Musical America Lists Cellist Amit Peled as Influencer of the Year

Amit Peled, world-class cellist, Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University professor and, since 2010, steward  of Maestro Pablo Casals’ 1733 Goffriller — arguably the world’s most famous cello — has been named one of 30 Influencers of the Year by Musical America.

Nominated by his peers, according to the report, as someone who is “making a difference in our business, either by virtue of their position, their creativity and/or their dedication,” Israeli-American Peled, 41, said, “It’s a huge honor and a surprise” because nominations required a 200-word essay on why a person should be considered. That’s a big effort for someone to make, Peled acknowledged, knowing how full performance and administrative schedules are these days.

Categories awarded change each year, and past years included Rising Stars in 2012, Movers and Shakers in 2013 and Profiles in Courage in 2014.

“Classical music is changing,” said Peled, “so I think they chose the category for this reason.” Peled cited audience  engagement and creative approaches to performance as priorities in the classical music industry because “this is what everyone is talking about now — how can we change the classical music scene to make it more accessible.”

Peled began playing cello at age 10, hoping, admittedly, to impress a girl. Because he showed interest in the  nstrument, his parents bought him a  cassette tape of Casals’ music, and he would listen to as he drifted off to sleep each night. Things didn’t work out with the girl, but his love of and dedication to the instrument grew. Through his passion for performance and teaching, he has been lauded by audiences, peers and students alike.

“Amit Peled is the kind of artist who makes music accessible,” said Peabody Conservatory dean Fred Bronstein, an accomplished pianist. “He has wonderful artistry as a cellist and is a first-rate communicator, which [gives him] an innate ability to make audiences love the music as much as he does. With his informal and inviting presence, he makes people feel as if a concert is not something to be endured, but relished.”

Musical America, in print since 1898 and online since 1998, is known as “the meeting place for the entire performing arts industry.” The list of 30 also  includes a chief operating officer,  numerous CEOs of arts organizations, artistic, musical and managing directors and a flamenco artist.

Peled’s next local performance is with Tempest Trio at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3738 Butler Road in Reisterstown on Sunday, Jan. 31. For tickets, call 410-429-4690.

HoCo Considers Keeping Schools Open on High Holy Days

The Howard County Public School calendar committee has  requested that the school board consider keeping schools open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur next year.

“The Jewish Federation of Howard County, together with the Howard County Board of Rabbis, is working to mobilize the community so the board of education understands the impact this change will have on the budget and operation of the school system on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” said Michelle Ostroff,  executive director of the Howard County Jewish Federation. “In addition, with so many students and teachers absent that day, it will have an impact on the level of instruction being provided.”

An email, which was circulated by the Federation and  the Howard County Board of Rabbis, emphasized, “This is an  operational issue, not a religious one.”

“The burden is on us, the Jewish community, to prove that there are enough Jewish students,” the email reads, “and, more importantly, Jewish teachers and other staff working in the school system to make this a difficult day for the schools to operate efficiently.”

The email encourages people to attend a public board of  education meeting on Dec. 17 at 10910 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City at 7:30 p.m.

The email also encourages people to voice their concerns either by emailing the board of education no later than Dec. 23 or by  testifying at the meeting.

“When that decision that was made, I’m told the Jewish population was smaller, and my sense is that the operational impact would be equal to if not greater [compared with when the decision was made],” said Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler. “It’ll be difficult, but if [the measure of the operational impact] is what the school system is looking for, then we’ll have that conversation.”

Axler added that if schools were impacted by holy days of other faiths, then that should be a part of the conversation as well.

The Bead Closes After 48 Years Storied Baltimore store run by two sisters and their mother to close in January

Calling The Bead a clothing and accessories store hardly scratches the surface. What started from a teenager’s dream of making an antique finish for earrings in the late 1960s blossomed into a cutting-edge clothing store, where Baltimoreans could buy Nehru shirts and bell-bottom jeans, a hangout, a place where any woman of any age and body type could walk in unsure of her style and walk out feeling beautiful.

No, The Bead isn’t just a store. It’s a Baltimore institution.

After 48 years, sisters Anne Liner and Idy Harris, who started the business with their mother, Belle Bashoff, in 1967, have decided to close their doors in January.

Anne Liner (left) and Idy Harris, sisters and best friends, opened The Bead in 1967 with their mother, Belle Bashoff. Behind them are photos from over the years and drawings that customers made of them. The store is closing after 48 years. (Marc Shapiro)

Anne Liner (left) and Idy Harris, sisters and best friends, opened The Bead in 1967 with their mother, Belle Bashoff. Behind them are photos from over the years and drawings that customers made of them. The store is closing after 48 years. (Marc Shapiro)

Once the announcement got out, much fanfare followed, as one would hope for with any business that was around for nearly half a century. People have come in crying. Employees from as long ago as 1969 have called in to say “thank you.” Someone even showed up with a sign to protest.

“It’s like coming into a shiva house,” said employee Adrienne Blumberg. “[Customers] are devastated. People are stockpiling. They’re buying next winter’s clothes and putting them away.”

For Liner, 68, and Harris, 71, both of Pikesville, the doors to The Bead, at The Shops at Kenilworth, close in triumph — the triumph that three women with $1,500 and little business acumen turned an idea into a successful, sustainable business that has remained relevant for almost 50 years.

“I’m just amazed that we did it. I’m just amazed every day,” Liner said as she high-fived her sister on a recent evening outside of the shop.

The two remain best friends, and it shines through as they tell the story of their shop, interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences as they look back on the last 48 years.

It started in 1967 when Liner had a dream of making a special antique finish for earrings.

“My father had died, my mother was raising her two teenage daughters, and there was very little money,” Harris said, “and Anne wanted to go to what is now [Baltimore City Community College] … we couldn’t afford to send her.”

Some signs for The Bead Experience over the years. The top right photo is of Idy Harris and Anne Liner holding up a promotional poster for Woodstock for which their store sold tickets. (Marc Shapiro)

Some signs for The Bead Experience over the years. The top right photo is of Idy Harris and Anne Liner holding up a promotional poster for Woodstock for which their store sold tickets. (Marc Shapiro)

“We had $1,500 in the world and my mother gave us all her money,” Liner recalled. “And I often think about it, if my kids came to me [and asked] ‘Can I have all your money? I have this dream.’ She was very special.”

Liner and Harris went to Providence, R.I., to buy jewelry-making supplies. Liner then made jewelry at their apartment with help from her sister and mother and would sell it in the cafeteria at the community college.

When Liner heard about an empty store on Read Street, which she said was like Baltimore’s Georgetown in the late 1960s, she set up shop there to start making her jewelry. She originally intended for the store, which had a front door shaped like a coffin, to just be a workshop, but when people started coming in to buy the jewelry, The Bead was born.

Pulling from the same $1,500 that bought the jewelry-making supplies, Liner, in her teens, and Harris, in her early 20s, went to New York City and bought six Nehru shirts and six pairs of bellbottoms. As the first store in Baltimore to sell those items, they sold out and went back and bought 12.

“This was sort of our business plan. We kept reinvesting the money and kept buying more merchandise,” Liner said. “It was the new hippie generation.”

Bashoff and Harris continued to work other jobs for four or five months so the family could afford food and rent, but after about six months the store had made enough money that the family could actually take a cut. Bashoff came on board to handle the books and finances.

The store was originally named The Bead Experience. Liner went to get a trader’s license when she started selling her jewelry but didn’t know what to call it, so she took a nod from Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 debut album “Are You Experienced.”

The name would serve the store well as it became a destination for the hippie clothing of the days — the store has always sold tie dye — and became a concert ticket outlet as well, selling tickets for the Civic Center, now Royal Farms Arena, and Woodstock.

When they outgrew Read Street, they moved to Park Avenue and Mulberry Street.

“At that point, we had guys working for us and girls, and all the guys had hair down to their waist. If they worked at The Bead, they were guaranteed a good time. They were like rock stars,” Liner said. “We were like the happening place, and the young people would come hang out in the store and loved talking my mother.”

“They called her Ma Bead,” Harris added.

Business boomed on Park Avenue, and soon The Bead was operating several stores by the early 1970s, including a head shop, an accessories store and a men’s shoe department and suits store.

Liner traveled to London to learn about the shoe business, and her designs included snakeskin and metallic platform shoes.

“The men were going through what was called the peacock revolution,” Harris said. “We sold velvet shirts with ruffles for guys. But then the girls started coming in to buy them.”

But the early days weren’t all flowers and sunshine. Bashoff was taken to jail once for allegedly desecrating the American flag when an onlooker during a Vietnam march noticed the American flag with a peace sign on it in the store’s window.

“They took everything that had peace symbols on it,” Liner said of the police. That same flag adorns The Bead’s current shop, displayed prominently when customers walk in.

As Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was developed, the Park Avenue area gradually declined, as more business flocked to the water. The store was broken into; Harris was even shot at once.

The Bead moved north to The Rotunda in the late ’­­70s, and was there for about 30 years. Not wanting to go through the shopping center’s major facelift and redevelopment, the family moved the store to The Shops at Kenilworth 11 years ago.

“We thought we would be here the rest of our lives, but as it turned out, Kenilworth got bought out, and it was going to be a two-year rebuild,” Liner said.

“We just didn’t want to wait around while they did that. … We’re leaving on such a high, and we’re leaving on our own terms.”

Since announcing their retirement, the love has just been pouring in. Liner and Harris can hardly spend 10 minutes without someone else coming by to give them hugs and tell them how sorry they are to see the store go.

“We hear from all these people, these women who were saying ‘I never thought I was pretty, never had the nerve to go out and try something different. And [when] I came in the first time, I was scared to death, and I talked to you and your sister or your mother and it changed my life,” Liner said.

“Our father had the most outgoing personality,” Harris said. “Anne got his personality, and my mother was sensitive, caring.” “Idy got that,” Liner chimed in.

And their personalities truly shined through the store.

“I have brought so many people here to The Bead. I’ve brought my step-daughter, older friends, younger friends, all different sizes and shapes, and everyone’s comfortable at The Bead,” said longtime customer Valerie Williams.

“I call it ‘Bead bonding.’”

The store has even kept four generations in several families coming back. They’re honest to their customers and even talk people out of buying certain things in favor of something less expensive if it looks better.

“You can find your individual look here,” said Jane Gabor, a customer since the beginning.

Michele Decker, a customer of five years, said The Bead is a legacy.

“There’s nothing else like it in Baltimore,” she said.

“There’s nothing even close.”

And the friendship between Harris and Liner isn’t just for show. After closing up shop on a recent Thursday night, the two were off to meet their husbands at a local diner.

“What we were able to do was amazing, to be best friends and be in business together for 48 years, which in retail years is forever,” Liner said. “To be in business with your sister who is your best friend and your mother who is your best friend, we were joined at the hip. … We’ve been so lucky.”

Bernie Sanders in Baltimore: “We Need Fundamental Changes”

Bernie Sanders walks through Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. (By Daniel Schere)

Bernie Sanders walks through Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. (By Daniel Schere)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders visited Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood Tuesday morning, calling for increased investment in depressed urban communities across the country.

“Anyone who took the walk that we took around this neighborhood would not think we were in a wealthy nation,” he told reporters. “They would think we were in a third-world country where unemployment is over 50 percent. We need fundamental changes in our national priorities. We do not need to give more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. We need to start investing in communities all over this country that are hurting, that are forgotten about.”

Sanders began the morning at 9 a.m. by walking around the neighborhood, which received national attention in April after the police custody death of Freddie Gray, which sparked protests for weeks and rioting on the day of Gray’s funeral. Amidst cries of “all night all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” Sanders addressed the crowd in his immediate vicinity.

“Fifty one percent of young African American kids in this country are unemployed or underemployed,” he said. “That is a national tragedy. That has got to change. And it’s got to change for human reasons because we don’t want to see lives destroyed. But even if you’re a conservative, we’ve got to change for fiscal reasons because you save money when you create jobs and education rather than locking people up.”

After touring the neighborhood for 20 minutes, Sanders met with religious and civic leaders at the Freddie Gray Empowerment Center before holding a brief press conference. In reflecting on his visit, Sanders said the dream young black Baltimoreans pursuing higher education is “as real as going to the moon.”

Sanders addressed concerns of police brutality that have been swirling around the country and Baltimore in the wake of Gray’s death and other police-involved deaths, pointing out that he has also called for a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department following the officer-involved shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“It is my view that when any individual is killed while in police custody, that should bring forth a federal investigation,” he said. “It is my view that the federal government can play a very important role in terms of police reform by providing incentives to police departments around the country that do the right thing. And the right thing is to demilitarize our police departments. The right thing is to make sure that police officers have the training that they need to understand that lethal force is the last resort, not the first resort. To make sure that police departments look like the communities they serve in terms of their diversity, so there’s a lot to be done.”

Bernie Sanders supporters eagerly await the Democratic presidential candidate's arrival in Baltimore. (By Daniel Schere)

Bernie Sanders supporters eagerly await the Democratic presidential candidate’s arrival in Baltimore. (By Daniel Schere)

Toward the end of the press conference, Sanders was asked to comment on ISIS despite the request of a campaign official to stick to domestic issues. He responded by indicating he would talk about ISIS another day but wanted to focus on his domestic agenda while in Baltimore.

“Of course, I’ll talk about ISIS but today what we’re talking about is a community in which half of the community don’t have jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about a community in which half of the buildings are uninhabitable. We’re talking about a community where kids are unable to go to schools that are decent. You want to ask me about ISIS, we’ll talk about ISIS.”

“What I have said is that obviously ISIS and terrorism is a huge national issue that we have to address but so is poverty, so is unemployment, so is education, so is healthcare. And I will continue to talk about those issues.”

Hashing Out An Industry Jews around Maryland are anxiously awaiting soon-to-be-awarded medical cannabis licenses

They differ by age, background, experience and many other factors, but a handful of Jews in Maryland have one aspect of their lives in common — they are currently playing a waiting game while the state determines who will be allowed to grow, produce and sell medical cannabis among almost 900 applicants.

Clarksville’s Cary Millstein has spent the past year navigating a complex system of practicalities and legalities that come with entry into the cannabis industry.

Hashing Out An Industry

“Everything in this initial stage must be carefully done,” he said. “I’m not allowed to solicit publicly for any investments so I couldn’t advertise. I could make calls to people I knew, but I couldn’t put anything in the paper.”

Millstein’s company, Freestate Wellness LLC, has applied for all three types of licenses in Howard County. He has assembled a team of 23 people who include horticulturalists, doctors and former McCormick and Pepsi corporate officers.

“We’re really trying to make sure this not a small casual business we’re going into lightly,” he said.

Millstein said it was not terribly difficult to put the team together, but if he is awarded licenses, the cost of producing the marijuana strains and extracting the chemicals is likely to cost between $5 million and $10 million.

Millstein said his operation would involve a carbon dioxide extraction process that would remove all organic plant material. He plans to sell both dry flowers and ointments, one third of which will contain minimal THC, marijuana’s primary hallucinogenic compound, in order to accommodate patients with no previous exposure to the drug.

“We want to be able to do it in a very methodical way so that they don’t have any adverse effects,” he said.

He has brought on a few large investors and said he would be in a position to produce if he wins a license, but he still has concerns about the business infrastructure. Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, many banks are hesitant to get involved.

“Banking — and the risks surrounding an all-cash business — makes this one of the riskiest aspects and attracts it to crime and theft,” Millstein said. “How do you have a business that’s supposed to be legal to operate [yet] illegal to have a bank account or a checking account?”

While there are federal guidlines for banking in the cannabis industry, there is still much uncertainty regarding the feasibility of banks working within this emerging field.

Millstein is also concerned that only a handful a patients will be approved for marijuana use due to a remaining social stigma that has persisted for several years, making doctors hesitant to prescribe the drug.

“If you have three people who come to your business every month, that’s not going to pay the water bill,” he said.

Millstein has served as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Howard County for 12 years and said he has received a good amount of support, including from his rabbi, Craig Axler at Temple Isaiah.

“He understands our passion and why we’re getting involved,” he said. “What we’ve found is that cannabis has a terrific following of supporters seeing the medical benefits that are coming to life, and I believe that the benefits have not been fully understood.”

Robin Katcoff, a retired pharmacist who is now a health and wellness coach, said she was on the fence initially about becoming involved in the industry. Katcoff lives in Owings Mills and attends Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore. She is part of the Cannavations MD team that is applying for licenses in four legislative districts, led by Jessica White of Pikesville. (She was profiled in the JT’s “Kosher Kush” on Nov. 20.)

“When Jessica mentioned this whole thing, I thought, ‘You know that’s kind of weird for me,’” Katcoff said, “because I was always the person who would go out and talk about drugs and how you shouldn’t do them. And a few months ago, she asks, ‘What are you thinking about this?’ And I said, ‘You know what, I think I’ll do it.’ It’s a great way to help people, especially people who are in pain. And nothing else is working.”

Banking — and the risks surrounding an all-cash business — makes this one of the riskiest aspects and attracts it to crime and theft. How do you have a business that’s supposed to be legal to operate [yet] illegal to have a bank account or a checking account?

Katcoff said her role will be ever-changing, but it will include maintaining a dialogue with patients, keeping records and determining appropriate dosage levels.

“There’s not a whole lot of human research that has been done,” she said. “It’s mostly based on animal testing to try to figure out what to even recommend our patients. So we’re going to be starting low and going higher with the dosage as needed.”

Also on the Cannavations team is Eric Rubin, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University who will serve as a medical adviser but not prescribe the drug. He said his role will mainly involve providing patients with an objective voice.

“Coming from it with very little pre-knowledge also means no money in the game,” he said. “Conflict of interest would be a big no-no in this, and so someone who doesn’t prescribe, who’s coming in with a fresh perspective, who doesn’t have a lot of prejudices on the issue is probably a good person to have in the role of medical advisory board.”

Rubin said that generally speaking, the medical community in the United States has had cautious optimism about the use of cannabis for medical purposes. He noted that Israel is also in the process of creating a medical cannabis program and has developed a strain that is non-intoxicating. He said that the plant is a “blunt instrument,” in that it has numerous active agents that can cause negative side effects but that this does not make it worse than drugs such as OxyContin.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “Anything that’s going to be pain relieving and anxiety altering will have some abuse potential, and so we’ve got to be cautious going in with our eyes open, but the stuff that we have [on the market now] ain’t that great either.”

Green Leaf Medical LLC already has a lease signed on a 42,000-square-foot facility in Frederick County, where CEO Philip Goldberg hopes his company will grow and process medical cannabis in two separate spaces.

Goldberg, a Montgomery County native and member of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, runs an ad agency and marketing firm. He initially got interested in Maryland’s medical cannabis program as a money-making opportunity a couple of years ago.

“It sounded really good, and at that point I knew that there was going to be a big profit potential, and that’s honestly what first attracted me to this. I’m an entrepreneur; I’m looking out for opportunities,” he said. “After many commission hearings and being involved in the industry, I began to meet a lot of patients and … once you talk to all these patients, especially those parents of kids who are really sick, you learn it’s about a lot more than money. You can really help people.”

Goldberg, president-elect of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, has testified at hearings in Annapolis, brought out-of-state experts to testify and, as part of the MDCIA, is working to educate physicians on cannabis as a medicine.

He hopes to grow cannabis strains that are high in CBD, a non-psycho-active component in cannabis that has been shown to be therapeutic in a variety of ailments, including epilepsy. Green Leaf would also process and manufacture capsules, patches, creams, oils “and a variety of other administrations that look more like medicine,” Goldberg said.

While Green Leaf is one of 146 applicants vying for 15 grower licenses, Goldberg feels that his company has gone above and beyond and is hopeful they will be selected. A major selling point of his company, Goldberg believes, is its board of directors, which includes Thomas Chase, a retired lieutenant of the Frederick County Police who will review security plans, perform background checks and be a liaison to the community; Dr. Vincent Njar, a University of Maryland School of Medicine professor who works to develop cancer treatment drugs; Sarah Robinson, the mother of a child who has severe epilepsy; Dr. Paul Lyons, a neurologist who has obtained DEA and FDA approval to use cannabis in human trial, with which he has been studying its effects on children with epilepsy for two years; and two horticulturalists, Meagan Zaffaroni and Steven Schug.

“We’ve got a really nice team that brings a lot to the table from the time we put the plant in the ground to the time we turn it into medicine,” he said.

Green Leaf has more than $1 million raised from 30 investors and has commitments for an additional $6 million to begin operations.

He thinks Maryland has so many applicants because the state put together “the gold standard of cannabis laws.”

“I feel good about our chances,” he said. “We all put in so much time in that week before the applications were due because we care about the industry and we really believe in it.”

Many Jews around the country have fallen into the industry in places where cannabis is already legal, including Denver’s Julie Berliner, who needed a steady income after graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in elementary education in 2009.

“It was tough,” she said. “I was
substituting wherever I could and trying to find my place just as medical marijuana was becoming a reality in Colorado.”

The country was still in recession, and a Berliner’s friend had opened a dispensary near where she lived, prompting her to re-evaluate her career options.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, I had just graduated,” she said. “And in April 2010 the regulations began to tighten up. So it was around that time when I had to take the plunge and go for it or teach and go on as I had.”

Without telling her parents the whole truth, Berliner started Sweet Grass Kitchen, a bakery that sells cannabis-infused baked goods in both medicinal and recreational varieties.

“There were certain omissions like, I was starting a bakery. I didn’t say it was a weed bakery,” she said.

Berliner said her parents did eventually come around to support her endeavor.

“They were understandably concerned back then,” she said. “I think it took them visiting and understanding the industry itself.”

Berliner’s friend, Josh Genderson, opened two dispensaries in Washington, D.C., three years ago after working for his family liquor business, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.

Genderson has several ties to Washington’s Jewish community. His fiancée, Morgan Greenhouse, sits on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and he and his family are longtime members of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, where his uncle is part of the leadership.

He said being part of the wine and spirits industry was the key to sparking his interest in the drug.

“We were pretty passionate about the medical side of cannabis,” he said. “We’ve seen the positive effects it’s had with kids with epilepsy, with pain management, and we’ve been in a controlled-substance business [alcohol] for a long time.”

Genderson’s two businesses sell products that include flowers, waxes, oils and glycol-based cartridges. He has been following Maryland’s application process closely and said he is excited about cannabis’ entry into the state.

“It’s the biggest response to the application yet in the medical world,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a good program. It’s very pro-patient rights and pro-business. The turnout far surpassed what I imagined.”

Millstein said he thinks the cannabis program will be financially successful in the long run, but more importantly it will improve quality of life.

“For Maryland, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to stop suffering, to help people have better lives, to generate business and hopefully down the road to generate a nice tax revenue for expanded adult use,” he said. “Not for teen use or underage use, but for adult use to help Maryland increase its revenues without overburdening the population on taxes.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

Pulling No Punches Columnist bluntly tells Associated Women why Middle East is always in turmoil

Ongoing conflict in the Middle East can seem so depressing that people in the Western world often feel as if they are watching an episode of “24,” Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens told a group of women from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“As a country we want to pivot away from this extremely tedious, extremely vexing, no-good-story, no-good-deed-going-unpunished region of the world,” he said.

Stephens was the guest speaker of an Associated Women’s meeting at McDonogh School on Nov. 12. He said pessimism about the Middle East has increased this year due to events such as the January shootings at the headquarters of the satirical publican Charlie Hebdo in Paris by members of al-Qaeda and the recent violence in Israel.

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens speaks with members after his presentation at The Associated Women’s meeting on Nov. 12. (photo by Daniel Schere)

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens speaks with members after his presentation at The Associated Women’s meeting on Nov. 12.
(photo by Daniel Schere)

In taking a broad view of the Middle East in the 14 years since 9/11, Stephens said two schools of thought have emerged in the United States about why some in the region hold Americans in contempt. One centers around policies and practices, such as support for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but the other, he emphasized, has to do with democratic values.

“They hate us not because of U.S. support for Israel or whatever,” he said. “They hate us because we believe in the equality of women. We believe in the dignity of all peoples, sexual minorities for example. We believe in the separation of religion and state. We believe not only that people have a right to speak freely, but that people in a free society have a responsibility to know how to take offense. We believe in tolerance. We believe in openness.”

The conflict that Israel has with its neighbors is not territorial, it’s existential. The battle that’s being waged today is not about what happened in 1967, it’s about what happened in 1948.

He said last month’s stabbings in Jerusalem illustrate what he feels is a “third and particularly gruesome intifada” and that Israel should not bear most of the responsibility for the violence.

“Every time someone gets stabbed in Israel and you have to hear that the answer to the stabbing is for Israel to do this that and the other … dismantle this settlement, negotiate more with greater intensity with MahmoudAbbas, who’s busy fomenting this kind of violence that is reproducing anti-Semitism,” he said. “That is putting the moral onus of the murder of Jews on other Jews, and we ought to be clear about that.”

Stephens said these events illustrate a growing sense that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not likely any time soon.

“What [the events] tell you is that it’s very hard to see how Israel reaches a peace agreement with a government and with a people who cheers systematic murder of Jews in quite this way, because there is no strategic benefit to the Palestinians for doing this,” he said. “This is animated by sheer hatred.”

Stephens said the issue at the heart of the conflict is based on Israel’s overall right to exist as opposed to disputes over territories that have raged for five decades.

“The conflict that Israel has with its neighbors is not territorial, it’s existential,” he said. “The battle that’s being waged today is not about what happened in 1967, it’s about what happened in 1948.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the evening, Stephens was asked what he thought about the increased presence of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. He said many who support the movement do not understand the lack of democratic values in Palestinian society and recalled a speech he gave several years ago at the University of Michigan, where he learned two minutes prior that Palestinian supporters were in attendance and had planned to heckle him.

“I started the speech by asking, ‘How many of you are in favor of gay rights?’ They all said yes. I said great, me too. I asked, ‘How about women’s rights? Is anyone here against women having the same choices and opportunities in life as men do? No, you all agree with me. What about the environment?’ They all support that. What about freedom of speech? They agreed. What about political accountability as a president or a prime minister and you commit a crime you should go to jail for? They all agreed. I said, ‘If those are your values, you all support Israel, since those things don’t exist in Palestinian society.’”

Katy Weinberg said she thought Stephens’ lecture was outstanding and forced her to think differently about the Middle East.

“I thought he presented a whole different line of thought in saying how we have to change the attitudes rather than focusing on retaliation,” she said.

Michele Lax, president of Associated Women, said her father lived in Israel during its first two years of existence and her brother also had lived there. She said Stephens made clear that support for Israel should not be a partisan issue.

“People think of Bret Stephens as so conservative because he’s been very critical about the Iran deal and a lot of other things, but the bottom line is: To support Israel is to be a progressive,” she said. “It is to be liberal, and he cut through a lot of the nonsense and a lot of the rhetoric of what Israel’s doing wrong.”

Killer of 11-Year-Old Gets New Trial Frustration, anger in Jewish community over court opinion

Wayne Stephen Young, who was found guilty of killing 11-year-old Esther Lebowitz in 1972, will have his conviction vacated and face a new trial, according to his attorney.

The move is based on the “Unger ruling,” which concludes that incorrect jury instructions administered in Maryland courtrooms may have led to unfair trials. The Maryland Special Court of Appeals issued an opinion after another case that cited the Unger ruling resulted in a new trial for a Harford County man, and that opinion made way for new trials in several cases.

“I think that he’s entitled to a fair trial, and he didn’t get that, so it’ll be up to the state [to decide] exactly what comes next,” said Erica Suter, Young’s attorney. “It’s not about whether or not someone is guilty or innocent; it’s about whether or not they got a fair trial.”

Many members of the Baltimore Jewish community were not pleased by the court’s move.

It “is very clear that he is guilty, and he has admitted so to the people,” said Neil Schachter, president of Northwest Citizens Patrol. “It’s just a sad commentary on courts today, how they can throw out guilty ruling that are based on true facts.”

Frank Storch was 12 when Lebowitz was murdered in 1969. At the time, his father was president of Bais Yaakov School for Girls, which Lebowitz attended.

“People are upset and frustrated that this is even on the table. Why are taxpayer dollars going to open a 46-year-old clear-cut case, where you have an admission of guilt from the murderer, clear substantive evidence and a life sentence?” Storch said. “He was sentenced to a life term, and he should remain in prison for life.”

Lebowitz was last seen after being dropped off at the end of a school day at a local drug store. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home.

The autopsy showed she was beaten at least 17 times with a blunt instrument and sexually molested.

Young, who was 24 at the time and is almost 70 now, confessed the killing to an officer.

“I remember the incident like yesterday. I remember being upset, because I was only 12 years old and not allowed to join the search party,” Storch said. “I knew the family
personally. The tragedy of Esther’s death was heartbreaking to the community. The family couldn’t cope and moved to Israel. I even visited them there a number of years ago.”Added Schachter: “It shook everybody; not just Jews were shaken by this whole thing.”

Sandy Nissel, chief operating officer at Bais Yaakov, said emotions are still raw from that time.

“The idea of bringing this back again and potentially releasing him brings tears to the eyes of the entire organization,” he said. “Take a short walk and look at the back wall in Shearith Israel’s synagogue and you’ll see a plaque with her name on it, which is a reminder on a daily basis of the community’s terrible loss, of this tragedy.”

In March 2014, more than 200 people from Baltimore’s Jewish community packed a room at the Maryland Circuit Court, where Young was asking for a new trial that he was later denied.

Storch and Schachter vowed that the Jewish community will continue to fight to keep Young in prison.

“The horrific murder is etched in our minds, and we will stand together in opposition of this appeal. We have to do whatever is necessary to make sure true justice is served. It’s the least we can do for Esther’s memory and for all innocent defenseless children in the future,” Storch said. “Last year, I arranged for the transportation to the courthouse. This time, I plan to do the same and hope to be able to
assist in any other way that I can.”

Candidates on Parade at Jewish GOP Gathering

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Nearly 700 Jewish Republicans gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C., on Thursday to hear from Republican presidential candidates. The forum, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, is the only event outside of the debates in which the 14 remaining candidates are scheduled to attend.

“We absolutely need a Republican president in the White House,” said David Flaum, RJC national chairman, to thunderous applause. “We cannot elect someone like Hillary Clinton who will not protect Americans in harm’s way or answer the phone at 3 in the morning.”

The RJC, Flaum said, is “preparing to execute the most well-funded advanced campaign ever undertaken in the Jewish community, so that [the community knows] that only a Republican can protect our interests at home and abroad.”

What follows is a snapshot of each candidate. Please check back for updates.


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

“I believe this nation needs a wartime president to defend it,” said Cruz. He went on to criticize the president, calling him the “most antagonistic president to the State of Israel in our nation’s history.” He laid into Secretary of State John Kerry for calling Israel an apartheid state.

“When Kerry called Israel an apartheid state, I went to the Senate floor and called for his resignation. And I would note that we need more senators, both Republicans and Democrats” held accountable for when “the secretary of state undermines our allies.”

Playing to the staunchly pro-Israel crowd, Cruz said that in his administration, universities engaging in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel would be stripped of federal funds; that on his first day in office, he would begin the process of moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; and that he would “rip to shreds” the Iran nuclear agreement.

“I do trust the Iranians,” said Cruz. “When the Ayatollah Khamenei burns Israeli and American flags and says ‘Death to America,’ I trust that he means it.”

He continued, “The next president needs to have the fortitude to say to the Ayatollah Khamenei in no uncertain terms: Either you stop your nuclear weapons program or we will stop you.”

In response to a question comparing his one Senate term to Obama having only one Senate term, Cruz said, “Obama isn’t a bad president because he was a first-term senator. Barack Obama is an unmitigated socialist who won’t stand up and defend the United States of America.”

He repeatedly contrasted himself with Obama and Clinton, saying that he cannot wait to take a debate stage with the former secretary of state.


Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

In his unhurried Southern drawl, Graham started slow but finished strong by detailing, in his opinion, the two demographics where Republicans have lost ground: young women and Hispanics.

Graham queried the room: Should there be an abortion exception for pregnancies that result from rape and incest? “If you’re going to tell a woman that she has to carry the child of a rapist, you’re going to lose an election,” he emphasized.

As for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Graham said that Republicans aren’t losing elections because “we’re not hard-ass enough on immigration — I believe we’re losing the Hispanic vote because they think we don’t like them.” He would have undocumented immigrants pay a fine and face restrictions on getting a green card.

Graham rejected Cruz’s notion that Republicans need to drive more evangelicals to the polls by running to the right rather than the center.

“Do you really want to win this election?” he said to a resounding “Yes,” from the audience. “Then take what we say seriously and push back when we make no sense.”

On the Middle East, Graham said he has the know-how to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and would put the United Nations “on notice that if they keep coming after Israel they won’t get a dime of American taxpayer money.”


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

The young Republican who is reportedly favored by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a financial backer of the RJC, hit all the right notes with the conservative crowd. (Adelson’s wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, Yahoo News reported, favors Cruz.)

He condemned the European Union for labeling products made in “Judea and Samaria,” using the biblical term for the West Bank.

“We need a president who is not afraid to call this what it is: This is anti-Semitism.” And anti-Semitism, he continued, hides behind anti-Israeli sentiment in the form of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which, he said, “reeks of hypocrisy,” particularly on college campuses.

Like the other Republican hopefuls, Rubio pledged to tear up the Iran agreement and re-impose congressional sanctions. He chided Obama for confusing “our allies for adversaries.” He added that “the days of giving the ayatollah of Iran more respect than the Prime Minister of Israel are over my first day in office,” in reference to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before congress last spring that the president, vice president and a number of Democrats boycotted.


Former Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.)

Pataki began with the question on everyone’s mind: Why is he still in this race?

“Let me tell you seriously why I am: [Because] we have to win this race … we have to beat Hillary Clinton!” said Pataki.

“We have to elect someone who isn’t going to talk about all the things they’re going to do,” he said, adding that the country needs someone who “will go out and get it done.”

Getting it done for Pataki means reducing the size of the federal government by 15 percent, cutting Obamacare, cutting Common Core, scaling back the Environmental Protection Agency and prosecuting any IRS employee involved with targeting Republican and conservative groups.

In the fight against ISIS extremists, Pataki would “arm, supply and support” Kurds and Yazidis.


Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio)

For Kasich, supporting Israel is a family affair. He said that he can’t wait to take his 15-year-old daughters to Jerusalem, which he describes as a “shining city” — a direct reference and homage to Reagan, whose appropriation of the John Winthrop quote about America being a “shining city on a hill” is one of his most enduring legacies. (Virtually every candidate at the event referenced Reagan as well, a testament as much to his lasting impact on the party as to the location.)

Terrorism, said Kasich, is “destroying our way of life.” He was incredulous that the “president went to Paris and said, ‘We’re going to fight terrorism by taking on climate change.’ ”

Kasich stated that were he in Obama’s shoes, he would be meeting with all the countries that make up NATO to form a coalition that will destroy ISIS. He would engage with moderate Arab allies like Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States to counter extremism.

The United States, he said, is absent in Ukraine, absent in the Balkans, and seemingly powerless against Chinese aggression. America needs to lead, he told the audience.

“When America leads, people follow.”


Donald Trump, businessman

“You just like me because my daughter is Jewish,” Trump joked. “I can’t reach her on Saturday anymore. I call and call and she doesn’t answer.”

(Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism prior to her marriage to Jared Kushner in 2009.)

As has come to be expected on the campaign trail, Trump boasted of his negotiating skills and his ability to self-fund his campaign.

“You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” said Trump. “I would love your support, but I don’t want your money.”

Trump estimated it would take six months to put together a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I’m a dealmaker. I will know very quickly … if I’ll be able to put this deal together,” said Trump. However, he wasn’t sure if either Israel or the Palestinians “has the commitment” to make such a deal. He quickly added that Israel is not given credit for what they’ve given up.

Trump was booed when he refused to say that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish State. He said he’d need to talk about it first with Netanyahu, who, Trump reminded the crowd — as he had in Manassas, Va., the night before —had called on the businessman to make a commercial for his re-election bid.

“Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be happy, OK?”


Dr. Ben Carson

Carson, the last candidate to speak before the marathon forum broke for lunch, gave the audience a recap of the modern State of Israel’s history.

Speaking directly from his written comments, Carson failed to elicit the emotional response other candidates enjoyed even when referencing his faith.

He did garner some applause when he said the conversation surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian was flawed. Carson said “lasting peace” should center on what a future Israeli state should look like rather than what a future Palestinian state should look like.

U.S. foreign policy, he said, must ensure that Israel comes out of negotiations “as a Jewish state for generations to come.”

He dismissed the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of ongoing strife throughout the Middle East. According to Carson, of the millions of Muslims killed in violent conflicts in that region, “only 35,000 have been killed” as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Keeping a Low Profile How the world’s longest-running Chabad house survives in Morocco

Rabbi Shalom Edelman has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco  for the past 57 years.

Rabbi Shalom Edelman has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco
for the past 57 years.

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Raizel Raskin’s office feels like a cluttered museum of Moroccan Jewish heritage. A photo from an old Jewish summer camp lies on the table. Another, of a rabbi meeting Moroccan dignitaries, hangs on the wall. Outside the door is a bookshelf filled with Hasidic tracts translated into Arabic.

But the rest of Chabad’s multistory complex here looks almost abandoned. Once a school bustling with hundreds of Jewish children, the facility today is largely an empty shell, with dust collecting on unused sports equipment and desks sitting disorganized in unused classrooms. Even the portrait of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement’s late leader whose bearded face typically occupies a place of honored prominence in Chabad homes, is peeling off the wall of the foyer.

“Every emissary has their own problems,” said Raskin, who moved to Morocco from France with her husband, Yehuda, in 1960.

At 65 years old, the Chabad in Casablanca is the Hasidic movement’s oldest outpost in the world and one of only two in the Arab world (the other is in Tunis). Chabad’s first emissaries arrived there in 1950, the beta test for what would grow into a global movement of thousands of Chabad rabbis and their wives scattered across six continents.

In its early years, Morocco’s Jewish population numbered 250,000, and Chabad served 5,000 students in schools across the country. But following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and Morocco’s independence from France in 1956, the vast majority emigrated.

Today, Chabad runs classes, weekend programs and a summer camp for the 2,500 Jews who remain.

Chabad has survived here by keeping a low profile and maintaining good relations with the government. Like other Jewish institutions in Morocco, Chabad’s activities take place mostly behind closed doors. Its main building in Casablanca is unmarked, and a second facility is accessible through a winding alley removed from the street, with little outward identification.

Local rabbis also avoid talking about the Jewish state. Rabbi Levi Banon, who was born in Morocco and returned to run the operation in 2009, says Casablancans are mostly indifferent — or even friendly — toward Jews, though tension does flare during Israel’s frequent military operations. Raskin said that during Israel’s earlier wars, Moroccans would throw stones at Jews.

“Moroccan people are good people,” Banon said. “To them, the most important is the human touch and the human instinct. That’s more important than politics.”

The first Chabad rabbi in Morocco, Michael Lipsker, was dispatched by Schneerson at the behest of his predecessor, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who wanted Chabad to help ensure that the country’s long rabbinic tradition wouldn’t be lost.

“The tradition is very strong here — everyone has his own customs, his family’s customs,” said Raskin, whose husband served as the Morocco emissary for more than four decades until his death in 2004. “The previous rebbe said that the Jews of Morocco have a lot to do.”

Chabad has persisted through the years by staying in the good graces of Morocco’s rulers. A photo of King Mohammed VI hangs next to Schneerson’s portrait near the building’s entrance, and Banon says Schneerson kept a correspondence with Mohammed’s father, Hassan II.

Hassan’s United Nations ambassador even visited Schneerson in Brooklyn in 1988.

“There were a few problems, but not from the government,” said Rabbi Shalom Edelman, who has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco since 1958. “The government was always good to Jews.”

In recent years, Morocco has experienced what the Chabad emissaries describe as a newfound openness to the world. The standard of living has risen, and though Morocco and Israel don’t have formal diplomatic relations, Chabad rabbis can still freely travel between the two countries, an impossibility in the 1960s.

But none of that is likely to result in a resurgence of Jewish life in the country. While Raskin and Edelman are happy so many emigres have moved to Israel, they feel like caretakers for the vestiges of what was once an illustrious community.

“I know they went to Israel, to a safe place I can’t worry about, to a good place for fearing God,” Edelman said. “But for us, it’s harder. We need to fill a space. We educated them and they left, so what we accomplished left.”

Charm City Banners Show Post-Terror Solidarity

Baltimore sent its love and support to a Nov. 26 wedding in Israel after the bride’s father and brother were killed by a Palestinian gunman.

On Nov. 13, just four days before Sarah Litman and Ariel Beigel were to be married, her father and brother were killed while traveling to visit family for Shabbat. The wedding was postponed so that Litman and her family could sit shiva for Yaakov, 40, and Netanel, 18.

The couple rescheduled its wedding, moved it to the Jerusalem International Convention Center and invited the entire country of Israel to join them. A new wedding invitation quoted the prophet Micah and said, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up.”

Pikesville resident and activist Frank Storch, impressed by the couple’s resilience, wanted to send the couple a message of support, so he had three 4-by-14-foot “mazel tov” banners created and signed by more than 5,000 community members. Signatures came from students and staff at Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Bais Yaakov Convention, Beth Tfiloh, Bnos Yisroel, CBMI/Lev Shlomo, Cheder Chabad, Community Kollel Tiferes Moshe Aryeh, Jewels, Maalot Baltimore, Neimus Hatorah, Ohr Chadash, Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva Gedola Ohr Hatorah, Yeshivas Toras Chaim, Yesodei Hatorah, Star K, Goldberg’s Bagels and Seven Mile Market. Gov. Larry Hogan also signed the banner. Storch sent someone to Israel with the banners, where they were presented before the chuppah and hung on the mechitzah, where guests continued to sign them throughout the wedding.

Thousands attended the wedding in Israel, including Israeli Chief Rabbis David Lau and Shlomo Amar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sarah, and popular Chasidic singer Avraham Fried, who gave a surprise performance.