Week of Advocacy Hundreds of Jewish teens from USY descend on Baltimore for annual convention

Teens at the United Synagogue Youth International Convention gather at the southwest corner of Camden Yards in Baltimore on Dec. 29. The protest came in response to the April 2015 Orioles game played in an empty stadium. (Daniel Schere)

Teens at the United Synagogue Youth International Convention gather at the southwest corner of Camden Yards in Baltimore on Dec. 29. The protest came in response to the April 2015 Orioles game played in an empty stadium. (Daniel Schere)

More than 700 Jewish teens packed the rooms of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31 for United Synagogue Youth’s 65th Annual International Convention. The event’s theme was “Think More. Do More. B’more.” and focused on  issues at home and abroad.

The day’s events of Dec. 29 began with empowerment workshops in which the teens broke off into groups of five and discussed ways to advocate for issues about which they are passionate such as politics, combating anti-Semitism and raising awareness about mental illness. They then devised ideas for an action plan on large sheets of paper that they planned to implement in their home communities.

The anti-Semitism group came  up with the idea of starting a social media campaign for people in USY to share their experiences and create interfaith partnerships with other marginalized groups.

“A lot of times we don’t think that we teens can actually make a change, so this showed that with just a couple minds brainstorming together, we really can make a difference and start something big,” said Michael Standler, a  17-year-old from Connecticut. Standler has been involved in USY since he was a freshman in high school and said the week’s events have given him a greater perspective on the importance of social justice.

“I’ve learned a lot about advocating for Israel and how to build a stronger connection between the U.S. and  Israel and also just to do more social action,” he said.

The convention is USY’s hallmark annual event that attracts teens from around the country, but a number of attendees traveled a stone’s throw from their families. Mia Kaufman, a senior at Franklin High School, has been in USY since eighth grade and said this year’s convention was one for the books.

“It’s honestly so amazing, it’s like 10 times better than I expected it to be,” she said.

Kaufman’s friend, Andrew Burt, who also attends Franklin, has been involved with USY since middle school and said the week has been “unbelievable.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “It’s a thrill to be with so many like-minded Jewish teens.”

Burt said he learned a great deal about lobbying by attending empowerment sessions focused on advocating for Israel.

“There’s specific ways you’re trained in AIPAC to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship stays strong and to ensure a better future for both countries,” he said.

RJ Tabachnick, the son of Jewish Chronicle writer Toby Tabachnick, traveled from Pittsburgh for the convention and also attended a workshop focused on Israel advocacy. He said USY events are important for strengthening peer relationships.

“I really love making friends and seeing old friends,” he said.

The teens spent the first part of the afternoon learning about the proper way to contact their congressman or congresswoman from Sam Daley-Harris, CEO of the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation. During his lecture, Daley-Harris called several teen volunteers to the stage and had them role play mock calls to their local senators, asking them to sponsor a bill aimed at reducing the incarceration rate in the U.S. At the end, one teen made a real call to Sen. Ben Cardin’s office asking him to sponsor the bill, which received  noticeable applause from the crowd.

With the spirit of political activism in the air, the teens proceeded to march from the hotel to Camden Yards as an act of protest against the Orioles game played on April 29, 2015 against the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium due to dangers resulting from the Freddie Gray riots. The teens gathered at the stadium’s southwest gate and broke out in song for several minutes before speakers took to the microphone to voice their concerns.

“Today is all about voices,” said Rabbi David Levy who serves as USY’s director of teen learning. “We’re standing outside the gates of Camden Yards because after the riots took place here in Baltimore, it was decided for the first time in Major League history that a baseball game would be played right here without fans in the stands.”

Levy emphasized that the measure of not allowing fans into the stadium was done with the good intention of keeping peace in Baltimore, but it still created a chilling effect on expression. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr.,  he explained how silence can have  far-reaching consequences for society.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent,  intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention,” he said.

Levy challenged the teens to not be silent and to create “spaces and places” for the voices of young people to be heard.

“When we don’t [create spaces], we have silence,” he said. “We’re left with empty stadiums, empty streets, closed schools and a society that finds itself stuck. So in order to move forward, our role is to make noise everywhere.”

A student leader in USY also  addressed the crowd and said it is  important to realize that in a crisis, sports such as baseball often act as unifying element to a city that is  internally torn.

“They [the Orioles] were not trying to make a political statement,” she said. “They were not asking anything of anyone in Baltimore. They were there just doing their part to return their community to normalcy.”

The final speaker was Danny Siegel, a former international president of USY and author who read a poem called “The Good People,” which he had written several years ago after a mission trip to Israel.

“The good people anywhere will teach anyone who wants to know how to fix all things breaking and broken in this world — including hearts and dreams. And along the way we will learn such things as why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing with our hands and minds and souls and our time.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Jews for Judaism East Closes After 32 Years Lack of funding, flagging interest cited as reasons for dissolution

Jews for Judaism East, the regional arm of the national organization that thwarts proselytizers targeting Jews for conversion and works to strengthen and preserve Jewish identity through education and counseling, closed its doors last month after 32 years.

Citing dwindling financial support as the primary cause, executive director Ruth Guggenheim said that the board came to the decision in October and planned for a Dec. 31 closure. There will be a liquidation of the  entire JFJ library of educational  materials, which span all religions, Jan. 10 and 11 at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Synagogue.

Guggenheim added that she and others on the board hope to start up Hatshuva, a resource with a similar mission but with a focus on Israel, where, she said, messianic Jews and evangelical Christians are fiercely  targeting lone soldiers in the Israel  Defense Forces, the Russian immigrant community and young Jews.

At its peak, JFJ East, which opened as the first satellite office from the Los Angeles-based international  organization in 1983, had seven  employees and was well funded,  especially during the mid-2000s, when Jews for Jesus sent missionaries “into every city with a major Jewish population” during its Behold Your God effort, Guggenheim said.

The organization’s work even drew the support of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, but after 2008, when most of JFJ’s  significant funding dried up, “we tried [several times] to become a small but viable agency under The Associated to do the programs and one-on-one counseling,” said Guggenheim. That never came to fruition.

Guggenheim said that when the  organization transitioned from reactive to proactive inspirational programming they garnered some support, “but now people have seemed to focus elsewhere,” and Jews don’t feel as threatened by missionaries because people don’t think they target Jews or Jewish kids.

There’s a perception that JFJ is “talking against other faith systems,” she said. “But that’s not true. We have many other interfaith supporters.”

“Ruthie Guggenheim has been the soul and center of our organization since I can remember,” said JFJ board member Marilyn Leavey Meyerson, “and she deserves accolades and kudos for what she’s been able to  accomplish and her dedication to the organization.”

Meyerson, who voted for the closure “for many reasons and with a very heavy heart,” first learned about JFJ as a client. Her son, Jason, joined Jews for Jesus in California around 1990, and Meyerson’s rabbi referred her to JFJ.

“I was devastated. I was in tears for days at a time,” Meyerson, who is modern Orthodox, recalled. “It  became therapy for me. I could go and express my deep feelings of  disappointment, and [JFJ was] a source of comfort.”

Her son met with a JFJ representative, but he “was so fervent, his belief system had totally changed. … He wouldn’t change his position,” Meyerson said. Jason returned to Baltimore and is currently a pastor and chiropractor in Ellicott City. “My husband and I chose to have an amenable relationship [with Jason and his family]. My grandchildren know we’re Jewish, and we hope that our son will come back to Judaism.”

Meyerson added she has committed to involvement with Hatshuva when it gets off the ground, hopefully by mid-2016.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, JFJ International founder, said his organization will have no involvement in Hatshuva, but he did say that it, along with a strong Toronto JFJ office, plans to  expand programs, resources and anti-proselytizing efforts to the East Coast region. But Guggenheim still has concerns.

“The average young Jew cannot come back with answers with confidence” when confronted by a missionary, which is information and training JFJ provided, even by outreach to organizations and schools, said Guggenheim. “People don’t realize messianic Jews are not even Jewish and they’re raising their children in the Christian faith. … We don’t have to turn our backs on our loved ones [who have converted]. We always encourage to keep the door open; there is always a seat at the table. Otherwise, our loved ones will never reconsider their spiritual choices and come back to Judaism.”

Guggenheim said clients came to JFJ “looking for Jewish content and because they were not getting it [elsewhere], unless they were involved  in the Orthodox community.” JFJ also provided role-playing exercises.

JFJ led more than 2,700 educational programs for about 100,000 youths during its tenure, Guggenheim said. Its staff and volunteers spoke with every youth organization and crossed denominational lines within the Jewish community, helping whoever needed help by providing community awareness, professional development and support when  organizations needed media coverage, supplying hard facts and figures. “When missionaries came into  communities, we were the go-to.”

Louis Schwartz, past president and longtime board member, also voted for the closure but is disappointed that “people don’t realize the problem this still is,” he said, citing the deceptive manner, he believes, with which missionaries target the Jewish community. Though people don’t seem as concerned about this issue now, “that doesn’t mean it’s going away.”

“I’m very sad, because there’s a tremendous amount of history and  accomplishment,” Kravitz said of the regional office’s closure. “We should all be appreciative of what Baltimore did and the areas they pioneered. We’ll look at the challenges as opportunities, and we have to move forward.”


 

Liquidation Sale of JFJ Educational Resource Library

Sunday Jan. 10,  9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Mon. Jan. 11,  5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Moses Montefiore Anshe  Emunah Synagogue
7000 Rockland Hills Drive, Baltimore
For information contact,  Ruth Guggenheim at
443-854-5993 or  ruth@jewsforjudaism.org.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Living Life Through Giving Life Everyman Theatre uses real-life organ donor example to illustrate the experience’s powerful emotions

Birth, bar mitzvah, wedding … liver transplant? Donating or receiving a vital organ does not typically make the list when we think of events in the cycle of life. But for several in Baltimore’s Jewish community, it can be a signature moment in the lives of the recipient, donor and everyone else involved.

Everyman Theatre lighting designer Jay Herzog had lived a relatively healthy life until the summer of 2014, when he began gaining weight rapidly. On Labor Day, he had become so large he could no longer feel his feet and said at that point he knew something was wrong.

Herzog went to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH.

“It basically means that you have cirrhosis of the liver that is determined not to be caused by alcohol,” he said. “I was blown away. I’d like to say I stayed positive as much as I could.”

Everyman Theatre’s production of “Under the Skin” follows the journey of Lou, played by Mitchell Hébert (pictured), who is in need of a kidney transplant and must seek help from his estranged daughter, Raina, played by Megan Anderson.  (Courtesy of Everyman Theatre)

Everyman Theatre’s production of “Under the Skin” follows the journey of Lou, played by Mitchell Hébert (pictured), who is in need of a kidney transplant and must seek help from his estranged daughter, Raina, played by Megan Anderson. (Courtesy of Everyman Theatre)

Herzog said his first reaction was one of panic: He decided he needed to “get his papers in order” and even assembled a living will.

“I needed to first take care of my family, that was my first reaction,” he said.

Herzog said he had never considered the possibility of being disabled but knew from communicating with others online who had suffered similar illnesses that going back to work after surgery was against the odds.

“Most people by the time they’re two years into their diagnosis, they’re not working,” he said.

Herzog’s disease was caught in an early stage, and this put him at a disadvantage for a transplant, as most occur when the eligible patient is roughly 30 days from death.

“You go through this system, which is a national system. There are 11 regions in the United States, and the livers are distributed through the regions,” he explained, adding that he has had friends who waited up to five years for a transplant.

At that point he began to consider a living donor option and reached out to family and friends as well as putting out a plea on Facebook for a donor with the same blood type.

Director Vincent Lancisi said Michael Hollinger has “a real gift for personalizing stories and incorporating humor” while raising important questions about the duty of human beings to one another.

“For me, being a B-positive blood type I was able to take anybody who’s B and anybody’s whose O,” he said.

Herzog said he received an enormous response that included not only close friends, but also high school acquaintances and former students of his at Towson University.

“It was really quite eye-opening to see who would do it, especially since a liver transplant is so complicated,” he said.

Until then, Herzog said he was not aware that it was possible for a liver to regenerate over six to 12 weeks and become fully functional again.

“The only difference is that neither of us [donor and recipient] can become a living donor again,” he said.

Herzog had secured a living donor by mid-December 2014 and had surgery on Jan. 21, 2015. Now, one year later, Everyman is commemorating his successful surgery and recovery by putting on a production of “Under the Skin” — a new play written by Michael Hollinger that follows the story of Lou, a man in need of a kidney transplant, and his estranged daughter, Raina, who must wrestle with the decision to donate one of her kidneys despite their rocky past.

The Springfield Hospital grounds contain a memorial that recognizes the contributions of organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

The Springfield Hospital grounds contain a memorial that recognizes the contributions of organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Director Vincent Lancisi said Hollinger has “a real gift for personalizing stories and incorporating humor” while raising important questions about the duty of human beings to one another. Lancisi said Hollinger effectively uses the father-daughter relationship to raise broader questions about the concept of organ donation.

“Why does it take a family member who’s suddenly in need of an organ to consider giving it? And who is family anyway? If I’m a match, what is my responsibility to the human race?”

Lancisi said he attended the first production of “Under the Skin” last year at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia and was immediately drawn to the story.

“I walked in kind of blind and was bowled over by the show and was saying, ‘I have to do this in my theater,’” he said.

The play, which opens Jan. 20 and runs through Feb. 21, mainly takes place in a hospital and involves six characters played by four actors; Mitchell Hébert, Megan Anderson, Keith L. Royal Smith and Alice Gatling. It traces the journey of the donation as told through Raina, but Lancisi said the purpose of the play is to illustrate the human struggle as opposed to providing an instructional display.

“You don’t need to know anything about organ donation to see this play,” he said. “It’s not an educational play. It’s a human drama.”

Lancisi said that the timing of Herzog’s illness was a coincidence but did influence his decision to pursue this type of play.

“We were all so shocked when this man who I’ve probably seen drink three alcoholic drinks in the time I’ve known him needed a liver transplant,” he said of Herzog.

It’s the greatest feeling. You can’t imagine. Knowing that you’re able to help someone and give someone life and it doesn’t sacrifice anything for myself.

— Yossi Burstyn, organ donor

The company has been in production for a few weeks, and Lancisi said the biggest challenge for him has been realistically portraying a medical environment, which includes adding props such as a hospital bed and electronic charts.

“You don’t have to have all of the bells and whistles,” he said. “You have exactly what you need to tell the story as it’s going.”

While Lancisi attempts to illustrate a difficult medical journey through theater, Rabbi Ruth Smith, a chaplain at UMM, tries to offer spiritual comfort to patients and make sure they have resources in the community. Smith said she frequently comes into contact with patients who have received heart, lung and liver transplants. There is a complicated set of Jewish laws that dictate when organs from the dead can be donated, but for living donations, Smith said, all denominations are fully embracing of the process.

Rabbi Ruth Smith, chaplain at the University of Maryland Medical Center, leads a service in 2014 honoring anatomical organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi Ruth Smith, chaplain at the University of Maryland Medical Center, leads a service in 2014 honoring anatomical organ donors. (Melissa Gerr)

Smith, a Reconstructionist rabbi, explained that an organ donation is part of the concept of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, and is one of the most important mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition. Despite being a rabbi, she emphasized that her role is more of a conciliatory one as opposed to one of spiritual guidance.

“I’m not their authority,” she said. “My job for any religion is to support their lives in whatever way they need.”

As an observer to the process, Smith has become familiar with both the physical and mental anguish patients and their families often go through during a transplant. For five years, Harry Burstyn and his family experienced this firsthand when he began experiencing kidney failure in 2008. As the JT reported in 2013, he eventually went on dialysis before receiving a donation from his cousin, Yossi. Burstyn said up until Yossi responded, he had been proactive in getting the word out, and eight potential donors had gone to the hospital to go through testing.

“I had friends do it, I had strangers who I haven’t met to this day who posted on Facebook, and thank God, Yossi stepped up,” he said.

Burstyn said there was never any question as to whether he would be comfortable with a living donor giving him a kidney, even from a religious perspective.

“The stereotype is it’s forbidden to be an organ donor,” he said. “If you want to be a donor and you’re donating to a living person, not only is it a good deed, it’s an obligation because if you save one life, you save the world.”

Yossi said that after the operation it took a couple weeks for him to recover, but it was worth it, and he celebrated by skydiving.

“It’s the greatest feeling,” he said. “You can’t imagine. Knowing that you’re able to help someone and give someone life and it doesn’t sacrifice anything for myself.”

Since receiving the transplant, Burstyn has become active in the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, which works to educate and promote the concept of organ and tissue donations.

Burstyn said going through a transplant can be a leap of faith for many, but for him, it was a second chance at life.

I don’t wish a kidney transplant on anyone, but it does a lot more than transplant your kidney, it transplants your life,” he said.

Herzog too has become involved with Living Legacy as well as several other donor advocacy groups. He said his goal is to let others know what it means to be a donor.

“Every single time that the donor walks into the room, the doctors remind them that they could die,” he said.

Herzog is once again teaching full time at Towson and will watch opening night of “Under the Skin” on the one-year anniversary of his surgery. He said the play is important in serving as an educational tool about an eye-opening experience that made him more grateful.

“I’m not a different person,” he said. “I’m more appreciate of people in general. I’m much more hopeful.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

A Holy Calling One of retired psychologist’s many philanthropic efforts is repairing prayer books

Arnie Feiner repairs a prayer book in his basement workshop. He estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Arnie Feiner repairs a prayer book in his basement workshop. He estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Racks of specialty tape line the walls; a hot glue gun sits on a work bench; various tools are stored all over the room; and books are piled high on a table in Arnie Feiner’s workshop.

This space, in a room of the basement of Feiner’s Pikesville home, is no regular workshop but where Feiner performs a sort of holy work: repairing prayer books for Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Feiner, who moved to Baltimore from Florida with his wife, Lisa, in 2009, estimates that he has repaired around 10,000 books for his congregation.

“I had never done this until I came here,” Feiner, 72, said. “I came in and saw there was a tremendous need, especially at Chizuk, which has thousands of books.”

Over the last six years, Feiner has taught himself how to treat a long list of ailments that plague older prayer books. He uses a specialty tape dispenser to tape up spines that are worn. To reattach spines to the pages of the books, Feiner carefully uses a hot glue gun, which he replaces about once a year because they break from heavy usage.

“I’ve got to be very careful,” he said. “This hot glue gun is something like 400 degrees. I’ve only been burned once.”

He has tape in colors that match the books and winged tape that can be used when the top or bottom of a spine or the corners of the front or back covers are frayed.

“All these tapes and gadgets and what-not are special ordered for these purposes,” he said.

Whether using the specialty tape dispenser, applying winged tape or a blot of hot glue, Feiner applies his tools with the most careful precision.

For other fixes, he has adopted some of his own methods. To prop a book up, he pushes two bookends together and puts the prayer book in between them. To tape ripped pages back together or back to the spine of the book, he uses clamps to hold pages together on both sides of the book as he tapes the page.

“It’s kind of like doing surgery,” Feiner said.

For pages that need replacing, he pulls from a collection of books that are too damaged to repair. He even keeps handy a folder of photocopies of commonly replaced pages — he uses the double-sided copier from his old family practice and trims the pages to fit in the prayer books. He brings discarded pages to Sol Levinson and Bros. so they can be buried.

“These are holy books. These are not just library books,” Feiner said. “I think it’s holy work; that’s the way I approach it.”

If he comes across books that were dedicated to and by people he knows, he puts those aside until he sees them at synagogue so he can show people their newly repaired book.

Chizuk Amuno reimburses him for his costs, but the labor is free.

Rabbi Moshe Shualy, Chizuk Amuno’s ritual director, said that Feiner not only has saved the synagogue thousands of dollars, but also has helped restore books that he thinks have more character.

“There’s something particularly, I think, beautiful about picking up a siddur that’s been prayed from, and he really is a masterful siddur repairman,” Shualy said. “The spirit just shines from a book that’s been used as opposed to something brand new.”

Feiner walks the entire shul every few weeks, checking the books. He repairs a couple each morning when he attends minyan, and he even has a special box on Shabbat for books that are in need of repair.

“It’s almost like a joke,” he said. “Every day, people come over to me in shul [and say], ‘I got another one for you.’”

But book repair is hardly the bulk of Feiner’s Jewish and philanthropic involvement. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native, who moved to Florida in 1969, was extremely involved in Jewish life in the Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale area where he lived.


“The only position I think I didn’t hold at synagogue was sisterhood president,” Feiner joked. He served on several rabbi and cantor search committees and as ritual director.

Outside of Jewish life, Feiner was very involved in the medical world as a psychologist. He headed up one of the first veterans’ centers after the Vietnam War, a difficult task at a time when veterans were not looked upon favorably.

He began to specialize in ADHD in the 1980s, and from seeing so many children in his practice, he affectionately became known as “The Fun Doctor.” (These days, some call him “The Book Doctor.”) He, his wife, a clinical social worker, and their daughter, Sherri Abraham, also a psychologist, ran a family medical practice, Feiner, Abraham and Associates in Hollywood, Fla.

Feiner served on medical ethics committees at hospitals and was on the board of various organizations in Broward County, Fla.

The Feiners came to Baltimore in 2009 to be closer to their daughters and four granddaughters. Two of their granddaughters attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and the other two attend the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Arnie and Lisa are very active with all four of them and even drive to Rockville once a week to pick their granddaughters up from school. Lisa helps them with secular homework, and Arnie helps them with Hebrew homework. He’s even teaching one of them her Haftarah portion for her bat mitzvah.

Arnie and Lisa maintain the library for their neighborhood and also help manage the library at North Oaks, the retirement community across the street from their home. The two also volunteer as patients in the Clinical Foundations of Medicine, a program in which Johns Hopkins medical students learn how to interview patients.

“I frequently say I have never been busier since we retired,” Feiner said.

The Feiners and another couple also run a Chavurah program.

For Feiner, all this sharing and giving of his time is rooted in his Judaism and its principle of tikkun olam.

“I take seriously the prayers I utter every day,” he said.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Jewish Community Split on End-of-Life Issue ‘Death with Dignity’ bill to be proposed again this legislative session

(©iStockphoto.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

(©iStockphoto.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

The issue of allowing terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to choose to end their lives will be debated once again in the Maryland General Assembly.

While a number of legislators, including the lead sponsor, and advocates who support the option are Jewish, the community is all but united on the issue leading into the start of the legislative session on Jan. 13.

This year’s bill will be called the End of Life Option Act, a name change reflecting that some felt Death with Dignity implied that other deaths were undignified. While there is no debate that choosing to end one’s life goes against halacha, those who support the legislation say it’s about compassion and respect for the ill, and they draw on their Jewish identities in their support.

“It’s not, to me, a matter of being Jewish or not being Jewish, it’s a matter of respecting people to make their own decision at end of life,” said Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-District 13), a Howard County politician and the bill’s lead sponsor. “Do I think that’s a Jewish value? Actually, I do.”

Pendergrass and advocates who support the bill were upset with the Baltimore Jewish Council’s testifying against the bill during last year’s session and at a workgroup meeting in the fall. The BJC plans to revisit the issue when a new bill is introduced. Executive director Art Abramson said he doubts the council would ever support the bill, but it’s possible the organization could step back and not lobby heavily against it.

This year’s End of Life Option Act, modeled partly after California’s law, will be similar to last year’s Death with Dignity Act. It would allow patients with a six-month prognosis to obtain a prescription for a lethal drug from a physician. The patient must be the one making the decision to take the drug and must be able to take the drug without assistance.

A workgroup convened this fall to make changes to the bill. Some of those proposals include changes to documenting witnesses, requiring that one of two witnesses not be a relative or beneficiary, and to some other reporting requirements. Other proposals include listing the cause of death as “pharmacologically accelerated imminent natural death,” and sponsors want to include a mandatory private consultation between the patient and his or her doctor to ensure there is no coercion.

Pendergrass said a large number of Jews testified in favor of the bill last session.

“The quote that stays with me and will continue to stay with me, hauntingly, is, ‘Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill,’” she recalled.

The quote that stays with me and will continue to stay with me, hauntingly, is, ‘Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill.’
— Del. Shane Pendergrass

 

Pendergrass said she was “personally discomforted” by the experience of the Baltimore Jewish Council testifying against her bill last session and stopped contributing to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore because of that experience.

“I think this was a place where if you believe in your religion that this is the wrong thing to do, then don’t do it,” she said. “But if you want government to not be run by religion, then let the government be run by secular rules, and use your religious energy for other things.”

For Ruth Goldstein, Baltimore-area coordinator for Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit that advocates for end-of-life choice, supporting this legislation is consistent with her Judaism.

“This is completely consistent with how Reform Jews practice and interpret Judaism, and there is no conflict. The Bible says you should stone people to death if you commit adultery, and we don’t do that today,” Goldstein said. “I think compassion is sort of the prime directive for my brand of Judaism, and this doesn’t conflict in any way.”

But for the Baltimore Jewish Council, it does conflict.

“We’re not going to support it. We can’t for halachic reasons,” Abramson said.

The BJC’s position was adopted in 1997. In the spring of 2015, the BJC called a group of rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, some of whom were executive committee members, who unanimously agreed to oppose the bill. Abramson said when the new bill is introduced, the executive committee will take a look at it and may ask the full board to make a decision on how the BJC should proceed.

“I haven’t had any rabbi call me and say to me, ‘Well, we should support this bill,’” Abramson said. “What I’ve had [is people asking], ‘Is there a way we can deal with the issue without going [into] full-hearted testimony?’ …I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes in that direction.”

Abramson said he is aware that people were upset with the council over last session’s testimony.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said his organization opposed the law last year and will again this year.

“It’s not going to be the primary item on our legislative agenda, but we would be willing to participate in broad coalitional efforts or testify,” he said, adding that the council has a longstanding policy that asserts its position on the upcoming legislation and that it is consistent with different denominations. He has not personally heard from Jews who support the legislation, but he doesn’t rule out that they exist.

“These issues are obviously highly emotionally charged and extraordinarily personal and complex, but we still feel [opposing the legislation is] where the Jewish community maintains a pretty strong consensus,” Halber said.

Norma Cohen, a Mount Washington resident who is active with Compassion and Choices, wants the BJC to put the issue to a full board vote. She authored a column in the Nov. 6 Jewish Times, “Baltimore Jewish Council Doesn’t Represent Me.”

“Times have changed, medicine has changed, and laws have changed,” she wrote. “It is time for the full board of the Baltimore Jewish Council, not just its executive committee, to revisit this very important issue and reach a consensus that reflects the entire spectrum of the Jewish community, not just a segment of it.”

Rabbi Rhoda Silverman of Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Owings Mills, agreed that Jewish perspectives can be updated for the times.

“Judaism values life. The laws that were created that talk about this, extending life and doing anything to pursue life, could not even imagine the medical technology that we have today, and I don’t believe those rabbis would have made those same decisions as they would have today,” she said. “When somebody is in an unbearable amount of pain and they know where this is going … I feel like the Jewish response should be to allow them to die with dignity. To me there’s no other response.”

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, disagreed.

“We are not in charge of when we live and die, that is something that is decided from upon high,” he said. “Wherever you’re going to look in the text that shapes our observance, there’s no place for something like that.”

Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who co-sponsored the bill last year, said this was an issue that was brought up at her first community meeting at someone’s home when she was campaigning.

“It was really very, very important to the people there,” she said. “They impressed upon me — and many of them were older adults — how important this issue was to them, and that stayed with me.”

She said numerous constituents have expressed their support to her as well on the issue.

“I think it gives people a lot of peace of mind to know that they have an option if they are terminally ill,” she said. “I firmly believe people should have the ability to make those choices for themselves at the end of life.”

She was present for a film screening of “How to Die in Oregon” presented by Compassion and Choices, which she recommends people watch to see how it actually works. The documentary, which explores how the state’s Death with Dignity Act has played out, will be screened for free at 1 p.m. this Sunday at Har Sinai Congregation.

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) will be present for the Har Sinai screening. A practicing ER physician, Morhaim has researched and written extensively on the issue of elderly care and authored a book, “The Better End,” on the subject.

He said people should take advantage of advanced illness and end-of-life care options that are available such as advance directives, hospice and palliative care, the support of family and health professionals and medical cannabis when it becomes available in Maryland.

“If we did so, a significant number of end-of-life care issues would be better managed,” he said. “However, there will always be outlier cases and circumstances that are not addressed by the above. But by using these tools (advance directives, hospice, etc.), these cases will be minimized.”

He said he looks forward to reviewing this year’s legislation and hearing from constituents.

For those pushing for the bill, the feeling is positive this year. With the workgroup amending the bill, 25 bills being introduced in 25 states in 2015 and the support of House Speaker Michael Busch, 2016 may be their year.

“I think the climate is a little bit different this year,” Goldstein said, “and we’ve had time to do some outreach and education and let people know what this really is as opposed to what it’s not.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Keeping It Kosher Kashrut practice, misconceptions go hand-in-hand

New York-based kosher supermarket chain Seasons is preparing to open a new store in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

New York-based kosher supermarket chain Seasons is preparing to open a new store in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane. (Photo by Melissa Gerr)

One can be forgiven if he or she isn’t aware of every intricacy that goes into kashrut, the laws of keeping kosher. Companies such as Star-K expect it and have even set up a hotline for those with questions. But the misconceptions surrounding what it means to keep kosher are another discussion entirely.

“The biggest misconception is that kosher has something to do with the rabbi blessing the food,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Department.

“Some people still believe that a rabbi blesses the food,” echoed Star-K president Dr. Avrom Pollak. “I tell people that rabbis can bless the food all day long, but that doesn’t make any difference.”

With the New York-based kosher supermarket Seasons preparing to open a 15,000-square-foot location in Pikesville, the store’s general manager, Zachary Richards, explained that while the behind-the-scenes work to maintain a store of this size can be intricate, keeping kosher ultimately isn’t as difficult as some people perceive.

“I think the main thing people need to understand is the laws of keeping kosher aren’t that difficult to follow,” said Richards. “[Keeping kosher] is very difficult if you put yourself in certain situations.”

First, some basics: Food prohibitions don’t stop at such non-kosher animal sources as swine and shellfish. Meat, even if slaughtered properly, must be soaked, salted or roasted to remove residual blood. And even then, it can never be combined with dairy products.

According to Richards, if someone isn’t accustomed to these proscriptions and enjoys certain kinds of food, keeping kosher might initially not be so easy. Still, most of the difficulty is found in the steps before food makes it home, with a lot of it being shouldered by the distributor.

Beyond simply keeping milk and meat separate, much of the nuance involved with kashrut is done on the supermarket’s side, said Richards. His building in the former Office Depot space on Reisterstown Road, east of Naylors Lane, will have three different kitchens for food preparation: fleishig for meat; milchig for dairy; and pareve kitchen for everything else.

Each kitchen has its own utensils, which are marked accordingly. And making a mistake is fairly simple to avoid.

“If you see a blue utensil in the green kitchen, you know you’ve made a mistake,” said Richards.

Richards added that Seasons staff go through what the company calls “sensitivity training” to ensure employees understand the basics of kashrut and Jewish culture.

The Pikesville store will be under the Star-K’s supervision and have a mashgiach, a kosher supervisor, in each of its departments.

“The real job of a mashgiach is to be the eyes and ears of the certifying rabbi or organization,” said Pollak. “Some stores may require several mashgichim. These mashgichim can do other jobs [such as service customers], but they must always be free to take care of kosher requirements as they come up.”

A mistake by a mashgiach can result in not only a religious issue, but a financial one. Pollak recalls an incident that required a business to shut down temporarily while it resolved an issue concerning an order of French fries prepared in non-kosher animal shortening that wasn’t checked on delivery.

Being sent non-kosher products can be a constant battle. Elefant explains a supermarket must strike a balance when it comes to what products it stocks on its shelves. If a supermarket stocks products certified by only one organization, such as the Star-K or OU, it may not have much variety in its selection.

However, if it stocks foods from organizations it isn’t familiar with, it risks receiving foods that are treife.

“Let’s say you have a product … and you go through the effort of investigating the kashrut of that product and determine it is fine. You tell the manager you can stock that product,” said Elefant. “But that doesn’t mean everything under that supervision is acceptable.

“You only checked that one product and people may extrapolate that if this [item] is fine, then everything is fine,” he adds. “That may not be the case.”

Since much of this is done by the supermarket, it makes keeping kosher that much easier on consumers. However, many consumers ask Elefant the same question about the future of kosher products. He gives all of them the same answer.

“The first question I get at public functions: What’s the next product that’s going to [become] kosher?” Barring food like shellfish or bacon, he asks them, “What do you want that isn’t already kosher?”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Day to Remember Reston, Va., veteran recalls heroism of righteous gentile

Paul Stern was standing with 800 other American soldiers on Jan. 27, 1945, at the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp near Ziegenhain, Germany, when the Nazi commandant confronted Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, ordering him to have all the Jews step forward — 150 to 200, according to Stern.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds replied. The commandant then put a gun to Edmonds’ head and said he would shoot him unless he commanded the Jews to step forward. Edmonds replied that the Geneva Conventions state that captured soldiers need only to give their name, rank and serial number. “If you shoot me now, you’ll have to shoot all of us because we all know who you are, and when the war is over you will be tried as a war criminal,” Edmonds said. The German commandant retreated to his barracks.

“That one act of courage and bravery by [a] master sergeant saved my life as well as all the Jewish prisoners at Ziegenhain,” Stern, 91, recalled at Congregation Beth Emeth’s first annual Veterans Shabbat, held Nov. 7 at the Herndon synagogue.

The Bronx, N.Y., native and Reston, Va., resident presented this testimony to the Israeli government. That helped to make the late Edmonds, who died in 1985, become the first American serviceman recognized as a righteous gentile by Yad Vashem,
Israel’s Holocaust memorial. The announcement was made Dec. 2.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington will hold a ceremony on Jan. 27 in honor of Edmonds. Stern plans to attend.

Stern was captured during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, along with another Jewish soldier, Lester Tanner. They both ended up at Stalag IXA. After the war, Tanner, also a Bronx native, invited Stern to meet his family in the borough, where Stern was introduced to Tanner’s sister, Corinne. They have been married for 68 years.

Stern and his wife are members of Beth Emeth and have a daughter, Joanne Stern Fleeter, also of Reston, and a son, Jeff Stern of Washington.

“When we were young, he was always very reserved and quiet about his war experiences. But certainly in the last 10 or so years, he’s really opened up and told us a lot of the stories and felt comfortable speaking in front of groups, like he did at the temple — and regaling friends and family with his exploits and what he went through,” said Jeff Stern. “I’m very proud of him for doing that, and I think it’s a great thing to be able to tell his children and his family and the grandchildren, so people remember it over time as this ‘greatest generation’ begins to leave us.”

Said Fleeter: “I’m pleased that this story has come and that Roddie Edmonds is getting the validation and the honor that he deserves. I’m proud that my dad was an eyewitness who could give testimony for this heroic act.”

The date his life was saved by Edmonds carries extra significance for Stern: It is also his birthday.

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Human Rights Are Human Rights’ Left and right make common cause on alleged torture of Jewish Duma suspects

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, protests at a New York demonstration organized by the right-wing Americans for a Safe Israel.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, protests at a New York demonstration organized by the right-wing Americans for a Safe Israel.

The issue of torture in Israel has received unusual attention in recent weeks because of the identity of the alleged victims.

Human rights groups say nothing is new in the allegations that Jewish youths, arrested in connection with an arson attack over the summer that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma, were tortured by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service. (Two of the youths were indicted on Jan. 3.)

For years, Palestinians have charged Israeli authorities with doing much the same. And it is likely that, despite the renewed attention to the issue, little will change for a number of reasons, including the overarching trust that most Israelis place in their security services and the human tendency to fret over one’s own more than the perceived enemy.

But for a moment, however brief, claims by Jewish suspects have yielded an unusual convergence, with left-wing groups that have long decried Israeli interrogation methods making common cause with groups on the right angry that the Shin Bet has swept up some of their own.

“As long as it happens to others — in our case, the Palestinians — it’s one thing. But when it happens to a group that has greater access to media attention, it’s another,” said Yuval Shany, the dean of the law faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a group of experts that monitors compliance with international human rights standards. “A lot more attention was paid to these allegations than to parallel allegations by Palestinians.”

Lawyers for the three Jewish youths in the Duma case alleged last week that their clients were deprived of sleep, blindfolded and beaten. At least one of them, Elisha Odess, has dual Israeli-American citizenship. His family maintains he is innocent.

Supporters of the youths have stirred some sympathy in light of the allegations. A protest rally in Jerusalem last week drew hundreds, and a right-wing American pro-Israel group, Americans for a Safe Israel, organized a vigil outside the Israeli Consulate in New York.

Moshe Feiglin, a one-time contender for the leadership of the ruling Likud party, bemoaned the allegations of detention in an opinion piece in the Jewish Press, an Orthodox New York weekly.

“What kind of state will be left after this horror, taking place with the authorization and oversight of the ‘law’?” Feiglin asked.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s main internal security agency, denied the allegations in a rare statement, calling them “lies,” and the prevalent reaction among Israeli leaders was to side with the agency. Naftali Bennett, an Israeli Cabinet minister and leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, defended the agency in a statement typical of a political class that, with exceptions only on the margins, tends to defer to the security establishment as the best guarantor of the country’s safety.

“Those who, like us, support the Shin Bet’s actions on Palestinian terrorism, whose objective is to save Jewish lives, can’t oppose them when they’re applied to Jewish terrorism,” Bennett said at a conference for Orthodox educators, according to the Times of Israel.

David Haivri, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuach, said there has been a mix of reactions among settlers, in part because of an appreciation of the Shin Bet’s role in quelling Palestinian terrorism.

“If this case of suspected Jewish terror hadn’t come up, many would have been content with ignoring or even supporting the need for torture when interrogating [Arab] terrorists,” Haivri said in an interview. “Now this case has caused a predicament.”

The deference to the security establishment extends to mainstream American Jewish organizations, with groups that tend to pronounce on human rights issues — including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — declining to comment on the charges.

Americans for a Safe Israel involved itself only because of its familiarity with the communities where the suspects lived, said Judy Kadish, a member of the group’s board of directors.

“We tend to be action oriented, and knowing so many of the people in these settlements, knowing they’re very good people and of very fine character, and they’re religious Zionists, we felt this was what we should do,” Kadish said.

Kadish said she did not expect the issue would continue to be a priority for her organization as it has become for left-wing groups, who have seized on the allegations to advance a wider campaign against Israeli interrogation methods. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who directs T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, joined the Americans for a Safe Israel vigil, in part to make clear that torture is unacceptable
regardless of the victim.

“The real test of human rights is whether you will apply it to people who are not sympathetic, to people who have done reprehensible things, including people who have killed a toddler, or people who are stabbing someone on the streets of Jerusalem,” Jacobs said.

B’tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, launched a campaign to show that Palestinian allegations exactly parallel those of the youths in the Duma case.

“People under interrogation must not be subjected to abuse and torture, no matter what,” the group said on Twitter, captioning a picture of a man handcuffed to a chair with a quote from a Palestinian describing sleep deprivation methods similar to those that lawyers for the Duma suspects have related.

Naomi Paiss, a spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund, which helps fund B’tselem, among other groups, said its American donors are keenly interested in the allegations. She said the donors also favor greater Israeli scrutiny of the extremist community that produced the Duma murderers and their enablers.

“Human rights are human rights,” Paiss said. “It’s so cynical for the Israeli government to make human rights a leftist issue. Torture is torture. You don’t use it, period.”

Advancing NGO bill Israel’s Cabinet fires another shot at its critics

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, (far left), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (AMIR COHEN/Photo via Newscom)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, (far left), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (AMIR COHEN/Photo via Newscom)

TEL AVIV — Its backers call it a victory for transparency. Opponents say it smacks of dictatorship.

Either way, a new bill requiring certain Israeli nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding is moving toward passage after it was approved by a Cabinet committee on Sunday. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked,  who proposed the bill, said it uncovers foreign meddling in Israeli affairs.

“The transparency law, which passed the ministerial committee for legislation today, doesn’t label people and doesn’t label organizations,” Shaked, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, wrote on Facebook. “It labels the foreign interest of different states, which seek to enable NGOs here, and in whose name they give hundreds of millions of shekels.”

Shaked’s bill is the latest in a string of measures undertaken by Israel’s right-wing governments to target left-wing NGOs. Sunday’s vote occurred two weeks after government ministers restricted the  activities of Breaking the Silence, an organization of military veterans that draws attention to alleged Israeli military abuses in the West Bank.

In 2011, the Knesset enacted a law requiring NGOs to declare any foreign government funding on a quarterly basis. A 2013 bill sought to levy high taxes on foreign government donations, but foundered after the Israeli attorney general advised that it was unconstitutional.

Recent years have also seen legislative efforts to  prohibit boycotts of settlement products and allow  individual soldiers to sue groups that defame the army.

“This is part of the attempt to hurt groups that criticize the regime,” said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “They’re trying to put NGOs on the stand and say they’re not legitimate.”

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive  a majority of their support from “foreign political  entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public  official. An earlier draft of the law would have  required representatives of such groups to wear badges identifying themselves as lobbyists of  foreign governments.

The NGOs affected by the bill have decried the measure as an attempt to silence opponents in Israel of the government’s policies. They say by singling out foreign government funding, which goes mostly to left-wing groups, the bill ignores foreign funding of right-wing groups by private donors.

“This creates a negative image and has no place in a democratic state,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, executive director of Peace Now, which would fall under the bill’s purview, having received donations in the past from the British, Belgian and Spanish governments. “There’s no reason I should wear a tag that says I get foreign funding while right-wing NGOs will stand next to me as if they got all their funding from home.”

Right-wing politicians have been working to clamp down on left-wing NGOs since 2009, when a United Nations report accusing Israel of war crimes cited research by left-wing groups. Shaked’s bill, which would expand the disclosure requirements of the 2011 law, comes amid a campaign by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, which has posted ads in major cities accusing prominent left-wing  activists of being foreign “moles” in Israel and  supporting terror.

Im Tirtzu’s founder, Ronen Shoval, wrote in a column on the news website Walla that the bill provides necessary transparency around foreign  entities seeking to meddle in Israeli affairs.

“Imagine what would happen if the state of Israel chose to give money to groups in Spain working  toward Catalan or, God forbid, Basque independence,” Shoval wrote. “For years, European states have been undermining Israeli democracy.”

NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that  scrutinizes the work of human rights organizations, says European governments provide some $100 million in direct or indirect funding to NGOs  operating in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — funding that constitutes an illegitimate effort to sway Israeli policy.

“When sovereign states disagree, they disagree through diplomacy and other measures,” said NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, who said his group neither opposes nor supports the bill, though it has long drawn attention to what it calls the “problem” of foreign NGO funding. “They do not do it through the manipulation of civil society. When states provide money to influence  policy in another country, that’s a unique infringement on sovereignty.”

Critics counter that Shaked’s bill represents a ploy to suppress dissent by taking aim largely at groups on the left. The New Israel Fund, which funds several groups that would be affected by the law, said Sunday in a statement that the bill “is a very precise imitation of the policies of Putin’s Russia  and other authoritarian regimes clamping down on civil society.”

Centrist and left-wing politicians are also criticizing the bill as a vehicle to shame left-wing groups. The notion that the law enhances transparency  is a sham, they say, since the 2011 law already  requires financial disclosure.

Critics also called the bill inconsistent for mandating a public declaration of governmental funding, but not of private donations. Peace Now released a study earlier this month reporting that hundreds of millions of shekels in private donations to nine right-wing NGOs could not be traced to a specific individual or organization.

“This is not a law aimed at transparency, rather a law aimed at labeling Israelis,” opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni wrote on Facebook. “The goal in this law is to label bodies that oppose the  government’s policy.”

Death of Murderer Brings Closure Killer of Esther Lebowitz dead at age 70

Detectives examine the site where the body of Esther Lebowitz was found. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1996.26.235/Jerry Esterson)

Detectives examine the site where the body of Esther Lebowitz was found. (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1996.26.235/Jerry Esterson)

The Baltimore Jewish community and beyond is breathing a collective sigh of relief as the man who was convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1969 — and who was awaiting a new trial — has died.

Wayne Stephen Young, who was serving a life sentence in the murder of Esther Lebowitz, died on Dec. 21 of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to Gerry Shields, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Young, who was 70, was being held at the Jessup Correctional Institution.

For those who were around when Lebowitz, who was a student at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, was murdered in 1969, Young’s death means that a man who shook the community to its core will never see life outside of prison.

Young was set to have his conviction vacated and face a new trial based on the “Unger ruling,” which concluded that incorrect jury instructions  administered in Maryland courtrooms may have led to unfair trials. A Maryland Special Court of Appeals opinion in another case made way for new trials in several cases. Young’s new trial had not been scheduled, his attorney, Erica Suter, said.

“Despite the ruling of the courts that he was entitled to a new trial, the life sentence was in fact realized, and justice has been done,” said Abba  Poliakoff, who is a cousin of Esther’s and was a teenager when she died.

Frank Storch was 12 when Lebowitz was murdered. His father was president of Bais Yaakov at the time.

“Just a few days ago, I was in the midst of coordinating the transportation  for the large group of community members who planned to attend the trial,” Storch said via email. “Now, the community is relieved that this long and painful episode in Baltimore’s  history is over. I am happy that  Esther’s family can now move forward.”

Storch most recently organized transportation to the courts in March 2014, when about 250 members of the Jewish community packed the courthouse for a hearing in which Young asked for a new trial based on the Unger ruling, which he was  denied at the time.

Despite the ruling of the courts that  he was entitled to a new trial, the life sentence was in fact realized and justice has been done.
— Abba Poliakoff

Storch and others said Young’s  potential new trial underscored the need for reform in the courts.

“When our government is willing to waste taxpayer money to reconsider what was such a clear-cut case that included an admission of guilt, clear evidence and a life sentence, it is very concerning,” he said.

Young confessed the killing to an officer.

Eli Schlossberg, who was 18 at the time of Lebowitz’s death, shared Storch’s sentiment.

“On a technicality, to have this thing reopened would have been  another — in my opinion — tragedy for the family and the community,” he said.

Lebowitz was last seen in Pikesville after being dropped off at a local drugstore after school. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home. Her autopsy showed that she was beaten with a blunt instrument at least 17 times and sexually molested.

Schlossberg, who was part of the search effort after Lebowitz went missing, knew both Lebowitz and Young. He was a customer of the fish store Young ran with his mother on the  corner of Park Heights and Rogers  avenues, and Lebowitz’s parents davened at Shearith Israel Congregation, where Schlossberg went.

He described Lebowitz as vivacious.

“She loved going into that store to watch the fish,” Schlossberg said.

He said Young was “sane enough to run the store” and knew people who lived on the same street as Young.

“We were all completely shocked,” he said. “It really rocked our community.”

Poliakoff also described Lebowitz as vivacious, and pretty and cute. He said it was a very traumatic time for his family, which is very close.

“It was a time when the family, as close as it was, pulled together even more,” he said.

On the prospect that Young could have faced another trial, Schlossberg said the community would have been active in opposing it, “but God took it into his own hands.”

“Hashem has ways of dealing with situations, and I think, in this case, I just hope that everyone is at peace,” he said. “Let’s hope this brings  closure to everyone.”

Poliakoff said he has heard from Lebowitz’s parents, who now live in Israel, since Young’s death. “They feel that justice has been done.”

 

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com