Howard County Maintains Status Quo for Jewish Holidays

Following more than an hour of discussion on Jan. 14, the Howard County Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose’s recommendation to maintain the  decision to close schools on the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur during the 2016-2017 school year.

Following a motion by board members Bess Altwerger and Dr. Janet Siddiqui, it also approved closing schools on the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice Eid Al-Adha and the Hindu Festival of Lights Diwali. The school system will bring options back to the board for consideration about whether schools will close for students only or for students and staff.

Foose’s recommendation also included a request for a proposal to “study the impact of the range of religious observances celebrated in Howard County to inform the development of the 2017-2018 calendar that will be  presented to the board in September.”

The 2017-2018 academic calendar committee will meet with representatives from several Howard County organizations including the Jewish Federation, the Muslim Council and the Chinese Parent Association as well as members of the Hindu community.

Although the action was initially focused on the Jewish High Holidays, the majority of the board’s discussion centered on requests from several other religious groups.

Regulations state that schools can close only if the absenteeism during a holiday would create operational problems. With that understanding, several religious groups asked that professional development days — on which students are off and teachers use to further their own education — be adjusted to allow these groups of students to celebrate their respective holidays.

This latest request had to be balanced with prior requests from teachers on when they thought placement of professional development days would be most beneficial to their own needs.

“The purpose of the school calendar is to provide adequate time for teaching and learning, but we also try to  address the unique desires of our community,” said Foose in a written statement. “We heard from hundreds of community members, and we value their input. We will do our best to provide options that ensure students receive a great education and have opportunities to celebrate their cultures and traditions.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

HoCo Synagogue Announces Morss Scholarship

Rabbi Sonya Starr (File photo)

Rabbi Sonya Starr (File photo)

Columbia Jewish Congregation has announced the Lester Robert Morss Scholarship, named after a former member.

The scholarship, at $500, will be awarded to two students each cycle that wish to pursue an established  academic program in Israel or complete a service project with an established Jewish organization.

Applicants must currently be high school or college students, be current or former members of Columbia  Jewish Congregation or be Jewish residents ofHoward County.

The scholarship was established by friends and family of Morss who passed away in 2014.

Morss was a chemist and life-long scholar who believed in the power of knowledge to change the world and the spirit of tikkun olam.

Applications are due Feb. 15 for spring/summer funding and June 15 for winter/fall funding.

Said Columbia Jewish Congregation Rabbi Sonya Starr: “Lester was a kind, gentle, intelligent, amazing man, and I can’t think of a better way to honor who and what he is than to offer scholarships to enrich one’s Jewish experience of life. Whether it be in  Israel or doing tikkun olam … that’s what he was all about.”

For more information, call  410-730-6044.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Wires Down,’ Heads Held High Krieger Schechter wins BGE video contest

The fourth-grade class that won BGE’s “Wires Down” contest poses for a photo with a check for $10,000. (photo by Justin Katz)

The fourth-grade class that won BGE’s “Wires Down” contest poses for a photo with a check for $10,000. (photo by Justin Katz)

Students at Krieger Schechter Day School were treated to a surprise at the end of a Jan. 14 school assembly, when Baltimore Gas and Electric COO and president Stephen Woerner announced that the school’s fourth-grade class won the company’s “Wires Down” video contest.

“The ‘Wires down’ video contest is all about reintroducing a very effective child education campaign that [BGE] ran years ago,” said Woerner. “Many people who grew up in this area remember the commercials that use to run on television, and, really, the key messages are around electrical safety.”

The “Wires Down” contest challenged students from schools across Maryland to produce a video singing the company’s song about what to do if they see a downed electrical wire. The videos were posted on the BGE website and 27 schools received a total of 87,000 votes cast on the website and social media platforms.

Woerner presented KSDS a $10,000 check at the assembly, and BGE aired the commercial on Baltimore’s local television stations (Channels 2, 11, 13 and Fox 45) last weekend.

Additionally, Alex Thaler, who teaches the winning fourth-grade class, received $500 and a certificate of appreciation.

“I am so proud of all of these students because they really put a lot of hard work into this video, and I’m so glad it paid off at the end,” said Thaler, following the assembly.

KSDS head of lower school Joshua Bender and head of school Rabbi Moshe Schwartz accepted the check.

“We are all in this together — educating and shaping the values of our youth for the next generation. No one group or body can do it alone,” Schwartz said in a written statement. “It is a true partnership, and having companies like BGE supporting excellence in education, both public and private, is a shining example of what can be achieved when schools are challenged.”

The money will be used to enhance the school’s science program by installing scientific discovery tools for its playground. This includes outdoor equipment that demonstrates scientific principles such as swings, balance ramps and gears as well as an outdoor science shed that will house magnifying glasses, measuring tools and butterfly nets, which could be used during recess periods.

During the assembly that preceded the announcement, workers at BGE explained some of the work they do and the tools needed to perform their jobs safely. Afterward, the students were given a chance to ask questions.

The questions ranged from BGE’s work to common electrical-safety questions. One of the workers, Randy, shared his story of being electrocuted on the job. One student questioned him on why he wasn’t wearing the protective gloves that were shown earlier, which drew some laughs from the crowd.

Randy explained that some of the tasks don’t require workers to wear gloves if the procedure is intricate or technical. While working, he lost focus and was electrocuted. Since he was touching another piece of metal when it happened, the electricity only went through his arm. He emphasized that he is lucky to be alive today.

BGE, which is celebrating its 200th year in business, awarded $3,000 prizes each to Sarah M. Roach Elementary School, H.O.P.E Academy, North Bend Elementary School and Perry Hall Christian School as well as several $1,000 prizes.

“I want to congratulate Rabbi Moshe, Principal Bender, Alex Thaler and the students at Krieger Schechter Day School for their winning rendition of BGE’s “Wires Down” electrical safety commercial,” said Woerner in a written statement. “Their enthusiasm and creativity were on display throughout the video. Safety is a priority at BGE and we are glad their school and the other participating schools had so much fun while learning about the important topic of electrical safety.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A Danger Not in Plain Sight Local leaders discuss Anne Arundel County’s human-trafficking epidemic

Leaders from across Anne Arundel County — and Maryland — gathered at Congregation Kneseth Israel on Wednesday, Jan. 13 for a discussion on how to combat human trafficking in the state. The forum was sponsored by the Maryland League of Women Voters and the Annapolis Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, among other organizations.

“This battle will not be won by the efforts of government alone, only by working with partnerships with the nonprofit community, the faith community and people like you,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh told attendees.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes as the recruitment or abduction of people through coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, slavery or other practices. According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of State, more than 200,000 people are estimated to be trafficking within the country.

Schuh said he became much more aware of the issue upon being elected to the House of Delegates in 2006. He was quick to point out that Anne Arundel County is often a target for pimps looking to prostitute minors due to its network of highways, truck stops and hotels near Baltimore/Washington International airport, where victims from other parts of the country often wind up.

“Our county is unfortunately uniquely conducive to human trafficking,” he said. “It’s sort of ironic and certainly sad that many of those very same assets that make Anne Arundel County such a wonderful place to live and work are also those very same factors that are a witch’s brew for the conjuring of human trafficking.”

Anne Arundel County, joined by Baltimore, Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties, is one of the state’s few counties to have a police unit dedicated to human trafficking. The victims often are young women in their teens and early 20s. Dan Dickey, a detective with the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said a common trend he sees is for pimps to stake out malls and casinos — locations where they can prey on girls who appear to have low self-esteem.

“A lot of the girls we deal with, we ask them where they are, and they’ll tell us Washington, D.C., some say Baltimore, some girls will be like, ‘I don’t know, I was just brought here,’” he said. “And basically, what we find in talking to these girls is that a lot of them come from broken homes, a lot of them have sexual assault history, a lot have been in and out of foster homes, a lot of them had drug problems or still currently have drug problems.”

Dickey’s department partners with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in order to help solve trafficking cases and cover more ground.

“We do have a human-trafficking problem, and we need to have the resources to combat this problem. The best way to do that is to have a federal network system,” he said.

Dickey’s partner, Detective Bernie Adkins, said that even with federal cooperation, it is still difficult to catch pimps due to the subtle tactics they often use to manipulate their victims.

“We’ll talk to victims of human trafficking and they’ll say, ‘He’s my boyfriend, he’s not a pimp,’” Adkins said. “‘He holds my money for me. He’s here to protect me.’ In their mind they have a legitimate relationship with someone who I know is a pimp, who’s trapping her and being manipulative. It takes a lot for us to pick up on those cues for who may be involved in it, and even after doing it five or 10 years, it’s still difficult.”

It’s sort of ironic and certainly sad that many of those very same assets that make Anne Arundel County such a wonderful place to live and work are also those very same factors that are a witch’s brew for the conjuring of human trafficking.
—  Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh

Adkins said last year the department arrested 29 men for soliciting prostitution through undercover operations in which female officers posed as troubled youths. However, this was only a fraction of the number of men who contacted those undercover officers with calls for service.

A number of federal laws have been passed in the last 15 years increasing the penalties for traffickers, and the latest initiative is a push toward safe-harbor laws. Already in effect in some states, these laws ensure that victims of trafficking under 18 are not treated as criminals and are guaranteed access to medical care, clothing, food, safe housing and educational services.

“While we all know it is a logjam on the federal level and it’s hard to get legislation passed, we know things are happening in the states,” said Jody Rabhan, deputy director of Washington operations for the NCJW. Rabhan, a Montgomery County resident, said Maryland is designated by Polaris as a Tier 1 state, meaning it is among the states with the strongest anti-trafficking laws. But she emphasized that this topic still has many unknown pieces.

“We don’t have good data,” she said. “It is so hard to get the data. Without the data it is hard to truly understand the magnitude of the problem. Without fully understanding the magnitude of the problem you don’t know what you need to fund, you don’t know what you need to provide. Because you don’t know how many people out there need it, you don’t know what they need necessarily.”

Delegate Susan McComas (R- District 35B) also addressed the crowd and said that while the women’s caucus in the House of Delegates has historically supported anti-trafficking bills, it can be difficult to get them through the House Judiciary Committee due to the number of defense attorneys on the committee. In the meantime, she encouraged people to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

“Folks have got to know the community they live in,” she said. “You’ve got to know your neighbors. You’ve got to have a feel for what goes on in that community because you are the eyes and ears of that community. Use your intuition if something doesn’t feel right. It’s not being nosy, it’s not being invasive, but it’s just having an awareness.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Not One Step Back’ Havre de Grace synagogue, church honor MLK day with mosaic unveiling

Havre de Grace’s Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church worked together to create a mosaic that represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which Martin Luther King Jr. frequently referred. (photo by Justin Katz)

Havre de Grace’s Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church worked together to create a mosaic that represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which Martin Luther King Jr. frequently referred. (photo by Justin Katz)

Temple Adas Shalom and St. James AME Church in Havre de Grace joined together last weekend to unveil and dedicate a mosaic the two congregations created in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The mosaic represents a quote from the Book of Amos to which King frequently referred.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” the quote says.

Adas Shalom Rabbi Gila Ruskin said that she always partners with an African-American church wherever she lives. In Havre de Grace, that partnership has been St. James and its reverend, Baron Young. She said her time, as a religion teacher, at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore City was the impetus for this commitment.

“[It was by] spending time with African-American teenagers who live in Baltimore City and really want to get an education and have a productive life,” said Ruskin. “Despite all of the adversity they face, I learned so much from them about what it’s like to be a young African-American in today’s world.”

The dedication ceremony had three speakers, and following the mosaic’s unveiling, the congregations joined together to help make blankets for the homeless of Harford County. The first speaker was Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of Howard County’s Beth Shalom.

When I say, ‘Forward together,’ you say, ‘Not one step back.’
— Keshia Thomas

Plotkin focused on his experiences participating in the 2015 Journey for Justice Walk from Alabama to Washington.

“At the front of the line, not just that day, but every day was a man named Middle Passage,” said Plotkin. Although Plotkin didn’t speak with Passage directly, he heard his story through colleagues. “He was an older gentleman who had taken his name to honor the way his ancestors came to America.”

Plotkin explained that many of his own ancestors came to the United States on a boat, eager and excited to see the Statue of Liberty. However, many of Passage’s ancestors came against their will on the “Middle Passage” route across the Atlantic Ocean that brought slaves from Africa.

To Plotkin’s — and many others’ — disbelief, the unthinkable happened during the march.

“The line stopped suddenly. I saw from about halfway back a man fall, and it was Middle Passage,” said Plotkin. “Initially we thought, perhaps hoped, that he got tired and tripped, but it very quickly became apparent that this was not the case.”

The buses took the marchers back to their home base, where Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP who marched next to Passage and accompanied him to the hospital, delivered the news. Passage had died.

For his participation in the march, the Union for Reform Judaism honored Plotkin, as well as each of his rabbinical colleagues, with a Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award. The award is named after a rabbi who advanced the cause of social justice through the creation of the Religious Action Center in Washington.

During his presentation, Plotkin removed the award from its packaging to show the crowd. He began to introduce the next speaker, Keshia Thomas, but not before making a special announcement.

“To recognize what you have brought to this community, to myself and to communities around the country and to this cause you so passionately support,” said Plotkin, “I present you with this plaque.”

Thomas also walked in the 2015 Journey for Justice but said she’s been an activist since childhood. She staged a walkout at her school after Rodney King’s brutal 1991 arrest in Los Angeles and mentioned how difficult it was to explain her actions to her parents.

After being introduced, Thomas began her speech by teaching the crowd one of the many chants she has learned.

“When I say, ‘Forward together,’ you say, ‘Not one step back,’” said Thomas.

Throughout her speech, Thomas intermittently chanted “Forward together,” and the audience responded, “Not one step back.” Thomas, who has received several awards from different organizations and universities for advocacy for racial equality, shared the story that brought her into the public eye in 1996. It began when she heard that the Ku Klux Klan was planning to rally in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The Ku Klux Klan was coming to Ann Arbor to spread hate. I had to stand up to say, ‘No, not today and not in my town,” said Thomas.

When Thomas arrived at the rally, she noticed someone on a bullhorn.  Without warning, that person changed the crowd’s demeanor for the worse.

“All of a sudden, [the person on the bullhorn] said, “There’s a Klansman in the crowd. Get him,’” said Thomas. The crowd fell silent and turned to a white man wearing a black vest with a Confederate flag. He had an SS tattoo.

Thomas’ first reaction was to confront him. But after seeing the man get struck in the head with a sign, Thomas acted. A now-famous photo of the incident, taken by Mark Brunner, shows Thomas protecting the man while yelling at protestors to stop. Ultimately, police arrived on the scene, escorted the man away and arrested several protestors who had become violent.

Media outlets later confirmed that he was not a Klansman.

Although Thomas’ actions were well publicized at the time, she shared the next, lesser-heard part of her story with the audience. A few weeks after the incident, she was sitting in a coffee shop when a white teenage boy approached her and said, “Thanks.” Confused, Thomas asked what he was thanking her for.

The teenager was the son of the man who Thomas protected.

The final speaker of the evening was local attorney Philip Hunter, who participated in all three Selma, Ala., marches as a teenager. As a result, he was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama along with other members of the original marches.

Hunter recalled that his father was an active member in the NAACP when “it was not popular to be a part of a subversive group.”

Hunter’s father and seven other men were nicknamed the “Courageous Eight” because they petitioned the superintendent of schools to integrate; this was before Brown v. Board of Education. Many people lost their jobs as a result of signing that petition. Hunter’s father and seven other men refused to remove their names.

Hunter explained that during one of the marches, the group knew authorities were waiting for them. Being athletic, he thought he could outrun the tear gas. He was wrong and faced the same brutality that many others of the time experienced.

Throughout his speech, Hunter repeated one of King’s famous quotes several times.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” said Hunter

He repeated, “Where do you stand in times of challenge and controversy?”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Obama’s Last Lap Deep divisions exposed by president’s final State of the Union

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama  reflected on his tenure in office and outlined his vision for the country — not just for his final year in office,  but for the “next five years, 10 years and beyond” — and drew mixed reactions from the Jewish community.

Barbara Goldberg Goldman, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s Women’s Leadership Network, watched the State of the Union from the White House on Jan. 12 surrounded by others who had campaigned for the president in 2008 and 2012.

“It was quite an emotional moment for me,” said Goldberg Goldman, adding that it brought back memories of the night before Obama’s first election. “I remember standing in a tent and watching tears fall down his cheeks during a speech that was really riveting. It confirmed for me, at that moment, why I worked so hard for him to get elected.”

She has been a fierce defender of the president’s record and echoed the successes Obama outlined in his  reflection on the last seven years, namely, the addition of 14 million new jobs over 70 straight months, an uptick in high school graduation rates and the expansion of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

The president dedicated a significant portion of his final State of the Union to his administration’s foreign-policy achievements and goals for  the future.

“The third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem,” Obama said.

He cited the Iraq war launched under his predecessor, George W. Bush, as an example of a policy that weakens the United States.

“[We] can’t try to take over and  rebuild every country that falls into  crisis,” Obama said. “That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the  lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq? — and we should have learned it by now.”

Instead, Obama said, he favors a foreign policy that “says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but  on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

“He has brought the image of the United States of America back to where it belongs,” said Goldberg Goldman. “He has brought it back to an image of strength, of leadership, of success. The rhetoric coming from the other side is nonsense.”

And, she said, paraphrasing former Israeli President Shimon Peres, Obama has “done more for the State of Israel … than any other leaders of the free world.”

But Israel was not mentioned at all during the president’s address, which did not go unnoticed by Obama’s  Republican foes.

“Israel, our dear friend and the only free democracy in the Middle East,  wasn’t mentioned at all during the speech. Our friend and ally Ukraine was inexplicably referred to as a Russian ‘client state,’” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said in a statement. “This reflects a lack of understanding of geopolitical reality. Sadly, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Obama.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, touted as a contender for the Republican vice presidential spot, delivered her party’s response and spoke of  Israel while lambasting Obama’s deal with Iran.

“We would make agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran and not the other way around,” she said.

Obama did not mention the 10 American sailors captured the day of the State of the Union by the Iranian Navy after two small U.S. naval vessels entered Iranian waters. Critics of the nuclear deal say that while Iran is complying with its narrow strictures, it is also expanding its influence and mischief-making in the region.

“The president touted his nuclear deal with Tehran, yet what the president didn’t say is that, since the deal, we have seen an increasingly bellicose regime flouting the international community, daring us to take action against its illicit behavior and then threatening to walk away from the nuclear deal if we do respond,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.,) chairwoman of the House Middle East subcommittee, said in a statement.

Aron Schwartz, who serves as the communications vice chair for the Montgomery County Young Republicans, said the State of the Union wasn’t worth his time.

“It was nothing but lies. [Obama] was patting himself on the back for doing nothing,” said the Pikesville  native, who credits his modern  Orthodox upbringing with shaping his libertarian views.

The speech crystallized the objections Schwartz has with Obama’s  recent actions — executive actions on gun control, in particular, which Schwartz dubbed “illegal” — and with the president’s legacy as a whole.

“Liberal politicians think the government is your lord and savior. It will save you and take care of all your problems,” he said. “It can’t. It won’t. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Jared Feldman, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, took a more measured tone.

“I think that there’s several really positive things about the past seven years and some things, as the president referred to, [that] are regrettable,” said Feldman.

“Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest,” said Obama. “Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor  and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

The president is a “polarizing figure,” Feldman said, though he didn’t rest the blame solely on Obama. “The president doesn’t get to instantaneously change the conversation or rework the policies of the last 200 years.”

“For an organization like JCPA, which is built on a notion of consensus and building coalitions, the partisanship that has turned into gridlock is  really troubling,” Feldman added. “I think from all accounts, both from the Americans and Israel, the cooperation between the United States and Israel is terrific, but the rhetoric around the issue was very concerning for those of us who care about the stability of the United States-Israel relationship.”

On a hopeful note, Feldman said that he was pleased by the pieces of the president’s address that spoke to building opportunity.

“There are a lot of impediments and obstacles that too many American children face to unlocking their potential, [and] it’s a tragedy for us as a society,” said Feldman. “[We need] to be mindful of how do we empower our neighbors and, in doing so,  empower ourselves.”

JTA contributed to this report.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Make Way For Millennials America’s youngest politicians eligible for presidency

The oldest members of the millennial generation are turning 35 this year, making them eligible for the highest seat in the land. While we may not hear “Hail to the Chief” as the intro for a millennial president this election cycle, 2016 is the last presidential contest in which America’s largest generation will be forced into the spectator-only role.

The Pew Research Center defines millennials as people born in 1981 and after, making them the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. The center describes this generation as “linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry and optimistic about the future.”

Make Way For Millennials

Millennials’ engagement with political structures differs wildly from their predecessors’.

“Millennials are dissatisfied with politics,” said Nik Sushka, 32, a former president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats. “Many millennials don’t identify with the political structures of the past, and it’s difficult to get millennials excited about serving in political office.”

Sushka has seen both sides of the coin when it comes to politically engaged — or in some cases disengaged — millennials. Her organization has successfully helped several millennial politicians with campaigns for public office, including Maryland state Dels. William Smith (D-District 20) and Marc Korman (D-District 16), who is Jewish.

However, getting millennials out to vote is still a problem facing candidates at all levels.

Although millennials are less interested in the polls, they are not disengaged from the issues. Sushka said millennials are dissatisfied with policies that would help to address issues such as sexism, racism and immigration reform. This feeling cuts through party lines.

“I think millennials, by and large, definitely respond more strongly to the single-issue advocacy angle,” Brent Tracy, chairman of the Modern Republicans of Howard County, said in an email.  “Our generation responds more to what is being said, rather than to who is saying it.”

Tracy, 28, said this feeling comes down to the individual. In his early 20s, he felt more passionate about the issues than the policy; however, he now takes more interest in creating “practical policies,” because he thinks “it is important to note that we can’t fix issues without good policies.”

Millennials, Tracy said, are more interested in tackling political issues through organizations, rather than policies, for two reasons.

First, the generational wall is becoming more difficult to break through due to people generally living longer and holding office longer.

Second, “they don’t trust politicians.”

“People are more and more cynical about politics — and Washington in particular,” said Matt Dallek, assistant professor of political management at the George Washington University. “I don’t see millennials moving into political space in the traditional offices [but] more so through advocacy, given the anger and animosity toward elected officials alike and the relative suspicions of each party.”

Korman, and Smith, who are from Rockville and Silver Spring respectively, are among the few millennials to buck that trend. With assistance from the Young Democrats, Korman, 34, and Smith, 33, were elected to the General Assembly in 2014.

What sets older liberals apart from their younger counterparts, said Korman, is how baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), the silent generation (born between 1928 and 1945) and the greatest generation (born before 1928), have developed their positions.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (a baby boomer) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt., and of the silent generation) are both seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

“[Millennials have] always had these positions,” said Korman, referring to issues such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization. “Clinton and Sanders have had an evolution over time because they have been around longer.”

Korman said that millennials are able to tap into change easily, and change is an idea that voters can get behind. This change is possible for politicians such as Clinton and Sanders, but it doesn’t come as easily.

Though millennials don’t have the political cohesion of the baby boomers and the greatest generation, they have concrete positions on certain social and foreign policy issues, said Jeremy Mayer, an associate professor at the school of government, policy and international affairs at George Mason University.

“On gay rights, they have made up their minds,” said Mayer. “They are against foreign wars. This is a generation shaped by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Unlike their parents’ generation, which saw the first Gulf War as a political success, the foreign conflicts millennials have been exposed to means they’re “not going to vote for the neo-conservative America as policeman of the world,” Mayer said.

Conservativism among millennials, said Mayer, will be more libertarian in its identity, in part because millennials are less religious. A 2014 Pew Research Survey concluded that only 27 percent of millennials attend a religious service on a weekly basis, compared with 38 percent of baby boomers and 51 percent of the silent and greatest generations.

Chrysovalantis Kefalas, 36, who is gay, epitomizes the ideals of young members in the Republican Party who are less conservative on social issues. Kefalas, who is seeking to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), characterized this not as a potential shift within his party, but as a rapid re-embracing of Republican core values of “free enterprise, individual rights [and] equal opportunity.”

“One of the things I think millennials more than any other generation seem to understand and appreciate is an unwillingness to wait for justice to occur,” Kefalas said.

“[Millennials] want to see a lot of social change. They want more involvement not just with brand change, but with voters who aren’t reached right now,” like young voters and minority voters, said Melanie Harris, 29, chair of the Baltimore Area Young Republicans Club and a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Jimmy Williams, treasurer of the Modern Republicans, said he thinks prioritizing social issues is a key difference between older and younger Republicans.

“A major difference between millennial Republicans and older Republicans is that we tend to prioritize [issues like] the economy, jobs, national security and education,” Williams said in an email. “Older Republicans still tend to put social issues at the top of their lists of important issues.”

Regardless of their differing views on social issues, Harris said she believes young activists in Baltimore, and Maryland in general, are united in their discontent with the political status quo.

“Some [millennials] have come to view our current political climate as status quo regardless of which of the two major parties is in charge,” Williams said. “As a result, [millennials] look to membership in advocacy organizations as a way to effect real change.”

Kefalas, who served as Maryland’s youngest deputy legal counsel during Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, joked that his greatest age-related concern is that he looks 20 years old — but in a serious vein said he believes that voters care more about his experience than his age. He argued that millennials have already begun to influence politics from the inside out.

“Things are getting done and it’s not necessarily the senators and representatives who are getting things done; it’s the young staffers who are pushing for results,” he said.

On the state level, Kefalas said he counts criminal justice reform as an issue he successfully pushed from within the Ehrlich administration. Ehrlich initiated a strategy that provided nonviolent offenders substance abuse treatment and implemented a clemency program in an effort to reintegrate them into society — as productive members of communities.

“I think one of the key sleeper issues in American politics is pensions,” said Mayer. “Pension politics directly pitches the young against the old. If we come to a pension crisis, that may be the moment millennials get engaged.”

Mayer predicted several states are only a few years away from pension crises.

Student loan debt is another financial issue that has exposed deep generational divides and resentment.

“I think that this generation of Democrats and millennials is on a different fiscal path than previous [generations] for a number of reasons. First is student loan debt,” said Smith, who estimates that his generation has $1.2 trillion of student loan debt. In Maryland, students attending public universities have approximately $25,000 in student debt after earning an undergraduate degree.

“[The amount] of debt that millennials have from the start changes our trajectory,” said Smith. “If you ask average millennials, [this is the] first generation where the outlook is not better than our parents.’”

Though Sanders has focused on economic disparity on the campaign trail, attracting a wide millennial following in the process, young voters are largely ignored by mainstream political operatives. Brian Zuzenak, former deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, spelled out the reason why to one of Mayer’s classes.

“It’s really expensive to talk to your generation, and when we try, it’s not worth the money because you don’t vote,” Zuzenak said during his lecture, according to Mayer. Although President Barack Obama’s campaign received praise in 2008 and 2012 for its use of social media to bring out younger voters, Mayer said he doesn’t think the millennial turnout was as large as reported.

“I think most campaign operatives would rather improve one or two points among baby boomers than five points among millennials,” said Mayer.

That does not mean millennials will be ignored forever.

“This generation is up for grabs, and I think Republicans and Democrats have yet to figure them out,” said Mayer. “Whichever party figures out how to get this short-attention-span generation to pay attention is going to win.”

(To prove a point, Mayer assigned his class with designing a political advertisement for their peers. The winner: A 12-second Vine video.)

“Everyone has a smartphone, everyone’s on social media all day,” agreed Harris, who re-chartered the Baltimore Young Republicans in July. “There’s a blissful ignorance of decades past. The radio’s off, the TV’s off; you might not know what’s going on outside your door.

“With this computer in your pocket [it changes the dynamics].”

“I think the way [the party communicates], that’s a part of change there, the use of social media to engage people instead of old-fashioned methods,” said Korman.

And in an era where a single Facebook post can mean getting a pink slip, social media may also become the downfall of some would-be millennial politicians.

Jonathan Sachs, who graduated from the University of Maryland, was president of the student body and the university’s College Democrats and has interned on Capitol Hill for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

He previously served as the campus mobilization director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“[The millennials’] biggest liability is also a positive. The positive is how people can connect with each other seamlessly” through websites such as Facebook and Twitter, said Sachs. “It’ll be interesting when people who were on Facebook for so long start running for office.

“Everyone has things [on Facebook when] they weren’t at their proudest moment or were voicing an opinion on a controversial topic they don’t still believe.”

Ultimately, millennials believe that — in the words of Korman — “candidates shouldn’t run because they’re young or because they’re old. If there is a well-qualified 35-year-old who can make a case to run for president, their case shouldn’t be [dismissed].”

“The generation that is in power now has been in power for a long time,” Sachs said. “No one in the millennial generation will be elected president on their 35th birthday.

“But the question is how do [politicians] in the next generation lead people in [both generations] to solve some of these big issues we’re facing as a country.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com, mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Howard County Board of Education Decision Maintains status quo for Jewish High Holidays

Following more than an hour of discussion Thursday, the Howard County Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose’s recommendation to maintain the decision to close schools on the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the 2016-2017 school year.

Following a motion by board members Bess Altwerger and Dr. Janet Siddiqui, it also approved closing schools on the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice Eid Al-Adha and the Hindu Festival of Lights Diwali. The school system will bring options back to the board for consideration about whether schools will close for students only or for students and staff.

Foose’s recommendation also included a request for proposal to “study the impact of the range of religious observances celebrated in Howard County to inform the development of the 2017–2018 calendar that will be presented to the board in September.”

The 2017-2018 academic calendar committee will meet with representatives from several Howard County organizations including the Jewish Federation, the Muslim Council, and the Chinese Parent Association as well as members of the Hindu community.

Although the action was initially focused on the Jewish High Holidays, the majority of the board’s discussion centered on requests from several other religious groups.

Regulations state that schools can close only if the absenteeism during a holiday would create operational problems. With that understanding, several religious groups asked that professional development days — on which students are off and teachers use to further their own education — be adjusted to allow these groups of students to celebrate their respective holidays.

This latest request had to be balanced with prior requests from teachers about when they thought placement of professional development days would be most beneficial to their own needs.

“The purpose of the school calendar is to provide adequate time for teaching and learning, but we also try to address the unique desires of our community,” said Foose, in a written statement. “We heard from hundreds of community members and we value their input. We will do our best to provide options that ensure students receive a great education and have opportunities to celebrate their cultures and traditions.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

BT Students Connect to ‘Other’ Baltimore Writer, educator D. Watkins talks about growing up in the projects and his grassroots work

Writer, speaker and educator D. Watkins spoke to an  Advanced Placement Psychology class at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

Writer, speaker and educator D. Watkins spoke to an Advanced Placement Psychology class at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

Students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School most likely never knew the realities D. Watkins grew up with: a drug-dealing brother who was murdered; friends who started dealing at 13; fights and parties and kids riding dirt bikes down the hallways of his building. Growing up in the Lafayette Courts housing projects was very different than Pikesville.

“When I was growing up there were no writers, there were no filmmakers. There weren’t even rappers in my neighborhood because all of these things seemed unattainable,” Watkins said.

The award-winning writer, educator and speaker, whose work has appeared in The New York Times and who has been featured on “Meet the Press,” addressed Paul Bolenbaugh’s Advanced Placement Psychology class on Thursday, Jan. 7. While he spoke about his childhood, going to college and feeling like a cultural alien, police brutality and politics — mostly why he stays out of them — a few themes ran throughout his talk: exposure, communication and cross-cultural interactions as the keys to understanding and empathizing with those who come from a different world in the same city.

“You can just do simple stuff,” Watkins answered when one student asked what they can do from their relative position of privilege. “Just acknowledging that you have a valuable experience but somebody from a different place has a valuable experience, and if you guys traded ideas, then both of you will benefit.”

Watkins’ talk was guided by the students’ questions, who asked about everything from police violence to how Watkins became a writer.

“I knew they probably had never heard a person like him,” said Bolenbaugh, whose class is currently studying racism, sexism, gender discrimination and similar issues.

To explain how he got to where he is today, Watkins spoke about how he wanted to be just like his brother when he was growing up.

“He was a drug dealer so I wanted to sell drugs just like him. He would always tell me that I’m stupid for wanting to sell drugs,” Watkins recalled. “As I got older and some of my friends started to sell drugs — and I’m talking 13, 14, 15 years old when my friends are really getting serious — I’m noticing their lives and I’m like ‘this isn’t a great life. This isn’t glamorous at all.’” He saw friends putting in 15-16 hour days, skipping school and not being able to go to school or play outside because they had a quota to meet and owed people money.

“I didn’t want to live that life,” Watkins said. “I took [my brother’s] advice and started preparing myself for college and taking the little SAT prep [tests] and doing everything that I had to do to get there.”

Just as he was set to go away to college, his brother was murdered. Watkins put off going away and later decided to attend Loyola College, where he felt a sort of culture shock.

“I didn’t grow up around a lot of white people so when I thought white people, I thought ‘Married with Children,’” Watkins said. “Academically, I think I could compete, but socially I stuck out like a sore thumb. There’s a huge cultural difference.”

He learned how important cultural exchange and understanding the experiences of others can be and related that to police violence. He spoke about how he thinks it’s a “serious problem” that a large majority of Baltimore City police officers live outside of the city — 79 percent according to WBAL.

“If [then police officer] Darren Wilson knew a guy like Michael Brown in Ferguson and he knew who Michael Brown’s grandma was and he knew Michael Brown got out of line and he knew he could talk to his grandmother or uncle, he’s not gonna blow holes in him, especially after a 15-, 20-second interaction,” Watkins said, “It’s impossible. But if you fear somebody, and culturally you fear them and culturally you fear people that look like this person and it’s embedded in you and they beat it into you … and then they give you a gun and a license to kill, what are you gonna do?”

For the students, Watkins was an engaging speaker who challenged them to think outside their own bubbles in a relatable way.

“I’ve never lived like that. I’ve never lived in the communities he spoke about, but just to expose yourself to lives they live and try to understand where they’re coming from, I don’t need to live that to know how they feel, to try to put myself in their shoes,” Andrew Schwartz said.

“A phrase like ‘when they tore my neighborhood down’ really jumped out at me,” said English teacher Gary Pedroni. Watkins was referring to the tearing down of the projects where he grew up. Through that story, he spoke about how important social fabric is and how the demolition, which forced people to move, combined with the city’s lackluster public transportation, effectively decimated his home neighborhood’s sense of community.

“Hearing someone who has had experiences that are so different from theirs is absolutely critical in helping our children understand that their life of privilege is indeed that: a life of privilege,” said Zipora Schorr, director of education. “Giving them that sense of understanding and compassion is what we’re about.”

Shayna Brookman said she feels like she and her fellow students often live in a “Jewish bubble,” which certainly has its perks.

“It’s so amazing, but there’s also bad parts about it where literally we don’t know our neighbors,” she said. “I live in Baltimore City close to Northern Parkway, and just down the street there’s a lot going on that it’s hard to know about.”

Several students took from the talk Watkins’ emphasis on awareness and exposure as a way to bridge gaps.

“He said the one thing we can do is be aware,” Justin Welfeld said, “and I think this talk was one step toward awareness.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Bridging the Religious Divide Second seminar in DFI series looks at anti-Semitism in other religions

History professor Robert Freedman says Islam originally contained several anti-Semitic teachings, but there are different interpretations. (Provided)

History professor Robert Freedman says Islam originally contained several anti-Semitic teachings, but there are different interpretations. (Provided)

The roots of anti-Semitism can be traced to the original teachings of the world’s largest religions, scholars told attendees at the Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development on Jan. 7. The workshop, the  second in a series dedicated to examining the causes of anti-Semitism,  featured lectures from history professor Robert Freedman, Rabbi Geoff Basik and religious scholar Rosann Catalano.

Freedman began his lecture by noting that bigotry and prejudice are “not limited to any race or religion,” but that the Quran contains several passages that assert the supremacy of the prophet Mohammed, creating the perception that the text is inherently anti-Semitic.

“The Quran is full of anti-Jewish comments,” he said. “Those anti-Jewish comments can and often are read at Friday services.”

Freedman said the establishment of Sharia law led to Dhimmi status for Jews, which in essence said that “my  religion is better than your religion” and can be tied to the belief that no prophets exist after Mohammed. Under this designation, Jews could only ride on mules, not horses, and had to wear yellow belts in order to distinguish themselves as Jews.

“As a result of Dhimmi status, Jews were second-class citizens,” Freedman said.

Freedman said Arabs began to ask themselves why they were defeated in the 1967 Six-Day War and began to call for changes.

“The emphasis on the sayings of  al-Baghdadi and al-Qaeda and all  of Islam has moved in the last 30 or 40 years; there’s an emphasis on  return to the pure days of Mohammed and his four disciples.”

He noted that since then there have also been calls for the reformation  of Islam.

Robert Freedman (Provided)

Robert Freedman (Provided)

“It’s not the religion, it’s who interprets it,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Freedman said it is important for people to realize that every word of the Quran cannot be treated as holy, just as the Torah is not taken literally in Judaism.

“Now, we have Jews who treat the Bible as holy in every word but not as a document that was written down and that involved interpretations all the time,” he said.

Freedman said the current political climate has become highly anti-Muslim, particularly the rhetoric coming from presidential candidate Donald Trump, who he called a “fool.”

“American Islam is a solution if people other than Trump would begin to embrace it,” he said while noting that both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush declared that Islam was a  religion of peace. “You try to make the American Muslims as a bridge to influence the rest of the world.”

Basik, a rabbi at Kol Halev Synagogue, followed Freedman’s lecture with his view on anti-Semitism today and said that while it is not as blatant as it once was, it still exists. He said there is often a divide between today’s young generations and their parents and grandparents, some of whom lived through the Holocaust.

Rabbi Geoff Basik with Neil Rubin (Provided)

Rabbi Geoff Basik with Neil Rubin (Provided)

“We are people with long memory of deep hurt,” he said. “There’s a kind of residual PTSD that is often  retouched and retriggered. All of this history contributes to a certain mindset — a tragic realism that this is a  hostile world. It’s a deep pessimism.”

“We are people with a long memory of deep hurt. There’s a kind of residual PTSD that is often retouched and retriggered. All of this history contributes to a certain mindset — a tragic realism that this is a hostile world. It’s a deep pessimism.”
— Rabbi Geoff Basik

But Basik pointed out that some Jews often contradict themselves  by condemning anti-Semitism but subscribing to beliefs that their religion is superior. He explained that the original version of the Aleinu contained a line that said of other  religions, “For they worship a God that does not save.” Basik said this line is not included in any 21st- century Siddurim.

Catalano, a scholar at the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies,  discussed the often fractured relationship between Jews and Christians going back to the belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. She said that this was based on a theological conviction as opposed to a racial one.

Rosann Catalano (Provided)

Rosann Catalano (Provided)

Catalano explained that there is a difference between the terms anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, in that anti-Semitism means “a belief or  behavior against all Semites who speak a Semitic language,” but anti-Judaism is specific to Jews.

“It’s a problem because you will misunderstand the teaching of anti-Jewish teachings in the church,” she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com