Netanyahu: ‘Stop spreading lies’ Current grand mufti denies presence of Jewish temples at Jerusalem holy site

An Israeli soldier calms a bystander in the aftermath of a fatal Palestinian stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station earlier this month. Palestinians have claimed the violence is in response to a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, which Israel vehemently denies. (NOAM MOSKOWITZ/REUTERS/Newscom)

An Israeli soldier calms a bystander in the aftermath of a fatal Palestinian stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station earlier this month. Palestinians have claimed the violence is in response to a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, which Israel vehemently denies. (NOAM MOSKOWITZ/REUTERS/Newscom)

Countering historical evidence and a publication released decades ago by a precursor to his office, the grand mufti of Jerusalem denied the historical presence of Jewish temples atop a contested holy site, which has been a flashpoint in the ongoing violence wracking the Jewish state.

Speaking in Arabic to Israel’s Channel 2, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein said that the Temple Mount, known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, was a mosque “3,000 years ago and 30,000 years ago” and “since the creation of the world.”

The grand mufti, who was appointed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2006, said in the same interview, “This is the al-Aqsa Mosque that Adam, peace be upon him, or during his time, the angels built.”

During the interview, the Times of Israel reported, Hussein denied there had ever been a Jewish presence atop the Temple Mount, in clear contradiction of historical evidence, including “A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” published in 1924 by the Supreme Moslem Council, which was led by the then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

The document, circulated widely online, acknowledges the sanctity and long history of the site.

“Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute,” the document reads in part. “This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’”

There’s a sentence associated with the holy site, said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that says, “The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is the site of Solomon’s temple, and al-Aqsa is the site of Muhammad’s ascension to heaven.”

“One is a faith statement, and the other is rooted in fact. Both are power- ful and relevant, but it’s a mistake to equate the two statements,” said Satloff. “And that’s regrettably what the mufti has done, and in so doing, he erases history, which is self-defeating, because the whole point of building the al-Aqsa Mosque” was to enshrine the history of the space.

The al-Aqsa Mosque was commissioned in the eighth century by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offering.’

What Hussein said on Israeli television underscores “the fact that the current denial of the historical Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is a political statement of recent origin,” said Satloff. “It’s a political fact that reflects a political dispute and, in that sense, needs to be addressed in a political fashion.”

Haj Amin al-Husseini was the grand mufti of Jerusalem in pre-state Israel when the pamphlet was published. He is the same Husseini whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said inspired Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews. Netanyahu walked back his comments after harsh criticism from prominent historians and Holocaust memorial organizations, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated Germany’s responsibility for the genocide of six million European Jews during World War II.

Nevertheless, Husseini, who died in exile in Beirut in 1974, was a fierce anti-Zionist and ally of Hitler. He met with the Nazi leader in Nov. 1941, extracting support for the eradication of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, although there is no evidence that he told Hitler to exterminate the Jews. Husseini focused his meeting on obtaining Nazi backing for “the independence and unity of Palestine, Syria and Iraq” under Arab rule.

The Temple Mount is frequently a flashpoint in Jerusalem. Non-Muslims may visit, but only Muslims may pray there. The site is administratively overseen by the Jordanian Waqf, with security provided by Israeli forces. Palestinian authorities blamed unspecified Israeli moves to change the status quo for the flare-up of violence that has seen Palestinians resort to stabbing attacks against Israeli civilians.

The Israeli government vehemently denies that any change had taken place atop the holy site.

Whether Jews should visit the site at all is contested.

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef issued a statement last week reiterating a decree barring Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, lest they accidentally stumble upon the site of the biblical “holy of holies,” where only specific people may tread and “infringe on the purity” of the sacred place.

Others, such as Rabbi Yehuda Glick, campaign for expanded Jewish access on the Temple Mount. Glick was shot four times in the chest last year. The suspect in the shooting was Mutaz Hijazi, who was killed by Israeli police. He allegedly said to Glick before firing: “I’m very sorry, but you’re an enemy of al-Aqsa. I have to.”

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Europe and then Jordan last week in an effort to resolve the ongoing violence.

Speaking alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Saturday, Kerry announced that Netanyahu and King Abdullah II had agreed to 24-hour video coverage of all sites on the Temple Mount. Kerry characterized the installation of cameras as a “game changer” that could discourage “anybody from disturbing the sanctity” of the site.

Satloff believes that while the cameras may offer a technical solution,  they do not address the political nature of the issue, the cameras are “regrettably, unlikely to impact the situation.”

Judeh underscored Jordan’s interests in the contested holy site and called Jordan a “stakeholder” in any negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli peace, all of the final status issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security and national interests,” as Jordan is home to millions of Palestinian refugees, Judeh said.

Israeli police intervened Monday when technicians, at the behest of the Jordanian Waqf in charge of the Temple Mount, began installing cameras. Israel maintains that the cameras will be installed after Israeli and Jordanian technical teams finalize the arrangements.

In remarks to the press days before, Netanyahu said, “I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel, lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false.”

JTA contributed to this report.

Max Ticktin’s Second Act Educator, activist, 93, honored with chair in his name at GWU

“We have become overly dependent on clergy and have forgotten the worth of the layperson,” Max Ticktin once said.

“We have become overly dependent on clergy
and have forgotten the worth of the layperson,”
Max Ticktin once said.

Max Ticktin was leading a tour of Israel with a group of American college students when their bus approached Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, founded by Jews who had battled the Nazis during the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto in the spring of 1943. It was 1959, and Ticktin was the Hillel director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While the group toured the kibbutz, the Israeli guide remained behind in the bus.

“I oppose stopping here,” he told Ticktin. “I don’t want to emphasize the bravery of the ghetto fighters. We should emphasize the heroism of the new Jews.”

Such was the Israeli view of Diaspora Jews circa 1959. In the 10-year-old State of Israel, the new Jews — the Israelis — claimed the mantle of history as the diaspora withered away. And Ticktin, who told this story recently to illustrate how much Israel-Diaspora relations have changed, says that what they have changed into “is not clear.”

Last year, Ticktin, now 93, retired as professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at George Washington University, ending a career of teaching young people that began not long after his 1946 ordination as a Conservative rabbi. During those seven decades, he witnessed the birth pangs of Israel, campaigned for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and shared with countless others his love of Torah, modern Hebrew literature and Yiddish literature.

The university recently announced the creation of the Max Ticktin Professorship of Israel Studies. This recognition of Ticktin’s legacy as a beloved and influential teacher evolved from his relationship with Susie Gelman, who began studying Hebrew literature with him as a non-degree student and has become a close friend.

“Currently, there is no dedicated Israel Studies program at the university,” says Gelman who, with her husband, Michael, endowed the Ticktin chair through The Morningstar Foundation. “The goal is to make GW a destination for Israel Studies over time, and it is entirely fitting to do so in Max’s name.” (Susie and Michael Gelman are members of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times.)

“He connects with people without pretense,” says Daniel Schwartz, director of Judaic studies at GW. “I don’t think he was ‘Professor Ticktin’ to very many people. It was always ‘Max.’”

“He’s very self-effacing, although he doesn’t have reason to be self-effacing,” adds Susie Gelman, who still studies with Ticktin. “Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable, he has an amazing personal story. †In many ways, his life embodies the history of the Jewish people over much of the last century.”

An unusual rabbi
“I grew up with two languages — Yiddish and English. Later, I added modern Israeli Hebrew,” Ticktin says.

We’re sitting in a side room off of the lobby of the District retirement home where Ticktin lives with his wife, Esther. He retains the beard he’s worn through his adulthood, and his black horn-rimmed glasses look timeless rather than trendy. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is recording the interview for its oral history archives. Ticktin is unfazed.

Local rabbi Gilah Langner, whom Ticktin
ordained, calls him “indefatigable. He can stand for an hour and give a completely organized, cogent presentation.”

Max Ticktin was born in Philadelphia in 1922, a year after his parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States from northeast Poland. It was “what would be today an Orthodox home” Ticktin says.

His maternal grandfather was a rabbi, but an atypical one. “He would not take a salary from the people he served. He was not a professional Jew. I grew up under his influence. He taught for free, and that’s the model I’ve tried to follow ever since.”

Ticktin studied at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained in 1946. He and Esther were married by then and traveled to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University, where greats like Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem taught. It was 1947, and Jewish Jerusalem was under siege by Arab forces in the period leading to Israel’s declaration of independence and struggle for its existence. Max and Esther joined the Haganah, the precursor to the
Israel Defense Forces.

Ticktin’s friends like to play up this chapter in his story: how he and Esther were caught up in the sweep of Israel’s birth drama. Characteristically, Ticktin minimizes the episode. “I was getting
[military] training that was extremely superficial,” he says. “I was speaking Hebrew for the first time.”

Then Esther, who was pregnant with the first of their three children, fell ill. After only a few weeks in Jerusalem, they returned to the United States.

“Then, I was picked up by the Hillel people,” he says. “I ended up in Madison.”

At the University of Wisconsin, Ticktin began teaching young adults and establishing lifelong

The Hillel campus organization, a part of B’nai B’rith at that time, was in its heyday. It was before American universities began establishing Jewish Studies departments in great numbers. As a Hillel rabbi, “you could teach Jewish Studies courses and you could also study what you wanted,” Norbert M. Samuelson, chairman of Jewish Studies at
Arizona State University and a Hillel rabbi in the 1960s and ’70s, writes in Reasoned Faith.

Rabbi Phyllis Berman was a college student from Brooklyn when she transferred to Madison in 1961. “Max taught classes. He introduced me to Heschel and Buber. He led services,” says Berman, a storyteller and liturgist in the Jewish Renewal movement.

Ticktin arranged for her to get kosher meat “and a broiler so I could cook for myself. I couldn’t have done that on my own,” she says. “It was clear that Max was a very unusual rabbi, unusual in his combination of Jewish knowledge, relevant politics and his care for the students.”

In 1964, Ticktin left Madison for the University of Chicago Hillel. In Chicago, he founded the Upstairs Minyan, an early chavurah, or participatory congregation. In 1980, he explained his support for the chavurah model to the Milwaukee Journal:

“We have become overly dependent on clergy and have forgotten the worth of the layperson,” he said.

‘We botched it up’
The Yom Kippur War of October 1973 was a blow not just to Israel but to American Jewry as well. In the wake of the security disaster and amid spectacular acts of terrorism by the PLO, the American Jewish establishment hardened its support of the Jewish State.

In this uneasy environment, a group of Jewish community professionals and intellectuals issued a call for mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians and for a Palestinian state to be created alongside Israel, a policy that came to be called the two-state solution. The group also called for the removal of the new settlements being built in the West Bank.

The group called itself Breira (Choice), and its leadership was drawn heavily from Hillel. One of its leaders was Max Ticktin, Hillel National’s Washington-based assistant director.

“Max was deeply committed to an Israel and a Zionism that did not dominate another people,” says Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a former leader of Breira and the husband of Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

Like other left-leaning groups that have come and gone, Breira was a lightning rod for hostility. Its members were accused of treason and of threatening Israel’s security. At Breira’s only national conference, in 1977, members of the Jewish Defense League broke in and chanted “Death to Breira” and “Jewish blood is on your hands.”

In 1976, members of Breira met in Washington with two members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The group included Ticktin.

“There was an uproar in the Jewish establishment,” says Waskow, who was also at the meeting. “It was a moment when Hillel got queasy under attack.”

Under pressure from mainstream Jewish organizations, which employed many of Breira’s activists, the group lost members. It folded in 1977. “I was one of the people who paid the last bills,” Ticktin says.

“We botched it up,” he says now, “because we had little sense of where the power lay. It lay with the people who made the biggest donations and were behind the big Jewish organizations. And they could do what they did do, which was bring us to our knees. We were young. We were chutzpadik.

“It was a different time,” he continues. “It was the first encounter of an articulate Jewish population with a crisis which we’ll call the ’60s or Vietnam. Breira made a lot of sense for the time.”

That impulse to challenge authority and question self-evident truths found its way into the chavurah. In Washington, the Fabrangen chavurah had been founded in 1971. Waskow and Berman were members there, and Max and Esther Ticktin joined after they moved to Washington in 1972.

At Fabrangen, Ticktin followed his grandfather’s custom and avoided the pulpit.

“He never acted like the rabbi of Fabrangen,” says Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, an author of books, including Seasons of Our Joy, and who was ordained by Ticktin. “He contributed but did not dominate. He could teach as a companion rather than as a rabbi.”

After a career of teaching young adults, Ticktin says he’s ready for a change. “I’ve spent so much of my life with 17- to 22-year-olds, I’m interested in adult Jewish education.”

So he’ll meet with a small group to read Israeli fiction and discuss it in Hebrew. And he’ll continue with a Yiddish group that he has led for more than 30 years. A third group, conducted in English, will consider historical and literary topics.

Years ago, Waskow noticed that Ticktin had an unusual custom during Shabbat services. “When the Torah was walked around the room, Max would touch the Torah and kiss the Torah. Then he would do the same thing to the person carrying the Torah. I asked him why he kissed the person carrying the Torah, and he said, ‘The person who carries the Torah is the Torah.’ For me, Max is the perfect example of the person who carries the Torah.”

He’s done that without resorting to the title of rabbi. At the end of the interview, he is asked how he would like to be addressed. “Professor Ticktin,” he offers.

Then he thinks it over again. “Call me Max.”

‘Abbas: Worse than Arafat’ Fighting back against anti-Israel aggressors

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, sees little hope for peace.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, sees
little hope for peace.

Israel is under attack, not just from the ongoing “stabbing intifada,” but from enemies who seek the delegitimization of the Jewish state through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and sometimes from its friends.

This was the message shared by participants and echoed forcefully by Israeli politicians at the second annual Israeli-American Council Conference last weekend.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, spoke out against those who take the “simple” view that leaving the territories in the West Bank would solve the problem of Palestinian terror.

“The idea that renewing the peace process or withdrawing from the territories will somehow stop terrorism is a fiction,” he said. “Terror attacks like the ones we have seen in the last few weeks have been taking place for nearly 100 years.”

Lies about the disruption of the status quo of the Temple Mount, which Muslims refer to as Haram al-Sharif, were spread by Hamas, the northern branch of the Islamic movement, and by the Palestinian Authority and ignited the current violence, said Dermer.

He gave a dim view of peace prospects, telling attendees at the conference in Washington to examine how Palestinian children are educated in hatred of Israel and Jews.

“The international community should use the money it provides the Palestinians, and the legitimacy it confers on them, to make clear that President [Mahmoud] Abbas will not be considered a peace partner if he does not take an unequivocal stance against terror and end
incitement,” said Dermer.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked shared Dermer’s view, telling the audience that she did not believe there would be “peace in the Middle East” in the next five years. In a rare move by an Israeli diplomat on American soil, she directly criticized statements last week by Secretary of State John Kerry that appeared to blame both sides equally for the violence.

She called the comparison, which Kerry walked back and clarified through a State Department spokesperson the day after, “a distortion of reality.”

(Dermer had been more subtle in his dig, saying, “When it comes to the Middle East, very smart people sometimes believe in very foolish things.”)

But Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was scheduled to meet with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz this week, was by far the most outspoken in his criticism of Abbas, comparing the Palestinian Authority leader, whom he referred to by his nom du guerre, to Adolf Hitler.

Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told the audience on Sunday night, “There is a great similarity between the incitement of the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen and the incitement of the Nazis against the Jewish people before the Second World War.”

“In terms of the level of incitement and its intensity, the level of anti-Semitism in this incitement, [Abbas] is even worse than Arafat,” Steinitz said, referring to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

He warned Kerry, who is scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leadership this week, that Abbas cannot be seen “as a partner for any positive process as long as there is no dramatic change.”

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union Party, stopped short of defending Abbas, but said he was tired of the government “endlessly blaming” the PA president, a sharp rebuke to the members of Knesset who preceded him in the lineup on Saturday night.

“Abu Mazen was about to quit a few months ago,” said Herzog, “and I don’t think the Israeli leadership was very excited about the idea that he would quit. So let’s not be hypocritical about it.”

In a meeting with Abbas in August, Herzog said, the Palestinian leader related that he was fearful of a Third Intifada and losing control of his “youngsters.”

Abbas “is disappointing in many ways,” said Herzog, but he’s a negotiating partner, however flawed.

“We have to ask our people, ‘Do you want to liquidate that authority? Do you want to run over that area? Do you want to control the three million Palestinians or not? If not, then be bold and make a change,” Herzog said to applause.

The terror that has rocked Israel these last few weeks was clearly on the minds of the 1,300 attendees.

Young people sat with their laptops and tablets in a social media “situation room” created for the conference. As Israeli news played on a large screen before them, they tweeted, Facebooked and Instagrammed facts about Israel and support to their family and friends abroad.

It is one way the Israeli-American community is using technology to combat BDS and engage with the public.

The incoming IAC chairman, Adam Milstein, pulled out his smartphone to show off another tool, a new app.

Talk Israel, available for free for both Apple and Android phones, aggregates Israel news and advocacy content. As Milstein swiped through the options, he showed how the feeds can be customized based on the users’ interests. The app’s algorithm learns users’ preferences to provide customized content that can be shared on social media or saved to read for later.

Ayelet Shaked (left), Israel’s justice minister, listens as Dana Weiss, an Israeli TV news anchor, speaks at an Israeli American Council event.

Ayelet Shaked (left), Israel’s justice minister, listens as Dana Weiss, an Israeli TV news anchor, speaks at an Israeli American Council event.

“The method of being passive and reactive did not work, and there is a very wide realization that we need to go beyond this,” said Milstein. “We need to attack the attackers. We need to get to the bottom of who is behind this. Who are the leaders, who are the followers?”

The followers, he said, should be engaged and educated, but the leaders, he maintained, need to be exposed. Broad coalitions with Americans need to be built too, and the IAC should “be the nexus between the American people and Israel.”

Right now, if people are told BDS wants to destroy Israel, “people will think we’re overreacting,” said Milstein.

“I look at BDS as trying to eradicate the State of Israel,” explained Milstein. “They are saying, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’ They are not hiding that they want to destroy Israel.

“We take it very seriously, and we feel this is something that the IAC should take a major role in fighting.”

In her remarks at the opening of the conference, Shaked commended these social media efforts. Those efforts, paired with the 100 million shekels (approximately $25 million) and 10 staffers the Israeli government has designated to combat BDS, plus the legal pursuits of her office, she said, would help turn the tide.

“Today, it’s very not politically correct to be anti-Semitic, but it’s super cool to be anti-Israeli, and actually, they influence campuses all around the world,” said Shaked. “We definitely understand that, [and] we should attack back.”

Keeping Judaism at the Forefront Sobeloff Jewish Law Society gives attorneys, judges a chance to network

Judge Karen Chaya Friedman speaks at the judicial reception of the Simon E.  Sobeloff Jewish Law Society on Oct. 8.

Judge Karen Chaya Friedman speaks at the judicial reception of the Simon E.
Sobeloff Jewish Law Society on Oct. 8.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, hundreds of lawyers and judges gathered at Temple Oheb Shalom. It wasn’t for any type of formal programming that the legal professionals gathered; it was purely to schmooze.

It was the Simon E. Sobeloff Jewish Law Society Baltimore Chapter’s annual judicial reception. Other than a brief address from Judge Karen Chaya Friedman, the Baltimore Chapter president, those in attendance, which included judges from around the region as well as Baltimore-area attorneys, mostly gathered around the food and drinks to network at the reception.

“It’s important for Jewish attorneys to have a place where they can bond, discuss areas of concern and be able to explore areas of mutual interest,” Friedman, a Circuit Court judge in Baltimore City, said.

The organization is named after the first Jewish judge to sit on the Maryland Court of Appeals. It was founded in Montgomery County by attorney Steven Salant. At his suggestion, the Baltimore Chapter started seven years ago.

“There had not been an organization of Jewish lawyers or for lawyers dedicated to Jewish causes, Jewish philosophy, the history of Jews and the law, whereas other ethnic, religious, social groups had [organizations],” said Andrew Radding, an attorney at Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler and the Baltimore Chapter’s first president. “When we started organizing and sending out information and recruiting people, we discovered that there was a big need.”

The organization hosts social and educational events. Future events include legal perspectives of the Nuremberg trials and the Iran nuclear agreement. The Sobeloff Law Society also partners with the Jewish Student Law Associations at the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore and has even hosted programs in which Jewish judges meet with Jewish law students.

Among those at the reception were state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who runs a law office in Owings Mills, Congressman John Sarbanes and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

“This is very important,” Mosby said of the reception. “This is all about engaging our communities and forging relationships so we can have better, safer communities.”

Also among the attendees is former state delegate Jon Cardin, who runs a Baltimore City practice where he does collections work, civil litigation, criminal defense and personal injury among several other areas of law. He’s been a member of the Baltimore Chapter of the Sobeloff Society since its founding.

“The idea of a Jewish law society, first of all, it helps us kind of bring the roots of the Judeo-Christian legal system to mind, but it also is an opportunity for members to socialize, interact [and] to help ourselves with our professional networking and with our professional growth,” he said.

Nathan Willner, the organization’s membership chair, said the organization reinforces the shared history of Jewish attorneys and the core Jewish beliefs of upholding the law and pursuing justice. Willner, who practices collections law and represents banks, said Judaism guides how he approaches his work.

“I deal with consumers many times who are on the adversarial side of the client, yet my upbringing and my core beliefs is to treat each person with respect,” he said. “Each person has their own unique story, and you need to listen and be compassionate about any person you interact with.”

Friedman felt similarly, saying she applies these principles to all who walk into her courtroom, whether they are wearing a suit and tie or an orange jumpsuit.

“As a judge you have an ability to affect people’s lives in a very intimate way,” she said. “Every person needs to be treated with respect, every person is sir or ma’am. They are a child of God and need to be addressed and treated with a level of respect.”

To the Rescue HoCo community rallies around fire victims

Honi Bamberger observes an elementary school class alongside Towson University undergraduates. Her house was destroyed in a Sept. 23 fire. (Provided)

Honi Bamberger observes an elementary school class alongside Towson University undergraduates. Her house was destroyed in a Sept. 23 fire. (Provided)

In the month since a fire enveloped several townhouses on the 12000 block of Sleepy Horse Lane, the community has been rallying around many of the victims.

Honi Bamberger, a mathematics professor at Towson University, is one of the residents who lost her home in the Sept. 23 fire.

“The first week or so it was just coming to grips with where things were now and what absolutely needed to be done immediately to continue with regular life,” said Bamberger’s daughter, Stephanie, who spoke on her behalf. “Things have started to calm down a little bit, but how do you put your life back together?”

After an influx of calls from concerned friends and family members asking how they could help, Bamberger started a GoFundMe page, a crowdfunding website, not only to raise money, but also as a way to manage the calls.

“Telling the story over and over again is emotionally exhausting for me, and it wasn’t even my home,” said Stephanie Bamberger. The page, which was started on Sept. 26, has raised more than $11,200.

Bamberger said her mother had built up a collection of books and supplies that she has authored and used over the years. Losing this collection was one of her first concerns after the fire.

“We were only allowed to go in, [escorted by a firefighters] to get her purse,” said Bamberger. “[My mother] really wanted to grab a copy of each book she wrote, but they were soaking wet and ruined.”

Bamberger said the funds from the GoFundMe page will help to replace the professional resources lost in the fire since the monetary value is sometimes difficult to verify to insurance companies.

Along with firefighters and police, members of Bet Aviv Congregation and Rabbi Seth Bernstein, who is trained as a disaster chaplain, showed up on the night of the fire, according to Bill Salganik, congregation president.

“The rabbi was the right one to have on the scene. In the middle of the night he took one of [our members] to Wal-Mart to get [basic supplies],” said Salganik. “They [also] went to get food, and he helped [a member] make a list of things she needed to do.”

I told her that it’s not about whether you need or want it. It’s about them; they read this, and you touched them in some way that they want to be supportive of you [in the same way] you had been to them. It makes them feel good to do this for you.

Salganik said since then, Bet Aviv members have been offering support both monetarily and emotionally. The congregation set up an emergency fund that has attracted 50 donors.

Bamberger said although her mother is not a member of Bet Aviv, members were equally supportive of her as well.

While she is grateful for the support that her mother has received, she said there is still a lot of work to be done and that her mother isn’t entirely comfortable with people giving her money and clothes. But Honi Bamberger’s effect on those who she has taught and worked with is clear by looking at the GoFundMe page.

“I told her that it’s not about whether you need or want it,” said Stephanie Bamberger. “It’s about them; they read this, and you touched them in some way that they want to be supportive of you [in the same way] you had been to them. It makes them feel good to do this for you.”

Among the relief efforts, the Howard County Jewish Federation set up an emergency fund several days after the incident.

“The Federation’s campaign was very successful, raising several thousand dollars, and we have the ability to help whoever comes to us for financial support,” said Michelle Ostroff, the Federation’s executive director.

“It always inspires me when a community comes together for those in crisis. We plan to hold the fund for contingency needs into the near future for these families once they have things sorted out.”

Career of Compassion North Oaks director has worked in senior care for more than 30 years

North Oaks Retirement Community executive director Mark Pressman will step down in December after eight years of service. (Provided)

North Oaks Retirement Community executive director Mark Pressman will step down in December after eight years of service. (Provided)

After more than 30 years spent in three cities taking care of senior citizens, North Oaks Retirement Community executive director Mark Pressman is taking things down a notch. In December, Pressman, 66, will step down from his position after eight years to take on a part-time role.

“I’ve been doing this for a lot years,” he said. “Being the executive director of a retirement community is demanding. I’m not complaining, but it takes energy.”

Pressman said there is no particular motive for his resignation but feels it is a good time for someone to “pick up the ball and take it to the next level.”

“I think it’s just time to step back and have a little more personal time,” he said. “And frankly, I think it’s good for our organization to get some new leadership.”

Pressman’s new role next year will be in the business development and strategy arena.

“I’ll be doing community outreach,” he said. “I’ll have more time to be with community organizations.”

Pressman grew up in suburban Philadelphia and earned degrees in psychology and health administration from Temple University. His original aspirations were to become a hospital administrator, but he began to have second thoughts after observing trends in the hospital where he worked.

“A lot of hospitals were closing and closing wings, and so I was kind of a victim since the hospital where I was working downsized,” he said.

Pressman said the development of a post-acute care unit in the hospital to function as a nursing home had an institutional feel; he began to consider alternatives.

“My career aspirations had been in the hospital administration, but I found being an administrator of a nursing home had some special things about it,” he said.

From 1999 to 2002 Pressman served as executive director of the Memphis Jewish Home after he decided it was time for a change of scenery.

“As my wife jokes, I had a mid-life crisis and we moved to Memphis,” he said.

Pressman said he enjoyed getting to know the Memphis Jewish community, which he said has been stable for a number of decades, almost to the point that it is the “land of 10,000 Jews.”

Pressman eventually moved back East and worked as the executive director at a retirement community inSykesville and later as vice president of health and resident services for Roland Park Place before arriving at North Oaks in 2007. He said in his eight years he has gotten to know many of the residents and formed strong relationships with them. He recalls one resident who was in her late 90s and followed the stock market “like a hawk.”

“She had CNBC on all the time with the ticker on the bottom,” he said. “One company would go by and she would go, ‘Bam, that just dropped.’”

North Oaks Office manager Cynthia Brown has been at Pressman’s side for his eight years and called him a “hard worker” who is always “on point.”

“Something I like about him is that he takes the residents’ concerns seriously,” she said. “He has a proactive approach when it comes to their needs. He’s always willing to take their concerns and find ways to resolve any issues.”

Brown said Pressman’s wealth of knowledge and problem-solving skills have been effective in difficult situations, such as an incident when the lights went out and residents had to be relocated.

“Mark is a little different because he’s hands-on, and that is a plus for me,” she said. “He’s never put the request out there and abandoned you while you did it.”

In addition to his responsibilities at North Oaks, Pressman also serves as vice president of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and on the boards of Jewish Community Services and the Edward Myerberg Center. While he is not sure if his career will include a second act, he said taking on a smaller role at North Oaks will give him more time to focus on these other activities.

“I’m not really ready to retire,” he said. “I am involved in several organization, and I’m looking to increase some of that involvement.”

Sharing in their Pain Baltimore Jewish community pours out its heart for Israel in wake of recent violence

Baltimore’s Jewish community is once again keeping a close watch on the Middle East, this time over a rash of violence in Israel that has killed more than 40 Israelis and Palestinians through a series of stabbings and shootings.

Many Jews are concerned about the violence potentially spiraling into a Third Intifada, including Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson, who said the BJC is outraged over the accounts by Palestinian officials blaming Israeli security forces for the deaths of their people.

“Obviously, we are extremely concerned and deplore and condemn the false statements, mis- information and propaganda that the Palestinians are now disseminating,” he said.

In a statement released by the BJC Monday, Abramson singled out American media outlets as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for creating the perception that Israelis are chiefly responsible for the violence.

“Abbas recently alleged that Israelis executed Ahmad Manasrah, a 13-year old Palestinian, although there is photographic evidence that he was being treated in an Israeli hospital at the time of the statement,” he wrote.

Abramson also praised Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic efforts in meeting with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.

Earlier last week, Sen. Ben Cardin released a statement offering support to the Israelis and calling for an end to the violence.

“The brutal attacks against men and women, young and old, religious and secular, soldiers and students are deplorable terrorist acts which must be condemned forcefully and cease immediately,” he wrote.

Spiritual leaders have reacted to the attacks with a variety of emotions ranging from outrage to sadness. Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia said she and her congregation are grieving for the victims and have planned to hold a ceremony on Nov. 15 to show solidarity for Israel.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, but what we can do on the Jewish side is strengthen the elements of Israel [that encompass] peace-loving law-abiding citizens,” she said. “The Conservative community is reciting a prayer of peace which was contributed by the conservative movement. And as a Howard County community, the board of rabbis is exploring what we can do as a community to mark these tragedies in a positive way.”

Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah in Fulton said he included several special prayers for the State of Israel as a part of a musical Shabbat service on Oct. 16.

“It breaks the hearts of everybody who cares for and loves Israel and wants peace,” he said. “One of the things that I am seeing is an increased unity in the Jewish people rallying together.”

Axler said his congregation is also in the process of launching an exchange program with Israeli students by way of the Gimmel Foundation in which they will communicate by Skype with American students.

“For me, though this was a program that we had in the works for a while,” he said. “What it allows is for us is to feel a deep connection to our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

Chabad of Owings Mills’ Rabbi Nachum Katsenelenbogen said the most important thing for Israel in the face of ongoing violence is to show strength and not consider ceding any of its land to the Palestinians.

“Once again we see that if we don’t show strength, then that already is a sign of weakness,” he said.

Katsenelenbogen said that during a crisis, Jewish tradition teaches people to “strengthen the three pillars upon which the world stands” by studying Torah, doing good deeds and committing acts of charity. He is also encouraging all Jewish men over the age of 13 to take two minutes out of their day to put on tefillin and recite the Shema.

“As Jews, especially in times of crisis, we get our advice and inspiration from the Torah,” he said.

Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel Congregation said his congregation is also heartbroken over the current situation in Israel.

“When you hear Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas talking and praising those who are doing this, I think it’s obvious that Israel doesn’t have a true peace partner,” he said.

Attitudes toward Israel were on display on Oct. 14 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, when Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Silver Spring native who moved to Israel in 2004 and eventually became a member of the Knesset, spoke about the position in which Israel finds itself. Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg introduced Lipman by calling him a “bridge builder” and said he often finds the two see eye-to-eye on Israel.

“The Jewish people today find themselves facing many challenges,” he said. “We are separated from the Arab world. There’s a division between American political leaders. One of the conflicts within the Jewish community is that what we Jews seem to be lacking are bridge builders to bring us closer together.”

Lipman began by acknowledging that the situation in the Middle East is grim but said there is hope.

“When we’re experiencing the times that we’re experiencing in Israel and you say to yourself, ‘How are we going to get out of this? What can we possibly do in a society where we give Arabs the right to walk around freely, and any 13-, 14-, 15-year-old might have a knife in his pocket and attack, like this evening [with the stabbing of] a 70-year-old woman at a bus station in Jerusalem? How are we going to get out of this? What’s the exit strategy?’ I don’t know what the exit strategy is, but I know we’re going to get out of this,” he said.

Lipman and his wife were inspired to make Aliyah after participating in a high school mission trip to Israel. They settled in Beit Shemesh, a city 20 miles west of Jerusalem, and upon moving there, he was greeted with the unpleasant reality of an inter- religious conflict. He was struck in the leg by a rock from ultra-Orthodox protesters who had clashed with police. Lipman said he was shocked that Jews would attack other Jews and that there were no headlines in the next morning’s newspapers.

“Very often the term ultra-Orthodox is thrown out there,” he said, “Haredi in very general terms. The ultra-Orthodox population in Israel is 800,000, [and] out of 800,000 people, the number who would actually throw rocks at anyone about anything is very, very small.”

Lipman said a key problem in Israel that fuels much of the violence is the education gap, which has resulted in a great number of citizens who lack the necessary skills to enter the workforce. He has called upon the government to institute math and English in more schools.

“I thought back to my years in Baltimore, and my friends who went to Ner Yisroel with me are Talmudic scholars on the highest level, and they’re fervently committed religiously,” he said. “But they’re doctors and they’re lawyers and they’re accountants and they’re entrepreneurs. And as a result, they’re moderate, they’re part of society. They’re not extreme in their nature.”

Lipman had not considered a political career until he had been living in Israel for eight years and was introduced to Yair Lapid, Israel’s former minister of finance and chairman of the Yesh Atid Party. He met Lapid at an event he had helped organize in Beit Shemesh, and the two bonded instantly.

“At the end of the conversation Yair Lapid looks at me and said, ‘Dov we come from different planets. You’re Orthodox from Silver Spring, Maryland. I come from a very secular family in aristocratic Tel Aviv. But we agree about 80 percent of the issues, and unfortunately Israeli culture has told us that we have to be in two different camps. I’m in a secular camp, you’re in a religious camp.”’

Lipman said Lapid’s perspective was “music to his ears” and was soon offered a place in his party to which he said he was “honored.”

Lipman served in the Knesset for two years before losing his seat in the March elections. He said there were many passionate disagreements over policy issues, but he was reminded of what unifies them when, during a heated argument over the draft at 2 a.m., a Knesset member banged on his desk and announced, ‘Maariv [evening services].’ He said it was remarkable to watch everyone come together for prayer before they resumed their argument.

“Even people that I disagree with vehemently, they all think what we are arguing about is what’s best for Israel,” he said.

Lipman’s remarks left attendee Judi Raphaeli with a sense of hopefulness for Israel’s future in spite of the current unrest.

“I think what he said is very optimistic, and I hope it comes to fruition, but it’s going to take a long, long time and a lot of hard work,” she said.

Raphaeli’s ties to Israel stem from her husband, who is Israeli, and all of her in-laws. She also lived there for 10 years and said she is naturally emotional about what is happening there.

“There’s always unrest in Israel,” she said. “It comes, it goes, but Israel is going to always be there.”

Ada G, who preferred only to use her last initial, said there are dramatic differences in the manner that terrorism in Israel is viewed in the world.

“No one says anything when an Israeli is attacked and killed,” she said. But when they try to defend themselves, the whole world suddenly says, ‘send sanctions.’ And if two very extreme people, Haredi people, did something terrible, it means the whole country are killers. Six million people are all killers. Here, if somebody kills somebody, they are criminals. But there, if two people do something, they right away start sanctioning Israel. The whole country for two people. The world is very unfair to Israel.”

Ada G, an Israeli, said despite the violence, she would go there tomorrow because she cares that much about her native land.

“The Israelis aren’t going to sit still,” she said. “They’re very tough.”

Saying Goodbye Jones & Jones to close after serving Baltimore women for more than four decades

Jones & Jones owner Florence Sokol (left) and manager Karen Ciurca-Weiner announced the closing of the store after 45 years on Oct. 22. (Provided)

Jones & Jones owner Florence Sokol (left) and manager Karen Ciurca-Weiner announced the closing of the store after 45 years on Oct. 22. (Provided)

After 45 years, one of female Baltimoreans’ favorite go-to clothing stores is closing its doors for good. Customers will soon say farewell to Jones & Jones, an upscale boutique located in The Village of Cross Keys.

Owner Florence Sokol announced Thursday Oct. 22 that she is retiring in order to spend more time with her family. In an interview with the JT, Sokol said her decision was partly financial in addition to being personal.

“My lease is up, and I just think it’s that time in my life when I want to spend time with family and friends,” she said. “It’s a tough decision, and I’m going to miss everyone terribly.”

Sokol said she has not actively tried to market the store or the name but may try harder now that the going-out-of-business announcement has been made.

“If there was someone who wanted it, it would be wonderful,” she said.

Sokol has owned the store for 10 years but has been involved with it since 1989. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she met Debbie and Sally Jones, who started the store in 1970.

“I knew Sally, and when she needed someone to manage her store, I was in Baltimore at that time,” she said.

Sokol said the store’s defining characteristic has been the family-friendly atmosphere created by her employees, some of whom have worked there for 20 years.

“It’s the atmosphere without a doubt,” she said. “Everyone is warm and welcoming. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you have on.”

Sokol also touted the store’s reputation for customer service, which has brought people from as far as Texas and Georgia to Charm City simply for the Jone & Jones experience.

“These girls haven’t bought anything from anywhere else in 10 years,” she said.

It’s the atmosphere without a doubt. Everyone is warm and welcoming. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you have on.

Jones & Jones is one of the three original stores to open in Cross Keys that are still there today. A number of prominent women have frequented the store including Oprah Winfrey, a former Baltimorean.

In the store’s heyday, Sokol said it was common for the wives of baseball players to shop at Jones & Jones.

“We’re part of the original culture of Cross Keys,” she said. “And it used to be that all the sports teams stayed here; then the Inner Harbor developed, and it changed a little bit.”

Jones & Jones has also been the destination for many prominent local women including WJZ anchor Denise Koch and Kennedy Krieger Institute vice president and Baltimore Jewish Council president Lainy LeBow-Sachs. Sokol said many of these customers are so regular that they have become friends with the employees over the years.

“Baltimore’s small so we do see them out and about socially,” she said.

LeBow-Sachs has been shopping at Jones & Jones for more than 20 years and said Sokol is a “super-duper lady.”

“I just walk in there and feel comfortable; I feel like I’m at home,” she said.

LeBow-Sachs said she is disappointed that her favorite store will no longer be around and plans to pay another visit there while she still has the chance.

“I’ve been going there forever and ever, and [the employees] are easygoing and have such great taste in clothes,” she said. “There are other stores, but there’s nothing like Jones & Jones.”

Manager Karen Ciurca-Weiner, who has worked there for five years, said all of the employees plan to stay in touch after the store closes.

“I can truly say that this is an atmosphere that is like family, and you really don’t find that anymore,”
she said. “And that really stems from Florence who is tremendously positive and upbeat.”

Ciurca-Weiner said she will switch industries and begin working as a salesperson at Northern Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in January.

“It’s a family-owned business, which is one of the things that led me over to them,” she said. “So I’m sort of taking something from this position over to somewhere else.”

As for Sokol, she hopes to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.

“We have some big trips we want to take,” she said.

Stevenson Road Chabad Hearings Focus on Code, Petition

Urban planner Christopher Jakubiak (left) discusses issues with a proposed Stevenson Road synagogue at the sixth Baltimore County hearing over the property. (Marc Shapiro)

Urban planner Christopher Jakubiak (left) discusses issues with a proposed Stevenson Road synagogue at the sixth Baltimore County hearing over the property. (Marc Shapiro)

Hearings continued last week regarding a proposed Chabad synagogue for Russian-speaking Jews on Stevenson Road, with the focus on a petition residents signed in opposition and Baltimore County zoning code.

Since late June, Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen has heard arguments from attorneys  representing those who live in the neighborhood surrounding the proposed site of the synagogue in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road as well as arguments from the defense and expert witnesses. The issues in question are whether the plans have  sufficient RTAs — residential transition areas — which are required to blend the building in with its surroundings and if plans are compatible with a nearly 10-year-old development plan for the property.

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky aims to build a permanent home for his Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue. The building would have a 4,000-square-foot footprint and an 88-seat sanctuary.

At the fifth hearing, held Wednesday, Oct. 14, nearby neighbor Margaret Presley-Stein spoke about petitions opposing the synagogue development. Signatures collected totaled 638 residents from  426 residences, 394 residences of which are located within the boundaries of Greenspring Valley Road and I-695.

A sixth hearing took place two  days later.

A brochure was available to signatories detailing the opposition and the neighbors’ concern over environmental impact, traffic, pedestrian safety and the synagogue’s nonresidential  nature. Presley-Stein — wife of Del. Dana Stein, who cleared his involved in the opposition with the state  legislature ethics adviser — said a few people declined to sign the petition.

Christopher Jakubiak, an urban planner and president at Jakubiak & Associates, Inc., testified that he doesn’t believe Belinsky’s plan has proper RTA compliance and spoke about several other things that he  felt were out of character with the original plan and neighborhood,  including traffic impacts and possible light posts in the parking lot.

Previous hearings have included cross-examinations of the rabbi, emotional testimony from residents and  testimony from experts in a variety of areas, including planning, zoning code, traffic and landscape architecture.

At the second hearing in August, the defense called land-use and  zoning expert Timothy Kotroco, who cited a zoning code that said  Belinsky’s plans didn’t have to be compatible with the property’s original plan due to how the property was classified by a judge in 2006 — essentially dismantling one case against the proposal,  depending on how Beverungen interprets the code.

The next hearing has yet to be scheduled as of press time.