Letter Writer Misses the Point

Robert Frey’s Aug. 15 letter “Use Diplomacy Not Bombs,”  while obviously sincere and heartfelt, is also hopelessly naive and misleading. True, the U.S.- led efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons have been successful but by most reports haven’t accounted for all of Assad’s arsenal and has been described by some Middle East experts as a smokescreen for the West’s ineptitude in dealing with Assad.

There has been no tangible success with diplomacy with Iran either. The Geneva Interim Agreement last year was purely cosmetic and merely delays Iran’s ability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material by 12 to 18 months, nine of which have already passed.

U.S. weapons are not “fueling this conflict” (Gaza), it’s Iranian and Hamas weapons that are fueling it. Disarming Hamas would mean an end to the misery of civilians, Palestinian and Israeli alike.

Finally, while the International Committee of the Red Cross can call the so-called “blockade” collective punishment, it can’t call it illegal. According to International Law, a blockade must be “declared and announced, effective, nondiscriminatory, and it has to permit the passage of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population.” Israel declared the blockade in 2009; it has been effective to the extent that Israel can control. It does not discriminate against any particular segment of the Gazan population, and humanitarian assistance has always been allowed into Gaza from five crossing points between Israel and Gaza. During the first five months of this year, more than a quarter of a million tons of supplies have entered Gaza from Israel, and 60,000 Gazans have entered Israel for work, medical attention or family reunification in the West Bank.

Everyone hopes for an end to conflict worldwide, but while diplomacy has its value, sometimes turning the other cheek just gets you slapped twice.

Joshua Gurewitsch

Proud of BZD’s Efforts

Israel has been incurring the wrath of an inordinate amount of detractors for protecting and defending herself and her citizens in the face of neighbors who act on plans for her eradication. We at the Baltimore Zionist District recently introduced our community to a unique resource created to counter this sentiment — the Bomb Shelter Museum.

The Baltimore Jewish Times’ Aug.7 article “15 Seconds to Safety” underscored the extent to which Israel ensures that her citizens, all citizens, are protected from hostilities and related tensions. BZD used the Shelter Museum to amplify the message that Israel provides protection for her citizens and, in turn, for Jews throughout the world.  The Iron Dome system is another method employed to ensure the peoples’ safety as was the recent necessary but painful ground offensive in Gaza. But equally important is the defense system that is provided by our actions and voices around the world.

BZD is proud that our Teen Trip Experience participants, as reported in “Witness to Conflict” (July 17), did not run home early. Along with their parents, they expressed steadfast support for Israel and faith in her ability to assure their safety.

Baltimore is a community of many supporters of Israel — some through prayer, some through travel, some through social media, some through charity and some through action and voice as evidenced by the robust crowd that BZD attracted as a co-sponsor of  the July 30 Israel Rally at Penn Station.

As anti-Semitism, thinly veiled as anti-Israel or anti-Zionism, bubbles up in more and more situations, we must all continue to act and speak in support of Israel and proudly express, for all to hear and know, that an attack, any attack, on Israel is an attack on every Jew around the world.

Leora Pushett
President, Baltimore Zionist District

Community Colleges Make a Difference

It was with great interest that I read the Baltimore Jewish Times’ Aug. 15 iNSIDER article “Community Colleges: Worth a Second Look.” After all, I won first prize, a $25 savings bond, by writing an essay, “Why a Junior College Should Be Established in Baltimore,” in June 1946.

I was 18 years old, and having immigrated from Germany in May 1940, I certainly did not have the money to attend a regular four-year college. So I felt that a junior college would help me. But I had to go to New York City, where I took courses in photography at a professional school.

Twenty-four years later I graduated from the Community College of Baltimore in June 1970 with an Associate in Arts Degree in data processing. My three children watched their mother get her diploma. I got a job with USF&G, a local insurance company, as a programmer analyst in its data processing department.

At the time I was interviewed by Dr. Sidney Kobre, a professor at the Community College of Baltimore who was publicizing education for adults at the junior college. His articles were printed in all of the local papers. A photo of my children looking on at my newly received degree was also published. When Dr. Kobre heard about my winning first prize at the citywide contest in 1946, he immediately published another article in the local papers calling it “Guide Essay Winner Graduated” with a subtitle “Mrs. Ruth Idas’ educational chickens have come home to roost.”

That Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the other counties have established many community colleges is a definite boon to the many young people who do not have the means or the interest or the opportunity to go to a four-year college. It is certainly a pathway for young people to be able to secure a better job and a better future than would otherwise be available to them.

Ruth London Idas Di Stefano
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Taking Control, One Step at a Time

Imagine you must leave your home and fear for your life. You are thrust into living in a 10-foot-by-10-foot room shared with three strangers. How would you manage your space and possessions?

I was recently asked to consider lending my expertise as a professional organizer specializing in closet design to improve the closet system at a women’s shelter. Since the summer is a busy time for my business, I was hesitant at first. But I could not refuse this request, and it turned out to be a worthy cause.

I met with two employees of SARC, a shelter providing services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence and stalking. They described in detail what I was to expect when entering the rooms to measure the closets. Although it is preferable that clients keep their rooms tidy, it was not something that the shelter enforced.

Many of the women come from controlling, stressful environments, and shelter workers want to provide relief from this. Most of the rooms were in good shape, though one in particular was disorganized and cluttered, making it difficult to get to the closet to take precise measurements. I entered each room and quickly and quietly took the necessary measurements for my design.

The closets themselves are rather small and are usually shared by up to four women or children. I came up with the most functional design possible, giving each occupant her own hanging space and cubbies for folded clothes and accessories. To make the project affordable, I donated my portion of the fee to the shelter and asked Mark Loewner, owner of Closet Innovations, to consider giving a further discount. Thanks to our combined discounts and with the help of some funding, the shelter was able to afford the closets.

I walked away with the utmost admiration for both the staff, which provides a safe environment free from abuse and fear, and the women who seek shelter. Their attempt to leave abusive relationships and thus provide a better life for themselves and their families is commendable. It feels good to know that the closets I have designed will improve the lives of these women, if only in a small way. The work we do as professional organizers helps many of our clients take control of their lives, one drawer, one shelf, one closet, one room, one step at a time.

My profession, like many, is specific and specialized, such that I often contemplate how I can utilize my skills to benefit our community and its many needs. Walking out into the brightness of the summer sun after spending a day inside darkened rooms with women fearing for their lives, I realized that sometimes even the most specific professionals have the capacity to create light and hope in the lives of fellow community members.

With the High Holidays quickly approaching, I challenge you to use your professional expertise to benefit our community. I promise that you will be the one whose soul truly benefits from this experience.

La’Shana Tova.

Nadine Sachs, owner of Organized2Succeed, is a professional organizer and custom-closet designer. She serves as programs director for the National Association of Professional Organizers-Baltimore.

A Tradition of Giving

090514_schapiro_jm_ftv 090514_malis_shelly_ftvThis summer, Jews around the world followed the fighting in Israel closely and sought every opportunity they could to help those in Israel whose daily lives were turned upside down by a constant barrage of rockets. At the same time, we watched in horror, as Jews in cities around the globe found themselves facing a resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel rhetoric.

From thousands of miles away, our Jewish community was able to reach out and help those suffering in Israel and those throughout the world who were persecuted for being Jewish. Our generosity fortified our global Jewish family in time of dire need.

Such is the beauty of our tradition. When one Jew is suffering, we feel compelled to jump in and help. In Baltimore, we are blessed to have The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as the conduit of that support. For more than nine decades, The Associated has provided a trusted central address, where we can generously give our time and resources, knowing that our contributions will be thoughtfully directed to the areas of greatest need.

Throughout these years, our community has benefited from the support of a centralized Annual Campaign that funds critical services provided by Associated agencies and programs. As our grandparents and parents did before us, we live in a community that both uplifts the vulnerable and inspires our children and grandchildren. It is now our responsibility to ensure that this proud tradition continues for future generations.

As chairs of the Annual Campaign and Women’s Campaign respectively, we will spend the next several months talking to members of our community about the impact the campaign can make and why their support is so critical. This year, we want to ensure that the professionals and volunteer leaders who assess the most pressing communal needs are able to do so with all the necessary resources at their disposal.

On Sept. 14, we will gather together for The Associated’s largest single day of fundraising, Super Sunday, to call community members and invite them to help support the strength of our community. This year, Super Sunday will also mark the start of a very special 100-day Challenge, in which we hope to secure the majority of campaign contributions. A matching grant will be applied to all new and increased gifts, and this drive will last through Community Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25. The 100-day Challenge also gives us the opportunity to pivot and focus on engagement and connection with existing and new donors for the second half of the year.

Knowing what financial resources our community has in hand enables our community planners to thoughtfully look ahead for the areas of greatest need and be prepared for emergencies that might arise either here or in communities overseas.

On our personal journeys as chairs of this year’s campaign, we look back upon all those who came before us and provided the inspiration for the critical work we are compelled to do for our community. We look forward too. We look to the future generations we will inspire and the impact we will be able to make on Jewish Baltimore. Together, we have the ability to honor our community’s formidable heritage and forge a truly inspiring tomorrow. We hope you will join us on this journey.

J. M. Schapiro and Shelly Malis are the 2015 Annual Campaign and Women’s Campaign chairs, respectively, for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To register for Super Sunday, visit associated.org/supersunday.

Back to School with BDS

The just-begun school year on college campuses is threatening an invigorated effort in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. From academic bodies to student groups, agitation is reportedly building — ostensibly in support of the Palestinian cause — to brand Israel as an apartheid state, a colonial power and genocidal. The BDS machine is off and running.

Jewish communal leaders say they were caught off guard by the intensity of the worldwide anti-Semitism and vandalism, particularly in Europe, that accompanied the just-completed Gaza war. And they now fear that the Gaza experience will further embolden the BDS movement, which seeks to give academic imprimatur to blanket boycotts of Israel and strives to make BDS the intellectual and cultural norm on campus.

This year, however, there will be an organized Jewish communal effort on campus to combat the attempt to isolate and stigmatize Israel. Last month, Jewish Federations of North America and Hillel International convened a meeting with representatives of two dozen campus-based organizations to address the issue. Plans include launching training programs to organize college students in support for Israel.

We applaud these efforts and hope that in addition to strengthening participants’ connections to Israel, they will encourage the presentation of a multiplicity of points of view on campuses — a hallmark of academia, but a weak spot in past initiatives that tended to appear to college students as meddling from the outside instead of empowerment from within.

Pro-Israel activists would do well to consider the case of Steven Salaita, the former Virginia Tech professor of American Indian studies who was offered a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The school rescinded its offer after reviewing some of Salaita’s distinctly unprofessorial tweets, such as “I wish all the f—-ing West Bank settlers would go missing,” which he wrote after three Israeli teens disappeared in June.

Salaita is unabashedly pro-BDS and even published in May a pamphlet called “How to practice BDS in academe.” In it, he seems not so concerned about the Palestinians, who most agree deserve a state of their own, as he is with “imperialism, military violence, corporate malfeasance and neoliberalism” as well as with “forces of repression, corporatism, conformity and inequality.”

As the Jewish community prepares to respond to these Israel bashers, it would be wise to try to distinguish those, such as Salaita who fundamentally wish Israel ill, from those who support Israel, but have misgivings against particular Israeli policies. As it stands right now, many of the latter choose to identify with BDS because they only see the extremes in the debate as options. By focusing on how the arguments should be presented, with respect to the nuanced issues involved, the new campus effort should enable the pro-Israel camp to make its points with persuasion, sensitivity and success.

Those promoting this initiative are involved in important work. We wish them well.

The Day After Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced much criticism for the way he conducted the war. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced much criticism for the way he conducted the war. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If the open-ended cease-fire with Hamas is holding when you are reading these words, Israelis will be in the midst of evaluating their country’s 50-day war in Gaza in an effort to determine what went right, what went wrong and what comes next.

Unlike Hamas, which declared victory after leader Khaled Mashaal came out of hiding, the post-mortem in Israel is as messy as it is public. A Maariv poll found that 61 percent of Israelis believe their country did not win the war, a sentiment that should be quite disconcerting to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His approval rating has reportedly dropped from a wartime high of 77 percent to about 50 percent, according to a Haaretz poll. But Netanyahu may be too big to fail. The same Haaretz poll indicated that a plurality of Israelis — 42 percent — consider him best suited to be prime minister among other leading politicians.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu has been skewered for his conduct of the war. Right wingers in his cabinet, long critical of Israel’s largely measured approach to battling Hamas, blasted him for not running the cease-fire agreement by them before agreeing to it. And there is concern that the “quiet-for-quiet” cease-fire just sets the clock back to the end of the last war in 2012 without advancing Israel’s cause, despite the anguish and losses of the Gaza campaign.

To be sure, the agreement meets none of Hamas’ demands, particularly for a seaport and an end to the territory’s economic isolation. And Israel unquestionably dealt Hamas a serious blow. The Palestinian group entered the war with 10,000 rockets but is believed to now have 2,000 to 3,000. Many of their tunnels have been destroyed. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinetz last week suggested that the war could mark the beginning of the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.

If so, what comes next? An elevation of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas seems most likely. Yet, after peace talks with Israel collapsed earlier this year, Abbas revived his effort to work for Palestinian statehood through the international system. Last week, he warned that Israel would not escape punishment for “crimes and massacres” it committed during its war with Hamas. Neither of these are promising developments.

If there is still quiet when you read this, Israel, the United States and the Palestinians will have to find a new way forward. Because if Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot overcome the inertia in their political systems, or if the colossal changes that are shaking the region don’t shift the Israeli-Palestinian reality, the conflict will be right back to where it was in 2012. And we all know what happened two years later.

We Are What We Remember

The last paragraph of Ki Tetze is the maftir reading in non-Reform congregations on the Shabbat before Purim. Its opening word, zachor, remember, names that Shabbat.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Eternal your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

I was present on a Yom Kippur morning many years ago when Rabbi Harold Schulweis asked his congregation if they could name members of Hitler’s SS. And the names came pouring out from all corners of the sanctuary: Himmler, Eichmann, Goering, and on. And then Rabbi Schulweis asked the community to name the people who tried to save Anne Frank and her family. Silence.

Blot out the memory of Amalek, of all those who have tried to destroy us. But, he asked, whose names have we blotted out and whose names have we remembered? In focusing on our suffering, we have chosen to see ourselves as victims, to see in others the potential hater.

For so many of us, being Jewish is bound up in being vulnerable. In the most profound and wonderful ways, we have been nurtured on the biblical teaching from Exodus, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been slaves in the land of Egypt.” We remember our suffering — so that we will feel with those who suffer. We remember our suffering — so that we will nurture the courage to speak out against injustice. We remember our pain.

But there is a dark side to remembering pain. Neuroscience has joined with the therapeutic professions to teach us that we participate in creating our reality. Our experiences and the ways we think about them — our insights and reflections — change the neural connections that make up our brains. Dr. Daniel J. Siegel writes, “This revelation is based on one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the last 20 years: How we focus our attention shapes the structure of the brain.”

And according to the writer Diane Ackerman, “In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.”

As a Jewish people, we have formed our ideas of the world and our place in it. Deep down — and it is deep down — many of us believe that the whole world wants the Jews dead. Our brains are constantly on high-stress alert, vigilant against potential attack. There is danger in the world. It’s good that Israel has a powerful and smart army. It’s good that the Anti-Defamation League keeps its eye on acts of bigotry and hatred. But sometimes, the following also is true: If we have friends out there, we might not see them.

We approach the world with profound mistrust. This affects our political views and our foreign policy and crushes our hopes for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Our deep-down primal narrative tells us that “the other” can’t be trusted.

Our memories, emotional responses and primal narratives become encoded deep within us, forming our sense of who we are. When we are not aware of the ways we frame the world, these primal responses can wreak havoc in our lives. A most painful example is that those who were abused as children are at risk of becoming abusers themselves. As a people, we too are at risk — not just of being persecuted. We are at risk if we do not see the Hebrew graffiti all over the Old City of Jerusalem — and the Old City of Hebron — or on mosques in the Galilee targeted for arson: Mavet la-aravim, reads the graffiti. Death to the Arabs.

We are what we remember. But we can choose how we remember. We need to transform our pain into empathy, our fear into courage and our mourning into joy. We need to remember that we were vulnerable and afraid — so that we will fill our world with healing and blessing.

Rabbi Shira Milgrom is a rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, N.Y., and author of articles about Jewish spirituality, education, healing and women in Judaism. This column first appeared on reformjudaism.org.

Remember the Service of Years Ago

runyan_josh_otTwo centuries ago, the European world awaited what would become of the curious American experiment that had popped up on the other side of the Atlantic. Just 38 years prior, delegates from each of the 13 colonies from Georgia to Massachusetts declared their independence from King George III and five years after that defeated his forces at the Battle of Yorktown with the help of the French navy. The United States of America was born.

But how that country would operate and under whose influence was a question that would not be decided until the War of 1812. In the early part of September 1814, with the British Armada aiming its guns at Baltimore, residents here were unsure how it would all turn out. The nation’s capital to the south lay in ruins, and a ragtag group of volunteers, regular soldiers and militiamen were left to defend Fort McHenry against the coming British onslaught.

To any student of history or baseball fan, the outcome of the Battle of Baltimore was clear. As memorialized in the verses penned by Francis Scott Key — that “star-spangled banner” still waves “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” — America was not only here to stay, but would be unencumbered by the petty politics of Europe.

The Monroe Doctrine would formally spell out diplomatically this notion of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny, but lost in the popular history are the contributions of individual patriots whose names are not enshrined in the various doctrines or upon declarations, constitutions and anthems of the time.

Were it not for the actions of two Jewish Americans, the story of the United States’ final throwing off of European chains and the nation’s early history might have been vastly different. Mendes Cohen, the subject of a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, was among the defenders the night of Sept. 13, 1814, when the British ships began their barrage on Fort McHenry. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the bombardment nearly succeeded in destroying the fort, but a quick-thinking Cohen and two other men saved the installation’s gunpowder when a British bomb fell on the fort’s magazine.

Cohen would go on to travel the world, becoming in the words of the Jewish museum, a “Forrest Gump” of his time. But the city of Baltimore and the country have much to be thankful for in the self-sacrifice and dedication of Cohen and the rest of Fort McHenry’s defenders.

So too does the nation owe a debt of gratitude to Uriah P. Levy, a Jewish sailor who served in the fledgling American Navy, as Baltimore came under attack. Rising through the ranks — he is remembered at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the Jewish chapel bears his name, as Commodore Levy — he did away with flogging as a punishment in the Navy and given his own bitter experience with anti-Semitism as a sailor, he helped turn it into the inclusive force it is today.

Levy’s words, memorialized at the academy, provide a window into immigrant thinking and speak of the duty that all Americans, but especially its minorities, share in ensuring the continuation of this great country: “There will be other Hebrews, in times to come, of whom America will have need. By serving myself, I will help give them a chance to serve.”


U.S. Must Acknowledge Truth about Gross’ Mission

Thank you for your concern about Alan Gross (“A Call for Help,” Aug. 15). However the editorial is 100 percent wrong:

Publicly, the government is saying the right things. For example, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last week that “we use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.”

Pressure has been the disingenuous line from Washington from the beginning. It avoids the U.S. government taking responsibility for sending Gross to undertake an illegal project to bring about regime change. Thus, the White House refuses to use the one diplomatic channel that will achieve his freedom.

The U.S. government must acknowledge the truth about Gross’ mission on behalf of a dead-end policy and sit down with the Cuban government for serious bilateral discussions.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
New York City