For These Parents, Education Comes First

I was so happy to read about the many families who sacrificed leaving their communities, homes, friends and possibly families to relocate to Baltimore for the best interests of their children’s education (“Baltimore Bound,” Oct. 24). I couldn’t help but think about the communities they left, where so many more people were happy with the school systems there for their children. It shows that all children are preciously unique, and the desires
parents have for the best interests for their children can be boundless and uncompromising.

As parents, we get one chance through the parenting cycle, and unlike other aspects of life there are no magical restart buttons. It takes courage and strong conviction to make these life-changing decisions. Likewise, Baltimore parents have sacrificed, busing nearly 30 students this year for over an hour to the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville. Strikingly, over the past four years, 13 families sacrificed like the families in the JT article by uprooting their families and relocating to Silver Spring to avoid the long bus ride to Berman for their children. These parents, representing more than 60 children, made great sacrifices for a religious philosophy that could not sustain itself financially in Baltimore.

As communities and day schools lose or gain families, we need to
appreciate these parents’ sacrifices and courage by putting the future
of their children first and foremost, as they serve as role models to all of us. May your children reap the rewards for your amazing commitment.

Learning to Lead

Little did I know that in Mukwonago, Wisc., 739 miles away from my home, I would learn valuable life lessons and make some of the best friends I have today. This past summer, I was able to attend a Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC), which is one of the many summer programs that BBYO offers.

BBYO is a pluralistic Jewish youth group whose goal is to allow more Jewish teens to have more meaningful Jewish experiences.  BBYO is a global movement that is present in more than 25 countries. In Baltimore, I am able to participate in activities with my chapter, Achot BBG #2383, and in activities with all of the teens in the Baltimore Council. On the larger scale, I am able to go to regional events with teens from Northern Virginia, Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore area. Even larger than that, there are opportunities to participate with BBYO International during the summer and with the International Convention in February.

I feel like I am the luckiest person to have been able to go to CLTC, which provided the most inclusive and welcoming environment I have ever had the privilege to be in. Meeting a new person was as simple as saying, “Hey, my name’s Rebecca. Want to be friends?” This simple act of not being afraid to introduce myself or even ask someone for help is what makes CLTC such a special place. I cannot think of a time during CLTC when I did not feel comfortable being myself, because the people around me were always so welcoming and kind.

The most rewarding part of CLTC was knowing that I gained the knowledge, resources and experiences to make an impact wherever I go. After CLTC — on a BBYO level — I now feel confident in my ability with simpler things such as leading chapter meetings and planning chapter programs and more complex tasks such as fundraising. CLTC also taught me skills that will help me in the real world. I learned new ways to work in groups and now feel very comfortable working with adults, all because of the skills I learned at CLTC.

Now, I have friends from all over the country. Who would have thought that a 15-year-old girl from Baltimore would have friends in 13 states and even some friends in Canada? There is not a day that passes that I do not talk to a CLTC friend. Catching up with them and remembering what an incredible experience we had together always warms my heart. I would recommend BBYO summer programs to anyone. No matter your interest, there is a summer program for you from which to learn and grow.

Collaboration at Its Best

Reinvent. Rethink. Rebrand. Innovate.

They’re all buzzwords we hear today — whether talking about education, health care, product marketing or Jewish communal work. We’re living in a time in which endless access to information and 24-hour communication is challenging us to question just about everything. As a result, we have seen new models of business, philanthropy and outreach throughout the world. For some, the opportunities are tremendous.

In the Jewish community, we have also witnessed a new age of innovation. Birthright, Moishe House and PJ Library are just three organizations that have emerged to fill our communal needs. And at this year’s annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations, we are going to take a good look at how we can continue to maximize our potential.

We will know we have been successful when attendees leave with just as many new questions as answers and are inspired to continue the conversation long after the conference concludes.

The theme of the G.A. is “The World is Our Backyard.” The program amplifies this message through a combination of thinking sessions and inspirational moments, high-level speakers and new opportunities for federations to share their best programs and strategies and discuss their scalability.

In Florida, for example, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando recognized how tough it is for adults with disabilities to find jobs. So JFGO started a program called RAISE (Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees) that not only matches adults with special needs to part-time jobs, but also gives those employees professional support and job training, helping them to become valued and productive members of the community.

In San Francisco, the Jewish Community Federation was struggling to figure how to engage young people in philanthropy. The result was to schedule events around different themes that the federation supports, whether Jewish camping or LGBT programming, with each attendee asked to make voluntary contributions.

In Vancouver, Jewish leaders saw the difficulty in getting social services to suburban areas and came up with JHub Richmond, which provides office space, meeting rooms and administrative support for social workers, counselors and peer support staff from various agencies in their work with clients, family members and caregivers.

These kinds of programs are in our Jewish community backyards throughout North America. When Jewish Federations of North America solicited 153 North American federations for ideas to feature at this year’s GA, to be held Nov. 9 through Nov. 11 at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County, we received 250 submissions, selecting 50 to showcase.

By featuring these 50, we’ll be giving representatives from across North America the opportunity to gather ideas, share stories and question their colleagues on what worked for them, what didn’t and what they learned along the way.

It’s collaboration at its best.

And that’s what the General Assembly is all about: Federations are able to amplify the successes of their own communities to others and think about the ways we can have a greater impact on the issues and concerns we share.

Being together will fuel our neshamot, our souls, allowing us to return to our communities renewed and inspired.

The Mighty Dollar at Brookings

Martin Indyk. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Martin Indyk
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In September, news that Martin Indyk, a director of the prestigious Brookings Institution, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and U.S. Mideast peace negotiator, had accepted a $14.8 million gift from Qatar on behalf of Brookings raised the question of foreign-influence peddling in Washington.

At the time, critics of the gift pointed out that Qatar funds Islamist fighters in Syria and supports Hamas in Gaza. But Qatar, which seems to want to be friends with everyone, is also home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East and is one of the few Arab states with official relations with Israel (albeit at a low level). Indeed, because Qatar plays so fast and loose with its allegiances and relationships, it is sometimes difficult to tell whose side Qatar is on other than its own.

Now a recent Washington Post study raises the question of whether donor money influences the policy recommendations made by Brookings, whose reputation for academic independence and influence in setting government policy is unparalleled among think tanks.

The Post noted Brookings’ growing reliance on donations, “powered by a new era of corporate influence in Washington, in which wealthy interests outside government are looking for new avenues to reach policymakers on the inside.” It cited “a few key issue areas” in which “Brookings’s public seminars, research papers, congressional testimony and op-eds often correspond to the interests of donors.” It named “heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune” and energy companies as two groups that have made donations to Brookings programs that support their views.

Indyk, like many in Washington, appears to work through a revolving door — today, he might function as a high-level government negotiator, and tomorrow, he will appear as a high-level think-tank policy adviser, offering suggestions to the administration. Were it not for the influence of money in the process, such a state of affairs might not be so bad and would mirror the similar revolving door between government service and private enterprise that marks many other K Street industries, including law firms, lobbying shops and other influence peddlers. But things get a lot more complicated when money and outside forces influence the development and execution of America’s foreign policy — a dangerous arena, where the lives of millions are potentially at stake.

Although Indyk and others at Brookings can argue that outside funds do nothing to sway their academic judgments, the new revelations in The Post challenge that view and are troubling. One of the outcomes of the Watergate scandal more than 40 years ago was a national discussion on the limits that should be imposed on the influence of money in domestic elections. Perhaps it’s time to have a similar discussion on the propriety of foreign powers, and their agents, having significant influence on how the United States engages the rest of the world. Our country’s foreign policy is not for sale. We need to make sure that stays a guiding principle.

Jewish Community Recharger

On Sunday, close to 3,000 Jewish professionals and lay leaders will gather at the National Harbor on the Potomac River to discuss Jewish issues, to network with other active Jews and to learn how to be more effective community leaders.

The three-day General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, billed as a retreat for those engaged in Jewish philanthropy, is a chance for the organized Jewish community to address some of the most important issues facing Jews in North America, in Israel and elsewhere around the world, to recharge and to go back to work with new ideas and support.

Federations have long been the central fundraising, allocation and planning agencies of local Jewish communities. The umbrella JFNA organization is the national voice of the federation system, and it has drawn a host of influential Americans and Israelis to address the G.A., including Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan and Israeli Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog.

This year’s theme emphasizes the interconnectedness of the Jewish world, and the G.A.’s discussions will focus on such diverse subjects as Israel, Jewish education, Jewish life in Europe, making the Jewish community more inclusive for people with disabilities, preparing for the retirement of baby boomers, interfaith marriage, fundraising and getting young adults more actively involved in the Jewish community.

Our community is fortunate to have the G.A. close by for the second time in three years. The topics are timely, the speakers outstanding and the networking opportunities unparalleled. We encourage you to attend and participate in the G.A. and to support the vital work of our federation system.

90 Years of ‘Proud’ History

On behalf of the board of directors and staff of Central Scholarship, thank you for recognizing our first 90 years in “Still Going Strong at 90” (Oct. 10). Your article and timeline did a wonderful job explaining our history, of which we are most proud. We clearly recognize that this milestone is an uncommon accomplishment, achieved by never straying from our mission of helping low-income students throughout Maryland attend college and graduate, as well as our professional and certificate programs and take part in our College Cash financial literacy educational series, where we help Maryland families find money for college and manage student loans. We also advocate at the state and national level on issues related to higher education affordability.

As we celebrate at our 90th anniversary event on Nov. 8, we are grateful to the Jewish Times for the wonderful article and to the community for 90 years of support. We look forward to continuing to serve the community for our next 90 years.
Jan Moylan Wagner
President, Central Scholarship
Owings Mills

Conversions and Politics

Immediately after Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Congregation was arrested and charged with placing hidden cameras in the changing room of the ritual bath adjacent to his synagogue, the question arose whether the conversions he oversaw over many years were still valid. The response from the Rabbinical Council of America, on which Freundel served, was “yes.”

Thus, despite Freundel’s removal from positions of authority on the issue of conversions, those whose conversions he oversaw should not have to worry about their identities as Jews. And yet, because of the disturbing allegations of the Freundel case, many of his former colleagues have begun a serious process of introspection and forward thinking to address sensitive issues relating to mikvah use and the conversion process.

In Israel, an effort is underway to localize conversions the way they are handled in the diaspora. Like all personal status issues, conversions in Israel have historically been controlled by the chief rabbinate, a centralized political-religious office held primarily by haredi Orthodox rabbis. Earlier this year, a Knesset member in the centrist Tnuah party introduced a bill to allow local Orthodox rabbis to create panels to perform conversions. While the bill does not mandate religious equality, it does introduce flexibility and accessibility into what is currently a tightly controlled top-down system. The bill passed one reading in the Knesset in the summer.

Not surprisingly, the chief rabbinate opposes the measure. So do the modern Orthodox Jewish Home Party and Israel’s haredi parties. Despite that opposition, the government’s plan was to implement the change through a cabinet vote. But last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his support for the bill. Critics charged that he did so to appease Israel’s haredi parties, who are not in the governing coalition, but are considered to be the prime minister’s natural partners.

Tnuah can continue to push for passage of the bill in the Knesset, where it reportedly has a good chance to pass its second and third readings, whereupon it would become law. We strongly support this effort. While passage of the bill will not bring religious pluralism to Israel, it will serve to decentralize the power of the chief rabbinate. The result will be an easing of a pressure point between Israel and diaspora Jewry and represent another step toward allowing the majority of Israelis to live their Jewish lives as they choose, rather than being told what they must do by a political agency.

For Maryland, Brown and Frosh

103114_editorial_lgIn the races for the top two state positions on Tuesday, Brian Frosh for attorney general and Anthony Brown for governor, both Democrats, are more experienced and more in tune with mainstream Maryland voters than their opponents.

Frosh, a proud member of the Jewish community, has been a state senator representing District 16 since 1994. For 11 years, he has been the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. During the three-way Democratic primary in June, the Gazette quoted him as pointing out that as attorney general, most of the laws he’ll be enforcing, he has written.

A mainstream liberal, Frosh has earned high ratings from consumer groups and high votes for his work to protect the environment, particularly the Chesapeake Bay. He also gets good marks on civil rights. Unsurprisingly, considering his leadership in restricting who can have access to firearms, he received an “F” from the National Rifle Association. These are among the reasons we believe he should be Maryland’s next attorney general. His Republican opponent, attorney Jeffrey Pritzker — who is also a proud Jew and a past board member of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville — lacks Frosh’s stature and experience.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has admittedly run a lackluster campaign in his bid to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. It is perhaps the lack of dynamism and policy specifics from the Brown camp that has allowed his Republican challenger, businessman Larry Hogan, to close the wide gap between them to fewer than 10 percentage points.

But Brown has crucial experience that Hogan lacks: eight years as lieutenant governor, another eight as a state delegate, and military service including a 10-month Army Reserve stint in Iraq while serving in the statehouse. Brown’s Jewish running mate for lieutenant governor, Ken Ulman, is impressive in his own right, having served two terms as Howard County executive after one term as a councilman.

Hogan, meanwhile, has no elective experience — neither does his running mate, former USDA official Boyd Rutherford — and we do not believe the governor’s chair is a place for on-the-job training. We are also leery of Hogan’s call to make Maryland “more business friendly” — which Pritzker has done as well — without just as strong a commitment to building a state that is more affordable, cleaner and livable for its working and middle-class residents, who need access to better transportation and sustainable wages in order to thrive.

We trust that, as governor, Anthony Brown will be equal to that challenge.

In Odessa, Winter Is Coming

maxresdefaultBy: Marina Moldavanskaya
Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator

The whole city of Odessa is preparing for the coming winter. Although winter is always a challenging time in the region, the current situation in Ukraine is creating the need for increased preparations across the entire population. The Ukrainian government has stated that the gas supply this winter will be significantly reduced as compared to previous years. In addition, local authorities announced that there will be upcoming power cut-offs across the nations for hours in different regions throughout the region.

Because of this, the whole population of Odessa is working to insulate their homes and prepare for the cold weather ahead. Most families are working to repair cracks and seal windows and doors. In addition, residents are trying to purchase extra devices for heating and hot water. Of course, this challenge will also affect the many Jewish organizations in Odessa. Not having constant electricity will cause challenges with daily function of programs across all organizations. Many organizations are desperately trying to buy generators in order to have constant electricity available; however, purchasing the generators and the necessary fuel will be very expensive.

Despite all these difficulties, Odessans continue to be optimistic. All programs and organizations continue to operate and provide exciting Jewish programming. Winter is not only the time of cold temperatures, but, more importantly, it is also the time of Chanukah and our winter camps. Everybody in the community has already started preparing for large-scale celebration of Chanukah – typically, on each of the eight days, several events are held. Now, we all must dress warmly and get ready to celebrate Chanukah!

To make a truly global impact, The Associated works in conjunction with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to help account for the needs this winter and all year round. The funds received through the Annual Campaign help promote education, social services, arts and culture, leadership, volunteerism and community development initiative in Odessa.

Time to Stand Up to Big-Time Polluters

On the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report from Environment America, “Waterways Restored,” highlights the success the law has meant for the Anacostia River, taking it from a state of horrific pollution to giving some hope that it will be safe for swimming and fishing in little more than a decade (“Navigating Toward a Healthy Harbor,” Aug. 8).

All of Maryland’s waters deserve a success story, but right now, a loophole in the Clean Water Act has left over 10,000 miles of our state’s waterways, including those that feed into the Anacostia River, vulnerable to pollution. Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed closing this loophole to protect all of the state’s rivers and streams.

The agency is taking public comments on its rule until Nov. 14, but polluters such as agribusinesses and big developers are waging a bitter campaign against it. The Clean Water Act has meant progress for the Anacostia River, but its promise isn’t yet fulfilled. That’s why it’s so important for EPA to stand up to the polluters and restore safeguards to all of the rivers and streams that crisscross our state.

T. Aurelie Konin
Wheaton, Md.