Chanukah Kicks off with Concerts Baltimore and Washington areas have some rockin’ holiday concerts

Chanukah is a complicated holiday for many. While its more recognizable symbols and rituals have to do with the miracle of the oil, Chanukah’s story is also that of a military victory.

“We’re celebrating two separate things … so it’s kind of schizophrenic,” said Beth El Congregation Cantor Thom King. “The main reason the oil became emphasized was because people didn’t want — when Jews were being oppressed — to brag about a military victory to attract attention to say how powerful they are.”

Matisyahu comes to the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Thursday, Dec. 10. (Photo by David Stuck)

Matisyahu comes to the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Thursday, Dec. 10. (Photo by David Stuck)

On the first night of Chanukah, a concert at Beth El will tell the whole story of Chanukah in an epic performance featuring an orchestra and a 75-person choir as it performs Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus.”

The concert, which is dedicated to the memory of Cantor Saul Hammerman, whose yahrzeit occurs around Chanukah, features members of the Beth El Choir, the Pikesville High Alumni Choir, the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church as well as Beth El’s junior choir. The church’s music director and organist, Michael Britt, will serve as the evening’s conductor.

“It’s a very interesting piece. It’s a little more dramatic than something like ‘The Messiah,’” King said. “It’s an actual story with a libretto.”

While Chanukah may get caught up in the craziness of the holiday season, King sees deeper meaning in the holiday as the story of the Jewish people and Israel.

“[It’s] a small country surrounded by enemies that manages to hold its own,” he said. “The recapturing of the Western Wall in 1967 was a reflection of that idea of recapturing the Temple and rededicating the Temple. So the story of Israel is really like the story of Chanukah in a lot of ways, an almost miraculous occurrence.”

The night before the Beth El concert, Washington Hebrew Congregation hosts Shira & Friends, which plays rock music for kids, at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center in Potomac.

It’ll be the first time Shira Kobren, a Washington native and graduate of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, brings her band to her hometown. It means her grandparents will finally be able to see what she does.

Kobren, who plays music with children full-time and is on staff at Central Synagogue and Temple Israel in Manhattan, said her band will perform a mix of original songs and Chanukah songs with the band’s rock flavor added to it.

“Our shows are always interactive. There’s going to be lots of dancing, lots of intergenerational fun,” Kobren said. “It’s really important for me that I cater to the adults, not just the kids.”

She thinks singing and dancing is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday.

“I just love the feeling of sharing the music, sharing the joy of the holiday with so many people that want to celebrate as well,” she said. “There’s so many symbols that are so tangible to children, and when children can participate it makes it such a greater celebration for the family.”

And what would Chanukah be without everyone’s favorite Jewish reggae singer? Matisyahu comes to the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and Rams Head Live on Thursday, Dec. 10. The concerts, being billed as “Festival of Light: An Intimate Evening with Matisyahu,” feature stripped-down performances of Matisyahu’s music, highlighting everything from his early hits to his 2014 release, “Akeda.” He is touring in support of his October live album release, “Live at Stubbs Vol. III,” which features arrangements that will be featured at the concerts.


“Judas Maccabaeus”
Beth El Congregation, 8101 Park Heights Ave. Dec. 6, at 4 p.m.,
tickets $18.
Call 410-484-0411.

Shira & Friends
Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Julia Bindeman
Suburban Center, 11810 Falls Road, Potomac, Md.
Dec. 5, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., $20 per family

For information and tickets to the Matisyahu concerts, visit

Owings Mills Resident Named Learner of the Year

From left: John Corse, associate general counsel for Exelon Corporation; Donna Bossalina, a member of Exelon’s legal department; Kristen Strader, daughter of Phyllis and Robert Strader; Phyllis and Robert Strader; and Phyllis Strader’s  colleagues, Jennifer DiSciullo and Jack Wood. (Provided)

From left: John Corse, associate general counsel for Exelon Corporation; Donna Bossalina, a member of Exelon’s legal department; Kristen Strader, daughter of Phyllis and Robert Strader; Phyllis and Robert Strader; and Phyllis Strader’s colleagues, Jennifer DiSciullo and Jack Wood. (Provided)

Phyllis Strader of Owings Mills was named Learner of the Year by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) at the organization’s international conference, which was held in Baltimore from Nov. 18 to 20.

Strader, a paralegal at Exelon Corporation for almost 15 years, earned her degree in paralegal studies from Stevenson University in May 2015, graduating summa cum laude with the Dean’s Award for Exceptional Scholarship.

The long road to a degree was due to the juggling act of taking care of aging parents and in-laws, raising kids and working a full-time job.

“It took a long time, but the important thing is that …  I didn’t stop until I got it,” she said.

It was one thing after another over the years. Her mother passed away. Her family was taking care of her mother- in-law, who lived with them. Her father-in-law suffered a heart attack.

“It was just a lot,” Strader said. “I’ve come a long way. I was able to get through it. My kids are well. My husband and I have been married for 28 years. I really feel blessed.”

Strader earned prior learning credits through Stevenson’s portfolio program because of her experience in elder care and elder law, which helped her earn her degree. Through that experience, she learned about advanced directives, asset management, estate tax issues, long-term care and other  aspects of elder care.

“Phyllis is truly representative of what successes are possible through programs that support adults returning to school. She is inspirational to us and to the entire education  community,” said CAEL CEO and president Pamela Tate in a statement. “It’s impossible to look at the challenges  Phyllis overcame without recognizing the value of learning at any age and the wonderful human capacity for perseverance.”

Organizations Seek Action After Protest Goucher president under fire after event shut down

José Bowen (Kim Ritzenthaler)

José Bowen (Kim Ritzenthaler)

More than 30 different organizations signed and delivered a letter to Goucher College President José Bowen urging him to take further action following student protestors disrupting a presentation by Israeli television personality Assi Azar.

Azar was invited to Goucher Hillel on Nov. 5 to screen his movie, “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You,” which addresses how parents cope with their children coming out as gay.

Following the screening, a group of students from the LGBT group TALQ Big removed pink tape placed over their mouths and began to disrupt the discussion by chanting anti-Israel sentiments. After about 45 minutes of heated discussion between the students and Azar, college officials ended the event.

Sammy Eisenberg, a senior and student co-president at Goucher Hillel, said TALQ Big objected to the screening and requested it be shut down; when their request was denied, they protested.

The letter, addressed to Bowen; Dr. Leslie Lewis, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Bryan Coker, vice president and dean of students, recounted the day’s events and quotes Azar’s recollection.

I do not want students to feel intimidated on campus, but I also cannot legally protect them from disagreeable speech.

“According to Azar, ‘The protesters were trying to shut down all dialogue and were aggressive toward those students who were trying to have a calm, respectful discussion,’” the letter said. “‘Jewish students in attendance felt ‘threatened,’ ‘targeted,’ ‘under attack’ and ‘bullied into silence.’ Many students were afraid and distraught after the event, and several were reduced to tears.”

The letter continued to commend Bowen for the actions he has taken and insisted his investigation will show that TALQ Big members violated several articles of the college’s code of conduct. However, it also pointed out where Bowen’s actions have fallen short.

“First and foremost, nowhere do you single out and unequivocally condemn the hateful, harmful and discriminatory actions of the members of TALQ Big who disrupted and sought to shut down a college-authorized event,” said the letter. “Their behavior was illegal, immoral and reprehensible, and it should have been immediately and vigorously condemned by your office.”

The letter continued to argue that Goucher officials should have removed the protestors when they became disruptive instead of ending the event prematurely.

The letter recommended Bowen publically condemn the protestors for their behavior, ensure disciplinary measures are carried out for laws broken at the university, local, state and federal level, and investigate administrative failures that led to the suppression of students’ civil rights and the threatening of student safety on campus.

Bowen, who in his response identified himself as Jewish, said the situation that arose was complex.

“The fact that Jewish students who identify as LGBTQ were among the protestors attending the Hillel event is a dramatic example of the complexities that can emerge,” Bowen said in his written response. “We have been clear to all students that one person’s freedom of speech does not extend to denying another’s, and we will be vigilant here.

“But students are allowed to disagree with one another,” he continued. “Our Constitution and courts have made it clear that inaccurate facts, opinions, historical distortions and even lies are still protected speech. I do not want students to feel intimidated on campus, but I also cannot legally protect them from disagreeable speech.”

Vegging Out Vegetarianism and veganism appeal to Jewish moral and environmental concerns

For Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Thanksgiving is more than simply a holiday to gorge on carbohydrates while reciting a laundry list of things to be thank- ful for. It is one the year’s primary opportunities to affirm her belief that being a vegetarian is both one of the most healthy and ethical ways to live.

“By radically reducing the amount of meat that we eat, we really are contributing to saving the world,” she said. “We are cutting down too many trees to accommodate an expanding global population.”



Cardin, the founder of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, has been a vegetarian since she was 18 and initially eschewed meat for dietary reasons.

“I did not really think I was saving the world,” she said. “I wanted to save animals, I wanted to be healthy, I wanted to keep kosher.”

For the last 14 Thanksgivings, Cardin has held the main feast on the preceding Wednesday with about 30 friends and family members who gather around a tofu turkey — a roll of vegetable protein with a filling — and a series of seasonal vegetable side dishes. She said the dinner serves as a forum for debate, which can range from serious issues during an election season to a subject as mundane as whether a tofu turkey should be called a “tofurkey”or “foturkey.”

“There’s entertainment that goes on,” she added.

But for diehard carnivores who need a more traditional meal, Cardin offers that too, although she of course does not partake of the meat. “Thursday is much quieter,” she said. “Growing up I can never remember having a big Thanksgiving dinner. But for people who want to celebrate an American Thanksgiving meal, we gather around the fireplace and have sliced deli turkey.”

Chava Goldberg, a kosher-keeping vegetarian, also puts out a tofu turkey each Thanksgiving and makes a regular turkey for guests.

“I make them a turkey and all the stuff that goes with it,” she said. “But for the kids and me, I’ll make a vegetarian substitute.”

Goldberg, a Baltimore resident, said she often uses meat substitutes in her food such as Gardein and Litelife products, while also going heavy on eggs and nuts. Goldberg is limited in the types of vegetables she can eat due to kashrut laws about making sure they are free of insects. (Many of today’s vegetables, say some authorities, are notoriously difficult to check for bugs.)

“We can’t have Brussels Sprouts anymore, and that used to be a staple before we kept kosher,” she said. “It’s not like I can just go to the store and just wash it. It’s a tedious process. It’s a little bit harder keeping kosher when you’re a vegetarian and it’s a little bit enlightening because of the bugs.”

To further complicate matters, Goldberg eats only non-GMO products.

This is when I finally realized that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving. This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression, starting with our oppression of animals raised for food.

Goldberg grew up on Johns Island off the South Carolina coast and said she became a vegetarian when she was 9, because she didn’t like eating foods with veins or bones that reminded her she was consuming an animal. She said this “made her parents crazy,” because they didn’t know what to do.

“I grew up on a small island where my family hunted, so it wasn’t unusual for my family to clean the animals that we ate,” she said.

Sarah Wasserstrum became a vegan three years ago after her grandfather began researching the vegan diet and chose it for himself.

“Within two months of being straight vegan, he was able to go off of every single medication, and there were about 20 of them,” she said. “My family just saw it happening and they were like, ‘Oh my god, changing your diet can completely change your health in a way you never thought before.’”

Wasserstrum said she adheres to the rules about 85 percent of the time, but she will sometimes eat fish and poultry. She said since becoming a vegan — others would call her a “flexitarian” — her mood has improved dramatically.

“I feel so much better when I’m not eating any forms of meat or dairy,” she said.

Jeffrey Cohan’s dramatic reveal of his organization’s name change. (Provided)

Jeffrey Cohan’s dramatic reveal of his organization’s name change. (Provided)

Jeffrey Cohan, a Pittsburgh resident who is the executive director of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), said the inspiration to become a vegetarian came while he was sitting in services nine years ago at his hometown Rodef Shalom Congregation and the creation story in Genesis was read.

“My wife and I looked at each other and said it looked like we’re supposed to be vegetarians,” he said upon hearing the verse about God setting aside trees and seeds for food. “It’s a fairly consistent theme between the five books of Moses, the Tanakh and all the sacred texts.”

Cohan said examples of vegetarianism as a regular diet can be found throughout history and was the social norm up until the period of the Industrial Revolution.

“Up until then there was not a lot of meat eating going on but generally speaking our great grandparents and our ancestors before them, Jewish or not Jewish, were not eating a lot of meat.”

Cohan said he has noticed that many Reconstructionist and Reform Jews have become vegetarians, in part, he thinks, due to the social justice aspect of the movement. But he said some in the Orthodox community have also embraced it, such as reputed vegetarian Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

“A number of top rabbis across the entire denominational spectrum are vegetarian or vegan for various reasons,” said Cohan.

JVNA turned 40 years old this year, and after several years as an all-volunteer advocacy group it is beginning to transition to a more professional model. Cohan said chapters will soon be starting in Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and Houston, with the D.C. chapter’s first meeting scheduled for Dec 2.

“It was not in our strategic plan to be studying chapters, but the demand was coming from localities and we wanted to be responsive to it,” he said.

Cohan said up until two years ago it was very difficult to incorporate plant-based products into Thanksgiving, but it has now become easier. He usually purchases plant-based pot roast as a substitute for Turkey.

“The family is very accommodating so there’s lots of side dishes without animal products,” he said.

Cohan said he thinks kosher-keeping Jews have incentives to transition to a vegetarian diet due to its simplicity.

Jewish Veg supporters enjoy vegan food at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration. (Provided)

Jewish Veg supporters enjoy vegan food at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration. (Provided)

“If everything you’re eating is pareve, there’s only one set of plates, one type of food, and it makes life a heck of a lot easier,” he said.

JVNA assistant director Sarah De Munck, who lives in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., said she has also incorporated vegan products, including plant-based butter and imitation turkey into her Thanksgiving menu.

“A lot of the sides are easy to make vegan, like vegetables and potatoes,” she said. “With every passing year it gets easier and easier because more and more companies are emerging.”

Last week, JVNA helped sponsor a lecture at Georgetown University by renowned animal-rights activist Alex Hershaft, who started the organization Farm Animal Rights Movement in 1976. Hershaft is a Holocaust survivor who spent time in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he was confined with 400,000 others into a 1.3 square-mile area and witnessed more than 100,000 die of starvation and disease.

After spending five years in an Italian refugee camp, Hershaft eventually immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. He settled in New York and earned a degree in general chemistry from the University of Connecticut. He moved to Washington in 1972 and got a job with an environmental consulting firm, at which point he was already involved in the environmental and religious freedom movements.

“It was satisfying, but it didn’t answer the fundamental question of what were the lessons of the Holocaust?” Hershaft said.

At the lecture, Hershaft explained that he once had the task of performing a waste inventory at a slaughterhouse and began to see parallels between the animal remains and the human carnage from the Holocaust. Among the similarities he listed were the crowded housing of victims in wood crates, the arbitrary designation of who lives and who dies, the social legitimization of abuse and the deception behind the horrors of the death campus and slaughterhouses.

Pumpkin soup (©

Pumpkin soup (©

“This is when I finally realized that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving,” he said. “This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression, starting with our oppression of animals raised for food.”

Hershaft said he sees hypocrisy from those who condemn violence going on in the world but consume meat.

“But then we do a food run and use our hard-earned dollars to directly subsidize the holocaust of the animals — the greatest oppression in the history of human kind, right in our own back yard,” he explained.

The ethical and environmental concerns for becoming a vegetarian are central to Cardin’s advocacy and she feels reducing the output of cattle will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. She also thinks Maryland’s poultry industry has gone too far in its practices.

“We are destroying the Eastern Shore environment and the Chesapeake because we’re raising too many fowl in a confined area,” she said.

Cardin said being aware of where your food comes from will encourage more people to cut out meat from their diet.

“I am aware of a greater sensitivity to not just the foods that we choose to eat,” she said, “but the way that food is produced in the world.”



From Sarah Wasserstrum:

cover5VEGAN CURRIED CHICKPEAS, aka Chana masala
Best served over rice. A heart healthy, low calorie dinner or side dish recipe for any occasion!

1 tbsp of olive oil
2- 15 oz cans of chick peas
1 can of diced tomatoes
couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach or kale
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsps of garam masala (curry powder)
1/2 tsp of tumeric
1/2 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of ginger
1 tbsp of lemon juice
1/4 cup of cilantro to sprinkle on to before serving.

1. Sautee diced onion in olive oil until cooked/translucent
2. Add garlic
3. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and 1/4 cup of water. Let simmer for a few minutes
4. Add spices, ripped spinach/kale, and lemon juice
5. Let stew for 20 minutes on low/medium low
6. Add cilantro right before serving and serve over rice


From Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin:

Tofurkey with Honey Teriyaki, Molasses, and Apricot marmalade; plus a bit of honey peanut butter!

Stuffing: sauté together craisins,
pomegranate seeds,
2 apples, 1 large onion,
toasted pumpernickel bread,
figs, raisins or any combination thereof

1. Blend 5 pounds of tofu in food processor until smooth.

2. Transfer to a large bowl, stir in seasonings (you can make the tofurkey savory or sweet, I prefer sweet so use a marinade of honey teriyaki, molasses, and apricot marmalade; and sometimes add a bit of honey peanut butter!) Save some  as a marinade to baste the tofurkey while cooking.

3. Line a medium, round bottomed colander with one layer of cheese cloth. Spoon the  smooth tofu mixture in colander and fold remaining cheese cloth over the top.  Place the colander on a plate (to catch excess water being squeezed out) and put a heavy weight on top. (I put a plate on the top of the tofu and place the weight on the plate. That evenly distributes the weight.) Place colander in the fridge for approx. 2-3 hours or overnight.

4. Remove the colander from the fridge, peel back the cheesecloth from the top of the tofu and — with the tofu still in the colander – scoop out the center, leaving about an inch of tofu around the edges. Place your stuffing in the cavity, and cover with a layer of tofu.

5. Now comes the hard part:  grasping the colander in both hands, flip it over so that the tofu — now formed into a semblance of a cooked turkey — lands on a large cookie sheet.  Form the turkey legs and wings from the excess tofu for an added turkey look.  Brush the whole “turkey” with the marinade.

6. Cook at 350º F for a minimum of 1.5 hours brushing with marinade every 15-30 minutes.

Tofurkey can cook for hours, though. So no worries about waiting for your late guests to arrive. Garnish with pecans if desired.

A City Divided History professor lays out Baltimore’s painful history of race relations

University of Baltimore professor Elizabeth Nix speaks at Enoch Pratt Free  Library as part of the Open Society Institute series “Talking About Race.”

University of Baltimore professor Elizabeth Nix speaks at Enoch Pratt Free Library as part of the Open Society Institute series “Talking About Race.”

Seven months after Baltimore erupted in riots over the police-custody death of Freddie Gray, city residents are still searching for answers. On Tuesday, Oct. 27, University of Baltimore history professor Elizabeth Nix attempted to provide some with “Two Baltimores,” a lecture on the city’s long history of segregation. The lecture, held at Enoch Pratt Free Library, was a part of the Open Society Institute’s series “Talking About Race.”

Nix, who has done considerable research into the 1968 riots following the death of Martin Luther King Jr., emphasized that the history of segregation in Baltimore can be traced as far back as the late 1700s.

“I don’t want to go from the proposition of what’s wrong with these neighborhoods; I want to ask what’s wrong with a system that can create neighborhoods like this,” she said.

Nix said that Baltimore was a booming port city prior to the Civil War, instrumental in the wheat and flour industries. The African-American population was evenly distributed and included a mix of slaves and free blacks, but institutional racism could be seen in areas such as education.

“One of the realities of African-American life in antebellum Baltimore was if you were a property owner and if you paid taxes, your taxes went into the system that funded the schools, but there were only schools for white children,” she said.

Nix then discussed the development of flight from the city at the turn of the 20th century. She showed an image from Antero Pietela’s book “Not In My Neighborhood” depicting an area near the original Johns Hopkins University campus, which was inhabited by many well-to-do academics. When the university announced its move to Homewood in 1901, many of the professors and others who lived in nice houses left, and blacks moved in.

Nix said a separation between the black and Jewish communities inside the city also became more pronounced.

“McCulloh Street was this understood line that would separate white people and black people,” she said.

In the 1920s, Nix explained, residential restrictive covenants were enforced in neighborhoods such as Roland Park and Guilford designed to prevent transactions from occurring between blacks and whites or Jews and non-Jews.

“Many of the most elite, sought-after suburbs were established with these covenants,” she said.

The covenants were followed by blockbusting and redlining practices that fractured parts of the city, particularly West Baltimore. Nix said even the famous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 did not provide significant relief, due to the fact that schools of a certain race were located in the neighborhood of that race.

“African-American families had to make the move to move into a majority white school,” she said. “It did not make for an integrated school system.”

Baltimore City’s population has been in decline since 1950, when roughly 950,000 people lived there, Nix said. She thinks this was largely a consequence of white flight and a subsequent loss of manufacturing jobs.

“I think we’re all invested in figuring out why this happened and trying to correct these problems,” she said.

Nix said the April riots were nowhere near the size of the ’68 riots but still sent a message that there was a clear contradiction between the Inner Harbor and the neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up.

“It was like a flare had gone up over our city,” she said.

Among the residents in attendance was noted author Taylor Branch, who has written four books on the civil rights movement. Branch said he agreed with much of Nix’s argument that the federal government had a role in the institutionalized racism that began in the 1920s and ’30s.

“One of the things that we don’t realize in our history is that the New Deal only got through because Roosevelt had the support of the solid South,” he said. “And the solid South was heavily segregated, and everything from the housing authorities to the G.I. Bill, all of those things got through only because the Southerners were satisfied that they would support segregation.”

Branch said the racial tensions that have swarmed the city and the country can be attributed to a series of social and economic conditions.

“People tend to think of history as a natural march forward, and it’s not,” he said. Race relations go backward and forward, and patterns of segregation and integration vary according to social things and wars and economics. I think a lot of what’s going on now is exacerbated by the displacement in the economy that affects everybody.”

D.J. Nash, an assistant librarian at Southwest Baltimore Charter School, said he learned a great deal about Baltimore’s difficult history of housing practices and thinks the current violence should be viewed in this context.

“It’s important to see that changeover and that there is a structure to the decline of inner-city neighborhoods, and there is a structure to what makes people commit violence on that scale,” he said.

Um Um Good! University, Chabad partner to bring kosher food to UMD arena

Testudo’s Kosher Korner food stand will open for business on Nov. 17 at the Maryland-Georgetown men’s basketball game.

Testudo’s Kosher Korner food stand will open for business on Nov. 17 at the Maryland-Georgetown men’s basketball game.

Starting this week, University of Maryland basketball fans can watch some hoops while chowing down on delicious kosher eats.

Testudo’s Kosher Kitchen, so named for the university’s distinctive diamondback terrapin mascot, made its official debut at the Nov. 17 Maryland vs. Georgetown University men’s basketball game, and the menu, said Rabbi Eli Backman, director of UMD Chabad, is sure to satisfy.

Spectators can choose from 4-ounce turkey, pastrami or corned beef sandwiches carved to order — served with a kosher pickle and deli mustard, of course — at $9 a pop. Vegan falafel will be available in a basket — the gluten-free option — or in a pita, also for $9. Kosher hot dogs, popcorn, bottled water and soda will also be available for purchase.

No formal campaign has been rolled out to promote the stand, but mouths are already watering.

“With social media, as soon as [we said something], it’s been shared over and over,” said Backman. “Alumni have been talking about it, there’s been a lot of excitement.”

UMD Chabad and the university’s Dining Services began collaborating last spring, according to Bart Hipple, director of communications for Dining Services. The two organizations carefully plotted out how the kosher food stand in the upper level of the Xfinity Center concourse would be run to meet both university and halachic standards.

All food stands in the basketball arena are run by special interest groups, such as campus clubs and nonprofit organizations, explained Hipple. Provided the groups have a food sanitation manager and enough volunteers, they can run the stand and receive a percentage of verifiable sales. The same will be true for Chabad and its volunteers.

Unlike other stands, Testudo’s Kosher Korner has been specially kashered and will only be operated under Chabad supervision. It will not be closed on Shabbat. Kosher food is not available in Byrd Stadium, the university’s football arena, as most collegiate games are played on Saturdays.

This turtle shell kosher symbol adorns Testudo’s Kosher Korner stand.

This turtle shell kosher symbol adorns Testudo’s Kosher Korner stand.

Both Backman and Hipple are optimistic about the stand’s odds of succeeding, particularly in light of the sizable Jewish community on campus. According to statistics from Hillel International, 21 percent of UMD undergraduates identify as Jews.

“We do have a large number of [students] who are either Jewish or like to keep kosher,” said Hipple. “In addition to which, the food is just good. When those things come together there’s a reasonable chance this will succeed.”

The university, said Backman, has long been accommodating of observant Jewish students, and he hopes that the wider community will show the university its appreciation by supporting the stand.

“We’re very appreciative of the university for letting us have this,” said Backman. “We hope the students and community will come out and enjoy it. We’re really excited about Jewish pride finding itself in places people didn’t expect to find it.”

Myerberg Gets Mayoral Treatment Seniors hear from Rawlings-Blake, ask tough questions

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fields questions from Baltimore City senior residents at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fields questions from Baltimore City senior residents at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center.

Topics such as transportation, housing and health services were on the minds of senior city residents who came to participate in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s town hall meeting this month at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center.

Rawlings-Blake referred to seniors, such as her mother who is almost 80 years old, as the backbone of the community. “When I think of what she means to me and that [she made it possible that] I get to do what I get to do — that story is told across the city,” she said. “[There are] grandparents who are holding families together.

“So I look for ways to support the community by not just adding years to your life but [adding] life to your years” continued Rawlings-Blake, reminding the small but attentive crowd that one in six Baltimoreans is over the age of 65 and that number will continue to rise. “So in order to grow our city, that means supporting seniors as well.”

Then the mayor, who is not running for re-election to the dismay of some of the attendees, opened the floor to questions. Rawlings-Blake noted that representatives of the city’s agencies such as police, health, housing and public works were on hand as well.

“So we can partner and make sure you know all the things that are available to you throughout the city,” she said.

Transportation was on the mind of Marilyn May, 80, who moved to Baltimore from New York City about three years ago; she now lives in Weinberg Woods. May doesn’t drive and was denied mobility services by the city, so she questioned the mayor about transportation options available to her.

In response, Rawlings-Blake urged Samantha Gardiner, assistant commissioner/deputy director of the Division of Aging and CARE Services at the city’s Health Department, to advocate for an appeal on her behalf and suggested she register for the
TaxiCard program that provides eligible enrollees with a stipend for travel.

Susan Russell, a senior and a volunteer for the Baltimore City Division of Aging, questioned the increasing prices of water and asked the mayor about water turnoffs that are affecting seniors.

“We work hard to make sure seniors have minimal impact regarding water turnoffs,” Rawlings-Blake said. “And we worked with organizations to ensure that vulnerable seniors’ water wasn’t turned off. We significantly reduced the impact.”

Ken Strong, deputy commissioner of Green Healthy and Sustainable Homes, talked about the city’s dedicating $200,000 toward fixing water leaks, which [could] result in artificially high water bills. He then spoke at length about weatherization opportunities available for homeowners. Councilwoman Rikki Spector reminded Strong that most of the attendees lived in apartment-style housing. Strong added there is a state program for apartment dwellers regarding weatherization and directed them to speak with landlords in order to help reduce energy bills.

Strong estimated that low-income families saved $10 million on their bills with the city’s weatherization program. “One thousand furnaces and 600 roofs have been replaced in the past 10 years,” he said.

Crime was also on the mind of some attendees.

Barry Glass, 79, said “I have some questions as to how the city is being run, I was born here, grew up here, went through the first riots [1968] — lost a brother, and I got shot — I’ve got a vested interest in what’s going on, and I don’t like what I’m seeing.”

“Because of crime in other areas, it seems like the police force has been shifted, and so our response time takes longer [in the Northwest],” said Howard Cornblatt, 73, who lives nearby at the Weinberg apartments. Cornblatt is also concerned with speeding cars on Fallstaff Road, the disregard of drivers at the four-way-stop intersection and “the large amount of people driving large vans with lots of kids in the back while talking on cell phones. I’m concerned about general safety.”

General resource availability to seniors was a concern by both the residents and the people who serve them.

Bertha Schwarz, 83, who is a member of Myerberg and lives in a nearby condo, said, “I feel that there are changes that are going to happen with me, and I want to get an idea of what the city has to offer, what resources [will be] available for the future.” She also wondered what differences she might encounter living in Baltimore County or what other senior living options are available.

Cindy Zonies, director of senior services coordination for CHAI at the Weinberg senior housing buildings has deep knowledge of those options and resources, since she works with senior housing populations located in both the city and county. Zonies took the opportunity to challenge the mayor to improve waiting time for senior services.

“One of our greatest frustrations in our city buildings as our seniors age,” said Zonies,”[is that we] discover at some point they cannot live independently and need help. We access both public and private resources, but with Baltimore City, we go online and we discover [there is a] lack of funding and huge, long waiting lists.”

Gardiner urged Zonies to employ the ombudsmen available to advocate for solutions, but Zonies replied, “We want those six or nine hours of service. There’s a huge waiting list and not a lot of money; they need that care in their homes, so they can bridge that until they get to the next level.”

“We can try to work to be an advocate for your needs,” said Rawlings-Blake. “We struggle in getting the resources from the state that we need. The talk is a lot different than the dollars coming in, but with the session coming up, we can definitely work to make sure we’re communicating the concerns that you have to the legislature.”

“Baltimore has a concentration of the state’s poor, it has a concentration of the state’s seniors, and because of that, the system is strained,” continued the mayor. “And it makes sense we have needs above and beyond other jurisdictions, and it’s just a matter of getting the legislature and state administration to understand that.”

Yeshiva Student Killed West Bank shooting victim was brother of U of Md. student

A yeshiva student killed in a West Bank shooting Thursday was identified as Ezra Schwartz of Sharon, Mass.

Schwartz, 18, was one of three people killed Thursday by a terrorist near Gush Etzion. He reportedly was studying for a year at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh.

He is the brother of Mollie Schwartz, who is a student with the 2019 class at University of Maryland. The Hillel community will gather this evening to recite from the Book of Psalms. Officials at Hillel and the university’s counseling center will be available for counseling and conversation.

Schwartz was a recent graduate of the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass. and had been a counselor at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish summer camp in Northwood, N.H.

At least one attacker, reported to be a Palestinian, shot into a minivan full of people as well as another car near a traffic junction, then rammed his car into several other cars and bystanders, according to reports. One shooter reportedly exited his car and was shot and injured by security forces.

JTA News and Features contributed to this report

Associated Official’s Email Ignites Concern in Chabad Case Official mistakenly sends private message from his work email address


Rabbi Velvel Belinsky

Tensions are high in the Stevenson Road community where a rabbi has proposed to build a Chabad synagogue after an email from an official at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore in favor of the synagogue circulated among residents who oppose the shul.

The email is just one of hundreds, according to Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, that were sent to local elected officials in support of the synagogue after his Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue published a plea in its own newspaper to email Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and copy Councilwoman Vicki Almond and Dels. Dana Stein and Dan Morhaim in support of the synagogue being allowed to build a permanent home in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road.

The email that sparked concern came from an official at the Center for Jewish Education, and because it came from his CJE email address, key members of the neighborhood opposition questioned if it was an official position.

Stein, who lives next door to the property where the synagogue would stand and is one of the key members of the opposition, forwarded the email to the other key members because of his disagreement with the content of the email. Stein has been acting as a homeowner in the opposition and cleared his involvement in the case with Dea Daly, the Maryland General Assembly’s ethics adviser, Daly confirmed.

Other members of the opposition contacted The Associated’s president, Marc Terrill, to ask about the email. The CJE officer later sent a second email clarifying that he was expressing his views as a private citizen, and not any official CJE or Associated position.

The dispute over the synagogue is being heard in Baltimore County’s Administrative Law Court.

“The Associated, and by extension the CJE and our other agencies, has no official opinion on what’s going on in Stevenson,” Terrill said. “[The official] has a right to his private views, but using CJE and his signature as executive director in an email about this issue is out of bounds, and he recognizes it as such and … not because of my prodding … he sent a clarification email to Mr. Kamenentz, Dr. Morhaim and Mr. Stein.”

The CJE official declined to comment.

Belinsky said he was surprised that so much attention was paid to the email, given that there were hundreds more of similar content, he said. He has also been critical of Stein’s role in the opposition throughout the process.

“If somebody’s making a claim that [his] email in inappropriate because of his job at CJE and [he] should not be sending this email because of his job description, then for sure, so much more so, Dana Stein’s position and actions are totally inappropriate. You cannot have it both ways,” Belinsky said.

The newspaper advertisement that asked people to email public officials in support of Ariel accused Stein of recruiting Morhaim, who testified at a hearing in his capacity as an emergency room physician who has treated victims of pedestrian car accidents.

“This whole Dan Morhaim, Dana Stein acting as politicians is simply a red herring … it’s just a way to divert attention from the issues at hand, which is whether or not they’re allowed to be there based on the rules, and that’s what’s being decided,” Ken Abel, another key member of the opposition who lives on the other side of the property, said.

Delegate Dana Stein

Delegate Dana Stein

While Stein lives next door, Morhaim used to live blocks away and is still in the neighborhood. Stein said he did not personally recruit Morhaim, and just like him, his colleague got involved as a concerned citizen.

Morhaim could not recall the last time he had testified as an expert witness at an administrative law hearing.

“I am right next door so there’s no disputing that. When I became a legislator, I did not give up my rights as a private citizen,” Stein said. “I’ve realized that the position I’ve taken as a private citizen is not one that the rabbi and his supporters agree with, but again, I separate my role as a legislator from any position I take as a private citizen.”

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services’ Ethics Guide says a legislator cannot be compensated for representing a party in matters before the state or a subdivision of the state. This does not apply to uncompensated activities, and the guide explicitly says the prohibition does not apply to matters involving the legislator’s real property.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond said she has received between 150 and 200 emails, and about 90 percent of them were in support of the synagogue. She is not taking a position on the issue and is working to answer every email that has come in, some of which were written by her constituents.

“It’s a very, very complicated issue,” she said. “I can understand both sides: It’s very hard for the people with the Chabad who really want some place to go; but also [it’s very hard] for the folks in the neighborhood who have not envisioned that in the middle of their neighborhood.”

The county executive’s office received 101 emails opposing the synagogue in late spring and early summer, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler. Starting in September, the office began receiving emails in support, which now number 139. A few emails of support still come in, and there were a few phone calls that were added to these numbers, Kobler said.

For Belinsky’s congregants, who have been waiting on the fate of their synagogue since hearings began in June, it has been a hard process.

“It’s really shameful what’s going on,” said Val Gorodisky, who came to the United States from the Ukraine in 1991 and has known Belinsky for 10 years. “It should not be this way. We’re all Jewish; we should [work] together.”

Gorodisky said he and his wife were asked to leave a community meeting after refusing to sign the petition opposing the synagogue, which collected 638 signatures from 426 residences.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gorodisky said. “I don’t want to fight with anybody. I didn’t come to this country to fight.”

He is one of many congregants who learned about his Jewish roots through Belinsky because of restrictions on religious freedom in the Soviet Union. While the opposition to their shul isn’t giving them full-on flashbacks, several said it is unfortunately reminiscent of a time when they couldn’t practice Judaism.

“This entire story is very hurtful,” Belinsky said. “We found a place where everybody told us we could build a shul by a right, and we were trying to avoid … [a] fight.”

Congregant Inssa Steinberg said Belinsky is open to the concerns of the neighborhood and was willing to work with them prior to the hearings.

“We are starting off on the wrong foot, and legally he will build the synagogue there, I believe,” she said. “I think instead of this, it will be nice if they can meet in the middle and talk about it, and at least listen to what he has to say. To have a conversation is the most important part.”

She was particularly surprised by the opposition because local Jewish families financially supported many Soviet Jews’ coming to the United States. In Steinberg’s first year in the country, she said a resident of the Stevenson Road area took her to synagogue and had her over for holidays.

Since June, there have been six Baltimore County Administrative Law Hearings over RTAs (residential transition areas), which are required to blend the building in with its surroundings, and whether or not plans are compatible with a nearly 10-year-old development plan for the property.

The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLIUPA) of 2000 allows synagogues to be built in residential areas. It is unclear how RLUIPA will affect the case, but at least one expert said it should not be taken lightly.

“RLUIPA is a federal civil rights statute so it completely trumps the county zoning code. If there is any conflict, the county zoning code will be defeated. The reason for this is that one of the things Congress found when enacting RLUIPA is that a number of municipalities would use zoning codes to mistreat religious minorities such as Jews. Therefore it forced cities and counties to take religion into account,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said via email. “That said, in cases where the county can demonstrate a ‘compelling governmental interest,’ such as fire safety or preventing unsafe building conditions, it can justify its behavior under the RLUIPA substantial burden balancing test. But residential ‘fit’ or conformity to a county zoning plan are nowhere near compelling governmental interests.”

A seventh hearing was scheduled for Nov. 19 in Towson.

Pikesville’s ‘Jewel’ North Oaks celebrates milestone with its 25th anniversary

Everyone at North Oaks — from the staff to the leadership to the residents — will say that the Pikesville retirement community is like a family. Put five of the residents together, and it’s immediately evident. “I think the thing is, we’re all getting older together so we all have the same complaints,” Freida Mazer said.

“You hear that typical ‘oy vey’ when they sit down and ‘oy vey’ when they get up,” added Paul Wartzman.

“‘Oy vey’ is more sitting up than ‘oy vey’ sitting down,” quipped Marvin Solomon right on cue.

For 25 years, North Oaks has been not only a retirement community, but the backdrop for making new friendships, rekindling old friendships and aging with dignity (albeit with some humor) and engagement.

“We see ourselves as being Pikesville’s retirement community,” executive director Mark Pressman said. “People come here to be with their friends, and there are frequent reunions of friends from school, and I’ve come to learn that when we talk about reunions from school we’re talking about elementary school. I refer to these as ‘Pikesville moments,’ and they happen all the time.”

North Oaks held a 25th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, Nov. 11, where residents, community members, staff and elected officials enjoyed a catered cocktail reception and several presentations. North Oaks was honored by Delegates Dana Stein and Shelly Hettleman, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Councilwoman Vicki Almond and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger.

“This is one of Baltimore County’s jewels,” Almond told the crowd. “We’re fortunate to have this beautiful residence on this hilltop for people  who want to stay in their community but are ready for a place that offers support services and assistance.”

She echoed earlier comments from Kamenetz, who said his wife’s grandmother, Bernice Hoffberger, was among North Oaks’ first residents.

“We understood the benefit of this facility,” he said. “It gives all the residents the opportunity to stay engaged with family, and that’s the most important thing that keeps us going.”

Pikesville’s ‘Jewel’

The Evolution to North Oaks

The property on which North Oaks sits was once Livesy Farm. It became a country retreat in 1879, thanks to an endowment by businessman and shipping magnate Thomas Wilson, who had two children who died at young ages of “summer complaint” from city living. While the retreat was established for kids who became sick because of unhealthy city air, it was closed in 1914 when the source of the children’s sickness was identified as bad milk, not “bad air,” according to research conducted by North Oaks resident Lottie Greene, which was published in a pamphlet given out at the 25th anniversary celebration.

In 1924, the state of Maryland bought the property and opened a tuberculosis treatment center that then-Gov. Albert Ritchie called “the nerve center” of Maryland’s fight against the disease, which was the leading cause of death at the time. In the summer of 1950, work began on a $3 million “state-of-the-art” hospital. In the mid-1960s, with a cure for tuberculosis available, the facility switched gears to treat other respiratory diseases and later became a treatment center for those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. That center closed in 1981.

The property sat vacant for nearly a decade, until Life Care Services, Mullan Contracting and Pikesville surgeon Dr. Elmer Hoffman partnered to remodel the facility, which would reopen as North Oaks Retirement Community in December 1990.

Jewish life thrives at North Oaks. There are classes on contemporary Jewish issues and Yiddish, residents and volunteers lead Shabbat services, and holidays are celebrated. And Shabbat dinner can include latkes, kugel, gefitle fish, herring and chopped liver.

“Twenty-five years ago, some visionaries determined that … this would make a nice place for some lucky people to spend their senior years. Today, we, the residents of North Oaks, are those lucky people,” said Marty Waxman, president of the North Oaks Residents Association. “[We’re] participating in the celebration today of an idea that blossomed into a full-service retirement community.”

Although it’s a lively, booming place now, North Oaks’ success and current look can be traced back to rougher times, 2008 to 2010, during the economic recession and its aftermath.

“That recession hit North Oaks very hard with a lagging occupancy and an aging building,” Pressman told the crowd during last week’s celebration. People were dying but not being replaced by new residents. Selling the facility was possible, but a well-publicized sale to a local physician fell through.

That’s when Joe Brucella, who recently retired from Life Care Services, came up with a plan to move forward via capital improvements. In 2012, the “new” North Oaks emerged with a redone lobby area with a café that now serves as a community meeting space and other upgrades such as brightening up the hallways and a redone roof.

“The revitalized North Oaks emerged … to take our hospitality culture to a new level and to regain the confidence of our residents and families,” Pressman said.

And it paid off, as North Oaks has grown by about five residents per year since 2012. Pressman said the retirement community is on track for that addition this year as well.

North Oaks currently has 175 residents, 20 percent of whom are couples, and 176 apartments. The retirement community offers independent living, assisted living, comprehensive care and skilled rehabilitation.

Staying Engaged

A look at North Oaks’ November calendar shows the variety of activities in which residents can participate — there are classes on contemporary Jewish issues, music and immigration; bingo; aerobics; chair yoga; Wii bowling; art workshops; outings to theaters, grocery stores, banks and restaurants; choir practice; knitting; and screenings of football games and movies.

And Jewish life at North Oaks is thriving. Resident Paul Wartzman leads Shabbat services on Saturday mornings, a couple comes in once or twice a month to lead as well, and there are High Holiday services. There was a Sukkah for Sukkot this year as well.

“We get latkes on Shabbos,” Wartzman said.  “We get kugel, gefilte fish, herring, chopped liver occasionally.”

He even started a Yiddish class that generated considerable interest from residents.

“I don’t know how much better it could be, really,” he said about Jewish life at North Oaks.

Another big hit at North Oaks is the writing class, which Goucher College professor Barbara Roswell has taught for years.

“It’s never explicitly therapeutic, but it can be healing,” she said, “and it can be wonderfully entertaining.”

Pressman recalls a resident who was often “angry and bristling” after his wife passed away but became much more mellow and at ease by participating in the writing class.

As another commemoration of North Oaks’ 25th anniversary, Roswell decided to publish a volume of works from her writing class. The result is “View from the Hilltop,” more than 60 essays, poems and short stories. Roswell’s mother, North Oaks resident Edith Sherr, is among the authors.

In her introduction, Roswell writes how, through the stories “you meander down the streets of Baltimore City in the 1920s to the Ideal Music Shop, absorb the shock of Pearl Harbor, camp on Korean battlefields, meet Jackie Mason, celebrate marriages and careers, ride horseback in Afghanistan. You debate Donald Trump and share hard-won advice for great-grandchildren whose lives are just beginning.”

“If you think about this group as the Greatest Generation, to think about what the cauldron was that shaped that generation,” Roswell said, “many of them write about [the Great] Depression, war, overcoming anti-Semitism, leaving jobs because the positions were for organizations that were in bed with McCarthy and on principle saying ‘I will not do this.’”

“People have released many tensions and have freed themselves of emotional burdens through writing,” said Sherr, whose writing in the book touched on memories of being a high school teacher, starting college and wanting a little sister and instead getting a little brother.

While North Oaks is ripe with stimulating activities, residents and leadership say the atmosphere also owes a lot to its 155 employees.

“You come in here and a couple days later they’re calling you by name. They’ve all learned your meds. They make you feel good,” Solomon said.

If a resident is sick, employees call their children to keep them posted.

“You’re taken care of,” Mazer said. “Your children can have their lives, and they don’t have to worry about it, which is so important.”

Things as small as knowing that a residents likes iced tea with dinner go a long way.

“It’s harder to find someone with the right attitude about working with seniors and being of service to them,” Pressman said. “If you’re a server, housekeeper or maintenance tech, we can teach you how to do much of that. To care about the people you’re working with, that are surrounding you, that’s a whole other thing. We try to recruit people that seem to have that quality from the start.”

North Oaks residential health services coordinator Diane Witles, an employee since its beginning in 1991, said she and her staff get to know clients, their families and their idiosyncrasies very well because it’s a smaller community. And the atmosphere at North Oaks is informed by their work.

“Most of the folks you take care of are very appreciative. Older folks, in general, I think are treated as sub-citizens, stupid, childlike,” she said. “I like to treat my clients as if they are adults who need some assistance.”

For many, such as the North Oaks Residents Association president, the 25-year milestone was a sign that North Oaks has a rich past and bright future ahead.

“To mark this 25th anniversary, a tree was planted in the courtyard,” Waxman said. “The planting of a tree literally establishes roots on this hilltop and gives us assurance that North Oaks is here to stay. And on behalf of the residents association, I say ‘amen.’”