Health Care Professionals Pack Medical Cannabis Brunch

Del. Dan Morhaim and Dr. Lynn McPherson spoke to a large group of health care professionals about medical cannabis at a Maimonides Society event.

Del. Dan Morhaim and Dr. Lynn McPherson spoke to a large group of health care professionals about medical cannabis at a Maimonides Society event.

Doctors, dentists, surgeons and a variety of other health care providers came out in large numbers to learn about Maryland’s medical cannabis program on Sunday, Feb. 21.

More than 100 health professionals attended the Maimonides Society brunch at the Suburban Country Club to hear Del. Dan Morhaim, who is also an emergency medicine physician, and Dr. Lynn McPherson, a professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore, speak about medical cannabis and the program that is soon to come in Maryland.

McPherson spoke about the pharmacological effects of cannabis as well as what kind of ailments it can be helpful with — she mentioned seizures, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, nausea and vomiting from cancer and chemotherapy, gastrointestinal disorders, multiple sclerosis, HIV and AIDS and neuropathic pain.

Morhaim also spoke from a medical perspective and gave an overview of Maryland’s medical cannabis program.

“It’s like any other medicine. We prescribe medicine and hope the benefits outweigh the risk,” Morhaim said. “It’s coming, and it’s time for all of us to figure out how to get on board.”

For doctors, it’s as simple as going to the website of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and signing up to be a “certifier”; they can’t technically prescribe cannabis since it’s classified as a federal Schedule I drug. Morhaim introduced a bill in this General Assembly session that would allow dentists, podiatrists and advanced practice nurses to also become certifiers. The bill is still pending.

Licenses for growers, processors and dispensaries have yet to be awarded since the state received a large number of applications, but Morhaim expects growers’ licenses to be awarded in a few months.

Following the presentations, an extensive question-and-answer session followed. The diversity of disciplines — neurosurgeons, gastroenteroloists, pediatricians, addiction specialists, psychiatrists, oncologists and ear, nose and throat specialists — showed that there is interest as well as questions from doctors across the health care spectrum.

While the crowd was clearly curious, many had a number of concerns about how medical cannabis will be used, how patients will be advised and what the future holds for the program. Morhaim admitted there are gaps in the program that need improvement and said this will be a fluid process.

Concerns were expressed about the lack of required physician education, questions were asked about data collection — Maryland will have robust data collection — and doctors asked about impairment in cannabis use, interactions with other drugs and how cannabis use will be monitored for patients, another area that is a bit murky.

While a doctor can recommend cannabis to a patient, it is up to the dispensaries to tell the patient how to use the cannabis whether it’s through using a vaporizer or ingesting a tincture. Morhaim recommended doctors keep in touch with patients and their dispensaries for monitoring.

Orthopedic surgeon Gary Pushkin and internist Tyler Cymet, both board members of the Maryland State Medical Society MedChi, expressed concerns that cannabis prescriptions wouldn’t be entered into the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, which lists narcotic prescriptions. Morhaim said any
patient that attempts to get cannabis recommended by more than one doctor will be flagged and could have their medical card revoked.

“It’s brand new. There’s so much we don’t know about it scientifically and medically, and it’s opening up a whole new area and it’s hard,” Pushkin said. “It’s just hard, you want to help people. So on the one hand there’s this sense of urgency to get the stuff out there …  on the other hand, you’re trying to foresee as many unforeseen consequences as we can and deal with them ahead of time.”

Cymet felt similarly.

“We want it used, we want it used effectively, and now it’s just the messy part of implementation,” he said. “It’s not a matter of not respecting it, not wanting it, it’s how do we do it best?”

Pushkin doesn’t expect to recommend cannabis to his patients in the short term, as he wants to see how the program plays out. But he’d also like cannabis to be delivered like other drugs he prescribes.

“Get away from the idea of people getting high and impaired, but [instead] ‘I’m taking a pill of this part of marijuana that’s going to control my nausea or this part of marijuana that’s going to increase my appetite during chemo,’” he said.

Dr. David Gorelick, an addiction psychiatrist, physician, pharmacologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he sees enormous promise.

“The Maryland program, I believe, offers a controlled, safe way to make medical cannabis available to patients where there’s clear evidence they’ll benefit from it and hopefully [will] open the way to more research so we can expand our knowledge, get a better picture of where it might be beneficial and what some of the side effects and limitations are that we need to take into account,” he said. “We are operating unfortunately with a fair amount of ignorance, certainly in the United States, because of
limited research.”

Morhaim was encouraged by the interest and said it was entirely appropriate for doctors to be cautious.

“Obviously, a lot of physicians are interested,” he said, “and they certainly should do their homework and research.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Meet the Guys Helping Israeli Entrepreneurs Make It Big in the Big Apple

Arie Abecassis (left) and Eyal Bino are co-founders of ICONYC Labs,  an "accelerator program" that helps launch Israeli startups in New York.

Arie Abecassis (left) and Eyal Bino are co-founders of ICONYC Labs, an “accelerator program” that helps launch Israeli startups in New York.

NEW YORK — The hoodie-clad millennials tap furiously at their laptops. They’re perched on colorful couches, or sitting at long, communal tables, munching on Fruit Loops from the built-in dispenser in the open, subway-tiled kitchen.

In other words, AlleyNYC is your typical co-working space. There are plenty of international workers here, yet the space is quintessentially New York with its upscale, industrial look and “work hard, play hard” philosophy, complete with biweekly happy hours.

Its location in Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan, makes it a hub for local entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech scene. That cachet made it the perfect home for ICONYC Labs, a new accelerator program that helps Israeli startups launch their businesses stateside.

Israel has earned a global reputation as “Start-Up Nation” for its lively tech scene — Israel is home to nearly 7,000 high-tech companies, and nearly 80 percent of those are startups, according to a report from the business information firm Dun & Bradstreet. But despite its track record of innovation, Israeli startups often struggle with finding local investors. Additionally, Israeli deals generally require entrepreneurs to cede a greater share of their companies than a typical American deal.

So a main goal of ICONYC Labs is to connect Israeli entrepreneurs with New York investors. Additionally, the program helps Israelis adapt their pitches and products to better appeal to American  investors, who typically have a longer decision-making process than their Israeli counterparts.

“In America, it’s about building relationships over time, but that’s not something that’s in Israeli DNA,” says ICONYC co-founder Eyal Bino. “It’s definitely a mindset we are trying to change with our founders, and it’s not always an easy task.”

But this incubator program isn’t just about generating money — through the shared workspace, the program also embeds Israeli startups in the city’s tech scene.

“While they’re here, they’re mingling with the other entrepreneurs in the kitchen,” says co-founder Arie Abecassis. “They want to be here and get to know New York, and one of the goals of this program is
to help them exponentially expand their social network in tech.”

Other goals include providing mentorship, assistance with media relations and branding, as well as operations support on logistics like immigration, banking and accounting. In addition to these services, ICONYC Labs provides the startups with $20,000 and office space in AlleyNYC in exchange for a small equity stake in the firms.

ICONYC Labs’ first cohort, which began last April and finished the end of October, consisted of Myndlift, a mobile health solution targeting those who suffer from ADHD; Flux, a smart agricultural product enabling water-efficient growth of food and plants; DandyLoop, a cross-promotional marketplace for independent online stores to gain traffic; Clickspree, an ad-tech firm focused on video engagement and return for brands, and Gaonic, a platform for businesses to monitor Internet of Things data.

While working with ICONYC Labs, the companies’ founders must spend at least a week each month in New York, although many stay longer. During the weeks they are all here, ICONYC hosts networking events and fireside chats with high-profile startup success stories. It also sets pitch meetings with potential investors and advisers.

“At the end of the program, they’ll have the ability to expand their business to New York and raise money here,” Bino said.

Going forward, the incubator will shorten the program to four months and accept companies on a rolling basis. Two startups began in January; three more will enter the program this month.

ICONYC staffers sift through hundreds of applicants to select businesses to accept into the program — there’s no shortage, after all, of companies hoping to be the next Waze and make it big in the U.S. They put potential applicants through a serious vetting process, which includes outside experts assessing their business prospects and an investigation into their reputation in the Israeli startup community. They’re looking for companies that already have a viable product with the potential to scale in the United States, along with a committed team and a willingness to learn.

Bino, 40, and Abecassis, 49, are uniquely positioned to help Israeli companies acclimate to New York’s startup ecosystem. Both were born in Israel — Abecassis moved to the U.S. as a young child, and Bino
attended college here and moved here for work a few years later.

When they met in 2014, Bino was working as a business development consultant for international startups in New York, and Abecassis was serving as a board member, adviser and investor for
several startups. Bino tapped Abecassis to mentor some Israeli startups, and the two began discussing the specific needs of Israeli entrepreneurs in New York.

The pair saw a gulf between the growth potential of many Israeli startups — the talent and the ideas were strong — and their ability to connect with a wider variety of investors, and turn those connections  into meaningful business opportunities.

One challenge facing Israeli entrepreneurs in New York is their products may not yet have an American following.

“We work extremely hard to help our founders prove their concepts in the U.S. markets, so they are worthy of funding from venture capitalists in New York,” Bino said. “The more traction our founders have, the better their story becomes.”

For Omer Rachamim, co-founder and CEO of DandyLoop, moving his business to New York was always the long-term plan because it’s a global hub e-commerce.

“ICONYC came along at just the right moment,” he said. “They helped us do a soft landing in the city, and really leveraged their connections in a way that helped me to be completely emerged in the startup community and the VC community within a few months. It’s like integration into the city on steroids.”

Since completing the program, DandyLoop, which is now incorporated in the U.S. and has an office in the city, has added advisers, investors and clients in New York.

In recent years, New York City has become a hub for Israeli-based startups — nearly 300 Israeli companies have a presence in the city. While Silicon Valley grabs a lot of the startup spotlight, New York typically makes more sense for Israeli entrepreneurs — the time difference (7 hours versus 10 hours) makes business calls more conducive, and it’s an easy train ride to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“They see New York as the market where they can meet clients and investors as well as the big American corporations they want to do business with,” said Guy Franklin, founder of Israel Mapped in New York, which tracks the Israeli startup community.

Plus, in some significant ways, New York City is more culturally similar to Israel than Silicon Valley.

“There’s the food, the holidays,” Bino said. “Israelis may not be able to see themselves renting a house in the suburbs in California, but they could live on the Upper West Side.”

Dates Set for New Stevenson Chabad Hearings

The Baltimore County Board of Appeals will hear the case of a Chabad synagogue proposed for Stevenson Road in May.

After a split decision in the Baltimore County Administrative Law case, both sides appealed Judge John Beverungen’s order that said the proposed synagogue meets some zoning requirements but possibly violates others.

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky hopes to build an 8,000-square-foot building with an 88-seat sanctuary for the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad-Lubavitch congregation for Russian Jews, in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road in Pikesville. The plan has drawn sizable community opposition due to concerns over pedestrian safety, traffic, county code and the character of the neighborhood.

Beverungen heard two cases over the course of eight hearings between June and November. The ruling ordered that the synagogue is permitted under the property’s current zoning classification, that the proposed residential transition areas (RTAs) that are required to blend the building in with its surroundings are sufficient and that the house on the property, at 8420 Stevenson Road, can be used as the rabbi’s parsonage.

But Beverungen also ordered that the plan for the proposed synagogue is not “consistent with the spirit and intent of the [county’s] original plan,” which called for two single-family homes to be built on the 3-acre property. Beverungen did not make a decision as to whether the original plan is subject to the section of zoning code that requires amendments to the plan be “consistent with the spirit and intent of the original plan.” Effectively, he did not make a decision as to if the plan needed to be amended, but if it did, his opinion is that the synagogue would not pass this requirement. The original plan was approved by the county in 2006.

He also ruled that a family living next to the property in question is protected from certain changes to neighboring zoning plans.

The Board of Appeals hearing begins on Wednesday, May 4 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room No. 2, Suite 206, in the Jefferson Building at 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson. Subsequent hearings will be held May 10, 12, 18, 24 and 26 and June 1 in the same location, all starting at 10 a.m. This functions as a new hearing, and three members of the seven-member board will sit for the case. A majority vote of two is necessary for rulings.

If the cases are further appealed, which both sides have indicated is likely, they would go to the Baltimore County Circuit Court and then to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Jewish Maryland to Join in Shabbat Across America

(istockphoto.com/TheCrimsonMonkey)

(istockphoto.com/TheCrimsonMonkey)

The celebration of Shabbat is one of, if not the most important ritual observances in Judaism, and on March 4, thousands of synagogues across North America will welcome their respective communities to join together to celebrate and learn about the Jewish tradition during Shabbat Across America and Canada.

“Shabbat Across America and Canada allows Jews — many of whom might never have been to a Shabbat service or dinner — to come together and get a real feel for the cornerstone of Jewish tradition,” said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP, formerly the National Jewish Outreach Program, in a written statement. “We lead such hectic lives that everyone can benefit from taking the time to unplug, unwind and reflect on the week. Shabbat is that opportunity we’ve all been waiting for to spend time with friends and family.”

The program, started by NJOP, emphasizes that it’s “a time to invite people that don’t normally come to the synagogue and Shabbat service,” said Rabbi Elly Krimsky, program director. This year, 15  locations across Maryland from Frederick to Rockville will participate.

The NJOP is an independent, nonprofit organization  focused on providing a basic Jewish education for every Jew in America. Started by Buchwald in 1987 to counter Jewish assimilation and loss of general Jewish knowledge by the world’s Jews, it has engaged 1.4 million Jews across 5,000 synagogues in 39 countries around the globe.

Shabbat Across America and Canada will celebrate its 20th anniversary with 550  registered locations this year.

“We’ve done Shabbat Across America most years, and it’s an opportunity for us to emphasize Shabbat as a community celebration — to have a dinner,  to sing songs and give the community a sense of what Shabbat can be,” said Columbia Jewish Congregation Rabbi Sonya Starr.

Whatever the date or programming, Starr said the main thing is to come together and feel the delight of the tradition.

“It doesn’t matter what Shabbat it is, it’s about all of us acknowledging that Shabbat matters and being committed to celebrating Shabbat and  experiencing Shabbat to its fullest,” she said.

NJOP provides the groundwork for synagogues, but each location makes its program suited to their congregants. Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation uses the annual celebration as a kick-off to a series of Friday night Shabbat dinners that run through the summer.

“From before the High Holy Days to now, it is too cold or people are too busy,” said MMAE Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro. “But now is a great time to get people together. Relationships are made during Shabbat dinners; it’s a good entry way to Jewish study and practice.”

Shapiro added that the celebration spurs synagogues to dedicate a specific Shabbat for the community to celebrate together.

“It’s easy to give lip service to the concept of Shabbos, but it’s not actually Shabbos until you do it,” he said.

Starr emphasized that many people try to set aside time to “unplug” from technology, but are only now realizing that it’s not a new concept in Judaism.

“That’s what Shabbat has been throughout the century,” Starr said. “That is the point of Shabbat, but our secular society is recognizing the needs that we’ve had [all along].”

Geryl Baer, director of  community engagement at Congregation Beth El in  Montgomery County, said the synagogue is embracing the idea of inviting everyone to celebrate. It is encouraging congregants to invite members to each other’s homes as well as attend the synagogue’s  activities, an aspect of Shabbat Across America and Canada that Krimsky stressed.

Krimsky said, NJOP is  emphasizing the “notion that not only is Shabbat being done every week, but this week is special because Jews in America — hopefully many who don’t normally do so — are engaging in the beauty of Shabbat.”

Shabbat Across America
For more information,
call CJC at 410-730-6044, ext. 4
MMAE at 410-653-7485
Congregation Beth El at 301-652-2606

Recourse for renters Proposal to reform Baltimore rent court system makes its way through legislature

District Court of Maryland (David Stuck)

District Court of Maryland (David Stuck)

An effort by several Baltimore-based civil rights organizations to improve conditions in the city’s rent court system has made its way into Maryland’s public discourse, attracting support from like-minded groups and opposition from a network of land- lords along with the city’s  administration.

The movement, known as the 7,000 Families Campaign, began in 2014 when the city’s Right to Housing Alliance teamed up with the Public  Justice Center to conduct a study that examined the challenges that face tenants in Baltimore City. The study, published in December 2015, found that more than 7,000 families are evicted each year — second only to Detroit.

Baltimore’s chapter of Jews United for Justice has partnered with the two organizations in calling for changes that would institute a 14-day pre-filing notice to tenants of their failure to pay rent before a landlord is allowed to bring a suit to court, extend the amount of time for the sheriff to serve  a summons on the property and increase documentation requirements for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City in rent court cases.

These proposals have made their way into a bill in the legislature known as the Fairness and Integrity for Baltimore City Renters Act, or HB 796, which is being sponsored  by Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41). Jessica Lewis, a community organizer with the Right to Housing Alliance (RHTA), said she thinks the reforms will cut the amount of litigation in half by giving tenants a chance to receive one more paycheck and seek legal counsel before heading to court.

“It’s really just about correcting an imbalance that  exists there,” she said. “It’s not about asking for the sky or asking for renters to get a pass in court.”

Lewis said 80 percent of about 300 renters surveyed in the study reported health and safety problems with their property, including the presence of lead. She said it is  important for renters to know of their rights in such cases where withholding rent is  justified.

“If they had known their rights, if they had alerted their landlords, they would have had a valid defense for withholding part of their rent, and we just find that that never happens,” she said.  “We’re hoping that the conversation we’re starting here with this bill shifts the narrative and opens up a broader dialogue about the rights of renters in this city because we make up half the population of the city.”

RTHA member Felicia A. Lockett said one of the goals  of the bill is to hold landlords  accountable, which means  requiring them to explain extra charges that are often slapped onto someone’s account. She said this can happen when utilities are counted as a part of a tenant’s rent owed. Lockett said she has experienced this several times, once incurring $700 in additional charges that she has fought in court.

(David Stuck)

(David Stuck)

Lockett thinks the bill will hold landlords accountable for these types of charges by  requiring them to submit  additional paperwork detailing what they are.

“It cannot just be your word, you have to have this evidence,” she said. “You have to have your paperwork.”

JUFJ Baltimore director Molly Amster said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,200 per month, meaning people with low  incomes are either signing  expensive leases or living in substandard housing.

“People are trying to access housing, but there’s not a lot of affordable housing available to them,” she said.

Amster said JUFJ’s involvement in the campaign stems from an obligation Jews have to ensure safe living conditions for one another, which she said is a tradition that can be traced to a Jewish law code from the 16th century.

“We are supposed to be providing people with a safe place to live,” she said. “It’s our obligation if we are renting it to someone. And we are not  opposed to the court functioning and doing what it needs to do to hold both parties’ contractual obligations, but it’s only doing one right now.”

Landlord Stephen Thomas, who serves as the director of the affordable housing community Park Heights Angel, said there is a misconception that renters are trying to use the court system to their  advantage by asking for more time to pay.

“There are isolated incidents where there are individuals who are misusing the system,” he said. “But by and large, most renters want to be able to afford the rent, pay the rent on time and live without the burden of being pushed out of the place they call home.”

The issues in rent court have had a trickle-down effect on other parts of the city including schools with low-income populations. Jennifer McDowell, a community schools coordinator with Child First Authority, said at the school where she has worked for the past five years, parents often come to them for help with a pending eviction. If they are not able to find a family that can house them, the school may refer them to a shelter on the other side of town.

Jews United for Justice Baltimore director Molly Amster (third from left) stands with other leaders of civil rights organizations advocating for rent court reforms at a hearing in Annapolis on Feb. 19. (Daniel Schere)

Jews United for Justice Baltimore director Molly Amster (third from left) stands with other leaders of civil rights organizations advocating for rent court reforms at a hearing in Annapolis on Feb. 19. (Daniel Schere)

“This disrupts the daily routines that our students have, and it causes many problems,” McDowell said. “Suddenly, a student who rarely missed school before an eviction is missing a day or more a week and is arriving tardy due to the long travel and irregular bus service.”

McDowell added that students whose families have been evicted often come to school out of uniform due to a lack of access to laundry facilities. At present in her school in West Baltimore, as many as 11 students are in unstable housing situations.

Rent court takes place every morning during the week in the District Court of Maryland building at 501 E. Fayette St. Starting at 8:30 a.m., the courtroom may be packed with more than 100 people waiting for their case to be called.

Associate Judge Mark Scurti, who presides over rent court on a rotating basis with 26 other judges, said more than 1,000 cases per day is typical.

“If both parties are present, the judge will listen to both sides and allow both parties to try to [determine] the amount of rent due in an owing,” he said, but added that cases often move quickly when tenants do not show up.

At last Thursday’s court session, Associate Judge James Green spent no more than two minutes on several cases but arrived at a more complicated dispute when a tenant attempted to explain how she had created an escrow account in November after an inspector found 14 safety violations on her property, but she still owed rent to her landlord from a previous judgement.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) testifies on Feb. 12 in support of HB 796, which would given tenants in Baltimore more time to pay their rent and seek legal counsel. (Melissa Gerr)

Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) testifies on Feb. 12 in support of HB 796, which would given tenants in Baltimore more time to pay their rent and seek legal counsel. (Melissa Gerr)

The tenant said her landlord did not show up in escrow court and was not aware that she owed rent for November until her husband received a text message.

After showing Green the communication she had with her landlord, he determined that she and her husband had paid off judgements from previous months, stopping evictions in December and February, but that the November judgement preceded the filing of the  escrow case. He ultimately sent the case to escrow court.

“It’s good that you showed up today to bring all this information to the court,” Green told the tenant. “But it does appear that although you may not have understood the  accounting, which is a different issue, the monies that were paid went to redeem the premises for the prior eviction and did not encapsulate the November matter.”

In that tenant’s case, she had sought out legal assistance from the Public Justice Center. Scurti, who has served in district court since 2013, said tenants do not have a lawyer present at their side in the majority of cases he sees. He said other  resources tenants can use to their advantage are ones the court provides, including brochures that illustrate the eviction process and an  instructional video shown at the beginning of each rent court session that explains how the court operates and what constitutes evidence.

“It has a little bit of a mock situation with a landlord and a judge and tenant,” he said.

“We are supposed to be providing people with a safe place to live. It’s our obligation if we are renting it to someone. And we are not opposed to the court functioning
and doing what it needs to do to hold both parties’ contractual obligations, but it’s only doing one right now.” —  Molly Amster, director of JUFJ Baltimore

Scurti said in cases of conditions issues, it is rare for a tenant to bring evidence the day of the trial, but such cases call for three inspections within a two-week period  before the inspectors report back to the court.

Among the dangers commonly found in homes is the presence of lead-based paint, which was used in the United States until being banned in 1978; Scurti said lead complaints are fairly common.

“[Lead], I would say, is a high number of items that are checked off, and it’s typically phrased in the way of chipping paint,” he said.

After two brief hearings in front of the Baltimore City House Delegation in Annapolis on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, it  appears the fate of HB 796 will be decided by a rent court work group that will conduct a study of the proposed changes. The group consists of district court judges that  include Scurti as well as attorneys, the Housing Authority and landlord agents.

Despite the potential for the reforms, instituting them may require a change of heart from Baltimore’s leaders. In a Feb. 19 memo to the delegation from Deputy Mayor of Government Relations and Labor Andrew Smullian, the city  administration expressed its opposition to the bill, citing increased financial constraints and potential public safety  issues. It states the requirement that the sheriff post the summons in a visible location is impractical due to the presence of multi-floor and multi-unit buildings that would require entry to the entire building first.

“The practical reality of HB 796 would be that this bill would incentivize a landlord to leave front-door vestibules unlocked in order that the sheriffs may enter and therefore make all such properties less safe for tenants in Baltimore City,” states the memo.

It goes on to point out other aspects of the bill that would require additional time and money, such as the creation of a legal assistance fund for tenants that would operate under a $30 fee imposed on the Housing Authority for each eviction  filing. This, it says, would amount to an additional $900,000 to $1.1 million per year. It also points out that the Housing Authority provides a number of resources to the public, including an intervention group for tenants who struggle to pay their rent.

The city’s financial concerns were echoed by Kathy Howard, the legislative committee chair for the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, who thinks the bill has “a lot of moving parts.”

“It is clear it affects not only the multi-family housing  industry, it affects the Sheriff’s office, it affects the city housing departments and how they run things, it affects the court system, and none of these  departments have been consulted about the massive, sweeping changes that this bill makes,” she said.

Howard said she does not think the 14-day pre-filing  notice is necessary since there is already a waiting period of 45 to 90 days for an eviction in Baltimore City. She noted that it is important to consider that the well-being of the landlord is directly tied to the tenant’s ability to pay their rent.

“Just think of it from this perspective. You have a mortgage. Your mortgage is due on the first. If the tenant does not pay rent, which pays the mortgage and other expenses, and there is a 14-day waiting period to even be able to file his initial pleading, he’s already in default on his mortgage just as the tenant is already very much in default on theirs.”

dscheremidatlanticmedia.com

Loaves of Love Shared with Howard County Seniors

Lisa Welch (fourth from left) hosted a group of BBYO parents at her home to bake challah for the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s new community service initiative, Loaves of Love. (Justin Katz)

When it comes to homemade food, freshly baked challah has always held a special place in the Jewish tradition, and several Howard County parents are giving back to the community with the braided delight.

“A lot of people have good memories of challah and Shabbat. I think if you went to a Sunday school and asked any grade for five Jewish symbols,” said Lisa Welch, a Howard County resident, “challah would always be one of them.”

Last week, Welch hosted a challah-baking night for Loaves of Love, a community service initiative created by the Jewish Federation of Howard County in partnership with BBYO and the Kugel Connection.

The program brings parents of BBYO students in Howard County together once every several months to bake and package freshly made challah. Then the challah, along with grape juice, is delivered to  elderly residents in the Jewish community.

The parents are connected to seniors in the community through Cheryl Kaufman, founder of the Kugel Connection, a nonprofit organization that assists elderly residents in the Howard County Jewish community by providing  volunteer workers.

Kaufman, who worked with Meals on Wheels for several years, was inspired to start the Kugel Connection in January 2014 after traveling to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, a birthright-style trip for Jewish mothers. Following the trip she wanted to connect her Judaism to her volunteer work.

“The idea is that we help [seniors] celebrate Shabbat, but [after] you give them the food and the grape juice,” said Monica Recht, who attended the last baking session, “you give them company and bring a spark to their day they might not have otherwise have.”

Jonah Potasznik, regional director for Howard County at BBYO, said the initiative  reflects Howard County’s ability to experiment with different forms of engagement due to  its size.

The Jewish Federation of Howard County started the initiative as a way to get parents of BBYO teens engaged Jewishly.

The “committee felt community service brings people together,” said Michelle Goldberg, director of outreach and family programming. The parents convened in the fall last year and are planning to meet again in the spring.

In addition to helping the community, Welch and Recht both said it’s also an opportunity for the parents to connect with each other.

“I enjoy having people [at my home], and I haven’t had the chance to meet [some of these parents],” said Welch.   “Our kids are in BBYO together and go to school together, but we don’t know each other,  so it’s a great way to bond. We’re all going through the same things [such as] driver’s  education and colleges.”

Last Thursday night, all hands were on deck, as the women mixed, kneaded, braided and baked challah dough to a golden brown finish at Welch’s Clarksville kitchen.

“I think it’s important to give back to the elders in the Jewish community,” said Welch. “A lot of the Jewish seniors don’t have Shabbos in the same way they did earlier in their lives. It’s [important] to bring a little Shabbos to them and say, ‘You’re a member of the community; this is what Jews do for each other.’”

“I think there are a lot of people who are lonely and could use companionship,” said Recht. “And [it’s important] to value them and [make them] feel like they’re important and feel the Jewish community is behind them.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Seasons Won’t Open Until After Passover

(Melissa Gerr)

(Melissa Gerr)

A new kosher market being built in Pikesville will open its doors later than initially planned.

Seasons, a New York-based kosher grocer, will open at 1628 Reisterstown Road, a 15,000-square-foot space that formerly housed an Office Depot. General manager Zachary Richards said the store won’t open until after Passover but would not give an opening date.

Seasons operates four stores in New York.

The store will offer produce, bakery, prepared foods, sushi, fish and dairy as well as butcher, floral and grocery  departments and delivery.

In an earlier interview with the JT, owner Mayer Gold said he hoped to open a Baltimore store in late 2014 or early 2015, but the store was looking at a different property at the time and also went under contract for a second property before settling on the location currently under construction. Seasons was previously expected to open in December 2015.

A post on Seasons of Maryland’s Facebook page said  officials will be going through job applications and setting up interviews soon. Another post said officials will post a firm opening date when one is  determined.

Royal Farms Reopens in the Heart of Pikesville

(Melissa Gerr)

(Melissa Gerr)

The Royal Farms convenience store at the corner of Smith  Avenue and Old Pimlico Road, which was closed for remodeling for more than a year, opened on Feb. 24.

The store previously had not offered some of the chain’s  notable favorites such as its “World Famous Royal Fried Chicken” but will now serve that along with several other grilled and fried items.

The store has also doubled the number of available Slushie  machines in response to the product being a local favorite.

“For that particular store, we wanted to bring in the hot foods that our customers have been asking us for,” said Royal Farms spokeswoman Brittany Eldredge in a written statement. “But in general, we want to be able to provide one stop for people looking for a great, fast meal. With our expanded menu of hot sides, we believe we can make our customers’ lives easier and dinners better.”

The remodeling of the store became a point of contention in the community last summer when residents complained about the lack of sidewalk that created a dangerous situation for people walking to and from shul. The store has since built a sidewalk in front of its property along Old Pimlico Road.

Subminimum Wage Bill Sparks Discussion

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

A new bill before the Maryland General Assembly would phase out the practice of paying some people with disabilities a subminimum wage for jobs they perform in sheltered workshops.

The bill has sparked a passionate response, particularly from disability advocates, who call it a civil rights issue. The first hearing for the bill was Feb. 10 with a number of people with disabilities and their allies speaking in favor. The bill, HB 420, is also called the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act.

“By guaranteeing equal protection under the law for minimum wage, individuals with disabilities will be empowered to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and full inclusion and integration into society,”  said Ken Capone, the public policy analyst for People on the Go Maryland, one of the main disability groups advocating for HB 420, in an email.

The bill specifically targets a section of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 14(c), which was set up to allow employers to pay below the minimum wage for those employees with disabilities that hinder their productivity.

It would phase out this practice, originally, in three years, although, with input from other parties, including agencies who run these kind of facilities, that will likely increase to four years.

This issue was actually addressed by the Baltimore Jewish Council in December 2014, where they, after hearing from both proponents and opponents, decided to call on the state to create a task force to study the issue.

The council wasn’t notified before the bill was introduced before the Assembly, said Sarah Mersky, the director of governmental relations, so their official position hasn’t changed. It is still an issue that is important to the community, however, she said.

“Right now, we have no  position, but we are getting  involved,”  she said.

She expects the council will address the issue again in the near future.

At the time, one of the  opponents who spoke out when BJC was looking at the issue was Chimes, a not-for-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find employment, whether that’s with outside companies or in its own supported facilities.

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press (Provided)

Now, the group, which  employs about 800 people with disabilities in the state, is not actively opposed so much as concerned.

“We are sort of quasi-supportive of it,”  said Martin Lampner, the president and CEO of Chimes.  “We recognize that the system is changing.”

His main concern stems from lack of teeth in enforcing the state’s vague plan in providing resources and framework for those workers who would be affected. Of those Chimes works with in Maryland, 75 percent already make a competitive wage, he said.

The rest — largely those with complex medical problems or occasional significant behavioral issues — are in supported facilities, or sheltered workshops, and earn a wage, potentially under minimum wage, based on their productive capacity. If, after this change in the law, those people are hired at a job with fewer hours per week, the struggle will be to ensure they still have a meaningful way to spend the rest of their days.

Chimes is already working to address this issue with new initiatives. It has become a  “business incubator,”  meaning it provides physical space and certain services to startups in return for the business employing people with disabilities at a minimum wage or higher.

This ensures that those who need it will have services available on-site, but also brings them into an integrated environment. The organization is currently working with two businesses — Cyberspa and 800razors — and Lampner said it has so far been a success.

Capone worked at one time at a sheltered workshop and said he felt demeaned by the work, having completed a  difficult computer-training program at Johns Hopkins.  Instead of working with computers, however, he was earning  “pennies on the dollar”  doing repetitive work, he said.

“[A]s we have known since the 1960s, separate is not equal,”  Capone said.  “It benefits people with disabilities, as well as people without, to be able to interact with each other and learn from one  another. We are a better society.”

“I think there is a genuine  willingness on the part of  all parties to get this right.” — Martin Lampner, president and CEO of Chimes

The bill is the result of a long study by a coalition of groups, including People on the Go, provider agencies and other advocacy groups. Proponents say it will help integrate people with disabilities and those without, which improves their health and self-sufficiency.

The whole country is moving in this direction, said Nancy Pineles, the managing attorney for developmental disabilities with the Maryland Disability Law Center, and several states already have.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do and the right time,” she said.

People don’t want to be segregated, she said. Working in an integrated environment is beneficial for everyone. Pineles is optimistic about the chances for the bill passing this session.

Despite some of his concerns, Lampner said he is encouraged by how discussions are progressing with HB 420.

“I think there is a genuine willingness on the part of all  parties to get this right,”  he said.

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com

Betsy Gardner Announces City Council Bid

Betsy Gardner (David Stuck)

Betsy Gardner (David Stuck)

Elizabeth “Betsy” Gardner kicked off her campaign for the Baltimore City Council’s 5th District seat on Sunday, Feb. 21.

She is one of seven candidates seeking to fill the seat that will be left vacant when longtime councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector retires. She faces Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, an Orthodox Jewish small business owner and community activist; Derrick Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen Improvement Association; Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform  advocate; Sharif Small, a small business owner; and Kinji Scott, a community organizer; and Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, an attorney, in the Democratic primary. There are no Republican challengers.

“Ms. Gardner has a strong, demonstrated commitment to improving public safety, supporting education initiatives and improving the quality of life of Baltimore City residents at-large,” a campaign press release said. “During a distinguished 14-year tenure as a community relations liaison for the City of Baltimore, Betsy learned how the city operates, gained valuable knowledge about community needs and issues, developed an eclectic capability to solve problems, build bridges and access information to provide support and leadership for the residents of Baltimore’s 5th District and beyond.”