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

A Long Strange Trip Owings Mills native creating conversations about otherworldly experiences

Mike Margolies (center) founded a discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is about to help launch online magazine Psymposia. In December, Twig Harper (right) spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event about salvia and  Sensory Deprivation Tanks.

Mike Margolies (center) founded a discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is about to help launch online magazine Psymposia. In December, Twig Harper (right) spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event about salvia and
Sensory Deprivation Tanks.

Mike Margolies had a good job as a chemical engineer at Exxon right after college. For a nice Jewish boy from Owings Mills, it was a good, safe path to be on.

But after some mystical experiences with mind-altering substances, Margolies knew he had to change his life’s trajectory. In the back of his mind, he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it took these experiences to give him the courage and confidence to pursue that path.

“I just didn’t feel like climbing the corporate ladder. In life, it didn’t seem like what I wanted to do,” said Margolies, 29. “I wasn’t trying to take a break. I was trying to change the course of my life.”

That journey — which included 15 months of backpacking in Southeast Asia — led him back to his home city, where he now runs a psychedelic discussion group called Psychedelic Seminars and is project editor of soon-to-be-launched online magazine Psymposia. Both of these projects are working toward Margolies’ goal of creating a safe space to talk about drugs and psychedelic experiences.

“What we are trying to do is facilitate honest conversations,” he said. “We are not advocates for drugs; we’re advocates for honest conversations about drugs.”

Psychedelic Seminars has hosted scientists from Johns Hopkins University who study psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms), a representative of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, medical cannabis activists and experts and a variety of other multidisciplinary speakers. Psymposia, which launches in the coming weeks, will use a similar cast of characters and feature a main article and responses to it from a variety of writers, along with a response from the original author to create a back-and-forth conversation. The theme of the first issue is “Coming Out of the Psychedelic Closet,” something Margolies himself had to do.

It was in Peru where he decided to change the course of his life after several ayahuasca ceremonies. The South American psychedelic brew, used as spiritual medicine among people indigenous to the Amazon, reportedly gives those who take it great spiritual revelations and insight, although those revelations can be coupled with gastrointestinal trauma.

At the time, Margolies’ insights led him to quit his job and go backpacking. In August 2013, he set out for Southeast Asia and spent 15 months traversing the region, mostly in Thailand. While he had planned to start a life over there, after a visit home in November 2014, he decided to stay in the United States. Over coffee with a friend, something obvious presented itself: His passion is talking about psychedelic experiences.

The day after this conversation, which took place this past February, he made the Facebook page for Psychedelic Seminars.

“There was no group I could find in Baltimore like a psychedelic discussion group,” he said. “And there it is: It’s obvious, just make it.”

The first meeting took place in March 2015. Margolies rented a room in a library and spoke to a small group about how ayahuasca changed his life.

But it wasn’t as simple as starting a group. While his parents were initially shocked when he quit his job, he shocked them again when he told them he was becoming something of a psychedelic guru. It took time and a lot of conversations for Margolies to be fully open about his own psychedelic drug use.

“It’s been a work in progress … but they’re coming around,” he said. Although he’s still a bit troubled by a conversation over this past Thanksgiving in which some extended family members told him they were concerned about him.

“This scene itself is the very epitome of why I do what I do,” he said. “There is so much stigma around drugs. We’re so impaired in the subject we can’t even have a conversation.”

If Psychedelic Seminar’s Dec. 22 event is any indication, Margolies’ effort to create a space for conversation is working. About 40 people crowded into Artifact Coffee in the Woodberry area of Baltimore for a talk and Q&A with Twig Harper, who runs a Sensory Deprivation Tank facility and works with psychoactive plant salvia. The light-proof and soundproof tank is filled with water salted enough to make the body float and can produce a variety of different effects some may refer to as psychedelic.

A majority of the evening was more back-and-forth conversations with attendees than presentation, with what Harper said were more “deeper space questions.”

Harper said it’s important to have an educational and social structure around psychedelic drugs and technologies, something he didn’t have in his late teens and early 20s when he did a lot of experimenting. He said it took a lot of work to understand those experiences and get to a point where he could talk about them. While he thinks psychedelic experiences shouldn’t be stigmatized, he still thinks caution should be exercised.

“If you look at other cultures that have these or other cultures that have existed or used sacred medicines … there’s a special class of people, the priests, it was their job to understand the [substances] by direct experience, and that’s not for everyone, and I think that’s something to really consider about these substances,” he said. “They’re oppressed and misunderstood, and [some of] the people who understand them want to liberate them, and there’s a tendency to want to bring them to everyone. They’re not for everyone, and maybe not everyone should understand them.”

But as Margolies found the confidence to search for his true calling, Harper too felt his outlook on life changed from psychedelic experiences.

“It removes the idea that we’re just an accumulation of a personal history with patterns of sensation,” he said. “It allows us to kind of tap into, I think, the eternal and mystical parts of our consciousness, which in the larger society is something that’s greatly needed.”

Albert Garcia-Romeu, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, spoke at a Psychedelic Seminars event in June about his work in using psilocybin in smoking cessation as well as the other work Hopkins’ scientists have done with the compound. He said these kinds of presentations are often given outside of Baltimore to very specialized scientific audiences, so he thought it would be good to give back to Baltimore’s community.

“It can be helpful because we can answer questions around harm reduction with a scientific or medical perspective that sometimes they might be misinformed about,” he said.

Someone like Garcia-Romeu can provide information on drug trends and issues with illicit street-level drugs and can tell people about kits that can test drug purity and where they can find those kits.

“It’s better to provide condoms than it is to tell people to be abstinent, basically,” Garcia-Romeu said.

Hopkins psychologist Bill Richards, Ph.D., who has been in psychedelic research since 1963, will speak at the next Psychedelic Seminars event on Jan. 19.

For Margolies, coming back to Baltimore rather than starting a new life on the other side of the world proved to be more fruitful than he’d imagined.

“It turned out in my own home city, Hopkins is doing this research; it happens to be this hotbed of all the things I’m interested in,” he said. “I only had to come back into my home with new eyes.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Wanted: Safe Spaces First few weeks of 2016 see continued crime in Northwest Baltimore

For residents in Northwest Baltimore, crime has picked up in 2016 right where it left off at the end of last year, and once again it has raised concerns over public safety in the Jewish community. According to the Shomrim of Baltimore Facebook page, more than 20 incidents have occurred during the last few weeks.

These concerns were voiced during a town hall meeting at the Park Heights JCC on Monday, when members of the Baltimore Police Department addressed several hundred residents of the surrounding community.

WANTED: SAFE SPACES

“I can tell you without the shadow of a doubt that the work ethic and the talent is here in Baltimore,” Commissioner Kevin Davis said in support of his department. “I know that we have to do better with property crimes, quality-of-life crimes.”

Davis, who spoke only briefly due to another engagement, said he hopes that the crime-heavy year of 2015 will be an “asterisk year,” and he added that the department is in the process of coming out with a sophisticated burglary strategy.

Capt. Jason Yerg, a commanding officer in the Northwest District, said many of the recent break-ins were occurring during 15-minute windows and in broad daylight when parents were taking their children to school. He said two juveniles who attend Northwest High School are believed to be behind the most recent string of robberies and have been taken into custody.

“Now the onus falls on the criminal justice system,” Yerg said. “And sometimes we in the city would like to see the criminal justice system act a little more swiftly.”

One man suggested that Baltimore introduce stop-and-frisk policing tactics similar to those of New York City in the 1990s during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. Yerg was quick to point out that Baltimore adopted the policy 15 years ago, but it has been heavily scrutinized due to criticisms of racial profiling.

I think the police department is afraid to do its job because of what happened in [the riots].
— Sharon Saroff of Owings Mills

“Unfortunately, the ACLU and various civil rights organizations have a huge problem with that,” he said. “A lot of the things that we did back in 2001, 2002, 2003 that were Giuliani-esque alienated the city. Some of the things that used to happen in the back alleys that kind of kept people on the straight and narrow, they’re not acceptable anymore.”

A number of recent crime victims were in attendance Monday and complained that on-the-scene police officers never wrote reports. One man who was robbed last summer said that a truck he and his neighbors were warned about pulled up to his house after the incident. “I wrote down the license plate number. He was driving slowly because he was casing houses. I got in my car and drove behind him,” he said.

The man called 911 while following the truck on Woodcrest Avenue, but the 911 operator said police could not respond because he was in a moving vehicle and did not have a fixed location. The truck then drove off.

“I told [the operator], ‘You get an A-plus for procedure and an F for results.’ So if we call 911 and that’s the runaround we get, who do we go to besides Shomrim?” the man asked.

Yerg said that Shomrim was a great resource, and in that situation the police should be called, But, he added, sometimes property crime is not prioritized.

“We’re not going to be able to solve all the problems in the Northwest,” he said. “You call 911 and you get an ill-trained 911 operator, and they don’t get it to a patrol in a timely manner, or the call is coded based on priority because we have higher priorities taking place, and police officers don’t show up for 20, 25 minutes. That’s not [Northwest] Maj. [LaTonya] Lewis’ fault or our fault; that’s all of us working together.”

Maj. Robert Smith told attendees that the size of the Northwest District creates challenges for police because they often focus on the more economically depressed areas as opposed to Upper Park Heights.

“This is a pretty big district,” he said. “You have communities that are stable, you have communities that are fractured, and you have communities that are in shambles.”

The meeting followed a series of robberies at gunpoint that had occurred during the week of Jan. 3. On Jan. 6 at Seven Mile Market, a man held up an employee who was loading the ATM machine about a half hour before the store opened; the thief made off with an undisclosed amount of cash, according to the Baltimore County Police Department. Neil Schachter, president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, said the suspect was likely a disgruntled employee.

“I think this was an unusual anomaly,” he said. “This person was sitting in the hallway wearing a Seven Mile Market shirt. How did he get a shirt? They clearly thought he was one of the workers.”

Another incident occurred on Jan. 5 at 9:30 p.m. outside Bais Haknesses Ohr HaChaim, when a man was robbed at gunpoint by three individuals, according to Schachter. He said despite the frightening nature of some of these attacks, residents should have no reason to be fearful.

“These incidents happen very far and few between, and I don’t think it’s going to stop one congregant from going to shul,” he said. “We have confidence in the police department, and we’re sure that this will be totally under control in a short period of time.”

Law enforcement did increase its presence over the weekend, however, adding three officers to patrol targeted areas during Shabbat hours. Schachter said this was a request from the NWCP, Shomrim and a delegation of local rabbis. He wasunsure whether this would continue in future weeks.

Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson said he has had a number of conversations with police about safety and that the most important thing for residents is to make sure their doors are locked and their possessions are secured. He said he feels safe where he lives in the Summit Park neighborhood.

“The major thing right now is that there are police throughout the neighborhoods,” Abramson said. “I see them in the morning [going to work], and I see them on the way home. They are moving in the right direction.”

Many residents blame the increase in crime on a diminished police presence, which they attribute to lingering inner-city violence in the wake of last April’s Freddie Gray riots during a year that recorded 344 homicides — the most in any year since 1993.

“I think we need to have more [police presence], because the police department isn’t doing enough right now,” said Sharon Saroff of Owings Mills.

Saroff, a regular shopper at Seven Mile Market, said her husband once served on the NWCP and thinks more security in general is needed.

“It’s not just here in the Northwest area, it’s all over the city, and I think that something has to be done,” she said. “I think the police department is afraid to do its job because of what happened in [the riots],” she said.

Pikesville resident Bari Efron also feels the police needs to increase its presence in the area.

“I think one of the reasons that we’re seeing this upsurge has to do with the riots and that police feel that their hands are tied,” she said.

Efron, a Seven Mile shopper, said [the crime upsurge] is upsetting but not to the extent that she feels unsafe.

“I feel safe on a daily basis pretty much, but there’s always that feeling that you always have to be careful and look around you,” she said.

Diane Dorman, a resident in the Towers Condominiums near the intersection of Falstaff Road and Clarks Lane, said she has lived in Baltimore for eight years and said much has changed in that time, even to the point where she no longer feels comfortable walking alone. Dorman was particularly concerned about a recent carjacking on Clarks Lane and hopes additional security measures are taken.

“They’re putting more lights in the parking lot,” she said. “Maybe that’s what they need, more street lights.”

While most have blamed Pikesville’s crime problems on lack of police and security, resident Ann Kibel Schwartz said she thinks socioeconomic and educational disparities play a larger role. Schwartz moved to the Baltimore area 15 years ago and said she thinks more partnerships between schools and on-the-job training would help reduce the crime rate.

“We could have programs in the schools where [students] get a combination of practical life training and jobs in partnership with maybe hospitals and other big places that are potential employers,” she said.

Schwartz said she volunteered with Head Start in the 1960s and thinks that people are less likely to commit crimes when they have hope.

“When [children have] enough to eat and clothes on their back and lots of love, it makes a big difference,” she said.

Schwartz, who teaches art appreciation at the Community College of Baltimore County, said her students often find constructive ways of dealing with their emotions through creative means.

“What gives me a lot of hope is how many young students I have who write poetry,” she said. “Having a way to express yourself calms people down, so I just think it’s important.”

Schwartz said she thinks empathy is the key ingredient in making a community safer.

“There’s no 100 percent cure, but if people know each other and they have empathy for each other, they’re less likely to hurt each other,” she said. “When you live among strangers, it’s stressful and you have less empathy.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Alleged Anti-Semitism in Council Race Community organizer claims candidate referred to Jewish opponent as ‘Jew boy’

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (Photo provided)

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Alleged anti-Semitism has surfaced in the race among three black candidates and one Jewish candidate to replace retiring District 5 Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector.

In a Facebook post, minister and community organizer Kinji Scott accused Derrick Lennon of saying, “We can’t let this Jew boy get in,” referring to District 5 candidate Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer. He said the comment occurred during a conversation on the morning of Friday, Jan. 8, at a West Baltimore ceremony where a street sign was dedicated to father-of-three Kendal Fenwick, who was killed in November.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. What kind of anti-Semitic s—- is that?’” Scott said later in an interview. “I’m shocked, to be honest with you, that somebody would say what was said.”

Lennon denied the accusation and called it absurd.

Schleifer said he’s hoping the accusation isn’t true.

“I’d be very disappointed if it was true,” he said. “I think I have a good relationship with Derrick, and I would hope the voters wouldn’t vote for anybody based on race, gender or religion; that they vote based on who has done the most as a community activist for the community and the person who they feel is a leader who can represent everybody in the district.”

Schleifer, who serves as vice president of the Cheswolde Community Association, said he and Lennon have worked together over the years, especially on slots funding. In a brief phone call, Lennon mentioned that he used to run community event WinterFest, which was billed as a  celebration of diversity and was open to all facets of the community.

Schleifer said he’s not jumping to conclusions about what was said.

“If he wants to reach out to me, of course I’d be willing to speak with him,” Schleifer said. “Until I hear from him, I would never rush to judgment.”

Schleifer, a small-business owner and community activist, and Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association, face Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate, and Sharif Small, also a small-business owner, in the Democratic primary for the District 5 council seat.

Spector, who was appointed to her seat in 1977 and is known as the “dean of the council,” announced that she will not be seeking reelection. She is one of six sitting council members not running in the primary.

In addition to wanting to spend more time with her family, Spector, 79, said she had doubts as to her effectiveness if she were re-elected.

“I always had allies. I had a governor. I had a mayor, I had the president of the council. I had colleagues. I was part of a collaborative,” she said. “The political landscape has already changed.”

She referred to her “blip in the road” with Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young in which he removed her from several committee assignments after she voted against two bills he supported.

She said she will not be endorsing a candidate for her seat but plans to work with whoever wins.

If a campaign event on Sunday, Jan. 10, is any indication, Schleifer has the support of a sizable portion of the Jewish community. A Pikesville home was packed to the brim to hear New York Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder speak. The legislator spoke about the importance of local elections as well as local support.

“This is a candidate who needs the support, who is going to win and be successful, not just in the campaign,” he told the crowd.

Among the attendees were Young, Councilman Nick Mosby and his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and several area rabbis. Schleifer is the Northwest community liaison for Marilyn Mosby.

“He has been an asset to my office. He is dynamic. He takes initiative. He’s a genuine person so it was an easy sort of no-brainer,” Mosby said of appointing him to that position. “I’m kind of sad to see him go, but I’m very proud of him.”

Young said he goes to a variety of campaign events to get to know the candidates and was not endorsing Schleifer.

Nick Mosby, who represents District 7 on the City Council and is running for mayor, said he is supporting Schleifer.

“This trending toward new energy and new ideas in government is critically important for our city,” he said. “We have a huge opportunity to really tackle some of the challenges that we’ve seen, some of the ones that are in the forefront like public safety, and I think Yitzy is ripe to take on those challenges.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Hungry Harvest Makes a Deal HoCo company hits jackpot on ‘Shark Tank’

CEO and founder Evan Lutz addresses attendees at Hungry Harvest’s “Shark Tank” viewing party on Jan. 8. From left: Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Lutz and Peter Ettinger, executive director for the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Justin Katz)

CEO and founder Evan Lutz addresses attendees at Hungry Harvest’s “Shark Tank” viewing party on Jan. 8. From left: Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Lutz and Peter Ettinger, executive director for the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Columbia-based Hungry Harvest’s CEO and founder Evan Lutz made his debut on “Shark Tank,” and despite a few tense moments, cybersecurity executive and shark Robert Herjavec struck a $100,000 deal with Lutz for 10-percent equity in Hungry Harvest.

“Shark Tank,” which airs on ABC, offers entrepreneurs from around the country the opportunity to pitch their companies to five executives. The high-rollers come with a variety of backgrounds from fashion to real estate who are all ready to invest with their own money if they think a company is a winner.

“There’s no way the sharks will make a deal with a delivery service that sells ugly fruit,” said Lutz, 23, referencing conversations with friends and family who initially suggested he apply for the show. Despite  doubts, Hungry Harvest, a company that sells edible fruits and vegetables that may have been discarded due to looks, went through the lengthy application.

Lutz began the process in February 2015 and then traveled to Los Angeles in June to have his moment in front of the sharks; the show aired on Jan. 8. Everyone from friends, family and customers to business partners and local and state politicians joined Hungry Harvest to watch the show at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship.

I keep getting this reoccurring feeling that it’s a dream but it’s really happening. It’s been exhilarating; it’s been awesome.

— Evan Lutz, CEO and founder of Hungry Harvest

“I’m real excited to be here tonight; I can’t imagine how nervous Evan must have been when he was out there,” Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman said during the party. “[Lutz] clearly has a passion for entrepreneurship but also a passion for people, and that’s why I’m excited for him.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is from Howard County, was also in attendance.

“[Hungry Harvest being on “Shark Tank”] is great. It gives a lot of attention not only to this county, but Maryland in general,” said Rutherford. “Maryland is open for business as the governor says. It’s an innovation capital, and we want to build on that.”

Rutherford added that although he doesn’t necessarily have a favorite shark, he does like Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban and Canadian venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary — who uses the name Mr. Wonderful while on “Shark Tank” — both of whom were on the show when Lutz made his pitch.

“I was really nervous,” said Lutz about the moments before pitching his company. “I couldn’t believe I walked in there.”

Following Lutz’s initial pitch requesting $50,000 in exchange for 5 percent equity in Hungry Harvest, the sharks became nervous when they found out the company was donating food to the hungry despite operating at a loss.

This proved to be a deal breaker for real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, who dropped out from negotiations after telling Lutz he was too “in love with the idea” and should be more “greedy.”

“We were targeting any shark but Barbara,” said Lutz. “Not because we don’t think she is smart or business savvy, but we didn’t think she would be able to help us like the other sharks could.”

Herjavec, who said he appreciated the good Lutz is trying to do, made his offer

“Instead of just writing another check I have been looking for a way to give people an opportunity that empowers them,” said Herjavec on the show. “This is something that I want to do.”

Initially, Lutz asked if he could hear offers from the other sharks — a question that generally never ends well.

“My immediate reaction [to the sharks after that question] was, ‘That was stupid,’” said Lutz “I thought, ‘If someone rejects the first deal, then more often than not they walk out without a deal.”

O’Leary began pitching a deal to Lutz, but it never made it to the table as the other sharks suggested Lutz take Herjavec’s deal, and that is exactly what Lutz did.

“We’re all about taking the great idea and making it an even greater product,” said Peter Ettinger, executive director of MCE. “[Hungry Harvest] is the first group I’ve ever met where they figured out how to do well by doing good, so we’re very excited [for them.]”

Lutz said he is happy with the deal.

“I keep getting this reoccurring feeling that it’s a dream,” said Lutz. “But it’s really happening. It’s been exhilarating; it’s been awesome.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Regrettable’ Why U.S. lawmakers want Germany to take another look in its museums

Visitors look at Max Beckmann's “Portrait Quappi Beckmann” from 1925 at the Hypo-Kunsthalle in Munich.

Visitors look at Max Beckmann’s “Portrait Quappi Beckmann” from 1925 at the Hypo-Kunsthalle in Munich.

In a letter emblazoned with the insignia of the U.S. House of Representatives, 29 members of Congress reprimanded the German state of Bavaria for neglecting its historical responsibility to victims of the Nazis.

“The Free State of Bavaria has yet to fully honor its pledge regarding restitution or compensation for Holocaust-related confiscations of property, including artwork, made under duress,” read the Nov. 9 letter addressed to Bavaria’s governor, Horst Seehofer. “The importance of these issues to Holocaust survivors and their families cannot be overstated.”

Why would members of Congress send such a sharply worded — if diplomatic — missive to the largest state in Germany, a major U.S. ally, some 70 years after the end of World War II?

In the preceding months, retired American-British physician Michael Hulton, 69, had met with Congress members throughout the United States to deliver an impassioned presentation about his great-uncle Alfred Flechtheim, a flamboyant German Jewish art dealer destroyed by the rise of the Nazis.

German institutions, Hulton told the lawmakers, are failing in their responsibility to secure justice for Flechtheim and other early victims of the Nazis. He asked for their help.

In an interview at his lawyer’s Manhattan law firm, Hulton said he was heartened by how receptive the lawmakers were to his message.

“And not the obvious ones,” he said. “Not the Jewish ones.”

Germany is widely acknowledged to be a leader in Holocaust restitution. The state has paid nearly $70 billion to Nazi victims since 1953, according to Wesley Fisher, director of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

And although any statutes of limitation long ago expired on cases of Nazi-looted art, Germany is among 44 nations that voluntarily committed in the Washington Principles of 1998 to restitution of art stolen by the Nazis or sold under duress they caused.

But Hulton said Germany has not fulfilled its commitments under the agreement, not to mention its historical obligations. He noted that state authorities set the bar very high for claimants of restitution — requiring them to prove that Nazi oppression directly contributed to the loss of the art in question.

That can be difficult, especially where records are lacking.

For example, early in 2015, the Limbach Commission — a state-established panel that advises on requests for restitution for art lost due to Nazi oppression — rejected a claim on “A Weekday in Paris,” a painting by German artist Adolph von Menzel. The heirs of the artwork’s one-time owner, George Behrens, argued that the Jewish banker sold the work to the city of Dusseldorf in 1935 because of Nazi persecution.

The commission pointed out that Behrens was paid 30,000 Reichmarks for the painting, which was in line with the market price of the day. Further, the commission said, the bank Behrens owned was still in good economic order in 1935, suggesting he was not in financial duress.But it’s worth remembering the pervasiveness of Nazi influence, even when it cannot be pinpointed.

“One should ask: Why did Behrens sell?” said Marc Masurovsky, an art historian and co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. “If it was to finance his exit from Germany, then we are within the reach of a forced sale. If it was to pay for lunches and dinner, clearly not.”

Flechtheim probably wasn’t eating out much by 1932, when he is said to have sold the most valuable works in his collection: six paintings by the famed German Expressionist Max Beckmann.

After a roaring 1920s spent hobnobbing with artistic elites from Paris to Berlin, Flechtheim that year became the literal cover boy for the “Jewish problem.” A sketch of his face in profile was published on the cover of the Nazi magazine Illustrierter Beobachter alongside the headline “The Race Question is the Key to World History.”

The persecution worsened from there, with the Nazis breaking up a 1933 auction he was participating in. Later that year, Flechtheim fled Germany. He died in London in 1937, destitute and miserable.

In 2008, using photographs of the art in Flechtheim’s Berlin apartment, Hulton began claiming as his inheritance 17 paintings and other works that were once in Flechtheim’s collection — including pieces by Beckmann, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. German museums now own the works. Hulton and his lawyers value the estate at some $124 million.

Since then, Hulton has settled claims with only two museums regarding eight of the works. On the Beckmann paintings held by Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne, the state-owned museum has been uncooperative and will no longer even discuss the matter, he said.

It was frustration with the museum that led Hulton to seek help from Congress members. But another letter may turn out to be more decisive in his campaign for justice.

Pinakothek der Moderne contends that Flechtheim sold the Beckmann paintings to an art dealer in New York in 1932. When Flechtheim was later offered a fraction of the agreed sum, he responded with a letter protesting in French: “Tant pis!”

Whether Flechtheim was turning down a sale that had not yet happened or regretting a sale he had already agreed on is up for debate. But the meaning of his protest is not: “The situation is regrettable!”

Kimco on Track to Own Entire Owings Mills Mall

The Owings Mills Mall may soon see redevelopment that has been in the pipeline for years.

On Monday, Kimco Realty reported that it paid $11.5 million to acquire General Growth Properties’ 50-percent ownership in the mall and also  acquired the parcel owned by J.C. Penney for $5.2 million. Kimco is under contract to buy the Macy’s parcel for $7.5 million.

“As a result of these transactions, Kimco will own 100 percent of the Owings Mills Mall and plans to  develop a new open-air center in its place,” the news release said.

The mall closed off its interior doors in September, and Macy’s closed in November. J.C. Penney is the only remaining retailer in the mall.

Although Kimco plans to raze the entire mall, previous plans included building an open-air center around the structures of J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

In a previous interview, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was excited that the shopping-destination-turned-eyesore has a future.

“We’re just really excited that we’re on the same page [with developers], and we see a lot of movement taking place,” he said. “I’ve made myself available to meet with any of the  retailers to sell them on how great the area is.”

Kimco isn’t the only developer working in Owings Mills. Construction is flourishing at Greenberg Gibbons’ project Foundry Row, where the centerpiece store, Wegmans, is expected to open late this summer. The Metro Centre at Owings Mills, a project by David S. Brown Enterprises, has brought retail, luxury apartments, a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch to the area surrounding the Owings Mills Metro.

Baltimore Doctor Dies as a Result of Florida Crash Injuries

Dr. Larry Becker

Dr. Larry Becker

Dr. Larry Becker passed away on Jan. 8 after sustaining serious injuries from a car crash on Jan. 3 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was in the car with his wife, Alma, who is now back in Baltimore being cared for by family.

Becker, 77, was treated at St. Mary’s Medical Center but passed away due to complications.

Becker was an orthopedic surgeon who pioneered arthroscopic surgery and was the first surgeon in Maryland to perform the procedure.

“My background in competitive sports enables me to identify with the athlete’s desire to return to his or her sport as quickly as possible,” Becker wrote on his website. “It’s truly a thrill watching my patients  recover from knee surgery and resume their active lifestyles, whatever their age!”

The details of the crash are still being investigated, and the Palm Beach Gardens police  department was not immediately available for comment.

The funeral took place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Jan. 11, and interment was at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Berrymans Lane.

Baltimore Doctor Victim of Florida Crash

Dr. Larry Becker passed away on Jan. 8 after sustaining serious injuries from a car crash on Jan. 3 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Becker was in the car with his wife, Alma, who is now back in Baltimore being cared for by family.

He was treated at St. Mary’s Medical Center, but passed away due to complications.

Becker was an orthopedic surgeon who pioneered arthroscopic surgery and was the first surgeon in Maryland to perform the procedure.

“My background in competitive sports enables me to identify with the athlete’s desire to return to his or her sport as quickly as possible,” Becker wrote on his website. “It’s truly a thrill watching my patients recover from knee surgery and resume their active lifestyles, whatever their age!”

The details of the crash are still being investigated and the Palm Beach Gardens police department was not immediately available for comment.

The funeral took place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Jan. 11 and the interment was at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Berrymans Lane.