The Silent Killer

frank_storchWhat is colorless, odorless and extremely dangerous?  The answer is carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that is also known as the silent killer.  Carbon monoxide is produced by appliances that burn gas, wood, petroleum and other fuels.  When carbon monoxide seeps out in an unventilated room, the outcome can be fatal.  In Baltimore City, there have been more than 25 deaths from carbon monoxide since 2000.

Symptoms of mild carbon-monoxide poisoning include confusion, headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness and can be flu-like. Chronic exposure to this gas can cause depression and memory loss.  More serious exposure can poison the central nervous system and the heart, and it can lead to death.  The treatment for poisoning is oxygen therapy, which removes the poisonous gas from the blood.

Before the Jewish holidays, I received an email that reminded me that our community is susceptible to the problem of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

The email read: “This past Shabbos morning (the third day of the “three-day yom tov”) I was awakened by the sound of the carbon-monoxide alarm announcing high levels. We immediately cleared everyone out of the house and summoned the fire department. When they arrived, they informed me that the cause of the high carbon-monoxide levels was due to leaving the stove and oven on over yom tov and Shabbos. The buildup of these dangerous fumes was not due to a faulty gas line or leaking appliances, but rather to the lack of adequate ventilation. The constant burning of the gas range and oven, even on a low flame, will over time emit unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide.  I was told that the fire department was tending to many such calls over the last few days. The firemen implored me to please tell the rabbis and announce to the community that if people need to leave on their stove or oven over the holidays, they must ensure that the area is properly ventilated. Turning on an exhaust fan or even opening the kitchen window a bit is enough to prevent terrible danger.”

The writer of the email was fortunate to have installed a carbon-monoxide meter. We all need to take that responsibility and install meters in our homes and in those of our family members. With the winter months coming our way, and with many families leaving their stoves on for the entire Shabbos, it is imperative that each family place carbon-monoxide detectors in their home.

The Baltimore City health and fire departments urge us to “make sure appliances are installed by professionals. Have chimneys and vents inspected annually. … Never use fuel-burning equipment inside a home, garage or vehicle. Never use gas-burning ovens to heat your home, and don’t operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room with closed doors or windows. …”

Carbon-monoxide alarms are easy to install, and they cost roughly $25. These simple devices do save lives. I have personally given easy-to-use plug-in detectors to some of my relatives. When we use our stoves or other fuel-burning appliances, we always remember to crack the windows.  Please take a stand and be safe. Let’s all install carbon-monoxide alarms throughout our homes or apartments.

Frank Storch is an area philanthropist and freelancer writer.

Seeking Hebrew School Dropouts

2013_jesse_grossNice community rabbi seeking Hebrew school dropout, religious about the Ravens.

When I learned that I would have the opportunity to write a column for the JT, I promised some close friends (bubbies and mamas) that I would use one piece to help them help me in the search for my beshert. It has not been easy for this rabbi to carve out space for any sort of meaningful dating experiences here in Baltimore, despite feeling like a C-level celebrity every time I walk into Starbucks at The Quarry. I would like to report that perhaps due to gender, generational shift or some unknown other cause, the rabbi card seems to intimidate or confuse rather than to attract.

At the risk of using this public space for something other than its intended purpose, I hereby dedicate the next 450 words to all the people in my life who tell me I should be just as passionate about finding a nice Jewish guy as I am about working to strengthen identity and community among my generation of Jews. It is to show that in addition to hiccup after hiccup, be it JDate, blind date or no date, I’m seeking to redefine the search to find someone special amid the day-to-day of life as “the rabbi who walks into the bar.”

Perhaps the challenge starts with the concept of that nice Jewish boy. Generation Xers and millennials have incredibly complex identities. We’re artists, musicians, athletes, radicals and traditionalists all at the same time. In the midst of our busy routines, we seek to give time to each of these parts of our selves, accepting that we can rarely find everything in one place. I go to shul and then I leave in order to go to the best oneg in town, where I can be among my community in joyous celebration — at the 8X10 for a funky get-down. I build relationships with people in both places.

I have to admit that despite my passions and commitments to the Jewish tradition, I’m more likely drawn to a Hebrew school dropout than the boy sitting in the front row at shul. My JDate profile suggests that I am looking for someone who is religious about the Ravens and his family but perhaps ambivalent, even if knowledgeable, about his Jewish experiences to date, yet spiritually inclined. On the one hand, it proves that I really am a part of the demographic I serve. On the other, it comes as a surprise when people in the community suggest they know “a great guy” and the only thing we have in common is that we are both Jewish professionals.

A few weeks back, as we were setting up the mobile sukkah outside Mother’s for happy hour, I said the following to Cham City Tribe’s new program associate: In the beginning I planned things I would want to attend knowing I might be the only one to show up but hoping that others would share an interest and decide to show up, too. So far, we’ve been real successful in that approach, and people come to bars, to shul and to the sukkah, and in many cases they come back for more. I guess this also ought to be my approach to partnership: to build my life in a way that I want to live it, hoping someone will show up and go along for the journey. In the meantime, if you know any nice Hebrew school dropouts, this rabbi is in the market.

Rabbi Jessy Gross runs Charm City Tribe, a program of the Jewish Community Center.

Bike For Change

This summer, I rode my bicycle from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C. The nine-week, 3,402-mile journey was coordinated by Hazon, a Jewish environmental advocacy organization and the largest faith-based environmental organization in North America. During the school year, I am deeply involved with Maryland Hillel’s social justice community as a leader and fellow and wanted to continue to develop over the summer in the context of Hazon. As we pedaled across the country, our group was exposed, in both the most subtle and jarring ways, to the nuanced nature of organic and local farming and the direct impact it has on our modern American lives.

Throughout the summer, we learned about soil erosion, climate change, genetically modified foods and many other issues that are increasingly relevant to our generation. Each day of exposure to farmland seemed to elicit a new revelation and a new set of questions. Where does our food truly come from? Are the field workers being protected from harmful chemicals? Are they being paid fair wages? Is the soil benefiting from the farming, and if so, can it sustain future harvests?

Our lessons were learned through the inspiring people we encountered along the way. In Montevideo, Montana (mile mark 1,729), we met with a farmer named Mike who spoke to us about his transition from life on the East Coast into organic farming and running a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. In Roscoe, South Dakota (mile mark 1,451) we stopped in a bakery owned by Dennis, who spoke to us about the impact of government subsidies on farmers and the inequality that is often inherent in the system.

As the summer progressed, the program seemed like less of a bike ride and more of a personal journey through the complex structure of America’s food system, which was presented through a uniquely relevant Jewish lens. Participants took turns preparing Divrei Torah that often included environmental themes. We prepared and ate our meals as a community, taking advantage of local and organic food sources. On Shabbat, we rested and rejuvenated ourselves from our six days of intense physical work.

While my experiences this summer raised countless questions along the way, I left the trip with an understanding of the profound effect that my individual actions have on the planet. While a decision as seemingly mundane as choosing between org-anic and non-organic produce at the supermarket would usually be quick and relatively thoughtless, this experience has made such decisions inc-reasingly thought-provoking, as I consider more greatly the implications of my food choices and whether or not my lifestyle is actively supporting the massive changes occurring on planet Earth.

As I continue to work alongside the Kolker Saxon Hallock Tzedek Fellowship cohort at Maryland Hillel, I now feel ready to begin this semester with a deepened appreciation of tying together modern social values with the timeless principles of Jewish life. Later this term, I will be channeling this newfound passion from the summer to a volunteer experience in which I will be helping to transform a greenhouse at High Point, a local high school, into a working vegetable garden. I am also excited to be leading classes on food education, healthy living and gardening. This project was started last year, and I am confident that through a heightened awareness of sustainability, we can bring the exuberance and spirit of Maryland Hillel to High Point High School.

Dena Lehmann is a senior at the University of Maryland, studying biochemistry. In her time at Maryland she has been an alternative break fellow, leading a trip to Ghana. She is now a Tzedek Fellow, working to engage her peers in social justice programming.

Celebration Of A 100-Year Legacy

The voice of the Conservative movement and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism was heard loud and clear at its Centennial convention celebration in Baltimore this past week.

I heard the voices that spoke of positive Jewish identity, that link valued traditions of our collective past to our present actions in personal and communal life. I heard the expressive voices of high school and college-aged youth contribute with singing, dancing and renewed friendship. I heard many conversations at thought-provoking sessions, and I heard the visionary messages that challenge the Conservative movement to engage the creativity of its members and leaders to build upon the strengths evolved from 100 years of communal experience.

I am attracted to the Conservative movement because it includes many diverse voices that celebrate various traditional and new approaches to Jewish expression.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Conservative movement is to maintain a pluralistic and centralist position supported by leadership that offers guidelines for religious practice. Another challenge is to serve a diverse membership that reflects various backgrounds and experiences.  This is happening during a time of great change in the identity, attitudes, observance level and demographics of Jews involved in synagogue settings. The recent Pew Research Center study of U.S. Jews substantiates the struggle that all liberal Jewish synagogue movements are experiencing.

I support the USCJ’s efforts to “conserve” the essence of Judaism in our modern age. USCJ is to be applauded for pursuing a new model of governance, for developing regional interactions that strengthen and transform synagogue community and for supporting the efforts of its auxiliary organizations.

It is crucial that we reflect upon the following questions and work toward successful outcomes for the Conservative movement:

> How do we define, practice and protect from loss or harm our movement’s vital, centralist approach to Jewish life?

> How do we sustain and improve our movement’s approach to scholarship, teaching and the practice of our sacred heritage in the face of bewildering change in Jewish communities today?

> How do we foster the civility of conversations and pursue nurturing relationships that support the growth and health of the Conservative movement, its leaders and members?

> How will the Conservative movement, its synagogues, seminaries, schools and programs demonstrate derech eretz (exemplary conduct) and kavod (respect) to the rabbis, chazzanim, professionals and lay leaders and many volunteers who offer much of their time and attention to guarantee a beautiful heritage for future generations?

Any conservatory of value needs commitment, tending and guarding to survive.  The USCJ and the Conservative movement care for a conservatory full of Jewish treasures that includes its own narrative of an impressive 100 year voyage.

The Conservative movement legacy is conserved by community study and involvement. It is conserved by its sincere communal spirit before God. And it is conserved by its mitzvot, shared through deeds of loving kindness serving our Jewish community and the nations of the world.

The Conservative movement provides a valued Jewish voice that resonates to all who gain from its devoted service and sacred mission.

A Diplomatic Revolution In The Middle East?

The rapid development of events in the Middle East over the last several months has persuaded some observers that a diplomatic revolution is under way. For the first time in many years, serious negotiations are taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that could bring about a peace settlement. In addition, a process is now under way that not only may deprive the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, but also may lead to peace talks in Geneva that could end a civil war that has already cost 115,000 lives. Finally, a rapprochement is under way between the U.S. and Iran that could lead to the elimination of the possibility that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.

Each of these three developments, if they were to come to fruition, would greatly enhance Israel’s security. However, despite some optimistic forecasts, it is necessary to take a hard look at whether success in any of the three will be achieved.

There are some promising signs in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. First, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have come around to the view that a two-state solution is the only path to follow. In addition, some Likud hard-liners, such as Tzahi Hanegbi, seem willing to make concessions on Jerusalem, one of five final status issues that must be negotiated. Third, President Barack Obama has made solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of his two foreign policy priorities; the other is Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry is devoting a considerable amount of his time to the issue. Finally, a nine-month time limit has been set for the completion of negotiations.

Nonetheless, there are several serious problems that must be surmounted. Are the Palestinians willing to make concessions on the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees, now numbering more than five million? That’s not clear yet.

Problems remain on the Israeli side. There are die-hard Israeli settlers who, either for nationalistic or religious reasons, will violently resist giving up major portions of the West Bank and who will have to be evacuated for any peace agreement to take place.

Even if this problem is solved and a peace agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel isachieved, the problem of Hamas-ruled Gaza remains. With the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president, Hamas lost its main ally in the region, and it is currently being squeezed hard by the new military-led regime in Egypt.

This poses a rather stark choice for Hamas. Either it will modify its Islamist program, which calls for the destruction of Israel, and move toward a rapprochement with Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, or it can move back toward the so-called “resistance” front of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. The recent decision by the Hamas leadership to form a joint front with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — an Iranian-supported terrorist organization — may indicate the direction in which Hamas is moving … and it’s not favorable toward peace.

Dr. Robert O. Freedman is the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches courses on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on Russian foreign policy.

Have The Teacher’s Back

2013ftv_sadovnikMy children had only nine days of school in September. On one of those days, my first-grader came home and recounted an incident: “Mommy, I took off my kippah clips at school today because they were hurting me and making my head feel like it was bleeding. When I went to the potty, my kippah fell off. It fell into the potty. And I peed on it before I could stop.”

Let me give you a moment to recover from that.

Of course we received an email from school. His teacher’s primary request was to for us to replace his novelty suede kippot (farewell R2-D2 and Ravens kippot!) and switch to those that are large enough to stay without clips.

Secondarily, we needed to have a talk about not being such a disruption in class. And though the kippah came home in a plastic bag, I promptly threw it in the trash.

I could have been offended. My son made an arguably innocent mistake. He was uncomfortable. Hadn’t the principal just told us at back-to-school night that each child was the most important? That each child deserved individual attention and happiness? Wasn’t it the teacher’s job to teach him how to behave in a school day?

It’s not. It is mine.

As a parent, a singular incident (most accidental) is comical at best and embarrassing at worst. For a teacher, it is no less than a complete detour for the day.

Here she is, fishing a kippah out of the toilet, drying off the mess, finding another kippah, all while 15 other children wait with their own mishugas. No teacher has time for that.

An article has been circling the Internet about a mother who stopped telling her daughter to “hurry up” because children learn more in self-guided exploration of their world. In parenting, this is, for the most part, simple. Your perspective of seeing a nature center is less important than a child’s interest in studying the bugs on the entrance pathway. However, in school, particularly grade school, a teacher is managing 16 to 20 little personalities and charged with specific learning outcomes that must be met.

At some point, children need to conform to the common needs of learning reading, math and academic content. My role as a parent is to coach my child and remind him that while he can have my undivided attention, work on his own pace and decide which apparel to keep and which to remove at home, in school he must adapt, accommodate and be part of a team of learners.

There is more to happiness than doing what you want all the time, and that’s an important lesson for children. Every moment can’t be self-guided. If we want our children to be independent, capable, and socially well-adjusted, we must transition them. Moreover, it makes them accountable for their actions.

My son will be contributing a little bit of money to replace his kippah. I’ll remind my son each day of his responsibilities.

I’ll remind his teacher that I’ve got her back.

Jewish Community: From D.C. to Tel Aviv

bbyo_logoImagine the Gaylord National Hotel in Washington, D.C., filled to the brim with Jewish teens from across the world, united under a single flag. Some of you may already have imagined this when the annual BBYO International Convention was held in Washington this past February. I went into the hotel with almost no connections from outside Baltimore. I have yet to go on an international summer program (a “breeding ground” of sorts for global connections), but I will say I left with a decent number of new Facebook friends. But what really mattered was the guiding idea propelling the convention: From the roots, we build. I felt a true sense of connection with every single person in attendance, threading back to our shared homeland in Israel.

Now, you may be kvetching at this copy of the Jewish Times in your hands about how all of this was already said in the weeks following the convention in February. But my story blazes onward with my chapter, Gideon AZA #2519, forming a partnership across the pond with Pinner BBYO, a chapter in the United Kingdom. I had several Skype conversations with the president of Pinner, Rob Angel. That partnership led to an amazing connection, which took place this summer in Israel.

In July, I went to Israel on the Baltimore Zionist District’s teen trip. Months after my latest conversation with Rob, our group was staying at a youth hostel in Tel Aviv. There was another group staying in the same hostel. This group happened to be from the United Kingdom. Even more, this group happened to be from BBYO. And can you believe, Rob was among them? Months after my first experience with the international BBYO and Jewish community, I spent several hours talking with someone who would be a stranger under any other circumstances but to me seemed to like an old and close friend in the homeland of the Jewish people.

So, as I trace my way back to my first encounter with a truly global Jewish community, I still bear in mind the idea that each one of us, as a Jew, is rooted in a network of traditions and ideals, in a common bond bringing us together no matter what hardships we face. This February, the International BBYO community will descend upon Dallas for IC 2014. I’ll be there for sure, representing Baltimore from the second I arrive until the second I leave. And by that last second, I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of new global friendships in my pocket (and on my Facebook account).

Who Is Going To Care For Our Senior Loved Ones?

2013ftv_kruppThe United States is recognized as the provider of the most sophisticated health care in the world at an annual estimated cost of more than $1.7 trillion. But while spending significantly more money on health care than any other leading industrialized nation, the U.S. also retains a significantly larger population of unserved or underserved citizens. To further complicate matters, America’s elderly population, the consumers of the largest portion our hour health-care dollars, is rapidly increasing. In 2011, 77 million baby boomers turned 65.

As our population continues to age, how are we going to take care of our loved ones who are in this age category? According to the National Family Caregiving Association, more than one quarter of the adult population has provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during the past year. Based on past census data, that number translates into more than 50 million people.

When you finally decide that a senor loved one needs help, what do you do?

No one plans to be the primary caregiver of a senior loved one.

We should, but we don’t. We save money for our own retirement; we save for our children’s education, weddings and such. We take vacations and spend money on cars and the like. But do we think about the cost of caring for a senior family member?

Typically, when a parent becomes ill, or grows frail, one sibling gravitates toward the role of primary caregiver and takes on the majority of the work. This person may be the closest to the parent geographically or emotionally. Typically, they may be the one who always takes charge, the one with the most time to give or the one who usually takes care of them.

As a family caregiver, you may also experience depression. You may believe that you cannot do enough for the person you care for. You may also be angry because your efforts go unappreciated and unrecognized. Perhaps you don’t get the help and support from other family members. Like many caregivers, you were thrust into this role without much preparation or planning.

You may have believed that no matter what would happen to your loved one, you would have an abundance of love, strength and courage to care for them. But now as the caregiver, you are faced with the realities of the job, your stamina is dwindling and you are feeling resentful.

According to the National Family Caregiving Association, an estimated 61 percent of family members who provide 21 hours or more of care per week suffer from depression. You need to recognize the signs of caregiver fatigue and stress. If not addressed, it can negatively affect your own health and well-being and your ability to provide care.

This is where private duty/in-home care services can help. Family members providing care to loved ones need respite care (respite care is intended to provide a time period of relief for the primary caregiver). Many services can be customized to meet your needs whether for a few hours, a whole day, once a week or every day. These services are there to enhance the quality of life and peace of mind for all members of the family and caregiving team.

To Life!

2013ftv_novickOn a recent visit to Israel this summer, I couldn’t help but notice its beauty — the land and shores, of course, but also the people.

While Israel is known for its brains (more Ph.D.s per capita than any other country) and brawn (an unmatched military), youth and beauty abound. Along with that fountain of vitality is an amazing abundance of energy amid the public, due to a smart diet and a high level of fitness. And, well, they’re darn good looking, too.

The Greeks had Aphrodite, Ares and Athena, but with a oneness philosophically embedded in its religious DNA, the Jewish state singularly embodies that mythical trifecta.

Take a walk along the Tel Aviv promenade and it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of runners, bikers and walkers with a stride that personifies the chai (life) symbol many of them wear around their necks.

Right outside our hotel and directly on the pathway near Gordon Beach was an outdoor gym, where runners, bikers and athletes of every age stop to cross-train. Next door, the volleyball courts were constantly occupied day and night, and to dodge the matkot games was itself an exercise. A block away is Krav Maga Tel Aviv, where I popped in to work out, and next to it is Gordon Pool, which is open to anyone.

But it’s not just Tel Aviv, a city on the sea known for its zesty style and hip youth. In Jerusalem too, to be a walker in the city is to imbibe the sights, sounds and smells of a revitalized youth (and adults with vigor) — whether dancing at the Kotel (Western Wall), hiking the Judean Hills or navigating the shuk (open air market) on a bustling Friday afternoon.

While back in the states there’s an obesity epidemic, with more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) designated as obese, according to the Center for Disease Control, Israel’s population is younger, lives longer and is less obese than those of other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as reported in The Jerusalem Post last year.

For my parents’ generation, if asked to free associate and come up with an Israeli woman, the great Prime Minister Golda Meir probably would come to mind. Today, Bar Refaeli is Israel’s top female pop culture icon. And while everyone knows her to be a pretty face, she also embodies brains and even some brawn for her tough and intelligent stand when she recently spoke out (tweeted) against Roger Waters for his anti-Israel/BDS remarks. In case you missed it, she told the former leader of Pink Floyd to stop using her image in live concerts after he urged fellow musicians to boycott the Jewish state.

Indeed, what Refaeli demonstrated, with her Hebrew tweet, was a personification of Israel’s deeper beauty — of fortitude, courage and integrity.

Amid the swirl of chaos, tumult and horror that surrounds Israel, with governments gassing their own children, Christians being slaughtered and an overall culture of death exalted, it may sound like a cliché to refer to Israel as an oasis. Yet, the contrast is stark. To be sure, just as the song “Am Yisrael Chai” is an outward expression of a life-affirming nation, the truth is that it is also a manifestation of what’s inside the people.

One People

092713_one_peopleAs we come to the end of the High Holidays, with the concepts of renewal, rededication and new beginnings still very fresh in our minds, we are anxious to begin the very important assignments we have accepted on behalf of our community.

We are the chairs of the Annual Campaign and The Women’s Campaign for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. We accepted these roles because we believe that helping our community and Jewish communities around the globe is part of our sacred obligation as Jews. Working with the professionals at The Associated and hundreds of volunteers who give so generously of their time, we will have the privilege to ask one Jew to help another.

Judaism emphasizes that we are all responsible for each other. It teaches us that each one of us has a unique soul, but, together as a people, we are a light unto the nations. We have Jewish scientists, artists, doctors and engineers who consistently contribute to the betterment of the world in profound and dramatic ways. When one of us shines, we all beam; when one of us is disgraced, we all feel shame because we are one people, we’re family. Each of our unique contributions and differences add up to a sum total of a great people.

We come to our roles at The Associated for different reasons, but we share the same commitment to the Jewish values transformed into act-ions by The Associated annual campaign. The funds raised through the annual campaign enable The Associated agencies and programs serving our community to provide a safety net for those in need and build a strong, vibrant Jewish life for future generations.

In our work for The Associated, we have the opportunity to speak with members of our community helped by The Associated and to travel to Jewish communities in Israel and other parts of the world that are sustained and enriched by the generosity of Jewish Baltimore. We see firsthand the impact that our community’s centralized system can make; we are very proud of the fact that our community is the only one in the current federation system that utilizes this model. In Baltimore, agencies do not compete against each other for resources. They collaborate on programs and services that serve the greater good.

Collaboration is a value embraced by The Associated, and it is critical for the success of the annual campaign and the community. Without the support of hundreds of volunteers, we would not have the collective strength to accomplish our goals. Without the wisdom of the professionals with whom we work, we would not be able to thoughtfully plan for our community’s needs. And without the generosity of thousands of donors to the annual campaign in our community, we would not be able to ensure that no need goes unanswered and no aspiration is unfulfilled.

We hope you will join us this year in the meaningful work we do on behalf of The Associated. There is a place for everyone in our community who wants to make a difference, who wants to change a life and who wants to transform our core Jewish values into action. To get involved this year, visit