The Music Lives On

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Hardly anyone would accuse members of the Jewish community of ignorance when it comes to the Holocaust — remembrance is such a large part of American Jewish life and education — but the same unfortunately cannot be said about our non-Jewish neighbors. Data provided by the Anti-Defamation League, in fact,  indicates that just 54 percent of people worldwide are aware of the Holocaust, with only 48 percent of those younger than 35 conversant in the Nazi-perpetrated genocide that claimed 6 million Jewish lives.

Clearly more needs to be done in the realm of Holocaust awareness.

But while the data may indicate near-universal awareness of the Holocaust among Jews, historical memory has always been a continually degrading phenomenon. And although in the world at large, the challenge has been to make people aware, here in the Jewish community we must always be vigilant to ensure that our own youth are knowledgeable not just of the contours of the Holocaust, but in its specifics as well.

That’s why the family story of Lulo Reinhardt, who will perform at the Gordon Center’s International Guitar Night this weekend, is so important. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Reinhardt lost hundreds of cousins he never met to the Holocaust, but he’s not Jewish. He’s the great-nephew of gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt.

Statistics are not readily available, but I’d venture that most people — and many Jews — are not fully aware of the variety of cultures identified by the Nazis for extermination. The Jews, of course, were at the top of the list, but there were 6 million others who died, for an estimated total of 12 million civilians who were murdered by the Nazis. Gypsies, otherwise known as the Roma, account for between 200,000 and 500,000 lives lost.

The cynics among us might say that some would use that fact as a way to characterize the Holocaust as a general threat to mankind, not a singular case of anti-Semitism of the grossest magnitude. So let’s be clear: The Holocaust was first and foremost a Nazi campaign of anti-Semitic hatred the likes of which had not and has not been seen in modern times. Remembrance of the tragedy thus serves to remind all of us of the danger of anti-Semitism and the ability of mankind to commit genocide.

But there’s a very specific lesson to be learned when it comes to the fate of non-Jews like the Roma who fell victim to Nazi hatred. Reinhardt’s story of survival is inspiring not because his grandfather made it out of the Holocaust alive, but because the music he plays is a testament to a culture that refused to be snuffed out.

Celebrating this fact should inspire us to embrace the true message of Holocaust awareness: Survival is not just about living. It’s about transmitting your culture to future generations. May we follow Reinhardt’s example.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Dignity for All

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Editor-in-Chief

Maybe it’s in our DNA as Americans or maybe it’s in our spiritual fiber as Jews, but we have a special place in our heart for dreamers.

For the biblical Joseph, dreaming was a way by which he saw the world as it should be. And for the 64 percent of Americans who today own a home — a modern cornerstone of the so-called American Dream — dreaming is the fulfillment of an American ideal.

Although we embrace the dreams and dreamers in our midst do we — as Jews and as Americans — do enough to support those for whom the dream has, in a manner of speaking, died?

Probably not.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, there is an apparent failure of Baltimore City’s Rent Court and building inspectors to successfully mitigate such hallmarks of poverty as  substandard housing, lead contamination and negligent landlords.

As it turns out, many tenants apparently do not know of their rights when it comes to disputes with landlords, privacy concerns and minimum standards of living, nor do they know of such obligations to lodge a formal complaint and obtain judicial approval before paying rent into an  escrow account. For Baltimore’s poor, such lack of education makes them ready targets for predatory landlords; and in those cases where landlords  legitimately know no better, oversight of the industry by city and state agencies does little to educate those involved or remedy the situation.

It would be easy to assume that this is an inner-city issue, but some in our Jewish community are landlords and many are tenants, either priced out of housing, transient in status or unable to secure financing to own a home, rather than rent. And with the national homeownership rate continuing to decline from an all-time high in the early 2000s, you can reasonably expect that the proportion of renters in the Jewish community will only continue to rise.

So where does that leave us?

For starters, any notion that owning a home is the be-all and end-all of American  success should be quickly dispelled. Such thinking only serves to support a view that renters are somehow inferior and thus less deserving of  governmental protection and  societal embrace.

Some of the delegates to the 1787 convention that gave us our Constitution had proposed that only “freeholders,” those who owned their land free and clear, should be eligible to vote. (This would have disenfranchised the many U.S. homeowners who today carry mortgages on their homes.) It was Benjamin Franklin who successfully defeated the proposal by pointing out that such a view was incompatible with the ideal of liberty.

When it comes right down to it, neither those still dreaming nor those despairing of dreams should be second-class citizens. This is as much an American principle, as it is a Jewish one.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Change at the JT

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Editor-in-Chief

To death and taxes we can add one other certainty of life — change. It’s a constant force, and for those of us unlucky enough to remain stagnant, want of it can prod us to action.

But if change is a given, it needn’t be feared. We needn’t be apprehensive when we appreciate it but can instead embrace it as signaling the departure from one plateau to an imminent arrival at a higher achievement.

As you’ll see in this week’s JT, change has once again arrived at the publication of record for Baltimore’s Jewish community. The paper stock has changed, the presentation of some features looks slightly different, some elements of the JT have been shuffled around or have departed altogether. I’ll admit that the issue you’re reading now may look and feel very different (it’s probably heavier, actually) from the one you read the week before. That’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, it means that the JT is growing with the times and is adapting to new environments, all in an effort to stay relevant, successful and a force for Jewish continuity in Baltimore.

Among the changes to the inside pages, in addition to stories now appearing on newsprint, each and every feature of the JT will now be presented in color. And the decision to do away with the Mishmash page means that more space will be devoted to community news, primarily in the form of a new “You Should Know” feature that will showcase an interesting young Jewish Baltimorean each week.

What hasn’t changed? Well, for starters, this column remains where you’ve come to expect it, just across from our “Seen” page of entertainment news. And we’re still focused on giving you the news that matters, the news that makes a difference, the news that informs and inspires. We’re even investing some of the savings these changes are bringing into new delivery models and staff development.

When I came to Baltimore in December 2013 to take the helm of one of the greatest and most storied Jewish publications in North America, I did so with trepidation. Could an “outsider” ever fully grasp what it means to be a member of the Jewish community here?

While I’ve learned that an “outsider” can never fully grasp anything on the inside, the embrace (as well as critiques) of readers in letters to the editor and hugs at Accents, Goldberg’s and the now-shuttered Umami Bistro have made me honored to be a member of Baltimore’s tribe.

But I also came here wondering what the JT’s future would look like under my watch. I’m proud to say that more of you are reading, more of you are interacting and more of you are engaging with the JT than in recent memory. Together, you and I, as well as the publication’s staff and advertisers, are continually molding the JT, making sure it remains as an exemplar of Jewish journalism for years to come.

That’s a mission that will never change.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Listen, Converse!

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

At first glance, it’s so obvious that it’s a wonder anyone considers it revolutionary: If you want to increase your community members’ level of engagement, ask them what they think and what they want, and then empower them to do it. Put it another, albeit circular, way: If you want to increase engagement, engage!

That’s a major takeaway from a partnership between six Baltimore and one Washington synagogue, several community groups and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, along with the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development, that aimed to make participants more relevant in their members’ lives. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and the truth is that while the project reached a seemingly obvious conclusion, the fact that partner agencies and synagogues are reporting promising results means that even obvious lessons are worth inculcating in communal leadership.

It’s also a lesson that badly needs to be taken to heart in all segments of the Jewish community and in the society at large.

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t receive some type of email, letter or voicemail from a reader or community leader castigating one of my publications for having the temerity to publish an article referencing or an opinion piece endorsing a point of view contrary to his or her own. And that’s not the worst of it, although refusing to allow a debate on issues is bad enough as it is. Much of the time, such complaints center on an accusation that the article or op-ed in question is advocating an invalid viewpoint.

One recent exchange, for instance, went so far as to label a college student as an enemy of the State of Israel because she advocated for an eventual withdrawal of an Israeli presence in areas of the West Bank designated for a future Palestinian state. And don’t think that such criticisms are the stock, trade and currency of those on the far right of the political spectrum. I’ve received complaints from those on the far left that supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are racists and warmongers. It’s not that people who hold such views also feel that debate in the pages of a Jewish community news publication is not worthwhile; it’s that people who hold such views make debate inherently impossible.

At the root of all of this is a refusal among people to listen to one another. In such an environment, engagement, whether in the political process or in communal conversations, is pointless.

That’s not to say that the challenges aging synagogues face are in any way similar to the kind of invective being thrown around in the political arena. Synagogues have been and continue to be safe havens from such hatred. But many synagogues’ challenges can be solved by the same antidote — the simple act of listening.

Clearly, leaders and members of Temple Oheb Shalom, Beth Am Synagogue, Beth Israel Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Beth El Congregation and Temple Micah have not only discovered a principle they’re now using to strengthen their congregations, they’re creating an example each and every one us should follow in our own lives, conversations and interactions with others.

“Listening to congregants was interesting, rewarding, and we learned a lot, and those that were listened to definitely said it was a positive experience,” reports David Lunken of Beth Am. “We did get some insights into specific things that were working that we could do better. We also learned about people’s passions and interests and things they’d like to be doing.”

May such conversations only continue.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

A Clear Message

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio. Bernie Sanders.

The Iowa caucuses are over, making the 2016 presidential election one for the history books well before its conclusion. For the above three candidates, the quadrennial Hawkeye State ritual was truly historic, as each one in his own way defied the predictions of the political prognosticators of both the left and the right.

Cruz, who scored a resounding victory on the Republican side — besting businessman Donald Trump and his campaign of rising inevitability by 4 percentage points — saw a clear message in the results: “Iowa has sent notice,” he said, that the GOP nominee “will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists.”

Rubio, as well, stuck it to the so-called “fourth estate” in his speech Monday night. Though he placed third, he came within striking distance of Trump and emerged with the momentum on his side heading into next week’s New Hampshire primaries.

“They told me that we had no chance, because my hair wasn’t gray enough and my boots were too high,” he said.

And over on the Democratic side, Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has been a thorn in the side of front-runner Hillary Clinton since beginning his insurgent candidacy last year, emerged from the Iowa contest in a near tie with Clinton. Media reports indicated that final tallies in some precincts were decided by coin flips.

Put simply, the story out of Iowa is one of trouncing expectations.

With that in mind, we can add another name to the triumvirate of champions mentioned here: Devorah Lieberman. Though the 31-year-old New Yorker is not a politician, her story is equally one of overcoming obstacles and achieving the unthinkable.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Lieberman is among the many special needs adults who faced the judgments of society and the closed doors of employers when looking for a job. She has Down syndrome and needed the assistance of the Jewish Union Foundation and Yachad to finally land employment. Today, she works three jobs, at a Manhattan clothing store, at the Foundation for Jewish Camp and at Yachad.

“People should not be afraid to let your child do something,” says her mother, Andrea. “They are very optimistic about what they can do. Just let them try and go far as they possibly can.”

But while Lieberman’s mother’s advice applies to parents, Lieberman herself has a message for society at large. People should “not make fun of my syndrome,” she says. “They should treat me with the same respect [as anyone else] and not judge me by [my] disability.”

Powerful words. And that’s why having a month dedicated to embracing and raising awareness of people in our community with special needs is so important. It’s why Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, year after year, garners more attention from the community.

The achievements of people such as Lieberman are historic not because they succeeded where others thought they couldn’t, but because their success demonstrates in a tangible way the backwardness of consigning anyone — a person with special needs, an elderly grandmother, a wayward youth, a down-and-out politician — to defeat before a challenge even begins. Ultimately, by limiting others, we place limits on ourselves.

This month, let’s recognize such boundaries and limitations for what they really are — falsehoods.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Seeking Passion

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Lost to most people — at least those who were not at the Capitol last Tuesday night or were not watching President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on C-SPAN — was a touching few minutes spent by the president as he walked up the aisle and out of the House of Representatives chamber for what might be his last time as the nation’s commander-in-chief.

Having made his way through a gauntlet of eager autograph seekers and politicos wanting a word or a handshake, including Baltimore’s own Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, Obama turned around and said he wanted to get one last look. Then, he turned to his left, where the screaming congressional pages were corralled. He told the young adults, some of whom might be voting for the very first time in this November’s presidential election, that the message of optimism he struck in his primetime address was meant for them.

“I was speaking to you,” he said.

Whether or not Obama was the right messenger to employ his original 2008 campaign theme of hope to cap off two terms of some of the most virulent political infighting in modern American history, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the message itself is a badly needed one in an age when some presidential candidates are battling over who properly gets to lay claim to the “mantle of anger.” As this column has pointed out in the past, anger might spur one to action, but it’s never a good source of potential solutions. And it’s the younger generations — from the millennials to the pages in the halls of Congress to the students in our schools to the babies being born — who face a future of enormous problems. Whether the challenges are financial, environmental, spiritual, medical, philosophical or constitutional, the coming years will demand creative solutions to ensure the preservation of all that truly makes this country great.

It’s a fact that our future leaders readily admit. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the millennials among us are just now becoming eligible, according to the U.S. Constitution’s age restrictions of federal officeholders, for the highest position in the land. We can either be fearful of that — what parent isn’t the slightest bit nervous when her child suddenly ages into the state’s driver pool, for instance? — or we can embrace it. The problem is, many millennials themselves aren’t.

“Millennials are dissatisfied with politics,” says Nik Sushka, 32, a former president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats. “Many millennials don’t identify with the political structures of the past, and it’s difficult to get millennials excited about serving in political office.”

“People are more and more cynical about politics — and Washington in particular,” agrees Matt Dallek, assistant professor of political management at The George Washington University. “I don’t see millennials moving into political space in the traditional offices [but] more so through advocacy, given the anger and animosity toward elected officials alike and the relative suspicions of each party.”

That millennials actually care about issues is a start, but without their participation in the full political process, from supporting candidates as well as campaigns to placing their own names on the ballot, it’s likely that frustration and anger will remain. At the end of the day, democracy such as ours requires impassioned commitment on the part of the citizenry. Eight years ago, Obama inspired enough of that passion to get himself elected the country’s first African-American president. Turning to November, it’s high time that more people find that passion within themselves.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

An Alarming Trend

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Law enforcement has been all over the news lately. If it’s not about police using excessive force — think Freddie Gray — it’s about their lack of any meaningful action at all. That’s at least the perception behind the government’s response to the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 30 miles south of Burns, Ore., in the remote southeast corner of the state.

With the takeover by armed “patriots” angry over the reinstated federal arson convictions of two ranchers entering its second week, the FBI (so it seemed as of press time) appears content to stand back and let the standoff come to a natural end. Will the gun-toting squatters and demonstrators be charged or face jail time for this nationally televised stunt? Or will nothing really happen to them at all, as did nothing to their inspirational leader, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the father of two of the Oregon demonstrators who successfully fought back federal agents seeking to enforce a judicial order against him in 2014?

Some have posited that, while the use of disproportional force has the tendency to spark civil unrest — again, think Freddie Gray — allowing criminals to operate unopposed simply breeds more lawlessness. One can only speculate, but could the failure of sufficient enforcement be behind the current spate of armed robberies in the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish community?

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the last week — itself following a rapid increase in break-ins across northwestern Baltimore and Pikesville — has seen an explosion in crime. Over the span of just a couple of days, three men were held up by gun-wielding robbers, two in or near their homes. The other was loading the ATM machine at Seven Mile Market. Seven Mile Market!

Taken individually, each of these crimes could easily be explained away as the consequence of urban living amid an economic recovery that hasn’t quite trickled down to those at the margins of society. Robberies are quite common, whether you live in Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York.

But taken in the aggregate, one can’t help but see a trend. Baltimore is already the most dangerous it’s ever been; its homicide rate of 54 murders for every 100,000 people follows a year in which 344 were slain. That harrowing statistic is unacceptable, by any standard.

People on the outskirts of the city, however, sometimes satisfy themselves with the notion that they live “outside” of the crime-ridden core, that somehow a middle-class lifestyle is a sufficient protector from the vagaries of crime. The recent spate of robberies, however, while thankfully not violent, should dispel everyone living here of that myth.

Fundamentally, crime is an indicator of the health of a community. It might be caused by poverty or drugs or any number of things, but if it rises and spreads, it can also indicate the failure of a police force and its civilian bosses to do their job. Left unchecked, it will likely only get worse.

On Monday night, a community meeting with politicians and law enforcement personnel cleared some of the air. Let’s hope that some arrests and more patrols will follow, and in the very near future.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

‘The Greatest Feeling’

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

The way a child sees the world is truly astonishing, and those parents (or uncles, aunts, siblings, babysitters and teachers) among us who are privileged, for even a moment, to enjoy a glimmer of that unique combination of wonder and certainty are truly blessed.

I’ve written about this before, but holding my own kids up as an example, I am constantly amazed at how simplistic and matter-of-fact the world around them can be in their eyes. And upon reflection, they’re usually right.

Such was the case during a recent weekend visit to Washington, where we took in the sights on the Mall and, as luck would have it, scored 10 tickets at the last minute to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. Looking down from one of the windows on the observation level, one of my sons remarked how the giant edifice honoring our first president’s military service was really a giant sundial.

I don’t know of anyone else — save for an artist I was able to find through Google who demonstrated the monument’s sundial properties in 1974 — who’s made such a comparison. I certainly haven’t, and neither has my wife. And yet for my son, it took all of a couple of minutes.

Maybe it’s children’s innate ability to see past all of the hoopla — past the 50 American flags, in the case of the Washington Monument — and reduce a scene to its essence that makes their perspective so quintessentially different than that of adults. And far from being confined to the physical world, such an ability exists on the emotional plane as well — like when a child instinctively gives a homeless man a granola bar to stave off his hunger. More often than not, children, more so than adults, have the capacity to not lose sight of the trees for the forest. They appreciate the reality right in front of their face: If there’s a hungry man over there, he deserves some food to eat.

We as a society tend to do our best the more we preserve this childlike way of distilling through all of the garbage that age piles on top of the simple reality that sits at the core of most experiences. That’s not to say that complex decision-making isn’t a hallmark of maturity. It’s just that failing to appreciate simplicity when it really matters is actually dangerous, threatening to eat away at our moral and emotional core.

In this week’s cover story, we see one local playhouse celebrating the ability of a live organ donor to make a very painful decision by recognizing the simple fact that a fellow human being is in need. Everyman Theatre has some experience with the issues involved, as its own lighting designer, Jay Herzog, was saved through the kindness of a man who donated some of his own liver tissue so that Herzog could survive a form of nonalcoholic cirrhosis.

The self-sacrifice of Herzog’s savior is echoed as well in the case of Harry Burstyn’s cousin, Yossi, who donated a kidney to his relative several years ago.

“It’s the greatest feeling,” Yossi told our reporter, Daniel Schere. “You can’t imagine. Knowing that you’re able to help someone and give someone life, and it doesn’t sacrifice anything for myself.”

To be able to look at the loss of your own kidney as no real sacrifice is the hallmark of selflessness. For Yossi, it was all very simple. If only more of us saw the rest of life that way.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Reverse the Neglect

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

It’s interesting the things you notice, but my first thought upon walking through the White House — my first-ever visit to the presidential residence —was how much smaller it really is in real life. Whether in depictions on the small or large screen or in the fanciful imaginations of children and adults alike, let’s face it: The White House is a palace; its corridors ooze with grandeur; the building itself is designed to intimidate foreign heads of states and pesky members of the opposition.

But up close, as I learned last week as one of many starry-eyed invitees to one of two official Chanukah parties thrown by President and Mrs. Obama, the White House, while grand, isn’t all that big. When you get right down to it, it’s a house, not a palace. And, as befits a house built by the people for a president whose unique contribution to government theory is that he is not a king, its grandeur emanates not from its size, but from its history.

The home of every chief executive with the exception of Washington, the White House marvels the powerful and plebian alike by the history that has taken place — and the history yet to be made — within the confines of its walls. It can be seen in the massive portraits of Washington, Madison and Lincoln, the slightly imperfect moldings enveloping the Green Room and the thousands of old volumes in the ground-floor library from which visitors are free to peruse.

Call me jaded or idealistic — I’ll freely admit that I’m probably both — but on that night last week, as a Holocaust survivor lit a menorah made from nails scavenged by another survivor at Auschwitz, I was humbled not by President Obama before me, but by the office he represents. It was the history of the house, of the country, of the presidency, of the fact that we live in a nation where a menorah can be lit and publicly celebrated from the East Room of the presidential mansion that made me speechless, not the man now occupying the residence.

History, unfortunately, is a commodity too little appreciated today. At its best, it is studied by rote by too many high schoolers; at its worst, it is trampled upon by the multitude whatever their age. It is derided and scorned, a product of another age all too quickly forgotten instead of honored and valued as a documentation of the failures we may yet avoid in the future and the successes we may only hope to repeat. Put simply, for far too many, history is that pesky reminder of from whence we came, and no one enjoys being put in his place.

And as you’ll read in this week’s JT, it is exactly our personal histories that are quickly fading into the ether. Here in Baltimore, as in cities up and down the Eastern seaboard, Jewish cemeteries dating back more than 100 years are in danger of succumbing to the elements, to a lack of resources, to time itself. For whatever reason, people today visit the resting places of their ancestors far less frequently than in the past; it’s as if the very pace of forgetting is accelerating.

But thanks to new ways of pooling resources and the dedication of a handful of volunteers, our community’s and families’ links to the past are increasingly being restored and cared for.

For this core group of activists, perpetual care is the embodiment of perpetual memory. It’s my earnest hope that they succeed, because if we neglect our claim to the past, what good is the present?

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

To Live as a Jew

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Editor-in-Chief

It’s not often that you, dear readers, get a sneak peek into the operations of the JT, so here it goes: The morning we went to press, Daniel Schere, who wrote this week’s cover story on the work of Maryland Jews in the nascent medical marijuana industry, suggested a catchier headline: “High for the Holidays.”

After a brief chuckle, I sadly had to pass on the idea. The story really has nothing to do with Chanukah, after all, and it’s not as if dispensaries are magically opening up tomorrow so that patients can legally benefit from the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Anyone getting high, in other words — from a purely legal point of view, mind you — will be doing so long after the current holiday is over.

We ended up settling on “Hashing Out an Industry,” and as you’ll read, the contributions of Members of the Tribe to bringing medical marijuana to a corner stear near you are staggering. But those contributions, however noteworthy, have about as much to do with menorahs and the Maccabees as much of what passes for political speech these days has to do with discovering the truth.

The more juvenile among us might draw a comparison between “lighting up” and kindling the Chanukah candles, of course, and the more civic minded might focus on the religious freedom aspect of the holiday as linked to the libertarian undercurrent that has made legalizing marijuana possible. In truth, though, Chanukah isn’t so much about religious freedom as it is about religious fortitude — the Maccabees were not fighting for religious choice; they were fighting for religious identity — and medical marijuana is more about improving health care than about extending a new freedom to Americans. And yet, there is a strain that runs through both these topics that provides an interesting commentary to Jewish life today.

Despite the fact that the Syrian-Greeks in control of the Holy Land more than 2,000 years ago largely kept intact public expressions of Judaism, what they forbade was anything that demonstrated a Jew’s embrace of extra-rational devotion, such as circumcision, a commandment whose sole justification was in a decree of the Almighty. So when the Maccabees revolted, their accomplishment was securing the right for a Jew to live as a Jew, to live without the need to compromise his or her inherent identity.

Here in the United States, it makes sense for vast numbers of Jews to apply for dispensary and manufacturing licenses in Maryland’s growing medical marijuana industry not because there’s an inherent connection between Judaism and cannabis, but because as with any industry, the Jewish community is not constrained by the type of entrenched anti-Semitism that defined past generations. Just 70 years ago, for instance, it was common for universities to limit the number of Jewish students in their programs, but today, there is not a single field where Jewish Americans cannot thrive. Even more, whereas religious observance was seen as a hindrance to success in the workplace in past generations, today’s environment is much more conducive to — and in some cases even encourages — religious fidelity.

Clearly, the Jewish community has come a long way since a single cruse of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. Perhaps the real challenge now is to find the distinctly Jewish ways of being titans of industry, even in the manufacture and supply of hallucinogenic drugs.

Happy Chanukah!

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com