AFMDA Volunteers Hard at Work

To clarify the statement in the JT’s June 12 story, “American Dollars, Israeli Lives,” that the AFMDA (American Friends of Magen David Adom) does not have a “professional paid” staff covering Baltimore, we have, however, several dedicated volunteers with the Landay Life Chapter of Baltimore, which has been in existence for over 45 years, helping to raise funds for Magen David Adom in Israel.

Obama’s Exit Good for Israel

The recent sermon or speech at Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C., by President Obama continues to show that while he may not be anti-Israel, he has no empathy for that nation (“Off the Mark, Obama’s latest wooing of Jews not working, poll suggests,” June 19). As usual, he blamed the lack of progress in obtaining a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority mainly on Israel and not on the intransigence of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Unfortunately his present attitude toward Israel may have been formed by his previous mentors that included individuals noted for their anti-Israel and sometimes anti-Semitic statements. Certainly, he has soured the relations between Israel and the U. S., whether knowingly or purposely. The end of his second term will be welcomed by those concerned about the security and even existence of the Jewish state.

Story on Clapman Was Well Deserved

Arnold Clapman and I go back 70 years, when we were classmates at The Talmudical Academy on Cottage Avenue (“The Many Lives of Arnold Clapman,” June 19). In classes together from kindergarden through City College ’57, his artistic talent was evident and amazing early on. But more important was his warm personality and easy smile. I fondly recall his welcoming family — parents, young twin sisters and older sister Nanette — when I visited their home on Menlo Drive.

Arnold never made a big deal about his talent in those days, and very few of his classmates knew of his abilities. We lost contact after high school, but I would sometimes learn of his accomplishments, both musically and with film colorization technology. I have met with Arnold a few times since his return to Baltimore, and he never mentioned anything about the myriad of wonderful artistic endeavors in which he participated these past 50 years. However, I must say that he was very proud, and rightly so, of his classes and projects with disadvantaged youth in California. The article about Arnold recognized a very deserving individual.

This Is Not the Charleston I Know

The unspeakable murder of nine accomplished, beloved and respected African-American Charlestonians of faith in their own church last week hit our city like an earthquake.

These murders occurred in my neighborhood, across the street from Buist Academy, the public magnet school my daughter and son attended with their white, black and Hispanic classmates.

This is not our Charleston.

Charlestonians do not believe in hate, lawlessness, racism or violence. “The Holy City,” as Charlestonians like to call their home, has from its birth in 1670 had the greatest respect for all religions and all places of worship. These killings have outraged each and every one of us.

Here stands one of the oldest Jewish congregations in America, my temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 across the street from the oldest Catholic Church in the South, St. Mary’s.

This is the city of our internationally respected mayor, Joseph P. Riley, who, beginning 40 years ago, named black Charlestonians to every top position in city government.

This is the city that recently built a memorial to Denmark Vesey, a leader of a slave revolt in 1822 and a member of the same church where the murders took place: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church south of Baltimore.

This is a city that sponsors an annual Arts Festival, MOJA (Swahili for “One”), celebrating African-American and other minority cultures.

A heinous murder by an evil person who was not from our city cannot change that.

The Jewish community of Charleston will stand shoulder to shoulder with the black community, as it has for years. Our rabbis have urged us to attend prayer vigils and other community outpourings of solidarity.

I am sure in the days ahead we will hear all about Charleston’s bloodstained history. It is true that Charleston was the city that imported more slaves from Africa than any other in America. It was the very heart of the Confederacy.

These facts and tragedies cannot be denied, but they do not define us in 2015. It has been a long road from then to now.

Charlestonians have lived together in peace for 150 years since the Civil War. Charleston was no Birmingham or Selma. The city desegregated peacefully in the 1960s. Charleston was the first place in South Carolina where public facilities and schools were integrated. And there was a reason for that: the people of Charleston.

Our city officials and African-American leaders never tolerated violence against civil rights protesters or the police. Indeed, Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young spoke to an overflow crowd at Emanuel during the hospital strike of 1969, which was national news. There was no violence — not from the protesters and not from the police.

Every true Charlestonian is grieving now. Somehow, knowing my city and its people as I do, something positive will come of this tragedy.

Robert N. Rosen is a third-generation Charlestonian. He is a lawyer, a former assistant city attorney and the author of several books.

Net-zero means surplus for nonprofits

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaNonprofits have a responsibility to their donor base: to use a donor’s money efficiently and to accomplish effectively the mission of the organization. And if organizations feel they have the right to continue to ask for voluntary donations, donors have the right to ask how their money is being used.

Donors should care if their money is primarily spent on facility operations or quality personnel and programs. With more awareness about high-efficiency low-cost building development, high energy costs are no longer an excuse for the high cost of doing business.

One organization that has set the bar high for using the building as a teaching tool for sustainability is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new building in Virginia Beach, the Brock Environmental Center. The building was designed to meet the Living Building Challenge requirements, which necessitate that a building must operate a full year at net-zero for energy and water consumption. Open for just a half of a year, it is well on track to achieving that goal.

The Living Building Challenge demonstrates that human development doesn’t have to deplete and impair the environment but can actually help to heal, repair and give back. Living on the coastal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, there is a need to proactively restore the balance of the Bay’s natural ecosystems.

Using solar roof panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells and rain cisterns, the Brock Center operates using natural resources while storing or supplying to others the surplus most months. Materials used in the construction of the building also provide a multitude of lessons in sustainability, from cypress logs recovered from the bottom of the Mississippi to reclaimed gym floors and bleachers from a nearby school demolition project.

Does designing a building to use these resources take more effort? Yes. But just like it was once uncommon to find produce grown without synthetically produced chemical pesticides, it is now so commonplace that all major retail chains now have organic food sections. The reason? Consumer demand.

Developers and architects investing in LEED and Living Building designs are changing conventions. They are sharing best practices and sourcing for supplies and changing the building industry.

So, why should you, a donor to nonprofits, care how buildings are built and the efficiency of how they are used by the occupants? Because as mission-driven organizations, they should be held accountable for how they spend your money. Not to be scrupulously penny pinching and cutting corners, but investing directly in the resources that will advance their mission.

A significant part of how a nonprofit is accountable to its donors is demonstrating a commitment to long-term sustainability. How will the programs supporting the mission continue to be impactful and be sustained for years to come?

Fiscal responsibility is directly connected to environmental impact, as anyone who follows the commodities markets can attest. Responsible use of resources demonstrates a fundamental understanding of long-term impact and pay-offs. Operating at net-zero isn’t just pushing numbers around on a spreadsheet. It is a substantial shift of assets available for mission-driven initiatives — like a surplus — that might also trigger a philosophical adjustment to responsible, mission-driven organizations that are focused on building a more sustainable future.

Aleeza Oshry is a local professional geologist, educator and sustainability expert.

One for the ‘Nones’

First the good news. The American Jewish population has stabilized in size after decades of decline. That’s the positive glimmer from the recent Pew Research Center survey that found American Christianity is shrinking, but that the number of those who identify as Jewish in the United States is growing slowly.

But Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who has focused much of his career on examining Jewish demographic trends, finds the numbers behind the headlines unsettling. According to Cohen, the growth in the Jewish community is occurring at the edges — in the Orthodox community, whose above-average birthrate makes up for those lost in other streams, and among what Pew termed “Jews of no religion,” who are sometimes referred to as the “nones.”

In a spirited and often wonky discussion of Jewish population issues and implications on his Facebook page, Cohen argues that the great center of the Jewish community, roughly corresponding to the Conservative and Reform movements, continues its rapid decline. According to Cohen, “We are losing the variety of Jews who are committed to being Jewish in ways other than Orthodoxy.”

In Cohen’s estimation … and it should be emphasized that he is not Orthodox himself — the danger in the growth of the “nones” is that denominational affiliation directly correlates to such community-sustaining positions as support for Israel and objection to intermarriage. That correlation is strongest among the Orthodox, less so among those who identify as Conservative, even less among the Reform and, presumably, close to nonexistent among the unaffiliated, who tend to be the youngest cohort.

It is unfortunate that we have settled on the term ‘nones’ for those who say they don’t identify with current institutional Judaism. This is so because it makes it tempting to write off an entire heterogeneous population simply because it doesn’t identify with a religious denomination. That could be very misleading, since there are Jews of no denomination who are deeply spiritual and who care about the survival and continuity of the Jewish people even if they don’t fit into a traditional denominational category. Thus, we know that groups of “nones,” while not official members of synagogues, will frequently organize Friday night dinners and even minyanim. Others are strongly committed to Jewish culture or other aspects of Jewish peoplehood.

As we move forward and focus on the macro-demographic picture of the Jewish people, let’s continue to keep an eye on the “nones,” hear their stories and provide opportunities for them to be a part of and to help enrich Jewish life. They’ve probably been doing their part under the radar for a long time, and they deserve to be counted.

Oren’s Un-Diplomacy

Michael Oren’s op-eds haven’t been kind to President Obama. (Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

Michael Oren’s op-eds haven’t been kind to President Obama.
(Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

American-born oleh Michael Oren, author of the critically acclaimed “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” removed his historian’s hat in 2009 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him ambassador to Washington. Upon returning to Israel in 2013, Oren donned a politician’s hat and was elected a member of the Knesset for the center-right Kulanu party. He is now a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

He just published another book, but it is no longer clear which hat Oren is wearing as he publicizes the new memoir, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israel Divide.” According to some, his hat is white and pure. According to others, his hat is black and vindictive. But it just may be that it is the simple green of money.

In a series of prominent opinion pieces published at the same time as the book, Oren’s attack on the Obama administration raised a number of eyebrows. First, in The Wall Street Journal, Oren charged that the administration purposely damaged U.S.-Israel relations. In The Los Angeles Times, he critiqued Obama’s contention that Iran is a rational actor in the current nuclear talks. And in Foreign Policy, Oren traced the source of Obama’s failed outreach to the Muslim world to the influence of scholar Edward Said’s “Orientalism” and to Obama’s “personal interactions with Muslims,” including his abandonment by his mother’s “two Muslim husbands.”

In this country, reactions to the Oren charges seemed to fall along party lines. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and others have discounted Oren’s pieces as transparent efforts to hawk his book. And Oren’s nominal boss, Kulanu party leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, sought to distance himself from Oren’s writing and sent a letter of apology to Shapiro. But Netanyahu has remained silent.

Which begs the question: Why should anyone be forced to distance themselves from Oren’s analysis? The attacks by Shapiro and other Obama allies sound almost shrill, especially considering that this is an administration that has made no secret of its disdain for Netanyahu. At the same time, these kinds of attacks on a sitting U.S. president are highly unusual — all the more so when coming from a diplomat.

There is much blame to go around for the foundering of U.S.-Israel relations, and Oren is certainly entitled to his opinion. But we are troubled that nothing in his book appears to be designed to improve relations between the two countries. Add to that what has been described by others as Oren’s “amateur psychoanalysis” of Obama and his veering “into the realm of conspiracy theories,” and we are left with a work that is both undiplomatic and a-historical. All in all a disappointing turn of events for a respected historian and a former ambassador.

The Jewish Presence



When JT reporter Marc Shapiro first told me about the presence of a rich Jewish history in Pocomoke, the so-called “friendliest city on the Eastern Shore” way down at the bottom of Maryland’s third of the Delmarva Peninsula, my first reaction was, “Whoever heard of Pocomoke, let alone of Jews making such a rural outpost on the Eastern Seaboard home?”

My apologies to all of the lifelong Marylanders out there, but prior to moving to Baltimore, my only experiences on the Eastern Shore were two vacations as a kid in Ocean City. And I’ve always been a sucker for obscure Jewish history, so I greenlighted this week’s cover story without hesitation.

As it turns out, my decision was a correct one, even if my motives were rooted in the ignorance accompanying my status as a non-native of Charm City. The long Jewish history in such a place as Pocomoke actually extends up and down the shore, popping up in such places as Salisbury, Easton, Ocean City and Berlin, and in Delaware in Dover and Rehoboth Beach.

While at second glance, the distribution of Jewish life is not surprising — when they moved to this country at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Jews didn’t just call the urban centers home, but established farms and businesses in rural counties of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, not to mention throughout the Midwest and Mountain West — it certainly is inspiring. When you think about it, there’s nary a place devoid of some kind of a Jewish presence, however small, in the United States.

Even the first rabbi of Pocomoke’s Congregation of Israel, which just transferred its last remaining memorial plaques to Temple Bat Yam in Berlin, first settled in Durham, N.C., in 1899 after leaving the Lithuanian city of Užventis. Jews in Durham?!

Actually, Durham’s own Jewish presence dates back to the 1870s when immigrants were attracted to the Southern city’s tobacco industry before branching out into other businesses. That city’s Jewish story is also part of a long Jewish history in the Deep South, where Charleston, S.C.’s Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim — founded in the first half of the 18th century — is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States and is a contemporary of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel.

Charleston’s Jewish community was in the news this week when its leaders joined pastors throughout the city in mourning the horrific slaughter of nine African-Americans at a historic black church by a radicalized white gunman. And, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, some rabbis here in Baltimore are heading to Charleston in an interfaith show of support for the victims and their family members.

The fact is, far from being a curious side note in this nation’s most recent struggles in overcoming the dark history of slavery of African-Americans and subjugation of non-Christians and non-whites, the Jewish angle to the Charleston story is an outgrowth of the Jewish community’s investment in these United States.

Whether in the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries, Jews have come to these shores in general, and Maryland’s eastern one in particular, seeking refuge and looking for a place where they could peaceably raise their children and the freedom to live Jewish lives.

If anything, what the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston has demonstrated is the interconnectedness of us all, for wherever we call home, this land belongs to every single one of us.

Proud to March

Thanks for covering the march on May 1 organized by the Baltimore United for Change of which Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) is a proud ally (“Protests and Peace,” May 8). JUFJ’s participation in the march was the largest progressive Jewish demonstration in Baltimore that we’ve experienced as longtime members of the Jewish and activist worlds here. We have both been active in social justice activities in Baltimore for many years, but while we see that as a basic Jewish value, our activism has not been overtly linked to our Judaism. It felt very powerful to be marching with over 100 Jews of all races, joining unions, immigrant rights activists
and others in saying that Black Lives Matter and all of Baltimore’s citizens deserve fair and equitable treatment. We were proud that our congregation, Baltimore Hebrew, was part of the large collection of Jews.

While baking casseroles and making peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches provide an important service, they do not create change. We think Jews in Baltimore have taken a powerful step beyond this, calling for an improvement in police-community relations and steps to address the inequality of opportunity black neighborhoods experience. Participating in demonstrations is community building, and JUFJ has taken an important step in joining with other groups to go beyond Band-Aids in fighting for real change.

In late April, while frustrations were erupting in Baltimore, we were at a conference sponsored by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center — “Consultation on Conscience.” We ate lunch with Rabbi Susan Talve, a rabbi from St. Louis who was active in the protests over the killing in Ferguson, Mo., and who said, “When property damage upsets someone more than the taking of a life, that’s idolatry”.

We look forward to your continuing coverage of Baltimore United for Change and the work that Jews United for Justice does.

A Mega-Million Gamble on BDS

Somewhere between $20 million and $50 million is reported to have been pledged at the recent Campus Maccabees Summit convened in Las Vegas by billionaire Sheldon Adelson to fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses.

The exact size of the pledges is unknown, and precisely what transpired at the two-day meeting is unclear. That’s because the summit was closed to the press, except to Israel Hayom, which is owned by Adelson. In attendance was a carefully selected roster of donors and Jewish organizations, largely from the right and center of the political and religious divide. Some centrist groups chose not to attend, and many pro-Israel groups on the left were not invited.

Still, it is significant that Adelson was joined at the summit by fellow billionaire Haim Saban. Together the pair present a bipartisan front in opposition to economic boycotts of Israel — Adelson is a Republican mega donor and Saban a Democratic one. The pair also appeared together last November at the Israeli-American Council’s Washington conference, where Adelson famously said “who cares” if Israel is not a democracy and Saban said Israel should “bomb the living daylights” out of Iran to prevent it from getting a nuclear bomb. These are clearly men who care deeply about Israel and are not afraid to speak their minds.

The planned campus effort will be led by another well-known Jewish name, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is closely associated with Adelson and with Republican politics, and who has been the focus of much comment since the project was announced. Among the questions being raised: Will Campus Maccabees reach the grassroots of Jewish campus life and deliver support to students that speaks to their reality? Can the effort open itself to the organized Jewish community and dispel concerns that decisions will be made solely by the super rich rather than by campus and communal professionals (and students) on the ground? Will Campus Maccabees be flexible enough to include the community’s center and liberal left, who believe that what fuels part of the BDS movement is the lack of progress toward a negotiated two-state solution and the continuation of settlement-building?

We applaud the sincere commitment that has driven the Campus Maccabees effort and are impressed by the significant sums that are reportedly being committed to it. We will, however, wait to see how the program plays out and how these lingering questions will be answered before we reach a judgment about whether to cheer for Campus Maccabees.