This Is Not the Charleston I Know

The unspeakable murder of nine accomplished, beloved and respected African-American Charlestonians of faith in their own church last week hit our city like an earthquake.

These murders occurred in my neighborhood, across the street from Buist Academy, the public magnet school my daughter and son attended with their white, black and Hispanic classmates.

This is not our Charleston.

Charlestonians do not believe in hate, lawlessness, racism or violence. “The Holy City,” as Charlestonians like to call their home, has from its birth in 1670 had the greatest respect for all religions and all places of worship. These killings have outraged each and every one of us.

Here stands one of the oldest Jewish congregations in America, my temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 across the street from the oldest Catholic Church in the South, St. Mary’s.

This is the city of our internationally respected mayor, Joseph P. Riley, who, beginning 40 years ago, named black Charlestonians to every top position in city government.

This is the city that recently built a memorial to Denmark Vesey, a leader of a slave revolt in 1822 and a member of the same church where the murders took place: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church south of Baltimore.

This is a city that sponsors an annual Arts Festival, MOJA (Swahili for “One”), celebrating African-American and other minority cultures.

A heinous murder by an evil person who was not from our city cannot change that.

The Jewish community of Charleston will stand shoulder to shoulder with the black community, as it has for years. Our rabbis have urged us to attend prayer vigils and other community outpourings of solidarity.

I am sure in the days ahead we will hear all about Charleston’s bloodstained history. It is true that Charleston was the city that imported more slaves from Africa than any other in America. It was the very heart of the Confederacy.

These facts and tragedies cannot be denied, but they do not define us in 2015. It has been a long road from then to now.

Charlestonians have lived together in peace for 150 years since the Civil War. Charleston was no Birmingham or Selma. The city desegregated peacefully in the 1960s. Charleston was the first place in South Carolina where public facilities and schools were integrated. And there was a reason for that: the people of Charleston.

Our city officials and African-American leaders never tolerated violence against civil rights protesters or the police. Indeed, Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young spoke to an overflow crowd at Emanuel during the hospital strike of 1969, which was national news. There was no violence — not from the protesters and not from the police.

Every true Charlestonian is grieving now. Somehow, knowing my city and its people as I do, something positive will come of this tragedy.

Robert N. Rosen is a third-generation Charlestonian. He is a lawyer, a former assistant city attorney and the author of several books.

Net-zero means surplus for nonprofits

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaNonprofits have a responsibility to their donor base: to use a donor’s money efficiently and to accomplish effectively the mission of the organization. And if organizations feel they have the right to continue to ask for voluntary donations, donors have the right to ask how their money is being used.

Donors should care if their money is primarily spent on facility operations or quality personnel and programs. With more awareness about high-efficiency low-cost building development, high energy costs are no longer an excuse for the high cost of doing business.

One organization that has set the bar high for using the building as a teaching tool for sustainability is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new building in Virginia Beach, the Brock Environmental Center. The building was designed to meet the Living Building Challenge requirements, which necessitate that a building must operate a full year at net-zero for energy and water consumption. Open for just a half of a year, it is well on track to achieving that goal.

The Living Building Challenge demonstrates that human development doesn’t have to deplete and impair the environment but can actually help to heal, repair and give back. Living on the coastal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, there is a need to proactively restore the balance of the Bay’s natural ecosystems.

Using solar roof panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells and rain cisterns, the Brock Center operates using natural resources while storing or supplying to others the surplus most months. Materials used in the construction of the building also provide a multitude of lessons in sustainability, from cypress logs recovered from the bottom of the Mississippi to reclaimed gym floors and bleachers from a nearby school demolition project.

Does designing a building to use these resources take more effort? Yes. But just like it was once uncommon to find produce grown without synthetically produced chemical pesticides, it is now so commonplace that all major retail chains now have organic food sections. The reason? Consumer demand.

Developers and architects investing in LEED and Living Building designs are changing conventions. They are sharing best practices and sourcing for supplies and changing the building industry.

So, why should you, a donor to nonprofits, care how buildings are built and the efficiency of how they are used by the occupants? Because as mission-driven organizations, they should be held accountable for how they spend your money. Not to be scrupulously penny pinching and cutting corners, but investing directly in the resources that will advance their mission.

A significant part of how a nonprofit is accountable to its donors is demonstrating a commitment to long-term sustainability. How will the programs supporting the mission continue to be impactful and be sustained for years to come?

Fiscal responsibility is directly connected to environmental impact, as anyone who follows the commodities markets can attest. Responsible use of resources demonstrates a fundamental understanding of long-term impact and pay-offs. Operating at net-zero isn’t just pushing numbers around on a spreadsheet. It is a substantial shift of assets available for mission-driven initiatives — like a surplus — that might also trigger a philosophical adjustment to responsible, mission-driven organizations that are focused on building a more sustainable future.

Aleeza Oshry is a local professional geologist, educator and sustainability expert.

Taking Stock

FTV_Terrill_MarcAs The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore readies for our Annual Meeting, marking the completion of another fiscal year and Annual Campaign, it is the appropriate time to glimpse back on the months that have passed. Through the year, we have had to navigate times of both challenge and jubilation.

It is hard to believe that it was a year ago that three Israeli teens were kidnapped while hiking near the West Bank. The ensuing search for the missing boys and the later tragic discovery of their bodies united the Jewish world in collective despair and mourning.

And, the realization of this national trauma put Israel and the region back into a familiar place of war and unrest. Rockets fired from Gaza on civilian targets, IDF responded and so on and so on. It was a long summer, to say the least.

Aside from hopes and prayers for peace and understanding in the region, our Baltimore Jewish community rallied with impressive human and financial support for Israel’s most vulnerable. We had a role to play and we did. Elderly were tended to, children received needed trauma counseling and the most pressing needs received the full heart of world Jewry.

Our concern for our global family also extended to those caught in the crossfire of political unrest in Ukraine. Through the work of our overseas partners, we were and are a lifeline to many who literally have no other source of support. Because of the strength of our Annual Campaign, we were able to ensure that those who require a caring, loving hand have one in The Associated system. We fed, clothed and provided relief to the poorest Jews on the planet.

Here at home, we were able to answer the immediate needs of our community and plan ahead for future generations based on the strength and wisdom of our centralized system of giving and collaboration. The Associated is dedicated to uplifting the vulnerable and inspiring a deep connection to Judaism, Israel and each other.

Because of the work we have done collectively as a community this past year, we are able to provide enriching Jewish programs for families with young children, meaningful Israel experiences for teens and young adults, rewarding summers for our campers, diverse Jewish opportunities for our college students, strong education for students with special needs, safe haven for survivors of domestic violence, career counseling for those in search of jobs, dignity for our oldest residents and so much more.

And we remain committed to tikkun olam, repairing the world. When there is an opportunity for the Jewish community to step forward and be good neighbors to all who live and work in Baltimore, The Associated and our community are present.

We could not accomplish any of these great strides for our community in isolation. It is thanks to thousands of generous donors and volunteers and partner organizations that we are a strong vibrant community and that we look optimistically toward an even brighter tomorrow. Through collaboration, cooperation and commitment to our sacred legacy, I know that the future years will be met with the same resolve as this one. Thank you! Enjoy the summer!

Marc B. Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Help celebrate the end of the campaign year with The Associated on June 24.
Visit associated.org/annualmeeting.

Embracing Your Jewish Identity

The cheer “Identity, identity, who am I? A BBG” has become prominent in every BBG’s life. (BBG is the girl’s division of BBYO.) Being Jewish isn’t just a phrase, it’s who you are. From May 15 to 17, more than 60 Jewish teens from BBYO Baltimore Council had the opportunity to go to this year’s Council Convention at Camp Louise. The teens definitely cheered this cheer loudly, and this time they took it to heart.

Being Jewish hasn’t always been easy for me. My middle school had just four Jewish kids including me. I didn’t know quite how to encompass my heritage. But when high school rolled around, I became a part of BBYO. BBYO has given me so many opportunities to embrace my Jewish heritage. Council Convention was one of them.

We passed around a house made of paper and talked about when we felt most welcomed. We then signed the house with our names in a heart: BBYO is our heart and home. Some girls mentioned how they felt welcomed when they traveled to Israel. When one girl visited, she was extremely nervous, but as soon as she walked in the door of her host family’s home, she was treated with the utmost respect and hospitality. The family embraced her with open arms. This is what BBYO continually does for me.

I want others to know that being Jewish shouldn’t be something to hide. I know that when I was in middle school, I was hesitant to share my thoughts about religion. I was even worried about inviting my friends to my bat mitzvah, but they ended up being very supportive, and I am eternally grateful. But, to the Jews who don’t have the kind of friends that I had in middle school, I want them to know that in BBYO, you can embrace your Jewish identity to the fullest.

Unfortunately, Jews in some other countries are not as lucky as we are. They are constantly fearful of being caught with a Torah in their hand or a yarmulke on their head. In places such as Turkey, where anti-Semitism exists, Jews take many precautions to hide their identities.

It is gatherings such as the Council Convention that make me feel proud to be a Jew. When I’m in the middle of a cheer circle, screaming BBG spirit songs at the top of my lungs, I know, more than the fact that my throat will be sore the next day, that I am a part of something bigger than myself. And that feels pretty good.

Being Jewish is so much more than synagogues and matzo ball soup. Being Jewish can be anything you want it to be. I love being Jewish, and I embrace that every day of my life. I want to make sure that others are doing the same.

Sara Rike is a freshman at Franklin High School and a member from Orali BBG in the Northern Region East: Baltimore Council. To learn more about BBYO, contact Danielle Hercenberg, BBYO Baltimore Council regional director, at bmore@bbyo.org or call 410-559-3549.

Open Letter to Tom Brady, Master of the Inflated Lie

Dear Tom: I came to the United States after a childhood spent in hero-worshipping British soccer players. Whether from Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, these teams contained individuals who were nothing less than divinely inspired in their extraordinary athletic abilities, heroic gamesmanship and the adulation they inspired because of the stratospheric standards of play that they brought to the game.

Then I came to America, and I saw American football. At first, I viewed this sport as a game fit for elephants and bears. I just couldn’t understand how anyone with a slightest sense of athletic ability could ever call this game a sport. Not only did it welcome an entire litany of physical violence, which, out of the field, would have created a rap sheet of creative assaults as long as your arm, but it also seemed to stop every few moments just when you thought something was actually moving.

And then, Tom, I watched you and the Patriots. Already a rising star, not only in American football, but also in the eyes of those who knew of your great potential, discipline, uncommon abilities and great athleticism. And not just in the football world, but in the greater ESPN world of sports everywhere. I saw how people worshipped you, elevated you, spoke with such esteem about you. I became a great fan of yours and an even greater fan of the Ravens. You made me a believer, and for this you were my secret tutor and teacher.

But now you entered the very sordid and sorry world of cheating. The scandal of Deflategate is possibly the most insignificant, stupid and, at times, laughable incident to hit sports news in a long, long time. After all, it’s not wife beating or criminal assault. And, Tom, as you yourself admitted: It’s not ISIS.

But it is the need for even a most adulated player to do something illegal in order to attain a high level of adoration even at a cost to standing, character and integrity.

You have it all, Tom. Did you really have to demean yourself, put your entire life’s sports successes in such jeopardy as to do this and then lie about it? In this regard you are no different from anyone else. Despite it all, you just showed how low you have come from the extraordinary heights of adulation to the ordinary depths of self-preservation. You have now not only a very questionable record on which to hoist your life, but now the question is: Do you
deserve to be called a Patriot? For in this behavior, you have acted in the most unpatriotic of ways.

I do hope that my own personal sports hero, whom I have virtually ebraced and followed these past 20 years, tennis star Roger Federer, allows me a lifetime of adulation as a true hero, who never compromises that admiration and hero worship by an act that will deflate my esteem.

Tom Brady, you have so much more to learn.

Rabbi Chaim Landau is rabbi emeritus at Greenspring Valley Synagogue.

A Bar Mitzvah That Makes Us All Proud

Throughout my career I have attended well over 2,000 b’nai mitzvah, all of them are special and unique. Yet, every so often one Shabbat morning stands out from the others and I know that the Beth El community is celebrating a significant Jewish success. For the last 10 years, Beth El Congregation has committed itself to providing Jewish education to families outside Pikesville. We have created classes in Roland Park, Federal Hill, Howard County and, most recently, Carroll County.

With no affiliated congregations in Carroll County and only a lay-led Jewish afterschool program, Beth El established two Neighborhood Schools: one in Westminster and the other in Sykesville, bringing a highly energetic, multisensory and meaningful Jewish education to 18 students ranging from elementary to middle school ages.

Brandon Hoppenstein is one of these students. A year ago, Brandon could not read a word of Hebrew, or even a single prayer. His Jewish education was limited to his family’s participation in holiday rituals. For a short time, he attended the lay-led afterschool program with his sister Meredith, but he was not engaged, and he was not learning Hebrew.

On May 16, Shabbat morning, Brandon became a bar mitzvah at Beth El Congregation. He chanted beautifully his Haftarah and read Torah as though he had been reading Torah for years. He learned not only his Shabbat requirements, but he learned the weekday Torah reading as well.

Brandon never complained about attending Hebrew School in our Neighborhood. He and his sister enjoyed their weekly classes with his moreh (teacher), Sid Molofsky, a veteran public school vice principal and passionate Jewish educator. Brandon embraced Hebrew reading and worked on his bar mitzvah skills without coaxing from his parents. He understood how special becoming a bar mitzvah was to his entire family. “They are an absolute joy,” his teacher said. “Through his perseverance and hard work, Brandon accomplished in one year what other students accomplish after years of religious school.”

Brian, Brandon’s father, told us just how special the experience was for his entire family. “The connection with a congregation was so important to our family, and we had nowhere to affiliate in Carroll County. We didn’t know what we were going to do as Brandon became old enough for bar mitzvah studies; then we learned about the Neighborhood School and the affiliation with the beautiful Beth El synagogue.” Sid described his goal for the Neighborhood School simply as wanting the Carroll County kids to be proud of being Jewish. Mr. Molofsky said, “They don’t have many Jewish peers or a synagogue to attend, but there is no doubt in my mind that the children get it.” Heather, Brandon’s mother, stated how Sid was amazing; “He made sure that the Carroll County students shared the same curriculum taught to students at Beth El’s Berman-Lipavsky Religious School in Pikesville.”

Brandon is not finished with his Jewish education. He is exploring Achshav, Beth El’s joint leadership initiative with Chizuk Amuno, for next year. Brandon is an exceptional young man. He makes me so proud of what we have created in our Neighborhood School communities. I know that as he continues on his Jewish journey, his foundation is strong.

Dr. Eyal Bor is director of Education and director of the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Life Long Learning at Beth El Congregation.

Whatever It Takes To Reduce Crime

060515_rikki_spektorLet me begin by stating, unequivocally, that this is not meant as a criticism of either our city administration, the City Council, the Baltimore Police Department, the State’s Attorney’s office or the good people of our great city. To be sure, none of us is perfect, but then none of us is to blame either.

Without a doubt, there is room for significant improvement in how we govern. That said, in the midst of headlines that paint Baltimore as a city out of control, we need nothing less than a collaborative, blameless joint venture among all our institutions and people. Let’s just work together to get this done.

Solutions, long overdue, are complicated and likely to be expensive. They’ll require our commitment, vision and creativity at levels our city government hasn’t yet attained. Time’s up. We — all of us — need to step up and get the City of Baltimore back on track to a better, safer future.

According to police department data, in 2014 there were 2,123 serious, so-called “Part 1” crimes in my district. On the average, that’s almost one every four hours — not including unreported and other less serious “Part 2” crimes. That’s 2,123 crimes too many. That the 5th District may be one of the safest districts in the city is no consolation whatsoever.

Of all the neighborhoods that comprise my district, only three account for 40 percent of these serious crimes. A fourth neighborhood’s numbers are so low as to suggest under-reporting by the residents and/or police.

Of these more serious crimes, almost 80 percent may be related to unemployment. While there are certainly other reasons crime occurs, the relationship between crime and chronically poor economic conditions underlines the necessity for a comprehensive solution that addresses the full spectrum of social and economic problems facing our community.

So what am I going to do about it? To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure what our solutions will look like. With the help of our police, we need to identify — and publicize — the specific locations and root causes of each type of crime in my district. Talking about crime in terms of generalities isn’t sufficient.

Then we’ll work together — our police department, residents, merchants and other businesses — to design and implement the programs to make all our streets and homes safe. Whatever it takes, we’ll get it done. Because we have no choice.

In the process, I will take the lead to bring new employers to my district, to reduce unemployment and to raise income for the families who are struggling. And we’re going to turn the abandoned homes, stores and other structures into productive properties.

And I’ll take the lead in getting whatever money we need — from the city, state and federal governments, as well as from private corporate interests. Our goal in the 5th District is to cut the incidence of crime in half in the next four years or sooner, and in half again in the four years after that — and so on, relentlessly, until the threat to our families, merchants and other employers has been minimized.

We’re going to do this because it’s what my constituents need and deserve — and because that’s what government is for.

Rochelle “Rikki” Spector represents Baltimore’s 5th District in the City Council. She can be reached at rikki.spector@baltimorecity.gov.

A Miracle in Baltimore?

Is it a miracle that the beautiful building of Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation, just 150 feet from where rioters tossed rocks at police and two blocks from stores that were devastated at the Mondawmin Mall during the recent Baltimore riots wasn’t damaged?

My father, Dr. Nathan Drazin, became the first rabbi of Shaarei Tfiloh in 1933. In the beginning, the synagogue was very successful. It was crowded every Shabbat. On the holidays, there were no seats for my brother and sister and me. In fact, Dad placed me in the choir, although I’m a monotone, so that I could have somewhere to sit. The synagogue had over 2,000 seats

However, in the early 1950s the neighborhood began to change. Blacks moved in, and the congregational leaders wanted to relocate the synagogue uptown. Dad refused. He told his congregants that this was immoral. Blacks had a right to live where they wished, and we should get along with all people.

The current part-time rabbi at Shaarei Tfiloh is David Herman whose main position is with the Baltimore City government. He told me that, unlike the 1968 Baltimore riot, the 2015 riot was not due to race but stemmed from the perception that the police unofficially deliver a form of street justice due to their frustration with what they perceive to be a revolving door in the judicial system for criminals.

Herman said there is no Jewish-black issue. He told me that the riots started in a school across from the Mondawmin Mall because kids had shared on Facebook that they wanted to ‘purge the city.’ City officials knew about the texts an hour before the riot but did nothing. The situation was exacerbated when buses and subways were canceled, and the youngsters had no way of getting home.

In an abundance of caution, Herman drove to Shaarei Tfiloh at 4 a.m. when he heard a report that a black church was set on fire a few blocks from Shaarei Tfiloh. He removed the Torah scrolls and the historic minute books of 1920 to 1960 that cover the interesting board meetings before and after Dad became the synagogue’s first rabbi in 1933.

Viewers of the riot on TV saw many pictures of the CVS store that was burned. What most people do not know is that just behind the CVS store is the oldest Jewish burial ground in Maryland. None of the graves was touched during the riot.

The same phenomenon also occurred during the last major Baltimore riot in 1968. The original neighbors and now their children and grandchildren call the synagogue, Shaarei Tfiloh, part of their neighborhood.

In short, Shaarei Tfiloh has had and still has positive links to the black community since its first rabbi, my dad, and the Baltimore Jewish community worked hard to preserve good relations. Is it possible that the rioters knew about these links and therefore did no damage to the shul and burial ground? Is this a miracle?

Rabbi Israel Drazin, a retired Army general and graduate of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, lives in Florida.

Anti-Semitism on Campus: Alive and Well

052915_Foxman,-AvrahamAs someone who has been critical about the sometimes overheated reaction to what is taking place regarding Jews on campus, I also believe it is vital to monitor the situation closely and to be able to re-evaluate as things may change.

I still believe the vast majority of Jewish students have normal lives on campus, where they can be comfortable in their own skins and with their Jewish identities. That is why a recent survey suggesting that more than 50 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism in one form or another was disturbing. This survey — which in my opinion was flawed — was not a helpful reading of what is going on.

And yet, something is changing. We need to identify what it is and deal with it — without declaring the sky is falling.

Historically, many campuses, particularly when it comes to faculty, have a reputation of being left-wing or at least very liberal. Since the vast majority of the Jewish community has identified itself in a similar fashion for decades, there seemed to be no problem.

Together with this, however, polls of the American people in the last few years indicate an increasing gap in attitudes toward Israel between those who identify themselves as conservatives and those who identify themselves as liberals.

It is this evolving phenomenon that, I believe, is lending force to the anti-Israel forces on campus. Let’s be clear: There has always been a measure of left-wing opposition to Israel on campuses, whether from faculty or some student groups.

They are more organized today. Students for Justice in Palestine, the main organizing force behind the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, has refined and intensified its tactics. Regardless of the fact that the BDS campaign has not gained much traction on campus in terms of having any impact against Israel — many, if not most, of the boycott votes have been soundly defeated — it is creating a great deal of noise on campus and beyond and contributing to the sense of discomfort of Jewish students.

But the biggest change is the fertile ground in which the anti-Israel community is sowing its seeds.

The trends that are appearing relate to the perception of Jewish students and their relations with other minority communities. There are suggestions that Jews do not qualify for participation in minority community activity on campus, for two reasons: They are deemed people of privilege, not minorities worthy of special attention; and, their assumed support for “colonialist, apartheid” Israel puts them in the camp of would-be oppressors rather than targets and opponents of prejudice.

Jews in America have made too much progress over the last half-century to cause us to overreact. Still, we cannot afford to be complacent. We have to address these campus issues now before they expand further and spin out of control.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Superstorms of a Socioeconomic Kind

2013ftv_oshry_aleeza“A rare combination of circumstances that aggravates a situation drastically, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.”

If you lived on the East Coast in 2012, you most likely remember Hurricane Sandy, frequently referred to as a superstorm by the media. This storm was the biggest of the year, caused the most damage and was used by many as an indicator of our planetary climate system gone haywire due to anthropogenic climate change. People became captivated by the term superstorm, feeding an unquenchable curiosity about natural events turned cataclysmic by people.

Interestingly, this past winter there was an article in The Washington Post about the overuse of the term ‘superstorm,’ which is often used without reference to the science of weather events and virtually impossible to define. Despite not understanding the ambiguous nature of this meteorological event, the public is lured in with the spectacular and dramatic sound bite.

With the recent events in Baltimore, I applied superstorms to a different construct: a combination of circumstances that drastically aggravate a situation, manifesting in events of unusual magnitude, such as civil unrest. A socioeconomic superstorm. But the public response is vastly different.

After the riots last month, I noticed a stark contrast in the Jewish community to these two superstorms. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there was a mass, united effort by virtually every rabbi, leader, congregation, organization and institution in the collection of food, clothing, supplies and money to help the communities impacted by the storm. Busloads of people on several occasions were driven north to add human capital to the restoration efforts.

After the neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore were vandalized and looted just miles from our doorsteps, most of Jewish community remained silent, with pockets closed and doors shut. I don’t mean to belittle the effort of those who did help, who worked side by side with our neighbors to the south and east, helping to restore and rebuild what was damaged. But I also don’t want the efforts of a few to be misinterpreted as an adequate response by the entire community.

We all live in social and cultural circles, gravitating to living in clusters based on similarity. In these clusters, we often produce stereotypes about other clusters, creating cultural ghettos. We develop fear of “the other,” fear of our neighbors; we consider ourselves surrounded by enemies. I recently heard a TED talk by novelist Elif Shfak on identity politics. She describes the danger of insular communities, isolating ourselves behind cultural walls. When we don’t connect beyond our clusters, we become encircled by our identity in a stifling way. Our imaginations shrink, and our hearts whither. If the walls are thick enough, we are cut off from cultural and intellectual sustenance. Our clusters will shrivel up and die if the walls are not broken down.

In the case of weather events, superstorm is an ambiguous term. The variables are difficult to pinpoint or identify. However, socioeconomic superstorms are not. By reaching out to make connections, we can eradicate their existence.

Aleeza Oshry is a local professional geologist, educator and sustainability expert.