Numbers Count!

Why is it important to vote (“The Jewish Vote,” Oct. 17)? Here is a story never told.
The British government once asked President Harry Truman not to vote for the partition of Palestine. I lived in the Bronx, N.Y., and my father came home from services and told me the rabbis in our community got together and decided to teach Truman a lesson.

 
We had a runoff election due to the death of our congressman. Our area was 80 percent Democratic and 20 percent American Labor Party (ALP). The rabbis asked us to vote ALP, so the following Tuesday, the vote ended up 80 percent ALP and 20 percent Democratic.
Truman agreed to the partition, and three months later, we had the regular election: The vote was 80 percent Democratic and 20 percent ALP.

 
My cousin, who was active in politics, once told me to register with the majority party, but vote for whoever I wanted, because if you need a favor, they will look to see if you are a registered voter in their party. Vote on Election Day. Numbers count.

 
Howard J. Cohen
Pikesville

Worth Waiting For

We at Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI) read with interest your article “Betting on Baltimore: Casino revenue travels as far as Park Heights” (Oct. 10).CHAI has been intimately involved in Video Lottery Terminal funding decisions with the five presidents of the neighborhood associations (Glen, Fallstaff, Cheswolde, Cross Country and Mount Washington) in our community since the passage of the legislation.
In fact, CHAI is proud to be the convener of the Northwest Community President’s Forum, which meets every other month and where these, as well as many other decisions, take place. CHAI also will be a recipient of these funds for several needed projects that will benefit the entire community.
While we understand the frustration that neighborhood leaders are feeling about the rate at which these resources are coming, we know that when they do, there will be additional remarkable improvements to the Northern Park Heights community. We are very grateful to our elected officials for putting this legislation together, as these resources are, and will be, an ongoing gift to our community.
At the conclusion of the Jewish holidays, we are reminded that new journeys are rarely easy, solidarity helps achieve communal goals, and good things come to those who wait.
Mitchell Posner
Executive Director
Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.

Is Pope Francis a Model for Our Rabbis?

The shift in tone that Pope Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church has serious repercussions for people who follow that religion — and those of other faith systems. As the most prominent religious figure in today’s world, the actions, ideas  and approach of the pontiff deserve attention, including among Jews.

That’s no criticism of the gedolim. Instead, it’s a recognition that Jewish leaders need not shy away from the moral and intellectual contributions of great men of other faiths. As the Jewish collection of wisdom Pirkei Avot teaches, “Who is wise? One who learns from every man.”

Nothing mentioned below should be interpreted as criticizing any rabbi — or supporting the violation of unambiguous Jewish laws. Instead, I’m praising values and behaviors that Pope Francis models — at least some of which can be a lesson to every present and future rabbi, whether a local synagogue rabbi or one of our generation’s leading rabbinical figures.

Here are some qualities shown by Pope Francis that are worthy of consideration:

He is accessible. Many Catholics have praised the “common touch” of the current pontiff, particularly in contrast to the more aloof popes of the past. In his desire to communicate with all kinds of people, he has become conversant in 10 languages. This pope uses Twitter. He regularly grants interviews to the press and speaks openly about important moral and contemporary matters in public settings.

He is humble. Upon his election, he eschewed the tradition of sitting on the Papal Throne — and stood instead. A Jewish leader who visited him said, “If everyone sat in chairs with [arms], he would sit in the one without.” He lives modestly in a guesthouse. He drives himself around Rome in a 30-year-old used Renault. Previous pontiffs rode as passengers in the Pope-mobile, a Mercedes in which the pope would sit on a chair made from white leather with gold trim.

He is traditional.  Pope Francis does not surrender to calls for assimilating recent social values that are foreign to Catholicism. On the other hand, he has been willing to listen with respect and kindness to people advocating all kinds of new ideas.

He is merciful.  Soon after ascending to the papacy, Francis washed and kissed the feet of several juvenile offenders. He goes out of his way to embrace people who are usually demeaned by the wider society, especially the poor. In fact, alleviating poverty seems to be the centerpiece of his papacy.

He is respectful. Under Pope Francis, Catholic clergy no longer speak of “living in sin,” a phrase that had been an unnecessary slap in the face to Catholics whose family arrangements do not involve church-approved marriages. The recently convened Synod on the Family just released a draft document that declared that gay people had “gifts and qualities to offer,” though they maintained the church’s policies on the nature of proper bedroom and family life.

To be clear: I am not envious of Catholicism and I don’t wish Judaism would echo that religion’s ideology and practices. Rather, I’m describing the extraordinary leadership of a special person who has inspired hundreds of millions.

What Really Matters

As a nursing home rabbi/chaplain for more than 20 years, I sometimes am asked by a Jewish resident or family member:  What type of rabbi are you?”  My humorous response to the question is, “A Jewish Rabbi!”

When a person is confronted with serious illness, especially for the first time, he or she may feel embarrassment or shame for being so dependent on others and perhaps even alienated from one’s faith in G-d at being in such a lonely, painful situation. In my role as a chaplain/rabbi, I am called upon to give hope and strength to the frail elderly in our midst at such troubling times. I believe that my role is to be nonjudgmental, striving to support the person and the family in whatever way possible.

While I am primarily the spiritual leader for the Jewish residents in my work, I also serve as a chaplain for our non-Jewish clientele.

What this means to me, as taught by my teachers, is that every human being is a person of G-d, while every Jew is like a family member, my own flesh and blood.

What I have learned is how we treat one another is often more important than what we say to one another. Also, in my role as a teacher, I share the belief that learning is a lifelong pursuit.

In Deuteronomy 6:4, the Torah states: “Hear, O Israel: the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” The classical commentator, Rashi, notes that the statement refers both to the Jewish people who now recognize “the L-rd as our G-d,” as well as the nations of the world, who will eventually one day recognize in the future “the L-rd is One.”

By the same token, I am the spiritual leader for the Jewish elderly in my midst, inspiring their lives through the familiar tunes of the Shabbat and Yom Tov prayers in our shul. The ups and downs of their lives are paralleled by the highs and lows of the Jewish calendar.

As we move forward in the year, let us reflect upon our unique role as the Jewish people in the world. Our strength comes from our perception of ourselves as one people. Do we need to be reminded that Hamas does not differentiate between Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist or Reform Jews when it seeks to wage war against Israel?

The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:6 Haftorah Parshat Bereishit) brings G-d’s message: “I am G-d; in righteousness have I called you and taken hold of your hand; I have protected you and appointed you to bring the people to the covenant, to be a light for the nations.”

Three for Congress

In the Nov. 4 elections, Baltimore has three outstanding members of Congress who deserve re-election. Democrats Dutch Ruppersberger in District 2, John Sarbanes in District 3 and Elijah Cummings in District 7 serve their districts well, and we endorse them.

Ruppersberger is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, where he has been outspoken about the excesses of electronic surveillance by the government following the Edward Snowden revelations. But he also was among those clamoring for a coherent strategy to battle the Islamic State long before the White House committed itself to airstrikes, and he backed Israel in its fight against Hamas last summer.

Cummings is a leader in the fight against inner-city poverty and a champion of social mobility. He is known for working across the aisle, particularly with Rep. Zev Chavetz (R-Utah), and is the sponsor, along with the Baltimore Jewish Council, of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, which sends African-American teens from his Baltimore district to Israel with the goal of building bonds between African-Americans and Jews.

Sarbanes is the author of the Government By the People Act to reform campaign finance and dilute the influence of major donors. House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in February. It remains in committee. Earlier this month, along with Ruppersberger and Cummings and Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, he also called for a federal investigation into “allegations of brutality and misconduct by the Baltimore Police Department.”

All three represent our area well. And from the apparent lack of serious competition for their seats, it appears that others recognize that as well.

A Matter of Trust, Sanctity

Kesher Israel, where Barry Freundel was a respected rabbi.

Kesher Israel, where Barry Freundel was a respected rabbi.

The arrest last week of Rabbi Barry Freundel on six charges of voyeurism has shaken his congregation, Kesher Israel in Georgetown, as well the Jewish community of greater Washington and the Orthodox world at large. Freundel had influence far beyond his synagogue and the mikvah, or ritual bath, next door, from where he allegedly videotaped women undressing and showering, and the allegations — the rabbi pleaded not guilty to the charges last week — have understandably led many women to question an ancient Jewish practice for fear of being violated when they are most vulnerable.

But what has not been noted is that in contrast with the years-long cover-ups that typically accompany clergy misdeeds, the Freundel case was not swept under the rug. When the leadership of the National Capital Mikvah became aware of suspicions surrounding Freundel’s behavior, they reported the matter to the police and cooperated fully in the subsequent investigation.

After the rabbi’s arrest on Oct. 14, organizations with which he was associated quickly issued condemnations and cut ties. The synagogue suspended him without pay, while the mikvah removed him as its rabbinical supervisor. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), through which Freundel wielded power over the state of Orthodox conversions in the United States, suspended his membership and ousted him from positions of leadership. His name no longer appears on the website of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, where he was vice president.

The very troubling charges against Freundel have apparently shocked relevant organizations enough for them to rethink their operations. In addition to announcing that Freundel’s conversions are indeed kosher, the RCA will now appoint a woman or a group of women to act as ombudsmen on every woman’s conversion case, since Orthodox conversion court judges are all male.

And the Mikveh Emunah Society, which oversees two Washington-area mikvahs, issued new policies and security arrangements that show they are serious about not letting what happened in Georgetown happen in suburban Maryland. From now on, any male volunteer or maintenance worker must be accompanied into the ritual bath facility by a woman; the society will also employ an independent security firm to inspect its facilities and offer guidance on future security needs.

We approve of these developments and see in them a model for how ritual baths around the country can cleanse the stain of the Freundel case and protect their users from further invasions of privacy. It would be an unquestionable betrayal of conscience to allow the sanctity of a time-honored Jewish practice to be forever tarnished by failing to learn the lessons of what allegedly occurred in Georgetown.

A New Beginning

This Shabbat we read parshat Noah, and the haftorah is from the Book of Isaiah.

In parshat Noah, God floods the earth because of the bad behavior of the people. He tells the prophet Noah to build an ark and fill it with a male and a female of every animal and bring them on the ark along with Noah and his wife. Noah is saved because he had a good soul throughout his life, and he didn’t engage in acts of evil as did the people and community around him. Here, God decides to create a new beginning for humanity and the world.

By instructing Noah to build the ark, God allows Noah and his family to survive and to rescue the species of animals. In this way, God decides to create a new beginning for humanity and the world. In the Haftorah, God expresses his dissatisfaction with some of the Israelites who bring empty sacrifices and don’t consider the condition of the poor and brokenhearted. This behavior is parallel to the people in parshat Noah because God does not approve of their evil doings.

Nature also plays an important role both in parshat Noah and on Rosh Hodesh. In both texts, aspects of God’s creation are evident. In Noah, God promises to never destroy the earth again with a rainbow that which symbolizes the covenant between God and Noah that the earth will never by destroyed again by a flood.

This week we celebrate Rosh Hodesh, the start of a new month. Rosh Hoshesh is marked by the new moon, which is also a powerful symbol in nature. At the beginning of each month the moon appears as just a sliver, and then as time goes on the moon waxes and becomes bigger. This process can be compared to one’s life. Each individual’s life begins at birth when one is a tiny baby. As one grows and continues to develop into an adult, life offers many possibilities. This process begins for me today, as I become a bar mitzvah this week.

Sam Braman is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Building on the Positive

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Jewish history is rich with stories of families making great sacrifices for the sake of their children’s education. In many communities, education was the last thing to go, even as the “Old Country” depredations of poverty and government- sponsored anti-Semitism robbed people of their livelihoods and homes. It was not unheard of for struggling parents in Eastern Europe to send children away to other towns to pursue their studies — this practice continues today in many parts of the world, including in the United States, lacking Jewish schools — because private, values-based education was not seen as a luxury; it was a necessity.

For many Jewish families, education, especially of the religious variety, was recognized as the guarantor of Jewish continuance, the method by which
sustainable Jewish futures would be secured. Judging from last year’s Pew Report on the American Jewish community, the supposition appears to be correct: Graduates of day school were more likely to identify as “Jews of religion” as opposed to “Jews of no religion” and were more likely not to be intermarried.

But the Jewish commitment to education applies to the secular varieties as well. High achievement has been a source of pride in modern Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, and Jewish adults are more likely than the general population to hold post-graduate degrees.

None of this is particularly newsworthy, because it tends to confirm long-held beliefs. But here in Baltimore, we can see the Jewish commitment to education in real time: As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the number of Jewish households in the greater Baltimore area has increased 16 percent over the past decade. Those families came here for a variety of reasons, to be sure, but many have settled around Charm City because of the wealth of its Jewish educational opportunities. That puts Baltimore among such cities as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as destinations for Jewish families looking for schools.

But to say that our schools are top-notch would be to look at the clearly positive news through rose-colored glasses. Our schools are great, but there is always room for improvement.

Our Jewish day schools — like the surrounding public schools and some nonsectarian private schools — face the same challenges of swelling student populations, budget pressures and antiquated facilities. Their nonunionized teachers, like their unionized public school peers, work long hours for relatively little pay — the average teacher salary in Maryland is $43,235, according to the National Education Association, while U.S. Census data pegs the median household income in the state at $72,999 — and their families struggle to pay tuition year after year.

The community has stepped up considerably, and the support offered schools by donors and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore puts other communities to shame, but there continue to be families who face the horrific choice between education and food. That families choose to move here is wonderful, but the good news must serve as motivation to do more. When no less than the state of the Jewish future is at stake, there’s no time to be satisfied.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

The Choices We Make

This Shabbat, we read the beginning of the Torah, Parashat Bereishit. This text is about creation. On the first day, God created light and darkness. Each day God created something new such as the waters, the grass and the trees. After that, He created the sun, the moon and the stars, followed by birds in the sky and fish in the sea. The last creations were the animals on the land and finally the first people.

We understand that if the people were created first, they would have no resources to help them exist. Throughout the six days of creation God gave us a beginning for life. Just like Parashat Bereishit, there are new beginnings in my life. After becoming a bar mitzvah I will be considered a man. This new beginning began nine months ago when I started studying to become a bar mitzvah. Our lives will have many more new beginnings, and I think they will all build upon what has happened before.

In this parasha we also read about the Garden of Eden. The snake represents temptation in the world and approaches Eve with a fruit, telling her to eat from it. He tells Eve that nothing will happen to her except that she will be able to distinguish good from bad and that she will not die. Was Eve aware that she was making a choice that would affect the rest of her life? This text relates the real world to me as a young adult, because every day we face many choices, and we have to decide between doing good or bad. Sometimes people will try to influence us to do wrong. It is important to try to do good and to do the right thing.

The Light That Is Israel

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah, chosen because it refers to the creation of the world. In the Torah portion, G-d creates light and darkness for the entire universe. In the haftarah, Isaiah says, “I will turn darkness before them to light.” Here, the darkness refers to the Israelites not obeying G-d’s laws and the covenant. So the Israelites find themselves in the darkness of exile out of the land of Israel. In contrast, G-d reminds the people that He created them to be “a light of the nation, opening eyes deprived of light, rescuing prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Isaiah refers to the people Israel as the covenant people, a light of nations. What does it mean to be a light of nations? Does it mean to be better than the other nations? Does the light refer to the ideas of the people of Israel?

There are several opportunities for Israel and the Jewish people to be a light of the nations. For example, the prophet Micah speaks to the people and says, “Only do justice, love goodness and walk modestly with your G-d.” This is certainly an ideal to work toward.

Another example where Israel serves as a light of the nations is found in the kiddush we recite on Shabbat. The kiddush teaches us to treat our animals, servants and strangers as we do ourselves — with a day of rest. In today’s world, Israel has developed technology and medical advances that have helped the world. In the area of politics, Golda Meir set a good example for women trying to reach high goals.

As I become a bat mitzvah, I hope also to contribute to Israel, the light of our nation. I plan to do this by continuing to contribute to our sister city, Ashkelon, and to other projects in Israel and to take as many trips as possible there, where I can continue to make connections with my homeland.

Sophie Getz is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.