Vote on April 26

Along with the public school, the library and the city park, the line forming to vote on Election Day is a reminder and reaffirmation of civic life in the United States. As public spaces shrink, these affirmations become more important, with friends and neighbors meeting on neutral ground to share the common bond of citizenship.

This is one reason to vote in the April 26 primary. Another, of course, is that by voting, we exercise a fundamental right as Americans, animating an institution that helps give democracy its name. Voting reminds us what free and fair elections — something not guaranteed everywhere — are all about. And for us in the Jewish community, it’s an absolute imperative that we use the rights we and our ancestors looked to this country to provide in the first place.

Do you think that your vote doesn’t matter? Think again. Whether you are a registered Republican or Democrat, you have an important voice in the presidential primary that takes place on Tuesday. It’s one thing to criticize the candidates and the campaigns from the sidelines, but without casting a ballot, yours will be a complaining voice instead of an invested one.

Looking closer to home, wherever you live, there are races on the ballot that will directly affect how your tax dollars are spent. Want government money to support parochial schools? Then vote for candidates backing that position. Do you adhere to a more traditional interpretation of the separation of church and state? Then make your voice heard at the ballot box in addition to at the picket line.

We urge you to speak your mind on Tuesday, not because it will lead to utopia, but because it will link you to your fellow citizens in the performance of something vital. That is an unusual occurrence in our atomized society.

American Jews have traditionally voted in high percentages. This is likely because as a small minority, we are jealous of our rights, and, while the memory persists of how our people were persecuted in whatever Old Country they lived in, we are grateful that the United States welcomed so many of us.

This year’s election season has presented choices like no other in recent memory. Much depends on the outcome. For all of these reasons, do not choose to be silent, and do not throw your vote away. Voting is our infrequent chance to demonstrate in the clearest of terms that ours is still a government by the people and for the people.

The Dilemma of Simone Zimmerman

Simone Zimmerman’s tenure as Bernie Sanders’ outreach director to the Jewish community lasted only two days. But in the hours between the announcement of her appointment last week and her suspension, reportedly over derogatory remarks she made on Facebook last year about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one thing became evident: The organized Jewish community — the Jewish “establishment,” in the terms of this election cycle — has been caught with no answer to the Simone Zimmermans of the world. And it needs to find one.

Zimmerman’s challenge is this: She is in her mid-20s, grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, went to Jewish day school and Jewish camp and was active in United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative movement’s youth organization. She has been to Israel a number of times, several as a leader of organized trips. In short, she is the Jewishly educated and Jewishly affiliated, engaged and passionate product of the organized Jewish community that we’ve been led to be believe does not pose a risk for harboring what many of us would consider distinctly anti-Israel views.

But she doesn’t sound like someone from the organized Jewish community.

She was president of the national student board of J Street U, which makes her suspect in the eyes of many. In 2014, she protested the Gaza war. And she is an outspoken opponent of the occupation, the Israeli government and what she sees as the organized Jewish community’s squelching of contrary opinions. “What we need is for the community to stop willfully blinding itself to the disastrous reality of holding millions of Palestinians under military occupation,” Zimmerman wrote. “Moreover, we need the community to stop policing and demonizing those of us who say these truths in public and are fighting for change.”

Zimmerman is not a disengaged millennial, possibly lost to the Jewish community. If she hadn’t used vulgarities about Netanyahu on Facebook, she might still be challenging us from a spot in the Sanders campaign.

From an establishment perspective, there is a serious problem. Initial reports said that Zimmerman supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. It turns out that she may not endorse boycotting Israel, but she sure springs to the defense of those who do. But the issue goes beyond BDS, beyond her consistently painting Israel as the aggressor in a conflict that finds the Jewish state facing down an enemy that uses civilians as a shield, aggrandizes terror and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Zimmerman represents a generation raised from within “the system” that is frighteningly immune to Israel’s case. As she was reaching her formative years, hasbarah was predominantly focused on non-Jews and tangentially related Jews. That strategy has left us asleep at the switch. We better figure out a way to engage the Simone Zimmermans of the world, and fast.

Criticism Against Israel Amazingly Disproportionate

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest and most protracted battles in modern history — the Battle of Verdun. In February 1916, a year and a half after the beginning of World War I, in an effort to break a stalemate, the German armies launched an attack on French positions at Verdun, in the northeast corner of France, where the two nations’ forces faced each other along miles of trenches.

At the end of 10 months of unremitting carnage, the battle came to an end. Evenly matched, neither army accomplished much of anything. When the battle ended, the front had barely moved. More than 500,000 young men lay dead. Instead of either side achieving a decisive victory at this epic battle, the war would grind on for two more years, and millions more would die.

Had either army had the capability to inflict disproportionate casualties on the other, the battle might have ended, quickly and definitively, and so might have the war. Sadly, it can even be suggested that it would not really have mattered which side had won so long as the conflict had ended decisively.

Proportional warfare between implacable foes, as the terrible Battle of Verdun so clearly illustrates, simply postpones the inevitable — ultimate victory or defeat by one of the combatants — and does so at enormous cost.

It is currently popular to cry that the response to attacks should not be disproportionate. That position, however, is not only unrealistic, it is dangerous. When it is clear that the aggressor will not stop at anything short of destroying its target, then the targeted nation must simply and as quickly as possible put an end to the threat by destroying its enemy.

The State of Israel faces just such an existential threat. There cannot be any doubt that if the terrorists of Hamas had the ability to do so they would annihilate Israel and its citizens.

Israel’s “mow the grass” approach to Gaza — the need to go back and reduce Hamas’ capacity to attack Israel on a periodic basis — is actually quite proportionate. The fundamental problem is that, due to its proportionality, it is not effective enough. Hamas terrorists, just like the Nazis before them, will not be deterred by restraint and caution; they must be removed.

Sometimes, regrettably, morality demands the use of force and of a great deal of force. Insistence on proportionality in defending against aggression can be disguised as an exercise in morality, but it is assuredly not that at all. Rather, it is simply a false premise, and for Israel in its confrontation with its mortal enemies, it is a very dangerous one.

Gerard Leval is a partner in the Washington office of Arent Fox LLP.

A New Kind of ‘Safety’ School

On March 31, a number of colleges announced their admissions decisions for the class of 2020. As colleges and students seek the best fit, I have suggestions for both that take account of rising campus anti-Semitism.

For those who haven’t been watching, anti-Semitism is back in fashion at an increasing number of American universities. Some of it takes the form of “traditional” anti-Semitism. In other cases, it appears in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Drawing swastikas on fraternity houses, impugning the qualifications and loyalty of Jewish student-government candidates, promoting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the classroom, hounding professors who write Facebook posts supporting Israel against Hamas, shouting down scheduled speakers supporting the right of Israel to exist, demanding a (non-Israel-related) speaker withdraw on the grounds that Hillel co-sponsored her talk, all seem part of the new normal.

These events aren’t happening in the backwaters, but at prominent schools, and the dishonor roll gets longer every month.

By contrast, several American colleges have worked hard in the last 15 years to raise their rankings by luring Jewish students. Impressed by Jews’ reputation for intellectual vitality or simply seeking “diversity” and a national reputation, schools such as Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Vanderbilt University, Washington and Lee University, Case Western Reserve University, Franklin and Marshall College and Susquehanna University set about making their campuses more attractive to prospective Jewish applicants.

To make themselves more appealing, the schools have adopted strategies such as creating Jewish studies departments with endowed professorships, setting up Hillel programs and offering kosher meal plans.

Recent events have offered schools that want to attract more Jewish students a simple tool they can use to increase their appeal: adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward anti-Semitic hostility, whether it is in the guise of Jew-hatred, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories or of demonizing, delegitimizing or applying a double standard to Israel (the three Ds of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism). Treat swastika-incidents with the seriousness they deserve. Stand up firmly and promptly for Jewish students whose qualifications are challenged on the basis of their religion. Sanction faculty who teach anti-Semitism. Feel free to advertise the hospitable climate you maintain for Jewish students. Eventually, they will notice.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism is a sad reality that Jewish students need to face. Hopefully, adding concern about anti-Semitism to the college shopping list will create pressure and incentives for schools tolerating anti-Semitism to clean up their act. Meanwhile, schools that welcome Jews and Jews looking for a welcoming environment have a common interest.

Johanna Markind writes about the Middle East and anti-Semitism for various outlets.

Kasich Has Compassion, Competence, Experience

In a video that made the rounds last week, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, while stumping in New York City, alternately quizzed and lectured a group of yeshiva students, who spend their days studying the intricacies of the Talmud. First he told them the biblical story of Joseph, then turned to Moses’ successor, Joshua. “Joshua was another great leader,” the Ohio governor said. “Do you know about Joshua?”

As cringe worthy as that moment was — and there have been others — we can only imagine how much worse it would have been if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz had been in Kasich’s place. Of the three men who remain in the race for the Republican nomination for president, Kasich is the only one who doesn’t scare us. Here is why:

Yes, Kasich wears his religion on his sleeve. But his faith also seems to have filled him with some humility. At the memorable first Republican debate last August, when Trump was attacking Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and Cruz was attacking President Barack Obama for not using the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” Kasich was refreshingly humane and upbeat about the country he wants to lead. For example, when he was asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage, he said, “The court has ruled, and I said we’ll accept it. …. [Just] because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. … We need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect and let them share in this great American dream that we have.”

No great big walls. No carpet-bombing swaths of the Middle East to “see if the sand glows” (Cruz). No lockdowns of people who happen to be Muslim (Trump).

Kasich also has the political experience that his competitors lack. Trump has never held elected office. Cruz is a freshman senator who has not shown an ability to work well with others. Kasich was first elected governor of Ohio in 2010. Before that, he spent 18 years as a member of Congress, including six years as chairman of the House Budget Committee. And, as he constantly reminds us, he can and has, when necessary, worked well with Republicans and Democrats.

In any other year, Kasich would be considered an extreme conservative. This year, he is the only Republican left in the ring that we would trust to have his finger on the nuclear button. Or to respect American institutions, including a free press. And his vision of America is the only one among the three remaining Republicans contenders that we can recognize as America.

In the upcoming primary, we urge those who will vote Republican to vote for John Kasich.

Thanking Sanders, Voting Clinton

It is a good thing that, at the beginning of this presidential election season, Hillary Clinton was not automatically crowned the Democratic nominee-apparent. The former secretary of state and U.S. senator had no natural right to the nomination. And the unexpectedly serious candidacy of independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has energized the race and opened a window to a part of the Democratic coalition that the party has lost sight of since the days of Bill Clinton.

Without the relentlessness of Sanders and his supporters, the serious issues of disparities of wealth, health care, social security and the high cost of higher education might not have taken on the urgency that they have today. Young voters may never have been energized, and older, liberal Americans would not have breathed the familiar idealistic, hopeful air that Sanders somehow has preserved since the 1960s and ’70s.

Sanders is an American political oddity. He is also a most successful gadfly. Neither of those factors qualifies him to be president. So, given the choice of electing him or Clinton president, the choice is clearly Clinton.

With her role as perhaps the most energetic first lady during eight years in the White House and her terms in the Senate and as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Clinton is by far the most experienced of any of the candidates of either party. Much fun has been made of her having a program for every problem. But Sanders’ problem is that the revolution he is offering is woefully short on details.

Sanders’ lack of interest in foreign policy has shown through during the campaign. His gaffe on Palestinian civilian casualties in the last Gaza war with Israel — he said 10,000, but the actual number was 1,473 — and his offensive observation that Israel used disproportionate force against Hamas, reflects at best an uninformed view of the conflict, or worse, an anti-Israel animus. In contrast, Clinton’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference last month was vigorous and hawkish (some say too hawkish) about America’s strong commitment to Israel’s security.

Sanders is an idealist. That’s commendable in a gadfly. But when you are running for president, you need something more. War cries like taking the country back from “the billionaire class” and shutting down Obamacare to set up a single-payer system are simplistic. And we have yet to see the substance of Sanders’ rhetoric match his admirable emotion.

The Sanders revolution won’t get anywhere with an intransigent Republican Congress. Nor would it benefit the United States if he somehow managed to get it through a Democratic Congress. The Democratic Party is better off with Sanders’ issues in the forefront. But translating them into reality will take a more nuanced, multidimensional politician as president.

We urge those who are voting Democratic to support Hillary Clinton.

A Vote for Society



All politics is local, at least according to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. But in this election season, particularly, the truth of his aphorism can plainly be seen.

Just two states to the north, we can see self-proclaimed democratic socialist — the “d” is purposely lowercased — Sen. Bernie Sanders wow millennial voters by the tens of thousands. Never mind that many of them couldn’t actually vote for him in New York’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday (many, like their standard-bearer, were registered independents and thus barred from the closed primary). Their mere presence in the campaign, from the town halls attended by mere dozens almost a year ago to the mega rallies we see now, has served to tilt the race between Sanders and frontrunner Hillary Clinton perceptibly to the left.

The same can be said for the populist warriors belonging to billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s camp on the Republican side. They’ve propelled him to the top with their winner-take-all, establishment-be-damned march to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer but ironically have awoken a sleeping giant: the hundreds of obscure delegates, many of them John and Jane Q. Publics who, forgotten until now by the Trump campaign, are being wooed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The result: We might just see our first contested election since 1976.

And closer to home, we see hotly pitched battles for control of Baltimore’s City Hill and the Fifth District seat being vacated by retiring City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. While a dozen candidates, some obscure, many well-known (there are many more if you factor in Republican aspirants for the job of retiring Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake) seek to eat away at the coalescing support behind state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-District 40), in the Fifth District, two members of the Jewish community have waged a war of campaign posters throughout Park Heights and Mount Washington. Many of their surrogates promise that theirs is the candidate best for the Jewish community.

It would be a mistake of the grandest proportions to confuse the wisdom of Tip O’Neill with the shortsightedness of voting purely based on one’s allegiance to a particular community. And we do ourselves no favors if we further alienate our neighborhoods from the rest of the city by merely voting for a candidate because he or she is “one of us.” Local, wrongly defined this way, has come to mean ethnic, but we must always remember that the Fifth District is a microcosm of the rest of the city. At the end of the day, what is good for all of Baltimore will be good for us.

As you’re contemplating your vote next week, whether down-ballot or at the top, consider making yours a vote on behalf of all of society.

Misplaced Bravo

In a JT April 8 editorial, “Trump Stands by His Man,” you complement Donald Trump for standing by his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who was arrested and charged with simple battery for grabbing a female reporter. You also gave him a “Bravo!” for standing by those loyal to him. In the same issue, you ran an article by Melissa Gerr entitled, “On the Watch for Child Sexual Abuse.” She reported on a video of adult survivors recounting their stories of childhood sexual abuse that happened within their Orthodox Jewish communities “committed by camp counselors, rabbis and other authority figures, some of which lasted over years.”

Who deserves the bravo? The member of a community who is loyal to the rabbi or another authority figure? Or the member of a community who speaks out to protect victimized women and children?

Blind obedience of those loyal to the leader has not worked well for the Jewish community in past generations.

An Innovative Man

The JT’s cover for April 1 prominently displayed the window of my late cousin’s pharmacy on exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and highlighted the story  inside, “Beyond Chicken Soup.”

M. (Morris) L. Cooper was a maternal cousin of ours. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, my mother often took me to Cousin Morris’ pharmacy on North Avenue, where I had occasion to look over the array of chemicals and drugs with which Morris had stocked his pharmacy. His pharmacy was further distinguished by his collection of ancient and modern mortars and pestles that were on display, his impressive array of Schwartz apothecary cabinets and his sale of leeches for medical purposes. My  purchases there formed the nucleus of my home laboratory.

In retrospect, it was not surprising for me to have chosen — years later — to apply for admission to the pharmacy program at the University of Maryland. My acceptance was followed soon after by my  enrollment in laboratory courses that introduced me (and my classmates) to the mysteries of pharmaceutical compounding. Our introduction began with conducting an inventory of our individual laboratory lockers. On inspection I found that each of our lockers had been supplied with a mortar and pestle that had been invented by Morris Cooper. (Morris had been granted a patent for his unique mortar and pestle, which was due to the mortar’s cylindrical shape and flat bottom along with a matching pestle. This made the process of mixing or grinding very efficient in contrast to the standard mortar and pestle that had a rounded shape.) Morris also patented  a device to facilitate extemporaneous compounding with gelatin capsules. Obviously, Morris was quite innovative.

My thanks to the JT for its article on the Jewish Museum’s medicine exhibit and for giving me the opportunity to add some additional comments on one of the more prominent pharmacists of mid-20th- century Baltimore.

A Jew’s Obligation

In a JT April 1 editorial, “More Than a Women’s Issue,” you don’t defend Jewish law and you always find fault with the Rabbinate.

First, Hashem recognized that marriages could be dissolved in a divorce. The Torah stipulates that a husband writes a bill of divorce, known as a get, which means that he frees his wife from the marriage and permits her to marry another.  It also allows him to remarry in the eyes of Hashem.

Some Christian religions, on the other hand, never recognize and forbid the granting of a divorce. Today, couples are forced to seek relief from secular authorities, often ending in bitterness. The get process is not meant to be adversarial. Since the marriage was sanctioned by the laws of the Torah, a divorce can only be granted by the laws of the Torah.

A husband who so blatantly refuses to grant a get not only has contempt for his wife, but also dishonors Hashem’s name under the chuppah. Therefore, he should be regarded and  labeled as a scoundrel.

The woman, when she sees her attorney should insist  that a get clause be stipulated unconditionally in the decree before the final settlement.  If the attorney doesn’t consider it serious enough or feels it is unnecessary; she should find another lawyer. Some rabbis warn that if this is not done, it would be harder to obtain a get after the fact.

It is most unfortunate that our society discontinued the use of the stock and pillory.  A recalcitrant husband deserves to be placed there until he grants a get.  What the JT should do is publish the names of those who refuse to grant a get.

The obligation of the Jew is to always defend and not to ridicule or slander the laws of Hashem’s Torah and the land of Israel.