Rockin’ Seniors

Have you heard of the Invisible Generation? It is made up of citizens over 70 years of age. They are alive, active, alert, and, oh yes, they possess more wisdom than you could imagine. Have you seen 80- and 90-year-olds doing Zumba, Tai Chi, yoga, and ballet? Have you seen two 93-year-olds dancing the Lindy at a New Year’s Eve party? How about Russian Women’s Night?

All this and much more are regular activities at Weinberg Village, an independent living community in Owings Mills. There are untold stories here. Teachers, engineers, counselors, Holocaust survivors, artists and even someone who published a children’s book. There are many, many stories to be told. Why not share them with your readers?

While a superb article in the Jewish Times highlighted the unique ballet class (“Benefits of Ballet,” Feb. 20), there are many more activities that showcase the unseen and unknown talents of our senior population. These are not people to be shunted aside by Generation X or the millennials or whatever you want to call the under 60 crowd. Age is just a number.

We’re alive and well … and we rock!

Life’s Meaning

I don’t know the exact meaning of life or why we are here, but I like to think there is some purpose for our existence. Collective knowledge and experience transform us into the people we are. As Jews, we are taught that we have a common bond of history, fate and faith. And as the “chosen people,” we have an obligation to survive and continue our special link to the past.

We are taught to value education and live as righteous, dedicated, committed people and always tolerant of others beliefs, practices and rights. Unbelievably, these practices have not made for an easy existence thought the history of our people.

We have been enslaved, oppressed, conquered, banished and murdered — based solely on our being Jewish. Israel was founded 67 years ago in 1948 as the formal Jewish state on the very lands Jews have inhabited for more than 5,000 years. There is now one place where Jews from anywhere in the world can take refuge or simply choose to reside and live in relative peace.

Support Jewish education, businesses and agencies that help build Jewish lives and economic strength.

This period of history in which we now live dictates a greater call to duty, an obligation as Jews to help repair the breach that continued anti-Semitism inflicts on our people. This is a call to action; to educate, support and strengthen the bonds and connections we have with each other and our ancestors to ensure we will continue as a people for another 5,000 years.

As principled individuals, we demonstrate commitment to those things we hold most dear, our lives, our families, our country and our people. We invest in life, health, disability, long-term care, key person and business insurances as well as trusts and other financial tools to support our loved ones. So get involved! Support Jewish education, business and outreach agencies that help build Jewish lives and economic strength. And leave a Jewish legacy, so that these programs and initiative will continue for years to come.

The Jewish Federation of Howard County is the umbrella organization that supports Jewish community and needs in Howard County, Israel and the world. Create a Jewish Legacy Program helps support the vibrant continuation of the Jewish people. Legacy giving will help ensure the Jewish generations of tomorrow have a stronger base of support — one that helps young and old, affiliated and unaffiliated — for a strong Jewish identity and safety net inside our Howard County community, in Israel and worldwide.

Cary Millstein is chair of Legacy and Endowment for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. For more information about how to leave a Jewish legacy in Howard County, contact Michelle Ostroff at mostroff@JewishHowardCounty.org.

My Message to the Man Who Attacked Me

052215_Alden-SolovyOn a sunny morning last month, I was swept into the women’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in a flurry of aggression directed at the Women of the Wall, the Israeli group fighting for women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

One of the group’s male supporters, Charlie Kalech, was strangled and thrown to the ground. I was stomped on in the stomach by an enraged man.

Here’s what happened: After we men finished reading the Torah in our simultaneous service, a woman took the Torah through a gate in the mechitzah, the fence separating the genders. We broke out in spontaneous song and dance. It was pure joy to know that Torah — a gift given by God to all of us — would be chanted by women at the Kotel.

Then a handful of men showed up. They manhandled us, attempting to get to the gate in the mechitzah, their intentions unclear but their demeanor aggressive.

Charlie and I were near the gate. We tried to hold our ground against larger men, but the gate was somehow opened. Charlie called out for the police and was assaulted.

I saw an ultra-Orthodox man trying to charge through. He appeared violent. In that moment there were no good choices. Let him run through and perhaps hurt someone? Use myself, my body, as a barricade?

I wrapped my arms around him and used my body as deadweight to bring him to the ground.

On the ground, I felt the headpiece of my tefillin coming off. My focus shifted to protecting the tefillin from hitting the stone — an ironic mistake regarding my own safety. I took the head piece in my left hand, breaking my grip on the man, who jumped up and stomped on my stomach.

To the man who stomped on me: I’m disgusted by your behavior. You are the face of sinat chinam, baseless hatred by Jew against Jew. I am still injured and in pain. Yet, this is what I said in synagogue last Shabbat: “Do not hate the man who stomped on me. Rail against his misogyny, object to what he was taught, condemn his behavior, seek justice against his violence, if that’s even possible, and seek change in Israeli democracy. But don’t use what happened to me to justify hate or prejudice of anyone.”

To my daughters: I’m sorry for the fear this caused. I’ll continue to participate in the struggle. The cause of Women of the Wall is just. The call to religious freedom is holy. I swear by peaceful resistance.

Real men stand with women who fight injustice, with women willing to face violence and arrest to claim the rights denied them. When called upon, real men put themselves on the front lines. But the heroes are the women who have fought this fight year in and year out.

The fact that I helped is a privilege. I believe that this act earned us merit in heaven. If not, so be it. It should. Either way, that’s between me and God.

Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet, liturgist and teacher. He is the author of “Haggadah Companion: Meditations and Readings.”

The Freundel Sentence

Was justice served in the 61/2-year sentence Rabbi Barry Freundel received last week? In handing down the sentence, D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Geoffrey Alprin told the former rabbi of Kesher Israel: “You repeatedly and secretly violated the trust your victims had in you, and you abused your power.”

The sentence — about six weeks for each of the 52 women Freundel pleaded guilty to videotaping — was longer than many predicted and well less than the 17 years the prosecution asked for. But it clearly reflected the intensity of the hurt that Freundel caused his many victims. It registered the extent to which Freundel abused his position and power and reflected the judge’s sense of the enormity of the offenses.

In secretly recording women as they were preparing to enter his synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath, Freundel exposed his victims at moments of maximum vulnerability. And although legally his acts were misdemeanors, the crimes struck at the very fabric that ties our entire Jewish community together.

Because he was a rabbi whose authority in Jewish law had been unquestioned, his actions shook the faith of many of those he videotaped, and many others, as well: faith in religion, faith in Judaism, faith in rabbinic leadership, faith that a conversion overseen by Freundel was valid. With the loss of faith came loss of trust: in powerful religious authorities, and that private, vulnerable moments are inviolable.

“I’m sorry, truly sorry,” Freundel said at his sentencing hearing. “I apologize from the depths of my being.”

The long road toward healing, for Freundel’s victims, for the Kesher Israel community and for the rabbi himself will likely outlast his stay behind bars. We pray for meaningful healing for all.

It’s About the Funding

Eight riders were killed and more than 200 injured in last week’s Amtrak crash. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

Eight riders were killed and more than 200 injured in last week’s Amtrak crash.
(LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS/Newscom)

Investigators are still determining the cause of the Amtrak crash that took eight lives and injured more than 200 riders of the northbound train in Philadelphia on May 12. But when asked whether Congress shared the blame because it underfunds the rail system, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shot back: “Are you really going to ask such a stupid question? … Obviously, it’s not about funding.” House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) seemed to agree, when he told CNN: “I believe it’s shameless that we have colleagues trying to exploit a tragedy like this for funding.”

Boehner’s and Shuster’s point is that, as the train was going 106 mph when it hit the Frankford curve, it was speed — and, presumably, human error — that was the primary cause of the tragedy. That may be true. But it ignores the underlying question of whether the errors might have been avoided if more funding, training and better equipment were made available.

The fact is that Amtrak is underfunded and has been underfunded for years. That reality is felt with particular acuity in Amtrak’s busy and vital Northeast Corridor that affects us all. And that reality was pointed out quite clearly by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last September as he voted with reservations for the reauthorization of Amtrak: “We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that we are still woefully underfunding Amtrak and passenger rail,” he said. “We spend more than $50 billion per year on highways and transit and over $15 billion on aviation, while Amtrak gets just $1.4 billion or less than 2 percent of federal transportation spending.”

We have a direct interest in this debate. Our region is a major piece of Amtrak’s north-south line that carries more than 750,000 commuters a day. Members of Congress and their staffs are regular passengers, as are tourists and business professionals. And while it is perhaps a random, unfortunate statistic, two of the eight who died in last week’s derailment were Jews — Rachel Jacobs, a 39-year-old executive with an education startup, and Justin Zemser, a 20-year-old midshipman at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. It only goes to show how much our Jewish community is tied into this vital artery.

We hope the exact cause of the crash will be determined soon. But inquiring into the link between the accident and the amount of funding made available for the crumbling public rail transport infrastructure in this country is not “stupid.” It was being asked long before the Amtrak train derailed. And it isn’t at all inappropriate to ask the question now.

Staying on the Rails

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

The day after the seven cars of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Train 188 spilled off the tracks in Philadelphia, NPR’s “Morning Edition” introduced a segment on the disaster by noting that where the train derailed, as well as such cities as Washington, D.C., and our own Baltimore, are all really just suburbs of New York.

That may indeed be true, and what the deaths of the eight people that Tuesday night demonstrated is that the Northeast Corridor that links Boston to the Big Apple to our nation’s capital is more than just a series of tracks between metropolises. It’s an artery that connects vibrant communities to each other, providing a flow of people, goods and services that strengthens them and unites them in a way that other cities in the United States do not experience.

We in the Jewish community of course mourned with the families of Philadelphia CEO Rachel Jacobs and U.S. Naval Academy midshipman Justin Zemser, the two Jewish victims whose stories you’ll read in this week’s JT. But we, as did the rest of America, mourned with the families and friends of the other six, just as we joined all those who use Amtrak in calling for answers. Few among us, in fact, have never stepped on a train on some journey between Washington and Boston, and the safety issues this accident will expose affect us all.

But the fact that any high-speed travel is inherently risky is nothing new; neither is the fact that out of all the modes of motored transportation, from automobiles to trains to airplanes, rail travel is, statistically at least, the safest.

And yet, the tragedy — and the debate surrounding it — demands something of a productive interpretation. Amtrak has pledged to invest more money in making its tracks safer, and some in Congress are speaking in terms of boosting federal infrastructure funds, not cutting them, as has been in vogue of late.

What I’ve noticed, though, is how much an accident in Philadelphia affected commuters at Penn Station in Baltimore and at Union Station in D.C., how much the halting of rail travel between the City of Brotherly Love and New York — the service was restored on Monday — affected traffic on I-95 north of Baltimore. The train, it seems, has a power felt far beyond its role of people-mover.

But the greater truth in all of this is that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to reveal the shared humanity of us all. Let’s remember that while all of our eyes were focused on events up north, murders in downtown Baltimore have been skyrocketing. Those tragedies, as our coverage of the Freddie Gray death, riots and aftermath over the past couple of weeks showed, demand our attention, as well.

Train travel has always served as a way to connect the downtown of one city to the next, but sometimes, we as passengers have focused more of our attention on the destination than on the place where we climbed aboard. The fact is, all of our inner cities are crumbling; if we want the least among us to benefit from the great promise ahead, we must address the hopelessness that exists in our own backyards.

To not do so would be to risk the entire system falling off the rails.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Importance of Heritage Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

This week’s parshah is a double portion, beginning first with Behar. It describes the Jubilee, a time every 50 years when property owners return to their leased land and, in turn, get it back. Some explanations for this law are that it was for economic fairness and for wealth being returned to those in need. My favorite is that it’s for people to remember their ancestors. This explains the reason to come to the person’s original property; it’s to remember those who came before them and to carry on their memories.

The various issues with this portion are explained by several rabbis. Most of their opinions I can agree with. For instance, Rabbi Harvey Fields talks about how all of the properties were carefully assessed so that the poor were not deprived and the rich were not given more money. He states that the prices of the houses were always on point in order to give the poor the most money possible. I agree with this approach.

Heritage seems to be an important theme in this portion; however, the way it’s shown is much different from what we think of. In Behar, the way people are remembered is by word or place. In modern times, we think of people in a myriad of ways, such as places, photos, heirlooms and journals. These items help people remember past generations.

As the years pass, there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors. Therefore, people need heirlooms to remember these survivors’ histories. Remembering your heritage is, above all, a Torah concept.

Alec Kalisch is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Keep SNAP!

I am outraged that some in Congress continue their assault on our neighbors struggling with poverty (“The Changing Face of Poverty,” March 27). When Congress finalizes its budget blueprint, this could make poverty and inequality worse. To help pay for new costly tax breaks for businesses and wealthy individuals, the House proposal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by $125 billion. This would force millions of hungry Americans off the program.

Do lawmakers forget that the primary beneficiaries of SNAP are children, the elderly and the disabled? When it comes to reducing hunger and poverty, our investments in SNAP are helping millions of families put food on the table. And with one-in-five American children at risk for hunger, we need to build on SNAP’s successes.

I urge members of Congress to stand up for hungry families and reject any budget that proposes to cut or restructure SNAP.

Are You Kidding Me?

How did a delegation from Chabad-Lubavitch get to be invited to the Oval Office to receive a citation from President Barack Obama honoring the life of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (“White House Honors Lubavitcher,” May 1)? The delegation presented a menorah with an inscription that read, “Mr. President, you represent … dedication and service to others at the greater good, carrying the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation upon your shoulders.”

Is the delegation aware that the president dislikes Israel? Under his administration, we have had the Iranian nuclear situation, ISIS, turmoil in the Middle East and the murder of Christians and nonbelievers.

I should like to remind the delegation that in his first months in office, the president returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British Embassy. Instead of a menorah, the delegation should have placed a mezuzah on the White House door, which the president may find difficult to remove before he returns it to the Israeli Embassy.

Proud to Protest

Thank you for covering the march on May 1 organized by Bmore United for Change of which Jews United for Justice is a proud ally (“Protests and Peace,” May 8). JUFJ’s participation was the largest progressive Jewish demonstration in Baltimore that we’ve experienced as longtime members of both the Jewish and activist worlds here.

We both have 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 more than 100 Jews of all races, joining unions, immigrant rights activists and others in saying that Black Lives Matter and that 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.

On April 26-27, while frustrations were erupting in Baltimore, we were at a conference sponsored by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. We ate lunch with Rabbi Susan Talve, a rabbi from St. Louis who was active in the Ferguson, Mo., protests. She said, “When property damage upsets someone more than the taking of a life, that’s idolatry.”

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