Renegotiate? Foolish Idea

The Iran nuclear agreement once again took center stage at the recent AIPAC meeting (“Sights Set Squarely on Iran,” March 25). That agreement could and should have been tougher on Iran but was probably the best our allies would agree to. But the debate today is not on whether this is a good agreement, it is on how we proceed now that the U.S., our allies and Iran all have signed on.

Should we enforce the agreement and hold Iran to scrupulously honor its commitments, or should we rescind the agreement and attempt to negotiate a better deal? Here I strongly disagree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC who are calling for tearing up the treaty. Recall that U.S. sanctions on Iran never brought Iran to the bargaining table. It was only when our European allies and China agreed to stop importing Iranian oil that Iran agreed to negotiate. Now that these allies have signed on to the agreement, they are once again importing Iranian oil, so, in effect, our leverage on Iran is gone.

For us now to unilaterally abrogate the agreement would be the height of foolishness. It would allow Iran to resume nuclear bomb development, and it would be us, the U.S., that would be held by world powers as the one to blame. And it doesn’t take a Donald Trump to tell us that you don’t attempt to renegotiate an agreement after you have lost your leverage. What frightens me is how supposedly smart people — like those running AIPAC and Netanyahu — can advocate such an absolutely foolish idea.

Eternal? Not True

Add another untruth to the Donald Trump litany of lies, as documented by Politico and other fact-checkers: He promised AIPAC that, as president, he would move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the “eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Eternal? As in forever, all the time, from time immemorial?  Categorically not true.

Jerusalem is known as the City of David for good reason: It was not the city of Abraham (Hebron was), nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor Moses, nor Aaron, nor Miriam, nor the Judges (male and female), nor Samuel, nor even Saul, the anointed first king of Israel. It was not part of the Promised Land, i.e., was not contained in the original allotment meted out to the tribes in the conquest of Canaan.

Precisely because it was, therefore, neutral territory, David captured it and made it his capital, as an act of political — not religious — acumen, driven by strategic and tactical necessity.

Let’s get real and stop making an idol of geography. It is not Jerusalem that constitutes, as Elie Wiesel once put it, “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul,” but God and His gift of Torah, which took place in the Sinai desert: terrain without borders.

Epidemic? Not So

Unfortunately, Jon Sussman undermines his call for support from the Jewish community for police reform when he claims that “police violence targeting people of color has reached epidemic levels in this country” (“Stand Up for Police Reform,” April 1).

Hyperbole in the interest of a good cause is still an illegitimate use of the language. It caused me to stop reading because I couldn’t be confident that anything that followed would be accurate.

My objection is not just to the word “epidemic,” which is a “widespread occurrence of an infectious disease,” but also the phrase “police violence targeting people of color.” While individual cases may exist where an officer “targeted” a person of color, to imply such behavior is widespread is unproven and slanderous.

Take Baltimore. A year ago, several officers had probable cause to detain a known heroin dealer, and while incompetence or negligence may have played a role in his death, no evidence has been presented in court that race had anything to do with it.

Trump Stands by His Man

When it comes to the historic candidacy of billionaire Donald Trump, the Republican firebrand whose march to the White House has caused us all to rethink this nation’s political order, there are clear differences of opinion. Trump’s distasteful comments about women and abortion, his lack of depth when it comes to foreign policy, his seeming lack of respect for this country’s institutions, even his bluster and bravado — they all make many cringe to contemplate Trump as GOP nominee, much less Trump as president.

But looking at the events of the last week, a week in which the glorified sheen of Trump’s campaign seemed to be losing some of its luster — if polls at press time are to be believed, he will lose the Wisconsin primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — there is one aspect of Trump’s persona that even his critics can respect. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is consistent in his loyalty to those around him.

When Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields accused Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of grabbing her at a campaign event in Jupiter, Fla., Lewandowski initially denied it. Then an eyewitness came forward and corroborated Fields’ story. That was followed by police surveillance footage that appears to show Lewandowski grabbing the reporter.

Trump’s responses? “Mr. Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement after Lewandowski was arrested and charged in Jupiter with simple battery.

In an interview, Trump dismissed the incident as “very minor,” saying that “practically nothing happened.” Elsewhere, he denied it happened at all. “She’s got no evidence. She made up the story,” he said.

While it would have been easier (and more conventional) for Trump to issue a simple statement respecting the legal process and letting the chips fall where they may, one can’t help but respect Trump’s embrace of Lewandowski and his effort to defend him. And that the whole dust-up — the filing of charges, and all — is over what seems to be a zealous reporter who broke out of the scrum to get a quote is troubling. Some of our own reporters have been similarly manhandled in the heat of covering campaigns; they never considered filing charges.

Through it all, Trump has proven that he’s guided by his own inner compass. And he has shown, once again, that he’s got a backbone. We don’t yet know how Trump will fare in the remaining challenges leading up to or during this summer’s Republican convention, but for his loyalty to those loyal to him, we say, “Bravo!”

The Human Rights Smoke Screen

Contrary to what you may have heard, the United Nations did not name Israel as the world’s top violator of human rights.

Nonetheless, the world body and its commissions and councils remain disproportionally focused on and critical of the Jewish state.

On March 18, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women passed a resolution blaming “the Israeli occupation” for the lack of advancement of Palestinian women in their society. The vote on the resolution, sponsored by the Palestinian Authority and South Africa, passed 27 to 2 with 13 abstaining. The two votes against the resolution were Israel and the United States. The abstentions were countries from the European Union.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Council concluded its 31st session after adopting 37 resolutions. One called on Myanmar “to end all remaining human rights violations.” Another extended “the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” A third concerned the “human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” and a fourth condemned “in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations committed” in North Korea.

In contrast to one resolution each for four world leaders in human rights abuse, five separate resolutions were directed against Israel. One castigated the Jewish state for “human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan,” while another endorsed “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” The other three lambasted the “human rights situation” in the “occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem,” cried for “justice” in East Jerusalem and excoriated Israel for its settlements in the Golan and areas east of the so-called Green Line.

Frankly, the imbalance of these resolutions comes as no surprise. Although we have come a long way since the days of “Zionism equals racism,” and the audience Israel faces at the United Nations today is not as vicious as it was decades ago, the anti-Israel bias remains. The fact that Israel’s alleged misdeeds are considered by the United Nations to be on par with the severe human rights violations in North Korea, Iran, Syria and Myanmar makes clear that the analysis is flawed and makes it difficult to take the accusations seriously. Moreover, the same reports’ repeated failure to call out the miserable record of the Palestinian Authority in addressing political dissent within its jurisdiction raises further question about the honesty of the reports.

While it is comforting that the United States can still be counted on to speak truth and to act as Israel’s friend in such votes, it remains very disconcerting that the Jewish state has a world of enemies beholden to the same tired tropes of blaming the Jews for the miseries of the Middle East.

When will it end?

Join the Conversation

ftv_Herman,Barak_NEW_40816Last year, I was honored to be accepted as a Schusterman Fellow through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. This international leadership development program is  designed for individuals who are committed to growing their  capacity to exercise leadership in the Jewish sector. The foundation invests significant  resources in their fellows with the goal of tackling weak  organizational structures and  addressing the long-term needs of the Jewish people.

Early on, I determined that for me this fellowship needed to be about community organizing, long-term strategic thinking of the JCC and how to lead and supervise effectively. As CEO, I am consumed with being fiscally responsible, goal centered, having the right staff and creating great JCC experiences.  I wanted to step outside these daily concerns and think more strategically about Jewish identity. Working with an  executive coach (funded by the Fellowship), I was able  to identify one of my major areas of focus. I realized that  I wanted to think bigger  about the role the JCC can  have in strengthening Jewish  communal life.

I asked myself the following hard questions: Are we inspiring people to live and understand Jewish values? Are we fostering more meaningful connections with Israel? Are we celebrating Jewish holidays effectively?  Is there an opportunity to leverage resources as a Jewish community to be an even more meaningful community? What role can the JCC have in tackling negative trends in American Jewish life? By being a Jewish organization that  unequivocally welcomes the non-Jewish community, are we strengthening relationships between Jews and non-Jews?

Working with our board of directors and professional staff, I have begun to deeply explore how to effectively tackle these questions.

What type of Jewish lives do Jewish people want to live in 2016? How can we help them?

It is time to leverage our communal assets and find relevant ways to provide Jewish education and immersive  experiences.  As we increase our partnerships with synagogues, Associated agencies, Jewish day schools, Jewish  organizations and others who support our mission, we can become an even more collaborative Jewish community that strengthens Jewish identity by adding more meaning to people’s lives.

Tell us what you think. What ideas do you have for enhancing Jewish meaning at the J? Please email them to  Stay tuned for updates on new programs and services that will enable the J to enhance Jewish engagement in Baltimore for years to come.

Barak Hermann is CEO and president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

A Pinterest Passover Prepares No Memories

Michelle Ostroff

Michelle Ostroff

My family has a Passover recipe folder. Whoever is hosting the Seder is the keeper of the folder. Last year, when I was talking to a friend about our Seders and asked how she would be preparing her menu, she said, ìI’m just going on Pinterest. You can search ëPassover’ and get tons of recipes.î A Pinterest Passover?

Before I go any further, let me describe the folder. It’s blue (of course), it’s tattered, and the pages within are stained with Manischewitz wine, lemon juice and other holiday recipe ingredients, and inside are recipes. There is yellowed newspaper recipe from The New York Times for Passover bagels circa 1975 that my mother used to make every weekend morning during the holiday. No other recipe has ever come close.


Passover is about retelling the story of our freedom from slavery. The folder retells our story of Seders come and gone.

There are also guest lists. You never want to forget to  invite the cousins from Maine, just in case they don’t have a Seder to attend and want to make the trip, which they did when Len and I bought our first house in Maryland. And there are menus. There’s nothing worse than looking in your fridge to put away leftovers, after 22 guests have left, only to find you forgot to serve the glorious rainbow Jell-O mold that took three days to make.

When I pull out that folder, I’m not just looking for food to serve or pesadic treats to bake. I’m retelling my story, my family’s story. The folder itself has become symbolic of Passover. Passover is about retelling the story of our freedom from slavery. The folder retells our story of Seders come and gone. We yearn to tell it almost the same way every year, through recipes and memories of guests who sat at our table.

My Aunt Joan recently texted me to ask for the folder, since this year she’ll be hosting our Seder in New York. So  in an age of all this amazing technology that keeps us connected, in this age of Pinterest, where she can easily find thousands of recipes with one swipe of her finger, I will be heading to the Post Office to mail our story to Northport, Long Island. After all, I would really miss those Passover bagels.

Michelle Ostroff is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

A Time to Question



With just two weeks to go until Pesach, it’s a fair bet that most of us are deeply entrenched in preparations for the holiday and its centerpiece — the Seders. We’re cleaning, we’re organizing, we’re buying, and we’re studying, all while the children in our midst are practicing for the hallmark Four Questions.

That’s right! Before month’s end, we’ll all be gathered around the tables of family and friends — and don’t be afraid to ask around if you’re lacking a place to celebrate — to hear the youngest among us ask why the Seder night, in particular, is “different from all other nights.” But if the retelling of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt is so singular to our identity that we’ve devised through the ages an entire service around it, do we really need to question its importance?

In a word, yes. Questioning, in fact, is so central to our existence as Jews that the Seder wouldn’t be a Seder without it. No one among us can imagine a Seder without the Four Questions — tradition mandates that in the absence of children, an adult present recite them, while many have the custom of each person present reciting the questions themselves — and I’d venture that no one could imagine a Judaism without the quintessential questions of “Why?” and “What?”

Pesach may be a time for examining and grappling with the ideas of peoplehood, subjugation, religious calling and deliverance, but as you’ll read in this week’s JT, it can also be a time for contemplating all of what makes us Jewish and what Judaism makes of us. Think technology is a metaphor for modern-day servitude? You’re only half there, according to author and futurist Amy Webb, who says that far from us being slaves to our iPhones, it’s the other way around. She even envisages a day when they fight back and points to the recent experience of Tay, Microsoft’s ballyhooed chat bot that within 24 hours of “life” turned into an anti-Semite, as an example of dangers inherent in technology.

What plagues the Jewish community? A failure to appreciate the corollaries between our own past experiences and the current struggles of others, says the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Arthur Abramson.

Searching for something? Jewish teens in our community say they’re searching for meaning. What does modern-day freedom look like? For many clients of CHANA, it’s simple safety, whether psychological, emotional or physical.

But just as there are many answers to a single question, the truth, paradoxically, is that there are likely more questions than answers. Pesach is a time of introspection, a chance to channel the questions of the past and apply them to the present.

I wish all of you much success in your deliberations.

The First Jewish Doctors Parschat Tazria, Leviticus 12:1-13:59

In 1990, Dr. Gail Wilensky asked me to make an invocation at her installation as director of Medicare and Medicaid. I included Birkat Ha-kohanim, the priestly blessing, since the Torah speaks about the role of the Kohen in diagnosing illness and disease. It also makes the kohanim responsible for public health, although not necessarily as doctors.

Among Parashat Tazria’s concerns are as follows: ritual purity following childbirth for a woman; skin diseases and their diagnoses; designating the Kohen as the diagnostician in determining the type of skin eruption and method of treatment; the laws of leprosy; categories of pure and impure; isolation, confinement and  return to the community.

The commandments presented here provide ways to deal with public health issues without doctors. Yet, Torah  Judaism differed from other societies where magic and medicine men dealt with illness. Judaism rejects magic as a way of responding to illness, and it rejects magic as a way of dealing with the after effects of birth.

In fact, about 213 of the 613 commandments deal with medical issues, quarantine, public welfare and return to the community. While disease may be frightening, one can make the point that studying Tazria and the following portion, Metzorah, may set a young person on a course to one of the medical professions. Rabbi Gunther Plaut said that the Kohen is not a physician and he does not attempt to cure tzarat (traditionally translated as leprosy). Nevertheless, other commentators say that the kohen’s role was more than ritual.

No one is surprised by the idea of rabbis as spiritual counselors, assisting in healing an individual. Our Misheberach prayer for healing reinforces the notion of spiritual healing. And studies have validated the importance of faith, prayer and caring as important, and even essential, components in the well-being of a person.

An entire section of the Mishnah is devoted to Nega’im, afflictions. One passage states the Kohen may not examine the affliction on a cloudy day. Rather, it must be on a clear day, so he can come to a clear conclusion.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland has opened a new exhibition: “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America.” Deputy director Deborah Cardin points out that Jewish identity has been shaped by our association with medicine. This is a reminder of how the Torah continues to shape our worldview, how the Torah has emphasized the  importance of medical practice and how excelling in this area has propelled us through the ages to the recognition of Judaism’s contribution to the well-being of mankind.

Rabbi Arnold Saltzman is the spiritual leader of Hevrat Shalom of Maryland, Beit Chaverim of Calvert County and Sha’are Shalom of Waldorf, Md. He is a member of the Educational Directors Council.

Stand Up for Police Reform

When my great-uncle was a child in 1910s Poland, not yet bar mitzvah age, a police officer spit at him in the street and called him a dirty Jew. That story makes me angry and reminds me that the anti-Semitism our people faced was not casual or personal, but a constant threat of violence.

Today, when police violence targeting people of color has reached epidemic levels in this country, Jewish communities — and especially our legislators — need to take action.

When I joined more than 100 Baltimore County and City Jews at the Jewish Summit on Police Accountability on March 8, convened by Jews United for Justice at Chizuk Amuno, we heard from four leaders in the fight for police accountability in Maryland. They described the fear that pervades poor black and brown communities, where everyone from children to older adults feels unsafe in their own neighborhoods around the officers who should protect them. For these leaders and their communities, police reform is crucial to achieving racial justice here and across the country.

In particular, the speakers pointed emphatically at our state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights as a serious impediment to developing respectful and fair relationships with police. Though similar legislation exists elsewhere, Maryland’s LEOBR is the most biased in the country in favor of police.

One key policy change that JUFJ and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability are fighting for is simple but profound: Police trial boards, which review cases of potential officer misconduct, need to include civilians. Currently, the only people allowed on these oversight panels are other police officers. It is no surprise that police are rarely punished for misdeeds. The Baltimore Sun’s investigation into police misconduct highlighted many cases of officers involved in multiple documented instances of brutality who were allowed to continue policing.

Including civilians on police trial boards is simple common sense. The commissions that review and discipline attorneys, nurses, pharmacists and even elevator constructors include the nonspecialist public.

Most importantly, the victims of police misconduct deserve a fair shake at justice. We owe it to victims to see that perpetrators are fully and fairly disciplined.

When police officers act wrongly, it reflects on all of us as citizens in a democracy. Jews, along with all Maryland residents, should demand fair policing now. Legislators representing many in the Jewish community, including Del. Sandy Rosenberg and Sen. Bobby Zirkin, are key decision-makers on this issue. They need to hear from us.

This can be the year the Jewish community stands up for police reform. Our history demands nothing less.

Jon Sussman is a member of the Jews United for Justice police accountability team and a researcher for the hospital workers union UNITE HERE.