A Plea for Unity Netanyahu, Herzog headline JFNA’s General Assembly

A hoarse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told thousands of Jewish community representatives at the Washington Hilton Tuesday that disagreements over issues as divisive as the recent nuclear deal with Iran should not undermine either communal unity or the Israeli-American alliance.

“Maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance,” Netanyahu said at the closing plenary of the 2015 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. “There is only one Jewish people, there is only one Jewish state … and now more than ever, we must work together to secure the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu acknowledged that passions were higher this year due to the Iran deal, which he had urged Congress to scuttle, but he reiterated that Israel has no better friend than the United States and vice versa — a line for which he received a standing ovation.

Netanyahu had met the day before with President Barack Obama and said he was grateful for the United States’ financial support of Israel’s military needs.

“We have to pay for defense, and defense is very, very expensive,” he said. “In fact, it gets more and more expensive all the time.”

A Plea for Unity

The prime minister also spoke out against anti-Semitism and said the Jewish state cannot be held to a “triple standard.”

“Today, we have a voice, and we must ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear,” he said. “We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and against the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu said he remains committed to a vision of two states for two peoples with a demilitarized Palestinian state.

“When we meet a leader who is able to finally  recognize Israel as a Jewish state, we will have peace,” he said.

Netanyahu’s speech came one day after Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog addressed the G.A. Herzog had met with Secretary of State John Kerry Monday morning and called him a “great, great friend of Israel.”

“I told him that we commend and express great gratitude to him and to the president for their indelible support of the State of Israel and their contribution to Israel’s safety and well-being,” said Herzog.

Herzog referred to American historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Brandeis and Betty Friedan as leaders he feels have been important in influencing the nature of U.S.-Israel relations. He also praised Aung Sang Suu Kyi for her democratic leadership in Myanmar after facing difficult odds under house arrest for 21 years.

“I think it’s only a symbol, a symbol for us here as Jews, to wish well to another nation seeing democracy shine again out of the darkness of dictatorship,” he said.

Among those who turned out for Monday’s events were 60 people from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. One of the conference’s primary purposes is to allow members of the Jewish philanthropic community to share ideas about how to improve their own communities.

“The G.A. to me is an intellectual hub. It is a place where there is so much philanthropic thinking,” said Linda Hurwitz, chair-elect of The Associated. “It’s just a fabulous, fabulous opportunity that every lay and professional leader should take advantage of.”

Hurwitz, who was JFNA’s National Campaign chair last year, said the G.A. is an opportunity to “rub shoulders with people who have years of experience.” She attends the conference every year and said she always enjoys speakers who “inspire the hell out of her,” such as former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

“My whole life is klal yisrael, one Jew for another, and I don’t feel that for anywhere else except Israel and the G.A.,” she said.

Michelle Gordon, chief of staff for The Associated, said she has been to seven G.A.s and she always enjoys learning how they can utilize the best practices they hear about from other federations.

“It’s great to hear what all of our other counterparts are doing across the country and North America, the relationships that we can build with other organizations that are here,,” she said.

Gordon said such a geographically diverse abundance of Jews fosters a strong sense of community that she feels makes the G.A. unique.

“When you come here and you see so many people who are living passionately about the same things you are, you feel energized and supported and part of something much bigger than yourself; you can’t replace that by reading a book or reading an article,” she said.

Monday’s activities began with a series of morning breakout sessions followed by a three-hour plenary meeting, at which point all of the federations gathered by tables in the main ballroom. Speakers included Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The delegation then headed to their afternoon breakout sessions, including one entitled “Major League Fundraising,” which was co-led by Associated Senior Vice President Leslie Pomerantz. Pomerantz gave a presentation on how federations must think outside the box when it comes to fundraising.

“We allocate $47 million every year, $31 million of that comes from our unrestricted annual campaign,” she said. “Thank goodness we’re not in a crisis situation, but yet we know that we have community needs that are not being met and that we are leaving money on the table.”

Pomerantz said last year, The Associated changed the way it engages with its donors by doing things such as changing the job descriptions of senior-level fundraisers and focusing on making sure they get out of the office.

“All of us are fabulous organizers; we are great at making sure the events look great, that the trains are running on time, that direct mail is getting out, that the list pool is correct,” she said.

Pomerantz emphasized that when communicating with donors, it is important to maintain a good rapport and be “sellers, not tellers.”

“This isn’t about not taking no for an answer, this is about reframing the question,” she said.

Melissa Apter contributed to this story.


At Biennial Gathering, Reform Movement Expands its Tent

Vice President Joe Biden received a warm welcome from thousands of Reform Jews at a conference that saw the passage of the most comprehensive resolution on inclusivity and gender rights by a Jewish mainstream movement.

Speaking Saturday before 5,000 Reform Jews at the 2015 Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism in Orlando, Fla., Biden acknowledged the disagreements between the White House and the Israeli government over contentious issues like settlements and the Iran nuclear agreement, but maintained that the “core of our alliance is as strong as steel.”

During his 45-minute address, the vice president received a standing ovation when he pledged continued support to fight efforts at delegitimization of the Jewish state, likening delegitimization to anti-Semitism. Biden also defended his boss against comments made by Ran Baratz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick to serve as media chief. It surfaced last week that Baratz had made a social media post in March calling President Barack Obama’s reaction to Netanyahu’s speech before Congress “anti-Semitism.”

“There is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of the United States in derogatory terms. Period. Period. Period. Period,” said Biden.

Baratz later apologized for his comments and for not informing the prime minister of them.

Rabbi David Saperstein, former director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and current ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was a recipient of Biden’s praise. Biden further thanked the Reform movement for its work on domestic issues, which he attributed to its immigrant history.

“You don’t forget,” said Biden. “That’s what I love about you. You do not forget.”

Cantor Michael Shochet, senior cantor at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, called the vice president’s speech “remarkable.”

“I felt it was extremely personal,” he said. “It was not a canned speech, a stump speech.”

In a voice vote that spurred a standing ovation, the Reform movement passed an extensive resolution on transgender rights. The “Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People” was prepared by the URJ’s Commission on Social Action, explained Stephen Sacks, outgoing URJ chairman.

The resolution affirms the movement’s commitment to the “full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions.” It calls on Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates, including the NFTY youth group, to refer to transgender individuals by their name and gender of choice and to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities, including gender-neutral bathrooms and using gender-neutral labels.

The resolution also calls on Reform institutions to review their use of language in prayers, forms and policies, as well as to call on institutions to create ritual, programmatic and educational materials “that will empower such institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of all gender identities and expressions.”

It urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and the revision of U.S. and Canadian laws to ensure full equality and protection for transgender individuals.

Sacks said the people in the room, who took to their feet in a standing ovation, were “thrilled, thrilled,” following the passage of the resolution.

“I’ll tell you, the most amazing thing to me is, after the resolution passed, there was a young woman — 15 or 16 — she looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m transgender. I want to thank you because you all make me feel so welcome,” said Sacks, a Chevy Chase resident and member of Temple Sinai in Washington.

Shochet said that the passage of the resolution was emblematic of the “audacious hospitality” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs preached during the biennial.

“We open our tent to the world,” said Shochet. “It’s not just about creating a message of inclusivity for Reform Jews, but all Jews, all people seeking faith through Judaism.”

For Shochet, that was demonstrated profoundly on Shabbat morning when each person in the room was invited to participate in one of four aliyot. The first was reserved for those who grew up in and were profoundly impacted by Reform Judaism; the second for those who returned to Reform Judaism later in life; the third, and largest group, was for those who came from other Jewish movements or faiths; and the last was for everybody in the room.

NFTY, the movement’s youth group, made its own statement in challenging those present to speak out against gun violence. The high school students asked attendees, according to Shochet, to take action by pledging to share a d’var Torah on the subject, petition members of Congress and spread awareness through social media.

JTA contributed to this report.


Filmmaker’s Presentation Met with Protest Israeli television personality Assi Azar screens film at Goucher College to mixed audience

Assi Azar, photo from A Wider Bridge, screen shot.

Assi Azar, photo from: A Wider Bridge, screen shot.

Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted an Israeli television personality and LGBT rights advocate who had come to Goucher College last week to screen a film addressing how parents cope with their children coming out as gay.

According to the Israeli speaker, Assi Azar, this was the first time in his U.S. tour promoting “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You” that he has encountered pro-Palestinian students.

“At Goucher, many people came to see the film,” he reported in a Nov. 6 Facebook post that has been reposted by some in the Baltimore Jewish community. “There were many students, many non-Jewish students, and many students that are part of the LGBTQIAA community.

“Before the screening began, I told the audience that I hope we could all engage in an open dialogue as we all share the same goal: Jews and Arabs living side by side in peace,” he continued. “We are all against the death of innocent people. We all must engage in dialogue in order to put an end to the conflict. About 15 percent of the audience (15 people) put pink duct tape over their mouths and they had made posters to be display.

The film screening was peaceful, but it was quickly succeeded by students removing the tape, standing, and chanting against Israel, with posters in their hands. These chants were combative [and] filled with distortions of facts, mostly anti-Semitic.

I found myself under attack, accused of ridiculous accusations. I was arguing with 20–year-old students who were brain washed against Israel, had never visited Israel and who were targeting pure hatred against us.

It was very threatening. I could see the fear on the faces of the Jewish students that were sitting in the hall. Most of them did not take part in the imminent debate that transpired. Students reflected afterward that they were simply afraid to speak as they would likely be targeted and possibly assaulted the next day.

What shocked me the most however, was the fact that some of the students who came out against Israel calling our State an apartheid state were Jews themselves!!!”

Azar posted the details of the event in both English and Hebrew and as of Sunday afternoon, there were more than 180 shares of his English post and almost 50 comments, both in agreement and in opposition, to his presentation and the aftermath.

There are also about 120 shares and more than 100 comments for the Hebrew posting on Facebook.

One student, who, from her comment appeared to be in attendance at the event, wrote on Azar’s post: “It was not an anti-Semitic protest. It was a protest against the use of pro-LGBTQIA propaganda to erase and distract from Israeli violence. The protest was peaceful. No hate speech was used. They were not protesting you, they were protesting Goucher Hillel’s and Gopher Israel’s decision to show your movie. And you talk about Jewish students afraid of being harassed, but you should know, the Jewish students who participated in the protest ARE being harassed. Their Jewishness is being questioned, they’re told they hate themselves and other Jews, they’re feeling unsafe to be Jewish and vocal about the violence in Palestine. Your post fails to represent even half of what truly happened.”

Western High’s Class of 1950 hosts 65th reunion

From left: Beverly Kronthal, Sandy Liberman, Zelda Zaben and Beatrice Yoffe pose for a photo at the 65th reunion of Western’s Class of 1950. (photo by Justin Katz)

From left: Beverly Kronthal, Sandy Liberman, Zelda Zaben and Beatrice Yoffe pose for a photo at the 65th reunion of Western’s Class of 1950. (photo by Justin Katz)

Gentle lighting, several tables decorated with yellow flowers, cloths with blue napkins precisely folded and placed in pristine white cups for each seat, and the reoccurring sounds of friends excitedly reuniting set the scene.

In the front of the room was a podium decorated with a cloth that read “WHS 1950,” with a crest resembling Maryland’s flag and the phrase “Lucem Accepimus, Lucem Demus” (“We have received light; let us give forth light”).

All in all, a refined celebration for the 70 women and a handful of husbands attending Western High School’s Class of 1950 reunion inside the Maryland Room at Martin’s West on Oct. 21.

“People frown when you say you went to an all-girls school,” said Beatrice Yoffe. “But we were a sisterhood.”

Western High School is the oldest all-girls public high school in the country and one of the oldest schools in the state of Maryland. The school has several notable alumnae such as Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland State Delegates Jill Carter and Cheryl Glenn.

Maragret Milleker attended the reunion and brought several articles and photos about Western she has saved since graduating.

A 1979 The Baltimore Sun article explains part of the reason the school was created. Western traces its origins to 1844 and a belief that the “fairer sex” couldn’t stand up to the rigors of attending a school that required a bit of travel. The city, therefore, needed two girls’ schools, one in the east and the other in the west.

Milleker said she went to Western “under duress,” as she didn’t like the idea of going to an all-girls school. But she’s grateful for the preparation the school gave her for when she attended the Maryland State Teachers College at Towson, now Towson University.

The impact the school made on its students is made clear by the distance some of the attendees traveled for the reunion. Rita Gelman lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was surprised by the number of people she recognized at the event.

“I picked up the phone when I got this yellow invitation and I said, ‘Irene, I want to go to the Western High School reunion’” said Gelman, adding that she hadn’t spoken to her friend, Irene, in 15 years. “She said, ‘If you’re going, I’ll go,’ and I’m so glad I came.”

Zelda Zaben and Sandy Liberman attended nursing school together after graduating from Western.

They joined Yoffe and Beverly Kronthal in wearing blue shirts, white pants and yellow neck scarves, matching the class’ colors of blue and gold, because they were the afternoon’s entertainment.

Following a cocktail hour and lunch, the group performed several parodies of Western High to the tunes of “Oscar Meyer Weiner” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, It’s Time to Go” among others.

Although members of the Class of 1950 have lately been organizing reunions every five years, Zaben said this might have been their last.

“[My memories of Western] are all glorious. It’s the people who are there: the students, the classmates,” said Jane Meyer, who served as the class’ student president for three years. “That’s what makes up any organization, and we all became very close-knit. … That stage of [our lives] was unique.”


Moving Forward Israeli Druze pursue new partnerships

A veterans’ organization is working to help Druze soldiers integrate into the Israeli workforce.

A veterans’ organization is working to help Druze soldiers integrate into the
Israeli workforce.

Carrying the five-color flag of the Druze people, the four Israel Defense Force veterans worked the hotel ballroom, sharing their story and impressed upon whomever would listen the need for investment in the Israeli-Druze community.

Esti Winter, an Israeli Jew who made aliyah decades ago, accompanied the members of the Druze Veterans Association to the Israeli American Council Conference in Washington, D.C., last month. Winter acted as their advocate and English-speaking spokeswoman throughout the conference.

She explained that the veterans’ organization is seeking development in their communities. Though Israeli Druze serve with distinction in the Israel Defense Forces — Winter, in fact, became involved after her son served under a Druze commander in the Golani brigade — when they return home, there are not as many opportunities available to them as for their Jewish counterparts.

The Druze veterans believe that the main barrier to their full integration into the workforce are due to a lower-standard quality of education available in Druze communities, lack of opportunities for Druze women, who are traditionally more conservative, and lack of technical training necessary to compete in the “startup nation.” According to statistics provided by the association, the participation rate for Druze males in the general workforce is 58 percent while for Israeli-Jewish males that figure stands at 72 percent. The gulf between Druze women and Israeli Jewish women is even larger; 27 percent of Druze women work compared with 69 percent of Jewish women.

To overcome these barriers to success, the veterans’ organization, which was founded in 2009, is looking to develop educational programs for women in their community, open technical training centers in Druze population centers and build ties with major corporations. They further seek leadership opportunities in the IDF.

“Jewish groups should help,” said Winter, though she emphasized that the Druze veterans are not looking for handouts but for opportunities.

“They are very warm people, very proud Israelis,” added Winter. “They are fine young men, entrepreneurs and very commendable.”

Druze have a distinct culture and monotheistic religion that reveres Jethro, the biblical father-in-law of Moses, as a spiritual founder. Druze is a closed religion; a person can only be born into the faith; there is no conversion process. Approximately 1.5 million Druze live in the Levant, with more than 140,000 in Israel. Druze are known for being fiercely loyal to their home countries and have been honored for their loyalty and service to the Jewish state. In the 2014 Har Nof attacks, Israli-Druze policeman Zidan Saif, who died from wounds sustained during the attack, was mourned by the nation. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, were among the dignitaries present for Saif’s funeral.

Rivlin said at the funeral: “He acted according to the values he was raised with — courage, heroism and self-sacrifice.”


A Swing to the Left Will Justin Trudeau’s victory erode Canada’s support for Israel?

Justin Trudeau has pressed all the right buttons in his support for Israel.

Justin Trudeau has pressed all the right buttons in his support for Israel.

TORONTO — The election of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau as prime minister represents the first change in Canadian government since Stephen Harper and his Conservatives assumed power in 2006.

What is unlikely to change, however, is Ottawa’s robust support for Israel — a policy cemented under Harper, whose forceful backing of the Jewish state earned him a reputation as one of world’s most pro-Israel political leaders.

When it comes to core Jewish issues, Trudeau has said all the right things since assuming the Liberal leadership in 2013. He continued to do so throughout the 78-day election campaign, which ended Oct. 19 with his center-left party’s crushing defeat of the Conservatives.

Though some are lamenting the loss of such a reliable defender of Israel, Trudeau has, like his predecessor, stressed that Canada will remain a strong friend of Israel. In a statement earlier this year, he praised the two countries’ “enduring bond of friendship, rooted in our shared commitment to peace and democracy.” And during the Israel-Gaza conflict last summer, he called Hamas “a terrorist organization” and upheld Israel’s right to defend itself. He has also criticized efforts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to pressure Israel.

But there is likely to be a significant shift in tone away from the often strident and polemical style of Harper’s Conservatives. Harper’s harsh rhetoric toward Hezbollah, his condemnation of Hamas during the Israel-Gaza conflict last year and his consistently tough stance on Iran — it led to the severing of diplomatic relations in 2012 — endeared him to many in Canada’s 300,000-member Jewish community. Trudeau, at the very least, promises a softer strategy.

“Under the Harper government, what we were hearing was a regurgitation of Likud policies and a support for a hard-right Likud government,” said Bernie Farber, a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a failed Liberal candidate in the 2011 Ontario provincial election. “What we’re going to see is a more balanced, a more thoughtful approach toward [Israel].”

In a foreign policy debate last month, Trudeau accused Harper of using Israel as a “domestic political football,” insisting that “all three of us” — Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party was the third candidate in the race — “support Israel, and any Canadian government will.”

“I think we’ve been very clear that many things are going to change in this new government, but Canada’s support for Israel is not going to be one of them,” said Michael Levitt, a Liberal parliamentarian and founding member of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.

Mira Sucharov, a professor of political science at Ottawa’s Carleton University and a columnist for the liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz, expects Trudeau to avoid the “less fair-minded” tone favored by Harper. But she also pointed out how similar the three candidates were in their support for Israel throughout the campaign.

In an interview with the Canadian Jewish News earlier this month, Trudeau labeled BDS a “new form of anti-Semitism in the world.” Sucharov called the prime minister-designate’s stance “right out of a Jewish federation-style playbook.”

“He’s hewing very close to how the Jewish community wants to view the Palestine solidarity movement that’s taken hold over the last few years,” Sucharov said.

One foreign policy position Trudeau has pledged to amend is Canada’s break with Iran. Canada has been in a sort of diplomatic squeeze since refusing to endorse the Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by its Western allies over the summer. The Liberals support the deal, and Trudeau has expressed a desire to reopen Canada’s mission in Tehran.

Trudeau’s election marks an extraordinary rebound for the Liberal Party, which saw its political stature decimated in 2011, when its candidates won only 34 of 308 seats in the House of Commons.

As further humiliation, 52 percent of Canadian Jews voted for the Conservatives in 2011 — 12 points above the national average. Jewish voters, who have historically voted Liberal, apparently were swayed by an admixture of Harper’s tough rhetoric and the accusation by then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon in 2008.

Exit polling for the election is not yet available, but it appears that Jewish voters in some districts returned to the Liberals. Joe Oliver, the Conservative candidate in Toronto’s Eglington-Lawrence District and Canada’s first Jewish finance minister, lost to the Liberals’ Marco Mendicino, who is not Jewish. The Liberals also pulled an upset in Winnipeg South Centre, in Manitoba, and won a seat in Ontario’s Markham-Thornhill — both Jewish strongholds. The Conservatives did, however, retain their seat in Toronto’s Thornhill District, which is about one-third Jewish.

Martin Sampson, a spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a national advocacy group, said the fluid voting patterns prove the “Jewish community is not monolithic.”

“It’s a sign of the Jewish community more broadly — it’s very comfortably across a range of issues and identifying with different parties,” Sampson said.

Levitt, whose York Centre District had been in Liberal hands since 1962 before the Conservatives won there in 2011, downplayed Israel and other traditionally Jewish issues as motivating factors for his Jewish constituents. Instead, he insisted that the Liberals won them over with its wider platform, including tax cuts for the middle class and a promise to immediately increase Canada’s Syrian refugee intake.

“There was a sense of comfort in what we were talking about,” Levitt said. “That was re-established.”

Coming Home The obstacles of transitioning from military to civilian life can be daunting

The tactics and weapons of war have changed drastically since the turn of the 20th century, and so too has the toll, both physically and mentally, that active duty can take on servicemen and women when they transition out of the military and back to civilian life.

According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, 40 percent of homeless men are veterans, 200,000 homeless veterans sleep on the street every night, and 76 percent of homeless veterans experience alcohol, drug and mental health problems.

“[Soldiers] coming back now have conditions that we never had in prior wars,” said Michael Winnick, director of veteran services at Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.

The JWV, originally named the Hebrew Union Veterans, is a congressionally chartered veteran-service organization started in 1896 due to the misconception that Jews did not serve in the Civil War.

Erwin Burtnick is a retired colonel and holds several titles at different veterans’ organizations. He said the cause for substance abuse with veterans can stem from stress, experimentation while on active duty, how individuals are treated and what they go through during their service.

“If you’re in a vehicle and it gets hit by an [improvised explosive device] and you see body parts go flying, it affects you mentally,” said Burtnick, who pointed to his hat that identified him as a veteran. “I have teenagers come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Vietnam veterans wouldn’t have worn that hat. They were told, ‘As soon as you get back to this country, get out of your uniform.’”

Coming Home

Winnick, who was issued a bronze star and a “V” device for combat operation and valor in Vietnam, experienced firsthand the public’s reaction to veterans returning home. He was invited to a family wedding, and although he wasn’t in uniform, people at the reception asked him, “How could you kill women and children?”

“I told them ‘I was a medic, I was saving people,’” said Winnick.

Winnick left the Army in 1970, and by then the attitude of the public “was improving, but it wasn’t by any means what it should have been. You sent people to war, you have an obligation to take care of them.”

Winnick said although they were seldom, there were some positive moments following his service in Vietnam. After walking into a bar at an airport with his friend, a stranger asked Winnick if they were veterans.

“I clenched a fist ready for a fight,” he said. “The guy said to the bartender, ‘Whatever they have, put it on my tab.”

Winnick didn’t question it at the time, but he thinks the man was a veteran who knew what it was like to come home.

While the public’s treatment of veterans has become less of an issue recently, the transition to home home is still not always easy, specifically for younger members of the military. Rabbi Yonatan Warren is a 4th Battalion chaplain at the Naval Academy, and much of his job revolves around counseling midshipmen on both religious and nonreligious issues.

Warren served in Afghanistan, and he’s had discussions with soldiers about the transition back to civilian life. He said many of them are concerned where they will live.

“For younger people, they tend to go home where it’s comfortable, but some of them joined the military to get away from home,” said Warren. “Some people have left their family on purpose, and now because they are leaving the military, willingly or unwillingly, they may not want to go back, but the only safe place to go is home.”

Homelessness among of veterans is one issue that the Baltimore-based Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training is fighting. MCVET works to provide veterans with transient housing to help them get back on their feet.

Burtnick added that many programs such as MCVET require veterans to be clean of any kind of substances and sober. For some veterans this can be a challenge, but Burtnick emphasized that “you have to meet them halfway.”

Warren added that he serves a diverse population of soldiers, and they all have different concerns based on their ages and backgrounds. He also said that there are some individuals who will connect with him after they leave the military but in those cases his goal “is to help them find [another rabbi or counselor] who has a normal work week in that community.”

Even after an individual knows where they want to live, one of the most challenging issues members of the military face is finding employment. Burtnick explained that although individuals may have strong leadership skills or teamwork, they may not know how to market themselves in the civilian world. This can make things like writing a resume difficult.

“In the military, you command; in the civilian world, you manage,” said Burtnick.

Dr. Harvey Kaplan achieved the rank of colonel in the Army and served on active duty around the world for more than two-and-a-half decades. When Kaplan first retired from active duty there was very little offered by the military in terms of transitioning programs. However, Kaplan was recalled for Desert Storm and ended up retiring again.

By that time the Army Career Alumni Program had formed, which assists military personnel and Department of Defense civilians affected by downsizing and their family members with the employment process. After gaining experience working on a team from ACAP, Kaplan and one of his colleagues decided to develop their own program geared toward older military members.

The classes, which Kaplan is working to host in different venues in Montgomery County, aim to help individuals by giving them all the questions they need to ask themselves “to make a smooth, efficient and meaningful transition into a second career.”

“The first thing we would do [in a class] is stress the need for a total self-assessment: family, financial and personal,” said Kaplan. “We give people the questions they need to answer: What sort of commitment does an individual need to succeed in this process? What kinds of skills and habits do they bring to the private sector? Do you want to work for someone else or yourself?”

Kaplan added that to make a smooth transition, it requires time and planning, especially for older veterans who have spent their careers in the military. He said a well-planned transition can take up to two years of preparation, and “when a soldier, sailor or airmen only has three months to do it, it’s not enough.”

Burtnick said many programs at the local, state and federal level have been developed to help veterans with the issue of employment. Organizations such as Hiring our Heroes and Operation Hire Maryland focus on matching veterans with employers looking for the knowledge and experience that veterans have to offer.

While those coming home from active duty may be stationed at a base, when members of the Reserve come home they return to a civilian employer.

Burtnick is the Maryland area chair for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve which is an extension of the department of defense. He explained that when guardsmen (or service members in the Reserve) return from active duty, their former employer is required to rehire them with the same pay, status and benefits if they did not exceed five years of extended active duty.

However, most employers are not aware of this law and unintentionally violate it. ESGR calls employers and tries to get individuals rehired amicably. Most of the time this just means explaining the law. However, if an employer still refuses even after ESRG has called, a claim can be made with the Department of Labor.

“[The Department of Labor] first tries to get your job back in a nice way — sort of like what we do — but with a hammer behind it. If that doesn’t work, they start subpoenaing records,” said Burtnick. “They may look to see if this is a policy of the company. Have they done this to others? If it gets really bad, they take it to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and it goes to court.”

Burtnick emphasized most employers are willing to comply once they understand the law and that many organizations have called him back with questions to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated.

While many programs exist on the state and federal level, there are also local organizations that aim to assist veterans. Lisa Terry is the executive director of the Howard County Office of Military Affairs.

The office has been pushing initiatives such as asking businesses to create reserved veteran parking spots, urging the county to construct a memorial monument dedicated to veterans, supporting a Veterans Day parade in Ellicott City and teaming up with local college students who are interested in supporting veterans through service projects.

Harris Asbeil, who lives in Columbia, achieved Sgt. First Class in the Army. He said the transition from active duty to civilian life was comparable to making the transition from graduating from college to finding a job. However, he credits his ease of transitioning to the degree he had earned before entering the Army.

Asbeil said depending on what job someone had in the military, their skills may be limited.

“In the case of my son-in-law, the only translatable skill set he had was truck driving, and there’s need for it, but it’s limited,” said Asbeil. “My daughter was in personnel administration, and she’s working now doing just that.”

Asbeil added that his daughter joined the military straight out of high school and now lives in Michigan, where she is studying for her bachelor’s degree. He said during his second enlistment he intentionally aimed for a position that he knew would have translatable skills. He ended up working in electronics maintenance.

Many of the veterans and organizations interviewed all stressed that transitioning from military to civilian life is a broad topic. It encompasses much more than simply having a house to live in and a job.

“The guys coming back today are getting hit with different attitudes,” said Winnick, director of Veteran Services at JWV. “There are people going out of their way to make sure the guys get the things they need.”

Winnick said the cost is expensive, and while no one questions the financial aspect of it, the public is starting to learn one thing about war.

Said Winnick, “Today, people realize you don’t stop paying for a war after you pull the guys out.”


Chili Fundraiser for Vets

The Baltimore Station, a residential treatment program that helps veterans with poverty, addiction and homelessness, is hosting a Stars, Stripes and Chow: Chili Edition fundraiser on Nov. 7. Attendees can sample different chili recipes made by teams of first responders and members of the military and the Baltimore Station.

The event will also feature a panel of guest judges including Baltimore City councilmen Nick Mosby and Eric Costello; former Baltimore Sun food critic Richard Gorelick and a question-and-answer session with Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr.

“Most programming [like the Station’s] is a shorter stay, but since ours is longer, the success rates are higher, and there is more opportunity for someone to become stable,” said John Friedel, executive director at the Baltimore Station.

Friedel explained the Station’s average resident stays for 13 months, but the program allows for an up to two-year stay.

“It’s a comprehensive program that deals with mental, physical and holistic health,” said Friedel. “The generous amount of time works well [to tackle] all of the demons that may have led to homelessness and substance abuse.”


Vicki Almond Loses Aide But Gains His Wife Mandee Heinl joins District 2 team

Steve and Mandee Heinl (center) with Vicki Almond (third from left), Jon Cardin (far right) and others at their wedding. (Photo provided)

Steve and Mandee Heinl (center) with Vicki Almond (third from left), Jon Cardin (far right) and others at their wedding. (Photo provided)

When Vicki Almond’s legislative aide Steve Heinl left for an Annapolis law firm, the Baltimore County councilwoman didn’t even have to look outside the family for his replacement.

On Oct. 5, Mandee Heinl, Steve’s wife, became Almond’s new aide.

But this is no case of nepotism, as Mandee, 25, boasts a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore and has been working in politics since high school with jobs in Annapolis and at the Baltimore Jewish Council.

“She seemed like, naturally, the most qualified person to take my place,” Steve said. “It basically felt to me like a natural transition in politics. You need to be surrounded by people you trust and you know very well, people who support you but also understand you.”

For Almond, who takes the part-time council job as a full-time job, her aides, which include Mandee Heinl and senior council assistant Jonathan Schwartz, are also full time.

Mandee’s job includes a little bit of everything; she’ll help Almond write policy, handle constituent services, research and make appointments for Almond to visit schools and senior centers among other tasks.

“I spend a lot of time in my community so I need people in my office who can handle the day-to-day issues, constituent complaints [and] emails from the administration and from the rest of the council,” Almond said. “So they are really my eyes and ears.”

The relationships in the District 2 team go back to the late 2000s, when Almond, Schwartz and Steve and Mandee Heinl all worked in Annapolis.

Almond was chief of staff for Sen. Bobby Zirkin starting in late 2005 and hired Steve Heinl as an intern while he was in college. When she heard Del. Dana Stein was looking for an aide, she recommended Steve, and he got the job for the 2007 General Assembly session. Schwartz was hired in the fall of 2008 by Del. Jon Cardin, who shared an office with Stein, so he and Steve worked feet away from each other.

Mandee Heinl started in Annapolis interning for Cardin as a high school senior in the 2007 legislative session. After hearing Jon Cardin speak to her Hebrew school class at Temple Oheb Shalom, she decided she wanted to go to Annapolis. Mandee wrote a resume, landed an interview with Cardin and got the internship. She interned with Cardin for two years.

Mandee and Steve were friends in Annapolis, but they didn’t start dating until 2009. That summer, they worked on a campaign slate for District 11, which included Sen. Zirkin, Delegates Dan Morhaim, Stein and Cardin, as well as Almond’s County Council bid.

When Almond won the Baltimore County District 2 Council seat, things would change for Steve Heinl and Schwartz.

“I asked Steve if he would come and work for me, and at that point Jonathan was also working for Jon Cardin, so I stole him as well,” Almond said. “I came on with two people I had known for such a long time, so we already had a friendly relationship and a good working relationship.”

As Steve worked for Almond, he attended law school and did some law work on the side once he was admitted to the bar. In the meantime, Mandee interned for a lobby firm and would land her first post-college job as the assistant director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council, where she worked for three-and-a-half years. Prior to her new post at Almond’s office, Mandee was working for Del. Shelly Hettleman in Annapolis.

Things changed for the Heinl family when Steve took a job at Annapolis-based firm Hyatt & Weber doing estates and trust work after nearly five years with Almond.

“I met Steve as a college student, and he is leaving us as a barred lawyer and married with two kids,” Schwartz said.

And with Sam, 2, and Olivia, 1, both attending Oheb Shalom’s Learning Ladder, the family had to figure something out. So Mandee made the difficult decision of leaving Hettleman’s office.

“I think she is going to be someone really big one day,” she said of Hettleman. “It was actually a really hard decision.”

Aiding in her decision was the fact that Mandee has lived in Pikesville all her life and wants to raise her kids in the Reform community there.

“She is a Pikesville girl,” Almond said. “So I hate to say this this way, but I kind of stole Mandee from Shelly. So I stole Jonathan, Steve and Mandee. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.”

Mandee, who, according to Almond, is “very politically astute” and well connected, said her interest in politics goes back to her time at the Shoshana S. Cardin School, which she attended for ninth and 10th grades. The school was big on getting students involved in advocacy, Mandee said, and she took part in the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Advocacy Day both years. Now more seasoned in the political arena, Mandee has a sense of purpose that has kept her involved.

“I see so many things that go wrong and how the system is broken and it needs to be fixed — from kids going to school hungry every day, to people being homeless, to the cost of higher education,” she said. “If I can even effect a little bit of change, this is my way of trying to do that.”


Doors Closing Opens Up Mall’s Future Developer looking to makes moves at Owings Mills Mall

The interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall closed in late September. Mall owner Kimco plans to raze the mall and build an open-air outdoor shopping center. (Daniel Schere)

The interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall closed in late September. Mall owner Kimco plans to raze the mall and build an open-air outdoor shopping center. (Daniel Schere)

The closing of the interior doors of the Owings Mills Mall means many things to a community that has long considered the site an eyesore. To some, it paves the way for redevelopment that has long been in the pipeline. To others, it serves as the long overdue obituary to a mall that has been dead for more than a decade.

For Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, it means the mall, once the area’s premiere shopping destination, has a future.

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

With shovels in the ground at Foundry Row, which will be home to a Wegmans grocery store set to open next fall, and most of that project leased, Kamenetz is hopeful that the public will now see some development at the mall.

The interior doors closed in late September, and Macy’s announced it would be closing this month. Kamenentz said Kimco has acquired the Macy’s property as well as the majority of the mall from General Growth Properties, which was Kimco’s partner on the project. While a J.C. Penney spokesman said the company does not plan to close its Owings Mills store, Kimco is in acquisition talks with the retailer, according to Kamenetz. Baltimore County District 4 Councilman Julian Jones expects to hear from Kimco about the fate of J.C. Penney in January.

There’s millions and millions of dollars being invested in our community.

Members of the surrounding community have bemoaned the loss of the mall but are optimistic for the site’s future. Jeff Freedman, a community member who grew up with the mall in its better days, said he thinks converting the existing structure into an entertainment complex would be far more cost-effective than performing a complete overhaul, as has been discussed. He thinks transparency is key to ensuring the new complex is a success.

“It’s very important that Kimco asks the community for input in terms of which stores they would like to see and what would bring them back to the mall before determining the next steps,” he said.

Freedman added that the mall building, while empty, has sentimental value for people who grew up with it.

(Daniel Schere)

(Daniel Schere)

“Many people have also created memories here, so there are many people who do not want to see it demolished,” he said.

There has been a growing sense of discontent among some residents who have become concerned with the changing demographics of the region surrounding the mall, something Chabad of Owings Mills’ Rabbi Nachum Katsenelenbogen said he hears from his congregants.

“Some people are concerned that they’re going to put up a lot of residential buildings there,” he said. “They’re afraid that if 1,500 or 2,000 apartments go up and they’re not Jewish people, the percentage of Jews could go down.”

Katsenelenbogen, who was quick to note that he was not speaking for himself, said the perception among many he knows is that an influx of residents could form a barrier between the “Jewish section” and “not-so-Jewish section,” as has been the case with the intersection of Park Heights Avenue and Northern Parkway.

We’re just really excited that we’re on the same page [with developers], and we see a lot of movement taking place.

Kimco plans to raze the mall structure and turn it into an open-air outdoor shopping center. Previous plans that included building a new center around the structures of J.C. Penney and Macy’s were scrapped, and Kimco retreated from the spotlight after the Foundry Row site was granted commercial zoning in August 2012.

Jones is excited to see some activity at the mall and thinks Owings Mills has a bright future. He said Kimco’s new plans, which have several renditions, are similar in scope to the original plans.

“There’s millions and millions of dollars being invested in our community,” he said.

Meanwhile, activity at the eventual site of Foundry Row has flourished, with construction having begun on its centerpiece store, Wegmans. Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, confirmed that the store is set to open in the late summer of 2016 with employee recruiting set to begin early next year.

Wegmans currently has a location in Hunt Valley Towne Center, and Natale said Owings Mills is a promising community due to its population density.

“We look for the same criteria no matter the site,” she said. “We only open three or four new stores each year, and because the pace of our growth is very measured, we tend to be very selective.”

Baltimore County will be the only county in Maryland with two Wegmans stores, Kamenetz said.

The Metro Centre at Owings Mills has also made a splash with six retailers open and a seventh on the way, 85 percent leasing in the first of two luxury apartment buildings and a four-story, 200,000-square-foot office and retail building under construct­­­ion with an expected completion in summer 2016. The site is also home to the County Campus Building, which houses a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch.




Never Met a Stranger Linda Greenberg’s care for the homeless and needy was felt throughout Maryland and beyond


Linda Greenberg

Linda Greenberg, a prominent humanitarian in Anne Arundel County, died at the age of 72 on Friday Oct. 30 as a result of complications from heart-valve replacement surgery. Greenberg was well known in the Jewish community for her founding of the Christmas Eve charity “Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy.”

Greenberg started the drive in 1989 as an interfaith collection of clothes, toys and other items that she would deliver to homeless shelters throughout the Baltimore region. She later turned this into a nonprofit organization.

But Greenberg’s passion of helping the homeless extended much further than the holidays. Her son, Marc, said when he and his brother were young their mother would take them to downtown Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where they would walk around to help homeless people on the street. The Greenbergs would give money or food and sometimes would bring a homeless person with them to a meal if they were headed that way.

“My mom always impressed upon us, if you see someone who is homeless, you must give them something,” Marc Greenberg said. “We have duty and obligation to give back.”

Marc Greenberg said his mother’s never-met-a-stranger approach to life was rooted in what she viewed as a moral obligation to take action when she saw something wrong in the world.

“No matter what you do, you have to help somebody,” he said. “You have to stop; you have to speak to them; you have to help them.”

Annapolis resident Glenn Carr said he met Greenberg when she began the drive and said participating was a “life-changing experience.”

“She was probably the most compassionate human being I’ve ever met,” he said. “She gave everybody hugs, and the hug just went right to your soul.”

No matter what you do, you have to help somebody. You have to stop; you have to speak to them; you have to help them.

As a volunteer, Carr was responsible for identifying homeless shelters in Baltimore for delivery and giving directions to the driver of the food van in those pre-GPS days. He said Greenberg had the energy of a drill sergeant but was always upbeat.

“It wasn’t a stern manner, it was an enthusiastic manner,” he said.

Carr believes Greenberg inherited her giving spirit from her mother, who once asked her daughter to give her coat to a homeless girl while walking down the street in Washington when she was about 11.

Carr also said Greenberg kept of number of large livestock animals at her home and would write letters to the Capital Gazette speaking out against deer hunting.

“She really taught me that there are decent, caring people who take it to the next level,” Carr said. “And it also showed me [how] one person’s power and drive [can] spread.”

After moving to Florida in 2009, Greenberg’s desire to see the world led her on a visit to Uganda, where she was struck by the widespread poverty in the region.

“She went to Uganda to visit, and she realized how downtrodden they were,” Marc Greenberg said. “She was disgusted that some people had to walk 20 or 30 miles to get medical care.”

That trip spurred Greenberg to establish the foundation 4Uganda in order to raise money for improvements to the school and for a new hospital and dental clinic in the village of Myende on Koome Island.

Greenberg was a well-known member at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Annapolis for several decades until her move South. Rabbi Moshe Weisblum said when he moved to the area in 2002, Greenberg helped his family settle in, and the two became close.

“She was an extremely kind person, an extremely caring community person,” he said, adding that Greenberg was constantly recruiting volunteers in the congregation for her drive — something he said will have a lasting impact on him.

“She was a go-getter,” Weisblum said.,”and a person who you couldn’t say no to.”

Marc Greenberg said the loss of his mother is still sinking in, and he hopes her legacy of giving will remain in people’s minds.

“It’s been one of the most difficult things that my family has gone through,” he said. “I’m just smiling, thinking that we need to continue her mission.”