From Strength To Strength

062717_friedman_howard_e_ftvTwo years ago, when I became chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, my first official act was to invite the guests at our annual meeting to roll up their sleeves and get involved with the many hands-on projects at a volunteer expo that followed the annual meeting. It was a fitting way for me to begin my term, which comes to an end later this month.

The room buzzed with people, as they touched and felt the work of The Associated in action. The various projects brought together a beautiful cross section of people, who all shared the same goal: caring for the health and vibrancy of Jewish Baltimore.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh.  All Jews are responsible for one another.  That is a value deeply held by The Associated and put into action every day. Thousands of Jews in Baltimore contribute their time, their resources, their passion and their commitment to The Associated system. And our whole community benefits from those efforts.

Our reach extends well beyond our borders to Israel and communities in need around the globe. This year, when Jews in Ukraine feared for their safety amid the political upheaval in their country, we were there for them. We helped ensure that older Jews in our sister city, Odessa, were able to get the supplies they needed, and we enabled the celebration of Jewish life to continue even amid the chaos. Around the corner or around the globe, we stand up as a community and take care of each other.

In the two years I served as chair of the board, I have experienced a spirit of cooperation that is a hallmark of The Associated and our community. I have had the privilege of speaking with or partnering with hundreds of members of our organized Jewish community. Together, we have looked at the needs in our community, identified priorities and sought solutions for challenges that face us today or in the future.

During my term, I saw firsthand what it is that makes our city so special. There is an enormous sense of passion and commitment to the greater good expressed by all those who work for the health of our community, from the professionals who manage the day-to-day operations of The Associated and our agencies to the volunteer leaders who dedicate themselves so tirelessly to our system.

And there is a deep and rich history of involvement in the community that laid the foundation for the work I was able to do as chair of the board. I am humbled by the strength and wisdom of the leaders who came before me. It is their guidance that has helped us become a truly inspiring community.

I will close out chairmanship in much the same way as I began it. I invite all members of our community to do what they can to get involved, to roll up their sleeves to make a difference for someone else, whether in Baltimore, Israel or overseas.

I also wish b’hatzlacha to my successor, Mark Neumann, in whose capable hands I leave The Associated board. May he and the lay leaders and professionals with whom he works go from strength to strength in the efforts on behalf of our community.

Great Memories

I saw the very good article about the Tulkoff family (“It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Sting,” June 6). Marty Tulkoff, of the famous horseradish business, and I were friends in the 1950s. I even met my wife though Marty, and I took a photo of our guys’ group back then. A new book came out this year, “Around Mount Washington,” and on page 117 is my picture with Marty in the front row. My dad fixed all of Marty’s mom and dad’s appliances.

Gerald A. Yamin

Wanted: Moral Leaders

I believe what we are seeing in society today is the horrible devaluing of human beings by people in positions of perceived power and others who are jumping on the bandwagon instead of standing up to injustice (“A Lack of Human Respect,” June 13). We need good, moral people to stand up and not be afraid, and not to think of honors and glory. We need people to be a light to the nations.

Frania Kryszpel Block

The World Cup, Auschwitz and the future

My father and I will watch every game that the United States plays in the World Cup, starting this past Monday when the American team defeated Ghana. We live on opposite sides of the world — he is in Florida and I am in Australia — but today’s video technology will allow us to cheer the team on together.

I have a prized photograph of my father, taken just before a game in 1946. He is standing in a line of men from his team in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, wearing a sweater as his goalkeeper’s jersey. Sadly, his soccer-loving father, Herman, was not there to watch him play.

Two years prior, on the selection ramp in Auschwitz, Herman had been sent to the left and my father to the right. Believing the guards when they assured the prisoners that everyone would be back together again in the evening, my father and his father did not even say goodbye. My father became a prisoner in Auschwitz; Herman died in a gas chamber.

My father instilled a love of soccer in me when I was young. I grew up watching soccer matches with him, and at 17, I was the only girl playing in the boys’ under-19 league in Miami. I was the smallest person on the team, but I was a goalkeeper just like my dad.

During my first game, my father stood behind the goal and gave instructions. Whenever a forward on the other team broke through the defense I would start to run toward him to cut down the angle, but my father would say, “Don’t go out, stay on the goal line.” Only after several goals had been scored on me did I realize that he was more concerned about my safety than he was about my performance. Over the years, he eventually got used to seeing his daughter dive at the feet of giants to pre-empt their shots.

My daughter is a goalkeeper, and yes, she is the shortest girl on her team. I watch her throw herself into danger, and I now understand the fear my father once felt. But just as my father saw when watching me, I witness her joy after making a great save and I feel proud. I admire her commitment and composure.

She is also a survivor. My daughter is adopted from Thailand, where she lived through the 2004 tsunami. Her first mother died serving breakfast at a hotel when the tsunami struck. The same wave also killed the Thai national women’s goalkeeper, who was playing beach soccer with hotel guests. A few years ago, my daughter’s school had a sports hero day, and my daughter dressed as the Thai goalkeeper who had perished with her mother. Maybe this strange, world-circling ribbon of soccer legacy will one day lead to my own daughter standing in goal for her country.

If I could go back to my father on those long slave-labor marches at Auschwitz and whisper a few words in his ear, what would I tell him? What would give him the most hope that he would survive and go on to live a good life? Perhaps it is this: “Your granddaughter will keep goal, and she will be amazing.”

Jill Klein is the author of “We Got the Water: Tracing My Family’s Path Through Auschwitz.”

Running a Trail of Restoration

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaThe contamination of our freshwater supply is a critical issue for the health of our environment and population. Although the recent stormwater fees are creating a greater focus, there is great need for proactive community involvement to create the changes that are needed for these vital improvements.

Three years ago, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin called me to discuss creating organizational and institutional partnerships in hopes of spawning a watershed — if you will — of conservation and restoration projects. Through decades of passionate work, Nina has forged the connection between environmental issues and faith communities who embrace stewardship and responsible living. And water was high on the list of environmental concerns.

We identified Bolton Street Synagogue’s lower parking lot, adjacent to the Stony Run tributary of the Jones Falls, as a perfect location to pilot a project. In partnership with Blue Water Baltimore and Roland Park Community Foundation, and with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the synagogue readily agreed. Ripping out asphalt and invasive species, we completed a path with a pervious surface and native plants, reducing impact to the stream by almost 300,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

The success of the project captured the attention of the governor, who supported the funding to finish improvements along the rest of the Stony Run last year. A few weeks ago when heading out for my daily run, I realized I had not been on the Stony Run path for almost a year. Curious about how our project was holding up and the rest of the restoration work, I set out on a trail run of discovery.

Starting below the Gilman school, on a meticulously maintained mulch path along a babbling creek, the majestic bird calls and strumming frog bellows makes it easy to forget you are in the middle of urban Baltimore.  It’s beautiful and serene. The path winds through quaint neighborhoods of Roland Park, turning to a mix of dirt and gravel, and joins other paths below Johns Hopkins University.

I almost ran right past Bolton Street Synagogue, not recognizing it with all of the invasive ivy and plants removed. The native species we planted along the restored path as a stream buffer to control erosion and absorb runoff were bountiful and healthy.  A kiosk explaining our project stands prominently at the trail entrance by Cold Spring Lane.

The Jones Falls and its tributaries once had a prominent role in Baltimore; they were an integral component of development, especially commerce and recreation. As the city grew, more neighborhoods were built and streets paved, creating more impervious surfaces incapable of absorbing water. During storms, water “runoff” carries toxins and debris straight into the streams. Years of this water abuse has created an extremely unhealthy situation, impacting the entire ecosystem of the Bay, including people.  Signs posted along many of the streams cite that the water is dangerous even for contact.

Projects such as the path along Stony Run create a necessary buffer to capture and filter runoff. It is also a socioeconomic booster by increasing pedestrian traffic through interconnected neighborhoods, providing easy and safe access to the outdoors, which decreases crime and increases property values. Not only is this now one of my favorite running trails, it is part of the restoration of our city and the Bay.

Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant.

Building Walls, Not Tearing Them Down

040414_sharff,-benjaminI am a liberal Jew and a Reform rabbi, and I love Israel. I have traveled to Israel. I lived in Israel, and I lead trips to Israel such as the one this coming December. I even married the daughter of Israelis. So when I express concern for Eretz Yisrael, it is coming from a loving place in my heart. But given all the challenges Israel is facing, the one challenge that is most worrisome to me is not actually taking place in the Middle East. Instead it is something transpiring right here in the United States.

Israel, in the world’s eye, has always been placed on a deeply unfair pedestal. The world expects Israel to be not just better, but so superior to all other nations surrounding her. It is an untenable and impossible situation. Israel will simply never be good enough or act righteously enough.

Israel also faces many threats. Some of them are external, such as the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the Syrian Civil War. Others are related to internal pressures and conflicts both within Israel and also in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially with this new unity government.

What all that means is it is more important than ever for us to be unified in our support of Israel. However, unity in our support of Israel is sadly falling by the wayside. In many ways, this is the result of today’s hyper-partisan world. Israel is now more than just a political issue; support for Israel has now become a partisan issue.

Israel and the United States share a very important relationship militarily, economically, philosophically and environmentally. These relationships are too important to allow partisanship to undermine.

Yet, when we start to accuse a political party or important politicians of being anti-Israel, what we are doing in a way is opening a Pandora’s box of the possibility that there may one day be a political party that is truly anti-Israel. To date, neither the majority of Republicans nor the majority of Democrats are anti-Israel. Most of our politicians, thankfully, are firmly pro-Israel. But if we in the Jewish community consistently attack every move they make regarding Israel, we run the risk of turning our supporters away from us at this critical time in Israeli’s future.

I am not arguing that we should not raise our voices when we disagree with policies. As Jews, I feel we have an obligation to do so on any number of issues. I am just concerned when we change the tactics to attacking parties and politicians as opposed to ideas and approaches.

No political party stays in power forever. This means we need to continue to work to strengthen our Israel agenda with both parties and with all of our political leaders. Otherwise, one party or the other may stop listening. When they are in power, they then may start acting in ways that are truly against Israel’s best interest. Or even worse, they may simply stop caring.

My prayer is that we keep working together to unify all of our representatives and all of our communities in the common support of Eretz Yisrael and that our voices are more unified in this endeavor. In this way we can continue to build up the walls of Jerusalem and not tear them down.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff is the spiritual leader for Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills and is a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.

BDS Threat from America is Overrated

While the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement may be a popular cause on America’s college campuses, the movement has little future across the larger United States. Not only is criticizing Israel a political third rail, but sympathy for the Palestinians is a hard sell to Americans.

To become a significant movement, BDS will have to be accepted by the political mainstream, but such approval is far off. Being tagged as anti-Israel is an electoral death sentence in American national politics, as candidates play up their support for the Netanyahu government.

This was the case during the 2012 presidential campaign when President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney sparred over who was a better friend to Israel. Israel’s political weight is also reflected by the hundreds of  House members and senators who pay homage to AIPAC, the right wing Israel lobby.

Another indicator of the BDS movement’s dismal prospects was the tepid reaction to actress Scarlett Johansson’s appearance in an advertisement for SodaStream, which has been targeted by BDS advocates because the company operates on a West Bank settlement.

The lack of traction in the United States for a boycott of Israel reflects a history of military and diplomatic ties between Washington and the
Jewish state, political pressure by right-leaning lobby groups, low levels of anti-Semitism, support from Christian evangelicals, Israel’s media-image as a heroic underdog, and the natural affiliation Americans feel for a democracy threatened by autocratic regimes. But the biggest obstacle BDS faces in the U.S. is the identity of Israel’s enemies.

The Middle East’s Muslims receive little sympathy from Americans, both frightened and angered by Islamic terrorism. Palestinians, by targeting civilians in suicide bombings and rocket attacks, have become associated in American eyes with the extremists we have been fighting against since 9/11. When television viewers watch coverage of a  funeral for a Palestinian teenager supposedly killed by IDF bullets — with a crush of mourners screaming death to Israel — they see a frightening scene that resembles mass protests by jihadists chanting death to America, rather than the expression of a desperate people struggling for dignity and survival.

The combination of America’s strong support for Israel and fear of Middle East Muslims means the BDS campaign is fated to remain associated primarily with university campuses — where protest movements tend to stall, unless their issues effect the interests of mainstream America, as in the Vietnam War era.

And after today’s students move on from the classroom, the Palestinian cause will fade in importance for them, as mortgages, jobs and children become primary concerns.

Political observers have often noted that the Palestinians are lucky to have Jews as their enemies, since their problems would otherwise get little attention. But when it comes to the potential of BDS to spread within the United States, Israelis are fortunate to have Arab Muslims as their adversaries.

Yad Vashem and Its (Orthodox) Jewish Problem

Since the opening of its state-of-the-art New Wing in 2005, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem has been deluged by well-deserved accolades from the millions of tourists and Israeli citizens who visit each year. And it is considered by many to be the gold standard against which all other Holocaust memorials are measured. Why, then, has a crescendo of criticism of the New Wing been coming from some Orthodox Jews?

The disapproval of Orthodox Jews centers on three major aspects:

> Venerated Orthodox leaders are demeaned. For instance, the following text appears alongside Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl’s photo. “In the course of negotiations over the summer of 1942, [Rabbi Weissmandl’s Working] Group paid ransom money to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichman’s delegate in Slovakia. For various considerations, the deportations were halted in the autumn of 1942, but the Working Group believed this was a result of their bribes.” This wording implies that Rabbi Weissmandl, a heroic figure, was duped by the Nazis.

> There seems to be inadequate representation of Orthodox survivors among the 50 to 60 videotaped testimonies that are played continuously throughout the New Wing. While the exact percentage of survivors who were Orthodox is open to debate, no one can deny that Orthodox Jewish survivors are vastly under-represented among these videotaped testimonies.

> There is a disregard for the issue of spiritual heroism during the Holocaust. The countless examples of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study Torah and observe mitzvos are almost completely ignored.

Why would Yad Vashem set up the New Wing in a way that is so disturbing to a large swath of the Jewish people? With all these concerns, Orthodox Jews have been asked why they don’t meet with representatives of Yad Vashem. This past August, I did just that. The hour-long meeting with a high-level member of the administrative staff was conducted “off the record” at the administrator’s request. And all of the issues outlined above were presented. The administrator said that action could not be expected before the High Holidays. “After the chagim,” however, a substantive response was promised. Now, eight months later, I am still waiting. And the silence from Yad Vashem invites speculation.

Does Yad Vashem believe criticism from the Orthodox community will go away if it is simply ignored? Do administrators feel that by opening their archives to Orthodox scholars and training Orthodox tour guides they are entitled to immunity from Orthodox criticism?

The martyrs and most of the survivors of the Holocaust, many of whom were Orthodox, are no longer with us. While we cannot bring back a single life that was lost, we can, and must, prod Yad Vashem to properly honor the memory of Orthodox martyrs and survivors because they can no longer speak for themselves.

Dr. Meir Wikler is a psychotherapist and family counselor in private practice with offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lakewood, N.J. He is a published author, most recently with “180 Rechov Yaffo: Bridge to a Bygone Era; 50 Stories of Emunah and Bitachon.”

My Federation Journey

In early 2000, I got a call from an old friend, Toby Knopf, who at the time was president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, an organization to which I was an annual donor.  She told me that her treasurer had just resigned, and she asked me if I would consider filling in for the remainder of the term.  I was about to retire and decided that I was kind of light on the tikkun olam part of my résumé, so this would be a good segue into retirement. I agreed. While I never expected to hold this position for 14 years, it’s been a tremendously rewarding journey with the Federation.

Before I started volunteering for the Federation, I was making a modest donation of $36. Each year, when I received a call about the annual campaign and I was asked to make another donation, my response was, “What did I give last year?” and then saying, “OK, put me down for the same.”

Then I got involved with the Federation and I witnessed firsthandseveral things. First, the Federation was a responsible steward of donated funds. Second, the Federation was led by a hard-working group of volunteers and staff who were dedicated to the mission of the organization. Third, the Federation did not have enough financial resources to do the work in the community that  it needed to do and that it aspired to do. My wife, Rose, and I decided to increase our donation to $100 per year. I knew this was still light, but I felt this was what we could afford. After all, we had synagogue dues and other charitable pressures on our resources.

As the years passed, we continued to increase our annual donations. Then Harry Adler founded the Knesset Club. This is a giving level of $1,200 or more to the annual campaign.  At first I thought that, while this was a great idea, I gave so much of my time that I was covered. But then I considered that the Federation runs on both effort and money, and effort without the money only gets you so far. I thought about the Knesset Club level: $100 a month, and I could put it on my credit card!

But I felt that Federation had grown to be a very large part of my life and was, indeed, very relevant to me. We went ahead and made the monetary commitment. I have found that $100 a month added to my Visa bill is actually quite painless. Furthermore, every month when I reconcile my statement, I feel good about the donation that I know is going toward building Jewish life in Howard County and around the world. I have seen the value that the Federation adds to our community —from Yom Hashoah observation to religious school scholarships to counseling for those in need —and I know that I am doing my part for my fellow Jews. I hope that others in the community will take the first step on his or her own journey with the Federation.

Elliot Shefrin is the principal of Shefrin Consulting and serves as treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

My Personal Response to Israel’s 66th birthday

I am not normally supportive of new Jewish/Israeli-based organizations, as we seem to have more than our share.

Yet, the time has come for a new effort that will restore the greatness and vitality of the Zionist movement. The time for change is here.

Israel and the Jewish people are under attack from the outside and, more alarmingly, from the inside. Support for Zionism is the weakest I have seen. Support for Israel seems to be getting weaker every day, especially from within our Jewish community.

The Zionist Spring is a new effort with which I am very impressed. It is not a political party or a fundraising organization. It is rather a new voice for Jewish people demanding that Zionism become relevant in our daily lives again.

The Zionist Spring is a grassroots initiative that is dedicated to restoring the greatness and vitality of Zionism. It aims to involve and endorse and support every other organization that shares this vision. Unity has been sorely lacking in the Zionist world, and I think that this new endeavor is a much-needed breath of fresh air. Theodor Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism, once famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” We do have a way to make this a reality.

Through the Zionist Spring, we can demonstrate our passion and commitment practically by shaping the decisions of the Zionist movement through the upcoming World Zionist Congress, the “Parliament of the Jewish people.”

There are four pillars on which the Zionist enterprise is built:

> The unity of the Jewish people, which is sorely lacking. Almost three decades ago, Rabbi Irving ‘Yitz’ Greenberg’s Center for Learning and Leadership developed an ad announcing that “the last time the Jewish people were so divided, we lost 10 out of 12 tribes forever.” Today, we are so divided, that we may lose Israel — forever. We need to stop this building divide. There is a place for everybody in the Zionist tent.

> Making or supporting Aliyah. Although the numbers of people making aliyah are holding up or increasing, the vast majority seem to be coming from the “traditional” community. We need to develop a plan that will attract Jews of all stripes to make aliyah as well as help integrate new olim into Israel’s very diverse society.

> Strengthen Israel. There are too many among us that think the best way to strengthen Israel is to constantly criticize it. I’m reminded of something Rabbi David Hartman z”l use to say: It is okay to criticize Israel, but do it as a mother, not a mother-in-law.

> Ensuring the future. Without a strong Israel and a strong Diaspora there will be no future.  We need to develop a grassroots effort to work from the inside to make things better in both Israel and in the Diaspora.

As we celebrate Israel’s 66th birthday please join me by working to return Zionism to the level of importance it used to occupy. The future of Diaspora Jewry, the future of Israel, the future of the Jewish People may depend on your involvement and support.

Based in Los Angeles, Paul Jeser is an experienced fundraiser for leading Jewish organizations. For more information on Zionist Spring, visit