Wanted: Moral Leaders

I believe what we are seeing in society today is the horrible devaluing of human beings by people in positions of perceived power and others who are jumping on the bandwagon instead of standing up to injustice (“A Lack of Human Respect,” June 13). We need good, moral people to stand up and not be afraid, and not to think of honors and glory. We need people to be a light to the nations.

Frania Kryszpel Block

‘Adequate’ Cardin Not Good Enough

While attending the recent Maryland Attorney General Forum sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, I appreciated hearing about the candidates’ experiences and policy positions. However, I was distressed that Delegate Jon Cardin stated that while he has been in office, Maryland has “adequately” funded education. “Adequate” support, specifically required by the Maryland Constitution, means the legal minimum.

In Baltimore City, we greatly appreciate the state’s support through its groundbreaking contributions to our 21st century school plan to renovate 35 schools and build 15 schools in the next 10 years. A continuing partnership between city and state is crucial to ensure every school is a healthy, safe, functioning and welcoming environment for our children to learn and our teachers to teach. Class sizes are growing, and there are not enough resources for supplies or money for teachers’ raises.

Baltimore City taxpayers support an annual Maintenance of Effort at a cost of $207 million in the upcoming 2015 fiscal year budget. Also in FY 2015: $29.8 million for retiree health benefits; $14.8 million for teacher’s pension costs; $2.8 million for termination leave and contributions for school nurses, crossing guards and debt service for school construction bonds. These add up to 73 cents on the already burdensome city property tax.

Baltimore City Public Schools still struggle just to make ends meet. Our schools have no fiscal flexibility to ensure that successful programs such as the Ingenuity Program have year-to-year sustainability.

While significant progress has been made, I believe that Baltimore City Public Schools require additional monetary investment to ensure our students are prepared for the jobs of the future.

We expect our students and teachers to know that “adequate” is not enough; we expect our state officials to know that as well.

Therefore, because Delegate Jon Cardin believes that there has been “adequate” support for public education on his watch as a state delegate, and the above facts prove that this is not the case, I cannot support him for state attorney general.

On the other hand, Brian Frosh, during the debate, stated true facts and has a long list of proven efforts as a legislator. He has, in fact earned my support for Maryland attorney general.

Rikki (Rochelle) Spector
Baltimore City Council

A ‘Kosher’ Trip?

I am bemused and confused. I read in the Jewish Times that The Associated sent counselors of Camps Louise and Airy to Israel prior to this summer’s sessions to ensure that they would experience a bit of life in the Jewish state and then would be better able to expose their campers to some knowledge of, and feeling for, the Jewish state (“Jewish Camp Counselors Take Birthright Trip”).

These two camps have been under the auspices of The Associated since their inception many, many years ago. They do not now, and never have, provided their campers with kosher meals. This automatically locked all Orthodox children out of the camps sponsored and supported with Jewish money, and it certainly prevented thousands of Jewish children from learning about kashruth. Knowledge of kashruth is certainly as significant an aspect of Judaism as the Jewish homeland.

Sonia Looban Greenspon

Pikesville Community Didn’t Deserve Attacks

I am writing to respond to Jon Herbst’s June 13 letter, “Setting Record Straight on District 2.” It saddens me that my opponent attacked so many of the great people and institutions in Pikesville that work hard every day to make our community a better place.

When my opponent criticizes Pikesville Middle School, he is not simply attacking a brick-and-mortar building, but all of the people who work so hard to make this and every other school a great place. He fails to support the hard work done by our teachers and students every day at Pikesville Middle School. He undermines the efforts of the Pikesville Middle School PTA, the PGCC Education Committee and every involved parent.

Most disappointingly, at a time when we should be celebrating the years of dedication to our children by the retiring Pikesville Middle School principal, Mia Talarigo, she is instead hearing her school and her work constantly demeaned in public. We should all thank her for her inspirational leadership and pledge to support her successor, Diane Richmond, currently the Summit Park Elementary School principal.

When my opponent attacks the local business community, he is not attacking buildings, but the people who work hard every day to make our local business community a success. The Pikesville Chamber of Commerce is an outstanding group. Its executive director, Jessica Normington, and her executive assistant, Ayme Lederman, have brought tremendous energy to Pikesville. Chamber President Marcy Gorman, Vice President Mark Pressman, immediate Past President Steve Cohen and the entire board work tirelessly for our business community.

The Chamber has grown from approximately 200 members to more than 350 members in the last three years, a sure sign of the strength of our Pikesville small businesses. It has launched the Taste of Pikesville, which showcases our great restaurants. David Elkes leads an outstanding Brown Bag lunch series, which allows small businesses to network, exchange leads and support each other’s businesses.

The wonderful Pikesville Farmers’ Market is a tribute to Nick Attias, of blessed memory, who was such an outstanding community volunteer. From the Pikes Theatre to the revitalized old Suburban House site to the new Walgreens and the major renovations at Commerce Center and Pomona Square, it is clear that Pikesville is alive and growing.

Finally, when my opponent criticizes the Foundry Row project as being “fast tracked” he shows a lack of basic understanding. All 296 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process decisions in all seven Council districts, of which Foundry Row was one, went through the same year-long process, including a series of public hearings. All 296 were voted on by the County Council on the same day, August 20, 2012. We should be celebrating the fact that a national leader like Wegmans and visionary local people like Erwin Greenberg, Brian Gibbons, Len Weinberg and Brad Glaser believe so much in our community that they would turn an abandoned factory site into a future anchor of our community. Everywhere I go, people can’t wait for “their” Wegmans to open.

I could go on and on about the positive things happening in our community. There are so many great people, businesses, schools, houses of worship and organizations in Pikesville and throughout the 2nd Council District for which all of us should be thankful. I will continue to work with all of these positive forces in our community.

 Councilwoman Vicki Almond
2nd District, Baltimore County

The World Cup, Auschwitz and the future

My father and I will watch every game that the United States plays in the World Cup, starting this past Monday when the American team defeated Ghana. We live on opposite sides of the world — he is in Florida and I am in Australia — but today’s video technology will allow us to cheer the team on together.

I have a prized photograph of my father, taken just before a game in 1946. He is standing in a line of men from his team in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, wearing a sweater as his goalkeeper’s jersey. Sadly, his soccer-loving father, Herman, was not there to watch him play.

Two years prior, on the selection ramp in Auschwitz, Herman had been sent to the left and my father to the right. Believing the guards when they assured the prisoners that everyone would be back together again in the evening, my father and his father did not even say goodbye. My father became a prisoner in Auschwitz; Herman died in a gas chamber.

My father instilled a love of soccer in me when I was young. I grew up watching soccer matches with him, and at 17, I was the only girl playing in the boys’ under-19 league in Miami. I was the smallest person on the team, but I was a goalkeeper just like my dad.

During my first game, my father stood behind the goal and gave instructions. Whenever a forward on the other team broke through the defense I would start to run toward him to cut down the angle, but my father would say, “Don’t go out, stay on the goal line.” Only after several goals had been scored on me did I realize that he was more concerned about my safety than he was about my performance. Over the years, he eventually got used to seeing his daughter dive at the feet of giants to pre-empt their shots.

My daughter is a goalkeeper, and yes, she is the shortest girl on her team. I watch her throw herself into danger, and I now understand the fear my father once felt. But just as my father saw when watching me, I witness her joy after making a great save and I feel proud. I admire her commitment and composure.

She is also a survivor. My daughter is adopted from Thailand, where she lived through the 2004 tsunami. Her first mother died serving breakfast at a hotel when the tsunami struck. The same wave also killed the Thai national women’s goalkeeper, who was playing beach soccer with hotel guests. A few years ago, my daughter’s school had a sports hero day, and my daughter dressed as the Thai goalkeeper who had perished with her mother. Maybe this strange, world-circling ribbon of soccer legacy will one day lead to my own daughter standing in goal for her country.

If I could go back to my father on those long slave-labor marches at Auschwitz and whisper a few words in his ear, what would I tell him? What would give him the most hope that he would survive and go on to live a good life? Perhaps it is this: “Your granddaughter will keep goal, and she will be amazing.”

Jill Klein is the author of “We Got the Water: Tracing My Family’s Path Through Auschwitz.”

Running a Trail of Restoration

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaThe contamination of our freshwater supply is a critical issue for the health of our environment and population. Although the recent stormwater fees are creating a greater focus, there is great need for proactive community involvement to create the changes that are needed for these vital improvements.

Three years ago, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin called me to discuss creating organizational and institutional partnerships in hopes of spawning a watershed — if you will — of conservation and restoration projects. Through decades of passionate work, Nina has forged the connection between environmental issues and faith communities who embrace stewardship and responsible living. And water was high on the list of environmental concerns.

We identified Bolton Street Synagogue’s lower parking lot, adjacent to the Stony Run tributary of the Jones Falls, as a perfect location to pilot a project. In partnership with Blue Water Baltimore and Roland Park Community Foundation, and with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the synagogue readily agreed. Ripping out asphalt and invasive species, we completed a path with a pervious surface and native plants, reducing impact to the stream by almost 300,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

The success of the project captured the attention of the governor, who supported the funding to finish improvements along the rest of the Stony Run last year. A few weeks ago when heading out for my daily run, I realized I had not been on the Stony Run path for almost a year. Curious about how our project was holding up and the rest of the restoration work, I set out on a trail run of discovery.

Starting below the Gilman school, on a meticulously maintained mulch path along a babbling creek, the majestic bird calls and strumming frog bellows makes it easy to forget you are in the middle of urban Baltimore.  It’s beautiful and serene. The path winds through quaint neighborhoods of Roland Park, turning to a mix of dirt and gravel, and joins other paths below Johns Hopkins University.

I almost ran right past Bolton Street Synagogue, not recognizing it with all of the invasive ivy and plants removed. The native species we planted along the restored path as a stream buffer to control erosion and absorb runoff were bountiful and healthy.  A kiosk explaining our project stands prominently at the trail entrance by Cold Spring Lane.

The Jones Falls and its tributaries once had a prominent role in Baltimore; they were an integral component of development, especially commerce and recreation. As the city grew, more neighborhoods were built and streets paved, creating more impervious surfaces incapable of absorbing water. During storms, water “runoff” carries toxins and debris straight into the streams. Years of this water abuse has created an extremely unhealthy situation, impacting the entire ecosystem of the Bay, including people.  Signs posted along many of the streams cite that the water is dangerous even for contact.

Projects such as the path along Stony Run create a necessary buffer to capture and filter runoff. It is also a socioeconomic booster by increasing pedestrian traffic through interconnected neighborhoods, providing easy and safe access to the outdoors, which decreases crime and increases property values. Not only is this now one of my favorite running trails, it is part of the restoration of our city and the Bay.

Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant.

A nightmare come true

Racheli Frenkel (center), mother of kidnapped teenager Naftali Frenkel, addresses the media with the mothers of the other abducted teens, Eyal Yifrah and Gilad Shaar, outside her home in Nof Ayalon in central Israel. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Racheli Frenkel (center), mother of kidnapped teenager Naftali Frenkel, addresses the media with the mothers of the other abducted teens, Eyal Yifrah and Gilad Shaar, outside her home in Nof Ayalon in central Israel.
(Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Having a child snatched off the street is a common parental fear, although one with little basis in reality. In the case of three Israeli teens who disappeared late last week after hitchhiking home in the West Bank, such a nightmare has come true. The apparent kidnapping galvanized Israelis, tens of thousands of whom gathered at the Western Wall to pray for the teens’ return.  And it has touched Jews here as well, leading to prayer meetings and vigils.

The one party that appears to be unmoved by the teens’ disappearance is the Palestinian Authority. It is troubling that the only word of condemnation (let alone concern) from the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government came in a statement from its president, Mahmoud Abbas, who equated the kidnappings with “the ongoing series of violations, by Israeli soldiers and settlers, against innocent Palestinian civilians and against prisoners held in Israeli jails.”

And while Hamas hasn’t claimed credit for the disappearances, it has applauded them. While not explaining how Israeli authorities have reached the conclusion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fingered Hamas as the culprit for the kidnappings and has held up the crisis as proof positive of the dangers of legitimizing — as the United States has done — any government in which the terrorist group takes part.

All this has been accompanied by bickering over who has security responsibility — Israel or the Palestinians — over the area where the teens disappeared.

What is supremely troubling, beyond the failure of the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn the kidnappings, is the apparent lack of concern by some on the left who have argued in editorials in Haaretz and the Forward that the kidnappings are to be expected. By the same token, we anticipate some on the right will respond by advocating the expansion of Israel’s settlement activities. All of this back and forth cheapens the terror experienced by these innocent teenagers and their families.

At the end of the day, kidnapping children is beyond the pale of any movement or government. That fact needs to be acknowledged by all.

In the meantime, we continue to pray for the missing young men and wish them and their families the strength to persevere.

Eric Cantor’s fall

At a time when the presence of three Jews on the Supreme Court is barely the subject of much discussion in our community, Eric Cantor’s service as the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, but the chamber’s only Jewish Republican, still causes wonder and much commentary.

It’s easy to see why. Republicans are a minority in the Jewish community, and Republican Jewish politicians are an even smaller species. Add to that Cantor’s Southern Republican Jewish roots and the novelty of Cantor’s presence in the House, and his powerful rise to speaker-in-waiting paints a very unique picture.

In the wake of Cantor’s dramatic loss last week in his district primary to unknown Tea Party candidate David Brat, some have looked for anti-Semitism as a culprit. That conclusion is too easy (and is probably wrong) and misses the reality of Cantor’s uncomfortable fit as an urban conservative in an increasingly rural district. Not to mention the apparent hubris of his campaign, which was reflected in the inaccurate polling that predicted that Cantor would coast to victory.

Cantor is 51, so it is easy to imagine him running again for national office. But even if this were to mark the end of his political career, it is important to note that Cantor has served in Congress with honor and distinction. And despite — or perhaps because of — the roles he played in the House, he was a frequent guest of Jewish organizations and activities. Cantor is a proud Jew. He was supportive of Israel and all things Jewish and has been an important and influential political voice who understood the Jewish community and was helpful to it. That’s a combination not easily replicated.

In the end, Cantor’s rapid rise and precipitous fall were distinctly American. And the fact that a Jew could rise to such heights through the ballot box once again demonstrates that ours is a minority community for which no door is shut. Cantor’s defeat, meanwhile, provides a lesson in electoral politics that has been learned by many politicians before him: Stray too far from your base and the winds that swept you into office could well blow you out.

Throughout his long and impressive legislative career, you couldn’t help but marvel at Cantor’s success, regardless of what you thought about his politics. We applaud him and wish him the best in whatever the future holds, even as we believe we will be hearing from him again.

Where’s the Civility?

Josh_RunyanNo sooner had the international condemnations of the kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers begun their slow trickle that the hand wringing by some in the Jewish community sought to assign blame anywhere than at the foot of the Palestinian government.

The Palestinians are an occupied people, went one argument, so outbursts of violent activity are to be
expected. Indeed, news had surfaced just before Thursday’s kidnapping that Israeli security forces had prevented several attempted terrorist attacks — including intercepting a future suicide bomber outside Jerusalem — in recent months.

Another argument castigated the wider Jewish community for appropriating the motto of the Bring Back Our Girls movement that sprung up last month after the mass kidnapping of Nigerian girls by the Islamist group Boko Haram. To use #BringBackOur Boys as their rallying cry, the Israeli Embassy, Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues and concerned citizens had caused a grave injustice to Nigerian victims of terror, according to this particular viewpoint.

The implicit assumption, of course, in both of these cases is that no Israeli citizen is innocent — not a child, not a mother and certainly not a “settler.” That there are those who, although they won’t admit it outright, think this way is deplorable. That some of them are Jewish is inexcusable.

It is not in the nature of this column to take political stands, which is why there’s no problem in calling out the capture of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, for the unjustified Palestinian terrorism that it is. Because there’s nothing political in condemning the purposeful targeting of innocents, especially when those targeted are children.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, it is possible to have reasoned disagreements with your fellow man. That’s why in a democracy such as in the United States — and in Israel — you will find op-ed pieces like the spread in this week’s issue written by politicians of all stripes.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose passing 20 years ago is being commemorated by a slew of books and local events, characteristically refused to mention those with whom he disagreed by name. Moved by a profound love of the Jewish people and a belief in the innate power of the individual, the Rebbe provided a model of how to find agreement between opposing parties by limiting disagreements to ideas and not people.

But those who would choose to inflict death and disorder to achieve their ends are more like the hordes of ISIS terrorists sweeping through Iraq than the freedom-loving citizenry typified by the American ideal.

When such is the choice, between chaos and anarchy on the one hand and peace and prosperity on the other, the outcome should be predicted. And yet in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, it isn’t.

Maybe it’s time to simplify things a bit by invoking the famous choice presented to the Jewish people in the desert thousands of years ago, between “life and death, the blessing and curse.”

Let’s pray that we all — including our enemies — choose life. It’s time for our boys to come home.


Are we really connecting?

I had a fascinating conversation with a few students over Shavuot. We discussed what people nowadays are really looking for. The phrase “connection” came up. People want to connect with others in a real way and never want to feel alone. The Facebook and Snapchat phenomenon of sharing everything, including what you ate for breakfast and where you ate it, has opened up a whole new way of experiencing life; a connected life is a better life because life is richer when shared with others! This is the kernel of truth that explains the explosive success and growth of social media.

But, we are falling short of its true potential and even falling into a trap of sorts. Life shared means goals shared. If we are going to live connected to each other, then our mission and goals should be connected, not individual. Posting a picture of a delicious breakfast overlooking the ocean on a clear morning is missing the point. It’s just “putting it out there” waiting to gain others approval and hopefully not their disapproval. Telling others how they can get one or even better, inviting them to share ours is what we should be posting. It’s an opportunity to move from selfishness and taking to community and giving. Maybe Facebook is G-d’s way of helping us do this?

The most famous lashon hara (gossip) saga started in last week’s parshah and continues into this week. Miriam complained to Aaron about Moses that he had wrongly separated from his wife, Tzippora. Moses had done so because of his unique ability to receive prophecy at any time. Something Miriam didn’t understand. As a punishment, G-d inflicted her with tzaraat – a miraculous type of skin infection. Like anyone who contracted it, she was not allowed to be in the area of the camp for a week until she healed (and that included no Facebook!).

In this week’s parshah we read about the spies, the 12 men sent to spy out the Promised Land before the nation entered it. Their sin was lashon hora, the terrible report they brought back about the land. The Midrash points out the juxtaposition of the two stories. Miriam was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, which spies witnessed, but they did not learn their lesson.

For Miriam, Moses prayed to G-d that she not be considered like the dead. The spies, however, were not that fortunate, and they were punished by death.

Just like a dead person has no social interaction, so too someone not free to live among others is considered dead. We are creatures of community. Our mission and goals are communal, not individual. We are meant to build beautiful and exemplary communities by helping each other, learning from and teaching each other and dealing fairly and honestly with each other. Our lives are becoming more and more connected; lashon hara, gossip, has no place if we are going to use this opportunity to build a beautiful world together.

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman is executive director of Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning and founder and president of the WOW! program for young professionals.