Wishful Thinking Will Obama, Netanyahu reconcile next year?

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

WASHINGTON — Now that enactment of the Iran nuclear deal appears to be a sure thing, the profound and often personal disagreement between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran is not about to go away.

In the contemplative spirit of the Days of Awe, we canvassed the experts to recommend a way forward for the two leaders.

Stop the sniping and work out differences behind closed doors
However you come at the U.S.-Israel rupture, pointing a finger at Team Obama or Team Bibi — or blaming both — there’s a consensus: Stop the public sniping.

“Take a timeout,” said Joel Rubin, until recently a deputy assistant secretary of state and now president of the Washington Strategy Group, a foreign policy consultancy. “You maintain the security relationships and you intensify them, so the security officials are made aware of what’s going on and are confident. At the political level, I don’t know what you can do to change the dynamic.”

He added, “The Israeli leadership will have to make a decision to stop attacking Obama.”

Amon Reshef, a retired Israeli major general, said both leaders need to rise to their better selves.

“Both parties, the United States and Israel, should change the course of the direction of diplomatic relationship,” Reshef said. “Both leaders are mature enough to behave not just as politicians but as leaders. They have to get together behind closed doors to come to some kind of agreement to move ahead.”

Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said there is little the Obama administration can do in the near term to assuage Israeli nerves rubbed raw by the perception that Obama officials sidelined Israel during the Iran talks.

“I know the administration has reached out to Israel to work together to combat Iran’s regional influence,” he said. “But the Israelis see the United States as playing the role of arsonist — and firefighter.”

Hey, remember Palestine?
A year ago, the one significant outcome of the failed U.S. effort to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace seemed to be creativity in the epithets that Israeli and American leaders were lobbing at one another.

An unnamed senior Obama administration official called Netanyahu “a chicken——” in an interview last October with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. The previous January, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reportedly described U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “messianic.”

Working together on peacemaking with the Palestinians as part of a broader regional peace may be a way out of the Iran-centered tensions, said Reshef, who heads Commanders for Israel’s Security, an assembly of former senior Israeli military officers who want Israel to advance a regional peace deal.

“The best thing for Israel, a kind of historical opportunity, is to deal with the mutual relationship with the United States on the one side and with neighboring Arabs on the other side,” he said.

In any case, a return to the Palestinian issue may be inevitable because of volatility in the Gaza Strip, said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

“Israeli officials, both in the political establishment and at the security level, are concerned about the potential of another conflict,” said Wittes, who was a senior Middle East policy official in the State Department in Obama’s first term. “And there’s no military answer.”

U.S. and Israeli officials could come together in the twilight of Obama’s presidency and consider a way out.

“Is there a way to address the stagnation in Gaza in a way that can be a springboard toward Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation?” Wittes asked.

Schanzer said the United States could show good will ahead of the U.N. General Assembly in September by making clear that Washington would stop any attempt by the Palestinians to gain statehood recognition in the world body and by intensifying opposition to the movement to boycott Israel.

“That could help shore up support for Israel and let them know the United States is working with them on some key areas,” he said.

Hire new wingmen
A key feature of the U.S.-Israel relationship has been designated buddies: two people who are each as close to their bosses as to one another, and who always pick up when the other’s face pops up on the smartphone.

That’s what Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, was supposed to be when he arrived in the United States — Netanyahu’s right-hand man sent to forge close relationships with top Obama administration officials.

It didn’t work out, to put it mildly. Dermer, who without telling the White House worked with Republicans to set up Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March, is seen by the Obama administration as a partisan. Dan Shapiro, his American counterpart in Tel Aviv, is well regarded by the Israeli political establishment, but is also seen as too closely identified with the Obama administration.

Ilan Goldenberg, until last year a senior member of the State Department team brokering the Israeli-Palestinian talks, suggests hiring wingmen not associated with the current debacle. He suggested national security advisers known to have worked well together in Obama’s first term, America’s Tom Donilon and Israel’s Yaacov Amidror.

“That would be a perfect start, an additional channel to add some sanity,” said Goldenberg, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Stop throwing weapons at the region, start throwing ideas
The Obama administration is pitching weapons upgrades throughout the region as a means of offsetting Iranian mischief, should the Islamic Republic feel empowered by the nuclear deal. Israel is nervous because although it, too, is due to get a bundle of goodies, it fears enhanced military capabilities among neighbors that in the past have been hostile.

“What you have now is an effort to arm the Saudis and other Gulf states,” Schanzer said, “but it erodes Israel’s qualitative military edge” — the U.S. policy of keeping Israel better equipped and prepared than its neighbors.

Goldenberg suggested collaborative regional efforts to combat terrorism and cyberattacks. Additionally, the Obama administration should show Israel it is invested in keeping Iran from arming Israel’s enemies, he said.

“Every couple of years Israel stops ships with Iranian weapons on them, and takes pictures and sends them out to the world,” he said. “What if the U.S. were to send those pictures? It would send a signal to the Israelis and embarrass the Iranians.”

Get over yourselves, there’s more work to do
The ongoing problems of the Middle East ultimately may be what forces back together the hard-heads who have fomented the U.S.-Israel crisis. The United States and Israel have common interests in Lebanon, Syria and across the region.

The U.S.-Israel relationship — one that is between stable democracies with a shared interest in fending off Middle Eastern threats — is larger than any differences between Netanyahu and Obama, said Dennis Ross, Obama’s top Iran adviser in his first term and now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“This issue is taking place in a reality where the region is in a place of turmoil and uncertainty, where the state system is under assault,” he said, referring to the Iran deal. “Whether it gets implemented or not, that remains true.”

‘The Right Path’ Kerry offers impassioned defense of Iran Accord as deal’s victory clinched

Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to point out that not accepting the deal would cause the U.S. to lose credibility aboard as well as the ability to control Iran’s behavior diplomatically.

Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to point out that not accepting the deal would cause the U.S. to lose credibility aboard as well as the ability to control Iran’s behavior diplomatically.

PHILADELPHIA — In what could have been the first leg of a victory lap now that the survival of the Obama administration’s key foreign policy achievement is virtually assured, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the birthplace of the United States Sept. 1 to lay out in the starkest and most comprehensive terms yet why Congress and the American people should back the nuclear deal he negotiated with Iran. But instead of claiming victory, Kerry warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who are expected to take up a resolution of disapproval on the deal after Labor Day, that how they vote on the deal “will matter as much as any foreign policy decision in recent history.”

He made his nationally televised remarks at the National Constitution Center before an invitation-only audience of Jewish communal leaders, Democratic Party activists, college students and local politicians. Minutes before the start of Kerry’s address, word circulated among the crowd that retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) had announced her support for the nuclear accord, giving President Barack Obama the 34 Senate Democratic votes he needs to be able to sustain a promised presidential veto of a disapproval resolution.

Still, Kerry spoke of the Iran debate as if it were still ongoing. Pointing to Independence Hall three blocks away, he invoked one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

“In addition to his many inventions and his special status as America’s first diplomat, Franklin is actually credited with being the first person known to have made a list of pros and cons — literally dividing a page in two and writing all of the reasons to support a proposal on one side and all of the reasons to oppose it on the other,” said Kerry. “I would like to invite you — all of you, those here and those listening through the media — to participate in just such an exercise.”

In his view, said Kerry, there were no cons to the nuclear agreement, which provides for sanctions relief in return for a reduction by Iran of its fissile material and submission to an international inspections regime. He warned of the consequences of not accepting the deal, saying that the United States would lose credibility abroad as well as the ability to control Iran’s future behavior diplomatically. In short, Kerry said, the only credible alternative left would be war.

“You’ve probably heard the claim that because of our strength, because of the power of our banks, all we Americans have to do if Congress rejects this plan is return to the bargaining table, puff out our chests and demand a better deal,” he said. “I’ve heard one critic say he would use sanctions to give Iran a choice between having an economy or having a nuclear program.

“Well, folks, that’s a very punch soundbite, but it has no basis in reality,” he continued.  “I was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when our nation came together across party lines to enact round after round of economic sanctions against Iran. But remember, even the toughest restrictions didn’t stop Iran’s nuclear program from speeding ahead from a couple of hundred centrifuges to 5,000 to 19,000.”

Kerry used his hour-long speech to lash out at critics for saying the agreement was based on trust and outlined how “verification and proof” was at the core of the inspections regime. He also said that whereas with the deal, Iran might pursue a nuclear weapon 15 years down the road, without a deal, Iran would do so tomorrow.

Singling out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s objection to the Iran deal, Kerry said that while he respected Israelis’ instinctive reaction, Netanyahu’s own warnings of an ascendant nuclear Iran to the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2013 proved the necessity of reaching compromise through diplomacy.

“I take a back seat to no one in my commitment to the security of Israel, a commitment I demonstrated through my 28-plus years in the Senate,” Kerry said, noting his more than a dozen trips to the Jewish state. “And as secretary of state, I am fully conscious of the existential nature of the choice Israel must make. … But I am also convinced, as is President Obama, our senior defense and military leaders, and even many former Israeli military and intelligence officials, that this agreement puts us on the right path to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon.

“The people of Israel will be safer with this deal,” he added, calling as well for increased U.S. military aid to Israel, “and the same is true for the people throughout the region.”

Among those in the audience was Rabbi David Levin, an independent rabbi who is also an activist with J Street, a group which has mounted a multimillion-dollar campaign to ensure the Iran deal’s survival. Before Kerry’s speech, Levin said that far from fighting for more votes in favor of the deal — a story in Sept. 1’s edition of The Washington Post hinted at the White House searching for enough Democrats to ensure a filibuster that would forestall any vote on a disapproval resolution — now was the time to come together after a debate that featured name calling and fearmongering on both sides.

“Hopefully now, we can move on to Phase II, [which is to] repair the damage that we’re responsible for,” said Levin. “The single most important thing we can do is get past this, respect each other’s differences and build something together.

“I think the optics of the filibuster would be poor,” he continued. “Congress should have a say and a voice. To take that away from us as a people would do a disservice.”

A Jewish Democratic operative working to sway public opinion to back the Iran deal disagreed and said so long as “the other side” typified by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was committed to continuing the fight, the White House and its allies would be foolish to tone down their efforts.

“We can’t start talking about [making peace],” he said, “until the other side is willing to admit defeat.”

Steve Feldman, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, hinted that there was a long way still to go in the fight against the deal. Feldman, who did not listen to Kerry’s speech, but who gave interviews to media outside the Constitution Center, said that should Democrats attempt a filibuster in the Senate, Republicans should employ a “nuclear option” that would allow just 51 senators to invoke cloture and allow a vote. He also advocated filing a lawsuit challenging the Corker-Cardin compromise as an unconstitutional abridgement of the Senate’s power to ratify treaties.

“If the deal was so good, the administration would not have to sell it so hard,” he said, referring to Kerry’s address. “Poll after poll, survey after survey, shows that the American people … don’t like what they hear about the deal.”

Turning to the Jewish community, he said that everyone should strive for unity, but that above all, there still need to be red lines.

“There needs to be a conversation within the Jewish community; lines have to be drawn,” he said, “with regard to Israel, with regard to the United States, with regard to right and wrong.”

For his part, Kerry acknowledged that the Iran deal is imperfect. But so, he pointed out, is the Constitution.

“In September, 228 years ago, Benjamin Franklin rose in the great city of Philadelphia, right down there, to close debate on the proposed draft of the Constitution of the United States,” he said, pointing to Independence Hall. “He told a rapt audience that when people of opposing views and passions are brought together, compromise is essential and perfection from the perspective of any single participant is not possible.”

Kerry quoted Franklin as saying, “I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.”

“Like old Ben Franklin, I can claim and do claim no monopoly on wisdom, and certainly nothing can compare to the gravity of the debate of our founding fathers over our nation’s founding documents,” said Kerry. “But I believe, based on a lifetime’s experience, that the Iran nuclear agreement is a hugely positive step at a time when problem solving and danger reduction have rarely been so urgent, especially in the Middle East.”


A Moral and Legal Obligation Private schools stand up for vaccinations

091115_vaccinationsPrivate and religious schools in Maryland will no longer be required to admit unvaccinated students as a result of a new interpretation of a state law granting religious exemptions on such occasions.

In a letter dated Aug. 7 from the attorney general’s office to state Dels. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41) and Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), Sandra Brantley explained how the original state law allowed both public and private institutions to grant religious exemptions beginning in 1969, but was vague in saying whether the latter were required to admit students with this need.

“It is our view that the General Assembly did not intend to force a private school to admit a student with a religious exemption,” she wrote. “Rather, the more reasonable interpretation is that the General Assembly’s purpose in enacting the legislation was to authorize DHMH (Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene) to allow parents to assert a religious objection to vaccines, thus, exempting their children from any state required vaccinations.”

 “Our moral obligation is to protect the health and well-being of our children. Admitting children without immunization is putting in danger the safety of our children.”

Brantley cited the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as a factor in her decision, writing that granting an exemption on religious grounds at an institution of a different faith could cause a conflict. In an interview with the Jewish Times,  Brantley said previous policies set by the Maryland State Department of Education and DHMH did require private schools to accept unvaccinated students.

“That’s what they thought the law required,” she said.

Brantley said that because the legal advice she gave to Rosenberg and Hettleman is a current interpretation, it may be treated as law.

The impetus for the letter came from concerns raised by Orthodox Jewish Day schools in Baltimore.

“This is a very important health issue for the students, parents, teachers and administrators in our schools,” said Rabbi Ariel Sadwin with Agudath Israel of Maryland’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

Attorney Hillel Tendler, representing the religious school principals, came at the issue from the constitutional perspective.

“If the state were to require nonpublic religious schools to accept the religious exemption claimed by a parent of a child who is not vaccinated, the state would be requiring the religious school to go against its own religious convictions,” he said. “A parent’s religiously based anti-vaccination views should not be forced on a non-public religious school which does not share those beliefs.”

When Sadwin and other reached out to their legislators, Rosenberg said he and Hettleman decided that the most expedient approach to dealing with the issue would be to go to the attorney general’s office as opposed to attempting to pass a new law clarifying the meaning of an old one.

“You’re making a legal argument, it’s not a political argument,” Rosenberg said. “I think this is an important issue to the parochial school community and you don’t always have to put a bill in to solve a problem.”

Rosenberg said that while the letter will serve as law, it could still be challenged were someone to take the issue to court.

Rabbi Yaacov Cohen, the executive director of Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, said all students there are required to be immunized, arguing that as a public health issue it outweighs everything else. He compared vaccination requirements to a dress code.

“It’s up to each private school to determine what criteria to require of each student,” he said. “We want to apply the state’s vaccination requirements as a public health issue.”

Cohen said an outbreak of measles within the past year and other health epidemics have brought vaccinations to the forefront of his mind, prompting him and others to speak up.

“The overall concern for ours and should be for anybody is the safety of the children,” he said.

Some schools, like Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, have had a longstanding policy of required vaccinations. Director of Education Zipora Schorr said this has been in place for at least 20 years, calling it a “moral imperative.”

“Our moral obligation is to protect the health and well-being of our children,” she said. “Admitting children without immunization is putting in danger the safety of our children.”

Schorr added that there are three children that are cancer survivors at Beth Tfiloh who have compromised immune systems, making a clean environmental vital to them.

She said that while she cannot speak for every religious school, she has reached out to other principals and they are “in synch” on the subject of vaccinations.

Schorr said that while Beth Tfiloh has taken a strong stand on vaccinations for more than two decades, having the added protection of the law carries more weight.

“It validates what we’ve been doing and for those people that object and have tried to coerce us or strong-arm us into changing the attorney general’s position has given the school a very strong stance,” she said.


Witnessing History Nuremberg Trials bring back pain, agony

It is almost 70 years since the Nuremberg Trials started Nov. 20, 1945. My brother-in-law, Shabtai Klugman Schonfeld, z’l, was the only Jewish survivor war correspondent invited to the trial. He was permitted to bring two guests at each session. I attended around 15 sessions. I lived in Weiden, Bavaria. The evening before I took the train to Nurmemberg — with a pounding heart and shaking body— I spent the night with my brother-in-law, nervous at the thought of seeing the murderers of 6 million Jews and millions of others.

In Nuremberg, there was no pavement on the streets because of the bombardment. All of the homes were demolished, and we walked in the middle of the road. We passed women and children who used hammers and chisels to clean bricks and placed them in wheelbarrows, likely to use them to fix their demolished homes.

We entered the huge building where the trial was held. The U.S. Post Office was there to service hundreds of MPs, as this was the U.S. zone and only U.S. military personnel handled everything. We ate breakfast in the cafeteria and went into the main court and saw the murderers in their seats. They looked like ordinary people. As I sat down I put on my headphones — it was the first time in history that you could switch from one language to the other for simultaneous interpretation. My wish was to go and spit in their faces; however, that was only my wishful thinking.

Goering entered first, followed by the other defendants. At lunchtime, my brother-in-law interviewed all of the prosecutors including U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson and Soviet prosecutor General R.A. Rudenko (who also prosecuted Gary Powers, pilot of the U2 plane shot down in 1960). He introduced me to Rudenko and told him that I had lost most of my family and spent years in the camps. Rudenko answered to me in Russian, “I will take care of those SOBs.”

I was sorry I couldn’t be at the session during the sentencing. My sister attended during that time.

Ultimately, Goering committed suicide and cheated the hangman. The head of the U.S. Post Office must have been a philatelist because he made a first-day cover with a map of the battles he took part in and created the first picture of Goering laying dead in the prison. This picture is now in my collection.

I thank my nephew for loaning me about 50 unique pictures that his father received from an official court photographer (some pictured here).


Emotional Testimony at Fourth Chabad Hearing Three residents take stand to explain issues with proposed synagogue

Ken Abel (left), who lives next to the site of the proposed synagogue, shows where his house is as attorney J. Carroll Holzer (standing) and Rabbi Velvel Belinsky look on.

Ken Abel (left), who lives next to the site of the proposed synagogue, shows where his house is as attorney J. Carroll Holzer (standing) and Rabbi Velvel Belinsky look on.

Residents testified that a proposed Chabad synagogue is unfit for its surroundings and has insufficient building plans at the fourth public hearing regarding the congregation, which would be built in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road.

Eric Lewis, an architect and resident who lives near the proposed site, and Ken Abel, a resident who lives next door to the site, took the stand at the administrative law hearing, arguing that the proposal has significant issues and is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, respectively. Another resident, Caren Shillman Hoffberger, also talked about the synagogue not fitting in the community.

Residents of the neighborhood, with the representation of two hired attorneys and a third who is a resident, brought the case against Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, who aims to build a permanent home for his Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad congregation for Russian Jews.

“It’s a true community effort of people that love this strip of Stevenson Road and love the rural aspect. If it’s going to built the way they propose, it’s going to be an eyesore.”

The case centers on two zoning issues: whether Belinsky’s plans are compatible with a nearly decade-old development plan for the property and residential transition areas, known as RTAs, which are county-required buffers for the purpose of blending a building in with its surroundings.

Abel, one of the leaders of the neighborhood opposition, gave an emotional testimony about how his dream house has turned into “a little bit of a nightmare” with the possibility of synagogue being built next door, which he’d be able to see from several windows in his house. Abel moved from Worthington Park in Owings Mills to his Stevenson Road home in February 2014 to be closer to work and his kids’ schools.

At the time, through his conversations with his broker and others, Abel was led to believe that homes would be built on the property, which is what previous plans called for.

“The idea that there could be something other than two houses … there’s no way something [else] could work,” Abel testified. “It has nothing to do with Jews or synagogues or any religion, that’s not something I want to see next my house.”

Abel addressed the perception that the community may have some prejudice against Russian Jews, noting that his mother and uncle were born in Russia after escaping Poland.

Abel emphasized that the community was united in its opposition to the synagogue being built in the neighborhood.

“It’s a true community effort of people that love this strip of Stevenson Road and love the rural aspect,” he said. “If it’s going to be built the way they propose, it’s going to be an eyesore.”

He also argued that the synagogue is not compatible with original development plant for the property. While a witness the defense called at a previous hearing pointed out a zoning exception that said the rabbi’s plan doesn’t need to be compatible with the previous development plan, Abel doesn’t think the exception applies since his property was part of that plan, he said.

Lewis, who lives on Gardenview Road, argued that the synagogue is 8,000 square feet, rather than the 4,000 square feet that the rabbi and his defense have been saying, because it’s a two-story building with a 4,000 square feet footprint. He also focused on some issues with how the building will be constructed, although Belinsky has not submitted official plans to Baltimore County (previous plans submitted to the county were scrapped).

“There’s just so many questions,” Lewis said. “It makes me wonder about the validity of the whole proposal.”

Using the square footage of the building’s social hall and classrooms, Lewis calculated that somewhere between 235 and 300 people could fit in the building, and noted that there is no room for overflow parking on the property. While he said his figures were according to international building code standards, Belinsky said in previous testimony that large gatherings would be held elsewhere, and that the 22 parking spaces proposed would be sufficient for the amount of people that building would host.

Previous hearings have included testimony from the defense’s witnesses about RTAs and traffic on Stevenson Road, extensive testimony from Belinsky about his congregation and how he plans to utilize his proposed building and testimony from residents about the limitations of the property and safety issues.

Two more afternoon hearings will be scheduled. A decision is not expected until all witnesses have been called and questioned and the hearings are finished.


Police Assure Jewish Community of Safety During High Holidays

Officers from the Baltimore Police Department held a press conference Sept. 8 outlining the areas of increased police coverage in Upper Park Heights during the High Holidays.

Maj. Marc Partee, commanding officer in the Northwestern District, said there will be a command truck that will be staffed and have active lights at night. There will also be sector officers roving up and down Park Heights Avenue 24 hours a day and a secondary patrol on side streets. Patrol cars will alternate between coverage areas and Partee said he plans to check in with the officers every 30 to 45 minutes.

“I’m not checking on the community, I’m checking on my deployment,” he said. “When I become comfortable, I’ll pull that back to every hour.”

Partee said the department typically works with the Baltimore County Police Department in its patrolling of the Jewish community during the High Holidays. In response to one rabbi’s question about whether synagogues near the county line will be included in the coverage, Partee replied by saying that the sector officers would be responsible for patrolling these outlying areas.

“What you’re getting on Park Heights is more of a visible, robust type of presence,” he said. “What you’re going to have in the regular areas is a normal patrol to show anybody that would be in that area this is what you get all the time.”

Sgt. Furman, a member of the department’s criminal intelligence unit who prefers not to use his first name, said although Jewish communities across the country are often targets during the High Holidays, he does not think Baltimore is in any danger.

“Right now there are no credible threats to the Baltimore Jewish community,” he said.

A more serious incident that Furman recalled was one in which someone posted on Facebook that they planned to carry a concealed handgun illegally to “make one of those fools a martyr when they attempt to rob me.”

“The concern from your community is that if something were to happen it would trigger an adverse reaction,” Furman said.

Israel Bonds Welcome New Campaign Partners

Israel Bonds Maryland announced the addition of two new partners to its High Holiday campaign: the Haron Dahan Foundation and Sandra R. and Malcolm C. Berman. They join longtime partners The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Hopkins Federal Savings Bank in the 100 percent matching campaign.

The four partners will provide matching funds for all Israel bonds purchased during the 2015 High Holiday season, which the organization hopes to be the most successful in Baltimore. The additional partners also helps meet the goal of having last year’s entire $9 million in investments matched.

“People love the idea that every dollar they invest during their synagogue’s High Holiday appeal will be doubled by the matching partners in support of Israel,” Israel Bonds Maryland Executive Director Alan Dorenfeld said in a statement.

The matching partner program began in 2006, when Hopkins Federal Savings Bank provided a 50 percent match. In 2008, The Associated became the second matching partner, making way for a 100 percent match.

The campaign has generated more than $58 million in investments for Israel over the years. More than 3,000 people participated last year.

“We are proud of our long-standing matching partnership with Israel Bonds,” Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, said in a statement. “It provides us with the opportunity to invest in our Jewish future by helping build a strong Israel.”

Those interested in participating in the campaign can contact Israel Bonds at 410-484-6670, ext. 1, email baltimore@israelbonds.com or visit israelbonds.com.

Beth El Opens Downtown Preschool

Preschool teacher Leah Zipkin plays with her students on the first day of school at Beth El's new preschool in Federal Hill.

Preschool teacher Leah Zipkin plays with her students on the first day of school at Beth El’s new preschool in Federal Hill.

Beth El Congregation opened a new preschool in Federal Hill on Monday, Aug. 31.

The new school, part of Beth El’s continuing efforts to serve the Jewish community where they are, has eight students enrolled for this school year. It is the seventh location for Beth El’s Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood, which serves the Jewish communities of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County.

“That is part of the vision of the trend in Jewish education, you serve Jews where they are,” said Eyal Bor, Beth El’s director of education.

Rabbi Steven Schwartz said the move acknowledges the growing Jewish presence in downtown Baltimore.

“I think you’re going to see that more with schools and services … being a much more fluid physical experience,” he said.

In addition to preschool, the new location, housed in Salem Lutheran Church at 1530 Battery Ave., will host a mixed-age Hebrew school on Thursday evenings.

Jill Eisen, director of Hebrew Schools in Your Neighborhood, said it’s all about being convenient and flexible for parents.

“Parents started telling us that they couldn’t make it to our Hebrew school because they’re working, because of the traffic on 695 and because they live downtown, they didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. Federal Hill was the second Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood location.

Ilene Vogelstein, director of the Federal Hill and infant and toddler programs, said Beth El had been looking for a downtown preschool site for two years. A parent helped them find the new location.

“When [Beth El] had these family programs, the families came to us and said ‘Why don’t you open up a preschool? We have younger children. We really want to build a Jewish community downtown,’” she said. “We’re trying to building a Jewish community down here for the families.”

Beth El will also host High Holidays at the Federal Hill site, with a Rosh Hashanah family service on Monday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m., Tashlich at the Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 12:30 p.m. and a Yom Kippur Family Service on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. Families can RSVP to Ilene Vogelstein at 410-602-2245 or ilenev@bethelbalto.com or Jill Eisen at 410-484-4543 or jill@bethelbalvto.com.

Done Deal 41 senators back Iran agreement

The nuclear agreement with Iran will likely survive the Senate, as President Barack Obama on Tuesday garnered the final votes he needed to block a vote on a resolution of disapproval.

In quick succession, three Democratic senators — Ron Wyden (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), both Jewish, and Gary Peters (Mich.) — announced they would vote in favor of the deal, giving Obama the 41 votes he needed to deny Republicans the opportunity to reject the deal.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jewish Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in opposing the deal. All 54 Senate Republicans pledged to reject the deal. As of press time, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) remained undecided.

Last week, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) provided the 34th vote the president needed to sustain his promised veto of any resolution rejecting the deal.

Speaking Tuesday morning at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “I am gratified to say this agreement with Iran will stand. America will seize this opportunity to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice President Joe Biden make a joint appearance at an event with Jewish community leaders in Florida. (JOE SKIPPER/REUTERS/Newscom)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice President Joe Biden make a joint appearance at an event with Jewish community leaders in Florida. (JOE SKIPPER/REUTERS/Newscom)

Although Senate Democrats have the numbers to filibuster, Reid offered to go straight to a vote.

“I hope we can avoid the usual and unnecessary procedural hurdles. Democrats have already agreed to forgo our opportunity to filibuster, and I’ve offered Leader [Mitch] McConnell the chance to go straight to a vote on passage of the resolution,” said Reid.

“But of course, as [McConnell] has noted many times in the past, everything of importance in the Senate requires 60 votes. So passage will require 60 votes.”

Joel Rubin, president of Washington Strategy Group and former deputy assistant secretary of state for House Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, said he would “prefer to see a situation where Republicans have to justify why they should be voting against this deal and not about why Democrats are blocking a final passage vote.”

Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, conceded that if Democrats do filibuster in the Senate, such a move will give opponents of the deal fodder; however, he said, “I think the political consequences of preventing cloture are far less than the consequences of voting against the deal.”

He was impressed by the way the vote count swung in the president’s favor before the end of the Congressional recess. Rosenbaum attributed the success to the White House’s “deliberate attempts over the last three weeks to provide, in an increasingly formal way, reassurance” to members of Congress and American Jews that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between world powers and Iran was the best way to keep Iran from obtaining a
nuclear weapon.

Despite millions of dollars spent protesting the deal, Rosenbaum added, opponents seemed to be playing defense during the August recess.

The fight, opponents maintain, is not over until every vote is cast. Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, sent an urgent notice to supporters Tuesday morning, urging them to call their members of Congress. Rallies and vigils against the deal were scheduled earlier this week.

Republicans in the House are unified against the deal. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called for a vote on the deal this week, with
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicting the vote would be concluded by Friday. By Tuesday morning, 119 members of the House had declared themselves for the deal, including recent announcements by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Wasserman Schultz made her announcement in the days following Vice President Joe Biden’s Sept. 3 visit to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in South Florida.

At a DNC meeting earlier this summer, Wasserman Schultz was accused of blocking a resolution of support of the Iran deal. Wasserman Schultz denied the accusation.

A source familiar with the DNC proceedings said, “There was no Iran Deal resolution submitted before the required deadline. A few DNC members discussed submitting a resolution, but because of the missed deadline, they circulated something called a ‘letter of support’ — it doesn’t come up for a vote, it doesn’t get included in the party platform, it’s mainly a symbolic effort.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the lone Jewish Republican in Congress, who has actively called for the release of the side deals between the IAEA and Iran, said it would be a “horrible move tactically and strategically” for Senate Democrats to block a vote of the deal.

“Quite frankly,” he said, “it’s obvious they are choosing party loyalty over national security and none of them should be re-elected.”


At What Cost? As times change, synagogues rethink traditional membership dues

As Jews around the world prepare to usher in a new year with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, more synagogues around the country are reconsidering whether  mandatory dues should be treated like 5775: left in the past.

The traditional model for membership has synagogues dictate to their members how much money they should contribute each year. Although this model has persisted through several generations, it is losing its original appeal. Across the board and with few exceptions, synagogues in the United States are contracting instead of expanding.

“It’s a cultural shift taking place. … What was once an innovation is now, like other American institutions, being challenged,” said Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, author of “New Membership & Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue.”

Men pray at a morning minyan held at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emmunah Hebrew Congregation, a synagogue that uses a traditional dues structure. “We try to keep things affordable,” says Jeff Forman, president.

Men pray at a morning minyan held at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emmunah Hebrew Congregation, a synagogue that uses a traditional dues structure. “We try to keep things affordable,” says Jeff Forman, president.

Olitzky’s book is focused on providing synagogues with alternatives to the traditional model of synagogue membership. He explained the traditional model is under scrutiny, not for its cost, but for its cost-benefit. Members want to know exactly what they are receiving for the fees they pay. Olitzky wrote the book with his son, Rabbi Avi Olitzky.

“We have to get ahead of the curve because the traditional dues model has already failed,” said Rabbi Avi Olitzky, from Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis. “We’re lucky being in the Midwest, because we’re behind the movement and the trend.”

Maryland synagogues clearly do not have that luxury. Although the traditional model is far from gone, many local synagogues recognize its downfalls and want to find alternatives. The JT reached out to the leadership of roughly 80 synagogues in the city of Baltimore, Baltimore County, Howard County and other area locales for this story and spoke to more than 25 percent of them.

“We’ve been following studies about affiliations and [the current] membership dues model is a disincentive,” said Rabbi Susan Grossman from Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. “To a certain extent, it is more similar to a business model like a health club, and it equates synagogue membership as a discretionary income decision rather than an identity.”

Grossman said Beth Shalom uses a hybrid model that allows for members to pay what they are able if they cannot afford the full rate. This model has been used elsewhere, but Beth Shalom does not require members to provide documentation proving their financial situation, which can be an unpleasant and sometimes embarrassing situation.

Although many synagogues will not turn people away over finances, they all have bills to pay for programming, overhead, salaries and Hebrew school.

“We still have a traditional dues structure, but it is becoming more of a challenge,” said David Sliom, president of Kneseth Israel in Annapolis. Sliom added that many parents of younger children want to send their children to Hebrew school, but the congregation requires membership to make use of the Hebrew school.

091115_cover2For some congregations, it makes more sense to share space with others rather than sustaining their own building.

Temple Emanuel recently sold its building and is now sharing space with Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills, according to its president, David Beller.

“[We] have a unique situation of a Reform [congregation] renting space from a Conservative congregation,” said Beller. “At this point our [membership] structure parallels the Beth Israel structure.”

Beller added that the congregation looked at what models other congregations are using and decided it was not in a position to implement them.

Both Columbia Jewish Congregation and Bet Aviv in Howard County are based at the Oakland Mills Meeting House — an interfaith center designed to host several religious congregations. They share space not only with each other, but also with three Christian congregations.

“We’ve had a traditional [dues] model, but for the past year and upcoming two years we are re-evaluating that model. We’ve had people coming from our movement to talk about different options,” said Rabbi Sonya Starr from Columbia Jewish Congregation.

CJC’s board has agreed to commit to whatever the congregation decides to do. But what is more important, according to Starr, is that the fee structure is responsible, from not only a fiduciary point of view, but also a Jewish one.

“This has to be done as a Jewish organization with Jewish values and ethics,” said Starr, who anticipates CJC having a new membership model by 2017.

While traditional synagogues have struggled with dues, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has always taken a different approach to membership in general.

091115_cover3“Fluid is a good way to describe it. [Each Chabad] figures out what audience [they] are servicing and how to attract them,” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland. Kaplan added that if Chabad charged service fees on college campuses, he “can guarantee that very few people will come.”

“Every synagogue needs funding, but membership is more limiting for people who are disenchanted with organized religion,” added Rabbi Kushi Schusterman from Harford Chabad.

Schusterman, who like many Chabad rabbis does not require membership, explained that Chabad organizations must find a balance between fundraising and their obligations as a religious institution. Schusterman said that when he has a stable flow of money, it allows him to attend to other obligations such as births, bar mitzvahs, funerals and other life-cycle events.

“The way I put it is: By us, membership is a final step, not the first step,” said Rabbi Sholom Raichik from Chabad of Upper Montgomery County.

With their movement having spread worldwide, Chabad’s formula has managed to prosper but the Chabad rabbi at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., went a step further than most do in justifying his financial expenses.

In 2007, Rabbi Peretz Chein laid out all of his finances for maintaining his Chabad House, hosting programs and paying his salary on his website for the public to view.

“My donor base doesn’t interact with me on a regular basis so I wanted them to be connected with the institution and beyond telling them what we do, I wanted them to see under the hood,” said Chein. “I want their financial support so I figured it would be meaningful to them if they can see happens with those dollars.”

Chein’s actions received a positive response from the community and ended up eliciting a strong sense of connection and care for the Chabad House. However he doesn’t see what he did as extraordinary. He believes that showing people how he spends their money is simply a reasonable thing to do.

“The question isn’t why am I doing it, the question is why are others not doing it?” said Chein, who has continued to be transparent about his finances to date.

Any change in a membership model has to be accompanied by a change in the institutional culture and framework.

Rabbi Dan Judson, professor at Hebrew College, has studied the history of synagogues and money. He believes other synagogues could take a page from Chein’s book.

“I believe that synagogues need to become more transparent places. It’s about improving the conversation about money and in our culture to have these organizations have such a lacking of transparency,” said Judson. “It makes no sense, it is totally out of touch with the zeitgeist, the cultural feeling of the time.”

Among other forms of programming, services for the High Holidays is an issue that is interwoven into membership models. Synagogues must decide whether to include tickets for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into their dues or whether to charge separately.

Excluding the several Chabad synagogues, which have open door policies, there was an even split among the synagogues interviewed for this article between those that include tickets with dues and those who do not.

Regardless of the approaches synagogues take when it comes to membership, many of the experts agree that the discussion surrounding dues is not all about money.

“Any change in a membership model has to be accompanied by a change in the institutional culture and framework,” said Kerry Olitzky.

Judson and Debbie Joseph were researchers for “Are voluntary dues right for your synagogue? A practical guide,” which focused on 26 congregations in the U.S. that use a voluntary dues model and was commissioned by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York.

Both Judson and Joseph worked with Olitzky on his book and echoed his comment about changing the institutional culture. Joseph said the biggest problem with the traditional model is the relationship it creates between synagogues and their members.

“People talk about money first, ‘I want to join the congregation. How much does it cost?’ The first line of joining was associated with what it costs to belong,” said Joseph. “Part of that cultural change is how you talk to people about money and belonging. How do you get people, in their minds, to not equate money with membership?”

However, when Joseph and Judson began their research, a pattern emerged among many of the congregations.

“When we started [our research,] we thought the synagogues had already made cultural changes which would make it easier to move to this system [of voluntary dues,]” said Judson. “But in many congregations, it worked the opposite way.”

Judson explained that once synagogues transitioned to a voluntary dues model it led to more positive interactions between the synagogue and members in general. Many of the synagogues, that Judson and Joseph researched, reported an overall positive change in revenue, membership growth and cultural change as a result of the switch.

“Synagogues changed the conversation they were having with their members about money. They found a better environment to ask members for resources because there wasn’t the obligatory nature of telling people what to pay,” said Judson. “And by in large even without a dues system, members paid, they didn’t take the moment to abandon the synagogue.”

In his book, Olitzky included 25 reasons to join a synagogue and while he recognizes that people will disagree with some of the reasons, he hopes to ignite a conversation.

Olitzky said synagogue affiliation is at an all-time low since World War II. When it comes to membership, millennials are voting with their feet and establishing the institutions that cater to their own needs.

“The institution [of a synagogue] represents something very different for the generation of my children then it does for older generations,” said Olitzky. “And because of this they are not prepared to support the edifices of their parents.”