The Impact Of Israel

2013_Moshe-HeidemanAssimilation. Apathy.  Absorption.

Last month, in the release of the Pew Research Center’s study of U.S. Jews, a bleak picture was painted of what the American Jewish community will look like by the end of this generation. On the other hand, there were highly optimistic numbers in certain pockets of our faith as well, with astonishing growth in Torah learning and other similar areas.

The tension between these two unprecedented extremes places a grave importance on our Jewish youth. We find ourselves at a very auspicious time in our nation’s history, standing on the cusp of an accelerated decline or an exponential boom. It is Jewish teenagers, those growing into positions of influence and gaining a tangible edification from parents and educators, who are the ones who will realize this “decline” or “boom” in the near future. For those passionate about preserving our tradition, the debate has naturally shifted toward how best to inform our teenage youth, and to which areas is it most crucial for them to be connected.

Well before the Pew study was conceptualized, NCSY had been addressing the challenge of inspiring the Jewish future.  Entering our 52nd year in Baltimore, NCSY has been facing Jewish assimilation head on, adapting our methodology throughout the years to reflect a changing Jewish landscape.

One issue we have focused on, which we consider critical to the Jewish future, is ensuring a strong connection with the State of Israel. The period after World War II and then Israel’s War of Independence inculcated the nation with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to rebuild. In the decades immediately following the state’s founding, we built the country on a passion for Zionism.

However, as we approach Israel’s 66th birthday, these sensitivities are largely lost on today’s youth. We have seen that the only way to foster such a strong, personal identification with our homeland requires proactive and strategic involvement. Organizations, such as the Baltimore Israel Coalition, are dedicated to the cause, by offering community events designed to engage our youth.

Ultimately, bringing teens to the land of Israel and allowing them to experience her beauty and unique passion in person is ideal. NCSY brought nearly 1,000 Jewish teens to Israel this past summer. Building off the BIC’s tireless efforts in local programming, this number includes almost 100 local teens, indicating that a large portion of NCSY’s tremendous impact is being made right here in our backyard.

NCSY capitalizes on these impactful trips by making Israel a priority in all its programming. This weekend’s Regional Convention’s theme centers on our individual connection to the land, and we are frequently working with AIPAC to demonstrate the importance of Israeli-American relations and our individual power to influence them.

Instead of being deterred by startling statistics put out by scientific surveys, the BIC and NCSY are targeting teenagers in this upcoming year to proactively deal with the current crisis. Join us as we endeavor to show our teens that our country is truly the Jewish homeland and as we nurture deep connections with that which we hold so dear.

Moshe Heideman is Baltimore City director of NCSY — Atlantic Seaboard. His organization is a member of the Baltimore Israel Coalition. Learn more at baltimoreisrael.org.

Assad, War Criminal

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being accused of war crimes. (REUTERS/ Osman Orsal/Newscom )

On Monday, the U.N.’s human rights chief accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes in his two-year-long battle against opposition to his rule. Navi Pillay said a commission of inquiry “has produced massive evidence … [of] very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity” and that “the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.”

It is the first time that Assad, whose brutal response to peaceful protests set off a civil war that has claimed nearly 126,000 lives, has been directly implicated in war crimes by a U.N. body. Pillay called for the case to be handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

While Pillay’s findings are very troubling, and her suggestion to turn the matter over to the ICC makes sense, this whole matter is complicated by the international community’s political tangle over Syria. Not only are Shiites and Sunnis facing off on opposite sides of the sectarian civil war, but the conflict has the West pitted against Russia and China.

A referral to the ICC requires backing from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Until now, Russia and China have blocked any U.N. action against Assad. They have done so for political reasons. For the same reasons, it is expected that they will not allow the war crimes accusations to be referred to the ICC. But the U.N. findings raise serious, fundamental moral issues, and an international response on such concerns must transcend the political sphere.

The extent and nature of Assad and his government’s atrocities is long and vicious — the most shocking, but by no means the most deadly of which, were the chemical weapons attacks in August. And while there is plenty of blame to go around for atrocities — “The scale of viciousness of the abuses being perpetrated by elements on both sides almost defies belief,” Pillay said — the mutuality of wrongdoing does not absolve Assad from the crimes against humanity he is accused of carrying out against his own people.

It now falls to Russia and China to clear the way to move the very serious accusations against Assad to the ICC for inquiry. As they work their way toward a solution to Syria’s deadly, heartbreaking puzzle, the Obama administration and its allies should make a priority of getting Russia and China to allow the court inquiry to proceed.

Respect Your Boomers

Last summer, a Jewish professional in Northern California named Michal Kohane appeared on the website eJewishPhilanthropy, where she bemoaned what she saw as the Jewish community’s excessive focus on young adults. In a cry from the desert, she asked why there was no longer any interest in the Jewish welfare of those over 40.

In a dig at Birthright, the beloved engagement vehicle that features a free trip to Israel for Jews in their 20s, Kohane memorably wrote, “Building a sustainable community can’t be just about paying for buses full of young people in hopes they will make Jewish babies.” Then she added: “We need to be what we’ve always been: a family. A whole family.”

Kohane’s initial article prompted a long stream of responses, hinting that she had touched a nerve. But the day after her post appeared, Kohane was fired from her job at the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco. This week, a new article by Kohane appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy, in which she described her earlier performance as “raw” and “flamboyant.” But she reiterated her basic point:

Boomers, “the largest generation we currently have in our community” and “the bracket that gets most of the demands,” are not being invested in as a group, “even though many are just coming into their Jewish awareness, making first steps towards peace with exploring that part of their identity.” In other words, according to Kohane, boomers are†also Jews on a journey, along with children and young adults and seniors, all of whom make up the “Jewish family.”

While Baltimore appears to have more programming focused on boomers than most other communities, we believe that Kohane’s observations and comments have prompted a discussion that is worth having. Whatever Ms. Kohane’s real agenda might be — and we recognize that there are those who are critical of her — she has sought to further the dialogue on a website that went live last week called “ReJewvenate.” It is set up as a networking hub which is designed to strengthen existing programs and encourage new ones. It is a place to share ideas, make contacts and seek opportunities. And, to its credit, ReJewvenate presents a welcome opportunity for boomers to talk with themselves and others about their own generation.

Sick Kids

110113_Jaffe-MaayanOh, the sounds of coughs and sniffles. The scent of regurgitated dinners and sour milk.

It’s winter. And winter always means colds and flus and stomach viruses — no matter how many times I use Lysol on the handles (and even on the crevices of the bath and showers), no matter how much antibacterial I pour on little hands and despite the decree that no child may leave my home without a winter coat, hats and gloves.

It is only the first week of December, and already the temperatures are frigid. Last Sunday night, I spent the whole night up with three sick kids; two with a 24-hour stomach virus and another one complaining of a treacherous head cold. By the time I switched my fourth load of laundry I was begging for the morning to come. It was exhausting for me, but it was also so sad to watch.

My 6-year-old, who is hypersweet and tremendously sensitive, was sitting against three pillows in my bed watching me drowsily fold a basket of clothes.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”

“What are you sorry for?”

“Because I keep throwing up and that makes you have to do more work.”

“It’s not your fault that you’re sick, honey. I love you so much.”

She just melts me. I wished I really could make her better with my mommy kisses. Instead, I sat there feeling helpless; there was very little I could do to keep my adorable daughter — and her toddler baby sister — from turning into a pile of frowny mush.

What I find amazing about having sick kids is how you are constantly doing something, but nothing gets done. If you have a sick kid and
believe that you are going to stay home with her and accomplish all the things you’ve been wanting to get done on a day off, think again. A
sick-kid day is like being on those spinning tea cups, a constant circling between the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen and the laundry room. If you’re lucky, you’ll get 15 minutes to run out to the pharmacy to pick up the Pedialyte.

Admittedly, I was fortunate. The kiss of sick started Sunday night, so I could prepare for Monday. The worst is the dreaded daycare call.

I should be expecting it, because it always comes at the same time, at the minute I am knee-deep in the most important article I’ve ever written or at the first chance I have to breathe after a series of meetings. And it always happens the same way: The phone rings. “Preschool” pops up on the caller ID.  I panic — “Is my little one hurt?” Fever, the teacher says.

I want to be the mom who is eager to get there; she needs me. But let’s be honest, fellow moms, at that moment, all we can think about is the all-encompassing inconvenience of having to unexpectedly pick said child up from the place where she’s supposed to spend her day.

I hate it.

I loathe the moment when I realize I have to stop what I’m doing, shut down my computer and leave work. Taking care of a sick child is much harder than a desk job.

But they are only young once. And somehow, all of our best memories are of Mom making tea with honey and gently rubbing our foreheads.

I guess that project will just have to wait until tomorrow …

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Forgiveness

The themes of reunification and forgiveness are reflected in this week’s Haftorah and parsha. The Haftorah features the prophet Ezekiel following God’s instructions — taking two sticks and carving the names of the kingdoms of Ephraim and Judah on each and raising them together as one stick before the people. Ezekiel’s act, as commanded by God, not only symbolizes the reunification of the two kingdoms into “a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel,” but also God having mercy on the Jewish people. In the parsha, the act of reunification is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers (“I am Jospeh … come forward to me”).

Grave offenses have been committed against God and Joseph prior to their acts of reunification. Before Ezekiel’s prophecy, the Temple was destroyed. The Talmud teaches us that it was destroyed because the Jews failed to follow the word of God. They change their ways after God punishes them. As for Joseph, his brothers had treated him horribly, selling him into slavery to permanently get rid of him. When Joseph saw Judah offer to stay in jail for his brother, he realized that his brothers, too, had changed and Joseph was able to forgive them, just as God forgave the Jewish people after He recognized that they had repented.

In the Torah and Haftorah we see the importance of the relationship between God and the Jewish people and of Joseph and his family. As the oldest child in my family, I know how hard it is to forgive, especially when I think I have been terribly wronged. In these moments of sometimes dramatic conflict — let’s say with a brother or sister — my parents remind me to focus on what is important. I could choose to hold on to the offense or I could forgive in order to maintain and improve the relationship. My goal is to act as God (and Joseph) did by focusing on what’s important.

Focusing on what is important is a recurring theme in this week’s parsha and Haftorah. God’s actions demonstrate the importance of forgiveness to bring the Jewish people back together. For Joseph, forgiveness brought his family together. God and Joseph provide a lesson to focus on what is important. It is a lesson we should all learn.

Zach Zaiman is a seventh grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.

The Case Of The Stolen Bicycle

I loved my brand new 10-speed bike, a shiny black Diamondback. I would ride around after school and visit my friends.

When school started, a new kid, Adam, would come over and ask me all kinds of questions about it.

“Where did you get it?” he would ask. “Where can I get one?”

Sometimes his questions were over the top. But I remembered he was a mutual friend of my friend Jeff, so I answered him.

A few months into school, my family and I went on a long Shabbos weekend in Florida. I parked my bike in the backyard shed and checked the lock. We were away for half a week, and when I returned, I went out to the shed to check on my bike. As I opened the door, I screamed.

“My bike is GONE!”

Someone had gotten into the shed; a few of Dad’s power tools were missing, too.

“Looks like someone picked the lock,” Dad said, a frown on his face.

We made a police report. The policeman said he’d comb the neighborhood to look for my bike. He told us there had been a slew of robberies over the last weekend.

On Monday, I saw Adam riding a bike just like mine.

“Hey Eli, like my bike?” Adam said, parking himself a foot away from me. “Rides great!”

My mind started racing.

“Could that be my bike?” I thought.

The tires looked just like mine. Even the reflector on the back matched the one I had on my bike.

“Where did you get that bike?” I asked Adam.

He told me he got it on sale — at a garage sale.

I was hot. I knew he had my bike … but why would he steal it?

“My bike is stolen. Did you hear about it?” I asked, deciding to test Adam.

“No, that’s strange.” His voice cracked. “You’re not accusing me of stealing your bike, are you?”

“Tell me exactly where you got it!” my voice rose.

“A garage sale, really. It was only $50. It seemed cheap, but …”

“Could your parents talk with mine and we can get to the bottom of things?”

Later that night, my parents drove me to Adam’s house. My father had a long talk with his parents and we solved the mystery. Adam’s family was glad we came to talk things out, and they had an explanation. Adam’s family had gone to a garage sale in a not-so-safe neighborhood. There they found a few power tools and a bike, which they had purchased. When we looked at the tools, we realized that they were Dad’s. The bandits had stolen and sold the items at a garage sale on the other side of town. Adam’s parents agreed to call the police and they came and made a report of the newly-found items.

We paid Adam the $50 and some cash for the tools so Adam’s family would not take a loss. The police visited the location of the garage sale the next day. They caught one of the thieves.

As for me, I learned an important lesson: Always judge people favorably.

Discussion Questions
1. Why does the Torah tell us to judge others favorably?
2. How do we benefit when we judge others for the good?
3. What are some ways to practice judging favorably?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. “Shabbat Table Talk” is a monthly feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

Beth El’s Satellite Program Is Perfect Fit

Anyone living in Carroll County who is interested in instilling Jewish values and providing an enriching Hebrew School experience to his or her children must consider Beth El’s satellite program at Westminster or Eldersburg (“In The Neighborhood,” June 14). My two children attend, and I can personally attest to the high quality of the program. Included are holiday rituals, music, customs, prayers and Hebrew instruction. Throughout the curriculum and whole-school activities, values are taught such as tikkun olam (repairing the world), shalom bayit (peace within the home and family) and tzedakah (charity and justice). In our school, I am personally acquainted with all of the teachers; and not only are they parents and grandparents themselves, they also are warm, caring and knowledgeable instructors. Class sizes are just right for creating a warm, unintimidating atmosphere while having enough students to give the feel of a class united within a school. The Hebrew school experience includes Shabbat celebrations, holiday parties, field trips, arts and crafts and community mitzvah projects. The class times are convenient; weekday evenings work much better for us than the typical Sunday, although there is a Sunday option for older grades. The flexibility really reflects the needs of today’s busy, busy families.

Tuition is reasonable. There are many families in Carroll County that struggle financially, and assistance is needed if all Jewish children are to attend this wonderful program. Currently, there are no rabbi-led congregations in Carroll County or Jewish Community Centers, as the Jewish population is interspersed around the county, with the largest numbers in Westminster and Eldersburg/Sykesville. It’s comforting to have the affiliation with a large, successful congregation/school such as Beth El, and it’s very convenient to have classes just down the street. I believe Beth El’s satellite Hebrew schools will be a future focal point for the Jewish community in Carroll County and a major draw for families in Baltimore County and City looking to move out to this lovely area. Just as Reisterstown and even Owings Mills were once considered “way out there,” they are now well-known Jewish areas and part of the greater Baltimore Jewish community that is so diverse yet intertwined. I am sure that Eldersburg and Westminster will continue to grow as important neighborhoods, and the more students attending the schools, the better. Outreach and funding will promote growth in establishing and maintaining this very important institution.

Sheri Uffer
Carroll County

Unjust Incarceration

I have known Elsa Newman for a while (“Judaism Behind Bars,” Nov. 15). We are pen pals and enjoy exchanging books we’ve read. I have visited Prisoner No. 921975 at the women’s jail on Brock Bridge Road in Jessup, Md. I know her situation. It’s not unlike my own or that of thousands of moms and kids. I urge you to do an investigative piece on how a mother can end up in prison for seeking help from the family court. I understand that the same court that handled her divorce was involved in the prosecution. Here is her website and the peti- tion: justice4elsanewman.com and thepetitionsite.com/5/Free-Elsa-Newman/. From these sites, you can learn more about her unjust incarceration.

Kathy Lee Scholpp
Maryland

No Response?

It is worthy of comment that there has been no response to S.R. Cohen’s cogent letter (“Sad to Say,” Oct. 23) emanating from Rep. Andy Harris, either personally or his office, and no mention from Bob Ehrlich, Richard Vatz or other of his supporters. One would have, at the very least, expected an effort to explain the cover-up/suppression of the Jewish identity of Dr. Harris’ wife. Harris has children. How are they being raised?

If in Europe anti-Semitism has taken the form of bans on infant religious circumcision and ritual slaughter, then here in America, it is being expressed, in a veiled manner, via opposition to universal health care; the latter is a mainstay of Jewish law and Israeli practice. For example, locally, on right-wing WBAL talk radio, there is the singling out of Health Policy special adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel for special opprobrium with regard to the ACA.

In my memory, I cannot recall any Maryland congress member acting in as cavalier a fashion as Harris has done in this matter, in deliberately dismissing the concerns of the Free State’s Jewish citizens, as recorded in their organ of record, the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Steve Weissman
Baltimore

Maybe More Dire

Regarding the recent article on Greek anti-Semitism and the survey that was conducted (“Perception Is Reality,” Nov. 22), I suggest that a similar survey be conducted in Pikesville but substituting the word Jew for Greek or black or Muslim. Do you think the results would be any different? Maybe more dire.

David L. Fisher
Pikesville