Enhancing Jewish Life in Baltimore

081613_barak_hermannMany of you know the JCC as a recreation, fitness and aquatics center with early childhood programs and camps, and truth be told, we do have excellent facilities and programs.

But what many of you do not know is that the J is also like a big open marketplace, or a <em<shuk (as they call it in Israel), where people of all races and religions can experience Jewish culture and community. Some of these Jewish experiences are generated at our campuses and others at various satellite locations. Creating meaningful Jewish experiences is a commitment by our board and staff, and we make it happen most successfully as a result of partnerships and collaborations we have formed in our community.

As we continue to grow to meet the needs of the ever-changing Jewish community, our team at the J looks to leverage our facilities and resources to promote Jewish life while also developing low barrier options for Jewish communal engagement.

Many of us in the Jewish community work within tight budgetary constraints, as we try to balance doing the most communal good while maintaining our financial bottom line. We are blessed to have The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, amazing agencies, wonderful synagogues and a multitude of communal resources with which to work collaboratively to support the needs of the Baltimore Jewish community.

Making connections. Entering conversations. Thinking differently. Forming new partnerships. Maximizing Jewish communal resources. These are the tickets to Jewish collaboration and creating Jewish partnerships that in turn will deliver greater good and support greater Jewish engagement and meaningful opportunities to live “Jewishly.”

At the JCC of Greater Baltimore, we strive to engage people in living a meaningful Jewish life but our team can’t do this on its own. We need partners.

We make it a priority to meet with our Jewish community leaders often. Our strategic objective has been to learn what others are already doing and how we can work together to offer diverse and innovative Jewish experiences for people of all ages.

I have found that our local Jewish leaders are excited to have these conversations with us. While many collaborations have already transpired, many more are in the works.

Our Jewish Film Festival in March and April engaged thousands of Baltimoreans, along with our Rami Kleinstein concert in March, which brought to the Gordon Center the best of contemporary Israeli music. Charm City Tribe, our downtown program for Jewish young adults, coordinated Purim and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in partnership with other groups to enhance their success.

Our camps are gearing up for a tremendous summer season. We have a partner agency, Jewish Volunteer Connection, working with our camp directors to bring the value of community service into all of our camp programs. The Pearlstone Center will continue to play an integral part at our JCC Camps at Milldale.

All over Greater Baltimore, we are partnering with organizations to help individuals connect to their Jewish selves, their heritage and their culture in ways that work for them.

So whether you represent a Jewish organization or you are an individual looking to continue on your Jewish journey, we are here at the J to meet you and help you get connected. Let’s start a conversation and maybe even a collaboration.

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

Free Speech on Z Street

Z Street, the pro-Israel group that says it was denied 501(c)(3) tax status because of its views, got its day in court last week. While the outcome of the case is far from certain, during oral arguments, a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized the IRS and the Justice Department for its handling of the organization’s application.

Z Street was founded in 2009 in a self-declared effort to counter the influence of the liberal, pro-Israel and Democratic Party-allied J Street. Z Street says its mission is Zionist education. Nonetheless, when the organization sought tax-exempt status, its application was flagged for scrutiny by the IRS. The group then sued the IRS, claiming that the investigation violated Z Street’s freedom of speech. The IRS’s motion to dismiss the suit was rejected last year by a federal judge.

Last week, the judges reviewing the case came down hard on the IRS’s assertion that it could delay granting tax-exempt status because of Z Street’s policy views. And they questioned the IRS contention that groups may only sue to obtain their tax-exempt status if no action has been taken for 270 days. In other words, Chief Judge Merrick Garland said, the IRS is saying that it “is free to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, religion, race” for 270 days.

It was a mistake for the IRS to “investigate” the tax-exempt status entitlement of Z Street, which says it does no lobbying, just as it was wrong for the IRS to probe groups with “tea party” or “progressive” in their names — both of which have been cause for criticism of the IRS in the past. But in arguing that it has a statutorily protected ability to delay an application for at least 270 days, the IRS has revealed itself to be far from the apolitical arbiter it was intended to be.

A group’s viewpoint should not be the criterion on which to judge its qualification for tax-exempt status. That’s not just wrong from a constitutional point of view — speech should be protected, not burdened by the government — it’s also bad policy.

Our political environment is polarized enough without the government getting into the business of deciding winners and losers. We look forward to a decision from the D.C. Circuit that makes clear to the IRS that in determining the bona fides of a tax-exempt applicant, the focus needs to be on what the applicant does, rather than what it says.

Netanyahu’s New Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with haredi Orthodox Knesset  members, in the rear of the parliament in Jerusalem last week. (JIM HOLLANDER/EPA/Newscom)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with haredi Orthodox Knesset
members, in the rear of the parliament in Jerusalem last week.

Despite being a coalition comprised of the “right” and the “religious,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government, which was scheduled to be voted in on Wednesday, does not appear to be united or stable. With a razor-thin, one-seat Knesset majority, the new governing coalition could easily be toppled by a single, rebellious coalition partner. Avoiding that result will take some delicate internal diplomacy from the prime minister.

Netanyahu attracted the haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties by agreeing to reinstate funding to large haredi families and by promising a rollback in the reforms passed by the last government on conversion policies and the military draft of haredi Israelis. Those reforms were championed by the modern Orthodox and Zionist Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, another coalition partner. In agreeing to join the new government, Bennett has seemingly abandoned these issues in favor of others.

One of Bennett’s big issues is settlements. Jewish Home will be given the Agriculture Ministry, which controls funding for settlements. And the ministry will be given authority over the part of the World Zionist Organization that funds settlement infrastructure. The attorney general’s office is reportedly seeking to block the settlement-funding piece of that agreement.

The Bennett inducement also calls for Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked to become justice minister. During last summer’s Gaza war, Shaked posted a call on Facebook for the destruction of the Palestinian people. Pundits are anxious to see whether she will moderate her speech and how she proceeds to exercise her considerable authority in the new government — particularly with respect to the controversial law to declare Israel a Jewish state. That issue, the Jewish nationality law, becomes even more complex, since it is opposed by another coalition partner: Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party.

Given all of these conflicting agendas and positions of his coalition partners, Netanyahu’s historic reluctance to take bold steps may prove to be this new government’s saving grace. Through deft handling of procedure, he is engineering an expansion of his cabinet from the legal maximum of 18 ministers, in what is seen as an effort to dilute each minister’s influence, thereby making it more difficult for the government to lurch in any one direction. But while that move may help Netanyahu stay in office, it also means that Israel will continue to drift away from religious pluralism and away from trying to find some compromise with the Palestinian Authority. Both are issues of increasing importance to a broad segment of Diaspora Jewry. On top of that, there is unfortunately no reason to look for warming ties with the Obama administration. And no matter what your politics, that’s not good.

So through at least the end of 2016, we predict stormy weather ahead for Netanyahu, for the coalition he leads and for Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the United States.

Education’s Big Payoff



For many a business, brick and mortar can be downright dirty words. Why invest money in physical infrastructure, argue today’s crop of digitally enhanced consultants, when funds can better be spent on improving efficiencies, boosting productivity and bringing business into the decentralized world of the 21st century?

In a sense, they’re right, even in such a “nonbusiness” as education. What the last few years have shown is the power of the democratization of information to lift students of all ages from the pit of poverty and despair. TED Talks draw millions of viewers around the world, each video informing, as well as inspiring, its audience. Thousands of books can be perused for free, available to anyone with Internet access. Even universities have put entire catalogs of courses online — although they have yet to offer actual degrees for the ultimately plebian price of nothing.

Indeed, if all a school building does is house students — granting, of course, that physical location does much to promote community among learners, their parents and teachers — there’s a powerful argument to be made for taking all learning online. Kids can crack open a book at home, converse with their teacher via the computer and socialize on the playground.

Such an argument, however, might have little value in the Jewish community. According to the Rambam, among all of the halachic requirements for a Jewish settlement — access to clean water being one of the most important prerequisites — is a teacher of students and a place to pray. And the laws governing how to dispose of a synagogue’s building are so complex — like the Temple in Jerusalem, it attains a level of holiness, after all — that it’s always better to ensure its perpetuity.

Here in Baltimore, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, the former home of one of the city’s oldest congregations lives on as a school. While Cheder Chabad will celebrate that fact at its first gala dinner next month, former members of Beth Jacob have been celebrating the caretaker of the sprawling former synagogue at Park Heights and Manhattan avenues since the building was gifted to the school two years ago.

Beyond preserving the congregation’s legacy at what has become the unmarked southern entrance to the Jewish community in Upper Park Heights and Pikesville — Beth Jacob held its last Shabbat service in 2007 before merging with Beth Tfiloh Congregation — the school, say community leaders, is helping ensure a continued Jewish presence in Baltimore.

According to statistics from the Pew Research Center and the Avi Chai Foundation, students at Jewish day schools such as Cheder Chabad, Krieger Schechter Day School, Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Ohr Chadash Academy, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Torah Institute of Baltimore and Talmudical Academy of Baltimore face far better chances of living active Jewishly identified lives and raising Jewish children than those without such an education.

The fact is, educating our kids is probably the most important investment we can make in our communities. While a lot of it still adheres to a “brick and mortar” way of doing things, education still promises the greatest payoff: a sustainable Jewish future.


Taking Action

Years before he was arrested, Freddie Gray was lead poisoned (“The Whole World Is Seeing This,” May 1).

The rate of lead poisoning in Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray lived, was three times the Baltimore City average, The Sun has reported. And that has prompted me to ask questions about enforcement and compliance with the lead-poisoning prevention laws that I helped to write.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden and I are now consulting individuals and groups as to what programs would address the many underlying problems in low-income neighborhoods — jobs, schools and family structure.

One of the questions we are asking: “If the governor fully funds public schools, as urged by the legislature, what impact would it have on schools in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood?”

“We’re going to figure out how to fix this,” Councilwoman Rikki Spector told the Jewish Times.

Now that normality has returned to the streets of Baltimore, it will be our responsibility to improve the normality of life in the city we serve and love.

Like Baltimore, Like Tel Aviv

“Taking a Stand” (May 1) had as its subhead, “In South Africa, Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish students refute apartheid charge.” That subhead is solidly contradicted by the recent Ethiopian protests in Tel Aviv against police brutality and racism. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Is Israel now mimicking Baltimore?

Two Solutions for Rabble-Rousers

So now we have the Baltimore riots (“The Whole World Is Seeing This,” May 1). Which city is next? Great civilizations such as the Greek and Roman empires have been relegated to the trash bin. We seem to be headed in the same direction and may soon reach the point of no return.

I have two solutions, one short-term, but the other that will take years. Seeing how our government accepts the wildness that has been stirred up by rabble-rousers, I am not optimistic of change.

For the short term: Imagine that all the hoodlums attacking the police, looting stores, setting fires and making areas uninhabitable were invaders from a foreign country. Our National Guard and Army would be there in a flash to quell the disturbance to protect our freedom. Why do we tolerate thugs? But you say that these people are citizens. So much the worse. This is an attack from within, a cancer to be eliminated.

For the long term: We saw on television that a mother ran out into the streets to her son who was part of the disturbance and thrashed him. That’s fine, but then we find out that she is a single mother with six children. And there is the problem. Our government has for the past 70 or so years, with good intentions, provided child support. Women who act irresponsibly are given all sorts of inducements to have babies they cannot control or even feed. These children, for the most part, grow up without caring families. The gangs in the street are their families. Many of these children will grow up to live in correction facilities or prisons.

The solution is obvious. Pass a law that says that nine months from enactment, if you have a baby, it is yours. Go to your relatives, the church or to do-gooders for support, but do not come to the taxpayers for help. Of course, some exceptions must be made, but not many. Our country was built by self-reliant and responsible people. To the women, and to the men who are so proud of themselves for impregnating them, take control of your lives. If you are ill-equipped for the job, do not have children you cannot take care of.

Looking Out for Israel

We Jews are known for engaging in civil discourse, open debate and understanding nuance; i.e., not everything is simply good vs. evil, cut and dried. Yet for many, when it comes to Israel this seems not to be the case. (“J Street: No Friend of Israel,” Your Say, May 1). So as a committed Zionist please allow me to advance the following propositions:

> Being distressed that the global policies of Israel Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu are leading to global isolation and friction between two countries one loves does not mean that one is against Israel.

> Understanding that a two-state solution, in the long run, is the only way Israel can remain both Jewish and democratic does not mean one is against Israel.

> Being uncomfortable with a 50-year occupation in violation of international law does not mean one is against Israel.

> Understanding that your adversary has a narrative that is reasonable from its viewpoint is essential to achieving any solution and does not mean one is against Israel.

> Admitting that a country you love has made mistakes and has not
always been in the right does not make you an enemy of that country. Quite the contrary: Witness opponents of our wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

God Is With Us!

Every single news website, newspaper and magazine is filled with negative news. Death, crime, the Baltimore riots and too much hatred (“The Whole World Is Seeing This,” May 1). It is no surprise that some wonder where is God. But how many people look for the positive news? The miracles? How many people know the daily birthrate worldwide? The answer is around 375,000.

While some are hooked on negativity, I can vouch that God is here, and He is great. Not long ago, my mother, who is in her early 60s and probably in the best shape of her life, was diagnosed out of the blue with cancer. This, after feeling some stomach pain and going to the ER. Days later, she went through major surgery, focusing the entire time on what she had to look forward to afterward, including two brand new grandchildren.

While my mother and my family could have focused on this devastating news, we chose to have a different perspective. Yes, my mother is on a difficult road to being a cancer survivor, but the cancer was discovered. It was discovered in a state-of-the-art hospital, with life-saving medicine and incredible nurses and doctors who had the ability and knowledge to operate, even using a robot.

Where is God, some ask? He is with the medicines and technologies that never existed before. He is with the people who have the amazing skills to care for my mother, save her life and give her new hope by making sure she will continue to be a bubbie for my baby and for my future children. Yes indeed, God is great!

Rebuild Baltimore

FTV_Terrill_MarcIt was hard to be a Baltimorean last week on so many levels. If you watched the news and followed posts on social media during the violent protests that shut down our city, you know just how difficult it was. There were angry crowds spilling into the streets and horrific images in the media of a city on fire. The pictures of the protests sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray following his arrest did not put forward the charming side of our city to the world. But, in the end, this is not about appearances.

That said, throughout the unrest, there were moments of healing and hope emanating from the neighborhoods hardest hit and offers of help pouring in from surrounding areas. It is sometimes in the darkest moments that we see the best in people. If we are to rebuild together as a city, it is those moments on which we must focus.

The Jewish community has long stepped forward as advocates and activists for the entire community. We simply must speak up when we feel there is injustice and do what we can to lift others when there is despair and suffering. It is part of our tradition to act; it is who we are as Jews.

Immediately following the night of looting and fires on April 27, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore reached out to those in the faith-based community and civic organizations to see how we could help.

Our Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) is working with the No Boundaries Coalition, a coalition of organizations, churches and schools representing West Baltimore and striving to build a strong and unified community. JVC has mobilized volunteers who want to help residents reclaim their neighborhoods and, probably most importantly, be part of the conversation in moving our city and nation forward.

We set up drives to collect supplies for schools and community centers tasked with keeping children safe and engaged when schools were closed amid safety concerns. We collected nonperishable food items for vulnerable older adults whose lifeline to supplies was cut off by the destruction in their community. We have also set up mechanisms for fellow community members to give their time and money in aid of recovery.

For many in our city, last week’s tense protests harkened back to early April 1968 when the city erupted into violence following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Then, as today, The Associated stepped forward to help rebuild the city and restore to calm.

Our Jewish tradition teaches that we are all responsible for each other, and that certainly extends into neighborhoods where people are now hurting and in need of help.

We must all realize that recovery is not simply about sweeping away debris. It’s about issues that are complex, difficult and require thought, action and tenacious resolve.

Marc B. Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To find out how you can help rebuild Baltimore, visit associated.org/helpbaltimorecity.