Extra! Extra! Hear All About It!

I took an intro to audiology class at the University of Maryland and fell in love with the subject matter.

The course made me more compassionate toward my grandmother’s long-term hearing loss and improved our relationship. This sparked a passion to improve people’s hearing and better the quality of life for people with hearing loss.

Most people don’t realize that hearing loss is the third most common health condition in America, behind only arthritis and heart disease. Early detection is essential, as hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression; researchers at Johns Hopkins University even found an increased risk of dementia among those suffering from hearing loss.

At the Taylor Listening Center in Pikesville, we encourage adults to come in for baseline and routine hearing exams, the same way one would get their eyes checked; this service is covered by insurance, even Medicare. Comfort for patients is key, so we make visiting the office a pleasant and positive experience, equating it with visiting a spa. We strive to create a comfortable atmosphere — even the center’s logo is an ear in the shape of a heart.

Before the practice opened, Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom blessed it and hung a mezuzah in the doorway. But what sets the Taylor Listening Center apart is our deep connection with the patients. It goes way beyond their hearing: I know the names of all of their grandchildren. I’m part of this community. I was raised here. This is where I plan to raise my family.

While it’s not unheard of for health care enterprises to put profits before wellness, at the Taylor Listening Center, we’re more concerned with helping patients improve their hearing. We even started a hearing-aid donation program so hearing aids are not cost-prohibitive. We offer extended appointment times, and we strive to make patients feel as relaxed as possible. This was important to me after seeing patients get lost in the shuffle at larger practices. Our honesty and commitment to all of our patients is evident by the number of referrals TLC receives on a daily basis from pleased patients.

And these are not your bubbie’s hearing aids!

Today, manufacturers are making hearing aids with younger people in mind. They are so small and comfortable that nobody notices them. They actually do what they need to do. The technology is so advanced that hearing aids can now separate background noise from speech. Hearing aids can automatically recognize when the patient is in different environments such as in a car, restaurants, museums or when listening to music, making them all the more seamless in someone’s life. The newer technology is also built to last longer.

After taking my advice, one patient heard every word at the movie theater for the first time in 30 years.

Hearing aids allow people to live their lives the way they want to. The technology improves quality of life. Once a patient gets used to new hearing aids, most say, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t waited so long.”

CUFI, Not J Street

I certainly prefer a pro-Israel organization such as CUFI, although Christian, for the most part to the so-called Jewish organizations that spout support for Israel but then release a barrage of anti-Israel propaganda against the Jewish state (“The Other Pro-Israel Lobby,” Feb. 3, online only). Christians United for Israel has been steadfast in supporting Israel not only vocally, but also financially in contrast to J Street, which has opposed the legitimate actions of the current Israeli government and has castigated that government for a number of its actions. With major funding from anti-Israel organizations, J Street has shown disregard for the future security of Israel in stark contrast to CUFI.

Say ‘No!’ to Offshore Drilling

The recent Interior Department proposal to allow offshore oil and gas drilling along the East Coast is simply absurd. Waves of drilling could likely precede waves of oil lapping at the shores of our beloved beaches and storied seaports, imperiling fish, wildlife, local economies and treasured ways of life. The potential rewards for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are not worth the risk of more seismic testing, let alone another calamitous spill.

The oil and gas industry frequently tells us that drilling rigs are now accident proof, pipelines rarely break, and tankers hardly ever sink. In truth, the U.S. averages a decent-sized oil spill every day under current levels of production.

We don’t need to look any farther than the storied Yellowstone River to see the risk. It suffered a major infusion of petrochemicals following a pipeline rupture last month, contaminating the local drinking water supplies in Glendive, Mont., with cancer-causing benzene.

An even more poignant reminder is found along the Gulf of Mexico, where the damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is far from being reversed. In fact, that spill’s damage still isn’t fully understood, as teams of state and federal trustees continue to grapple with the herculean task of tabulating the total ecological and economic damage.

At about the same time oil started spewing into the Yellowstone, a federal judge in New Orleans considering BP’s liability for the Deepwater Horizon spill under the Clean Water Act finally arrived at the most credible estimate of how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico, 3.19 million barrels.  Even if you cannot fathom just how much oil this represents, the fact that it has taken almost five years from the start of the Deepwater Horizon spill to realistically calculate the volume of oil that it released should tell us just how huge of a threat offshore drilling poses.

The Interior Department proposal for East Coast offshore drilling contains provisions that oil and gas rigs could not be located within 50 miles of the Atlantic coastline. This may sound far, but consider that it took merely two weeks for the first tar balls from Deepwater Horizon to travel about 40 miles to shore.

The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas — without drilling off the fragile Atlantic or the Pacific coasts. Worldwide, the price of oil and the cost
of clean energy alternatives are at near-record lows. The cost-benefit has never been better to focus our investments on renewable energy sources that move us away from our risky dependence on fossil fuels.

The Interior Department will allow the public to comment on its proposal to expand East Coast drilling later this year. I urge everyone who cares about our coasts to join me in speaking out loudly against the plan. We need to make it clear that the health and vitality of our oceans and coasts must not be sacrificed.

One Brick at a Time

This past November, I had the privilege of attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (fondly referred to as the GA) in Washington, D.C. As someone not very religious, I found myself reflecting on what drove me to take three days away from my family and work to attend an event about which I knew very little.

Was it memories of my grand-father, Joseph Garter, whose voice filled our house while davening the Kiddush with perfect pitch? Was it memories of lighting a menorah with my family while every other house in the neighborhood was encased in Christmas lights? Was it memories of Hebrew school or 12 summers of Jewish overnight camp?  Maybe it was because I had become a father and developed a desire to ensure my children have similar Jewish memories of their own. Without being too profound, there is something practical there. Those memories didn’t happen on their own; they were given to me by my grandfather, my parents, my friends and family and the Jewish community in Howard County in which I grew up. I realized it was up to me and my wife to help provide those memories to our children — no pressure! Maybe attending the GA would help.

I attended alongside staff and lay leaders of the Jewish Federation of Howard County   (JFHC), and I was immediately surprised to learn we were one of the smallest delegations in all of North America.  How strange, I thought, that the wealthiest county in Maryland is home to a Jewish Federation with a $600,000 annual campaign; Baltimore County’s is more than 50 times larger, bringing in around $32 million each year. A recent report analyzed charitable giving across America and noted that Howard County has the second-highest median income in the U.S. but ranks in the bottom 25 percent for charitable giving. Are the 18,000 Jews in Howard County truly that much of a paradox? Maybe I would learn how to change that at the GA.

To my surprise, I walked away significantly more motivated by my fellow attendees than by the illustrious GA presenters. I met Jews from all over North America, from Ottawa to San Francisco: college students seeking out their life’s calling; newlyweds searching for inspiration to create their first Jewish home; young adults like me considering ways to create engaging Jewish experiences for their children; and older adults urgently cultivating the next generation of young Jewish leaders. The sense of community among the 3,000 attendees was awe inspiring.

I realized that I shouldn’t focus on transforming the philanthropic culture of Howard County or burden myself with creating Jewish memories for my children. I should focus on building that incredible sense of community I felt at the GA among the Jews in Howard County, and everything else would follow. It’s not something I could or should do alone; but if each Jewish person in Howard County contributed one brick, we could build a wall 20 football fields wide and twice the height of the Empire State building. And what if those bricks were quarters?  If each Jew in Howard County donated 25 cents per day, the JFHC’s annual campaign would more than double to over $1.5 million.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said during the GA, “You want to start a movement?  Get people to build something together.”

Riding the Wave of Change

Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: Part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences.

The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge sharing around innovative new education models. That also means making the necessary investments to further models that already have proved successful.

Such educational approaches build relationships between families, integrate technology and move the learning outside of classroom walls. This is big change we’re talking about, and big change takes partnerships and collaboration across the Jewish
community — partnerships with synagogue professionals and lay leaders, educational agencies, funders, and most importantly, parents.

Nancy Parkes, director of congregational learning at the Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y., recently offered important recommendations to advance the congregational educational experience. We would like to call attention to two of her suggestions: “stop the negative narrative” and “be our partners.” Opting for part-time “supplementary” Jewish education has been a very good choice — indeed, the right choice — for thousands of families. But it’s time to tell a new story: one of experience, of possibility, of real impact. It’s time to work together.

Five Jewish education agencies from around the country — New York, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — are engaged in these important efforts through “Shinui: the Network for Innovation in Part-Time Education,” created with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The stories coming out of our communities are inspiring real change that other communities can model and adapt.

In San Francisco, for example, Shalom Explorers is a vehicle for families to form neighborhood learning groups and customize individual lesson plans. Now in its second year, the initiative has expanded to multiple sites in the Bay Area. More and more congregations around the country are trying new models to invigorate the educational experiences they offer. The Jewish community still must do more to help this change happen in a serious, sustainable manner. Fortunately, many are answering this call, and important changes are happening in Jewish education: learning experiences that involve the entire family, deepen connections to Israel, teach Hebrew in more meaningful and relevant ways and bring the summer camp experience into our schools.

We see these changes in the Shinui-affiliated communities, and we invite others to be a part of this change. Together, we can create and sustain major changes across the country.

Acts of Complicity

When Alfred Dreyfus, an up-and-coming career soldier in the French army, was falsely accused of treason by passing on secrets to the Germans at the end of the 19th century, Emil Zola, then a well-established national French author, wrote his opinion on the entire sordid matter, denouncing the elites in the highest echelons of French society of rampant anti-Semitism. After years during which Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devils Island and numerous articles, opinions and court decisions, the real culprit was found, and Dreyfus pardoned. But the response that stood up most prominently was Zola’s because he uncovered what had hitherto been accepted as the norm, as it evolved into one of the most heinous examples of national complicity against the truth to find the real tyrant.

I, too, accuse: I accuse the Muslim world, the Western press and liberal society of acts of complicity that made the heinous and horrendous murder of 17 people in Paris, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and the kosher supermarket, possible.

I begin with the Arab Muslim community of Middle East countries who almost daily run anti-Semitic cartoons of Jews, depicting them as snakes, scorpions and rats. Not only are Jews demonized, but the best-selling book in the Arab world is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” As if that is insufficiently provocative,free-standing adjectives about Nazis to describe Jews just enlarges the picture of their complete and utter hatred of the Jew. And no one in the Western world’s free press cares or takes much notice. I accuse the Muslim world of a denigrating and horrendously hypocritical double standard that allows their societies to wallow in debasing the Jew while maintaining a stratospheric sensitivity about the satirizing of their prophet.

I accuse the Muslim world of gross complicity in the acts of violence, mayhem and murder committed in the name of their religion. While these acts of atrocity are committed, the billion-strong Muslim world has failed to take to the streets to protest the atrocities committed by their co-religionists in the name of their religion and prophet. There has been a vacuum of silence disproportionate to the acts of violence committed. And in our understanding, there can be no greater act of acceptance than to meet these criminal endeavors with silence.

I accuse the liberal press of softening the absolutely evil nature of Muslim terrorists and murderers by the language with which they are described. Labelling them as “militants” might make you think they are nothing but a few college students militating against some vacuous decision just made by the university chancellor. Using language that protects these killers instead of being more pro-active in describing them for what they truly are does a gross disservice to the free society to whom they allegedly inform.

Lastly, I accuse society for allowing the Muslim world to use a culture of violence that keeps them still in the Middle Ages. The right to stone a daughter for dating a male of her choice, the right to amputate a limb for committing a petty crime and the right to disregard the laws of the country in an attempt to pursue fundamentalist and horse-blinkered religious principles is an affront to the ideas of a civilized and progressive Western civilization.

Hillel’s Reach

Connecting students to Israel in a positive way is at the heart of Hillel’s mission. Through travel, education, advocacy and personal relationships, Hillel helps students forge their bond with Israel and share it on college campuses.

Because of its commitment to deepening Jewish identity in young adults, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore commits resources to Hillels at five local campuses: Towson University, Goucher College, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, College Park. Collectively, these campuses serve more than 11,000 students and help ignite their passion for both Judaism and Israel.

This year has been challenging for Hillel’s Israel agenda nationally. Following last summer’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza, there was a dramatic rise in anti-Israel activity on college campuses nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, campus protests against Israel surged by 114 percent compared with 2013.

At the core of these protests is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel and encourages students to use the movement to express their contempt for the Jewish state.

Hillel chapters nationwide are addressing this issue, working both with Hillel International and college administrations to educate students about Israel and dispel the myths perpetuated by the BDS movement.

Last month, Hillel International conveyed its first Global Assembly for professionals. Speaking at this gathering, Hillel President Eric Fingerhut noted that “BDS exists to do only one thing … destroy the state of Israel. It’s American-based supporters and activists . . . want to pull Hillel away from our core mission and vision to connect Jewish college students to Jewish life, Jewish learning and to the state of Israel. That will never happen because we won’t let it happen and our friends and supporters will help us.”

Throughout these challenging times, Hillel stays true to its mission and combats BDS by connecting students to Israel in tangible ways. On our local college campuses, for
instance, Israel Campus Fellows personalize a country that may seem very foreign to students who have yet to travel there. The fellows are all Israeli college graduates who served in the Israeli military. They work alongside Hillel professionals to strengthen the understanding of Israel on campus and share a perspective that students may miss in American media coverage.

While Hillel chapters cannot ignore the threat from the BDS movement, they cannot allow it to distract them from their core mission of providing meaningful Jewish experiences for college students. If we do our job well, we have the chance to connect them to Jewish life for the long term. If we don’t, it will be much harder to engage them in community later in their lives.

Finding the Right School for Your Child

If you would like to send your child to a different school next year, now’s the time to start researching your options.

As Maryland commemorates Nat-ional School Choice Week (through Jan. 31) at 165 events across the state and nearly 11,000 events nationwide, many parents will begin evaluating educational opportunities that are available for their children.

Believe it or not, seats in schools are already beginning to fill for the 2015-16 school year. Interest in school choice — the process of actively choosing a public, charter, magnet, private or online school — is high. Waiting until the spring or the summer to begin researching schools for your children could restrict your options.

No handbook or tip sheet can truly guide parents through the entire process of selecting a school, because it is an individual experience that will be unique to every family.

For you, the parent, what’s most important to the academic, social and emotional well-being of your child? Is it the academic performance of a school, school safety, the school’s instructional methods, the qualifications of its teachers, the school’s educational theme or its shared values?

Once you’ve identified what matters most, start looking into the options. In addition to the local public school, you may be eligible to send your child to a school outside of your ZIP code or in a different school district. Look into nearby charter schools and magnet schools. Don’t leave private and faith-based schools off your list. You might be able to find scholarships, and for some families, online learning and homeschooling work best.

To find options available to you, look at information from the Maryland Department of Education as well as from state-based education-reform or school-choice websites. For a directory of most schools in your area, along with parent rankings and some performance metrics, visit greatschools.org.

With your list of requirements and your list of schools in hand, start making appointments to visit the schools. Ask to sit in on classes and make sure to ask as many questions as possible of teachers, the administration and support staff. You’ll want to find out what motivates the adults in the building and see how the students respond to their teachers. Ask yourself: Is this a place where I would want to send my child for most of his or her weekday waking hours?

Finally, make sure to talk with other parents — and to your own children. Ask parents how the schools’ administrators treat parents and whether they welcome or discourage parental involvement. And most importantly, ask your children about their perceptions of the schools that you’ve visited. Find out what excites and motivates your child at school, but also ask about their worries, concerns and apprehensions.

Making the decision to change schools certainly isn’t easy. And switching schools isn’t a piece of cake, either. But if you start now and plan out the journey, you’ll find that the destination — a great school for your child — is well worth the diligence and effort.

Here for Everyone

At the J, we engage thousands of people every day following the fundamental value of kol arevim zeh lazeh: all Jews are responsible for each other. We are here for everyone in our JCC community, no matter one’s religion or level of practice.

Whether you visit the Rosenbloom JCC in Owings Mills, the Weinberg JCC in Park Heights, the Downtown Baltimore JCC (DBJCC) in Federal Hill, Camp Milldale, Weinberg Villages, Weinberg Manor or our many satellite locations, the J is thriving — thanks to our diverse Jewish community and support from The Associated.

Over the past year, we have established new programs, initiatives and improvements to our physical plant, all designed to enrich and engage our community.

> LifeBridge Health At the J: We are excited to bring new wellness programming and services to the J. In partnership with LifeBridge Health System, the Rosenbloom JCC will now feature a dynamic wellness program, including physical therapy provided by Physiotherapy Associates, health screenings, lectures by noted LifeBridge health experts as well as a full-time wellness professional. Scheduled to launch in March, this dynamic collaboration will impact thousands in our community.

> J TOWN: A new innovative Jewish play space at the Weinberg JCC has been created to provide interactive educational experiences for families with young children in the Park Heights community and beyond. The centerpiece of J TOWN is a “real” PJ Library, courtesy of our J TOWN partner, the Macks Center for Jewish Education.

> Facilities: Over $500,000 has been spent to keep our facilities relevant. You will find renovated locker rooms, additional personal training and group exercise studios, new state-of-the art fitness equipment and many other upgrades. Stop by for a tour, I guarantee you’ll be blown away.

> Outreach: Reaching Jewish Baltimoreans “where they are” both geographically and philosophically is important to us. We now offer programming for Jewish families living in Federal Hill and other Inner Harbor neighborhoods through our Downtown Baltimore JCC. Our Charm City Tribe engages young Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s. Our monthly Got Shabbat program with area synagogues continues to engage families with young children.

> J Camps: More than 1,500 children experience summer at the J. J Camps include Habimah, a new performing arts camp and Koolanu, a camp designed for Orthodox boys. Our Maccabi Sports camp has moved to our Owings Mills campus, and Camp Milldale is expanding its programming.

> Financial Assistance: The JCC is literarily “a life saver” for some of our members. By providing close to $600,000 in financial assistance we enable individuals, children and teens to benefit from our facilities and services including: membership, camps, early childhood education and the JCC Maccabi experience.

Many of these initiatives, including our facility upgrades, outreach programs and financial assistance, would not be possible without the support of The Associated. We see our JCC’s role as a catalyst for Jewish involvement and seek to further our partnerships with local organizations including synagogues, day schools and agencies of The Associated. Our mission is to provide a welcoming home away from home where members and guests develop lifelong friendships through shared stories and common experiences.

A Day of Anomalies

The Jan. 11 solidarity event in Paris was, for this viewer, a day full of anomalies and disappointments.

First, there was the march of world leaders itself. There in the front row was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with, to his left, the president of Mali, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of the European Union, Palestinian Authority President (seemingly for life) Mahmoud Abbas and, next to him, the king of Jordan.

One wonders how Abbas got there and why? Is he really among the ranks of world leaders? Or is this sponsor of terrorism and former Holocaust denier now ready to admit that perhaps terror is not the answer to gaining independence for his people? And, if that is the case, why not step out of line at the end of the march, go over to the Israeli prime minister and say: “Perhaps it’s time to find another way.”

Then in the early evening, Hollande, Netanyahu, along with high-ranking clergy from the Catholic and Muslim communities, gathered at the Grand Synagogue of Paris for a memorial service for those killed in the previous week. While the idea was nice, the execution of the event was, to say the least, embarrassing. The venue was badly organized, decorum (given the level of people in the room) was abysmal, the program was too long, and too many people rambled on and on.

There you had Hollande and Netanyahu in the front row sitting next to each other, with Ministers Bennett and Lieberman in the row behind and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky in the third row with an array of French political and religious leadership scattered throughout the sanctuary. Poor planning of the program put Netanyahu on the podium at the end of the event, well after Hollande and many others had left, even though it was important that they hear his message.

The “service” should have lasted just one hour; both the president of France and the Israeli prime minister should have spoken early in the program. Instead, the organizers developed a program in a venue more akin to the shtieblach of Eastern Europe, in spite of the grandiose nature of the building. Yet another missed opportunity for the good and welfare of the French Jewish community.

What was most disturbing was that the events at the Grand Synagogue were not carried by any of the Israeli television networks. One had to turn to CNN, Fox News or Al Jazeera, all of which carried it live.

Interestingly, it was Al Jazeera that was able to provide a simultaneous English translation of Netanyahu’s Hebrew speech.

A day of anomalies to be sure and of missed opportunities all around. We mourn with the families of all of the victims of last week’s atrocities in France and hope that the world will have learned something from the experience. But we are also saddened by the missed opportunities on a Sunday in Paris.