Countering Attacks What if the assaults on Israel are not from guns?

From left: Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel, speaks, as StandWithUs executive director Shahar Azani, Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan and The Algemeiner Journal editor Dovid Efune, look on.

From left: Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel, speaks, as StandWithUs executive director Shahar Azani, Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan and The Algemeiner Journal editor Dovid Efune, look on.

Israel is currently under assault, but not from Hamas rockets. The attacks on the Jewish state are increasingly coming from international media outlets sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

How to counter this trend and depict Israel in a more positive light was the topic of a panel discussion titled “Israel on Trial in the Courtroom of Public Opinion” held Aug. 12 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of the 10th annual National Jewish Retreat, an event organized by the Brooklyn-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan challenged the pro-Israel community to engage in the debate about Israel rather than shutting off the opposition.

“If we look at the debate and we say the debate shouldn’t be happening, we’ve already lost because it means that we are not allowing our voice to be heard,” said Runyan. “If we acknowledge that the debate is going on and we say, ‘Yes, let’s have that debate about Israel, and let’s talk about how great the country is and how it’s doing all of these things right,’ then we can actually have a conversation with Israel’s detractors.”

Runyan was joined on the panel by Shahar Azani, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, and Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Dovid Efune, editor of The Algemeiner Journal, served as moderator.

Wood said that winning friends is as important as winning arguments and cautioned against in-fighting in the pro-Israel community.

“There is a real risk of turning our gunsights against each other and picking fights with each other,” said Wood. “Who is Zionist enough? Who is defending Israel the right way? Who is defending Israel in the wrong way? We couldn’t give a greater gift to our enemies than to be litigative and spiteful among ourselves. So building relationships, building friendships and maintaining the friendships within our own camp has to be an important part of what we do.”

Don’t allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to consume all the oxygen in the room when the topic of Israel is broached, advised Azani. Instead, be prepared to educate people about the positive contributions Israel has contributed to the world by engaging on social media and other forums.

Said Azani: “Be ready for the debate on the conflict, but don’t let it be your sole objective because by doing so you will have committed a crime against Israel. We are not just a counter-reaction to the Arab world or to the Palestinian people, we are a vibrant country on our own with a strong tradition and a tremendous gift to the world, and let us never, never forget this.”

A Quick and Easy Read With help from BT grad, daily newsletter that’s tailored to millennials gains traction

Austin Rief (left) and Alex Lieberman are co-founders of the Morning Brew.

Austin Rief (left) and Alex Lieberman are co-founders of the Morning Brew.

When Alex Lieberman, 22, began doing mock interviews for his friends at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, his original intention was to find something productive to do with his time.

“My big belief is if you do right by people then people will do right by you. I knew I had a knowledge base from following the market and I could provide value to my friends,” said Lieberman. “By involving myself in the interview process, I could figure out the flaws in it to help others succeed.”

While helping friends prepare for their interviews, he realized how difficult it was for his generation to access easy-to-read business news.

“The major sentiment of college students, at least at [the University of] Michigan, is that traditional business news is generally dry, dense and politically tilted,” said Lieberman. “We don’t have the attention span or time to flip through those kinds of articles.”

With that in mind, Lieberman aimed to fill what he saw as a gap in the market. He started aggregating the top business stories of the day and sent a summary to his peers called the Market Corner.

“Originally, it was just for my housemates, but it expanded to 250 people quickly,” said Lieberman. “I started to realize there was a tangible demand for this, and by January, I brought on Austin as a co-founder.”

Baltimore native and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate Austin Rief, 20, who is a junior at Michigan, helped Lieberman turn the Market Corner into what is now, the Morning Brew (

“[The Morning Brew is] a daily email newsletter geared toward millennials, ages 18 to 26, who don’t want to read through The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times,” said Rief. “It’s a quick read in a conversational tone that is entertaining but gives real business knowledge.”

The duo has managed to consistently grow their subscriber base since the newsletter’s inception and that meant also growing the team and the content. With several writers, two editors and a social media coordinator, the newsletter now includes several different sections: market corner, water cooler, the mix and the breakroom.

Each section is designed to be a casual and quick read but at the same time provide practical business knowledge. The roots of the news-letter have not been lost either; the breakroom provides an interview question of the day to get readers thinking.

“You have a 3-gallon and a 5-gallon jug that you can fill from a water fountain,” read one edition question of the breakroom. “You must fill one of the jugs with exactly four gallons of water. How do you do it?”

Michael Kessler, 21, who is also a junior at Michigan, joined the team as an editor after Rief reached out to him.

“I didn’t know what to expect but I have experience writing for the Michigan Daily,” said Kessler, referring to the university’s student newspaper. “I love writing, and I love business so when I heard about the Morning Brew from Austin, it was a way to combine those interests.”

Although Lieberman has graduated and is working full time at Morgan Stanley in New York, he is still growing Morning Brew with Rief and Kessler. But the divide in his time has taught him a lesson about prioritization.

“I think the biggest thing is staying organized and being able to prioritize especially now that I have a full-time job,” said Lieberman. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do.”

For Rief, he said he has learned more in six months of running a business than two years spent in college and that some things just can’t be learned in a classroom.

“You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get that newsletter out every day because thousands and thousands of people are expecting it to be in their inbox every morning,” said Rief. “You must be passionate about what you do. Especially in a business like this, where it requires ­a daily commitment, if you aren’t
passionate for the product and what you are doing, it is almost impossible to make it.”

Round 3 Witnesses testify to physical limitations of proposed Stevenson Chabad location

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer (standing) makes an argument against construction of a Chabad synagogue on the 8400 block of Stevenson Road. The hearing took place Aug. 12 in Towson.

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer (standing) makes an argument against construction of a Chabad synagogue on the 8400 block of Stevenson Road. The hearing took place Aug. 12 in Towson.

The debate over a proposed Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road turned to focusing on limitations due to the property’s location during the third hearing on Aug. 12.

Witnesses testified for more than four hours at the Office of Administrative Hearings in Towson about physical elements of the proposal that included parking, traffic and environmental concerns.

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, representing the residents, began by questioning Rabbi Velvel Belinsky about the need for a building that can accommodate three times the current size of his congregation, Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue.

“What bothers me a little bit, rabbi, is the fact that the Chabad, where you currently are, serves another part of the community that is growing,” Holzer said to Belinsky. “And I can’t imagine buying this land, building this building if there’s no anticipation that you could like to see more folks of Russian descent utilize your services and your activities.”

Belinsky responded by stating he did anticipate a growing number of congregants but that 22 parking spaces would meet the synagogue’s current needs. The congregation would be 4,000 square feet and seat 88. Belinsky has been operating his congregation, made up primarily of Russian Jews, out of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan’s Chabad on Old Pimlico Road. He said High Holiday services draw hundreds every year, but they rent a space.

“If I am planning to have an event that is more than 88 people, we plan to have it elsewhere,” Belinsky said in response to a question about holding events such as High Holiday services.

Deborah Katzen, a resident on nearby Topping Road, has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, including part of her childhood, and testified about the dangers of walking in the 1970s.

“When I grew up, my mom didn’t let me walk on Stevenson Road,” she said. “I rode my bike because [walking] was too dangerous. My parents drove me to school because they didn’t want me to walk to school.”

In 1977 after getting off a bus, Katzen was hit by a car that had skidded 20 feet. Now a mother of 4-year- old twins, she worries about sections of the road that are narrower.

“If a child is playing outside or running outside, there is no room for error,” she said. “There is no skidding 20 feet, there is no 20 feet.”

When asked by opposing attorney Herbert Burgunder whether she would object to a house on the proposed site, Katzen said she would not but that a Chabad would not make sense in a neighborhood with no sidewalks.

“The idea of having a building that would include 22 parking spaces is a little daunting to me,” she said. “I really do hope we get a synagogue somewhere, I just don’t think this is the right place for it.”

Several members of the group Friends of Stevenson Road that opposes the development packed the hearing room including Jessamyn Abel, one of its leaders. She maintains the use of the 8400 block as a synagogue goes against the residential use it was originally zoned for.

“It’s been touching to hear the testimony of many of the neighbors and how we have all expressed a concern for safety and the maintenance of the bucolic nature of Stevenson as a neighborhood,” she said.

Among those who also testified to the dangers of Stevenson Road were Maryland State Delegates Dana Stein and Dan Morhaim.

Toward the end of the hearing civil engineer Ben Soleimani, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, testified to the physical attributes of the property. His main concern stemmed from the proximity of a tributary of the Jones Falls, which is prone to erosion. Soleimani has lived at his home on Gardenview Road since 2004 and said Baltimore County officials determined long ago that the problems of runoff and erosion could not be solved. He agreed with their assessment.

“Based on the work I’ve done, I don’t see sufficient room to do stormwater management,” he said.

After about 20 minutes of testimony, Burgunder raised an objection that Soleimani was not licensed to perform stormwater management evaluations by the state of Maryland.

“He’s drawing conclusions that require performing surveys, understanding what a stormwater management plan is for the property,” he said. “He’s suggesting frankly to your honor that there is no stormwater management plan and that’s frankly not the truth.”

Judge John Beverungen overruled the objection and allowed the testimony to continue. When Burgunder cross-examined Soleimani, he asked him why there was no stormwater management plan for Chizuk Amuno to which the engineer answered that the property’s age precluded it from this type of planning. Soleimani added that this part of Stevenson Road is much flatter than the proposed site for the Chabad, which includes a 20-foot drop in elevation.

“[Chizuk Amuno has] more open area and it has more pavement,” he said. “The runoff is caught through the whole perimeter of the property because it’s next to 695.”

After the hearing Belinsky said in an interview with the JT he is confident Beverungen will approve the plan. He thinks that there is a misconception that all of his congregants are observant Jews who do not drive on Shabbat.

“They (the opposition) are basing their position on the assumption that everyone who comes walks,” he said.

Belinsky referred to people who had testified during the hearing who walked or witnessed others walking on Stevenson Road, including some who walk to Chizuk Amuno.”

“People walk now, they jog, they walk their dogs,” he said. “A couple more people are going to be walking? I don’t see how it impacts the area. Why does everyone think it’s OK to walk to Chizuk Amuno and not to us?”

POW! BAM! SHABBAT! Beth Shalom, bar mitzvah await ‘super’ visit from DC Comics editor

Eli Kuperman will have his bar mitzvah on Sept. 5, the Saturday morning after the Superhero Shabbat event.

Eli Kuperman will have his bar mitzvah on Sept. 5, the Saturday morning after the Superhero Shabbat event.

Beth Shalom Congregation is hosting a Superhero Shabbat on Sept. 4, inspired by the theme of Eli Kuperman’s bar mitzvah the next day, which will feature Robert “Bob” Greenberger, former “Star Trek” writer and editor/ publishing executive at DC Comics.

“We were thinking about bar mitzvah themes and my first thought was sports, but it’s stereotypical,” said Eli. “I’ve always liked superheroes, we figured it’d be a fun theme so we decided to go with it.”

Greenberger, who has authored several anthologies about superheroes and their creators, said many people would be surprised learning about the history of the comic book industry.

“The big thing people don’t realize is the printing executive who thought to take the comic section of Sunday’s paper and fold it in half was a Jew,” said Greenberger, referring to what became the approximate size of a typical comic book.

Many Jewish men who had aspirations for writing and publishing ended up in the comic book industry as a result of anti-Semitism, Greenberger noted.

“A lot of them could not get regular jobs in the [writing] industry because they were Jewish,” said Annette Kuperman, Eli’s mother, who has been compiling information about superheroes in preparation for her son’s bar mitzvah.

Unlike other writing-based industries, comic books rarely included the name of the author or illustrator on the page, she added. Those who did sign their names were still sensitive about their religious backgrounds.

For instance, Jacob Kurtzberg, who created Captain America alongside Joe Simon, is better known as Jack Kirby. Jerry Siegel, who used pseudonyms such as Jerry Ess, created Superman with Joe Shuster.

“Stan Lee is an exception to that rule,” said Greenberger.

He explained that Stan Lee, one of the most famous writers of the time, whose actual name is Stanley Martin Lieber, really wanted to write novels; he had no desire to create comics. So when Lieber used the pen name for the comic industry, it was not due to his religious background, he preserved his real name for his novels, which didn’t have much success.

However, Lieber and others would find success in comic books, and Greenberger attributes it to the same backgrounds they were forced to hide. They grew up in Jewish homes with traditional values, where there was an emphasis on reading and writing. This focus on education ultimately made them more competitive in the job market.

“They couldn’t get roles in traditional fields, so they went to niche markets and turned it into big business,” said Greenberger. “They made something out of nothing, and there is lot to be admired from that.”

One of the reasons these men created superheroes with superpowers, according to Kuperman’s research, was a result of the “nebbish” feeling their parents, who were immigrants, had when arriving into the U.S. Although Eli said the superhero he relates to the most is one without super powers.

“I relate most to Batman because everyone can strive to be him. We can all work toward being smart and rich. He accomplishes his goals without superpowers,” said Eli last week. “Unlike other superheroes who have exceptional powers given to them, Batman achieved his superhero status through hard work and dedication.”

There was initially a taboo in the comic industry that warned authors not to reveal a character’s religion. But that didn’t stop authors from dropping hints to their readers.

The Thing, from the “Fantastic Four,” was born on New York City’s Lower East Side which is known for having a large Jewish immigrant population. While his religion was kept a secret to start, it was revealed that Benjamin “Ben” Grimm, not only had a Jewish upbringing, but said the Sh’ma over the deathbed of a dying Mr. Sheckerberg, a pawn shop owner from Grimm’s old neighborhood.

It was also revealed Grimm even agreed to celebrate his bar mitzvah 13 years after beginning his second life as the Thing.

Eli, who will read the parshah,Ki Tavo, is excited not only about meeting Greenberger, but what he’ll accomplish the day after.

Said Eli, “I’m excited to finally be considered a Jewish man and that all this hard work is finally going to pay off.”

Pearlstone Moves Kosher Certification to Orthodox Union

The Pearlstone Center announced that it moved its kosher certification from Star-K to the Orthodox Union, effective Aug. 3.

“The move was made to enable Pearlstone to better fulfill its mission and serve its guests in providing the highest level of kashrut balanced with the flexibility to provide exciting and cutting-edge new services,” a news release said.

The Orthodox Union is the world’s largest and self-proclaimed most widely recognized kosher certification agency and certifies close to 1 million products in more than 8,000 plants in 80 countries.

Star-K, which is based in Baltimore, has provided kosher supervision for more than 50 years under the guidance of Rabbi Moshe Heinemann. The company expanded internationally in the 1970s.

The new partnership with OU allows Pearlstone to serve freshly made farm-to-table food from produce grown on-site as well as a large array of kosher sustainable or organic products and ingredients from other providers.

Pearlstone, which has a retreat center and sustainable farm and hosts various Jewish programs in Reisterstown, will continue to be able to provide Cholov Yisroel food services, a type of kosher certification of dairy products, but will now also be able to provide non-Cholov Yisroel products. Passover at Pearlstone will continue to be fully Cholov Yisroel.

“Pearlstone has great respect for Star-K and its work. This was a thoughtful, careful business decision the board made based on the best interests of Pearlstone and its guests,” Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone, said in a news release. “Pearlstone always has and always will do everything we can to serve all parts of the Jewish community. We are excited to partner with the OU and look forward to continuing our superior standard of kosher food service. This is just one of many enhancements we’ve made across our facility and throughout our services in the past year.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division, said the OU is excited to partner with Pearlstone, whose work and food highlights the connection between people and the land.

“This will be an exciting partnership that will enable all members of the Jewish community to enjoy a one-of-a-kind kosher dining experience that is acceptable to all,” he said in the release.

A Man of Great Character Owings Mills’ Lenny ‘Batman’ Robinson, dedicated to brightening lives of sick children, dies in roadside crash

Leonard “Lenny” Robinson, known to many as Batman due to his dedication to visiting hospitalized children while dressed as the superhero, died Aug. 16. He was 51. Robinson had stopped his car on the shoulder of Interstate 70 near Hagerstown, Md., to check on apparent engine trouble, when a Toyota Camry hit his Lamborghini Batmobile, which then hit him. His car had not been completely clear of the driving lane, according to a police statement. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Robinson, an Owings Mills resident who volunteered hundreds of hours and spent tens of thousands of dollars each year bringing happiness to ill children and their parents, was well-known in the halls of LifeBridge Sinai Hospital.

“The amazing thing about Lenny is that he used the Batman costume and the car to form a bond with kids; their eyes would light up, and the adults too,” said Dr. John Herzenberg, director of the International Center for Limb Lengthening at Sinai. “But the real contribution was Lenny; his humanity, his beautiful kindness, his generosity and his complete lack of guile. He was just a sincere, honest, caring man.”

Herzenberg, who knew Robinson from his visits to the pediatric ward and his regular attendance at — and support of — charity events for more than a decade, said Robinson was “inspired by the children as much as they were inspired by him,” and also quite humble, always deflecting any praise he received back to the kids, who Robinson referred to as “the real heroes.”

Marilyn Richardson, child-life specialist and pediatric liaison at Sinai, said Robinson made a world of difference in children’s lives.

“He was just amazing, he knew the kids personally; it was more than just a one-time visit. He knew them by name, he acknowledged them and loved them and gave them courage,” Richardson said, adding, “When Batman came to see you, that changed everything.”

Robinson was also an anti-bullying advocate.

Richardson recalled that one young patient, who knew Batman from hospital visits and other charity events, told her schoolmates that ‘she knew Batman and he was her friend.’ Her classmates teased her about the claim and called her a liar, which made her sad. When Robinson learned of the situation, “he showed up at school to prove them wrong. Then she became the star,” Richardson said.

Stacy Fox Crain met Robinson long before he took on the Batman persona. At about age 12, she moved onto the block where Robinson was her neighbor.

He owned a cleaning business and worked long hours, but in the evenings he was always in his garage, hand-washing his classic cars and playing ‘80s music, she recalled.

“All the neighborhood kids would come and hang out with Lenny. He would spin his cars around the court to get the water out of the mirrors,” and we’d have fun watching him. “He even took 10 neighborhood kids to an Orioles game, and we had the best time,” she said.

Crain said Robinson was respected in the community, had many friends, was very close with his children, nieces and nephews and “was just someone you wanted to be around.”

Crain recalled that the Batman persona began when one of his sons became fascinated with the character as a little boy.

He started showing up at birthday parties dressed as the superhero, and soon after, his living and dining room was “packed with Batman regalia that he would give away” to kids.

Whoever requested him, whether for a birthday or at a hospital, “there was nothing that Lenny — or Batman — wouldn’t do for you. … He was a hero even before he dressed up,” Crain said.

Robinson was always doing favors for neighbors too, even giving rides to Crain’s mother and grandmother when her grandfather was having heart surgery. And “if your house flooded, he was the first one there.”

Shua Bier, an attorney in Pikesville, met Batman when his daughter spent her first three months of life in Sinai’s neonatal unit. He saw him once again at Race for Our Kids, a fundraising event for the children’s hospital.

“He was always very kind, I knew he was a good man,” Bier said. “Whatever extra time and resources he had, he used for good. With my limited interaction, I could see he was a very special individual.”

Robinson’s selflessness was a big part of his character, whether in or out of costume.

“In that way he was a real hero,” said Herzenberg. “You might even say a superhero. Anyone can put on a costume and drive a car, but only Lenny could do it with the feeling and emotion and caring of the kids and what they were going through.”

Robinson was the devoted father of Justin, Brandon and Jake Robinson; beloved son of Larry D. and Ilona M. Robinson (nee Mermelstein); cherished brother of Scott (Jodi) Robinson and Michelle Robinson (Jeffrey Stroller); loving uncle of Marissa, Amanda and Lindsay Brook Robinson.

Contributions in his memory may be sent to Superheroes for Kids, c/o Marilyn Richardson (RIAO), Sinai Hospital, 1500 W. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, MD 21215.

Witness Dismantles Part of Opposition to Stevenson Chabad Cites regulations that appear to help rabbi

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky testifies on Aug. 5 at a Baltimore County Administrative Law hearing over his proposed synagogue.

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky testifies on Aug. 5 at a Baltimore County Administrative Law hearing over his proposed synagogue.

During the second hearing over a proposed Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue, one witness may have refuted one of the two cases neighborhood opposition brought against the rabbi and his congregation.

The issue in question is if Rabbi Velvel Belinsky’s plans are compatible with a nearly decade-old development plan that called for single-family homes to be built on the property. Due to how the property was classified by a judge in 2006, the new plans don’t have to be compatible, according to testimony by a witness with
expertise in zoning regulations.

Belinsky aims to build a 4,000-square-foot building for the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad congregation for Russian Jews, in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road. The synagogue will have an 88-seat sanctuary, 22 parking spaces in the back, a social hall, a small kitchen and a basement with a classroom and office space.

The surrounding residential neighborhood is vehemently opposing the synagogue proposal with the help of three attorneys, two of which were hired by neighborhood families and the third being a resident. In addition to the issue of the previous development plan, the other case against
Belinsky is over residential transition areas. Known as RTAs, Baltimore County requires buffers to be put in place to blend a building in with its surroundings and make it less visible from the road.

While the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 allows religious institutions to locate in residential areas, in this case, neighbors would rather see houses built on the property than deal with the synagogue’s activity and traffic.

The first hearing on the cases, both being heard by Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen, took place in late June. The second hearing was held on Wednesday, Aug. 5 and a third on Wednesday, Aug. 12 (after The Jewish Times went to press).

At the second hearing, attorney Timothy Kotroco, who works on land use and zoning laws, spoke about the old development plan for the property and how that plan informs what Belinsky needs to do to develop there. Kotroco spent nearly 25 years in Baltimore County government working in several capacitiesincluding in the county attorney’s office, as deputy zoning commissioner, as director of permits and development management and as an administrative law judge, and worked on cases not unlike this one, he said.

Kotroco reviewed prior hearings related to the property and explained that in 2006 the judge that oversaw the case involving the subdivision of the property designated it a small tract subdivision. That 2006 designation made the property exempt from certain zoning regulations, which meant that amendments to the development plan did not need to be “consistent with the spirit and intent of the original plan.” The basis of one of the opposition’s cases is that it is inconsistent with the original plan.

J. Carroll Holzer, an attorney working on behalf of neighborhood residents, and Herbert Burgunder, Belinsky’s attorney, declined to comment on Kotroco’s testimony as the case is ongoing.

More than 100 people attended the first hearing, many of whom wore red T-shirts that said “Friends of Stevenson Road, Protecting Our Neighborhood.” More than 50 attended the second hearing, many wearing the same shirts.

In previous interviews with the JT, Belinsky’s congregants recounted how difficult it was to exercise religion in Soviet Russia and how Belinsky has taught them about Jewish traditions, holidays and history. The congregation currently operates out of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan’s space on Old Pimlico Road.

Residents opposed to the construction of a synagogue are worried about traffic and pedestrian safety, and many contend they would rather see houses built on the property.

Another hearing will take place in September.

Mayor Meets with Jewish Community Northwest Baltimore residents talk of major safety concerns

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake meets with members of the  Jewish community in Northwest Baltimore on Aug. 9.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake meets with members of the
Jewish community in Northwest Baltimore on Aug. 9.

Jewish residents in Northwest Baltimore voiced a need for additional resources to combat crime in a private meeting with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Sunday, Aug. 9.

About 30 people gathered at the home of David and Malke Kramer for a discussion with the mayor and other local leaders about the recent increase in crime across the city among other related issues.

Rawlings-Blake began her remarks by defending the city’s response to the rash of violence that has popped up across the city since the Freddie Gray riots in April. July marked the deadliest month for Baltimore since 1972 with 45 homicides.

“It’s not lost on me that it impacts every community,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake said that since Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis took over the position on July 8, the number of arrests, drug seizures and gun seizures have all gone up. She credited the city’s new “war room,” which is staffed with state and federal authorities, as one of the major reasons for those increases.

“[In the morning] I check my text messages from overnight and on one of the first days after the war room was set up there weren’t many messages of shootings or homicides, she said.

Rawlings-Blake referenced the Black Guerilla Family as one of the gangs responsible for a portion of the violence and said the fact that most of the cases involve individuals who are known to each other creates an added danger.

“While we were patting ourselves on the back, [gang members] were convinced that it wasn’t our investigation. It was the snitches in their organization that caused their arrests.”

Gang violence has created such a negative image for Baltimore that many business owners, such as Jerry Wolasky, are worried.

“We have a sour reputation nationally. I’m getting calls from all over the country asking. ‘Why are you staying in Baltimore?’” he said.

Wolasky attributed the gang activity to a lack of good public schools and other socioeconomic factors that lead to a divide between the haves and have-nots.

“Within the city [we have] people who are growing up without parents, without the home and family life they need,” he said. “[They] move toward gangs; [they’re] growing up in a terrible, terrible environment.”

He thinks construction of new schools is a Band-Aid approach and would rather see an option for underprivileged students to move from public to private schools using vouchers. Rawlings-Blake responded by calling Wolasky’s view of the public schools “outdated.”

“There are a lot of schools that are doing very well for their students,” she said. “I don’t think they’re all perfect, but to suggest it’s the worst of the evils is a very shortsighted view of what’s going on in our schools.”

Rawlings-Blake asserted she is not wearing “rose-colored glasses” but that the riots cemented an image of the city that she hopes to combat.

“While I’m not questioning whether or not you got those calls, I’m also not going to question the fact that when I see significant investment still happening, that means people are still encouraged by Baltimore’s future,” she said.Rawlings-Blake also defended her record on addressing the structural budget deficit.

“If I had an interest in Band-Aid approaches to Baltimore’s problems, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on a 10-year financial plan,” she said. “I would’ve taken the same approach as every mayor has taken before me, which is to say, ‘Yeah, I see that structural budget deficit right there. I’ll
be way gone by the time those bills become due. I’ll pass it on to the next person.’ I wasn’t interested in that. I was interested in looking for solutions to the problems we have.”

The discussion became slightly more heated when Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann, from Kehilath B’nai Torah, questioned the mayor’s initial response to the riots.

“As the city burned, for law-abiding citizens it would have been so much more reassuring if they would have seen you spending the afternoon with the governor rather than spending the
afternoon with the Rev. [Al] Sharpton, who came in from out of town and has never really run a municipality, has never really solved a riot, has never really brought healing,” he said.

Seidemann said he felt her motives were “pure” but that the image of Sharpton meeting with Rawlings-Blake sent a message of comfort to the protestors without addressing the immediate public-safety needs of the city.

“The people who by and large were smashing police cars and throwing rocks at our dedicated law enforcement officers and burning CVSs, they’re not the contributing members of this city who pay taxes and go to work,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake followed the comments with an off-the-record response.

The last few questions dealt with the rise in robberies in the Northwest District, most of which are said to be committed by criminals who are “older and more experienced,” according to the Northwest Citizens Patrol.  Isaac Schleifer, vice president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, said he thinks an increase in crime lab resources is necessary for dealing with more minor crimes.

“There’s really no need for the amount of policing if we’re not going to be resolving the crime,” he said. “And in order to resolve the crime, you need a crime lab that can respond to calls and not get tied up someplace else in the city with a murder, which is going to happen.”

In a comment to The Jewish Times, Rawlings-Blake said she thinks this would help solve crimes similar to those occurring in the Northwest District.

If we had more resources available in the crime lab, we could do a better job identifying them and getting them off the street,” she said.

Jews in Paradise In Curaçao, vibrant Jewish history gives way to small but committed community

Tourists come to Curaçaoin the southern part of the Caribbean Sea to snorkel and dive in its turquoise waters, to lie out on the 30-plus sandy beaches as a constant breeze blows past, to marvel at Mother Nature as the ocean crashes angrily against the cliffs of Shete Boca National Park and to sample the famous blue Curaçao liqueur brewed from the skins of the island’s bitter oranges.

Willemstad, the capital city for the 150,000 people who call the island home, is a UNESCO World Heritage City. Its pastel colored grand houses — originally white until 1817 when the governor ordered them painted, as it was decided that the glare of the sun was bad for the eyes — sync perfectly with the island’s colorful culture that melds Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, African, Caribbean and South American influences.

Of the 765 historic buildings that span across the capital city’s districts of Punda, Otrobanda — literally “the other side,” as the St. Anna Bay divides the city in two — Pietermaai and Scharloo, a Sephardic synagogue is highly touted alongside the likes of the Governor’s House and Fort Amsterdam.

A small sign hangs on the corner of the light yellow building in the Punda district, directing tourists to the entrance of Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and Museum, the oldest continuously used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Visitors traipse through the doors to the complex under a Hebrew sign that reads “Blessed may you be in your coming.” On the right side of the black-and-white tiled courtyard is the historic synagogue building, where every Shabbat and major simcha has been celebrated since 1732.

Sephardic Dutch Jews settled in Curaçao, part of the “ABC” islands (Aruba and Bonaire are the others) near Venezuela, in 1651. They earned their livings as merchants primarily and built a soaring Sephardic-style snoa, or synagogue, set with rich mahogany pews anchored with four tall white columns inscribed with the names of the matriarchs and giant chandeliers hanging high above that can hold 144 candles.

Past the entrance to the much-chronicled synagogue, whose floors are covered in white sand imported from Suriname, is an iron gate. It leads into a smaller courtyard flanked by two smaller houses, which once served as the rabbi’s residence and mikvah house. Here is the entrance to the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum and the woman at its helm, Myrna Moreno.

Since she took over as museum curator in 2002, Moreno has ensured that the brainchild of Jessy Jesurun, a member of a prominent local Jewish family, preserves the past and tells the story of the Jews who remain on the island, most of whom attend the snoa, now affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement.

Walking around the two floors of the museum, which was dedicated in November 1970, she points to improvements she’s made during her 13-year tenure. Moreno has added new exhibit labels in Dutch and English, restored paintings and reformatted and expanded displays — her favorite is a deerskin Torah scroll from 1320, carefully stored upright in its own glass cabinet.

The biggest challenge, she explains, is coaxing locals to explore this aspect of Curaçao history.

“The cruise ship tourists, they come to the museum, but the local people you have to inspire, you have to teach them. There is a threshold — they’re scared,” said Moreno. “They say, ‘What are they doing in there? A church with sand on the floor? They must be doing strange things in there.’”

“I say, ‘No,’” Moreno said with a chuckle. “By catering the right things to them, the locals enjoy it and the tourists too.”

For the record, three official explanations are offered for the sand floors. The first is that similar Spanish-Portuguese synagogues found in the Caribbean, such as the St. Thomas Synagogue in the U.S. Virgin Islands, use sand floors to serve as a reminder of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert. The second explanation offered is that many of the Sephardic ancestors of today’s congregants lived as conversos, secret Jews, in Spain and Portugal. Sand floors helped to muffle the sound of their worship to passers-by who might wish them harm. The final explanation offered is the sand symbolizes the promise God made to the Abraham to multiply his seed “as the sands of the seashore.”

A notable exhibit, she said, was one on the nannies of Jewish children, known as yayas in the local Creole language Papiamento. Yayas were black slaves or former slaves who looked after the children of wealthy Jewish households. Yayas were second mothers to the children and taught their charges Papiamento and about local wildlife and attended to the children’s daily needs.

Some members of the Jewish community worried about the controversy such an exhibit might attract, but Moreno found the response to be overwhelmingly positive.

“I was getting people from 80 to 85 years old coming with grandchildren,” said Moreno. “One lady said, ‘I was a seamstress for all these Jewish people, can I touch this fabric?’” referring to a yaya uniform displayed on a mannequin.

“Then another lady came and said, ‘I used to be a proud silver polisher for the Jewish families.’ That is the link I am trying to get,” said Moreno.

Clarita Hagenaar, an expert tour guide, directs tourists’ attention to the grand mansions of the Scharloo district of Willemstad, which was once home to wealthy Jewish families such as the Maduros and Penhas, whose names are still emblazoned on the sides of buildings in the capital city.

Also read, Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao.

On the way to a stand that sells handmade local sweets, Hagenaar gestures to the corner of a busy intersection not far from the floating market where Venezuelans sell fish and fresh produce. There, she recalls from her childhood, tourists would come to town and make huge purchases from the Jewish-owned jewelry stores. So safe was the island that porters would carry the diamond-laden bags down the street to the ships without security escorts.

During the Jewish High Holy Days, Hagenaar continued, so many shops were closed that it was as if the non-Jewish locals were treated to an extra holiday. These days, Hagenaar said, a new wave of immigrants from China and India operate many of the shops downtown.

The Jews of Curaçao shared their wealth with other communities through- out the Americas, including congregations in Newport, R.I., Philadelphia, Caracas, Venezuela and Colon in Panama. According to information compiled by Michele Russel-Capriles, some of those congregations still say a special prayer for the Curaçao community on Yom Kippur.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life.

Hagenaar pauses yet again to draw attention to another yellow-and-white building that looks distinctly like a church but without a cross on top. It was not a church but the former home of Temple Emanuel, established in 1864 by Sephardic Jews who wanted to practice a more liberal stream of Judaism akin to the Reform Jewish Movement that was taking root in the United States. One third of the snoa’s membership went on to the new synagogue, but there was such crossover and intermarriage between the two communities that 100 years later the two Sephardic congregation  merged, thus the present hyphenated name.

Today, Hagenaar bemoans, the Temple Emanuel building is now a government facility where locals go to pay fines.

Not long after Temple Emanuel was founded, Ashkenazi Jews, predominantly from Central Europe, began arriving in Curaçao in the 1920s and ‘30s and like their counterparts in the United States, took up as peddlers before becoming shop owners just as prominent as their Sephardic neighbors. The Ashkenazim established a social center and sports club and dedicated their own congregational building called Shaarei Tsedek in Scharloo in 1959. In the 1980s, the congregation sold its building to move into a more suburban location, though its new building, round in shape with a stunning glass dome, was not completed and dedicated until 2006. Shaarei Tsedek continues to follow Asheknazi Orthodox customs, though some membership will attend the snoa too.

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and her husband Morris Seibald (see sidebar, above) belong to both congregations. Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald was a founder of Shaarei Tsedek, while Sheila’s family has been members of Mikve Israel-Emanuel for seven generations.

When the two married some 40 years ago, there’s was considered a “mixed marriage” because of her Sephardic background and his Ashkenazic background. Up to the day of the wedding, Sheila told me, her future husband’s grandmother kept asking relatives, “Are you sure [Sheila is] Jewish? She doesn’t speak Yiddish!”

The couple’s three children refer to themselves as “Ashkefards” or “Porto-pols” — half and half. Morris, admittedly, prefers to spend Shabbat mornings at Shaarei Tsedek, and the couple alternates where they worship for the major holidays.

Every Friday night and Saturday morning, the snoa is filled with worshippers and the sounds of the grand pipe organ built in 1866 — the oldest pipe organ in the area and thought to be the second oldest in the Americas — and restored shortly after the congregation’s 350th anniversary in 2001 with a generous donation made by the Ministry for Interior and Kingdom Affairs of The Netherlands. Services are led by Cantor Avery Tracht. A local from the Adventist church plays on the Sabbath so the congregants do not have to violate that aspect of Jewish law.

Ritual objects housed in the museum are routinely used by the congregation. In a glass cabinet near the reception desk are ornate silver breastplates used for the High Holy Days and Rosh Chodesh. A silver chanukiah from 1716 is lit with olive oil during the week of Chanukah. Glass goblets are still smashed against a 300-year old wedding tray at the conclusion of nuptials celebrated in the synagogue.

Though the number of Jews on the island is dwindling — Moreno estimates just 300 Jews between Mikve Israel-Emanuel and Shaarei Tsedek — those who remain are committed to Jewish life. There is a Hebrew school and an active BBYO chapter. Extended families routinely share Shabbat dinners together. All take pride in the long history of their beloved snoa.

More information about the synagogue and museum is available at This trip was sponsored by the Curacao Tourist Board and Diamond Public Relations.

Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)

A gentleman in South Africa, who I interviewed earlier this year, said to me when I thanked him for his time, “Kol yisrael chaverim. Do you know what this means? All of Israel are friends.”

Given recent events, I think the phrase kol yisrael mishpachah, all of Israel is family, might be even more apt.

When my editor asked me if I would like to take a press trip to Curaçao, I immediately responded, “Yes! Where’s that?” (This despite having visited Aruba two years before.) Then I called my husband, Avi Bardack, to tell him that I’d be traveling to the Caribbean without him.

We’re quite close to our families, both emotionally and geographically, so naturally Avi told his parents the news, who in turn told his grandparents, who in turn told other members of the extended family.

Not two days later I received a call from my father-in-law, Paul, telling me that his cousins, Maxine and James Perlmutter — who have known me most of my life independent of Avi — had traveled to Curaçao before and met cousins there.

Cousins in Curaçao?

Of course, I had to investigate.

Sure enough, when my tour group arrived at Mikve Israel-Emanuel on the last full day of the trip, there on the synagogue bulletin board was a birth announcement for a Seibald baby girl. Avi’s paternal grandmother, Charlotte Bardack, was Charlotte Sebold before marriage. Despite the difference in spelling, this must be the common link.

Avi managed to get contact information for the Curaçao Seibalds from the Perlmutters, and, taking a shot in the dark, I sent an email to Sheila Seibald-Delvalle and her husband, Morris Seibald. I would only be in Willemstad for a few hours on Friday morning, but could we meet up?

Immediately, Sheila sent me a note back, welcoming me to Curaçao and inviting me to stop by their shop before my flight the following afternoon.

The next morning, my gracious host from the tourism board, gave me a ride to Aventura, the lingerie shop owned by Sheila and Morris.

I was nervous at first; yes, this was family but distant family that I had never met. Sheila set me at ease right away. We chatted for two hours in the backroom office of their shop, with Morris dodging in and out between customers. Our conversation would have gone on longer were it not for my flight.

Sheila shared stories with me about growing up Jewish on the island, photos of her grandchildren and three children — two of whom live stateside — and her time studying in my neck of the woods, first at Goucher College and then at The George Washington University. Morris likewise attended GW. He further told me about weekly family Shabbat dinners and how his grandfather tutored him privately to keep alive cherished Orthodox Ashkenazi traditions.

The common link, my father-in-law discovered and Sheila confirmed, is through Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald. Another relative who is tracing the Seibald/Sebold family tree will be in touch soon.

Not only do I now have family in the Caribbean, but meeting Sheila and Morris has opened up the option to meet new relatives on the East Coast, in the Netherlands and in other parts of South America.

The Jewish people may be tiny in numbers, but we are big on family.