A Letter To Hague

On Nov. 19, a Jewish woman in Britain, Mindy Wiesenberger, sent the following letter to [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague. The letter has been published in many newspapers, including The Times of Israel, and I would like to share it with the readers of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

“Dear Mr. Hague,

You have stated that if Israel tries to defend its population through a ground offensive in Gaza, ‘it risks losing the sympathy of the international community.’

“Let me tell you something about the sympathy of the international community, Mr. Hague. My father was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, having lost his entire family but gaining the sympathy of the international community at the time. After six million Jews had been annihilated at the hands of the Nazi regime, the international community had plenty of sympathy for the Jewish people. There is always plenty of sympathy for victims.

“Israel doesn’t need the sympathy of the international community. What it needs is to defend its citizens.

“When as a tiny country it gained its independence in 1948 it had to absorb 800,000 Jews who were thrown out of Arab lands in the Middle East, and it did so without fuss and with dignity, giving them shelter and a place of security in which their children could grow up to become productive citizens. When Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria tried to destroy Israel in 1948 and again in 1967, they took in hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs, but did they give them dignity or shelter? No, they left them to rot in refugee camps in order to maintain a symbol of grievance against Israel and use them as a political tool against the Jewish state. What has arisen in those camps is a complicated situation, but it is what has led to Gaza today.”

Kenneth Wolfson

Petition For Elsa

Elsa Newman, loving mother and successful attorney, has been imprisoned in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women for 11 years for a crime she did not commit (“Judaism Behind Bars,” Oct. 25). Her situation is one of the most monstrous examples of what is happening to mothers and children in family courts across the country.

We created the Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference in 2003 with the goal of hosting a national public forum to address the many complex issues facing battered women as they strive to protect themselves and their children during divorce, custody and visitation litigation. The 2011 Annual Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference dedicated its official session to Newman. In the program, this is what we write: “There are far too many battered mothers who have unjustly lost custody of their children for us to list here, but there is one whom we’d like to spotlight and honor this year. … A group of attendees are asking Maryland Gov. [Martin] O’Malley for clemency for Elsa Newman. Help us with prayers and signing the petition. Help free Elsa and all the mothers who have sacrificed so much for the safety of their children.”

We know what Elsa faced, because we faced it too. We know Elsa is innocent, because we were criminalized too — all because we sought to protect our children in family court. Family courts are poorly educated in the areas of child abuse and domestic violence. They rely on stereotypes and the testimony of highly paid “experts” to make divorce and custody decisions.  Each year, they order 58,000 children to be torn away from their mother/primary caregiver and ordered to live with their abuser. Abusers, being highly skilled in deception and manipulation, appear charming, calm and collected in court. Mothers, traumatized and frantic in the knowledge that their children are being abused, are labeled “hysterical.”

Please visit justice4elsanewman.com and/or sign the petition to free her at thepetitionsite.com/5/Free-Elsa-Newman.

Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D.
Liliane Heller Miller
Co-founders and chairs
Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference

Here We Go Again

The damage from electrical devices: First it was microwave ovens, then power lines, then cell phones. Now it is smart meters, according to the president of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness. Congratulations to the Baltimore Jewish Times for presenting both sides of the debate (“Smart Meter Debate Rages On,” Nov. 15). In retrospect, BGE should have replaced the meters without any fanfare. If asked, “Why the replacement?” they could have answered, “To improve the distribution of electricity and the reduction of costly meter readings.” I believe that anyone who opts out of the change should pay a monthly fee to BGE for their “personal” meter reading.

Joseph Trost

Quick Clarification

Marc Shapiro’s article, “Ralph Jaffe Declares Gubernatorial Candidacy” (Nov. 22), was the best article ever written about the Jaffe Movement to get rid of all the corruption in Maryland politics. I would like to make a clarification pertaining to the number of votes I received and the money I spent on the votes.  Here are the facts for the two elections in which I ran for office. In the 2010 election for governor, I spent $450 and received 19,517 votes. In the 2012 election for U.S. Senate, I spent $280 and received 3,313 votes. For both elections combined, I spent $730 and received 22,830 votes. Per dollar, I received more votes for these two elections combined than anybody else running for elected public office. If elected, I am committed to giving the tax-payers of Maryland a 100 percent accounting of how every dollar is spent.

Ralph Jaffe

Well Deserved

“Tree of Life” is very impressive (Nov. 29). I have been involved with Etz Chaim since May, and have found it to be a valuable resource for growth. The organization is a place where Jews of all strains can sit together and feel welcome. Etz Chaim enriches Baltimore and builds bridges. The recognition received in the article is well deserved. I encourage others to benefit from all that Etz Chaim has to offer.

Daniel Hoch

37 Years, 3 Major Themes

I’ve  been writing for the Baltimore Jewish Times since 1976. Over the years, my articles have had three major themes: the foolishness of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank outside of the environs of Jerusalem; the lack of consistency of U.S. policy in the Middle East, most particularly toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, an inconsistency also demonstrated by the current president, Barack Obama; the discovery of Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program in late 2002, I have emphasized the necessity of its removal, something neither the United States nor Israel has yet accomplished.

Perhaps my most controversial column came early in the premiership of Menachem Begin (1977-1983), when I condemned his policy of seizing Palestinian-owned land on the West Bank for “security reasons” and then turning that land over to Israeli Jews to build settlements. Not only did I assert that this was theft, but I also warned that the more the settlements spread on the West Bank, the more difficult it would be to reach a two-state solution. Unfortunately, since I wrote the first of a series of articles condemning Israeli settlement policy in early 1978, Israeli settlements have proliferated, and — along with the issues of Jerusalem, Israeli security requirements and the Palestinian refugees — settlements have become a central problem in forging Israeli-Palestinian peace.

On my second theme: It started with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In his shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel in the mid-1970s, he had come to realize that the only way to reconcile America’s multiple goals in the Middle East — keeping Israel alive, keeping friendly Arab regimes in power and maintaining access to oil and strategic communication routes — was for the U.S. to actively work for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter embraced this concept. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did not. Their Middle East policies suffered accordingly. In the case of Obama, his tactics have been less than consistent. He deliberately cooled relations with Israel between 2009 and 2011 only to embrace the Jewish state warmly from 2011 to 2013, virtually quoting the Jewish national anthem, Hatikvah, during his visit to Israel last March. Obama has fluctuated between emphasizing the importance of stopping settlement construction, emphasizing the primacy of the issues of borders and security and calling for the resolution of all the “final status” issues.

On Iran: Its leaders have consistently threatened to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” Slogans such as “Death to Israel” are inscribed on Iranian missiles. George W. Bush, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, chose not to strike Iranian nuclear facilities; Obama, who, to his credit, did develop a very strong sanctions system against Iran, has nonetheless chosen to use diplomacy rather than force. The six-month agreement with Iran has numerous flaws, including allowing Iran to continue building its heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. Whether these flaws can be corrected in a follow-up agreement is a very open question.

It has been a pleasure sharing my views of the Middle East. Thank you.

Dr. Robert O. Freedman is the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Being Jewish and a medical professional is an ancient tradition. This year we welcome the reactivation of the Doctors Division of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Maimonides Society.

With just under 18,000 Jewish residents in 7,500 households, Howard County is consistently recognized as a wonderful place to live, boasting excellent schools, religious and cultural tolerance and diversity. With many medical professionals living and practicing in Howard County, we hope to nurture the culture of involvement and giving through our Maimonides Society.

The Maimonides Society is a national society linking medical professionals to the spirit of Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, perhaps the most famous Jewish doctor, who lived in the 12th century. His life combined Torah learning with the demands of a career as a physician, as well as with the demands of daily life as a Jew. He was world renowned for his knowledge and his practice of medicine.

Maimonides’ major contribution to Jewish life remains the Mishnah Torah, his code of Jewish law. This provides a guide for Jewish behavior in all situations, including tzedakah. It is with this perspective that the Jewish Federation has formed the Maimonides Society, illustrating that healing is not just a career, but also a core Jewish value.

As Jewish health-care professionals, the members of this group are dedicated to educational, social and philanthropic activities that focus on the betterment of Jews in Howard County, Israel and around the world.

The Maimonides Division provides a unique opportunity for collegial socializing and networking, and it integrates medical and Jewish concerns to demonstrate the unique contributions that health professions can make in support of the Jewish community. Programs will feature an array of diverse speakers in specialties, such as medicine, bioterrorism, ethics and the changing health-care environment.

All medical professionals will be invited to join the Maimonides Society with an inaugural meeting early in 2014. Our local hospital, Howard County General Hospital, will be sponsoring the division this year, and we are thrilled to have it as our partner in this endeavor. Membership to Maimonides will be included for a donation of $150 a month ($1,800 a year) to the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s annual campaign. This year’s annual campaign encourages “stepping up” and increasing existing donations as well as increasing the number of first-time donations. We have a goal of 1,018 donors by June 30, 2014. Contributions will support the federation”s existing programs, social services, scholarships and overseas needs and offer opportunity for greater community growth and innovation.

In the spirit of Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, who combined Torah learning with the demands of his profession as a physician and his devotion to community, we look forward to a year of rededication of the Maimonides Society of Howard County.

Dr. Jerry I. Levine is vice president and medical director of Maryland Primary Care Physicians and chair of  Maimonides Society in Howard County. For more information about Maimonides, contact Michelle Ostroff at mostroff@JewishHowardCounty.org.

A Game Of Violence

A spate of assaults largely in the Northeast over the last month has led to the popular notion that U.S. cities are experiencing a growing trend of attacks by youths playing the “knockout game.” The perpetrator plays this violent and potentially deadly game just for kicks, attempting to knock a victim unconscious with one blow to the face.

What is evident about the attacks is that most have taken place in New York, and that in the borough of Brooklyn, the majority of the victims have been Jews. This has led to concern that Jews are being targeted in the knockout game. And the attacks have raised the specter of the Crown Heights riots of 1991 after a black child was hit and killed by a driver in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The New York Police Department, Brooklyn politicians and the local Jewish community are all responding to the attacks. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction, or a finding of delinquency, of individuals responsible for these kinds of assaults. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force was reported to be investigating at least seven attacks. The investigations have led to Amrit Marajh, 28 (not quite a “youth”), being charged with harassment as a hate crime for allegedly punching a Jewish man on Nov. 22.

But it remains unclear whether there is a concerted effort to target Jews and whether the perpetrators are playing the knockout game when they attack. While the fact of each attack is troubling, a coordinated series of attacks against a targeted set of victims makes things even worse.  But in the absence of real evidence of orchestrated actions, might we just be seeing a series of upsetting attacks that have been strung together by the media?

The police say there isn’t enough data to say. But the fear of becoming a victim to this peculiar crime is real. We commend the police for taking this phenomenon seriously and for acting on the possibility that the perpetrators are targeting Jews in their attacks. Such actions are contemptible and must be stopped whether they are isolated or coordinated.

At the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that overall crime in the United States is at the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. And knockout attacks are only a tiny fraction of reported assaults. That said, the attacks are real; their consequences are severe; and the fear they engender is genuine. It is time to put a stop to random acts of violence.

Shalom, Not Lehitraot

110113_Jaffe-MaayanIt is never easy to say goodbye.

But that is what is happening.

I have the unpleasant task of telling you that I am leaving the JT, and I am taking a job in Kansas City. This is a difficult conversation for me to have with you, not because things have gone badly; just the opposite, things have gone so well. I love my job, the people I work with — and mostly all the exceptional individuals who I have met along the way, people who bring so much to the table. I’ll miss the people of Jewish Baltimore. I’ll miss the stories. That’s what makes this process of resigning so difficult.

For the entire nearly eight years that I have lived in Baltimore, I have worked in the Jewish community — at the JT as a staff reporter/business editor, at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as marketing and communications manager and then back at the JT as managing editor and editor-in-chief. Everyone who lives Jewish Baltimore knows it is a small town with a lot of people — and a lot of ruach [spirit] and koach [strength].

In just the 18 months I have worked with the JT as editor, I have been a part of tremendous growth and development. We have recouped lost subscribers and experienced close to 10 percent growth in subscribers in 2013. I’ve been a part of our greatest successes, such as the six awards we won last year from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association (including a best of show, beating out the Washington Post, for our political coverage). I have had the privilege to write stories that have been picked up not only by wire services and shared nationally, but that have been referenced by acclaimed analysts and bloggers.

I have also been there through some not-so-great times — such as covering a derecho (while eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my own power out for a week) and reporting on a sexual predator who worked at two of our area day schools and a rapist who took advantage of a young woman in Northwest Baltimore.

But through the good and the challenges, we’ve stuck it out. You’ve written to me to tell me how happy you are with the direction of the paper. And when you’ve been upset, you haven’t been afraid to say something. The good communities are like families, and leaving my job is like leaving family.

I am leaving the JT because of an exceptional opportunity to continue my growth and development as a Jewish communal professional in Kansas City. I didn’t go looking for it; it found me (though I did go through the long application process), and it was a great fit. I thought a long time about how I would walk into the office, such a short time after believing I could make this commute between Baltimore and Kansas City work, and tell my co-workers that my four human children need me more than this newspaper (my fifth child), that I don’t want to miss their important moments, that I am tired from working 21-hour days when I come to Baltimore and, at this stage in my life, that I should be living and working by my family.

I thought of the people this would impact, the staff and the readers I feel like I am abandoning, the writing and marketing projects I am leaving behind … some incomplete. I lost a lot of sleep over it; I am still losing sleep over it.

I will always have incredible memories from this job. There was the time I called up the office of the president of Iran and started asking to speak to someone about the Jewish community there. And then I called Iranian universities and the local embassy. I am still convinced that when Kansas City Power & Light told my husband they would need to conduct a 72-hour security check on our family before turning on the gas and electricity in our new home that was just code for, “We’re not sure if we want you in Kansas. Your wife is a crazy journalist who wants to be buddy-buddy with the Ayatollah.”

There were the community leaders who stepped down, such as CHAI’s Ken Gelula and the Jewish Community Center’s Buddy Sapolsky. There were the leaders who celebrated their successful tenures, including The Associated’s Marc B. Terrill. There were the young people who became community leaders, such as Jakir Manela at the Pearlstone Center and David Golaner at Edward A. Myerberg Center.

Before Chanukah 2012, my staff and I went driving around in the cold on a wild goose chase for the best kosher latke. I think we all gained 10 pounds that night! There were nights we stayed until midnight, churning out political copy, analyzing the J Street conference or pulling together to think about The Jewish Federations of North America 2012 General Assembly, which happened in Baltimore.

We flipped our paper upside down last Purim — literally. And even I wrote funny copy (or at least my staff told me that it was funny).

And this past Rosh Hashanah our cover focused on Jewish unity. And for what may have been the first time (or certainly the first in a long time), a mainstream Orthodox, modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbi each tackled the same question of how we can better unite in an ever-individualized Jewish world — and published their answers in print.

I don’t think for one minute that anyone will begrudge me for leaving. In fact, I am quite sure they will be happy for me — that’s just another part of what makes this hurt.

I don’t have any grandiose ideas that I cannot be replaced or that the paper won’t go on or won’t continue to improve under someone else’s leadership. I also know that my reign here is just a blip in time of the paper’s more than 90 years.

But nonetheless, it has meant a lot to me. This role, our mission of building and strengthening community, penetrates my soul.

This is my final Opening Thoughts. But this is not lehitraot [just goodbye], it is shalom, the closing of one door, the opening of another. And it is a call to action to keep reading us, keep helping us to do our little part in providing Jewish Baltimore with a platform for dialogue and a place in which people of all diverse lifestyles can come together around a common Jewish core.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
Maayan’s new email is maayanj@jewishkc.org

Chanukah in Odessa

chanukah-1By: Marina Moldavanskaya, Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator

Jewish people all around the world celebrate the bright holiday of Chanukah, and the Odessa Jewish community was no exception.

The first day of Chanukah was marked by a big celebration in Odessa. Crowds gathered in the two synagogues – Chabad and Litvak –  while the traditional Chanukah candles were lit. These synagogues installed a huge hanukkia (menorah) in the heart of the city near the Duke de Richelieu monument, so all the residents of Odessa could be immersed in the holiday.

The JCC Beit Grand, the Jewish home to many people in the community, organized a large number of events for each day of Chanukah: a poetry reading in a romantic and tender atmosphere, maccabia for the youth club, an Arts and Crafts Fair in which local artists sold handmade Judaica, a jazz concert, a theatrical performance and many more. In addition, this year, the JCC Beit Grand celebrated its five year anniversary with a concert, fire show, mulled wine and delicious food.

Every day of this holiday, JCC Migdal held a variety of different events, including the well-attended Chanukah Fantasy performance and film club as well as concerts for kids, featuring a 1-month-old dancer, and adults.

On November 30th, the Third International Festival of Jewish Films, organized by the JCC Migdal, began. Through support from the United States Embassy, Councils of Israel and Germany, professional Jewish films by Israeli, German, Ukrainian, British, French and US directors were screened.

chanukah-3The Israeli Cultural Center in Odessa and Odessa Hillel organized the “Life is a Miracle.” The evening’s exciting program featured the “Light Chanukah” competition, the world’s largest sevivon (dreidel) of people, traditional treats, a music performance and the closing ceremony of the Migdal Film Festival. This gathering was a good example of how the Odessa Jewish community can collaborate in order to reach great results together. Through the efforts of the organizers, hundreds of young Jews were able to spend a wonderful evening in an atmosphere of unity and miracles.

Although Chanukah ended, we always have a possibility to work wonders. The Jewish community of Odessa has already made a miracle of rebirth after times of oppression. The miracle of Chanukah continues to repeat throughout Jewish history, and Odessa is proud to be celebrating in so many exciting ways.