Facebook page and had over 100 friend requests all at once,” said Barsky. “Some mystery person found out about my sweaters and posted about them on a site that I had never heard of before without talking to me, which is not the first time it has happened. It apparently become their most popular article of the day, made their front page and went viral.”

Author’s note: How viral is viral? We scrolled through the comments section of the Imgur post and still couldn’t reach the bottom after five minutes.

Since then, the mass media picked up on the story. Media outlets all over the world have published stories and are actively seeking out Barsky for interviews.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I have a few thousand unread messages on email and on Facebook requesting all these interviews and articles. It’s too much for me to handle all at once, so I’m getting to some every day and am writing apologies about why it’s taking so long to respond — that it’s because I’m flooded and it’s nothing personal.”

Barsky was interested in learning to knit for a long time before he finally took it up. It appealed to him because he could make his own clothes with designs of his choosing. However, he found encountered a lot of difficulty when he first attempted to learn while studying nursing at the Community College of Baltimore County.

“In the middle of the ’90s, I took a book out of the library, bought some yarn and tried to figure it out. I couldn’t, so I gave up for a time and concentrated on my studies,” said Barsky. “A couple of times throughout my years in college, I signed up for courses in various places like adult education centers to try to learn how to knit, but they were always canceled due to low enrollment.”

However, 1999 proved to be a difficult year for Barsky. He started to develop mobility issues that forced him to drop out of his nursing program halfway through, in the middle of a semester. He was left trying to figure out what to do next with his life.

At a flea market one Sunday morning, Barsky had a chance encounter with three women who were knitting that would be the catalyst for his learning to do so himself.

“I asked them, ‘how do I learn how to do that?’ They told me that they owned a yarn shop, and that if I would come in, they would teach me for free on the condition that I bought their yarn,” Barsky explained. “I made a point of wearing a commercial sweater with a multicolored paisley pattern the first time I went in, because I wanted to show them what my goals were.”

The yarn shop was Woolworks Inc. on Falls Road, which is now in a new location with new owners, according to Barsky. He was told in the beginning that making sweaters was for experienced knitters, so the women started him on a scarf instead, which he never finished. Several weeks later, a friend that he had met at the shop told him of another store called Woolstock Knit & Sew in Glyndon.

“The moment I walked in, the owner, Leslye Solomon, told me that I would walk out of the shop having started work on a sweater — I was very excited about it,” he said. “She started me on a solid color sweater. It took me about eight months to complete it, but I got it done just in the nick of time before the end of the millennium.”

After knitting two initial sweaters, each monochromatic, Barsky decided to challenge himself and create a sweater that depicted a map of the world in five months, followed by a nature scene “that had a picture on the back of a tall waterfall and a cloudy sky, and on the front it depicted a raging river with a covered bridge and waterwheel.”

The latter took him just two months to finish and he declared it a success — “People didn’t mistake for something else!” Since that time, Barsky has amassed an enormous collection of sweaters, and now averages about a month to make each sweater.

“At that point I realized I could put anything on a sweater,” he said. “I realized I could do buildings and iconic land marks, I did a castle. It’s really weird, but I did the Twin Towers before 9/11. I also did the Tower Bridge in London. Fast forward several months, I decided it would be nice if I had some Jewish-themed sweaters, so I made a Sukkot sweater, and shortly after that, a Chanukah sweater. Over the years that followed, I was making sweaters of many different landmarks all over the world, nature scenes, at least one for every Jewish holiday. By 2016, I was a celebrity within the worldwide knitting community.”

At first, Barsky would just come up with the idea for his next sweater off the top of his head. However, if he was going to visit a location that he had depicted in a sweater, he figured that he might as well wear that particular sweater — what better place to wear it? “I wouldn’t think of going somewhere with the point being to get a picture,” Barsky explained, however. “Whenever you’re at a tourist attraction, it’s normal to take pictures.” What stood out was his sweaters, rather than that he was taking a picture.

“Over time I realized I had a good collection of 10 to 15 pictures [wearing a sweater depicting my surroundings] — they weren’t the greatest, but at that point I realized I had to grow the collection and I would take pictures like that at every opportunity.”

Today, Barksy has a total of 104 sweaters, with matching pictures for 93 of them.

“For 105, I am doing a Groundhog Day sweater. I was planning to make an Martin Luther King Day sweater, it’s about halfway done, but because of this past week of publicity, I didn’t have the time to finish it,” said Barsky. “Since I only have two weeks, I’m focusing on getting the Groundhog Day one done. After that, I’ll find out what to do next based on what place we plan to travel to or what event comes up.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Suburban Orthodox Hires New Executive Director

Juliya Sheynman (Screenshot Provided)

Juliya Sheynman (Screenshot Provided)

Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim recently announced the appointment of its new executive director, Juliya Sheynman, who will officially join the congregation on Jan. 25.

Born in Minsk, Belarus, Sheynman earned her degree in mass media communications from the University of Washington. She recently completed the Brandeis Jewish Leadership Incubator program at Brandeis University, a year-long fellowship aimed at providing Jewish professionals with “superior management skills, Jewish knowledge, systematic understanding of the Russian-speaking and American Jewish communities and commitment to the future of the Jewish people,” according to the program’s website.

Before coming to Suburban Orthodox, Sheynman most recently worked at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as manager of its general campaign. As a part of the role, it was her responsibility to foster relationships with donors, connect donors to the impact of their charity and develop fundraising events, among other endeavors.

“I am deeply passionate about building a stronger, more cohesive and supportive community,” said Sheynman. “Suburban has always done good things, but with the right strategy and lay/pro partnership, we can build on those things to ensure we offer more people a meaningful connection and stake in their Torah and kehillah.

“I’m honored that the Rabbi and the Shul leadership have chosen me and I accepted this role with a new fire in my belly and a full commitment in my heart. Together, we’ll make great things happen.”

Sheynman currently resides in Pikesville with her husband Leon and three children, Miri, Chani and Simi.

“It’s uplifting to do something good and beautiful in a community,” she said. “Giving [Suburban Orthodox] more structure so that it can grow and expand in new and exciting ways is one example.”

— Daniel Nozick

JCCs in Baltimore and Beyond Evacuated for Second Time in Two Weeks JCC was also evacuated Jan. 9; other facilities report threats across country

jcc-park-heights

(Daniel Nozick)

The Park Heights JCC, along with JCCs across the country, has now been the target of two bomb threats this month after the most recent threat Jan. 18, which follows a previous threat on Jan. 9.

The second round of bomb threats affected 27 JCCs in 17 states.

The Park Heights JCC received the phone call threat around 11 a.m. Jan. 18 and the Baltimore Police Department responded shortly thereafter. The JCC reopened after about an hour, once police had done a walkthrough with staff to check for any suspicious materials.

The JCC made the decision to immediately evacuate, according to Paul Lurie, chief operations officer for the JCC of Greater Baltimore, following protocol as they did after the Jan. 9 threat.

“They were evacuating as officers arrived,” said BPD spokesman Det. Jeremy Silbert.

In addition to Maryland, there were threats to facilities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut and South Carolina, among states, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Lurie said the Baltimore facility had actually heard of some of the threats to other JCCs through Secure Community Network, a safety initiative from the Jewish Federations of North America, before receiving one. The staff was already on heightened alert after the previous week, he added, and evacuation protocols went smoothly.

“We have always had really strong protocols in place,” he said. “Obviously, after what happened [Jan. 9] we are working with our community partners and law enforcement to be at the top of our game.”

None of the threats thus far have been substantiated, but Lurie said they always assume a threat is serious. Other Jewish groups, such as Anti-Defamation League, are urging all JCCs to do the same.

“Although the threats do not appear to be credible, the League is urging all communal institutions to take these threats extremely seriously,” the ADL said in a security alert statement issued shortly after the Jan. 18 threats.

In the last round of threats on Jan. 9, 16 facilities in nine states were victims of the calls. In that instance, the Park Heights JCC was evacuated after the late morning call. The JCC reopened by 2 p.m.

Silbert said the case is under investigation and city police are working with state and federal officials.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

D’oh Nuts! Local doughnut pop-up opens Hampden brick-and-mortar store

Josh Kowitz. (Mathew Klickstein)

Josh Kowitz (Mathew Klickstein)

Reisterstown native and resident Josh Kowitz, 34, calls out to one of his employees in the kitchen to use only a little bit of strawberry extract … “and a little bit of pink food coloring.”

It’s Thursday, Jan. 12, the first day of business for Kowitz and his Hampden-based doughnut shop, Center Cut Doughnuts.

“Add water liberally and then just thin it out a little bit,” he continues, giving instructions to his small staff in his quaint-sized store at 3528 Chestnut Ave., around the corner from his friends and pseudo-mentors at The Charmery.

Aside from being so close to Dave Alima and wife Laura who opened up and run ice cream store The Charmery — where Kowitz had installed an early pop-up incarnation of Center Cut multiple times over the two years he ran it as such a transient entity — 3528 Chestnut Ave. had another  obvious appeal for the new doughnut shop.

Kowitz lucked into finding a space that just happened to  already exist as a doughnut store.

Having closed their doors in November, the owners of B. Doughnut sold extant pieces of equipment to Kowitz, allowing him to more easily transition his pop-up, appearing regularly at the Hampden Farmers’ Market since May 2015, into his first brick and mortar.

His soft opening celebration of a sort took place on Tuesday, Jan. 10 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Regular hours are 7 a.m, to 2 p.m. now that Center Cut is officially open.)

“We overbaked,” Kowitz said with a hearty laugh. “We had a bunch of extra doughnuts left over.”

As such, Kowitz went out on the street with his staff giving out free doughnuts to passers-by. By this point, it was the “dessert hour,” as Kowitz phrased it, and he was able to hand out plenty of delectable doughy treats to Baltimoreans happening by.

For the time being, Kowitz is focusing on a basic line of specialty, gourmet doughnuts until he gets his footing, as he said.

“Just until I can start paying rent with some money in the register,” he said, again laughing. “I’m pretty close to that  already.”

A fan of the beloved animated television series “The Simpsons,” Kowitz has named his pink sprinkled doughnut the “Homer,” after the paterfamilias of America’s favorite highlighter-colored dysfunctional family.

There are a tidy handful of “Simpsons” action figures in the aqua-blue tinted doughnut display, and Homer’s face eating a pink doughnut not unlike those that can be purchased at Center Cut emblazons Kowitz’s chef’s apron.

“I mean, who doesn’t like  ‘The Simpsons’?” Kowitz said. “[The show’s] just synonymous [with doughnuts.]”

Kowitz went on to say that that his fandom of the show “doesn’t drive him,” though. “It’s not my life.”

Along with his signature brown butter doughnuts, old-fashioned glazed and lemon poppy challah doughnut (made from fried challah dough), it would seem these delicious sugary confections are his life.

Kowitz began trying his hand at making the perfect doughnut (or at least close enough) while still working his day job as a credit analyst for the past five years. His grandfather being a pastry chef and his family running the erstwhile local deli Bubb’s as well as a chain of local markets, Kowitz said food has been in his blood, be it making, serving or selling it.

For six to eight months, Kowitz said, he came home from work every night and went straight to his alchemical experimentations in determining the ideal yeast formulation.

“I’d try all these different kinds,” Kowitz said. “I’d go on the internet, I’d do this, I’d do that. And then I think by accident, I stumbled on this — a light, crispy, airy doughnut — and a light bulb went off for my ‘Aha! moment.’”

Center Cut Doughnuts. (Mathew Klickstein)

Center Cut Doughnuts (Mathew Klickstein)

After bringing his successes (and occasional failures) to the office, Kowitz began hearing from delighted co-workers that his concoctions were good enough for the open market.

Center Cut Doughnuts, so named for Kowitz’s love of baseball (center cut being a fast ball straight down the middle “and a doughnut has a hole in the center of it,” chuckled Kowitz), was born.

Doors are now open on Kowitz’s first full-fledged store after cutting his teeth at those farmers’ market appearances and pop-ups at The Charmery.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them,” Kowitz said of his longtime friends and husband-and-wife co-owners of The Charmery. “They helped me get my name out there, certainly.”

Having lacked the time and resources last minute before opening, Kowitz enlisted in the help of Dave Alima, who was more than happy to lend a hand … and a few blue plastic trays.

“Ice cream has given me my dream life,” said Alima. “And if I can help my friends achieve their dream life, I’m going to do whatever I can every time. This was something [Kowitz] had talked about for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have him here.

“The doughnuts are great, and it’s complementary to our ice cream. Who doesn’t want that in a neighborhood?”

Alima’s not alone in his declaration, with customers such as Jemal Cole trumpeting, “I’m a fan!”

Waiting in line on the first morning for his Center Cut fix, Cole has followed Kowitz’s creation since it was first  offered at the farmers’ market and also attended the store’s soft opening.

“I like that they’re local, I like that they’re new and different, that they’re not a chain,” Cole said.

Wendy Doak, another customer in line, hadn’t heard of Center Cut before reading about the shop’s opening in the newspaper but agrees that “I like to support local: I think it keeps the businesses and character alive of the city.”

Hampden’s “forward-thinking acceptance of new ideas,” as Kowitz sees it, is exactly what made the town a perfect place to kick-start Center Cut.

“If I were to tell someone who was visiting Baltimore where to go for food,” Kowitz said, “I’d tell them to go to Hampden. It’s the food mecca of Baltimore.”

“Doughnuts and ice cream,” Alima concurred. “This is the kind of stuff that makes Baltimore great!”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Jewish and Muslim Groups Host MLK Interfaith Event

MLK

An interfaith event at the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore on MLK Day spotlighted the legacy of civil rights. (Hannah Monicken)

To Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, the Baltimore Jewish Council, Repair the World and the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore held an interfaith event discussing the civil rights movements and ways to continue that legacy.

The group of about 40 participants gathered in stocking feet at the MCCCB, with those older sitting on chairs and the younger ones in the group opting to sit on the ground. Madeline Suggs of the BJC and Josh Sherman of Repair the World were two of the main organizers, with Imam Tariq Najee-Ullah, who is also involved in the Trialogue series of interfaith discussions, as facilitator.

“The Civil Rights [Movement] wasn’t just a speech in Washington where Martin Luther King spoke and everything was better,” Najee-Ullah said in introducing the event.

There were about twice as many Jewish participants as Muslim (and at least one woman who was Unitarian). Because the group was relatively large for a discussion, it proceeded with Najee-Ullah calling on those who raised their hands to comment.

For about an hour-and-a-half, those at the event seemed to center the discussion on a couple main themes: A desire for direct action and exposing younger generations to diversity to combat societal prejudices.

Sol Goldstein, a World War II veteran in his 90s who helped liberate concentration camps, said while he appreciates attempts at interfaith gatherings, he would like to see more tangible, direct results. This spurred a short, respectful debate about the value of “parties,” with no specific resolution, but a general consensus at the value of befriending people outside your usual circle — of a different religion, race or class.

Bilal Ali, a community liaison for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, added to what Goldstein had said with the idea that the country needs to “tear down the walls of fear.” There are parallels between the histories of Muslim African-Americans and Jews, he said.

“If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” he added.
Though no one mentioned newly elected President Donald Trump’s name, it was clear he was on many people’s minds, with references to inauguration and “the new administration.” His presence, for those who referenced it, marked a catalyst for their desire to be active in resisting tides of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Many attendees had organizations and initiatives they already worked with and used the space to advocate for those issues and encourage others to get involved. At the end of the session, it was decided that a list should be complied of those who attended, along with their affiliations — both religiously and organizationally — so others could reach out.

“I really hope parts of these conversations made you uncomfortable,” Sherman said, citing “productive discomfort” as a way to make people examine their own beliefs and biases.

Najee-Ullah felt the evening was a success. The current political climate has spurred a
lot of people to becoming involved and he felt interfaith dialogues and events could take advantage of that momentum.

“I think we have the opportunity to move things forward here in a way we haven’t in a long time,” he said.

Gabriel Pickus was an attendee and participant. He founded Baltimore Wisdom Project, which works with disadvantaged students, and said he came because he wanted to ensure he is always standing on the right side of history. During the event, he challenged his fellow Jews to take a hard look at their own community.

“I think one of the hardest things to do is tell your own community they are standing on the wrong side of history,” he said.

Another attendee, Michael Thompkins, a Jewish man of color, said he is interested in issues of social justice, both in his professional and personal life. He works with college students on topics like these and is always happy to see events where people can drop some of their labels and communicate.

“For me, it’s a really empowering feeling, a really helpful feeling,” he said.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

A House Divided The one place meant to unite the Jewish community is becoming one of its biggest rifts

cover1This week, the country inaugurates its new president.

Due partially to a lack of government experience to draw from and partially to Donald Trump’s propensity for holding competing positions on the same issue, it is hard to say how exactly the new president will govern.

For the Baltimore Jewish community — and American Jewish population at large — one of the main issues to watch will be that of its homeland: Israel.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Israel to many Jews. It is a key part of Jewish identity, and yet, the one place meant to unite all Jews has become possibly the community’s greatest divide. For some, criticism of Israel undermines the Jewish history of overcoming oppression and anti-Semitism. For others, not to criticize the Israeli government’s controversial policies violates Jewish values and the community’s progressive track record.

For decades, supporting Israel was a bipartisan effort in the United States. That has become less and less true in recent years, with approaches to Israel splitting more and more along party lines. The Baltimore Jewish community of more than 93,000 (at last count, according to a 2010 study by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore) is not immune to this trend.

“I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of a political shift,” said Art Abramson, former longtime executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “And I don’t see it boding particularly well for the Jewish community.”

Robert Freedman, a visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a professor at the Baltimore Hebrew Institute, has edited a number of books about Israel and agreed with Abramson.
He pointed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress (at then-Speaker John Boehner’s invitation) two years ago as one of the first indications of Israel’s move to a more partisan consideration.

Some point to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in March 2015 (pictured) at the invite of then-speaker John Boehner as an indication that Israel was becoming a partisan issue.

Some point to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in March 2015 (pictured) at the invite of then-speaker John Boehner as an indication that Israel was becoming a partisan issue.

“So what you’re seeing is a major split in the American Jewish community — Orthodox voting Republican and Conservative/Reform voting Democrat,” he said. “And I think you’re going to see increasing alienation of Reform and Conservative Jews from Israel, not only because of the settlements, but also because of the Western Wall issue and their being treated as second-class citizens.”

Many JT readers will be familiar, to some extent, with Israeli politics, but the crux of the issue is this: The Orthodox and Haredi Orthodox Jewish voice in Israel is amplified in politics and government
beyond what it represents in population, often to the exclusion of those who identify with the Conservative or Reform or other non-Orthodox movements of Judaism. As of a Pew Research Center study released last year, those identifying as “Haredi Orthodox” and “Religious” were 18 percent
of the Israeli population (for context, 19 percent of Israel is non-Jewish, with 14 of the 19 percent Muslim). The remaining 63 percent of Jews identified as “Traditional” (23 percent) or “Secular” (the largest single segment of the population at 40 percent). By contrast, the Jewish population in the United States, according to a 2013 Pew survey, is about one-third nondenominational (30 percent), one-third Reform (35 percent), and the remaining third Conservative (18 percent) along with Orthodox (10 percent); a small percentage falls into the “other” category.

There is a prevailing attitude among the more religious in Israel that non-Orthodox Jews are “not real Jews,” Freedman said, and that plays out in ways both big and small that only serve to further alienate many non-Orthodox American Jews from Israel, as well as the non-Orthodox in Israel.

For example, non-Orthodox women are frequently made to dress in a way the more religious consider modest, even in certain public areas. Israeli religious authorities (the only ones allowed to perform marriages) are barred from marrying interfaith couples, and non-Orthodox Jewish couples can only be married under Orthodox rules.

But one of the main, ongoing discussions has been who’s allowed to pray (and how) at the Western Wall. The main prayer plaza at the Wall separates visitors by gender, as dictated by traditional Jewish law. And the southern part of the Wall (around Robinson’s Arch) was designated in 2000 to be an unofficial pluralistic prayer site for those wishing to hold mixed-gender ceremonies or prayers. An interdenominational group called Women of the Wall has also been working to allow women to pray at the Wall in ways traditionally allowed only to men — reading from the Torah, wrapped in a prayer shawl, etc.

"Women of the Wall", an activist group that is challenging the Orthodox over rites at the Western Wall, has been working to allow women to pray at the Wall in ways traditionally allowed only to men, including reading from the Torah and wearing prayer shawls.

“Women of the Wall”, an activist group that is challenging the Orthodox over rites at the
Western Wall, has been working to allow women to pray at the Wall in ways traditionally allowed only to men, including reading from the Torah and wearing prayer shawls.

Earlier last year, a government resolution would have formally recognized and expanded the designated space at the southern end of the Wall and Robinson’s Arch as a pluralistic prayer space. The Haredi Orthodox leaders in the coalition later got cold feet and instead introduced a bill to the Knesset that would essentially criminalize progressive prayer services across the whole Wall.

“Acting as if it’s an Orthodox monopoly means Israel and the Wall are not for all Jews, but a special kind of Jews — the ultra-Orthodox Jews — and that’s very unfortunate in terms of Jewish unity,” Freedman said, continuing that all of this adds up to increasingly mixed views on Israel, especially from non-Orthodox Jews. So, within this already-fraught religious (and political) divide steps the seemingly interminable conflict with the Palestinians.

The conflict has been bloody and long. Since just the turn of the century, more than 1,300
Israelis and, exponentially larger, 9,200 Palestinians have died, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, respectively.

The international community has, in recent weeks, made moves that appear to be both criticizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and attempting to renew a stalled peace process aimed at a two-state solution. Just last weekend, representatives from 70 countries in Paris for a Middle East Peace Conference endorsed renewed talks and the existence of a two-state solution, a move largely seen as warning Trump and Netanyahu not to ignore this process.

And then there was the U.N. resolution. The most recent measure to reveal the divide specifically in the American Jewish population, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 condemned Israeli settlements on the West Bank and was passed unanimously. The United States abstained from voting, a break from usual policy when it would frequently veto any resolution seen as too critical of Israel.

AIPAC, the staunchly pro-Israel group, was quick to speak out against the resolution, calling it “destructive” and “one-sided.”

Conversely, J Street, the more liberal, relative upstart pro-Israel group to AIPAC, welcomed the resolution, saying it “reaffirm[ed] the need for a two-state solution and call[ed] for a halt to actions by both sides that serve to undermine the prospects for peace.”

Even further left, Jewish Voice for Peace issued a statement from its executive director both celebrating the resolution and saying the U.S. should have voted for the resolution as opposed to abstaining. “As the only country that abstained, the evidence of the U.S.’s isolation from the global consensus during the vote was stark,” the statement, posted on the group’s website, says in part.

Perhaps tellingly, the BJC fell on the AIPAC side, issuing a statement — made by the executive committee on behalf of the full board — that it was “profoundly disappointed” in the U.S. abstention. “The BJC believes that the United States’ strong support for its most steadfast democratic ally in the Middle East is both principled and strategic,” it went on to say. “Unfortunately, the abstention from last week’s U.N. resolution was neither.”

Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC, says the council is always striving to bring the community together and weigh in on issues they think their voice can make a difference.

“I hope we will continue to be an advocate for the community,” he said. He also said the BJC is committed to interfaith cooperation and standing with the local Muslim community against rising Islamophobia, but did not go into detail on where the council might stand in the coming Trump administration’s future.

“It’s just kind of a confusing time politically, so I think everyone is trying to figure it out,” Libit said. But he does want the council to be a voice for everyone. “I think the BJC is really broadly representative of the community.”

Abramson does think the Baltimore Jewish community is divided on Israel but cautions against equating the Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox divide with the political right vs. left one. He points to broad Jewish support for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that didn’t translate across the community into support for Trump.

This tracks for Baltimore Zionist District president Robert Slatkin, who is a member of a Conservative congregation. He said BZD includes people from a spectrum of Jewish denominations, but its membership leans more religious. BZD aims to both advocate for Israel’s continued security and educate about the challenges still facing it.

“We’re very clear: We continue in our unwavering support of a democratic state of Israel,” Slatkin said.
Siding with Slatkin is Dr. Gary Applebaum, who is involved locally with both AIPAC and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Though he is a staunch supporter of Israel — he criticized the Palestinians for not coming to the table and for their lack of leadership — he believes it still has some unifying power.

“Those of us who love Israel and want to do right by Israel often realize Israel is the one issue that can bring Congress together,” he said.

And yet, Al Mendelsohn, GOP chairman for Baltimore County, said he’s seeing more local Jews come over to the Republican Party, partly, he feels, because of the Israel issue.

“You can certainly say something you don’t agree with regarding Israel without being an anti-Semite, but I think that the national Democratic Party has become very accepting of that crowd,” he said, adding that he feels even Sen. Ben Cardin sometimes goes out of his way not to offend those Mendelsohn saw as anti-Israel. “I’m finding an awful lot of people who are Jewish who aren’t afraid to say, ‘I voted Republican last time.’”

Cardin, the senior senator for Maryland, a Democrat and member of Beth Tfiloh, took issue with that characterization.

“No, I don’t accept that there is a difference in passion of support for Israel,” he said. “In reality, we all want to maintain bipartisan, bicameral — executive, legislative — support of Israel.”

Cardin co-introduced the Senate resolution opposing the U.N. resolution. There are always people, on both sides, who will try to make Israel a partisan issue, he said, though he doesn’t see it as one.

“It’s not unusual to see different views in the Jewish community,” he said. “That’s in our DNA. I don’t think there’s any disagreement on support for Israel.”

Josh Greenfeld is a local representative of J Street, which supports working toward the two-state solution, and said there’s a reason the organization is growing and becoming more visible. Since Trump’s surprise election, J Street has seen some of the biggest gains ever, both in membership and finances, according to Greenfeld. And he says he is having more and more people from the Baltimore community reach out to him about being involved.

“When J Street started, it was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. AIPAC has done great work, he added, but more recently it has “failed to represent views of many in the community.”

Many of those in the community who are more critical of Israel tend to fall in younger demographics — look at J Street’s fairly large presence on college campuses (this includes a chapter at Johns Hopkins University). Those who are more hardline pro-Israel often dismiss these groups as simply “less educated” on the facts or saying they don’t remember all the violence Israel has faced in getting where it has (specifically the 1948 Arab-Israeli, 1967 Six-Day and 1973 Yom Kippur wars).

This is true to some extent, but it also does a serious disservice to young Jews, many of whom ground their criticisms of Israel firmly in their Jewish faith. Annie Kaufman, 38, is an active member of the Baltimore Jewish community (although she is currently attending yeshiva in Chicago) and also very progressive on issues of social justice. She has been a longtime member of Jewish Voice for Peace and said she has been frustrated that it can feel like Baltimore Jewish institutions have very pro-Israel assumptions of those attending their events.

“They try to make it look like all Jews in Baltimore stand with Israel and that it’s a big part of what it means to be Jewish,” she said. “But I know from many of my friends that there is a lot of diversity of opinion regarding Israel.”

Kaufman, who recently led a progressive-minded Talmudic study session in Baltimore, thinks some synagogues are now engaging with discussions that vocalize and support criticisms of Israel.

Local Rabbis are as divided and diverse in opinion as the community they serve. Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Congregation supports Israel, but also thinks too many people conflate the Israeli government with the whole State of Israel.

“Israel is not an issue, it’s a state,” he said. He may disagree with some of its policies as a self-described progressive, but he believes absolutely that “being pro-Israel is supporting its right to exist as a Jewish, democratic and free state.”

The key, Burg said, is to welcome the discussions, to allow for the Jewish tenet of “sacred arguing” to take place respectfully among the community.

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation was actually in Israel when the JT reached out to him. He characterized both his and his congregation as a staunchly pro-Israel group. Or, as he put it, “I wasn’t put on this earth to be critical of Israel.”

“This is not a J Street congregation,” he went on to say. “We take great pride in our support for Israel.”

How someone approached Israel also tended to predict how he or she viewed the potential for the new administration. Those hardline Israel supporters are optimistic about Trump, and hopeful for improved U.S.-Israel relations. If personnel are policy, Applebaum said, then he saw it as a positive sign that Trump was surrounding himself with pro-Israel people in his administration.

Among Trump’s personnel is his pick for Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — a controversial choice due to his support for far-right groups in Israel and previous statements likening J Street members to kapos, Jews who supervised their fellow Jews in concentration camps. Friedman also supports moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move at odds with longtime U.S. policy. Those more critical of Israel have numerous concerns, not only for the future of Israel, but also for those minority groups here at home, including the Jewish community.

“I’m very nervous about Trump’s presidency in general and his appointees, including David Friedman,” Burg said.

Cardin, who is the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which will be overseeing Friedman’s confirmation, said he always reserves judgment until the hearings, but assured that Friedman will be asked to address head-on his “unacceptable statements about Jews who disagree with him.”

Almost everyone the JT talked to about this subject predicted the divide in the Baltimore Jewish community, and larger American Jewish population, would only widen. And they all also said something else: They love Israel. Almost all of them had visited at least once, more often a double-digit number of times.

The community may not agree on Israel, maybe ever, but they all still have something that unites them — their Jewish heritage.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore’s Rod Rosenstein Nominated to Trump Role

Rosenstein, Rod

(Provided)

Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Baltimore, has been nominated to join President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet as deputy attorney general, according to a report by The Washington Post citing a member of the Trump transition team.

Rosenstein, 51, who was appointed to his current post by Republican President George W. Bush in 2005, is currently the longest serving U.S. Attorney in the Justice Department.

Other reports cited that Rosenstein was only in consideration to serve as the second-highest ranking position in the Justice Department.

While there are conflicting reports stating Rosenstein has been “nominated” or “considered” for the position, a spokeswoman for Maryland’s top federal prosecutor told the JT that he has yet to be nominated.

If appointed, Rosenstein would serve directly under Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who went through the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation process earlier this month to become attorney general.

In Baltimore, Rosenstein has worked with law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime and gangs, illegal drugs, and civil right violations, among other priorities.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Rosenstein joined the Justice Department in 1990 as a trial attorney in the public integrity section of the criminal division.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com