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

Seven Mile Market ATM Robbed Wednesday Morning

(By Daniel Schere)

(By Daniel Schere)

An unknown amount of money was stolen in a robbery at Seven Mile Market at approximately 6:55 a.m. Wednesday morning. According to reports from the Baltimore County Police Department, an employee who was filling the ATM was approached by a suspect who displayed what he believed to be a handgun. The suspect then fled the scene with the money.

Baltimore County Police received a call about the robbery at the kosher market at 7:18 a.m., according to Cpl. John Wachter, a spokesman for county police. At noon, there was a sign on the ATM that said it was out of service. Seven Mile Market’s manager declined to comment on the incident.

 

Getting Their Mitzvah On

The Keep Punching team is in full force at the Park Heights JCC. (David Stuck)

The Keep Punching team is in full force at the Park Heights JCC. (David Stuck)

Jewish Baltimore woke up bright and early on Dec. 25, but the atmosphere was more about giving than receiving at the 10th annual Mitzvah Day.

Organizers estimated 1,000 volunteers from the community came to the Park Heights and Owings Mills Jewish community centers to write letters, decorate picture frames and do arts and crafts, all with the intention of sending goods to American soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces and the greater  Baltimore community.

The event was sponsored by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Casey Cares Foundation, ShopRite, the Jewish Volunteer Connection and a host of local organizations who led children and adults of all ages in the projects.

Ashley Pressman, executive director of the JVC, said the Jewish community has sent out an estimated 13,000 winter care packages in the Baltimore area and assisted more than 20,000 people in the past 10 years.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Cheder Chabad Cyberthon Smashes Fundraising Goal

Children from Cheder Chabad’s preschool pose for a photo by the playground. (David Stuck)

Children from Cheder Chabad’s preschool pose for a photo by the playground. (David Stuck)

Cheder Chabad of Baltimore raised $165,200 to put toward its school’s  scholarship fund through a 24-hour fundraising platform, charidy.com.

The website requires campaigns to seek sponsors who will match their funds dollar-for-dollar with the contingency the goal is met in a single day. Cheder Chabad was sponsored by Tov’s Pizza, Dougie’s, Eden’s Café and DJ’sNE  Diamonds (Noam Efron); each sponsor pledged $18,000.

A mother of three girls who attend Cheder Chabad, Rikal Kaler spearheaded the campaign by contacting other moms from the school to help spread the word, organizing meetings leading up to the campaign day, naming the campaign 72k1Day Cyberthon and choosing the standout color of bright orange.

On the day of the campaign, the mothers, with their children by their sides, raised an estimated $25,000 within the first hour of making calls. Early in the afternoon, the goal of $72,000 was hit. By the end of the campaign, the group had doubled its initial goal.

Cheder Chabad, which started nine years ago, has more than 180 students ranging from infants to middle school.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A Cultural Spotlight CJC to host 24th annual film series

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is the first film in a series of four being shown at the Columbia Jewish Congregation. (Provided)

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is the first film in a series of four being shown at the Columbia Jewish Congregation. (Provided)

When Sylvia Bloch began the  annual Columbia Jewish Congregation film series more than two decades ago, the problem was finding high-quality films with Jewish themes. Today, she said, the problem is picking among a long list of worthy candidates.

“The film series has two missions: entertainment and bringing the Jewish community together,” said CJC Rabbi Sonya Starr. “But also equal to that is the mandate to learn through different mediums, and theater is one ways we understand [other cultures].”

The congregation will screen the first of four movies on Jan. 16, and while some have heavier topics than others, they are all centered on Jewish themes. The first film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” presents the trials and tribulations of an  Israeli women who is trapped in a loveless marriage and seeking a  divorce.

The subject of divorce is particularly popular, as the case of Tamar  Epstein has played out in the news over the past several months.  Epstein, who used a high-profile campaign to force her husband into granting her a divorce, remarried this past September in Memphis, Tenn., after a Philadelphia rabbi used a rare procedure to annul her marriage.

This started a wave of backlash from the Orthodox community,  including from Rabbi Aharon Feldman, head of Baltimore’s Ner Israel  Rabbinical College who wrote in an open letter that “the woman is considered married for all purposes and is forbidden for any other man until a religious court rules otherwise,” the Forward reported.

“Israeli culture can seem foreign, so to watch this movie and see a very serious problem that needs to be addressed in the Jewish community is vital for us to change the  situation for agunah,” said Starr. Agunah is a term used to refer to a “chained woman” or a woman is  unable to divorce her husband.

Tom Laufer, a member at CJC and the chair of the committee that selected the films, said he is sure  Epstein’s name will come up in the discussion following the film. However, he emphasized the committee was looking to strike a balance when they chose what films to show.

 

 The film series has two missions:  entertainment and bringing the Jewish community together. But also equal  to that is the mandate to learn through different mediums and theater is one ways we understand [other cultures].”
— Rabbi Sonya Starr, Columbia Jewish Congregation

The congregation is showing “The Yankles,” on Feb. 20, which features the rabbinical dean of an Orthodox yeshiva starting a collegiate baseball team. The film has been the winner of several awards such as the Golden Ace Award in the 2010 Las Vegas Film Festival; best comedy at the 2010 International Family Film Festival and best feature in the 2010 Palm Beach  International Film Festival.

“I’ve been pushing for ‘The Yankles’ because it sounded very witty,” said Delana Stanfield, a member of CJC who was a part of the committee. “I was intrigued by the topic. I’m  really taken by the theme of an  ex-convict who takes redemption by coaching a Jewish baseball team. It’s been called an uplifting crowd-pleaser.”

Stanfield, who is a lover of  foreign films, said one film she recommends, which was not selected for this year, is the “The Green Prince,” a documentary about how the son of a founding leader of Hamas becomes a spy for Israel.

“Every film has a particular  emphasis, and [we try] to show a different genre with each film,” said Bloch.

“The Flat,” which is being shown several weeks ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, answers the question: How does one deal with the Nazi past? It features a documentarian cleaning out the Tel Aviv apartment of his deceased grandmother. What he finds leads him to evidence that his German Jewish grandparents had a standing relationship with a  senior Nazi SS officer.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all of [the films] as far as the subjects go,” said Laufer. “[But] I think the last one, ‘Dancing in Jaffa,’ is very uplifting film.’”

The film features an Arab teacher from Jaffa who comes back to open a dance school for Jewish and Arab children.

Said Bloch, “[‘Dancing in Jaffa’ shows that] maybe there can be a breakthrough between Palestinians and Israelis coming together.”


 

Columbia Jewish Congregation’s
24th Annual Jewish Film Series
5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia
Jan. 16: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”
Feb. 20: “The Yankles”
March 19: “The Flat”
April 16: “Dancing in Jaffa”
Tickets are $32 for four films, $27 for three films,
$19 for two films and $10 per single film. Sold at the door.

For more information, contact Robin Rosenfeld at robin@columbiajewish.org or 410-730-6044.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A Sense of Pride In an ultra-wealthy Moscow suburb, a luxurious JCC opens its doors

An exterior view shows the grandeur of the Zhokuvka Jewish Community Center.

An exterior view shows the grandeur of the Zhokuvka Jewish Community Center.

ZHUKOVKA, Russia — On the only road connecting this affluent village on Moscow’s western outskirts, Russian secret service agents are blocking all inbound traffic. Drivers bound for Zhukovka pull over and step out to smoke while chatting with other
motorists as a line of luxury cars grows on the shoulder of a two-lane road.

The closures are a frequent occurrence because Zhukovka and the adjacent riverside village of Barvikha are home to some of Russia’s richest and most powerful people. Among the combined 5,500 residents living in the villages are Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has a $52 million mansion in the area, and the Russian Jewish construction magnates Boris and Arkady Rotenberg. All three are associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Ordinary” millionaires who live here must wait patiently as VIPs travel in motorcades to and from Moscow or receive visits by senior officials. So do the tourists who come here to catch a glimpse of the village’s sprawling villas, with their private tennis courts and hedge mazes.

But this month Muscovites, and Jews especially, received a more accessible attraction in Zhukovka: A $20 million Jewish community center and synagogue opened here on Dec. 6 amid fanfare and in the presence of 400 guests, including Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau. And while the new JCC is seen as a demonstration of this community’s robustness, it nonetheless comes amid growing Jewish emigration that is widely attributed to the financial crisis in Russia and concern over its government’s nationalist agenda.

From the international design firm Gensler, the Zhukovka JCC is a doughnut-shaped structure with a granite facade, 54,000 square feet of floor space, a small cinema and 24 luxury guest rooms that are intended to be used free of charge by Shabbat overnighters.

At the heart of the building is a synagogue with a capacity of 400 worshippers and modular tables made of Swedish wood. The basement has still-unfinished, warm-water mikvah ritual baths. The building is under the watchful eye of 24/7 security guards, who operate airport-grade body and luggage scanners. The basement of the center, which was built with money donated by wealthy Jews (and some non-Jews), has a gourmet kosher restaurant. Its kitchen is overseen by two Italian chefs, including the renowned restaurateur Uilliam Lamberti.

Among the first-time visitors to the center last week was Oleg Babinski, a retired army officer and business owner in his 50s who worships with the Zhukovka Jewish community, though he does not live in the village.

“I am not a rich man, but it still fills me with pride to see that our community can achieve something like this,” Babinski said.

Such a building would stand out almost anywhere else in Russia, where the average monthly salary among city dwellers is less than $600. But it’s par for the course in Zhukovka, where the shopping malls have Gucci and Prada stores, and there are a host of luxury car dealerships.

At one mini-mall this year, local Jews placed a large menorah opposite a Bentley dealership.

No one knows exactly how many Jews live in and around Zhukovka. But it’s doubtful there are enough to fill the synagogue.

“Granted, this place is a little big for the community’s needs right now, but it’s with an eye to the future needs of a growing community,” said Velvel Krichevsky, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi from Israel who will be working at Zhukovka.

The head rabbi at Zhukovka is Alexander Boroda, the president of the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a vast network whose rabbis have formed a main engine for the renewal of Jewish life in Russia after the fall of communism. Among those rabbis is Berel Lazar, one of two chief rabbis in Russia. Lazar is known for his close ties to Putin — the two men lit Chanukah candles together at the Kremlin on Dec. 9.

Federation ties with Russian politicians have been instrumental in obtaining land and some funding for opening dozens of Jewish institutions across Russia, though the Zhukovka center became a reality without such aid. The decision to build a Jewish center in Zhukovka came at the request of wealthy area Jews, according to Boroda.

“My friends asked for a synagogue near their home, and I wanted to open a Chabad House somewhere, so that’s why it happened there,” said Boroda, a former Red Army soldier who began exploring his Jewish identity after his discharge from the military in the 1980s.

Still, there is symbolism in the center’s opening in Zhukovka. The village, after all, used to be the resort destination of Russian Communist government leaders — the Soviet statesman Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin’s daughter used to live here — who persecuted Russian Jewry and effectively drove it underground.

“This is going to be really great in summer,” said Rosa Skvortsov, 10, of Zhukovka, who attends the Reshit Chochma Litvak religious school in Moscow. Rosa visited the center last week with her father, Vasily, a film director, and a friend.

But the new center’s future is by no means certain. Built with funds collected over years, it opened at the height of a financial crisis that since August 2014 has halved the ruble’s value against the dollar amid dropping oil prices and Western sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Although many Jews are assured by Putin’s pro-Jewish policies, others are jittery over his overt nationalism and expansionism, as well as his government’s xenophobia toward gays and Muslims. The combination has already generated a 31 percent year-over-year increase in Jewish immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from Russia, which is home to about 260,000 Jews. In 2014, some 5,921 Russian Jews made aliyah, compared to 4,094 the previous year.

According to Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which facilitates aliyah, there’s been a rise in the number of Jews moving to Israel from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where Russian Jewry’s intellectual and financial elites tend to live, and where Jews used to be more resistant to leaving than their coreligionists in poorer areas.

These developments already are affecting the fundraising ability of Jewish groups. In Zhukovka, the congregants who asked Boroda to build the center “have all left, some to Europe, others elsewhere,” the Zhukovka rabbi said.

Still, Boroda insists that others have replaced those who have
departed and his community will continue to raise enough money to maintain its infrastructure, including the high-maintenance center in Zhukovka.

“You don’t build a synagogue according to this year’s balance sheet,” he said.

And while emigration may be on the rise, Boroda added that “Russian Jews as a whole are never going to let go of what we have achieved just because of a few rough years.”

Cnaan Liphshiz traveled to Russia to receive a journalism award from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The federation did not pay for his trip and had no role in the editing or writing of this article.

Temple Emanuel May Become Part of Baltimore Hebrew Substantive discussions’ are moving forward

Temple Emanuel, which sold its Reisterstown building (pictured) in June, may become part of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Temple Emanuel, which sold its Reisterstown building (pictured) in June, may become part of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

One of Baltimore’s Reform congregations may absorb another as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Emanuel are in talks about Temple Emanuel becoming part of BHC.

While nothing is finalized yet, Temple Emanuel president David Beller said that Rabbi/Cantor Rhoda Silverman elected not to renew her contract, which expires on June 30, 2016.

“We have concluded that the challenges [of] remaining a small independent congregation continue to be significant,” Beller said via email.

A press release said the congregations have engaged in “substantive discussions.” BHC Rabbi Elissa Sachs- Kohen said the congregation will welcome members of Temple Emanuel to become a part of Baltimore Hebrew.

“The goal for Baltimore Hebrew’s side of the conversation is to absolutely help maintain the legacy of Temple Emanuel and to integrate Temple Emanuel into Baltimore Hebrew as best as we can, but for Baltimore Hebrew, we’re going to be maintaining our congregational identity and integrating where possible,” she said. “What I can say with certainty is that while nothing is finalized, everyone on both sides of the conversation feels good about the process of working out the arrangements. It’s been very amicable and friendly.”

Part of that integration includes Temple Emanuel’s sacred objects, the details of which Sachs-Kohen said are still being worked out.

There will be initial representation of Temple Emanuel leaders on BHC’s board, and BHC will maintain its lay leadership, clergy, staff, traditions and building, the press release said.

“We’ve had wonderful discussions, and we’re moving forward,” said BHC president Martha Weiman. “Stay tuned.”

In June, Temple Emanuel sold its building on Berrymans Lane in Reisterstown, which was its home since 1995, to Messiah Community Church. In the early 2000s, with membership approaching 400 units (membership units can be an individual or a family of any size), the synagogue expanded its footprint and built a two-story
education wing.

In recent years, the congregation’s numbers slowly shrunk, as they did at several other congregations in the Baltimore area and many throughout the country. The synagogue currently has about 160 member units, Beller said.

As for the arrangement at Beth Israel, Randi Buergenthal, the synagogue’s president, said the congregations have an amicable arrangement.

“We have a very good relationship with Temple Emanuel. We certainly understand that they need to do what’s best for their congregation,” she said.

“We have a lease arrangement with them, and both of us will be honoring the terms of the lease. And that’s really it.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Peaceful Passage Veterinarian provides in-home visits to gently let pets pass

Dr. Julie Rabinowitz (Provided)

Dr. Julie Rabinowitz (Provided)

Earlier this month, Blake, the 80-pound black lab that lived a happy life right to the end, sat calm and relaxed in his favorite spot on the floor at home. After making sure he was comfortably sedated, veterinarian Dr. Julie Rabinowitz gently administered a lethal injection and then “he took three deep breaths and he was gone. It was very peaceful,” said Blake’s owner, Inga Jackman, 61, of Overlea.

Jackman found Rabinowitz through an Internet search, where she discovered Peaceful Passage, Rabinowitz’s business that provides euthanasia for pets in the comfort of their own homes.

“From the moment I spoke with her — at the first contact, I was so emotional I couldn’t talk —she was so kind and so gentle,” said Jackman. When she arrived “she sat on my dog-hair-covered floor like she lived here,” and even though they had to wait for Jackman’s husband to arrive home — he was stuck in traffic — “I never felt rushed,” Jackman said. “She was the most compassionate person. Peaceful passage was the best way to describe it.”

About six years ago, Rabinowitz, who was, and still is, working part time at the Stevenson Village Veterinary Hospital in Pikesville, received more and more requests from clients for house calls to euthanize ill pets, which gave her the idea to start a business.

“The majority of these folks I’ve not met before,” said Rabinowitz, who cited several reasons owners appreciate the in-home visits. “First of all, they don’t have to put their ailing pet in the car.” For pets that may be suffering from a debilitating cancer or have orthopedic issues, the car ride alone can be stressful and cause major discomfort. And “people often say to me, I can’t imagine my pet passing on a cold steel table,” and this way owners “are allowed to grieve in the privacy of their own homes. Very often, they want to hold their pet, which can be more complicated in an office setting.” At home, they can rest against a couch or chair, she added, because “it’s  important to me that [the owners] are comfortable too.”

Rabinowitz, 40, who is religiously observant so her business is closed for Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, says she receives about 65 requests per month, and demand is growing. So much so that she recently hired Dr. Ayrika White-Mfoudi to work with her.

Dr. Ayrika White-Mfoudi (Provided)

Dr. Ayrika White-Mfoudi (Provided)

White-Mfoudi, 39, worked at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Catonsville for 11 years, so she’s had to euthanize many pets in an emergency setting, but administering the service in homes is a real change.

“The main one is that people are more ready,” she said. “No one’s ever ready — but at the emergency clinic [people come in] with a sick animal, and I have to explain this isn’t going to get better and they have to make a decision quickly versus when people call Peaceful Passage; they know it’s close to the time, so they’ve come to terms with what’s going to happen.

“And in a person’s home, the animal is more comfortable,” she added. [The owner is] a lot more comfortable. It’s an honor to be invited into someone’s home and perform the service.”

Jacqueline Orwig, 59, in Rosedale, had to put down her Lhasa Apso, Sammy, 13, in June and then her 15-year-old Dalmatian, Pepper, only six months later. Pepper had been with Orwig since she was an 8-week-old puppy.

“I knew old age was getting to her,” Orwig said of Pepper, who suffered from hearing and vision loss, arthritis and a heart murmur. “But she was still eating. It was hard for me to figure out when was a good time to let her go. Because we had her for so long — I always called her the daughter I never had — I didn’t want to take her to a cold table” when it was time to put her down.

She contacted Rabinowitz for help with both dogs, and both died peacefully in Orwig’s arms in their favorite bedroom spot.

“I was really pleased with her professionalism and compassion,” Orwig said, adding, “I think she’s got to be a heck of a strong lady to do something like this. After Sammy passed and it was all said and done, I looked at her and asked, ‘How do you do this?’”

“It’s extremely comforting to people, they feel so grateful that the service is provided,” Rabinowitz said. “They feel a lot more control over how the pet passes and how they want the  experience to be. They’re able to grieve and cry out loud, hold their pet and carry them out (afterwards) to my vehicle if they want. They’re able to be a lot more active in their pet’s passing.”

Rabinowitz explained that pets are very aware of the presence of a doctor or a stranger during vet visits, and “so many times I hear a pet is terrified to go to the vet; they’re nervous and shake. “But in the home setting, they treat us just like another guest.”

Prices for all of the services are on the Peaceful Passage website and range from $250 for euthanasia alone to $320 for euthanasia and removal for a pet up to 50 pounds to $360 for euthanasia, removal and individual cremation, which also includes a hand-carved hardwood chest and custom nameplate for a pet less than 50 pounds.

Fees vary depending upon the size of the pet, and there is a surcharge if travel is required outside Baltimore County. Travel information is listed on its website, peacefulpassage.net.

“I truly have enjoyed working with [Rabinowitz], and I’m so glad that she created this. It’s so important, and I’m happy to be a part of it,” White-Mfoudi said. “It’s an important service; we’re truly blessed to help people, and we truly care about every person and pet we encounter.”

“I get beautiful thank-you notes,” added Rabinowtiz. “It makes me feel good to help others, to see the relief. Most of them are going to have  a positive memory [of their pet’s] passing.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Having Their Say Jews from across Maryland weigh in onupcoming presidential race

(istockphoto.com/RonTech2000)

(istockphoto.com/RonTech2000)

With a month until the Iowa caucuses, the 2016 presidential election is heating up and Jews from the Baltimore-Washington region are pouring their hearts, minds and dollars into the race.

The field of candidates currently stands at three Democrats and 13 Republicans vying for their respective parties’ nomination. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has a sizable network in Maryland that includes a number of prominent Jewish donors such as Matthew Gorman and Gary Gensler, both of whom supported her in 2008 and were part of former President Bill Clinton’s administration. Also in the donor mix is Michael Bronfein, a Baltimore venture capitalist who created a stir in 2002, according to The Baltimore Sun, when he recommended donors refrain from giving to then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s re-election effort in order to preserve funds for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a candidate for governor that year. O’Malley, who won re-election and went on to win the governor’s mansion in 2006, sits far behind Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.

Scott Sokol, co-chair of Baltimore County’s Hillary for President chapter, said he feels the campaign is going “amazingly well.”

“We’ve been all over the county going to various clubs and taking part in activities,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any area of the Democratic populace that we’re not very strong in.”

Sokol has worked in a number of campaigns over the years, including President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and primary victory over Clinton, which he said was not a matter of disliking the former first lady, but becoming swept up in Obama’s message of change.

Much of Clinton’s  criticism is from “people looking  for ways to knock her down. — Scott Sokol, co-chair of Baltimore County’s Hillary for President chapter

In this year’s race, Clinton has been criticized for her use of a private email server to conduct official business as secretary of state as well as her ties to Wall Street and big business. Sokol thinks much of the criticism is from “people looking for ways to knock her down.”

“She has explained what has happened in a truthful manner, and people are out to get her,” he said regarding the email scandal, which Clinton attributed to unclear policies at the State Department regarding the use of private email for official business.

Sokol added that he does not believe Clinton is being supported by corporations any more than individual donors.

“A significant amount of donations are from people like me and you,” he said in a statement that supporters of O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish self-described “democratic socialist” who sits at second place in the Democratic race, dispute.

When asked about the other campaigns, Sokol said he respects O’Malley and has supported him for governor in the past but feels his national appeal is lacking.

“Right now, I don’t think he has the force to run a presidential campaign here in Maryland,” he said.

To be sure, O’Malley has received very little attention in the race, a fact that surprises Izzy Patoka, who served as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives during O’Malley’s eight years in office. He also worked for O’Malley from 2001 to 2007 when the presidential candidate was mayor of Baltimore.

“To me it’s baffling that those are his poll numbers, because I can tell you he’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met and extremely thoughtful on issues that are important,” said Patoka.

As governor, O’Malley  maintained  dialogue with  organizations  such as the  Baltimore Jewish Council.

Patoka said O’Malley had an “outstanding” relationship with the Jewish community during his time as governor. O’Malley allotted $26 million for Jewish community facility improvements and maintained dialogue with organizations such as the Baltimore Jewish Council and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

O’Malley has visited Israel on three occasions and formed a close bond with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when both were mayors. He has also spoken out on issues such as the Gaza war in 2008, when he condemned Hamas for its attacks on Israel, and supported the Iran nuclear deal reached in the fall. (Clinton has also visited Israel and criticized Hamas and supported the Iran deal.)

O’Malley has received both praise and criticism from the local community for his leadership as mayor, a tenure that saw an overall reduction in crime but an increase in the number of arrests due to “zero tolerance” policing tactics that some believe have contributed to the racial and economic disparities in the city.

Sanders is a ‘near perfect example as to what a good Jews is, which is to be a good human being.’ — Dan Segal of North Potomac

“I don’t think it’s fair to tie what’s occurring currently in Baltimore to the policies Martin O’Malley instituted during his time as mayor,” Patoka said. “In fact, what I saw was during the 1990s, Baltimore was averaging over 300 homicides per year.”

Sokol said he understands the split in the party that has seen younger, more progressive Democrats support Sanders. He said Sanders’ campaign reminds him of George McGovern’s presidential run in 1972, which he supported as a young man.

“It is sort of their way of looking toward the future and grasping on to that, and they feel Bernie has been able to reach that,” Sokol said.

Cruz is not far  behind Trump  with support  of 24 percent  of likely voters.

Despite serving in Congress for the last 25 years, Sanders, the only Jewish candidate running for a major party nomination — Jill Stein is running for the presidency on the Green Party ticket — was not particularly well known to the public until his campaign launched last summer. Leah Miller, an IT consultant in Washington who is working as a grassroots organizer for Sanders’ campaign, said she first got to know the senator at a town hall meeting at Howard University in February. She was one of only 15 attendees.

At 32, Miller is like many millennials who have become encouraged by Sanders’ focus on economic inequality and his decision to not take any funding from the loosely regulated groups known as super PACs.

“I think Bernie’s been a candidate who’s spoken to me and made me really want to get involved,” she said. “I think he has a great social media presence, and that really is where I have learned a lot about what he is doing.”

Trump has called for a ban on  Muslims entering the country  in response  to the San Bernardino  shootings.

Part of the enthusiasm behind Sanders’ campaign comes from his proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and make college entirely tuition free. Miller said she thinks this is realistic.

“He’s broken down the funding to what that would cost and how much we’re spending on other things such as [the] military,” she said.

Miller, who supported Obama in 2008, added that if Clinton wins the nomination, she will get behind her.

Sanders’ campaign came under scrutiny on Dec. 17 when staffer Josh Uretsky was fired for accessing data from Clinton’s campaign that is part of a database provided by the Democratic National Committee and serviced by an outside organization.

“That behavior is unacceptable to the Sanders campaign, and we fired the staffer immediately and made certain that any information obtained was not utilized,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a press release.

Jewish  Republicans  are definitely  growing. — Ruth Goetz of Pikesville

The DNC initially locked the Sanders campaign out of the database, which it typically uses for its own voter outreach. After Sanders’ team threatened to sue, the DNC relented.

“That was a terrible setback to the campaign. I cannot believe [the DNC] did that,” said Dan Segal of North Potomac. “Every hour is critical.”

Segal, who is an active member of MoCo4Bernie, a Montgomery County grassroots organization, describes Sanders as a “near perfect example as to what a good Jew is, which is to be a good human being.

“It’s not so much as going into a synagogue to pray as to living the right way and making the right decision when presented with certain choices,” added Segal, who attends Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase. “Bernie Sanders is one of the most sensitive people there is and has been a champion for the people, for workers.”

Segal has been a Sanders fan for quite some time. In 2014, he set up a Facebook page with the goal of drafting Sanders to run in this election.

 The Republican candidates for  president have proven to be largely treif  to the Jewish  community. — Greg Rosenbaum, chair of National Jewish Democratic Committee

Though Clinton and her ex-president husband have “incredible connections,” as well as the backing of major unions, Segal still likes Sanders’ odds.

“Although Hillary and Bill have incredible connections with the banks doesn’t mean they’re going to get the employees of those banks. It doesn’t mean that because Hillary has the large union leaders, so to speak, in her pocket [that the union members will vote her way],” said Segal.

Locally, Segal sees support for Bernie growing. At the Montgomery County Fair this summer, he estimated that a couple hundred supporters signed up to volunteer for the campaign, including Republicans. Segal believes Sanders’ fight against income inequality is what has attracted volunteers from all walks of life.

Sanders’ personal story mirrors Segal’s story too. Segal’s parents spent six years in displaced persons camps in Germany before immigrating to the United States. Sanders’ father’s family perished in the Holocaust.

“Having a president who understands the struggle that people go through to get here, to me is a very Jewish experience,” said Segal. “There’s not one person here who takes the hard road in order to get here who is not at a loss. They had to leave family members behind. In some cases they’re coming here merely to find a job at the lowest end of the economy and better their families. And what’s more Jewish than that? It’s called being a mensch.”

Overall, Democratic support from the Jewish community has typically been strong, but according to a Gallup poll taken last year, the percentage of Jews who identify as Democrats had fallen from 71 percent in 2008 to 61 percent in 2014.

Rudy Stoler, a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said he thinks the increasing number of Republican Jews can be attributed to Obama’s stances on U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly the nuclear deal with Iran that conservatives have criticized as anti-Israel.

“Just looking at the way the votes have gone since 2010 in Pikesville, the numbers for Republican candidates have boomed,” said Stoler.

Baltimore County has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold; Obama won 57 percent of the vote there in 2012, but in the gubernatorial race two years later the numbers flipped with Republican Larry Hogan winning almost 60 percent of the vote.

Stoler grew up in Baltimore and attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School before earning a degree in international relations from Goucher College, where he served as chair of Goucher Republicans and Libertarians. He has worked on several campaigns, including Hogan’s in 2014, and ran unsuccessfully for the Baltimore County Council’s 2nd District seat that year.

Stoler said he will support whichever candidate receives the Republican nomination but is watching Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as Dr. Ben Carson. He said his political ideology is rooted in what he calls “conservative constitutional Torah,” or a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

“I would like to see less regulations in government. I would like to see a candidate who has upheld the Constitution,” he said. “I see it as quite similar as why we need to maintain the Torah.”

Carson, a former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, has made controversial comments in the past, including one in October when he suggested the Holocaust could have been avoided had the victims been armed with guns. Stoler said he did not agree with Carson’s comparison of gun control to Nazi Germany, but defended his assertion that restrictions on firearms are symptomatic of a totalitarian state.

“The Second Amendment is designed in part to protect the American people from totalitarianism, to enable us to defend ourselves against tyrants,” he said. “‘Bear arms’ is a privilege that has not been granted to Jews many times throughout history other than in our own state. The fact that it is a civil right in the USA is a point of liberation for American Jewry.”

Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican field with 28 percent of likely voters nationally, but Cruz is not far behind with 24 percent in a Dec. 22 Quinnipiac University poll. Many of Trump’s supporters, including Pikesville’s Ruth Goetz, feel that his knack for stirring the pot makes him an ideal candidate and a good alternative to the political establishment.

“I think he’s brilliant because he’s always in the news,” she said. “They keep trying to take him down, and he’s staying on top.”

Of Trump’s many proposals, the one receiving the most heat is his call for a ban on Muslims entering the country in response to the San Bernardino shootings on Dec. 2 that killed 14. Several candidates, including Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, condemned the comments during the Republican debate on Dec. 15. Cruz said he understood the sentiment but said the focus should be on “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Goetz has worked with the Carson and Cruz campaigns, but said she plans to support Trump if he is the nominee. She feels it is important to “keep a Judeo-Christian culture at the forefront,” and that Trump is correct in calling for the ban because she is concerned about “civilization jihad” in addition to “violent jihad.”

“The job of the president is to protect our country,” she said. “He said it would be temporary, and currently there is a lot of Muslim terrorism around the world.”

Goetz, who also sits on the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said examples of “civilization jihad” can be seen at both the local and the national level.

“We’ve seen it in Montgomery County,” she said. “They demanded from the school board to have a day off for a Muslim holiday. And now the school board has given in to the Muslims.”

(The school board voted in November to rearrange its calendar so that Montgomery County Public Schools will be closed the day after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in 2016. This went against the recommendation of Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers, who wrote in a memo that the absentee rates for staff and students during this year’s Eid Al-Adha observance “was not significantly different than absentee rates on other school days.”)

Goetz said she has lived in Baltimore for more than 25 years and grew up in Prince George’s County. She became involved in politics in 2000 when she began working for the Zionist Organization of America during the second intifada in Israel. She said national security and immigration are the issues most important to her in the election. She agreed with Stoler’s assessment that the number of Jewish Republicans is on the rise.

“Jewish Republicans are definitely growing, and as I talk with people, more and more people are saying I’m registering as a Democrat but I vote Republican,” she said.

Pikesville native Melanie Harris, who chairs the Baltimore Area Young Republicans Club and supports Cruz, said foreign policy is also the most important issue for her in the election.

“It does seem that the biggest part of the debate is how to get [the Islamic State] under control,” she said.

“I’m extremely upset about it. When I meet Jews who don’t seem to be concerned about what’s going on it really bothers me. I don’t understand that.”

Unlike the others, Harris said she does not believe the number of Republican Jews is growing and pointed out that her synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, is mostly Democratic.

She said, “With them I’m especially outnumbered.”

That’s in line with the findings of the National Jewish Democratic Committee. Before the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential candidate forum earlier this month, the NJDC released a statement from its chair, Greg Rosenbaum of Bethesda, touting American Jews’ liberal leanings.

Said Rosenbaum, “For generations, Jews have been drawn to the Democratic Party’s message of inclusion. We already knew that 70 percent of American Jews favor the Democratic Party and a mere 22 percent identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.

“The Republican candidates for president have proven to be largely treif to the Jewish community.”

Harold Diamond of Rockville, who represents the 19th state legislative district on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, said that the prospects of the Democratic nominee winning were “excellent.”

“The policy of the [Democratic] Party is significantly better for the population and for the Jewish people, as well, overall,” he said.

“There’s been an openness in the Democratic Party for minorities. … If you look at what the Republicans are trying to repeal, all the civil rights priorities have been pushed by Democrats.”

Though he leans toward Sanders, as a self-described “party Democrat” he plans to vote for the party’s nominee. Still, Diamond would like to see all three Democratic candidates stay in the race through the convention this summer.

“I don’t think the Republicans should de facto pick the Democratic Party’s nominee and take pot shots at Hillary,” said Diamond. “The better debate is between Hillary, Sanders and O’Malley.”

Melissa Apter contributed to this report.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com